J a p a n e s e    C u l t u r e

Modern and Traditional Japanese Culture: The Psychology of Buddhism, Power Rangers, Masked Rider, Manga, Anime and Shinto. 在日イギリス人男性による日本文化論.

Monday, January 17, 2011


The Centres of their World: Bureaucrats and Caregivers

Today a Mr. Takehara failed to get elected as a major of a small Japanese town under a baner of reducing the power of public administrators.

Why is it that the Japanese are so tolerant of the power of bureaucrats, civil servants? Why is that so many young people want to become a bureaucrat, and do not feel shame about taking home a higher level of pay than their private-sector constituents, for doing less work?

Many young people (my students) are quite frank about wanting to avoid the world of private-sector, competitive work, to obtain a higher level of pay and job security (so they think at least) in the public sector, and go home earlier.

One reason is that the world of non-civil-servant, private-sector work is so hard in Japan. I guess that people can see the private sector, as being unacceptably harsh, and that it is therefore morally acceptable to go to work in the public sector where people to work acceptable hours for acceptable pay.

Another is that since the public sector is so desirable the public sector can take only the best (academic-hensachi-wise) so those that enter the public sector feel that they are the top of the heap, and therefore more deserving of a high salary.

And after all, someone has to be a bureaucrat, so 'why shouldn't it be me (especially if I have the best grades, can pass the strictest, public employee exams)?'

But more than that, there is little notion of public sector employees being "civil-*servants*;" people who exist to support the profit-making activities of the private sector. It seems to be felt that the public sector is rather the centre of society, or the centre of the economy, and the profit-making private sector is there to support those that perform the 'central role' of bureaucratic administration. I feel this to be the case in the macroscopic world of Japanese society, in the Japanese company, and in microscopic world of the Japanese family.

The (from a Western point of view) reversed view of the public and private sectors of the economy, may relate to the position of men and women, or rather their roles, in the Japanese family. The division between the public-administrative vs. private-profit-making sectors of the Japanese economy, map onto the care-giving (administrative?) vs. wage-earning roles in the Japanese family.

In the West wage earners tend to be seen as the central, respected, prime-movers of the family. Thus people, of both sexes, hanker after taking this role, whereas the caregiver is seen as merely a supporter, a servant. In Japan, I think that the situation is reversed. The caregiver, usually the mother, is the center of the Japanese family, and the wage earner is that beast of burden. If the Japanese family is a steam locomotive, the caregiver is the driver and the wage-earner is the 'fireman' who shovels the coal. Young people respect the central, administrative, rent-taking, role of their primary care giver and see the wage earner as an appendage that does that necessary, but rather tiresome and dirty, money-making-sarari-man-thing.

There is probably nothing objectively "central" about the private or public sectors, the "rent-taking" administrators, or the "profit making" labourers, each need each other, as do caregivers and wage earners. Without the latter there would be no one to pay the taxes, and without the former there would be to social structure to allow people to make a profit in the first place. In the family, there is nothing more central to being a care-giver, nor being a wage-earner. It all depends upon the cultural lens from which you look at it.

There are problems though:

First of all, of course, reversals can take some getting used to. It will take me all my life to get used to! I still try and break the rules (sorry folks!) Or perhaps I attempt to reach a compromise. Ahem.

Secondly, things can get extreme. A society can become over infatuated with the profit making side of things, and over infatuated with administration. I am not sure if that is what is happening in Japan, but the level of public debt makes me worry.

Thirdly, strange edge-effects can happen when rerversed cultures mingle, especially when one of them has a louder voice, and there is incomplete understanding of the situtations pertaining in each culture. For example, the Western feminist notion that Japanese caregivers are downtrodden, that they deserve even more, or the notion that the Japanese private sector is unduly harsh, find favour even among the elites, and may tip the balance in an unhealthy extreme directions.

Solutions? Japan may once have had a stronger Confucian-style sense of noblesse oblige amongst its central, administrators and caregivers. If I knew Confucius better I would be able to point to the sooth where Confucius recommends that leaders put their subjects welfare first. And are there still any supporters of dansonjohi(“honor men and belittle women.”)? The idea that a society should honor men and belittle women is abhorent to Western ears, because it is not understood as noblesse oblige. It is in fact no worse, nor better, nor different to "Ladies First."

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This blog represents the opinions of the author, Timothy Takemoto, and not the opinions of his employer.