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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.

Monday, July 13, 2020


Mistranslated: Totality not Harmony

Mistranslated: Totality not Harmony
Japan is called groupist or collectivist partly because one name given to the the country is "wa," which is used in various expressions such as Wakoku (和国) meaning Japan, Wafuku (和服)Japanese clothing, Washoku (和食) Japanese food, and Wayaku (和訳)translation into Japanese. On its own however the character is generally translated as "harmony," and that is the way that I have translated, with an increasing sense of unease, until recently I found the character used in a math problem (see below) where it was used to represent the sum, or total of two numbers. This is more like it: Japan is the land of totality. Understanding "wa" as "harmony" one would be inclined to think that the Japanese were into compromise. Ha! Over their cold dead hands. The Japanese have groups which are tolerant of diversity (Yuki, 2003) which are not the harmony of their constituent parts, but the totality, given a vague, nice sounding, but generally irrelevant name.

When Akiko was born, her mother was half the age of her grandmother. Now her mother is four times her age. In two years time the wa, total (not harmony) of her mother's and grandmother's age will be eight times Akiko's age. How old is Akiko?* (Asahi Newspaper "Edu" section, 2020/7/12). Attempting to solve this problem translating "wa" as average (harmony of, compromise between) the two ages, results in Akiko having a negative age. As the true meaning of "wa" dawned on me, the moral of this mathematics problem was therefore, at least for me, if you understand Japanese "wa" as "harmony." you have not even been born.

That is not to suggest that Japan is totalitarian, quite the opposite: libertarian, anarchistic or minitarian in its tolerance of variety and summation, rather than harmonization, of its parts. 

Yuki, M. (2003). Intergroup comparison versus intragroup relationships: A cross-cultural examination of social identity theory in North American and East Asian cultural contexts. Social Psychology Quarterly, 166-183.

*Akiko is seven.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020


Grit and Pride as Motivators

Thanks to Professor Angela Duckworth's work on Grit and Professor Carol Dweck's work on mindset, malleability and grit are now considered to be good things to have by many Americans. They have always been big on grit and malleability here in in Japan. Grit (ganabrukoto, konjou) is everywhere, and it co-varies with disbelief in talent and belief the malleability of the self, which is self-fulfilling, and can be increased by praising effort not success (growth mindset) which is a cultural norm in Japan (see Heine, et al., 2001). As Professor Duckworth mentions in the video, when students fail, the belief that if they can succeed if they try harder next time is very useful in many educational situations.

The downside is that in situations where students succeed due to talent, such as IQ, which does exist to an extent as Professor Duckworth mentions, the belief in ones own talent (rather than ones grit) makes the student feel proud of their unique ability and leads to perseverance through pride. I prefer grit (perhaps because I lack talent, or dislike pride) but if you are talented, it may be a good idea to be proud of it, and keep doing whatever it is that you are talented at, rather than turn your grit to something at which you are not talented.Talent not only confers a competitive advantage, but pride in ones talent is also motivating.

I did an experiment on Japanese students which was the inverse of the experiment carried out in Heine, et al., 2001 in which I presented a task at which I could pretend that the students were talented. I told them to think of up positive adjectives and that the average number that students write is 8. In fact it is 12. This meant the majority of students were lead to believe that they had performed exceptionally well at the task. I further told half the students that the number of adjectives written was a function of grit (as they are likely to believe anyway), and the other half that the number of adjectives written was a function of talent. Then, as in Heine's experiment, I told them that I needed to go and get something, and that they were free to write more adjectives if they thought of them while I was out of the room. Those that had been told that they were talented wrote more extra words than those who had been told that they had persevered, but it did not reach significance, so you are reading about it here on my blog. 

I also think, as I just tweeted to the famous professor Duckworth, that her emphasis on grit misses something that she has and many of her listeners lack. Grit in the face of failure, or resilience, is usually the product of self-esteem which is hard to have if you are failing and not already a success. The source of Asian grit in the face of failure, from the get-go, is the visual self-esteem that Asian children (not forced into some single room while their parents sleep together, not second-best in the home) have in spades. No matter how negative the verbal feedback, Asians can see themselves in the eyes of their mother, and they like what they see.

If you were not the apple of your mother's eye, then all is not lost. Get fit, in shape, and do a martial art or other physical exercise that involves the practice of forms since these may allow you to train your mirror neurons so that you learn to better see yourself, and like what you see. 

Duckworth, A. L., & Quinn, P. D. (2009). Development and validation of the Short Grit Scale (GRIT–S). Journal of personality assessment, 91(2), 166-174.
Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: How we can learn to fulfill our potential. New York, NY: Random.
Heine, S. J., Kitayama, S., Lehman, D. R., Takata, T., Ide, E., Leung, C., & Matsumoto, H. (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, 81(4), 599.

For my records, this is a grit scale in Japanese
西川一二, 奥上紫緒里, & 雨宮俊彦. (2015). 日本語版 Short Grit (Grit-S) 尺度の作成. パーソナ
, 24(2), 167-169. https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/personality/24/2/24_167/_pdf
Another downside of grit, or the belief that one has it, may be that it can lead to pachinko addiction, which is very prevalent in Japan. Panchinko is a form of gambling that requires almost no choice, but a lot of grit.

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