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.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


The Purported Death of On-The-Job Training in Japan

Japanese companies have been having difficulty with their new recruits for some time. Companies deliberately take on more recruits than they need to allow for wastage of those that can not cope with Japanese company culture. Recruits leave large companies appalled at the way that they, from prestigious universities, have to start at the bottom. The reason why recruits must start at the bottom is because Japanese companies believe, fundamentally, in on the job training, and not in the bookish learning provided by universities.

There are those such as Dr. Greg Story, whose article was quoted in Japan Today, who argue that on the Job Training should be left to die. Dr. Story (shown in the above video) writes,

"Most countries have moved on from this model but, mainly thanks to the OJT, elements of the imperial forces linger here, in the form of giving orders not praise, condemning not complimenting, and criticising mistakes rather than motivating."

I think that Dr. Story, who is president of the Dale complement-people-to-win-friends Carnegie Institute, is trying to sell Western culture in Japan, marketing Western Culture as something that countries "move on" towards. In sum, ego-massage is the future. 

First let's recap. Cultural psychologist, Steven Heine's theory of motivation in the USA and Japan is as follows.

Westerners see themselves as being independent "entityl theorists," seeing success or failure as largely a product of innate abilities. They attempt to find the field in which they shine. They are motivated by success and praise, particularly self-praise, which they do liberally and wholly unrealistically. The important thing is that they hype themselves up, win, and feel motivated to hype themselves up and win some more. Think Mohammed "I am the greatest" Ali, or indeed perhaps, Dr. Greg Story.

The Japanese are interdependent, "incremental theorists" believing that the self is malleable and success or failure is largely a product of effort. They attempt to find the ways in which they are not achieving (i.e. their failures) and by correcting them improve and recieve support and integration with their groups. Doing things for self-praise is considered pretty silly (jigajisan 自画自賛). The Japanese are motivated by failure, and the challenge to improve themselves so that they do not fail next time. A good examples of this sort of psychology is found in Japanese baseball players, who are the best in the world. Another is the business philosophy of Uniqlo president Tadashi Yanai who recommends that we forget about our successes and learn from our failures.

Steven Heine's website is here. And the paper which demonstrates that the Japanese are motivated by failure experiences is here.

Alas, legions of very self-confident people Greg Story have convinced Japanese university educators, and the Japanese Governmental Eucation Department that the Japanese need to have higher self esteem, and turn into self-enhancing Westerners, which has rather put a spanner in the works of Japanese culture, as noted in this article. Will the Japanese be able to become people like Mr. Story? Or will they chuck his advice out the window? Is there a third way?

I add a twist to Heine's theory as follows.

The Japanese are able to be self-critical, or "condemning" linguistically. They can take and dish out criticism in words liberally towards themselves and in-group members (e.g. spouses, and co-workers). But they are not completely self-less as the above theory would have it. In the visual domain, that is in their own reflection and reflective imagination (which the Japanese are very good at - as if they carry a mirror with them all the time), they have very positive self-representations.

This is the main reason for the importance of on the job training or "watching and stealing" (見て盗む), because it is only by seeing, doing, copying, and making it there own that the Japanese become ego involved.

Finally while there is a lot of linguistic criticism going around in Japanese companies, there is a lot of love if you turn off the sound as it were. Unfortunately people like Mr. Story can't feel the love, because what matters to him is his self-narrative, his cogito, or "ego".

The paper that shows Japanese are sort of always carrying a mirror with them is here.

I would like to argue that sense can be made of past and future prime minister Abe's policy of a "beautiful Japan," (美しい国) as the goal of perfection through "reflective imagination" (反省).

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012


Runes and Rings

Runes and Rings by timtak
Runes and Rings, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
The short horror story "Casting the Runes" by Montague Rhodes James (1911) is typical of the author's oeuvre "one of the best in the genre", which is described on Wikipedia as having the following structure:

1) a characterful setting in an English village, seaside town or country estate; an ancient town in France, Denmark or Sweden; or a venerable abbey or university
2) a nondescript and rather naive gentleman-scholar as protagonist (often of a reserved nature)
3) the discovery of an old book or other antiquarian object that somehow unlocks, calls down the wrath, or at least attracts the unwelcome attention of a supernatural menace, usually from beyond, the grave such as the monster above top.

Casting the Runes was made into The Night of the Demon (The Curse of the Demon) and also inspired "Drag Me to Hell." and Kate Bush's single, The Hounds of Love.

The plot of the book and both movies is essentially similar. The protagonist provokes the anger of a person with supernatural power who casts runes, something written on a piece of paper, or object otherwise invested with symbols (a cursed button) which a certain period of time later, causes them to be dragged into hell.

The protagonist does not realise that the curse is real but the audience does since they have, at the start of the narrative, been shown the curse's effectiveness in killing a previous possessor. The only way to obviate the curse is to pass the symbol onto someone else, ideally the person from whom one received it, which the protagonists do with varying degrees of success.

This structure is exactly that of the famous Japanese horror movie,Ring (1998) (the climatic scene of which starts 4 minutes into this video) except the curse in Ring takes the form of a videotape rather than runes, and the monster, Sadako (above bottom) comes out of a TV screen rather than as called up by a linguistic curse. We are shown the effectiveness of the curse at the beginning of the movie. Some of the protagonists do not really believe the curse. Those that survive do so by passing the curse onto another. The ring continues.

But as predicted by Nacalianism, Western monsters are stored in language (runes, a piece of paper, a linguistic curse) whereas Japanese monsters are stored in images (scrolls, mirrors).

Drag Me to Hell takes on a bit of Asian motif in that in one scene the monster appears to be emerging from the image - the protagonists cell phone screen - and as in Asia, the genders are reversed. In "Drag Me to Hell" and most Asian horror, the monster is a woman.

What is going on? I am not sure but I feel like I have been passed the curse and I still have not passed it on. I am trying though.

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Monday, September 24, 2012


The Japanese Love Nature Too

The Japanese Love Nature Too by timtak
The Japanese Love Nature Too, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
But is it a gaijin (foreigner) influence? Kyoto is the only place in Japan were there are many restaurants along the banks of a river. In my city, despite the fact that there is a river running through its centre there is only one café and no restaurants on its banks and the one café does not afford a river view.

Kyoto is the exception but then Kyoto is also the second biggest tourist attraction in Japan (after Tokyo) which has presumably been influenced by Western culture. Western tourists may have promoted the construction of restaurants along side this river. I think that other cities may achieve increased inbound tourism if they followed suit.

I found that Kyoto citizens had a habit of ignoring red pedestrian traffic signals when there are no cars coming. In my experience, Japanese pedestrians wait, as is the law, even if there are no cars in other parts of Japan. I wonder if this Kyoto dwellers' behaviour is influenced by gaijin too.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012


Popteen Gals: The face of Japan

Popteen Gals: The face of Japan by timtak
Popteen Gals: The face of Japan, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
In Hong Kong and perhaps other places in Asia, the 'Japanese Look' is to look like a "GAL" (ギャル) such as adorn the cover of one of the many fashion magazines promoting "GAL" fashion. GALs have bleached blonde or lightened hair, large doe eyes with lots of mascara, various self-touching gestures and pouts to accentuate cuteness and auto-appreciation of their own cuteness.

I gradually lean further towards the beauty in averageness hypothesis which holds that people find prototypical faces beautiful perhaps because they are easy to process (Winkielman, Halberstadt, Fazendeiro, and Catty, 2006). According to this theory, exposed as they are to both Asian and American images of beauty, the Japanese will become increasingly attracted towards and aspiring of the Asian-Caucasian average, mid Pacific, GAL looks. And here above they are, in all their average glory.

Images copyright Popteen magazine and their copyright holders. The above image is a screen shot of the result of searching for "Popteen" (ポップティーン) on Google images.

Winkielman, P., Halberstadt, J., Fazendeiro, T. & Catty, S. (2006). Prototypes are attractive because they are easy on the mind. Psychological Science, 17. 799-806. Retrieved from psy2.ucsd.edu/~pwinkiel/winkielman-halberstadt-fazendeiro...

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