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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.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Takano Youtaro's Proverbs

Takano Youtaro's Proverbs by timtak
Takano Youtaro's Proverbs, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Takano Yohtaro is one of the few social psychologists that I know of (the other being Toshio Yamagishi) that argues that the Japanese are not collectivists.

I think that Professor Youtaro goes far too far, to argue that further there are no cultural differences, other than those caused by fleeting historical socio-economic influences. It seems to me quite clear that there are some cultural psychological differences. I also think that his almost polemical rejection of Japanese collectivism, even has he introduces its many supporters, needs to be tempered with the compromise provided by Yamagishi (2002). Toshio Yamagishi argues that "collectivism" exists as a maxim, a "lets be friends" ethos, but this maxim has not translated into pyschological phenomenon: people lacking in individuality.

Professor Yohtarou is however, good at pointing out evidence for the existence of individualism in Japan. His most compelling evidence is his research (Takano & Sogon, 2008) on conformance, which shows that Japanese conform (to peer pressure) no more than Americans.

I was also very impressed by the proverbs introduced in this slide above (Takano, 2011, re-uploaded with out permission. The full set of slides are on the net. See bibliography below).

Takano points out what might be called selective attention in the work of Markus and Kitayama (1991).

Markus and Kitayama (1991) seminal marked a paradigm shift in cross-cultural psychology, and the birth of the new cultural psychology, which denied the univesality of the independent self. Markus and Kitayama's paper does not need me to extoll its virtues, it has been cited 8853 times, and counting as of 2012. However, like everything else, this work is is not perfect.

Markus and Kitayama (1991) draw attention to two proverbs, the Western, "The squeaky wheel gets the greese." and the Japanese proverb, "the nail that sticks out gets banged down," to argue that being squeaky and individualist is recommend to North Americans so that they get "greased" (a good thing), whereas not standing out is recommended in Japan, lest one gets "bashed" (clearly not so good).

In the above slide Yohtaro Takano points out that there are other proverbs that encourage the reverse tendency in each nation. In Anglophone cultures, "When in Rome do as the Romans," and "Don't rock the boat" encourages Anglophones to be harmonious, and "Tall trees catch the wind" might almost be a translation of "The nail that sticks out gets banged ("down" is, arguably, not in the original Japanese)."

Takano also points to two proverbs that encourage the Japanese to be individualist. The first means literally "Going first beats others" similar to "He who dares wins," and the the third "hated children thrive," suggests tha the unharmonious do not fair so badly in Japanese society.

The second means literally "There are green mountains all over the world,” which is sometimes translated as "where ever I lay my hat, that is my home," (in the sense that green fields are not on the other side of the fence but where you now are). However, bearing in mind the poem of which it is the last line, the "green mountains" refer to good places to be buried. The Japanese often make graves in mountains. So in that sense ithe proverb means "Every where is a good place to die," or echoing Crazy Horse, "Every day is a good day to die." In other words, this proverb is a momemto mori, reminding the Japanese to live dangerously, and not wait before taking radical action in the world.

Professor Takano also sent me a copy of his excellent book on mirror reversal (Takano, 1997) for which I also I reman grateful.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review; Psychological Review, 98(2), 224. Retrieved from www.biu.ac.il/PS/docs/diesendruck/2.pdf
Takano, Y. (2011, September 3). 「文化差」 を考え直そう. Presented at the 日本感情心理学会第19回・日本パーソナリティ心理学会第20回合同大会, 京都光華女子大学. Retrieved from www.koka.ac.jp/jsre19_jspp20/takano.pdf
Takano, Y., & Osaka, E. (1999). An unsupported common view: Comparing Japan and the US on individualism/collectivism. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 2(3), 311–341.
Takano, Y., & Sogon, S. (2008). Are Japanese More Collectivistic Than Americans?: Examining Conformity in In-Groups and the Reference-Group Effect. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 39(3), 237–250. doi:10.1177/0022022107313902
Takano, Y. 高野陽太郎. (1997). 鏡の中のミステリー. 岩波書店.
Takano, Y. 高野陽太郎. (2008). 「集団主義」という錯覚―日本人論の思い違いとその由来. 新曜社.
Yamagishi, T.山岸俊男. (2002). 心でっかちな日本人―集団主義文化という幻想. 日本経済新聞社.

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