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Hi, I wrote the recent diary, “Japanese Mind- Story of the Crane”, and I am very happy for all of your warm responses, and putting me in Community Spotlight and Rec List.  I am so grateful for all the comments, I learned a lot from them.

In my first diary, I talked about the Japanese lady who had her first baby.  She didn’t want her husband to witness the childbirth, and made him promise, but the promise was broken.  Now she wants a divorce.

I compared this story to Japanese folk tale called Tsuru no Ongaeshi (鶴の恩返し)The Crane Returns the Favor".
The wife didn’t want her husband to see her when she was most naked, meaning her true form, the crane.
She made him promise, but the promise was broken.
She left him forever.

I wrote,
“I think in Japan something needs to be secret all the time.”
I thought this might be a key to the Japanese mind.

In the comments I got, I realize some of you thought I was criticizing the wife for feeling betrayed because of disrespect for her boundary and breaching the promise.
Worst of all, I didn't want you all to think I am saying Japanese would be unique in this.

So I thought about it again.  The point I really wanted to make was:
“You must pretend nothing goes on, when clearly something is going on.”
Because when I encountered the wife's question on the website, what made me most uneasy was that she was talking to total strangers, when she should have talked to her husband.

I’d like to quote a different story, the story about King Midas, but not the one most famous in the west about the gold, but the one about the ass's ears.  I think this story shows my point better.

Follow me below the origami spaghetti.

From Wikipedia:
King Midas had donkey ears but his barber knew the secret, so was told not to mention it. However, the barber could not keep the secret; he went out into the meadow, dug a hole in the ground, whispered the story into it, then covered the hole up.”

This is where the story usually ends in Japan.  All Japanese know the phrase, “王様の耳はロバの耳" (King Midas has an ass' ears).   It's as common as “Open sesame” or “Mirror, mirror” is in the West.  You might have seen Japanese characters using it in the comic book or anime.

We use it this way:  In everyday life, if there is some information that needed to be heard, but you just can’t share with anybody, people would tell you, “Dig a hole, dig a hole!”  The idea is bury the information, so you don’t need to deal with the urge.

Somehow, we never mention the ending of this story.  A lot of Japanese may not even know it.

The story continues,
“A thick bed of reeds later sprang up in the meadow, and began whispering the story, saying "King Midas has an ass' ears".

The point of the story in the West:  Yes, the secret will come out, everybody will hear that eventually.

The wife who felt betrayal, she may have had a good reason in her own mind.
The husband must have known that.
But did he get the chance to know how much she suffered?
Would he understand why she has to leave?
Would he appreciate the fact she told everybody the reason but him?

The website she complained on was like the hole.  She whispered her troubles into the hole, and now it is growing a bad crop.  Many people are angry at the husband and they might get divorce.  The truth always comes out.  So why couldn't she just talk to her husband and work this out instead?  

Maybe other people around the world wouldn't talk about troubles directly either but in Japan this is mandate by our culture.  We never learn how to tell our problem directly to anyone because wa, or harmony, is most important.  No one wants to disturb the harmony.  But this leads to more disharmony, in personal relation and for society.    

Funny we never talk about this part...
 

Originally posted to YellowFroggyAttack on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 04:35 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you being interesting. Please teach us (24+ / 0-)

    more about the Japanese mind.

    Rivers are horses and kayaks are their saddles

    by River Rover on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 05:08:30 PM PST

  •  Chris Christie (11+ / 0-)

    has donkey ears. Is that what were discussing?

    Allow provisional acceptance of things that go against your deepest convictions in the face of a preponderance of evidence.

    by ConservativeBrainTrust on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 05:14:08 PM PST

  •  Not only in Japan, we have this here in the US too (17+ / 0-)
    We never learn how to tell our problem directly to anyone because wa, or harmony, is most important.  No one wants to disturb the harmony.  But this leads to more disharmony, in personal relation and for society.
    We have this here in the US too. Perhaps not to the same extent, I am not familiar with Japanese culture so I wouldn't know. But I have certainly seen this happen here in the US all the time. We do not talk honestly to each other. Not because we can't find the words. We can and do. You hear stories all the time of people unburdening themselves to strangers. But to the people in our lives? Not so much. And the closer to us they are, the harder it can be to say these things. It's not the speaking of it, it's fear of the disharmony the speaking will (may) cause. So the things that most need saying, to the people that we most need to say them to, are the things that somehow get the least spoken. Isn't that funny about people?
    •  The difference between shooting an arrow (20+ / 0-)

      and throwing it.  

      Yes, people everywhere don't always speak honestly with each other.  In the States, sure, there are times you do something that bugs someone and they won't tell you.  

      But imagine being pals with someone for five years, always laughing and sharing good times and bad, and then one day, with no warning, they speak coldly to you, and then never talk to you again.  You later find out, from a friend of a friend of the friend, that you said something three years ago that deeply offended them, and the seed grew and grew until the bitter fruit came out.  

      Imagine attending a funeral, and overhearing the deceased's friends nattering on and on about all of their myriad faults, going back thirty years, and how they were secretly despised.  

      Imagine going on a homestay, having the time of your life, parting to tears and presents and promises to visit again, and then returning home and finding the family you stayed with has posted an angry letter to the homestay organizers, telling them all about your misdeeds and disrespect (none of which you were told about in any way), and saying they will never again accept a homestay student.  

      This happens, literally, ALL THE TIME in Japan.  The only consolation for the Japanese is that since they all live under this social Sword of Damocles, they have a better idea of how to anticipate what the unwritten rules are.  

      There may be a similarity of theme, but the intensity is completely different.  The USA is the codependent little league; Japan is the majors.  

      Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

      by Hatrax on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 05:43:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  These diaries are fascinating (7+ / 0-)

        Do you sometimes experience that this aspect of the Japanese culture can also contribute something constructive, in other areas? What would be some of the situations that this fundamental need for 'harmony' would benefit the situation or the community? I would be interested in hearing of those experiences that you have as well. I can more easily imagine the ways in which it interferes with getting to the core of things and toward mutual understanding. Are there things that we, in other cultures, can also benefit from understanding about this aspect of the Japanese culture that would contribute to the creation of a better functioning society? There's just so much to learn from and think about in these diaries. I very much appreciate all the interest these diaries stimulate.

        'A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit' Greek Proverb

        by janis b on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 07:55:56 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It seems likely (5+ / 0-)

          that the monolithic culture, devotion to harmony, and reluctance to act 'shamefully' is at least partly responsible for the low crime rates.

          •  That's definitely a positive manifestation (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Rashaverak, waterstreet2013

            It sounds like grudges can be held for a long time, which of course is not helpful, but the low crime rate seems to reflect that there are fewer impulsive responses as well.

            'A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit' Greek Proverb

            by janis b on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 09:44:22 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  There is also NO right to own firearms (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Rashaverak, waterstreet2013, janis b

              which has got to be a factor.

              •  There's no Second Amendment, but (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                janis b, YellowFroggyAttack

                people do own firearms in Japan.  Sometimes a lot of them.  We live out in the country and often see guys strolling down the roads up in the mountains, shotguns on their shoulders.  There's a fair bit of hunting going on (and we get deer, duck, bear, and wild boar stews out of it), as well as varmint blasting (wild boars again, as well as the occasional monkey).  

                Of course, the nice thing is that guns here are heavily regulated, and you can't just pop off to a shop and get armed to the teeth in thirty minutes or less.  

                Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

                by Hatrax on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 11:32:38 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

            •  the low crime rate (7+ / 0-)

              is kind of myth, though.

              I would even go so far as to say close to every Japanese women has been groped, grabbed or sexually assaulted.

              Many cases are unreported.

              Have you ever read, "Tokyo Vice"?
              That book is about "Human Trafficking" in Japan.
              actually, it's going to be a movie staring Daniel Radcliffe.

              Also, have you ever heard about "Hague Treaty"?
              Hillary was working on to stop child kidnapping by Japanese national.

              And of course, we don't need to talk about Yakuza, do we?

              •  I certainly don't have the stats (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                janis b

                to defend the low numbers that are presented. There could very well be systematic underreporting, especially in the areas that you mention. But some stats, like homicides, would be hard to 'massage'.

                •  It's true that homicides are low (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  TakeSake, Ozy, janis b

                  as far as, you don't have to worry about some nut blowing you away for your wallet.  You can walk pretty much anywhere without fear.  Indeed, this is nice.

                  Again, though... this is only if you're a man.  If you're a woman, watch yourself, and don't assume the police will take you seriously.  

                  Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

                  by Hatrax on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 11:37:16 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Setagaya familly Massarcre (0+ / 0-)

                  世田谷一家殺害事件
                  In middle of fairy wealthy neighbor.

                  The whole family of four got massacred.

                  Quite shocking, blood splatting incidents,
                  and most shocking of all

                  There were so many evidences behind, including the computer the police believe the perpetrator used.

                  And police determined, the perpetrator stuck around several hours after the deed.
                  and that happened 2000, 14 years ago.
                  and the case was is still unsolved.

                  In Japan there are so many unsolved murder cases.

                  True, we usually don't have much homicides like States.
                  but you don't want to know, how many unsolved cases laying around and nobody care about.
                  I mean, our media don't talk about.

            •  Holding grudges is explicitly taught (6+ / 0-)

              particularly in the story of the 47 Ronin ((四十七士 Shi-jū-shichi-shi), as part of the culture of loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor. However, there is much doubt about the morality of the ronins' actions.

              Immediately following the event, there were mixed feelings among the intelligentsia about whether such vengeance had been appropriate. Many agreed that, given their master's last wishes, the ronin had done the right thing, but were undecided about whether such a vengeful wish was proper. Over time, however, the story became a symbol, not of bushido, as the ronin can be seen as seriously lacking it, but of loyalty to one's master and later, of loyalty to the emperor. Once this happened, the story flourished as a subject of drama, storytelling, and visual art.
              There are many versions of the story in kabuki (starting only two weeks after the mass seppuku), bunraku, opera, six movies spread out over a century, many TV shows and series, and innumerable ukiyo-e prints.

              Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

              by Mokurai on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 06:47:24 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I believe the most important thing about (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                justintime

                47 Ronin is,
                Why the story is so famous and loved in Japan.

                Wikipedia;
                "The following day, Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal Kōichi Kido prepared a draft document which summarized the hopeless military situation and proposed a negotiated settlement. According to some commentators,[who?] the Emperor privately approved of it and authorized Kido to circulate it discreetly amongst less hawkish cabinet members; others suggest that the Emperor was indecisive, and that the delay cost many tens of thousands of lives. Extremists in Japan were also calling for a death-before-dishonor mass suicide, modeled on the "47 Ronin" incident. By mid-June 1945, the cabinet had agreed to approach the Soviet Union to act as a mediator for a negotiated surrender, but not before Japan's bargaining position had been improved by repulse of the anticipated Allied invasion of mainland Japan."

            •  Not really, (0+ / 0-)

              because we have Yakuza.
              They don’t have much problem with impulsive responses.
              And we have very strong media control

          •  You really have to think about here is, (0+ / 0-)

            Is this a good thing?
            Because I think it’s religion against science.
            That what it comes down to.

        •  Is harmony the right word? (13+ / 0-)

          I think that "harmony" has been used classically to describe Japanese society for long enough that the true situation is a little obscured.

          To Western, romantic thought, harmony is a complementary situation set up between two people, groups, etc.

          To Japanese, honorific thought, the situation described as "harmony" is a reciprocal situation set up between the individual and his place in society and the myriad other ways of defining the groups he may or may not be within at that time or situation.

          Japanese "harmony" = Western "knowing your place and the responsibilities that come with your position to those above you, which are different from those below you at the time, and that one shall behave within that definition, for if one operates outside of it the balance of society is threatened interminably."

          Or something like that.

          One illustration I came across many years ago was about motorcycle gangs. In America, disillusioned youth would quit the confines to society to enjoy the freedom of being in a motorcycle gang.

          In Japan, disillusioned youth would quit the confines of society to... join the exact same social structure in the motorcycle gang.

          The United States for All Americans

          by TakeSake on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 09:16:23 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Thank you for this thoughtful response (3+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Rashaverak, ichibon, TerryDarc

            Besides being informative, it made me wonder about how the cultures might perceive the sense of injustice differently, especially this:

            Japanese "harmony" = Western "knowing your place and the responsibilities that come with your position to those above you, which are different from those below you at the time, and that one shall behave within that definition, for if one operates outside of it the balance of society is threatened interminably."

            How is one's position determined? Is there flexibility in movement?

            'A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit' Greek Proverb

            by janis b on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 09:36:23 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  That question... (15+ / 0-)

              Has vexed everyone who has tried to study Japan, and I'm sure it's vexed everyone who grew up with it.

              I know that whatever answer I attempt will be incorrect and incomplete, but here goes:

              Position
              Hereditary
              This was the classic case in old times - certainly up through 1868. However, it can be adopted for the sake of continuing a name, line, school, etc.

              Organization
              The stereotypical corporation. The new recruit is hired out of high school or college, and starts at the bottom. There was a nice discussion about the apprenticeship experience in the other diary. If they don't make too many large mistakes they work up through the ladder on schedule.

              Family
              The son of a rice farmer becomes a rice farmer. The son of a fisherman becomes a fisherman. The son of a politician becomes a politician. This has changed a lot, upset by various wars and social upheavals, but it is a current that still runs strong.

              Flexibility
              On Track
              The person who works within the system will experience the flexibility of being able to move up. In many ways this amounts to something of a change of position, while it also remains comfortable and familiar.

              Off Track
              After the turn of the century, and certainly after WWII, Tokyo was the place to go if one wanted to somewhat escape the confines of ones hometown (furusato). I think that this partially drove the post-war entrepreneurial dynamic.

              The United States for All Americans

              by TakeSake on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 10:07:48 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Thank you (5+ / 0-)

                for taking the time to contribute your understanding to my/our knowledge and appreciation of the culture. There's probably no correct or complete answer anyway, and if there was, we wouldn't have the pleasure the process of questioning and discovery brings. It must be a very complex and difficult endeavor for the individual to successfully negotiate a place, that both, diverges from and honors the traditional ways.

                'A civilization flourishes when people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit' Greek Proverb

                by janis b on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 10:51:41 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

              •  How do you explain Hideyoshi? (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Rashaverak, linkage, janis b
                •  Becuase Hideyoshi beat the odds? (5+ / 0-)

                  I'm sure I'm not qualified to answer.

                  But to me, Japanese historical figures have been mythologize to the point that there are not real people.

                  Just like Japanese anime,
                  They all assigned to the role, Hideyoshi's role is obvious.

                •  There are always a few who break out of (6+ / 0-)

                  their assigned position and duties. Those who succeed brilliantly in the arts are quite often assigned a new position as official National Treasures.

                  Every Japanese Buddhist knows something about the Sixth Patriarch of Zen in China, who was a "barbarian", that is, not Han Chinese, but rose to the top, and is thus a spiritual ancestor of all of Rinzai and Soto Zen in Japan. But not all Zen followers believe that a non-Japanese can understand Zen. This belief, of course, misses the whole point of Zen.

                  To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self, and to be enlightened by everything in the world.

                  Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

                  by Mokurai on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 06:59:07 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                •  Another example... (5+ / 0-)

                  Is Yataro- IWASAKI, who built up Mitsubishi, started out as a farmer because his family lost their samurai status.

                  He was colorfully portrayed in Ryomaden a few years ago.

                  Perhaps these examples outside of the more traditional structure show that there are always opportunities for those who realize that not following the rules of society does not mean society won't benefit from it.

                  Then again, during that 1853-1868 time there were many winners and losers across all parts of Japanese society.

                  The United States for All Americans

                  by TakeSake on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 07:25:27 AM PST

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I might mislead you again, (6+ / 0-)

                    I’ve never meant to say,
                    There are no Japanese who can beat the odds.
                    Of course there were, just like any other countries.

                    But what I wanted to say was,
                    We Japanese live in the fantasy world like:
                    “everybody care each other, that’s why there were no crimes. We are uniquely peace loving people.”

                    That’s not true, we are no different. There are good people and bad people just like anywhere in the world.

                    What I wanted to say, and what I always tell my Japanese friends when they asks me why I always talk about bad things about Japan.
                    Because we need to know bad thing about Japan in order to know what our hero fought against.

                    I was listening the news contributing Pete Seeger.
                    They were talking about his fight against US government.
                    We never have that, even we did.
                    We had a lot of people who fought for Japan, just like any other countries.
                    We never learn how our heroes fought for us, because our government dumb us down.
                    You may be able to read them about, since a lot easier to find the truth in English than Japanese.
                    We can’t learn about our own history to appreciate our heroes.

                    I want everybody to appreciate our heroes, so I want everybody to learn about the system they fought against.

                    •  The recent secrecy law that was passed (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      This old man, janis b

                      is a good example of what YFA is talking about, how the government wants to keep people in the dark. However, I disagree with her about Japanese people not fighting against the government. There are many NGOs where people take things into their own hands because they distrust the government and there were many demonstrations against the secrecy law--however, the government here has the press in its back pocket so they don't report on such anti-government activities. YFA is right that it's easier to find the truth in English than in Japanese.

                      One question I'm often asked is why Japan committed atrocities in WWII. I think, and this is only my opinion, that there were two reasons. One is that Japan believed it had learned a lot from China in centuries past, but now Japan had the superior society, so it would kindly return the favor as a "big brother" to China. Of course there were imperialistic desires (what better way to Westernize than by imitating Western countries in this way too), but there was also a sense of altruism, strange as that may seem. When China fought against Japan, they were considered to be "unreasonable" not to accept Japan's "kindness," so they were treated badly, i.e. punished for not behaving appropriately. Also, the situation was different from anything Japan had experienced before, so the rules that kept order in Japan went out the window. I know this is simplistic and may be totally wrong, but I think it fits with the general Japanese way of thinking.

                      •  Once again, I'm not talking about (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        Hatrax

                        individual people, since
                        there were many Japanese fought against government.
                        But in order for us to appreciate them properly.
                        We need to understand the system and how needed to be done.

                        Like Chiune Sugihara  杉原 千畝;
                        "He was a Japanese diplomat who served as Vice-Consul for the Empire of Japan in Lithuania. During World War II, he helped several thousand Jews leave the country by issuing transit visas to Jewish refugees so that they could travel to Japan. " (by Wiki)

                        He is famous inside and outside of Japan.
                        And now Japanese is proud of him, there are big monuments in his home town.

                        But in order for us to appreciate him right is,
                        He had to sacrifice his career to do so and he knew that.
                        Japanese government and Japanese people treated him as a traitor when it happened, since we allied to German.

                        Those detail usual never hear about that, since it blacken the image of the Japanese system.
                        But that was what he really fought against, not German, he had to fight against his own people to do right thing.
                        We need to know that.

                        And whole Japan and China relation during world war II.
                        Your idea explains a lot about where the Japanese delusion about the war comes from, which I was always wondering.
                        Thank you.

                    •  Please tell us about the history of the (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      janis b

                      Japanese Communist party prior to end of WWII.

                      •  sorry (0+ / 0-)

                        I don't know much about it.

                        I'll check.

                      •  Japanese Communist Party (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:
                        This old man

                        Wiki:
                        "The JCP was founded on July 15, 1922, as an underground political association. Outlawed at once under the Peace Preservation Law, the JCP was subjected to repression and persecution by the military and police of Imperial Japan. It was the only political party in Japan that opposed Japan's involvement in World War II. The party was legalised during the U.S. occupation of Japan in 1945, and since then has been a legal political party able to contest elections."

                        I don't know much about them,
                        Now you can see the poster everywhere in Japan saying,
                        "Take back Japan from US" though

              •  What Americans see, at most, is "Tokyo Story" (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                ichibon, linkage, janis b, Hatrax

                from the 1950s. Elderly parents visit children, are ignored at best. A daughter-in-law does take the time and she shows them the new Tokyo being built. Then going back the grandmother becomes ill and dies. Every frame carries value.

                Something changed in Japan.

                Catching that moment in a culture is not what you would expect to see, going to a movie. "Gravity," it's not.

                The film was rated recently by members of the Director's Guild at the very top. Above "Casablanca" and "Citizen Kane." Finally, everybody got around to seeing it.

                "I hesitate to agree with Ted Nugent...."

                by waterstreet2013 on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 05:48:51 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Ikiru (4+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  janis b, TakeSake, waterstreet2013, Hatrax

                  Kurosawa's movie "Ikiru" (To live) has that same plot point - the children (young adults) being very selfish in how they treat the father (the main character) and do not notice that he is dying.

                  I don't think many Americans have seen Ikiru, as it does not have any Samurai or Toshiro Mifune in it.  It does however have Takashi Shimura, who gives a riveting performance with very few spoken lines.

                  The movie captures Japan in transition, just at the end of US occupation.  I highly recommend the Criterion Collection DVD, which has an optional commentary soundtrack, plus interviews with some of the actors.

              •  Thank you for (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Hatrax

                helping me to prove the point.

                "Tokyo was the place to go if one wanted to somewhat escape the confines of ones hometown (furusato)."

                And that is the major factor of Japan’s current problem.
                The little town near us, the percentage rate of over 65 years old is astonishing 94%!!
                The proof, the current Japanese system can’t be sustain.

                And Japanese government try to make it work by not flexing  the system but enforcing them.

                Right now, it’s mandatory to learn, how beautiful and special our hometown is.
                A lot of school curriculum dedicate to that.
                There are a lot of pressure about we should love Japan more.

                •  Just wanted to add to this: (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  YellowFroggyAttack

                  Ikawa, an administrative district of Shizuoka City (though as remote as possible, culturally and physically, from downtown as possible) has a population of 378 and exactly four elementary school students.  There are other districts up in the mountains where the population figures are listed in the city directory as "X"... meaning that there are houses and infrastructure and an administrative presence, but zero residents.  In our town, I teach in a junior high school that was built in 1972 to accept 550 students.  We have 42 today.  It really is rather Children of Men-ish.

                  The "love your town" curriculum falls under an instruction set that's been ominously dubbed "Moral Education" (Doutoku).  The rest of it tends to consist of lessons in blind patriotism.  While I think it's great to have pride in your community and country, the purpose of this, I think, is to whitewash the problems.  

                  Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

                  by Hatrax on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 07:10:59 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

          •  Well-put (4+ / 0-)

            Thank you very much.

          •  I found this idea of "harmony" (7+ / 0-)

            to be more pronounced in the parts of England where I have lived. "Getting above yourself" is a social faux pas. Acting demonstratively or letting emotion show is also considered either low class or foreign. I wonder if the similarities between Japan and Britain can be put down to having a large population on a small island, where having a codified set of manners, and keeping feelings under wraps, are ways of ensuring society doesn't spin out of control.
            In Britain, those who really don't fit in, either because they're ambitious or extravagant, tend to emigrate. Many families have a few members who have done this. What do people do in Japan if they don't fit in?

            "The 'Middle' is a crowded place - that is where the effective power is - the extreme right and left might annoy governments, but the middle terrifies them." Johnny Linehan

            by northsylvania on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 05:03:20 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thorstein Veblen, in his magnum opus (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              ichibon, Hatrax, janis b

              The Theory of the Leisure Class, wrote that Japan and England demonstrated those phenomena more than anybody else in the world. Which is saying something, in comparison with, for example, French, Prussian, and Russian aristocracies up until the French and Russian Revolutions, and the return of Prussia to Poland after WW II. The Meiji Restoration and the disarming of the samurai is a similarly important event, but it took the defeat in WW II followed by the US military occupation government to put a real dent in the system, and the consequences are still working themselves out.

              Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

              by Mokurai on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 07:07:10 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  The same (0+ / 0-)

              We immigrate to the different countries.

              Especially a lot of Japanese women thrive in different countries.

              Yoko One is one example.
              Did you know she attempted commit suicide in Japan?
              And they locked her up in a mental institution for that.

        •  For me, an American having lived in Japan (12+ / 0-)

          for more than 30 years, the thing I appreciate most is that there a lack of confrontation. This can take place in many ways, from people not telling you how fat you are or that they don't care for something you did to people not stealing things from you or mugging you. I also feel that there is a genuine respect for other people that you don't always find in the US. Japanese are taught to be considerate of others, to think about what they do before they do it, to think how their actions affect the people around them. This sounds smothering, but it's not--it's just a different way of interacting with others, one that makes things less confrontational. This is the part of Japanese society that I would like to see transferred to the US, a general respect for others no matter who they are or what they look like or think.

          I teach at a university in Tokyo and I always ask my students what they did during summer vacation when school is back in session. I find that some of them spent the summer in other Asian countries like Thailand digging wells and making buildings, all as volunteers. It almost brings tears to my eyes to hear about them doing this and how much they learned from the experience. Of course, not all do this and there are thieves and murderers in Japan just as in every country. But the crime rate is really low here and I think a lot of that is due to people being taught to respect and have empathy for others.

          •  Most of our vilent crimes are committed (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            janis b

            by illiterate young males, cut off from the society.

            You'd have one helluva time finding many of those in Japan.

            "I hesitate to agree with Ted Nugent...."

            by waterstreet2013 on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 05:53:27 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  When I arrived in Japan in 1968 (8+ / 0-)

              you could find them any night of the week out back of Shinjuku station in Tokyo sniffing glue. Well, they weren't illiterate, but they were certainly cut off.

              I hear that there is an epidemic these days of young Japanese men living with their parents and never leaving their rooms.

              Ceterem censeo, gerrymandra delenda est

              by Mokurai on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 07:13:37 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  You'd be surprised (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              janis b, waterstreet2013, justintime

              Since it's impossible to fail in Japanese school, you can literally get a high school diploma for knowing absolutely nothing.  

              The main examples of this are students who desperately need special ed for things like learning disabilities, but once you're in special ed, there's no getting out, and the stigma will last your whole life (special ed in Japan tends to be exclusionary- in my junior high schools, they won't even read the names of the special ed students with the rest of their classmates during graduation ceremony).  I've taught kids who spend every single class period fast asleep or doodling on their desks, never do any work, and yet get their diplomas all the same.  

              Later in life, they are protected somewhat by their families, given a job in a family business or simply hidden away.  

              Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

              by Hatrax on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 11:13:27 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

          •  Three caveats: (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            janis b, justintime

            Though I don't exactly disagree with your points, kumaneko, I think your examples need three big caveats:

            1. The low crime rate.  While it might be true that you don't have to worry walking around any city in Japan if you are a male, I have yet to find a single female, foreign or domestic, who has not, when asked, described having been grabbed, groped, fondled, or sexually assaulted.  The rape rate in Japan is through the roof, and most of them are unreported because in Japan it is still "shameful", not to mention the police will ask all of the questions that get Republicans in trouble here- what was she wearing?  Was she drinking?  Was she a slut?  Plus, of course, getting the cops to investigate at all is a problem when you report a stalker.  While it is nice indeed to not have to worry about muggers, I worry a hell of a lot more about my women friends here.

            2.) The Japanese are considerate, yes, but once outside the group, the consideration drops appreciably.

            3.) This is the hard one.  Please note that I am not in any way saying your students aren't sincere in their efforts, and I do not know them personally and cannot guess their individual stories.  But I would put forward the fact that most "volunteer" work in Japan is actually mandatory, either assigned as a class or extracurricular activity or organized as another form of the all-pervasive social pressure.  Your personal mileage may vary.

            Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

            by Hatrax on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 11:09:33 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Thank you for your comments, Hatrax, (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              justintime

              and I'd like to respond briefly.

              1. Yes, a thousand times yes, you're completely right about male privilege in Japan and the awful treatment of women. These are crimes and they do occur far too frequently. Also petty crimes like stealing bicycles and umbrellas happen a lot, which is very annoying. I guess I was thinking of things like gun crimes and muggings. There's plenty of white-collar crime as well.

              2. This is the conventional wisdom and I used to believe it but recently I have come to think that there is quite a bit of empathy even for those outside one's group, or maybe people (especially young people) are expanding their "groups" to include a larger number of others.

              3. You're right about this--one of the professors at my university invites students to go to Asian countries to do volunteer work, but they aren't forced to go and that still doesn't take away from the fact that they do go and learn something from the experience. The student I was particularly thinking about went a second time on his own the following summer and that's what impressed me a lot.

              Perhaps the general non-confrontational nature of Japanese society is so appealing to me that I gloss over more faults than I should. I've also been lucky to have had good friends and family who have guided me into behaviors that are less likely to end up with me having unfortunate experiences.

        •  There are a lot of things. (9+ / 0-)

          When  I was a nursing student, we all had to live in the dormitory and a couple students had to share a small room. There are a lot of rules, and no privacy.

          But everybody had a great time.
          Everybody cared about each other.

      •  As I commented below in response to janis b, (8+ / 0-)

        the lack of confrontation is a good thing for the most part, but what you're describing is the dark side of it. Rather than clearly say that you said something that upset them, someone will hold it in and carry a grudge, later "exploding" in anger sometimes or cutting someone dead (see William Blake's "A Poison Tree" though for friend not foe). The funeral example isn't so bad--the deceased won't mind being talked about honestly and the speakers won't say bad things unless they've "read the air" (KY, as your wife said in an earlier diary comment). The homestay example is the hardest for me to understand, but I see how the family didn't want to confront the person staying there to make their experience bad. That they later found out the family's true feelings is a different matter--it's possible they thought they wouldn't find out. Maybe the family thought that telling the person staying with them about the problems wouldn't change anything and indeed, the person left not feeling anything was amiss, so their experience wasn't spoiled (until later). However, I don't agree with this and I always tell my students to honestly tell their host families in the US if anything is bothering them because by communicating straighforwardly, they can work out their problems. It should be done in a nonconfrontational way, however, one where you are seeking understanding.

        I agree that such things happen in Japan, but maybe not "ALL THE TIME." One has to consider the "why" someone doesn't speak honestly. Yes, it can lead to problems and perhaps the lack of confrontation can lead to people not communicating honestly, but I still prefer it to "in your face" hostility.

        •  We all have our preferences (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          janis b

          To me, it's the difference between learning an uncomfortable fact and being able to deal with it and never learning it at all, then having disaster suddenly strike.  If we've hit an iceberg, I don't want my first indication of it to be the water flooding the bridge.  

          You say I talk about the "dark side" of the problem.  I do because the dark side is very dark indeed, and the alternative, as I see it... not having your feelings slightly hurt on a day-to-day basis... doesn't compensate for the uncertainty and ticking social time bombs.  

          The fact that you've been in Japan for 30 years and are happy with the system is wonderful.  You are obviously flexible and well-suited to this culture.  I'll admit that I've had enough bad experiences that I've grown a bit more careful and jaded.  

          Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

          by Hatrax on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 11:26:12 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  For the exact opposite, Sherlock Holmes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      linkage, janis b

      as done by Benedict Cumberbatch. Thursdays at 9 on PBS 13 NYC.

      The writers are having too much fun.

      "I hesitate to agree with Ted Nugent...."

      by waterstreet2013 on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 05:26:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Sometimes it's called "Speaking truth to power" (22+ / 0-)

    It takes a brave heart to speak truth to power, because when you do, you upset a status quo that a lot of people are very much invested in maintaining.

    We can see this, and we point it out in conservative or fundamentalist circles--the kind of hypocrisy that has the abortion clinic protester screaming invective on the front walk on Monday afternoon, and then sneaking in the back entrance to use their services on Tuesday morning. The kind of cognitive dissonance that allows people to run on a platform of demonizing LGBTQ people (and how they will "protect" an unwitting and fearful populace from the "homosexual agenda") whilst sneaking into airport men's rooms and seeking out rent boys via a toe-tapping code.

    For these people, it's all about the image--the appearance of the perfect American family. As long as the family shows up in church on Sunday wearing their good clothes, no one looks too hard at the cover-up masking Mother's black eye, the gin-blossom nose and hint of whiskey-sweat underneath Father's aftershave, or the last-night's-date scratches on Eldest Son's neck, the cocaine-bloat around Daughter's face, or the posture of hunched neglect from Youngest. The important thing is that nothing escapes the house. Nothing is aired in public, and when the inevitable happens and someone snaps, it's always so shocking because, "they seemed like such a fine, upstanding family."

    I suspect the biggest disconnect comes from understanding where the idea of what constitutes "harmony" comes from. People buckle under the pressure of the "nuclear family" and the American Dream because it just doesn't match the reality of most of our lives.

    I hope the American Mind, as well as the Japanese Mind, and indeed, the Human Mind, can come to an understanding that we have to keep questioning what it means to be in harmony, and where that idea comes from, before we mindlessly pursue it and suppress those parts of ourselves and life that don't fit.

    Please keep up your diaries! I am very much enjoying learning a little about the Japanese Mind.

    How does the Republican Congress sit down with all the butthurt over taxing the wealthy?

    by athenap on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 05:51:36 PM PST

  •  I very much enjoy this second diary too, YFA. (8+ / 0-)

    Wonderful story about Midas (which I knew but forgot). Yes, I think eventually the truth does come out. But in the meantime, the secret can do a lot of damage.

    I can't stick around tonight to converse, but I hope to be back in when you're around tomorrow. Thank you!

    Support Small Business: Shop Kos Katalogue If you'd like to join the Motor City Kossacks, send me a Kosmail.

    by peregrine kate on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 07:13:13 PM PST

  •  Hi, YellowFroggyAttack. (17+ / 0-)

    Your diaries are delightfully forthright.  Your use of folktales provokes insightful comments about both Japanese and American culture.  

    I think all cultures must have blind spots which are sometimes difficult, even impossible to see from inside the culture but can be quite humorous when viewed from the outside.  

    I like your name without knowing what it means to you. I'm a friend of the frogs and I thought you would appreciate this little excerpt from native American culture:

    The frog is a creature of great importance in the Northwest Coast native art and culture.  As a creature that lives in two worlds – water and land – the frog is revered for its adaptability, knowledge and power to traverse worlds and inhabit diverse realms – both natural and supernatural.  Frogs are primary spirit helpers of shamans.  Frog is a great communicator, and often represents the common ground or voice of the people.  These are vocal, singing creatures, and the voice and song are believed to contain divine power and magic.  In the art, Frog is often shown sharing its tongue or touching tongues with another creature, exchanging knowledge and power.

    I hope you keep writing your provocative diaries.

     

  •  Have you seen the 1986 movie "Gung Ho"? (10+ / 0-)

    http://ja.wikipedia.org/...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/...

    The movie Gung Ho spends a lot of time showing how different the expectations of Japanese and American culture are. For me this was more interesting than the actual plot. The film does not get very good ratings from critics, but this is incidental to its usefulness as a case study.

    I went off to college from Hawaii to North America in the 1960s, a time of great social conflict and change in Western countries. The extremely contradictory expectations of the three elements in my background, North America, East Asia, and Hawaii, almost literally drove me crazy.

    Seeing the film Gung Ho for the first time, I thought, "Well, finally someone in American popular culture is pointing out how difficult all this is, and how badly things can go wrong."

    The Dutch kids' chorus Kinderen voor Kinderen wishes all the world's children freedom from hunger, ignorance, and war. ♥ ♥ ♥ Forget Neo — The One is Minori Urakawa

    by lotlizard on Fri Jan 31, 2014 at 11:57:09 PM PST

  •  Back in the eighties, I was a practicing (7+ / 0-)

    public finance lawyer, and involved with a government bond pool backed by letters of credit issued by Japanese banks. In order for funds from the pool to be accessed, the governmental borrowers needed the credit approval of the banks.

    A very small city applied for a very small loan. It was only a quarter of a million dollars, and the loan pool was three quarters of a billion dollars.

    The Japanese banks never said "no" or rejected the loan application. They just kept asking for additional documentation and saying things like "it's very difficult." Finally we realized that they were actually rejecting the application, but culturally they considered it rude to come out and say so.

    It was a very frustrating experience for us, but probably also for the Japanese bankers! It took us a very long time to understand their message.

    Oblique communication is extremely inefficient, and prone to create misunderstandings. It's certainly possible that the Japanese husband misunderstood his wife's request not to be present at their child's birth. Perhaps he thought she was only trying to spare him from something she thought he would not want to experience.  Perhaps he considered it his duty to attend. But if husband and wife can't or won't talk honestly to each other, their marriage is likely doomed.

  •  I love this diary. (5+ / 0-)

    As a lifelong student of other cultures, this discussion helps to give me a better understanding of Japanese culture and thought than from all the time I have spent in Japan.
    A few years ago, I worked in South Korea for almost an entire year, and this was when a tourist visa was only good for 30 days in Korea, so each month I would fly or ferry over to Japan for 3 or 4 days so I could reenter South Korea, and would be good for another month.
    I really enjoyed Korea, made many friends there, but what I enjoyed most, was my monthly trips to Japan, especially after I discovered the mountain hot springs, or Onsens.
    I would usually go to areas such as Beppu, then take city bus toward the mountains, and get off when I saw plumes of steam rising, then hike up the mountain roads until I found an onsen that was new to me.
    I never I encountered anyone there that was not welcoming, and they always made room for me in the pools, and we even sometimes shared food and drink that we had brought.
    Now that I've read some of this thread, I wonder what those fellow Onsen users really thought about this older American man butting into their soak time.
    Thank you for writing, and hope you will continue to enlighten us.

    Severely Socialist 47283

    by ichibon on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 09:09:01 AM PST

    •  I think they probably really enjoyed your company (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TakeSake, justintime, ichibon, janis b, Ozy

      The danger with diaries like this one, and for myself writing comments and trying to give people a real idea of what life is like here, is that cynicism and negativity can overwhelm everything.  It's not our intention to try and disparage Japan, or individual experiences.  We just want people to have all of the facts.

      I've said it before and I'll say it again- I've never experienced hospitality anywhere in the world like I have in Japan.  I've experienced the same thing as you did, sharing food and drink with people in an onsen who were strangers 5 minutes before, and those experiences are among my most treasured memories.  I can definitely say, as long as you followed the basic rules of bathing, they were happy to see you and happy to have you.  

      Odds and ends about life in Japan: 1971wolfie.wordpress.com

      by Hatrax on Sat Feb 01, 2014 at 11:48:19 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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