Japan from the inside out


Posted by ampontan on Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A few decades ago, books and articles frequently appeared under the rubric of Nihonjinron, and their content and concepts became a topic of public discussion. That’s a difficult term to translate comfortably, but “Theories on the National Character of the Japanese” will work. The general idea was to examine and explain what made the Japanese unique.

Books and articles of that type don’t appear as often these days. Author and essayist Tachibana Akira thinks one reason is the changed economic circumstances of Asia. For years, the Japanese were the only Asians to have succeeded on Western terms, while having a culture and customs clearly different from those in the West. The rise of South Korea, China, India, and other Asian countries has now altered that perception.

Mr. Tachibana has a different perspective on this subject, and he has written about it at length. The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the 14 May 2012 edition of the weekly Shukan Pureiboi. Here it is in English. Some people who read it might find that their preconceived notions did not survive intact.

Nihonjinron was harshly criticized, with people asking, “Are the Japanese really that unique”. That’s because the traits used to explain Japanese exceptionalism, such as the vertical society, amae, and the dominance of public mood, are quite ordinary and observable in any society.

One researcher complied a summary with the essence of the characteristics described in the Nihonjinron, concealed the name of the country, and presented it to students in Australia. The Australian students thought it described Australian society. This incident reveals the illusion of the theory of Japanese uniqueness.

But the idea that the world’s people are all the same is a disorderly argument. Even though people share the same genes (operating system), their thinking and behavior is clearly affected by culture and society.

That was the basis for the start of a trial to objectively evaluate differences in values among people throughout the world by asking them identical questions about their views on politics, religion, work, education, and the family. People from more than 80 countries participated in this trial. The results showed that the Japanese had significant differences from the rest of the world in three areas:

1. To the question, “Would you willingly fight for your country if a war broke out,” Japan had the world’s lowest percentage of people who answered “yes”.

2. People were asked to choose an answer in response to the question, “How proud do you feel that you are (country name)?” The only group with a lower percentage of people than the Japanese who answered “extremely proud” or “very proud” was the people of Hong Kong.

3. To the question, “Should there be more respect for authority,” the percentage of Japanese who answered “no” was by far the highest in the world.

Japan has been described as a “village society”, but that was not apparent at all in this survey. There are several better examples in the world of nations that are a village society. The degree of openness of Japanese society is in the upper middle range, at the same level of some Southern European countries.

Several other international surveys show that the Japanese have a striking sense of worldliness and (personal) individuality. They don’t feel like fighting, even in wars, they aren’t proud of their country, they detest authority — what unusual people the Japanese are!

(end translation)


Mr. Tachibana did not identify the surveys he cited. Those who can read Japanese might be interested in his book on the subject.

For some more Japanese uniqueness, here’s Terauchi Takeshi and the Blue Jeans performing a shakuhachi tune.

2 Responses to “Unique”

  1. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    Here again, along with our tradition of making things easier so as to refrain from yelling out, the most touching line of the subject article is:

    Even though people share the same genes (operating system), their thinking and behavior is clearly affected by culture and society.

    Yes, I am heavily drunk now on the other side of the planet and it is midnight. Yes, I am trying to put everything in relativity and trying to neglect the term difference as perceived by our neighbours.

    No one nor one nation nor its people is that different so much that it is called 鬼子 or similar terms. Only the time and place affects. Even if that is for real, I do not want to sank in the idea of dividing human being into different species.

    So my friends on the other shore of Japan, I send my regards. I think more than 80% of our people would do the same whenever they find a chance, and that should be the same for YOU.

    We have been told by our teachers (leftists frequently) that we should think everything as if we were our counterpart, then we should know why they (YOU) act and say like we see.

    I think it is definitely a golden rule of life. If YOU think YOU can take advantage on that, YOU are still half sleeping.

    But our teachers have never told us to keep on apologizing and conceding, even though they might have hinted it. Since it was limited to the hinting and since we are not YOU, we take a bit different course. If that is not pleasing YOU, we would just say we are sorry for that alone.

    Now listen to T. Terauchi, if you will.

  2. 21st Century Schizoid Man said

    “They don’t feel like fighting, even in wars, they aren’t proud of their country, they detest authority — what unusual people the Japanese are!”

    No, not a bit. If YOU feel like fighting knowing there is no war or invasion actually, and if YOU are proud of YOUR country which restricts flow of information by censorship or biased education, and if YOU blindly love authority – YOU ARE UNUSUAL. I do not believe so.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: