JAPANESE PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER
19th century samurai There seems to be seem some character differences between Asians and Westerners but defining these differences and interpreting their significance is difficult and even dangerous. It has been said for example that Asian society based more on intuitive insight and tradition while Western society is based more on logic. But defining exactly what tradition, intuitive insight and logic are is difficult, especially if you factor in cultural relativity.
The anthropologist Gordon Matthews described the “Japanese self” in terms of three levels of activity that interacted with another and consisted of: 1) things taken for granted and not noticed; 2) things which exist and one have no control over and as a result accept whether they like it or not; and 3) the “cultural supermarket” in which individuals define their identity and existence from a wide variety of values and ideas.
Nassrine Azimi, senior adviser at the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (Unitar), wrote in the New York Times, “ The Japanese propensity for taking personal responsibility for failure, frequently misunderstood by Westerners as contrived or insincere, is in fact deeply embedded in their psyche. Fosco Maraini, the intrepid Italian anthropologist, wrote in his memoir “Meeting with Japan” that even if the term Bushido — translated as “the Way of the Samurai” — is no longer practiced in daily life, the nucleus of traditional ideas such as honor and self-sacrifice continue to influence Japanese politics, business and family life.” [Source: Nassrine Azimi, New York Times, June 7, 2010]
Links in this Website: JAPANESE PERSONALITY AND CHARACTER Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE POLITENESS AND INDIRECTNESS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SOCIAL LIFE
Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE SOCIETY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE REGIONAL DIFFERENCES Factsanddetails.com/Japan
Good Websites and Sources: Japanese Journal of Personality by the Japanese Society of Personality jstage.jst.go.jp ; Japanese Society and Culture in Perspective habri.co.uk ; Japanese Culture, a Primer for Newcomers thejapanfaq.com ;Traditional Japan, Key Aspects of Japan japanlink.co ; ACE Japan , Japan Association for Cultural Exchange acejapan.or.jp ; Opinion on Asian Fetish colorq.org ;
What Japan Thinks, a blog with info on demographics and statistics whatjapanthinks.com ;
Academic Articles Gender-Role Personality Traits in Japanese Culture pdf file mwsu.edu/sociology ; Advise Giving and Personality Traits of Japanese University Students jalt.org/pansig ; Confucianism, Personality Traits and Leadership in Japan pdf file psychology.csusb.edu ; Blood Types and Personality Japan Visitor on Blood Types japanvisitor.com ; Blood Types and Personality issendai.com ; Academic Paper on Blood Types and Personality sciencedirect.com
Books Classic books on the Japanese character and society include The Chrysanthemum and Sword by Ruth Benedict, Vertical Society by Chie Nakane, and Bushido by Inazo Nitobe. Among the more recent books on these subjects are Japan’s Cultural Code Word: 233 Key Terms That Explain the Attitudes and Behavior of the Japanese by Boye Lafayette De Mente (Tuttle, 2004) and Japanese Patterns of Behavior by Takie Sugiyama Lebra. Sites for Expats Japanable site for Expats japanable.com ; That’s Japan thats-japan.com ; Orient Expat Japan orientexpat.com/japan-expat ;
Kimi Information Center kimiwillbe.com ;
Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report on Japan fco.gov.uk/en/travel-and-living-abroad ; Student Guide to Japan www2.jasso.go.jp/study ; Japan in Your Palm japaninyourpalm.com
The Japanese have traditionally valued harmony, civility, conformity, respect for elders, modesty, self-control, not being critical of others, integrity, loyalty, honesty, humility, industriousness, patience, persistence, hard work, commitment to education, belief in order and stability, emphasis on obligations to the community rather just individual rights, and preference for consultation and consensus over open confrontation and an avoidance of conflict at all costs. These values are generally shared by other Asians and are drilled into children from nursery school onward.
Traditional Japanese values revolve around pride, honor, discipline, hard work, self-sacrifice, loyalty and modesty. Loyalty, obligation, self-sacrifice and mono no aware (“the awareness of the transience of life and things, and the gentle sadness at their passing”) with an element of the supernatural are major themes of classic Japanese literature and theater. On the difference between the Asian mind set and the Western one, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami told the Daily Yomiuri, “There is a different sense of time. A kind of patience. And an attention to sound, to silences.”
Paul Theroux wrote in The Daily Beast: More than most countries, Japan is one family, one language, one set of rules, believing in the greatness of its destiny and overcoming any obstacle to achieve it. This unifying metaphor encourages envy that is voiced in facile mockery (look no further than the belittling film Lost in Translation) depicting Japan as a farce of funny accents, where Western culture is mimicked as though in a funhouse mirror; or else robotic, unsmiling, a sniffy, xenophobic society of salarymen and whale slaughterers. “I thought that was the whole point of them,” a woman says in an Alan Bennett play, seeing a weepy Japanese man in an English café, “that they didn’t cry.” [Source: Paul Theroux, The Daily Beast, March 20, 2011]
Drudges, overachievers in a well-oiled machine—that is the superficial first impression of the traveler. Certainly the surface reveals something of the inner state, but after a while one sees more similarities than differences, and a great deal to admire. Their national pride is so strong, it’s possible to go overboard in seeing Japan as a bastion of rituals. The fact is that it has an aging population and a low birthrate, and labor costs are so high that most of the traditional brands of electronics and cameras are outsourced to China. Far from feeling superior, the Japanese feel somewhat jinxed and vulnerable, hemmed in by social pressures and the high cost of living (for someone in Tokyo, it’s cheaper to go to Honolulu than Sapporo), and consequently always seeming to be living as though squinting against a high wind.
The younger generation has less reverence towards traditional Japanese values than the older generation and the behavior and values of many young Japanese isn't all that different from young Westerners.
It can be argued that Asians are more honest than Americans anyway. In many instances Asians are more likely to admit a crime if they have committed it. The adversarial Western model of jurisprudence is alien to some Asians.
It can also be argued that Asians are less likely to express anger of strong emotions in public. Buddhism encourages its practitioners to keep their emotions and passions in check. Controlling and not expressing emotions is viewed as a sign of strength.
The same discipline is applied to social situations. An executive with the Chinese computer firm Lenovo told U.S. News and World Report, “Westerners tend to speak first, then listen, and easterners tend to listen, then speak.”
Asian seem to be wore will to share their personal space with others. There is little privacy in Asia. People live close together and are used to having people around them all the time. Wanting to be by oneself is considered kind of strange.
In the late 1990s it was fashionable to explain Asia’s economic success and prosperity in terms of “Asian values,” a collection of attributes such as a belief in hard work, thriftiness, propensity to save, filial piety, national pride, respect for order and authority, coherence of a society, and a commitments to common ideals, goals and values that place the common good ahead of the individual. Questioning authority and seniors was regarded as disrespectful, un-Confucian and un-Asian.
Some Asian value advocates went further and argued that Asian values created a better society. High rates of crime, unemployment, divorce, drug use and welfare dependency in Western societies were explained in part, the advocates said, by the fact that Westerners were lazy, selfish and greedy; and they sent their elderly to nursing homes and married several times. Asians by contrast did not have so many problems because they cared for their grandparents, shunned divorce, worked hard, saved their money and were devoted to their families.
Some Asian values advocates argued that the group-oriented, Confucian "Asian Way, " with its emphasis on respect for authority was better than the democratic, Judeo-Christian, individualistic "American Way." They suggested that imposing Western notions of individualism on Asia corrupted Asian society and Asian-style authoritarianism was the best way to develop economic growth.
Many of the pro-Asian-value pronouncements came out in the mid 1990s and were made with a degree of haughtiness. All one had to do was look around Asia, the advocates said, and see all the economic success to realize that the Asian model was better. One proponent of Asian values said, ''We're doing pretty well for ourselves, and we don't need America to play ‘father knows best’ anymore.'"
Happiness in Japan
21st century otaku In a study conducted in September 2008, 88 percent of the Japanese asked said they were happy. Only 10 percent said they were unhappy. When asked when they are happy 29 percent said “when something good happens” and 60 percent said “when nothing bad happens.” A survey by the Democratic Party of Japan found that 61 percent of the respondents in their 30s said they were happy while only 44 percent in their 70s said they were, citing concerns about pension security and medical insurance as reasons for their concerns. Among men, 48 percent said they were happy compared to 50 percent for women.
According to the World Values Survey happiness for the Japanese “comes from fulfilling the expectations of your family, meeting your social responsibilities, self-discipline, cooperation and friendliness." When asked what makes them happiest, many Japanese say a delicious meal. When asked who are the happiest, many say the elderly. In some cases when Japanese receive good news they take the news stoically rather than overtly displaying their happiness. Reasons for this may be shyness or not wanting crow in front of others.
The Japanese like many Asians are very conscious of face. Face is essentially respect in a community and is a crucial underpinning of society. Loss of that respect threatens the relations of individuals with almost everyone in his or her world and is hard to get back once lost and thus must be avoided at all costs.
Face has been equated with “dignity, prestige and reputation.” It has been said that "face is more important than truth or justice." Losing face if often people's worst fear. Japanese go out of their way to be polite and accommodating, to maintain dignity in a variety of situations and avoid disputes, conflicts and embarrassment in their pursuit to avoid losing face.
Maintaining face and avoiding losing face are important concepts in the West. But as Scott Seligman, author of books on Asian etiquette, has written Asian “raise face to a high art...a fragile commodity...that can easily be lost....The trigger doesn’t have to be extreme. You can contradict somebody in front of someone who is lower ranking and cause that person to lose face. Even the simple act of saying no to somebody can make that person lose face.”
If someone does something wrong they are expect to come clean and apologize. One of the worst sins is to deny guilt and not come clean in such a situation. In the past, issues involving loss of face were often dealt with by revenge or suicide.
Shame and the Japanese
Japanese are generally very shy and despise being embarrassed. Maintaining dignity and avoiding embarrassment are very important in Japan. Ruth Benedict wrote that Japan is a “shame culture” relying on “external sanctions for self-respect” while the United States is a “guilt culture” based on “internalized conviction of sin.”
In a Western guilt-based society individuals tend to judge their actions by internalized, absolute, moral standards. In Japan, on the other hand, actions and behavior are judged “situationally” in specific social situations depends on the reaction of others. Under these terms the worst fear of a Japanese person is being embarrassed in front of others or losing face.
Meiwaku is a Japanese word that refers to the shame and trouble caused to a group by the actions of an individual. If someone does something that is perceived as bad it not only brings shame upon the individual it also causes other members of his or her family, company, or school to lose face. If an office worker, for example, embezzles some money, it brings dishonor on his wife, children, his neighborhood, his department, or anyone that has been associated with him. If a member of a school team does something bad, often the entire team is punished, in some cases, by having everyone get their heads shaved.
Japanese are taught that their actions not only reflect on themselves and their families but also their entire country. When Yoko Ono took her first trip to the United States as a little girl she remembered her mother telling her, “If you’re naughty, no one’s going to think, ‘Yoko is a bad girl,’ they’re going to think the Japanese are bad. So you must be careful. Each of us is a diplomat.”
Embarrassment in Japan
Japanese hate feeling shame or being embarrassed. For Japanese there is nothing worse than haji o sarasu (“expose one’s shame in public”) and a haji shirazu (“person who knows no shame”) is regarded as the lowest of the low. Children are scolded not by being told they have done something wrong but rather by being told they are making other people angry and uncomfortable. And if they continue these other people will laugh at them,
Japanese soldiers in World War II preferred dying in hopeless circumstances to surrendering because of the power of shame. Taijin kyofusho is a mental disorder found in Japan characterized by fear that the body, body parts or body functions displease or embarrass other.
Japanese often laugh or smile when they are embarrassed. Sometimes the laugh when something bad has happened and the person they are with joins in a sympathetic way.
A study on embarrassment by communications researchers Todd Imahori and William Cupach found that Japanese are more likely to feel embarrassed by mistakes in front of friends and relatives while Americans were likely to feel embarrassed by accidents or rule violations such a being overheard insulting someone in front of strangers or acquaintances. American who embarrassed were more likely to turn to humor as a way to extricate themselves while Japanese tended to feel shamed, guilty, uncertain, regretful and shocked.
Morality and Logic in Japan
19th century geisha The Japanese, some say, see the world in terms of clean and dirty rather than good and evil. Under this construct there is little difference between criminal acts, sinful acts and pollution and thus committing a murder, cheating on one’s wife and being dirty and not that different in a moral sense.
Some have said the Japanese are not logical. Liguist Hideho Kindaichi of Kyorin University told the Daily Yomiuri, “Logic has no priority in our daily lives, In associating with people we make much of people’s sentiments and relationships rathe rthan expressing ourselves logically.”
Confucian values have traditionally been the foundation of the education system and moral teachings. Some scholars have suggested that the Japanese are the way they are because they never embraced the spiritual values of the Enlightenment that went hand and hand with modernization in the West. Many other feel that this interpretation is hopelessly outdated.
Japanese morality is based in many ways on trust, mutual respect and inner reflection. Hansei describes the inner reflection and self evaluation one makes after committing some unfortunate act and taking measures so it doesn’t happen again. It has the opposite meaning of “don’t cry over spilt milk.” A study found that parents and teachers of children three to five regard hansei a critical to “becoming a moral person.” Throughout grade school, teachers hold regular hanseukai meeting to mull over an issue when something bad has happened. Some Japanese find hansei annoying because sometimes hansei session are held even when thing go smoothly.
Shintoism and Character
One of the most noteworthy features of Shinto is its emphasis on intuitiveness, experience and faith not reasoning and theological principals. According to religious scholar Geoffrey Parrinder Shinto "rarely ask questions" rather they "feel the reality" of their gods. "A direct experience of divinity and a sensitive experience of mystery," he wrote, "are for them far more important than an intellectual approach to doctrinal niceties." ["World Religions" edited by Geoffrey Parrinder, Facts on File Publications, New York]
Shinto encourages people to help one another, communicate, respect their elders and the spirits of their ancestors through Shinto ceremonies. Many rituals involve giving thanks with implication being that giving thanks will bring good things in the future. For Japanese taking control of their fate is a novel idea. There is a Shinto superstition that says if you ask "what if" questions they will come true.
Shinto teaches people to have a deep reverence for nature. Tied with this is the concept of purity, which is central to Shintoism. There is an emphasis on spiritual and physical purity and cleanliness. Many ceremonies are acts of purification. The Japanese tend to see the world in terms of clean and dirty rather than good and evil. The Land of Darkness is the land of puterfectaion and pollution. The Land of the Sun Goddess is a place of light, purity, life and fertility.
Fairness, Feelings, Eloquence and Silence
Unfairness in Japan is viewed in terms of 1) zurui, which is sometimes translated as getting an advantage using sly or cunning means and can be applied to most anything; and 2) fukohei, institutionalized inequality such as gender discrimination or geographical disadvantages. In a study on fairness and unfairness among American and Japanese, American university students felt it was not fair for a person to be rewarded for personal initiative such as asking an instructor after class what was going to be on a test, while Japanese university students saw it as unfair, saying that teacher must give all students access to the same information. The two groups had similar views on the idea of rewarding people with special talents or abilities.
Feelings and intent behind actions are important to Japanese. In a study by cultural psychologist Hiroshi Azuma, 100 Japanese students and 100 American students were given the scenario “Student D injured Teacher E” and were given a list of 14 questions and told to pick one that were most appropriate for the situation. The American students chose questions referring to how badly the teacher was injured, the student’s age and whether the student had done something like that before while the Japanese students chose questions that related to the student feelings at the time of the incident and afterwards and the students’ personality.
Westerners tend to place a lot of emphasis on persuasion and eloquence while Japanese tend to be suspicions of silver-tongued verbosity and tend to see it as a means of tricking and taking advantage of others.
If a group of Japanese is sitting around, lets say at a PTA meeting, and one person has to be selected to a job that nobody want to do, Japanese are much more likely to sit there in silence than offer to take the job to break the silence than Americans would based on anecdotal evidence. Studies of negotiating style by researcher John Graham show that Japanese are more likely to punctuate negotiations with silences than American and these silences of the Japanese tend to be significantly longer than those of their American counterparts. Moreover the American business men tend took on the silences as a “loss of word,: a shortcomings, while the Japanese saw it a weapons ro use to get what the want.
Differences in the Ways Fairness is Perceived in Japan and the U.S.
Kate Elwood wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “Fairness, of course, is a concern for both Japanese and Americans, but there are differences in the way the two cultures engage with the concept. Social psychologist Michele Gelfand and other researchers conducted a variety of studies related to fairness among Japanese and U.S. students. In the first study, they asked the students to write down all the fair behaviors that came to mind in five minutes, and in another five minutes to write down all the unfair behaviors that occurred to them. If the behavior recorded was something they did more frequently than other people, they were told to begin the statement with "I" and if it was something others did more than the participant, to begin it with "They." [Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri, October 1, 2012]
The U.S. students wrote more than twice as many statements related to fair behavior beginning with "I" than they wrote "I" unfair statements. Similarly, the Americans' "they" unfair statements were almost twice as frequent as their "they" fair statements. On the other hand, the Japanese "I" fair statements were only slightly greater than their "I" unfair statements, and the same was true of the difference in frequency between their "they" unfair and "they" fair statements. [Ibid]
In another study, the researchers asked different groups of U.S. and Japanese students to write down a conflict that they had personally been involved in. They were then asked to imagine how a neutral third party might view the actions of both the participant and other person involved in the conflict. The Americans were much more likely to believe that the impartial evaluator would consider their behavior fair and their counterpart's unfair, than the Japanese respondents were. [Ibid]
In yet another study, participants were asked to engage in a negotiation activity. Afterward, they were randomly assigned positive, negative or neutral feedback regarding their negotiating effectiveness compared to the performance of all the other participants in the study. Then the participants were asked to evaluate whether they felt personally responsible for the feedback they had received. The Americans were more likely to accept personal responsibility when the feedback was positive than when it was neutral or negative, but the Japanese were less likely to accept responsibility when the feedback was positive compared to the two other evaluations. Similar results were obtained when the participants were asked how confident they were that the feedback reflected their abilities. [Ibid]
Kate Elwood wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “Gelfand and her colleagues suggest one reason for the cultural differences in the results of their tests is the Japanese emphasis on hansei, a term used to describe the practice of thinking over one's actions, both good and bad, with an eye to future improvement. Such training in a more self-critical approach, the researchers argue, is likely to result in a divergent outlook on "fair" assessments. [Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri, October 1, 2012]
The introspection focus begins early: Early childhood education specialist Satomi Izumi Taylor and her colleagues made a survey of the attitudes of 143 people--teachers, parents and grandparents--to hansei among kindergartners. In response to whether it was important for the children to engage in hansei, 132 answered "very important" and only two answered "not important at this age.” [Ibid]
Risk, Wimpiness, and Revenge
Japanese are very wimpy. They wince and complain about the slightest pain and disorder and worry about the slightest thing. In one survey about taking risks, Japan ranked at the bottom with Sweden. Japanese are taught to look away from a danger rather than measure it and handle it. One 27-year-old British Tokyo resident told the Times of London, “it seemed to me that the entire population of Japan existed in a perpetual state of caution they were always telling us to be careful.”
On risk taking in Japan, Peter S. Goodman wrote in the New York Times, “Failure traditionally carries a deeper stigma” in Japan than in the United States. It is “an enduring shame that limits the desire for risk, in the view of many of the nation’s cultural observers. This makes the Japanese far less comfortable with choices that increase the prospect of failure, even if they promise greater potential gains...Recent Japanese governments have sought to inculcate greater tolerance of failure...The Tokyo government even chartered an Association for the Study of Failure, which aimed to ‘turn failure experience into knowledge at the society, corporation and individual levels.’”
Japanese like revenge and have a long memory for incidents in which they feel they have been wronged. Kabuki plays and traditional folk tales revolve around stories of people who did villainous acts and get their come uppance or tales of people who have been wronged and got revenge.
In one famous story about revenge a monkey injures a crab by throwing a persimmon at it with the crab getting even ten time over with the monkey being burned by chestnuts, stung by a bee, pinched repeatedly by a group of crabs, pieced by a needle and struck on the head by a mortar. There is a similar story about a racoon who kills a woman and rabbit who loved the woman who takes out his revenge by setting the racoon on fire. applying red pepper to his burns and finally drowning him.
In 2006, a woman in Nara was given a two year prison sentence for playing music almost nonstop 24 hours a day, to get revenge against neighbors who complained she made too much noise when she beat her futon to clean it at 5:00am. A 65-year-old neigh suffered hypertension, dizziness and sleeping disorders blamed on the noise. Her house was only 20 feet away from the house of the woman making all the noise
Hard Work and Gambaru in Japan
Gambate and gambaru are arguably the most often said words in Japan. They roughly mean “don’t give up,” “keep trying” and “go for it” and are used to describe making the sincerest effort one can possibly make in an endeavor and implies the outcome of an act is not nearly as important as the effort you put into it. Gambate and Gambaru are in Little League baseball to urge players on and said to students before big exams and hikers before making a climb..
Japanese can also be very competitive. The one-on-one battle is important in baseball and in sumo.
Japanese workers really hustle. Garbage collectors, gas station attendants, waitresses and even dental workers and McDonald’s employees run around when they work. One psychologist told the Los Angeles Times, "When Japanese are not working they feel guilty.” Japanese have little patience for people who are lazy, break promises or who do not try their best. They resent poor service as a personal insult.
Japanese work hard even on their days off—diligently washing their car, doing chores, gardening—and put the same effort and desire to excel in their hobbies as they do with their work. Vacations and package tours are often so chocked full of sightseeing and activities going back to work seems like a holiday.
A great emphasis is put on being busy. Unlike Americans who tend to look at work as a means of reaching a goal, Japanese often regard work as an end to itself, a kind of existential existence. When one goal is reached it time to move on to the next one. Children learn early in school that hard work is a virtue. They like help out with great enthusiasm and pleasure.
Are Japanese “Become-Oriented” While American Are “Do-Oriented”
The linguist Yoshihiko Ikegami has noted that English speakers tend to use more “do constructions” than Japanese and has asserted that this difference reflects a fundamental divergence in the way the world is viewed--the English text emphasizing do vs. the Japanese original's become. Kate Elwood wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: Japanese language researcher Yoko Hasegawa and her colleagues set out to investigate the basic premise of whether in fact the English language does make more frequent use of do constructions compared to Japanese. The researchers created a parallel-text corpus of language published in Scientific American articles and their Japanese translations published in Nikkei Science. They found that transitive clauses with inanimate subjects were almost twice as frequent in the English corpus as in the Japanese one. These included sentences such as "The popularity of Wi-Fi also brings problems" or "The alternative possibility...strikes many people as science fiction." [Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri, November 5, 2012]
Nevertheless, Hasegawa and her team advocate caution in coming to the conclusion that English speakers are so intent on "doing" that even inanimate objects are seen as conscious agents. The researchers comment wryly, "Anthropomorphism gone wild is exciting; differences in lexical meanings and in subject selection possibilities are boring." Variations in mode of expression may exist; determining their significance is another matter. [Ibid]
And yet, it is possible that such language differences may influence one's perception of events. Cognitive psychologist Caitlin Fausey and her colleagues explored a connection between agentive language use and subsequent recall of the agent involved. Monolingual English speakers and Japanese speakers were shown videos of 16 events. For each event there were two versions, one in which something happened intentionally and one in which the same thing occurred accidentally. For example, a man might take an egg from a carton and intentionally crack it, or he might take the same egg and crack it accidentally. The participants viewed the videos in a random order and after each event they were asked to write down what happened. [Ibid]
Ninety-seven percent of both the English-speaking and Japanese-speaking participants used agentive language to describe intentional actions, for example, "He broke the vase." But in describing accidental actions, 69 percent of the English speakers used agentive language compared to 52 percent of the Japanese speakers, who were more likely than the English speakers to use nonagentive language such as, "The vase broke" instead of something like, "The man accidentally broke the vase.” [Ibid]
Fausey and her team then showed the videos to new groups of English and Japanese speakers, who were simply told to pay attention because their memory would be tested afterward. Two Japanese men appeared in the various videos, one wearing a white shirt and the other a black shirt. Afterward, the participants were shown some of the same events again, with a new man featured. The participants were asked to recall who had done the same action previously, the man in black or white. The Japanese speakers and English speakers exhibited similar recall for the intentional events (72 percent and 70 percent correct recall, respectively). However, in regard to the accidental events, the Japanese speakers were somewhat more likely to have forgotten the agent of the action, with 66 percent of them identifying the event actor correctly compared to 73 percent of the English speakers.
Analyzing and Negotiating Among the Japanese
The Japanese love statistics and debating and analyzing things. Japanese television is full of panel discussions and long winded explanations, with elaborate charts graphs and diagrams, on everything from nuclear technology to the best way to cook eel. Japanese love baseball because they can analyze it to death. On one television show a pizza was analyzed by giving it an MRI.
The religious scholar G. Bownas wrote: “in the history of Japanese thought we rarely find an aptitude for abstract reasoning or interest in philosophical speculation. Whatever purely intellectual achievements there may be, have been due to Buddhist and Confucian influences, while purely indigenous thinking has tended towards the practical and realistic. Its approach to any given problem has often been intuitive and its stress has been on the simple and natural.”
The British writer William Gibbons wrote the Japanese have "a fascination with detail, with cataloging, with distinguishing one thing from another." They are also "singularly adroit at reconceptualizing foreign products, at absorbing them, and making them their own."
On the way Japanese fans approach baseball, Brad Lefton wrote in the New York Times, “The Japanese way is to revel in the intricacies of the pitcher-batter match up...In Japan...it’s the process that is appreciated. Results can be secondary to the tactics one individual uses in dueling another. Such preoccupation with an individual performance smacks against the image of Japan as a group society.”
On the questions he fields from Japanese journalists, Boston Red Sox catcher told the New York Times, “We’re more end result. Rather than what are the little things that went into the whole entire outcome, we’re like, ‘Ok, he gave up a three-run home run’.: .They’re like, ‘Why did he throw 15 change-ups today and 5 last time?’ They’ll talk about the sequence. ‘Why does he throw so many sliders today?’...Their way of watching a game is different.”
On the issue of negotiating a touchy issue, communications analyst James Neulieo and Vincent Hazleton asked American and Japanese university students if they were offered a good job very far away how they would break the news to the boyfriend or girlfriend. Both groups said they would try to rationally persuade their boyfriend or girlfriends that taking the distant job was the right the thing to do but the Japanese were more likely to state the facts and present the job takers positions while the Americans were more likely to offer bribes or make trade off to get the boyfriend or girlfriend to accept their position.
Skill and Preparation in Japan
The Japanese have traditionally had a passion for precision and aesthetics. Skill is often more admired than strength. Jim Colorn, a pitching coach for the Los Angeles Dodgers, told the New York Times, “They idolize technique and skill in Japan more than Americans do. How you do something is paramount in Japan. Here, it more about achieving the numbers. Power is the American way.”
The Japanese also put a lot of attention into being prepared and carefully taking care of things and packaging them well. On outings such as hiking or fishing trip Japanese bring along all kinds of fancy equipment and clothes and put a lot of work into making sure they bring everything they need and are certain its packed in its proper place. Many things sold are sold in neat and tidy packaging. Attention is also placed on doing things carefully. More than twice as many Americans considered themselves to be in a rush than Japanese.
Children in Japan learn preparedness at an early age. In kindergarten they are taught to fold their jackets properly and always have tissue in one pocket and a handkerchief in the other. In grade school they learn to have three sharpened pencils in their desk—not four, not two—and always have glue, rulers and erasers close at hand in their pencil boxes. Elementary school students change into slippers when they arrive at school and put their shoes on special shelves. They all carry the same kind of correct backpack and are informed of the one correct way to adjust its straps.
Emotion, Stress, Crying and Pessimism in Japan
One study in 2008 found that 70 percent of Japanese men and women are worried about their dally life and future. For Japanese taking control of their fate is a novel idea. Shikata ga nai (“there’s nothing you can do”) is a common expression use to describe the futility of it all According to a Shinto superstition if you ask a "what if" question it will come true.
Calm on the outside by full of emotion on the inside, Japanese are sometimes easily moved and cry a lot. Japanese are not shy about crying in public. Politicians and athletes are often caught on camera blubbering away. Sumo wrestlers cry when their top knots are cut off, marking their official retirement.Television news reports often show weeping businessmen and travel stories that end with tearful goodbyes. Certain actors and celebrities can cry almost on cue and are brought in for panels shows to do so for pieces on lost puppies and family tragedies. Public weeping became a matter of nation debate in July 2011 when economy and trade minister Banri Kaida broke down during intense grilling on when to restart nuclear plants during parliament deliberations. The incident didn’t help him in his effort o become prime minister a month later.
Many Japanese are starting to complain that high cost of the country's success. "People have been relegated to the status of cogs in a wheel," wrote the reformist politician Ichiro Ozawa, who described Japan as "an ostensibly high-income society with a meager lifestyle."
According to the Japanese Cultural Affairs Ministry “stress” is the most recognized and frequently used loan word in Japan. Other widely-used and -understood words include “recycle,” volunteer” and ‘website.” The determination was made asking people whether or not they had heard of a given word. Total of 98.5 percent had heard of “stress.”
According to one surveying 1998, 68 percent of the respondents said the felt worried and anxious, compared to 37 percent in 1990 and 74 percent experienced irritability and anger, compared to 46 percent on 1990. About 425,000 people were treated for stress-related mental disorders in 2000.
Anatomy of Dependency
Amae is sometimes described at a key word in understanding the Japanese cultural temperament. It appears in all sorts of contexts in conversations. In his book Amae no Kozo (translated as “The Anatomy of Dependence”), psychoanalyst Takeo Doi Doi pointed to the prevalence of the word amae in Japan, and posited it as a central concept defining certain types of Japanese interactions. Doi's psychoanalytic theory has its proponents and skeptics. But putting aside the matter of its validity as a clinical application in understanding human development and mental disorders, amae is fascinating as an everyday word that is used in many situations, and which accordingly might be translated in a variety of ways. [Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri, June 8, 2010]
Kate Elwood wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: “Based on open-ended interviews with Japanese laymen informants describing their experiences with what they would personally label amae, human development researcher Kazuko Behrens proposes five distinct amae categories: 1) "affective" amae of infants, children and romantic partners, motivated by a desire for physical and emotional closeness and characterized by snuggling and playfulness; 2) "manipulative" amae of children and romantic partners, driven by a desire to manipulate and characterized by acting helpless and clingy; 3) "reciprocal" amae of child and adult friends and peers for emotional closeness and to reciprocate favors, seen in desperate conduct and deal making; 4) "obligatory" amae used by adult non-intimates of unequal status like bosses and subordinates and involving taking advantage of another by making unreasonable demands; and 5) "presumptive" amae of adult non-hierarchical distant acquaintances, marked by presuming inappropriately on another's good will.” [Ibid]
“Taking a different tack, cross-cultural psychologists Rees Lewis and Ritsuko Ozaki made a study comparing amae and "mardy," a dialect word in the English Midlands, which means soft or spoiled. The researchers asked Japanese informants to recall specific incidents when they and others behaved in an amae way, and similarly English respondents who had grown up in the region that uses the word "mardy" were asked the same questions regarding "mardy." Lewis and Ozaki found considerable overlap regarding the two terms of emotion. However, they note that while amae was sometimes described in situations in a constructive way and sometimes in a negative way, "mardy" was exclusively bad. They conclude that the existence of "good" amae and "bad" amae is part of the reason that amae can be used to manipulate people, while "mardy," always viewed disapprovingly without any wiggle room for a positive spin, cannot succeed in such attempts.” [Ibid]
“In a paper published 20 years after The Anatomy of Dependence, Doi applies the concept of amae to Antoine de Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince, suggesting the happiness of attachment and dependence the fox describes in being tamed by the boy corresponds to amae. Doi remarks that while amae is a normal Japanese word, Saint-Exupery could not express it except through a fable using an animal. Doi even goes as far as to suggest that humans keep pets so as to "enjoy vicariously the gratification of amae." [Ibid]
Anxiety, Depression and Sadness in Japan
The Japanese traditionally have not had an expression for mild depression or moodiness. In the late 1990s the expression kokoro no gaze (“my soul has got a cold”) sprung up to describe to describe daily blues and mild depression.
The Japanese word for depression, itusubyo, has traditionally only referred to serious depression or manic depression disorders and similar conditions that required being institutionalized. Mild depression was spoken more in terms of ki (vital energy) and was expressed with term like kig ga meiru (“my ki is leaking”) or ki ga omoi (“my ki is sluggish) or ki ga fusag (“my ki is blocked”).
Japan ranked highest in an 11-nation study on anxiety conducted by the New-York-based advertising firm JWT. According to a survey 90 percent of Japanese said they experience anxiety, triple the rate in China, which scored the lowest. About 25 percent of Japanese said they feel intense anxiety compared to 38 percent in Russia and 30 percent in India.
Buddhism has traditionally taught people to accept a certain amount of sadness. Happiness has traditionally been seen as something fleeting like cherry blossoms and sadness was described with expressions like mono no aware (“the awareness of the transience of life and things, and the gentle sadness at their passing”). One Japanese psychiatrist told the New York Times, “Melancholia, sensitivity, fragility—these are not negative things in a Japanese context. It never occurred to us we should try to remove them, because it never occurred to us that they were bad.”
On his characters Haruki Murakami told Tokyo University lecturer Roland Kelts, “They are so lonely, but at least they have their styles and obsessions for survival. If their lives are empty of meaning, purpose or goals, they adopt a kind f postmodernist view—surviving a meaningless life strictly on their own obsessions, their tastes in things, their styles.”
Depression and Drug Companies in Japan
The expression kokoro no gaze mentioned above was introduced by the drug industry to sell anti-depressant pills. The Japanese drug company Meihi Seika Kaisha, who began selling the anti-depressant S.S.R.I Depromel in 1999, are credited with coining the expression kokoro no gaze. They decided to market the drug based almost solely on the fact that anti-depressants were so profitable in the United States and Europe.
The next year GlaxoSmothKlien entered the market and used “education campaigns” to promote their anti-depressants. A spokesman for the company told the New York Times , People didn’t know they were suffering from the disease. We felt it was important to reach our to them. Depression is a disease that anyone can get. It can be cured by medicine. early detection is important.” The company listed “stiff shoulders” and “tired and lazy” as symptoms of depression and showed pretty women in their ads going t the doctor and feeling much better when emerged from the office.
After that kokoro no gaze became a topical issue. The number of books about depression increased from 27 in the early 1990s to 177 in the early 2000s. The number of conversations on some online bulletin board on depression ranked with those on romantic love and outnumbered conversations on food and music. Doctors reported getting record numbers of people complaining about depression. There were some high profile cases like that of Princess Masako (See Emperor). The drugs companies raked in huge profits. Psychiatrists described the windfall in their business in bubble economy terms.
Recipes and Manuals Offer Insight Into Japanese and Western Cultural Differences
Kate Elwood wrote in the Daily Yomiuri: Radan Martinec, a linguist and semiotician, examined Japanese and British recipes aimed at users of similar cooking ability levels. Each step of the Japanese recipes was numbered and accompanied by an image, unlike the English recipes. Moreover, the Japanese explanations were longer and more detailed, and included interpersonal messages to the recipe reader, which Martinec terms "realizations of engagement." These most typically provided the rationale for why the reader was told to do something a certain way, using phrases like "It's better if you...so that..." The English recipes simply told the cook what to do. Martinec also points out that while the cookbooks of both countries used photographs of the preparation process to support the readers' understanding, the British photos were taken from an angle facing the person demonstrating the procedure, while the Japanese photos were taken from over the shoulder so that the reader was effectively one with the cook. [Source: Kate Elwood, Daily Yomiuri. March 13, 2012]
Martinec further compared the Japanese and English manuals that explained how to use the same type of software. The Japanese manual had numbered steps with illustrations, clear delineation between sections, and used different colors for different types of information. Hints were accompanied by a flashing light bulb motif. In the English manual, on the other hand, there were significantly fewer illustrations and everything ran together without even paragraphing, so it was much more difficult to identify different sections or types of information. It is likely that part of the reason for the high degree of clarity and elaboration in the Japanese texts is related to the high value Japanese people place on manifesting solicitousness in interaction with others, a practice founded on the notion of omoiyari, or empathetic consideration.
In addition, Martinec offers another possible reason for the divergence in the explicitness of the manuals. Due to limited land area, wet-rice farming in Japan required precise procedures, which were codified more than a thousand years ago. In contrast, it was not until the 16th century or later that various activities became similarly systematized in the West, and these were generally related only to the aristocracy or the military, rather than the common populace.
Applied linguists Tessa Carroll and Judy Delin examined instructions for consumer products in Japanese and English and likewise found not only a far greater number of warnings and recommendations in the Japanese texts, which seemed to cover every possible occurrence, but also more detail. Sometimes both aspects were combined--particulars might be provided related to the seriousness of warnings, ranging from "forbidden" to "dangerous" or "requires attention," down to the mildest category of "hints."
In addition, the Japanese diagrams took up eight times as much space as the British counterparts. While both the British and Japanese manuals included a picture of the whole product with the names of the parts labeled, the British ones numbered each part and consumers would find the name of the part below by referring to the pertinent number. The Japanese products simply drew lines from the parts to the relevant names. Also, when explaining something related to a specific part, the Japanese diagrams often showed a picture of the whole product or section of the product, not just the appropriate part. Users of the Japanese manuals would never have to falter for a second in locating the pertinent area of the appliance.
The researchers additionally note that the Japanese manuals showed the usefulness of the product for different types of users with illustrations or even comic strips, which in this way placed more emphasis on the individual consumer-product relationship. The product itself was also frequently personalized, with legs, arms, and a face that is shown as despondent or pained when not being used well and smiling when being taken care of properly. None of the British manuals had such dynamic appliances.
Image Sources: 1) Samurai archives, 2) Hector Garcia 3) Visualizing Culture, MIT Education 4) Tokyo Pictures
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated January 2013