Thinking about linguistic relativity, the notion that our language characteristics affect our thought processes, led me to consider my experiences with the Japanese language. I spent two semesters starting in my sophomore year studying in Akita, a relatively sparsely populated and rural area of Japan. Upon reflection, I can see aspects of the structure of the Japanese language that may indeed shape thought processes among its speakers, particularly those for whom it is a native tongue.
Firstly there is the issue of color. While Japanese has nearly as many basic color terms as English, it traditionally lacked a distinction between what English-speakers would consider blue and green. In fact, both fell into the realm of a single color, romanized as aoi (and shown in kanji to the left). Only with the advent of Westernization in the 19th century did Japanese speakers, in a rush to conform with European notions in many areas, develop another word (midori) for "green", leaving aoi to simply mean "blue". To this day, aoi can be seen in place names and words (for example the northern prefecture of Aomori would classically be translated as "green forest" but now ends up sounding more like "blue forest"). Indeed, it was in a desire to modernize and accommodate Western norms that the Japanese altered their language, and in doing so, likely changed their thinking as well, though perhaps only in a relatively minor way.
An additional aspect of Japanese that I believe affects the thinking of speakers is the presence of multiple levels of speech based on hierarchy and corresponding levels of politeness. While in English we may use terms like "sir" or "ma'am" or "mister" or "miss/us" (followed by the more recent "mizz"), we generally use much the same basic language in terms of structure and conjugation with everyone. Yet in Japanese, there is a high degree of sensitivity to hierarchical relationships and one is expected to use different forms of verbs (and sometimes different grammar entirely) when addressing a teacher as opposed to a close friend. Additionally, there are levels of formality above these that are expected to be used when addressing a superior or a person of public importance. While one may use informal, even rough language forms with social equals, polite language (teineigo) must be used with strangers and in certain settings, while humble language (kenjōgo ) is used to refer to oneself. When dealing with those who clearly hold social rank above oneself, various forms of respectful language (keigo) must be used, altering verb forms and nouns and in effect producing what sounds much like a very different dialect of the standard from.
How do these built-in differences affect thinking? That is a matter for consideration, surely, but I would suggest that it leads Japanese speakers to be even more aware of hierarchical relationships than speakers of a language like English tend to be. While we may sometimes struggle with forms of address, having to choose between "mister so-and-so" or "Bob", the Japanese have to alter their grammar and word choice to an extensive degree. Were I to meet the President of the United States, I would certainly address him as "sir" but would otherwise use much the same language I would use in say, the workplace. A Japanese meeting his or her prime minister, or more significantly, emperor, would need to recalculate most the the elements of his or her speech in order to avoid offense. Perhaps one effect of this need is the presence of greater nuance within Japanese and the ability to distinguish or mock using language forms. Conversely, our English tendencies may contribute to egalitarian notions of democracy and classlessness.
The full extent of these differences and their effects would be interesting to study in greater depth. One thing that is clear to me, however, is that my Japanese friends place far more emphasis on formal politeness and hierarchical relationships than do my English speaking friends and family.