"Japanese Society" redirects here. For the book, see Japanese Society (1970 book).
The culture of Japan has evolved greatly over the millennia, from the country's prehistoric time Jōmon period, to its contemporary modern culture, which absorbs influences from Asia, Europe, and North America. Strong Chinese influences are still evident in traditional Japanese culture as China had historically been a regional powerhouse, which has resulted in Japan absorbing many elements of Chinese culture first through Korea, then later through direct cultural exchanges with China. The inhabitants of Japan experienced a long period of relative isolation from the outside world during the Tokugawa shogunate after Japanese missions to Imperial China, until the arrival of "The Black Ships" and the Meiji period. Today, the culture of Japan stands as one of the leading and most prominent cultures around the world, mainly due to the global reach of its popular culture.
Main articles: Japanese language and Japanese dialects
Japanese is the official and primary language of Japan. Japanese has a lexically distinct pitch-accent system. Early Japanese is known largely on the basis of its state in the 8th century, when the three major works of Old Japanese were compiled. The earliest attestation of the Japanese language is in a Chinese document from 252 AD.
Japanese is written with a combination of three scripts: hiragana, derived from the Chinese cursive script, katakana, derived as a shorthand from Chinese characters, and kanji, imported from China. The Latin alphabet, rōmaji, is also often used in modern Japanese, especially for company names and logos, advertising, and when inputting Japanese into a computer. The Hindu-Arabic numerals are generally used for numbers, but traditional Sino-Japanese numerals are also very common.
Main article: Japanese literature
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Early works of Japanese literature were heavily influenced by cultural contact with China and Chinese literature, often written in Classical Chinese. Indian literature also had an influence through the spread of Buddhism throughout Japan. Eventually, Japanese literature developed into a separate style in its own right as Japanese writers began writing their own works about Japan. Since Japan reopened its ports to Western trading and diplomacy in the 19th century, Western and Eastern literature have strongly affected each other and continue to do so.
Main article: Music of Japan
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The music of Japan includes a wide array of performers in distinct styles both traditional and modern. The word for music in Japanese is 音楽 (ongaku), combining the kanji 音 "on" (sound) with the kanji 楽 "gaku" (enjoyment). Japan is the second largest music market in the world, behind the United States, and the largest in Asia, and most of the market is dominated by Japanese artists.
Local music often appears at karaoke venues, which is on lease from the record labels. Traditional Japanese music is quite different from Western Music and is based on the intervals of human breathing rather than mathematical timing. In 1873, a British traveler claimed that Japanese music, "exasperate(s) beyond all endurance the European breast."
Main article: Japanese art
See also: Japanese ceramics
Main article: Japanese painting
Painting has been an art in Japan for a very long time: the brush is a traditional writing and painting tool, and the extension of that to its use as an artist's tool was probably natural. Japanese painters are often categorized by what they painted, as most of them constrained themselves solely to subjects such as animals, landscapes, or figures. Chinese papermaking was introduced to Japan around the 7th century. Later, washi was developed from it. Native Japanese painting techniques are still in use today, as well as techniques adopted from continental Asia and from the West. Schools of painting such as the Kano school of the 16th century became known for their bold brush strokes and contrast between light and dark, especially after Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu began to use this style. Famous Japanese painters include Kanō Sanraku, Maruyama Ōkyo, and Tani Bunchō.
Main article: Japanese calligraphy
The flowing, brush-drawn Japanese rendering of text itself is seen as a traditional art form as well as a means of conveying written information. The written work can consist of phrases, poems, stories, or even single characters. The style and format of the writing can mimic the subject matter, even to the point of texture and stroke speed. In some cases, it can take over one hundred attempts to produce the desired effect of a single character but the process of creating the work is considered as much an art as the end product itself.
This calligraphy form is known as 'shodō' (書道) which literally means 'the way of writing or calligraphy' or more commonly known as 'shūji' (習字) 'learning how to write characters'. Commonly confused with Calligraphy is the art form known as 'sumi-e' (墨絵) literally means 'ink painting' which is the art of painting a scene or object.
Main article: Japanese sculpture
Traditional Japanese sculptures mainly focused on Buddhist images, such as Tathagata, Bodhisattva, and Myō-ō. The oldest sculpture in Japan is a wooden statue of Amitābha at the Zenkō-ji temple. In the Nara period, Buddhist statues were made by the national government to boost its prestige. These examples are seen in present-day Nara and Kyoto, most notably a colossal bronze statue of the BuddhaVairocana in the Tōdai-ji temple.
Wood has traditionally been used as the chief material in Japan, along with traditional Japanese architecture. Statues are often lacquered, gilded, or brightly painted, although there are little traces on the surfaces. Bronze and other metals are not used. Other materials, such as stone and pottery, have had extremely important roles in the plebeian beliefs.
Main article: Ukiyo-e
Ukiyo-e, literally "pictures of the floating world", is a genre of woodblock prints that exemplifies the characteristics of pre-Meiji Japanese art. Because these prints could be mass-produced, they were available to a wide cross-section of the Japanese populace — those not wealthy enough to afford original paintings — during their heyday, from the 17th to 20th century.
Main article: Ikebana
Ikebana (生け花, 活花, or 挿花) is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It has gained widespread international fame for its focus on harmony, color use, rhythm, and elegantly simple design. It is an art centered greatly on expressing the seasons, and is meant to act as a symbol to something greater than the flower itself.
Buddhism and Shintoism are the primary religions of Japan.
Main article: Shinto
Shintoism is an ethnic religion that focuses on ceremonies and rituals. In Shintoism, followers believe that kami, a Shinto deity or spirit, are present throughout nature, including rocks, trees, and mountains. Humans can also be considered to possess a kami. One of the goals of Shintoism is to maintain a connection between humans, nature, and kami. The religion developed in Japan prior to the sixth century CE, after which point followers built shrines to worship kami.
Main articles: Buddhism and Buddhism in Japan
Buddhism developed in India around the 6th and 4th centuries BCE and eventually spread through China and Korea. It arrived in Japan during the 6th century CE, where it was initially unpopular. Most Japanese people were unable to understand the difficult philosophical messages present in Buddhism, however they did have an appreciation for the religion's art, which is believed to have led to the religion growing more popular. Buddhism is concerned with the soul and life after dying. In the religion a person's status was unimportant, as every person would get sick, age, die, and eventually be reincarnated into a new life, a cycle called saṃsāra. The suffering people experienced during life was one way for people to gain a better future. The ultimate goal was to escape the cycle of death and rebirth by attaining true insight.
Main article: Theatre of Japan
The four traditional theatres from Japan are noh (or nō), kyōgen, kabuki, and bunraku. Noh had its origins in the union of the sarugaku, with music and dance made by Kanami and Zeami Motokiyo. Among the characteristic aspects of it are the masks, costumes, and the stylized gestures, sometimes accompanied by a fan that can represent other objects. The noh programs are presented in alternation with the ones of kyōgen, traditionally in number of five, but currently in groups of three.
The kyōgen, of humorous character, had older origin, in 8th century entertainment brought from China, developing itself in sarugaku. In kyōgen, masks are rarely used and even if the plays can be associated with the ones of noh, currently many are not.
Kabuki appears in the beginning of the Edo period from the representations and dances of Izumo no Okuni in Kyoto. Due to prostitution of actresses of kabuki, the participation of women in the plays was forbidden by the government in 1629, and the feminine characters had passed to be represented only by men (onnagata). Recent attempts to reintroduce actresses in kabuki had not been well accepted. Another characteristic of kabuki is the use of makeup for the actors in historical plays (kumadori).
Japanese puppet theater bunraku developed in the same period, that kabuki in a competition and contribution relation involving actors and authors. The origin of bunraku, however is older, lies back in the Heian period. In 1914, appeared the Takarazuka Revue a company solely composed by women who introduced the revue in Japan.
Main article: Japanese architecture
Japanese architecture has as long of a history as any other aspect of Japanese culture. Originally heavily influenced by Chinese architecture, it has developed many differences and aspects which are indigenous to Japan. Examples of traditional architecture are seen at temples, Shinto shrines, and castles in Kyoto and Nara. Some of these buildings are constructed with traditional gardens, which are influenced from Zen ideas.
Some modern architects, such as Yoshio Taniguchi and Tadao Ando are known for their amalgamation of Japanese traditional and Western architectural influences.
Main article: Japanese garden
Garden architecture is as important as building architecture and very much influenced by the same historical and religious background. A primary design principle of a garden is the creation of the landscape based on, or at least greatly influenced by, the three-dimensional monochrome ink (sumi) landscape painting, sumi-e or suibokuga.
In Japan, the garden has the status of artwork.
Main article: Kimono
Traditional Japanese clothing distinguishes Japan from all other countries around the world. The Japanese word kimono means "something one wears" and they are the traditional garments of Japan. Originally, the word kimono was used for all types of clothing, but eventually, it came to refer specifically to the full-length garment also known as the naga-gi, meaning "long-wear", that is still worn today on special occasions by women, men, and children. The earliest kimonos were heavily influenced by traditional Han Chinese clothing, known today as hanfu (漢服, kanfuku in Japanese), through Japanese embassies to China which resulted in extensive Chinese culture adoptions by Japan, as early as the 5th century AD. It was during the 8th century, however, that Chinese fashions came into style among the Japanese, and the overlapping collar became particularly women's fashion. Kimono in this meaning plus all other items of traditional Japanese clothing is known collectively as wafuku which means "Japanese clothes" as opposed to yofuku (Western-style clothing). Kimonos come in a variety of colors, styles, and sizes. Men mainly wear darker or more muted colors, while women tend to wear brighter colors and pastels, and, especially for younger women, often with complicated abstract or floral patterns.
The kimono of a woman who is married (tomesode) differs from the kimono of a woman who is not married (furisode). The tomesode sets itself apart because the patterns do not go above the waistline. The furisode can be recognized by its extremely long sleeves spanning anywhere from 39 to 42 inches, it is also the most formal kimono an unwed woman wears. The furisode advertises that a woman is not only of age but also single.
The style of kimono also changes with the season, in spring kimonos are vibrantly colored with springtime flowers embroidered on them. In Autumn, kimono colors are not as bright, with Autumn patterns. Flannel kimonos are most commonly worn in winter; they are made of a heavier material and are worn mainly to stay warm.
One of the more elegant kimonos is the uchikake, a long silk overgarment worn by the bride in a wedding ceremony. The uchikake is commonly embellished with birds or flowers using silver and gold thread.
Kimonos do not come in specific sizes as most western dresses do. The sizes are only approximate, and a special technique is used to fit the dress appropriately.
The obi is a very important part of the kimono. Obi is a decorative sash that is worn by Japanese men and women, although it can be worn with many different traditional outfits, it is most commonly worn with the kimono. Most women wear a very large elaborate obi, while men typically don a more thin and conservative obi.
Most Japanese men only wear the kimono at home or in a very laid back environment, however it is acceptable for a man to wear the kimono when he is entertaining guests in his home. For a more formal event a Japanese man might wear the haori and hakama, a half coat and divided skirt. The hakama is tied at the waist, over the kimono and ends near the ankle. Hakama were initially intended for men only, but today it is acceptable for women to wear them as well. Hakama can be worn with types of kimono, excluding the summer version, yukata. The lighter and simpler casual-wear version of kimono often worn in Japanese summer festival is called yukata.
Formal kimonos are typically worn in several layers, with number of layers, visibility of layers, sleeve length, and choice of pattern dictated by social status, season, and the occasion for which the kimono is worn. Because of the mass availability, most Japanese people wear western style clothing in their everyday life, and kimonos are mostly worn for festivals, and special events. As a result, most young women in Japan are not able to put the kimono on themselves. Many older women offer classes to teach these young women how to don the traditional clothing.
Happi is another type of traditional clothing, but it is not famous worldwide like the kimono. A happi (or happy coat) is a straight sleeved coat that is typically imprinted with the family crest, and was a common coat for firefighters to wear.
Japan also has very distinct footwear.
Tabi, an ankle high sock, is often worn with the kimono. Tabi are designed to be worn with geta, a type of thonged footwear. Geta are sandals mounted on wooden blocks held to the foot by a piece of fabric that slides between the toes. Geta are worn both by men and women with the kimono or yukata.
Main article: Japanese cuisine
Through a long culinary past, the Japanese have developed sophisticated and refined cuisine. In more recent years, Japanese food has become fashionable and popular in the United States, Europe, and many other areas. Dishes such as sushi, tempura, noodles, and teriyaki are some of the foods that are commonly known. The Japanese diet consists principally of rice; fresh, lean seafood; and pickled or boiled vegetables. The healthy Japanese diet is often believed to be related to the longevity of Japanese people.
Sports and leisure
Main article: Sport in Japan
In the long feudal period governed by the samurai class, some methods that were used to train warriors were developed into well-ordered martial arts, in modern times referred to collectively as koryū. Examples include kenjutsu, kendo, kyūdō, sōjutsu, jujutsu, and sumo, all of which were established in the Edo period. After the rapid social change in the Meiji Restoration, some martial arts changed into modern sports, called gendai budō. Judo was developed by Kanō Jigorō, who studied some sects of jujutsu. These sports are still widely practiced in present-day Japan and other countries.
Baseball, Association football, and other popular western sports were imported to Japan in the Meiji period. These sports are commonly practiced in schools, along with traditional martial arts.
Baseball, soccer, football, and ping pong are the most popular sports in Japan. Association football gained prominence in Japan after the J League (Japan Professional Football League) was established in 1991. Japan also co-hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup. In addition, there are many semi-professional organizations, which are sponsored by private companies: for example, volleyball, basketball, rugby union, table tennis, and so on.
Main article: Japanese popular culture
Japanese popular culture not only reflects the attitudes and concerns of the present day, but also provides a link to the past. Popular films, television programs, manga, music, anime and video games all developed from older artistic and literary traditions, and many of their themes and styles of presentation can be traced to traditional art forms. Contemporary forms of popular culture, much like the traditional forms, provide not only entertainment but also an escape for the contemporary Japanese from the problems of an industrial world. When asked how they spent their leisure time, 80 percent of a sample of men and women surveyed by the government in 1986 said they averaged about two and a half hours per weekday watching television, listening to the radio, and reading newspapers or magazines. Some 16 percent spent an average of two and a quarter hours a day engaged in hobbies or amusements. Others spent leisure time participating in sports, socializing, and personal study. Teenagers and retired people reported more time spent on all of these activities than did other groups.
Many anime and manga are very popular around the world and continue to become popular, as well as Japanese video games, fashion, and game shows.
In the late 1980s, the family was the focus of leisure activities, such as excursions to parks or shopping districts. Although Japan is often thought of as a hard-working society with little time for leisure, the Japanese seek entertainment wherever they can. It is common to see Japanese commuters riding the train to work, enjoying their favorite manga, or listening through earphones to the latest in popular music on portable music players.
A wide variety of types of popular entertainment are available. There is a large selection of music, films, and the products of a huge comic book industry, among other forms of entertainment, from which to choose. Game centers, bowling alleys, and karaoke are popular hangout places for teens while older people may play shogi or go in specialized parlors.
Together, the publishing, film/video, music/audio, and game industries in Japan make up the growing Japanese content industry.
Main article: Nihonjinron
The Japanese "national character" has been written about under the term Nihonjinron, literally meaning "theories/discussions about the Japanese people" and referring to texts on matters that are normally the concerns of sociology, psychology, history, linguistics, and philosophy, but emphasizing the authors' assumptions or perceptions of Japanese exceptionalism; these are predominantly written in Japan by Japanese people, though noted examples have also been written by foreign residents, journalists and even scholars.
Japanese culture and arts have influenced many regions of the world. During the centuries before the Western invasions, Japan's culture have already made significant influences in Korea, China, Mongolia, North-east Asia, Taiwan, and Luzon. By the 10th century AD, Japanese culture have reached the Malayan archipelago, Thailand and the Straight of Malacca. Evidences have also seen Japanese influences as far as India and Oceania. By the 19th century, Japan's influence have solidified as far as Europe and the Americas. Today, Japanese culture outside Japan can be seen in almost all countries in the world, with major pronouncements in United States, Europe, China, Korea, Canada, Palau, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Australia.
Books on Japanese culture:
- Cwiertka, Katarzyna J. (2007). Modern Japanese Cuisine: Food, Power and National Identity. Reaktion Books. ISBN 1-86189-298-5. Review
- Japan This article incorporates public domain material from the Library of Congress Country Studies website http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/.
- Goldstein-Gidoni, Ofra (Fall 1999). Kimono And The Construction of Gendered and Cultural Identities. Enthology. 38. The University of Pittsburgh. pp. 351–370.
- Martin, Richard (1995). Our Kimono Mind: Reflections on 'Japanese Design: A Survey since 1950'. Journal of Design History. 8. The Design History Society. pp. 215–223.
- Nakagawa, Keiichirō; Rosovsky, Henry (Spring–Summer 1963). "The Case of the Dying Kimono: The Influence of Changing Fashions on the Development of the Japanese Woolen Industry". The Business History Review. The President and Fellows of Harvard College. 37 (1/2): 59–80. doi:10.2307/3112093. JSTOR 3112093.
- Varley, Paul. Japanese Culture. 4th Edition. Honolulu. 2000.
- Nippon The Land And Its People. 2006.
- ^"How Japan became a pop culture superpower | The Spectator". The Spectator. 31 January 2015.
- ^Tamaki, Taku. "Japan has turned its culture into a powerful political tool". The Conversation.
- ^Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, ISBN 4-7674-2015-6
- ^"America's Top Pop Imports". Forbes. 26 February 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-03-03. Retrieved 2010-09-23.
- ^"News World news Germany Lost in translation"
- ^Bowie, Henry P. (1952). On the Laws of Japanese Painting. Dover Publications, Inc. pp. 4, 16–19.
- ^ abWatt, Paul (October 2003). "Japanese Religions". FSI | SPICE. Retrieved 2017-09-28.
- ^ abWeb, Japan. "Japan Fact Sheet"(PDF). Noh and Kyogen: The world's oldest living theater. Archived from the original(PDF) on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
- ^ abWeb, Japan. "Japan Fact Sheet"(PDF). Kabuki: A vibrant and exciting traditional theater. Archived from the original(PDF) on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
- ^Web, Japan. "Japan Fact Sheet"(PDF). Bunraku: Puppet theater brings old Japan to life. Archived from the original(PDF) on 9 April 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
- ^"Takarazuka History". Takarazuka Revue. Archived from the original on 25 February 2008. Retrieved 1 March 2008.
- ^Kuitert, Wybe (1988). "Themes, Scenes and Taste in the History of Japanese Garden Art". J.C.Gieben, Publisher, Amsterdam. ISBN 978-90-5063-021-4.
- ^ abDalby, Liza (2001). Kimono: Fashioning Culture. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 9780295981550. OCLC 46793052.
- ^"Cool Japan: Why Japanese remakes are so popular on American TV, and where we’re getting it wrong"Archived 15 September 2008 at the Wayback Machine.. AsianWeek. Retrieved on 2008-09-16.
- ^"Digital Content Association Of Japan". Dcaj.org. 27 January 2012. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
Essay on Japanese Culture
The first chapter I read in Global Society: Introducing Five contemporary Societies, Third Edition by Linda Schneider and Arnold Silverman, entitled “Japan: A Conforming Culture,” It appears on pages 3 through 66.
Japan is a society in crisis. It is a culture that is highly resistant to change; a society that places a high value on each member’s conformity within highly structured layers of Japanese society. Japan is an island nation, consisting of the four large islands of Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Together they are approximately the size of Germany or the State of California, and it has a population of approximately 126 million people (3).
Japan has a large population in relation to its land mass and as a consequence most Japanese people live crowded together in an urban corridor squeezed along the eastern edge of the Japanese islands. A result of this crowding is that Japanese place a high value on public harmony and the avoidance of any conflict, especially in public. Japanese norms require people to be willing to apologize and humble themselves, so much so that even after a minor auto accident each driver will jump out of their vehicle and bow to each other and apologize, instead of risking a very public confrontation. Frequently, Japanese will also employ the use of a go-between to negotiate a possible marriage. In this way, an individual can turn down a bride or groom without rejecting them to their face, thereby avoiding open disagreement or embarrassment of an individual (11).
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The Japanese are constantly reminded that their society is special, unique like no other, and are taught that the cultural homogeneity of Japanese society has a biological basis when in fact racial identity is a social belief and not a physical fact (9). While the Japanese people are not a separate race they are indeed a highly homogenous society. The lack of internal dissent allows them to merge their concepts of race and nationality to foster an unusually strong feeling of group solidarity and national purpose. Every level of Japanese society, from school authorities, to employers, government officials, parents and even media outlets reinforce the popular belief that Japan is special (10).
Japan has historically been an isolated nation; resistant to foreign influences. It has “opened” itself to the outside world only a few times in its history. A first great turning point in Japanese history occurred during the seventh century A.D., when Japan was still a tribal society and possessed a weak national government. Through hierarchal diffusion, a prince of the ruling family began importing cultural practices from China, studying Chinese government and elaborate bureaucracy, it’s tax system and writing, even building Chinese-style cities as Japan had lacked even having towns. After 300 years Japan then retreated back to isolation in the ninth century, during which time the imported thoughts and ideas were slowly digested and given a distinct Japanese identity during its isolation that they then adopted as their own. It is important to understand that then and later, all of Japan’s foreign borrowings were voluntary. Japan was never conquered or colonized by another nation (3).
During a relatively open period in the early 1600’s, Portuguese missionaries and traders were greeted with curiosity and interest, but the subsequent conversion of some 300,000 Japanese to Christianity by religious missionaries convinced Japanese rulers that things had gone too far and forced thousands of Japanese to renounce their religion or face execution. By 1638 they had ejected most foreigners and re-imposed an isolation from the rest of the world that resisted change. Laws forbade the Japanese from building ocean-going ships or traveling abroad, and only a few foreign traders were allowed to enter Japan. This period of refusal and rejection of contact with the West is referred to as the Tokugawa era (4).
For most of its history, up until the Meiji Restoration, Japan was a society of hereditary status rankings: it was a caste society, aristocrat and samurai, commoner or outcaste. People were born into the caste of their parents and there were rules regulating what members of different castes were permitted to do and wear, regardless of what his or her talents were (3).
The first opening of Japanese society, commonly referred to as the Meiji Restoration, occurred in 1853, when the American Navy under Admiral Dewey forced Japan to open it’s ports to American ships and sign a series of trade treaties (5). When the Japanese leadership realized that Japan could only enjoy equality with western powers by modernization and the adoption of new technologies, the government, in effect, went on a world-wide shopping spree for new institutions to adopt. It found a model for it’s navy in Great Britain, it’s army in France, it’s universities in America and it’s constitution in Germany. In effect, Japan took the best ideas that would fit their society and adopted them as their own with some minor changes to suit them. This resulted in an unprecedented rapid industrialization and modernization of a nation that in only 50 years time enabled Japan to resist conquest by Western powers and even begin to launch their own imperial ambitions by the early 1900’s on nearby neighboring nations such as Korea and China that culminated in a surprising victory over Russian naval forces for control of Korea and other territories at the Battle of Tsushima in 1905, with Russia being considered a major world power at the time (5).
Rising Japanese imperial ambition would eventually lead to a long, drawn-out war with China in the 1930’s that would ultimately escalate into the Pacific theatre of World War II with the United States, which led to the utter devastation of Japan by the end of 1945 and subjecting Japanese society to reforms imposed on them by American occupation forces after the war. After World War II, defeat had destroyed Japan’s industry and left nearly everyone destitute. The demoralized and disillusioned Japanese were open to change and ideas after the crushing defeat of Japanese militarism (6).
The second opening of Japanese society occurred after the defeat of Japan by the Unites States, ending World War II. Acting as Supreme Commander for the Allied powers, General Douglas MacAurther dismantled Japan’s military, reformed its government and constitution, broke up industrial monopolies and redistributed land ownership. Individuals were given rights beyond what is guaranteed in the U.S. constitution, including equal rights for women, the right of labor to bargain collectively and the right of all individuals to an equal education. The occupation of Japan by American forces leveled many inequalities. (5).
This new combination of Western institutions and Japanese central government brought about Japan’s post-war economic miracle. Japan rapidly rebuilt from wartime ruin and went on to develop cutting-edge export-oriented industries. Japan is a small nation, lacking in raw materials and energy resources. Yet, within forty years time the nation grew to become the world’s second largest economy, exporting cars, radios, televisions, computers and other consumer electronics. Wages doubled and re-doubled, companies promised job security in exchange for worker loyalty and Japanese workers were content (6).
Japan today is suffering through a persistent economic crisis following the burst of the Japanese real estate “bubble” of the 1980’s. Unemployment has risen, many companies have gone bankrupt, prices are falling, stocks and real estate are losing value and consumer spending is down. The crisis has revealed links between the government and business that only serve their own needs instead of the citizenry as a major underlying economic problem. It has also become clear that many Japanese companies had really only been marginally profitable and had been riddled with waste and inefficiency. Banks were left holding nearly 600 billion dollars in bad loans that would not be repaid (6).
Some experts see this current crisis as evidence of a major change in Japanese society. They believe Japan’s successful period of industrial expansion as being over and that the nation needs to embark on a new post-industrial society, a society so advanced that only a small percentage of its labor force is needed in manufacturing with the majority of workers shifting to service sector and information-based services. The problem is that Japan is still geared to industrial manufacturing production. Experts watching wonder if Japan will recover by following tried and true Japanese strategies or if it will begin a new radical social reconstruction via a “third opening” (8).
Japanese schoolchildren are taught that Japan is an island nation surrounded by seas and enemies, and that they must depend on each other. Though the world sees Japan as a global economic powerhouse, Japanese see their country as small and unprotected from assault. Japan is acutely aware that it has become highly dependent on the world economy. Japan has no oil, virtually no raw materials and must import vast quantities of meat and grain to feed itself, since the land is mountainous with only a small percentage of the land suitable for agriculture (9).
Japan is a demanding society with very strong pressure to conform. Families, schools, and businesses all work hard to make sure their members learn the roles expected from them and to conform to them (26). In Japan people are managed very effectively. Deviating from accepted social norms is strongly frowned upon. The Japanese themselves say, “The nail that sticks up, gets pounded down.” Individual needs or wants are not encouraged in public settings. You can be certain that if you violate social norms in Japan, someone will notice and they will take action, and you will pay a price. Ridicule is a common sanction in Japanese society. Mothers commonly tell their children, “If you do that, people will laugh at you.” The children come to fear being laughed at or ridiculed, and this fear carries over into adult life as an important social tool to encourage conformity (30).
Japanese people value being part of a group. Groups figure very prominently in Japanese society. Group life without conflict comes first and people are expected to think of themselves as members of a group and any individual considerations are secondary (14). Japan conditions it’s citizens beginning in school. The school system dominates the lives of Japanese children. In elementary and junior high school students are taught to see themselves first and foremost as a member of a group. One of the earliest groups they are members of is called a Kumi, or home room class. Each Kumi are encouraged to think of it’s class as a collective home. Each action is shown to have an effect of others in the group, and each Kumi rearranges it’s furniture, decorates the class and cleans the room with the teacher each day. The Kumi are further broken down into teams of students called a Han, with a leader being chosen called a Han-cho, whose primary duty is to lead the group in harmonious decision-making. Hans are expected to resolve conflicts and solve problems themselves without having to resort to the intervention of adults (20).
Decisions of a governmental or corporate issue are reached only after a long period of input, with every member concerned asked for their input and thoughts, which is typically in the form of a memorandum that is passed around that they can make suggestions on. No single individual suggests a course of action and the result of this is that there is no minority group to nurse a grudge, as everyone was involved and had agreed upon the decision that was reached. As a consequence, decision making is slow and cumbersome and in a crisis such as a major earthquake or financial panic, the responsible Japanese institutions can be frustratingly slow to respond.
During the 1980’s, Japan had one of the most profitable and efficient economies in the world. Japan exploded onto the global economic scene. The Japanese established themselves among the ranks of the United States and various European powers. But a long drawn out recession has forced Japan to make changes and pushed them back, out of the realm of being an economic superpower. This leaves me with just one question; when I look at Japan’s strengths and weaknesses, is it likely for them to return to the economic status they enjoyed during the 1980’s? I think the answer is no.
Because of Japanese false illusions, increasing national debt and deflation, it is unlikely that Japan will be able to make a full recovery to their former status.
Japanese labor management relations seems a facade to me. While Japan may not have unions like the Teamsters, every major corporation in Japan apparently has one, independent of other unions that may be doing the very same job but only at a different company. They are what I will refer to as a company union, for lack of a better phrase. The Japanese company union seems like a puppet to me, serving only the company interests, but since everyone in a Japan believes that to succeed they need to act together as a group and that only by being profitable can lifetime employment be ensured, they accept this. I feel that one reason Japanese companies lack the labor and management concerns that American corporations have is that the corporation CEO and executives in Japan do not make 100 times the money that the average workers do, as in the United States. But with the Japanese still struggling to recover after more than a decade of recession and layoffs that were previously unheard of before now becoming more commonplace, I wonder what the reaction of the Japanese worker will be when they realize that loyalty to the company will no longer benefit them. I wonder if Japanese labor relations will be become much worse than they are now and how they will be expressed in a society that values conformity and lack of confrontation, if they would even protest at all. I also believe that the overblown praise about Japan’s “lifetime employment system” is a myth, given that it only applies to about a third or so of the Japanese workforce, namely the elite white collar workers and unionized blue collar workers in large companies.
I imagine that the Japanese have difficulty in seeing things objectively when Japan is involved. When things are going fine and dandy for the Japanese, the world is jealous. But when things go badly for them it suddenly does not concern them anymore. An example I would use would be when Japanese forces at the beginning of WWII were running rampant and initially defeating the enemy, their whole country rejoiced. But when the war was lost, it was the army that did it, not them. Japanese memories seem to me as though the Japanese woke up and went out to work one day and the atomic bomb was dropped on them all off a sudden out a clear blue sky. No pun intended. I wonder if the average Japanese citizen is informed about Japan’s past and how it is presented to them. They seem to have a victim mentality when things go against Japan.
I wonder how in such a homogenous and close knit society just how racist the Japanese really are to foreigners. It seems to me highly unlikely I would run across anyone hollering racial epithets at me in public. I doubt I would run into any skinheads or men dressed in white sheets roaming the streets of Japan. It would have to be a more subtle racism but I am not familiar with how they would accomplish that. But since avoiding conflict and trouble is extremely important in Japan, they must use a more diplomatic approach than any westerner would be accustomed to, in that what is not said may be far more important than what actually is. Being complimentary and insulting at the same time, without a foreigner realizing it, must be a source of amusement to some Japanese.
It puzzles me how in such a homogenous and close knit society just how racist the Japanese really are to foreigners. It seems to me highly unlikely I would run across anyone hollering racial epithets at me in public. I doubt I would run into any skinheads or men dressed in white sheets roaming the streets of Japan. It would have to be a more subtle racism but I am not familiar with how they would accomplish that. But since avoiding conflict and trouble is extremely important in Japan, they must use a more diplomatic approach than any westerner would be accustomed to, in that what is not said may be far more important than what actually is. Being complimentary and insulting at the same time, without a foreigner realizing it, must be a source of amusement to some Japanese.
I got the impression from the reading material that while the Japanese stress harmony amongst each other it is ultimately only an image of harmony. What lies beneath the Japanese surface may be completely different. An image of the Borg aliens from the TV show Star Trek came to mind while I was reading about Japanese culture, with their single one-mindedness. And a phrase used by the Borg that they announce before attacking. “You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.”
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