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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.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012


Hashimoto's Distopian Japan

Hashimoto's Distopian Japan by timtak
Hashimoto's Distopian Japan, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
Hashimoto's view of Japanese collectivism reminds me of the sort of nested web of fear that may exist in dictatorships, or more precisely, in an Orwellian dystopia (Orwell, 1949) where the austensibly loved, but in reality feared, dictator does not exist at all.

Following on from research by his mentor, Toshio Yamagishi (e.g. Yamagishi, 2002), Hirofumi Hashimoto (2011) investigated Japanese attitudes towards cooperation and independence.

First he found that while Japanese think that (1a) other Japanese people like cooperation and (2a) they themselves cooperate, they would ideally like to be (3a) independent. In other words, the Japanese appear to be wearing a mask of Japanese cooperativeness over a heart of independence. They continue to wear this mask because they believe others have a dim view of individualists and they believe that they would be ostracised or worse if they came out of the closet. To demonstrate this Hashimoto showed that (1b) Japanese believe that others negatively evaluate individualists. However, he also showed that (2b) Japanese in fact positively evaluate individualistic others.

In research Hashimoto is currently writing, he goes on to ask, "so how does the system remain balanced or intact?" Why isn't there a small boy that says, "the emperor is wearing no clothes!" or rather "Actually, I admire independent people," bringing the ersatz "valuation of cooperation" down like a house of cards?

Hashimoto argues for, and demonstrates, another layer of sham. He further asked (1c) what other people thought of those that admire individulists and (2c) What the subjects thought of people that admire individualists. As closet admirers of individualists, it is not surprising that the subjects said that they liked others that also admire individualists. But once again, they said they believed that others negatively evaulate those that admire individualists. Hence even those that see through the sham, realise the emperor is naked, or at least that they can't see the clothes, and that they like individualists, are afraid to say so.

Hashimoto presumably believes that this web of fear is infinitely nested, lest someone should come out and say "Acutally, I like people that admire individualists," or "Actually, I like people that say that they like people who admire individualists," etc because at every level each individual presumes that they will be ostracised for saying so since at every level they believe that others do not admire individualism.

This situation is a little like that which I presume pertains in a dicatorship. The participants in the Valkerie plot to assinate Hilter where hampered by their (in part erroneous) belief that other people admired the Fuerer. Hashimoto's nested web of fear may have even more in common with that described in George Orwell's "1984," in which the feared dictator -- "big brother" -- may be dead, or may never even have existed.

According to Hashimoto's vision of Japan, collectivism as an aspiration, exists only as a bogeyman, that no one ever aspired towards but everyone was afraid to admit it due to fear of ostracism from others. And this view, inmho, plays towards Western views of Japanese, or indeed everyone else, and the commonly held Western belief that in fact everyone is a freedom and autonomy loving Westerner underneath.

Hashimoto and Yamagishi are very clever, and their data appears irrefutably sound. But, if they are right, that there is this disconnection between culture and psychology, that sheepish East Asians have the private life of woolves, then Cultural Psychology as a mutally constructing feedback system, (Markus and Kitayama, 1991) would need to be thrown out the window. The stakes are high.

As usual my attempt to circumvent his dillemma is to argue that the apparent contradictions of the Japanese heart only exist when you are asking them to vocalise, or answer linguistically framed likert tests about cooperation and individualism. There is something so linguistically attractive or imperative about autonomy, that some economists have argued following Kant, that it has the status of a synthetic judgement a priori. How can one make a counter claim against the value of autonomy, without asserting that one does not want what one wants? One runs up into a modied form of the liar paradox, the last guardian of logocentrism.

Thus our words, including Japanese words, claim for themselves freedom, but what is the situation in the minds eye? Are independent people beautiful? Is independent behaviour beautiful? How about cooperation? Have you seen the Koshien Baseball Tournament, and why does anyone watch it? What of people that admire independent people, are they really beautiful too? The Japanese do love the way thinks are in Japan, and discount their unrealistic linguistic aspirations and admiration for independence as will o the wisp (the closest translation I could come up with of ) "nai mono denari" (ないものねだり).

Image above top modified from from Hashimoto, Ohashi and Yamagishi's 2010 presentation to the Social Psychology Association, which has now largely been published in Hashimoto, 2011 (see below).

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 http://www.biu.ac.il/PS/docs/diesendruck/2.pdf
Orwell, G. (1949). Nineteen Eighty-four (No Edition Listed.). Harcourt Brace and Co.
Hashimoto, H. 橋本博文. (2011). 相互協調性の自己維持メカニズム. 実験社会心理学研究, 50(2), 182–193. Retrieved from japanlinkcenter.org/JST.JSTAGE/jjesp/50.182?from=Google
Yamagichi, 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.
橋本博文・大橋加奈子・山岸俊男  (2010, September). 相互協調行動を支える制度的基盤 第51回日本社会心理学会 (於:広島大学, 口頭発表)

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