Chapter 51 – Refining the Tribe Theory
BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA; BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS and BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES
REFINING THE TRIBE THEORY
1. The Original Theory
2. Origins of Differences
3. Principles versus Rules
4. Japanese Perfectionism
5. On Rationality
6. Finding Terminology
7. Small Group Values versus Large Group Values
8. ‘Rationalism’ to the rescue?
9. Kansei versus Risei
10. Class-group versus Work-group
It was in the mid-1970’s that I came up with my ‘Japan-is-a-tribe’ theory.
But there were some flaws in my attempt to define Japan.
1.The Original Theory
I had begun by trying to explain the differences between the Japanese and the Chinese.
From there it was but a small step to realising that when compared with the Japanese, the Chinese were quite similar to us Westerners – individualistic, argumentative, opinionated, ideological and so on.
From there it was only another small step to realising that the peoples of other older civilisations – the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent – were also similar to the Chinese, and ourselves, at least in comparison with the Japanese.
So what was it that made the Japanese seem so different?
I was impressed especially by the weakness of ideologies, both political and religious, in Japan.
Japan had borrowed and used the ideologies of others – Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity and Communism (to some extent).
But its basic religion – Shinto – was animistic, similar to what we find in primitive tribes: a belief that gods and spirits inhabit trees, rocks, mountains.
(When my local municipality set out to widen our road by knocking out a rocky spur they first held a Shinto ceremony to appease the gods of the mountain. And this was the modern Japan of the 1980s.)
No one claimed universalistic validity fo Shinto – it was possible to have a Shinto baptism, a Christian wedding and a Buddhist funeral, for example.
During its Asian wars of the thirties and forties Japan tried to imitate Western behavior by imposing and then claiming universal validity for Shinto as its national religion.
But the claims were half-hearted, and disappeared with war end.
Another detail was the propensity to be swayed by emotional factors.
In slogans and advertisements, firms liked to use sloppy, emotional terms like ‘nice feeling’ or ‘heartful service.’
“The Bank with a Heart” was the slogan of the former Daiichi Kangyo Bank even as it was up to its neck in shady deals with developers and gangsters.
The booms, moods and fads which swept Japan constantly were part of the same emotional picture. One day bowling is the fashion. The next day it is tennis.
When it is all over Japan is left with a mess of empty bowling palaces and weed-covered tennis courts.
The irrational share market movements of the mid seventies, also helped to convince me that the Japanese seemed to have a liking for lemming-like emotional thinking and behaviour…
Then there was the childishly emotional side of the Japanese – adults devouring comic books, prime-time slapstick TV shows, the bakusho phenomenon (sudden outbursts of raucous laughter at the jokes of the speaker in one’s group when eating or drinking).
General McArthur probably went too far when he said the Japanese had mentalities of 12 year old children. But clearly he, like others, had seen something immature and irresponsible in the makeup of Japan’s wartime leaders.
But there was the good side to ‘emotionalism’ – the refined sensitivity of Japanese art, the perfection and balance of the traditional Japanese house, the refined sense of beauty and expression ( the
Detail nature films, female actresses in TV dramas for example), advertisements that emphasise feeling rather than crude price differences, the consideration in human relations.
Missing badly in all this was the Socratic demand for rational enquiry – the demand the world around us be explained.
In the West it was a different story. The ideas and philosophies born in the conflicts of Ancient Greece spread to influence the entire Western world. As one Wikipedia writer puts it:
‘The philosophic movements that were to dominate the intellectual life of the Roman Empire were thus born in this febrile period following Socrates’ activity, and either directly or indirectly influenced by him. They were also absorbed by the expanding Muslim world in the 7th through 10th centuries AD, from which they returned to the West as foundations of Medieval philosophy and the Renaissance’
China also saw a similar blossoming of intellectual thinking, which at times complemented Japanese thought but was never able to dominate the simple demands of Bushido and the animistic beliefs of Shinto.
Confucianism appealed to the Japanese because at base it was no more than a simple guide to good behaviour, several steps more sophisticated than the native Bushido.
It did not claim universality, as a form of religion or other ideology .It sought appeal by the simple commonsense of its precepts.
The closest Japan ever came to working out an ideology was the so-called Mito School which mixed Confucianism with the native Shintoism to produce the nationalistic concept of kokutai, or the undefined essence of the nation which had to be carefully protected.
That provided the basis on Japan’s subsquent nationalism.
2. Origins of Differences
Looking for a cause of the differences forced me to think in reverse. In other words, why are we all trying to explain Japan?
You do not have to explain a ‘tribal’, group-centered society with an animistic religion. That is how all societies have begun their existence.
You have to explain how our non-‘tribal’ societies moved away from that to where they are today.
My initial answer was that continental location was the key factor.
Wars and conflicts in our more continental societies had encouraged people to create or borrow ideologies – Islam, Christianity to justify their existence, and differences with others
From this they had moved to embrace value systems that emphasised argument and debate, principles and reasonings – what I came to call rationalistic values.
This in turn had allowed peoples to create the sciences, technologies, economies, strong central governments etc. that had underlain our various civilisations.
This process had begun in the societies of the Greek peninsula (perhaps because it was there that the struggles between factions and regions were most intense).
We north Europeans had come to be influenced by those older civilisations to the south of us. We too had moved in the same rationalistic direction, though maybe not so far.
Japan’s long history of island isolation had removed it from this experience. But it was able to retain and refine the useful values of its original tribal, clan, village and then feudal society.
What it lacked it was able to borrow from China and later the West
It was the ‘tribe’ that had become a nation, and a very successful nation at that.
3. Principles versus Rules
The concept of principle was a large help to my thinking.
I mentioned earlier how my first insight to the Japanese mentality had been the Tokyo University sociologist, Nakane Chie, telling a foreign audience at the height of the 1970’s trade frictions that ‘we Japanese do not have principles.’
At the time I did not fully realise the implications.
Like others, I assumed a well-organised society like Japan must have had some basis on which to organise itself.
If it lacked attachment to principles then what was that basis?
The answer should have been obvious – if you do not use principles you use rules.
Principles are simply rationalised rules.
As human beings we are all alike – gentle and cruel, sensitive and insensitive, selfish and caring, moral and immoral, disciplined and undisciplined.…… and so on.
We all share the same feelings. Many of them contradictory.
And we all have to find rules to control them.
What differs is the extent to which we try to rationalise and explain those rules – the extent to which we try to find some logic or religion to justify them.
In other words the extent to which we try to covert them into principles claiming some basis of validity.
If left unrationalised they reman simply as rules – the things we are supposed to do without attempts to explain why, other than that they exist and seem to be demanded by the society around us.
For example, Japan is said to be a shame society (haji no shakai). By contrast we in the West are supposed to rely on guilt (tsumi ishiki) to encourage people to behave properly.
Much is made of this difference. Books are written about it.
But if we see guilt was simply a rationalised version of shame then we are not so different.
We all feel shame when we behave badly towards others. But if we seek to rationalise that feeling we will see it as having broken some principle – be it religious, legal, logic – seen as important in our society.
We will feel guilt. Sometimes we may be told we have committed a sin or a crime.
But if we do not try to rationalise that feeling it will remain as shame.
Japan also has the concept of crime. And it has police to prevent crime. But noticeable is the extent to which criminals are make to feel shame for what they have done.
They will be made to feel bad for having broken the rules, traditions or simply the ambience of the society.
Relying on emotional feelings can be very effective way to organise a society.
Take for example the extraordinary honesty of the average Japanese.
All of us living in Japan have stories of wallets or other valuable objects being returned when lost.
Ask a Japanese why they return lost objects – sometimes having to go to much trouble to do so – and they will say simply that this is the way one should behaves. Often they will also say that they feel sympathy for the person who lost the object, even though they never get to meet that person.
It is what you do if you wish to retain your identity within that larger group called society.
Book stores will leave magazines for sale on open display.
Ask a Japanese why they refrain from simply picking up the magazine and walking away, and they will often say it is because they simply feel bad within themselves if they do not return the object – shame.
Or that they feel bad towards the shop-owner who will have to suffer for his generosity in putting his products on open display.
Sometimes there is a reward for the person returning the very valuable lost object. But it is nominal – a conventional 10 percent.
Older Japanese used to talk about the need to be honest to meet the demands of the tento-sama – some undefined spiritual presence which is supposed to be watching over us all.
Presumably the presence may do something to punish us in the next life. But it is all very vague.
And that is how it should be.
If one wants to look for some guiding rule holding the society together I would point to the concept of meiwaku – trouble or inconvenience.
It does not get much attention in the guidebooks to Japan. But in the school rooms of Japan it is taught, almost as the golden rule of society – do not cause meiwaku to others.
It may be as simple was avoiding to bump into each other in a crowded train. Or it maybe the prime minister of Japan excusing himself for some policy failure which has sent the nation into debt.
Standing before a large table he and his underlings will bow deeply and apologise for the meiwaku they have caused the society.
But big or small, by all means avoid causing meiwaku.
It is a major reason for the relatively smooth working of Japanese society. But it is also a major factor in social corruption; people guilty of some evil deed feel they need only apologise for meiwaku without having to offer an excuse or reason for the deed.
But it does leave a stain on reputation.
The flip side to this, however, is the lack of restraints when meiwaku does not apply, when one is freed from a sense of obligation to the surrounding society
The bad behaviour of Japanese tourists abroad, or the unrestrained brutality of the Japanese military in wartime, or the sneaky dumping of garbage in secluded areas are examples.
Rules have a limited range of operations. Principles are supposed to be more universalistic, applicable in all situations.
But attachment to principles can also have negative effects.
In my original ‘Japan is a Tribe’ book I had mentioned Japan’s practical attitudes to sex, abortion, alcohol.
Coming from the Australia of those days – a society wracked with debates over the morality to such things – I had to be impressed by the sensible Japanese approach.
Nor was I impressed when we decided that the morality was defective.
In the process we often swung from one extreme to the other – from total prohibition to total endorsement.
Principles can be brittle- yes or no, good or bad, with no ground for compromise in between.
4. Japanese Perfectionism
In the absence of strong religions many assume the honesty or other well-known good behaviours of the Japanese must be due to some strong Orwellian discipline imposed from above.
Why are they so rigidly perfectionist in making sure their trains run so precisely on time, for example?
Or that their cars and machines should be built to such precise measures?
At the very least there has to be some binding force, or ‘system,’ pushing them in these directions, many assume.
Scholars waste a lot of time, and paper, trying to find it.
In fact, it is no more than the normal feeling or sense of responsibility one should feel towards others, or towards the society generally.
To fail to make the trans run on time leaves one covered with a blanket of shame before society.
It is we non-Japanese who need to be explained, with our excessive emphasis on the rights of the individual, allowing us to ignore the demands of society.
The displeasure many Japanese get from a lack of order is part of the same syndrome.
Shoes in a genkan (entrance way to a house) left disordered, cars not parked correctly in line, garbage not sorted properly – all these things seem to cause genuine pain.
Walk down a street with an untied shoelace or a bag left open and some conscientious citizen is bound to want to let you know about it.
The orderliness of the society has been disrupted and they want you to know about it.
Nor is it just genkans and shoelaces. It is almost impossible to find a misprint in newspapers or magazines, even in those of inferior quality.
Meanwhile even quality newspapers in the West will carry the occasional misprint. Poor quality Chinese publications are rife with mistakes.
Keeping the trains running on time – another Japanese ‘miracle’ that rightly amazes visitors – is the same.
In Japan, if a local train simply fails to stop at a designated station it not only becomes media news. We are given detailed figures of the number of passengers inconvenienced as a result.
The extraordinary efforts that most Japanese suppliers make to keep customers happy and to service faulty equipment often go well beyond what more hard-headed suppliers in the West would see as needed to guarantee profits.
Strangers worrying about my shoelaces could also be part of the same syndrome.
Certainly it is hard to talk of this passion for order and neatness as the result of a strict Prussian-style discipline imposed from the top.
For in that case, how can we explain the lack of discipline in so many areas of Japanese society – the noisy bike gangs which get their pleasure from annoying society?
They see themselves as part of another society – the bike gang. This allows them to get their pleasure from annoying the rest of society.
At times the Japanese demand for order and discipline can operate only at the range of the individual’s personal feeling, or what the Japanese call the shiya – literally the range of sight (attention).
Within that range people will focus closely on creating order, symmetry, kindness, beauty or whatever it is that they think is important. But beyond that disorder can prevail. Even in the center of Tokyo, near the Palace, you will find a patch of manicured public land alongside an ugly neglected clump of weeds.
This close, almost obsessive, attention to one’s immediate surroundings and specific responsibilities, while ignoring the more distant and abstract seems to be yet another seeming Japanese contradiction.
Inside one’s house everything has to be in order perfection. But it does not matter if the design, colour or materials of the houses along the street are all in higgledy-piggledy disorder.
European rules demanding building consistency find it hard to take root in Japan. But in parking lots most seem to feel a need to make sure their cars are all parked facing the same direction.
Board a crowded train without a mask during a pandemic and you are made subconsciously to feel uncomfortable. Yet few manage to show much remorse or regret for the behaviour of their soldiers and governments in war situations.
(Another example is Japan’s intense anger over the fate of a few Japanese citizens abducted from Japan by North Korea during the seventies and eighties while ignoring Japan’s much more barbaric behaviour to the tens of thousands of Chinese and other Asian press ganged for wartime forced labor.)
In our Western societies the contradictions seem to work the other way.
So we worry abstract issues like smoking rights or the Vietnam War. Whether or not the trains run on time is less important.
We assume that this broader view of things is superior.
Does it really matter if the cars in the car-park are not all neatly arranged in parallel and facing the same direction?
But the Japanese could be quite entitled to ask why we do not pay more attention to the small, day-to-day practical details needed to keep the trains running on time or to produce defect-free goods.
Those scholars who like to insist that Japan is no different from any other society must have noticed the detailed preparation for the conferences and meetings to which they are invited, and the lack of glitches in TV shows they watch.
Do they have an explanation for all that?
5. On Rationality
I use the word ‘emotional.’ But by now it should clear that by ‘emotional’ I am talking mainly about things like sensitivity and feelings.
Usually we see the emotional as tinged with the irrational. But if it underlies the extraordinary attention to detail that we find in Japan it is hardly irrational, especially if it means defect-free manufacture or trains run on time..
If Japan’s emotional group ethic says that people should work together cooperatively, and the result is higher work productivity, that is not irrational.
Indeed, for a long time in the eighties our management experts used to see Japan’s cooperative ethic as a model of rationality for us all, even if they did not understand its origins.
True, the ‘emotional’ can also have its ugly or irrational sides – the booms and the busts, wasteful services due to excessive concern for customers, the particular brutality of Japanese militarism.
We can call that emotionalism.
Practicality is rational reliance on feelings. Emotionalism is irrational reliance on feelings.
(The tribe too can be both practical and emotionalist. Irrational taboos and wild outbursts combine with highly rational efforts to get crops planted in time, organize stable social systems, distribute food fairly.)
(The very fact that the tribe survives, often in adverse circumstances, is proof that, like Japan, it does some things right.)
Rational Principles versus Irrational Principles
Realising that practicality and emotionality were related was an important concept.
From there it was but another short step to realising that those of us who operate more in the area of principles and reasonings harbour a similar contradiction.
When we handle our principles and reasonings correctly (i.e. rationally) we end up with an attractively logical and scientific approach to problems.
When we handle them wrongly we end up with a very unattractive dogmatism – something far from unknown in many of our non-Japanese societies.
We become too attached to our principles and reasonings, even when they are mistaken or divorced from reality.
In short, if rational practicality and irrational emotionalism are flip sides of the same ‘emotional’ coin, then scientific rationality and dogmatic irrationality are the flip sides of our non-Japanese ‘principled’ coin.
Almost every day we see this scientific/dogmatic contradiction in our own societies. We take it for granted.
But the Japanese puzzle over it, in much the same way as we puzzle over the combination of practicality and emotionalism in their society.
(Interestingly females say much the same about us males – smart logic matched by irrational hang-ups and dogmas. The feminine aspect of Japanese psychology – sensitivity to relationships, openness to language and ideas – is a controversy we can look at later.)
6. Finding Terminology
Increasingly, I was having a problem of terminology.
I had described the Japanese as ‘emotional.’ But if I was to recognise the many practical aspects of the Japanese ethic, I needed some other word.
Traditional versus Modern
There were the pejorative concepts of ‘traditional’ values as opposed to ‘modern’ values.
Some Japan-watchers had liked to see Japan as struggling to move from the traditional to the modern. In the postwar years, many progressive Japanese had embraced this terminology.
They had advocated a move to more ‘modern’ values while conservatives tried hard to defend the ‘traditional.’
But by the late 1970’s Japan was well on the way to catching up with Western economic and social progress.
If ‘traditional,’ values were so inferior to ‘modern’ values, why was ‘traditional’ Japan doing as well if not better than many of our more ‘modern’ Western societies?
The conservatives seemed to gain a new lease of life.
( Unknowingly, I got caught up in this debate. )
(In Australia I might have been seen as a wild-eyed radical for having opposed the Vietnam War. But by the late seventies my theory about Japan progressing while retaining its original value system was seen as confirming the’ traditional’ approach of the conservatives.)
(One result was that I was largely shunned by the political and social progressives in Japan, despite having agreed strongly with them over Vietnam, China and a host of other foreign policy issues.)
(But I was embraced by the political and social conservatives.)
(In some ways that was an unplanned blessing since it gave me access, at least for while, to many of the inner circles of business, academic and even political power and thinking – all generally conservative.
However, I did find myself welcomed by the economic progressives, for a most interesting and curious reason.
It appears that prewar Japanese conservatives, like north European conservatives st the beginning of the industrial revolution, had been so caught up in the idea of agriculture as the source of good values and a strong economy that they saw manufacturing as peripheral.
To counter this obscurantism, my father’s concept, developed in the 1930’s, of the three stages of economic development – primary, secondary and tertiary – was welcomed by progressives since it proved the central role of manufacturing in Japan’s future development.
Some even told me how my father’s books had had to be translated and distributed furtively during the war years to avoid conservative disapproval.
7. Small Group Values versus Large Group Values
In short, whatever way I went – collectivist versus individualistic, emotional versus principled, particularistic versus universalistic, traditional versus modern – I was having problems describing the Japanese in relation to other peoples.
For a while I toyed with the Germanic concepts of gemeinschaft versus gesellschaft.
They seemed to match closely the concepts of emotional/particularistic versus principled/universalistic.
They also matched the concept of primary, small group values versus secondary, large group values.
(That the Germans could relate to this difference so well was yet another of the Japan-Germany similarities I was to discover later.)
But all this was in German. My language was English, or Japanese . I still had some way to go.
The solution to part of my problem came from a simple change in wording.
‘Universalism’ is usually defined as an attachment to ‘principles that have universalistic validity.’ But if we change that definition so it becomes ‘an attachment to principles that CLAIM universalistic validity’ then a lot of things fall into place.
If our principles have the validity claimed for them, then well and good.
But if they lack that validity? Then we are back to the world of economic, religious, political dogmas that can do such harm to our allegedly advanced universalistic societies.
‘Rationalism,’ I decided, would replace ‘universalism’.
As those familiar with the English language will realize, rationalistic does not mean rational.
It means the attempt to be rational relying on principles and reasonings that seek or claim to be valid.
If they have that sought-after validity then well and good. But there is no guarantee they will have that validity.
8. ‘Rationalism’ to the rescue?
The terms ‘rationalism’ and ‘rationalistic’ encapsulated neatly the concept of rational principled and irrational principled which I had developed earlier.
But then I had the problem of translation.
‘Rational’ in Japanese is gori teki
‘Rationalistic’ becomes gori shugi – the ‘ideology’ (shugi) of seeking to be in accord with the principle. To me that is different from ‘rational.’
But most Japanese seemed to assume that the two – gori teki and gori shugi – have virtually the same meaning.
Interestingly, gori teki in Japanese does not necessarily have the positive meaning that ‘rational’ has in English and other languages.
It can have overtones of a cold, excessively cerebral approach to problems.
Rikutsu-poi – the propensity to over-emphasise logic and principles in one’s approach to life can also be seen as a personality fault, immature even.
The mature adult is supposed to be able to go beyond reasonings to take account of other factors, both practical and emotional.
Being devoid of logic and principles is not necessarily seen as the fault we might imagine, especially if it implies a reliance on jocho (warm feelings and emotion) which is very definitely a virtue.
During the eighties boom in Japan’s stock market, rikutsu-nuki was a term often used to describe crazy bursts of enthusiasm for speculative stocks, but not necessarily with overtones of the craziness we would assume.
If anything it seemed at times to encourage even more foolish, follow-the-leader purchasing of those stocks.
(Curiously the US stock-market in the 2120’s began for a brief period to show the same tendencies with so-called meme stocks.)
The 19th century nationalist thinkers of Japan’s Mito School even managed to condemn the Chinese for excessive emphasis on ri, or reason. They saw it as too cold, calculating and mechanical.
They saw Japanese culture as superior because of its emphasis on jo – feeling and emotion.
They were to have a strong influence on the right-wing thinkers of the thirties, and perhaps even postwar.
Later I found strong confirmation for my thinking in the text of Yukawa Hideki’s address to a 1964 University of Hawaii symposium on the Japanese mentality.
Yukawa discovered the meson and is one of Japan’s more deserving Nobel Prize winners. If only for that reason his views on the mentality of his compatriots are of interest.
Some quotes: ‘The Japanese mentality is, in most cases, unfit for abstract thinking and takes interest merely in tangible things… ‘
‘Originally speaking, rationality takes an interest in the permanent and universal order transcending the narrow scope of space and time. But Japanese thought is concerned mainly about the local and the temporary order ….’
‘The peculiarity of the Japanese mode of thinking lies in its complete neglect of complementary alternatives. This we may term Japanese irrationalism. Of course, this is completely foreign to any form of scientific spirit. …It has the tendency to sidestep as far as possible any kind of confrontation.‘
Yukawa also confirms closely my own thoughts about the Chinese influence on Meiji Japan:
‘ As was seen in the instances of the introduction of Buddhism and Confucianism, the Japanese were very progressive in the assimilation of their high-level cultural assets.’
‘But among these, only the ones were appreciated that were effective in regulating the existing social and political order. Hence, a thoroughgoing rationalism, such as the philosophy of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, escaped general comprehension and found sympathy in the intellectual minority alone.’
Yukawa was one of that rationalistic minority, hence his scientific success perhaps. His father was an expert in the Chinese classics.
But while in English, at least, ‘rationalistic’ was a good substitute for ‘universalistic’ in describing most non-Japanese value systems, I still had the problem of finding a term to describe Japanese values.
“Particularistic’ did not seem a good choice, especially since in translation– kobetsu shugi – it was almost meaningless in Japanese.
Increasingly I found myself drawn to the term ‘instinctive’ as an alternative.
At times our instincts can lead us in the right, practical, direction. At other times they can lead us in wrong emotionalist directions.
That seemed to match closely what I was trying to say about the Japanese.
But once again there was a problem in Japanese since the direct translation of instinctive – honno-teki – can imply animalistic instincts.
9. Kansei versus Risei
Only later did I realize that I could summarise it all neatly in the Japanese concepts of kansei versus risei.
Kan means feeling, ri as we have already seen means principle. Add the suffix ‘sei’ to both words and it means the quality of relying on or the propensity to rely upon.
So kan sei in the propensity to rely on kan versus risei the quality of relying on ri.
Japanese audiences could relate to that.
The Deciding Role of ‘Principle’
Later I realised that in defining the difference between what I call the Japanese approach and the non-Japanese approach, I could reduce everything to a single variable – the propensity or otherwise to rely on argued principles (used in the broad sense to include reasonings).
To begin with, we are all creatures of instinct, with a propensity for what I call the emotional. Deep down we all prefer to operate on the basis of feelings rather than principles.
But some of us like to rationalise those feelings. We look for reasons and principles to explain them.
For example, all humans in their original state seem instinctively to want to believe in a supernatural presence.
Those who do not feel any need to rationalize those feelings will be happy simply to stay with them as they are.
They may try to convert them into some form of animistic religion such as Japan’s native Shinto. But lacking any strict body of doctrine animistic feelings remain what today we would describe as ‘primitive.’
Those who seek to rationalise those feelings will add principles and reasons, and end up with one or other of the world’s organized religions, with defined doctrines.
Another example: All humans have instinctive likes and dislikes of other peoples.
If they do not try to rationalize those feelings they end up with the highly personalist approach of the Japanese – they like some foreigners and dislike others very much on the basis of personality, achievement, or accidental contacts .
Black people in Japan especially see both sides of that particular syndrome. But the rest of us can also be impressed by ease of entry into Japanese society, if we have in some way earned it
Otherwise we suffer the difficulty of exclusion if we do not seem to have earned it.
Class Groups versus Work Groups
Some have noticed the attractive lack of class differences in Japan. True, there are the discriminations against people of burakumin origin, but that is an historical and group difference rather than class difference.
( A Dutch journalist who sought to get publicity by ’exposing’ and criticising Japanese discrimination against burakmmin found himself in trouble when the heads of the burakumin societies told him publicly they wanted to maintain their own group separate from Japanese society – that they discriminated as much against Japanese society as Japan was supposed to discriminate against them.
The initial discrimination had been based on feeling – their employment in leather working industry. It was confined to areas with that history.
Caste discriminations, or British class discriminations are different. They are based on attributes, not feelings. Those attributes -accent, education etc. – become the ‘principle’ underlying class formation. As such they can cover the nation; they are not confined to localised groups like burakumin.
Those discriminated against will also cling to those attribute differences as the basis of their identity. It explains the persistence of class or caste differences in rationalistic societies.
Japan is not without class differences but they are weaker and are gradually being eliminated by television.
In the Japanese workplace, group solidarity easily overcomes class differences.
One result is the steady decline in national, or even local, strikes – to the frustrations of leftists still waiting for the emergence of a working class to overthrow the capitalists.
Language operates in two directions in Japan. Japanese do not like foreign languages being thrown at them in a group situation; it disturbs the social togetherness and harmony.
But they do not mind their language being ‘polluted’ by foreignisms; whole sentences can be made by stringing together borrowings from English.
Japanese are accused of being nationalistic. In that case why do they want so much English in their language? But prewar when they were trying to imitate foreign nationalism they sought to ban all foreignisms, with sometimes odd results.
Compare this with France where language has become the attribute – principle – of national togetherness. English words are supposed to be banned.
A Japanese propensity, which someone once described as phenomenalism. is part of the same groupist picture. People will concentrate intently on the phenomenon put before their eyes, but forget to seek out the reasons for it, or its consequences.
Japan’s many scandals provide examples. The media will focus in for days, even weeks, on some unfortunate accused of breaking the rules, or laws, without any consideration of the reasons why it may have been necessary to break those rules or law, or even whether rules or laws may behave been broken.
They rely on what Japan’s giddy media tell them. From then on any action by the person under the media searchlight draws suspicions.
The so-called Recruit scandal was one such example, with the media and then the public quite uninterested in the background to that unique and highly progressive firm’s activities in trying to force reforms in Japan’s education and employment policies.
Indeed, once the demonising began, even the Recruit company’s obviously progressive deeds came to be seen as evil – for example, purchase of not greatly needed Cray computers to help ease US-Japan trade frictions, trying to bring some order to the recruitment of university graduates, making sure IPO profits went to company supporters rather than to the gangsters and corrupt securities companies as was the rule in those days. The irrationality reached a point where the reformist owner of the company – the very unique and unusual, Hiromasa Ezoe – was driven to suicide
His other very worthwhile reforms – promotion of females to senior positions, opening resorts in backward or neglected areas of Japan – for example, still remain overlooked.
Working as a journalist or academic in Japan one is especially aware of the way the excitement of the scandal is allowed to obscure any serious attempt to find the reasons for the ’scandal.’
It is particularism at its worst.
The so-called Olympus scandal which I saw from the inside thanks to a family connection was more complex – misdeeds were forced on the company by the feckless policies of the Koizumi and Takenaka administration.
There we saw the same phenomenalistic irrationality at work.
There is little or no seaching for the reasons behind these so-called ‘scandals.’ The media and society are often too happy to leave them just as they are, or rather as they appear to be.
Complicated explanations are not welcomed. (This applies particularly in foreign affairs.)
The message – do not try to change Japan too radically – cannot have been lost on other entrepreneurs.
It is a major reason why the Japan of recent years has begun to lose the traction of immediate postwar years when the clammy hand of conservative convention was still weak.