Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Understanding Japanese Society (in March 2011)

I've learnt a lot from reading Joy Hendry's Understanding Japanese Society. I suppose the underlying theme is harmony of society achieved through peer pressure. It also explains much about the role of mentor and student as in Natsume Soseki's Kokoro. One thing I particularly like about the book is that its 'recommended reading' at the end of each chapter includes novels as well as the more orthodox non-fictional reading.

The Oyabun/Kobun relationship.
In Japan it is common for a young person to become attached to a senior who will help him build up a career. In return the senior person expects loyalty, support, and for the young person to do his bidding the rest of his career. The young person's success is then dependent on the senior's, and I expect that it is quite easy to back the wrong horse.

Everyone knows their place. Seniority, gender, social status are all important. This is
demonstrated in forms of address, the verbs used and the dept and duration of the bowing. It comes from Confucianism from China. Harmony is all and the community sees that this is maintained through remonstration and ostracism. This seems to be very effective and makes for a law-abiding society where the most intractable-sounding disputes are reconciled by negotiation.

Uchi and Soto
The division between outside and inside is important. Outside is polluted and must not be brought inside so shoes are taken off, clothes may be changed and the outside may be even washed away. The outside has a public unemotional face, the inside a private more demonstrative one.

Today the emperor of Japan admitted in a television broadcast that he is worried about what's in store for his country. After reading this book I realise that this must be an extraordinary move, and emphasises the seriousness of the situation. Until the occupation after the second world war the emperor was regarded as a god. For this god to expose his private face in this way must add to the general anxiety.


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