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, December 03, 2012


And so it was with the Best Intentions in the World

And so it was with the Best Intentions in the World by timtak
And so it was with the Best Intentions in the World, a photo by timtak on Flickr.
It seems to me that in the future people may look back at books such as announced in the above left newspaper advertisement, noting that the Japanese lost a world war and were invaded, but maintained a leadership that was pro-Western, and submitted to wave upon wave of Western cultural influence, will say that, and so it was with the best intentions in the world that the Japanese destroyed their own culture.

The above left newspaper advertisement (from today's Asahi newspaper) is for a book (Ogiue, 2012) that argues that Japanese should stop looking to find, reject and improve failing (dame-dashi) but instead, to think positively, and come up with positive ideas (poji-dashi), because the former is "enough already" (mou), "critical" (hihan) "character attacking" (jinkaku-kougeki), and "bashing" (basshingu).

I just read the book,(『僕らはいつまで「ダメ出し社会」を続けるのか...』) which was an interesting read and nothing at all like I thought. Instead of arguing that Japanese give up on getting rid of the bad, the book even had a section recommending "dame-dashi" except under a different name. In the section "Finding Social Bugs" (社会のバグを見つけ出す)(p 156) the author recommends that readers  "get rid of the bugs (problems) in front of your eyes" 「目の前に存在するバグを潰していく」(ibid) and says that if we do that, society will become a better place. The author also says that this "bug squashing" is at the very basis of his thinking*. My guess is that the editor, in an attempt to make the book sell well with disenfranchised youth, put an anti-establishment title on the book which in fact promotes realism over idealism, more than anything else, a stance which is a Japanese tradition.

There are other books however that do recommend that Japanese stop looking for bugs, however.

One of the most surprising experimental results in the field of cultural psychology is that of (Heine, et al. 2001: above right) which showed that Japanese put more effort into tasks in which they were told they had failed. Japanese and Americans subjects were given a simple task and divided into two groups. Half of the subjects were told (irrespective of the truth) that they had done well compared to their peers, half of the subjects were told that they had done badly (again irrespective of the truth) compared to their peers. The Americans, who want to bolster their self esteem, were less likely to continue with a task that they were told that they performed badly at. The Japanese on the other hand were more likely to continue pursuing a task in which they thought that they had performed badly. Heine and colleagues went on to demonstrate that this difference was related to the extent to which subjects in each culture believed the abilities to be innate and in-transient, or dependent upon effort. American subjects that believe that their performance is a result of innate and unchangeable characteristics felt that tasks at which they had performed badly were damaging to their self esteem and their results were not something that they could do anything about. Japanese subjects, who believed that results are largely a product of effort, felt that tasks at which they performed badly were tractable to effort. They believed that in the face of negative self awareness (hansei) if they did the task again and tried harder they could improve (kaizen) their performance. The Japanese felt their selves to be radically malleable (mugendai).

This ability to take criticism, to see it as an opportunity (hansei no tane) to improve (kaizen) is a defining characteristic of Japanese culture. For millennia, or at least a millennia and a half, the Japanese have assimilated external cultural influences, put them in the cooking pot of the Japanese creative mind, and by mixing and choosing that mixture which they prefer, actively produced a superior (at least to the Japanese) hybrid. There are many examples of such behaviour. Japanese, and Western, commentators regularly reference this ability to assimilate and improve. This ability is argued, by thinkers such as Watsuji and Nishida, to grow out of the Japanese view of self as being inseparable from the world. As argued here on this blog, the Japanese self is the field, or mirror upon which the "mixing" is played out, as opposed to any that-isn't-me/this-is-me characteristic within the field.

The richest man in Japan, the chairman of the Uniqlo group of clothing stores, Tadashi Yanai (63yrs) recommends that Japanese continue to forget their successes and concentrate on their failings so as to keep improving themselves. Alas however, as recent research by Norasakkunit and Uchida (2011) has shown that disenfranchised Japanese youth are loosing this ability to take criticism and see it as an opportunity for self-improvement. It may be that they have taken to seeing such "imperfection-removing" ("dame dashi") criticism as being an "attack on their character" (as the author of the book advertised top left argues). So alas, social critics, presumably influenced by Western self-asserting (egoist, arrogant) culture write popular books recommending that the Japanese stop thinking about their failings.

And so also it is that there is a self-contradiction implied in the Japanese path. The Japanese have imported and improved, and imported more and improve again. But now, the Japanese are importing Western philosophy that rejects the whole import and improve process. In my humble opinion the Japanese are, with the best intentions in the world, destroying their own culture.

* 「...社会制度設計上の「穴」「バッグ」を発見し、改善するという活動をし続ける。そのことで、社会の不幸の数を減らすことができれば、「今よりもマシ」な社会に近づけることはできる。僕の根本思想には、そういう発送が染み付いています。」p157

Ogiue 荻上 チキ(2012)『僕らはいつまで「ダメ出し社会」を続けるのか 絶望から抜け出す「ポジ出し」の思想』幻冬舎 (拝読していません)
S.J. Heine, S. Kitayama, D.R. Lehman, T. Takata, E. Ide, C. Leung, H. Matsumoto (2001), "Divergent consequences of success and failure in Japan and North America: An investigation of self-improving motivations and malleable selves", Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 81 pp.599 - 615. www.psych.ubc.ca/~heine/docs/persist.rtf
Norasakkunkit, V., & Uchida, Y. (2011). Psychological consequences of postindustrial anomie on self and motivation among Japanese youth. Journal of Social Issues, 67(4), 774-786.

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