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Old 04-06-2011, 06:53 PM
 
Location: The Island of Misfit Toys
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Months before the tragedies in Japan, I started to really become interested in the culture of Japan. I'm genuinely curious about what exactly creates the social foundation for it's low crime, non-looting populace and the general kindness of the Japanese?

I've yet to go to Japan but I know (and have heard) that it's not all a bed of roses. For instance, there is a distanced sometimes felt by foriegn visitors from the Japanese which I wouldn't hastily attribute to racism.

But i wanted to know what any Japanese felt about their own culture? Do they prefer it to other cultures? Do you feel imposed upon by the rules of Japanese culture like you can't be yourself or do you find Japanese cultural traditions very important for societal and group harmony?

Please forgive me if I'm not explaining myself clearly. There is something I find very attractive about Japanese culture but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's all in my head.
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Old 04-06-2011, 07:49 PM
 
Location: Macao
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Originally Posted by Shankapotomus View Post
Months before the tragedies in Japan, I started to really become interested in the culture of Japan. I'm genuinely curious about what exactly creates the social foundation for it's low crime, non-looting populace and the general kindness of the Japanese?

I've yet to go to Japan but I know (and have heard) that it's not all a bed of roses. For instance, there is a distanced sometimes felt by foriegn visitors from the Japanese which I wouldn't hastily attribute to racism.

But i wanted to know what any Japanese felt about their own culture? Do they prefer it to other cultures? Do you feel imposed upon by the rules of Japanese culture like you can't be yourself or do you find Japanese cultural traditions very important for societal and group harmony?

Please forgive me if I'm not explaining myself clearly. There is something I find very attractive about Japanese culture but I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's all in my head.
I've been in Japan for the last three years. Plenty of other countries before living here as well.

It seems there is a respect of shared spaces, and respect for others here. I certainly like that apsect. Probably a ton of books on the exact reasons. But, it just is. So, I'll move on to the other questions.

Do Japanese prefer their own culture to other cultures. I am not sure. The older generation seems to be very well-traveled, and the younger generation seems fairly indifferent. I've thought about it a lot, and myself being here, I know I wouldn't have to deal with crime, kids being regularly exposed to drugs, etc. like if I went back to the States. Since everything is world class here, I imagine plenty are happy to just live in Japan. But others want to experience the world as well. Hard to say.

Do I as an expat feel imposed upon by their cultural rules. Not at all! We're given freedom from that for the most part. As a gaijin, you're out of the loop when it comes to expectations, for the most part. Occassionally feel it, but rarely. Out of respect, I try to adhere to what I do know about the cultural rules though.

The distance thing. I think this really depends on the foreigner himself. I've been abroad for a long time, so I really appreciate the space given. I feel it is simple person-to-person respect, etc. I can see how a person who might never have been abroad, might find it offputting. I kinda like it myself. But if you have a problem, people will quickly help you as well. So, it's not really a problem.
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Old 04-06-2011, 10:02 PM
 
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It's an incredibly homogeneous country and the way of making friends is based on social networks, from schools and clubs to work places and other extra-curricular activities. Most of these are entirely Japanese. Foreigners fall through the cracks.

When you deal with Japanese in very routine situations like shopping, I think it's quite rare to get treated noticeably differently. Don't expect any friendships to develop in such situations, but you won't see any true friendly behavior from them towards other Japanese either.

If you go to foreign friendly bars and clubs, you will find many friendly Japanese, but they make up a very small portion of the population. Going to Japanese centric bars and clubs and you'll likely feel a bit more out of place, possibly being treated noticeably different in both positive and negative ways, depending on your luck and Japanese ability.

When you're looking for strong friendships, it gets tougher, at least in Tokyo/Kanto, due to what I said in the first paragraph. There's a small percentage of the population really interested in foreigners, and sometimes it can be very specific like mainly being interested in meeting French, British, or Germans. These Japanese may have more foreign friends than Japanese, be more willing to include you in their existing friendship circle or become very good friends with you. The other 99% of the population I think sees foreigners as outsiders and may be kind and curious about them but not interested in anything more than that. Most often you'll notice complete indifference, and sometimes rude and weird behavior, like people not sitting next to you on the train. If you're fluent in Japanese, you can chit chat with these sort of Japanese in the appropriate places like bars, but really don't expect much to come of it. Of course it also depends on the city/location. Knowing Japanese certainly helps as well, but only so much.
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Old 04-07-2011, 12:28 AM
 
Location: Macao
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And there seems to be great variation between different regions of Japan.

Tokyo is a huge city, and like most large cities, most people just go about their business, tuning out the massive amounts of people around them all the time. I never lived there, but have certainly visited a number of times, and there is a more 'isolated' or 'tired' look to some of people, much like any massive city anywhere in the world where people commute long hours and work long hours.

When I was living up in Niigata, they also were reserved like in Tokyo. Slightly formal, but also quite friendly and, I felt, very welcoming. I have a young son, so a lot of people wanted to interact with him, ask me about him, and show a lot of curiousity. Actually I found people friendly everywhere in Niigata Prefecture, but it is very much 'countryside'. I did feel some rules that you wanted to obey, but nothing imposing. Just basic common sense types of things. For example, you don't want to shout loudly on the phone on the train, or anything like that. It's just not something that Japanese people do. I don't either, so not really a problem. Also, in Niigata, people were much more tied to the land there. Rice and sake is some of the best in the country, and just a completely different world. Large houses, lots of space, etc.

Now I am down here in Osaka. Completely different world again. Osaka people are well-known as the comedians of Japan, breaking the rules, friendliness, having fun, etc. It certainly shows. That being said, the rules they break are still just the really tight ones, you don't see people breaking the law or committing crimes or anything like that either. Just more talkative and quickly to engage in conversation.

In short, a person's experience with Japan, much like a person's experience with Europe or the U.S., depends greatly on what part of the country a person ends up living in.
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Old 04-07-2011, 05:12 PM
 
Location: The Island of Misfit Toys
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Great answers, guys! I appreciate all the detail. it helps a lot.

Tiger beer, what you said about the "comedians" in Japan who are "breaking the rules" really brings out what I was trying to understand about the Japanese be couldn't express. Basically, that even the rules breakers in Japan are friendly. The rules breakers in America are plotting to pick your pocket, steal your car and worse. Or people who mess with you just because they are plain evil. I know there are sometimes crimes committed in Japan but where are the thugs, gangsters and general troublemakers that are so prevalent in America?

I really don't mind if the Japanese are occasionally indifferent to me and others. It's overt hostility I think everyone would have a problem with...at least I would.

Is it safe to say there are little to no thugs in Japan today? I mean, do you seriously have to worry about a "bloody loco" (reference to a viral video subway confrontation, google it) on the Tokyo subway?

Could this be the difference I sense? That there are no bullies or thugs in Japan like in the U.S.?

Last edited by Shankapotomus; 04-07-2011 at 05:55 PM..
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Old 04-07-2011, 08:42 PM
 
Location: US Empire, Pac NW
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Japan is a Confucian based society, where stress is placed on doing what is good for the group and acting out of kindness and deference to the group and elders. This makes people more able to do what is "neighborly" as I like to put it. I saw it in the Midwest in certain parts. Rule breakers were the same as in Japan - mostly because they wanted to be different, not because they wanted to be bad people.

The younger generation is embracing more of a hybrid culture where they want what's best for themselves because they feel betrayed by a culture which they were grown up in, mostly because of a lack of job security, lack of vision, and basically being isolated in school and not being exposed to the world, so they go out and travel or work in many different jobs. They're called "freiters" (FREE-ters), which is to say, they work in many different jobs and travel freely, i.e., doing what they think Americans and in general, people in the West, do with their lives. It's sort of romantic in a way, many get disillusioned with that and fall back into the rigid social structure that exists.

As a foreigner, there are unique circumstances that apply to you. People don't expect you to fall into their social rules, but some things that are out of deference they do expect you to follow, they expect you to at least make a passing attempt at learning their language and culture and history, and if you go beyond that, they will love you. If you want to live in Japan for a long time, you ARE expected to follow more of the social rules, for example, being "shy" and not really your average outgoing American. Check out the YouTube playlist of a vlogger there, named Japanchanneldcom. He is an Australian who lives and works and recently got married in Japan.

As for thugs and sort of the "underbelly" of Japanese culture ... it exists. There's roughly 86,000 mafia, or yakuza, in the country. They throw people from balconies, they torture people, they extort money from out of luck people, they intimidate corporations, they run drugs and prostitutes, infiltrate the government, and they have a tacit approval from law enforcement to do some of this in order to gain information on what rival groups are doing, find out why a person "committed suicide", etc.

(btw, that last note, I would say Japan has one of the highest rates of suicide, but many of them are likely murders committed by the Yakuza ... for example, Jake Adelstein believes that there's one movie director who was forced to jump from the roof of his apartment building at gunpoint by the yakuza for making a bad movie about them)

The government, too, is slow to take action. The same person I mentioned, Jake Adelstein, almost single handedly shamed the Japanese government to admit that foreign women were being trafficked in Japan for sex after being lulled there by dreams of making money in parlors only to be kept in virtual slavery. This was in the 90s and it's better now, but it basically took a UN report saying Japan was second worst in the world (behind North Korea) for human trafficking to make the government do anything. TO this day, there's still a problem with underage prostitution but instead of foreign girls they use native girls, runaways, etc. to work the streets.

See, the culture was, prostitutes were seen as leeches who would suck money from unsuspecting weak men. So, they earned little protectionf rom the police, and those who did go to the police ended up being jailed for overstaying their visa or not having identification, and a fair number were forced to "service" their cop captors to be released.

Don't get me wrong, Japan is an extremely safe country and any murder is very rare and makes national news. But to say it is all "shiny, happy people holding hands" is ignoring this dark part of the country. The power the yakuza have over parts of the economy make the mafia in Sicily look like boy scouts.

If you're interested in learning more, read "Tokyo Vice" by Jake Adelstein. You can also visit his blog, google "Japan subculture" and click the first link.
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Old 04-07-2011, 09:13 PM
 
Location: Macao
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Originally Posted by eskercurve View Post
As for thugs and sort of the "underbelly" of Japanese culture ... it exists. There's roughly 86,000 mafia, or yakuza, in the country. They throw people from balconies, they torture people, they extort money from out of luck people, they intimidate corporations, they run drugs and prostitutes, infiltrate the government, and they have a tacit approval from law enforcement to do some of this in order to gain information on what rival groups are doing, find out why a person "committed suicide", etc.
Excellent entire post above! I immediately was thinking of the yakuza, etc. as well.

Another type of bully is the school bully. Apparently in the school system, I heard it is a major problem. Never having gone through a Japanese school, I couldn't give any details to why it's so particularly bad in Japan. I've heard that many people drop out of H.S. due to bullying, and are home-schooled, and that 'dropped out due to bullying' is given it's own name in Japan, being that it's so common.

But Shankapotomus's question, I suppose meant more on the street that a foreigner would feel? Like thugs trying to intimidate a person, or types who will want to take you on if you look at them funny? That type of stuff. As a foreigner, and I think for a Japanese person, that doesn't really happen. People have too much social respect of others. The "I'm gonna kill you" type of thing seems to be respected within American culture, but just non-existant and wouldn't be understood or have a resonance here. Sometimes when I look at the U.S., being so far away, I am amazed how much everyday usage people have of the words 'murder, kill, destroy, annihilate', etc. Violent terms are so incredibly common in American speech.

One of the biggest differences I've noticed between Japan and the U.S., is that the U.S. is absolutely saturated with drugs at every level. You see it on all the streets, and absolutely everywhere. People whose lives are just burned out, searching for something, willing to hurt somebody to get it. Crack house types, junkies, etc. Additionally, harmless homeless people everywhere who look more drug ravished than anything. All that stuff quite common in the U.S., not here at all.
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Old 04-08-2011, 03:24 AM
 
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To the OP, you have to be careful about thinking like that. The natural inclination of anyone who is fed up with the craziness of American, British or other declining societies is to project ones hopes that there is a better place out there somewhere. Sadly, the truth is that every country is populated by humans complete with all the faults and quirks that entails. Japan is a pretty cool culture in a lot of ways and foreigners aren't going to experience Japanese jumping in their face and threatening them just because they aren't Japanese, but Japanese can also be pigheaded and xenophobic and the quality of their police force just does not measure up to American standards and there is very little concrete protection of the accused in legal proceedings, too often making trials there little more than kangaroo courts.

America is a nation that came to be, after you get past our conflicts with its aboriginals, through defiance and a deep suspicion of authority. The hysterical ravings you see out of the rightwing in the U.S. right now really aren't that new. We have always had rhetoric like that throughout our history.

Japan, to way oversimplify, came to be through a warrior class imposing a strict hierarchy on regular folks and any variance from that was usually severely punished. Moreover, being as the country has been overcrowded through a good chunk of its history, the Confucianism it imported from China coupled with the firm insistence on adherence to rules resulted in your typical Japanese being obsessed with social and political regulations. Indeed, the number one value is the mutual exchange of favors and Japanese society often functions like the world's biggest kabuki play where gestures and mechanical observance of social nicety often take precedence over results.

Look at it this way: Japanese culture is very butch, but the feminine part of it is a preoccupation with process. That is why you never spring surprises on people there and use a lot of back channels to make business deals happen. As one of my Japanese professors said, it is a "culture of becoming (naru)" and therefore moves slowly and inefficiently (at least in the minds of foreigners) to ensure that nobody feels offended, which suppresses conflict. So everyone is part of some social or business cartel because there is safety in those numbers since big groups are inherently slower than those of the individual.

Japanese often see Americans as being somewhat cold and our friendships rather shallow. Yet, that is a culture where saying, "I love you (ai****eiru)" is considered to be embarrassingly strong. You never ask a Japanese woman, "will you marry me?" because it is just so direct that it lacks the Japanese preference for elegant indirection and therefore seems positively gauche.

Many Japanese do see their culture as suffocating and pressure packed, especially if you're a woman. But the folks who will actually tell you that are very small in number since making bold statements to outsiders is something that they just don't really do.

For some insight on this in a very roundabout way, read Erich Fromme's "Escape from Freedom," which is actually a social psych study of how Nazism took hold in Germany but which ultimately applies to a wider swath of humanity, and Ruth Benedict's rather exaggerated take on the social levers of Japanese society, "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword."

And just remember, too, that the media vastly oversimplifies and tends to turn almost anything it touches into a kind of cartoon because they are addressing audiences who mostly have trouble understanding anything that employs verbiage and concepts above a sixth grade level. So as well as the average Japanese has seemingly reacted after the Tohoku earthquake, it is still early days and the actual history of this will not be known for some time to come due to a variety of factors.
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Old 04-08-2011, 08:19 AM
 
Location: The Island of Misfit Toys
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I'm beginning to think that knowing how well or badly a nation's people treat each other is a good indication of how well or badly you will be treated as a visitor. And how well or badly your own nation treats you, will determine how you will process your treatment abroad. And I think it's safe to say the Japanese treat each other better than Americans treat each other. Is that a fair conclusion?

So to the people in this thread who live in Japan and / or expatriated, is there a somewhat painless way to move to Japan and live there full time? I don't think I could be employed in the cities with my limited language skills (just started learning Japanese). I'm not very excited about doing the 9-5 grind lifestyle. I like the more slower-paced traditional, call it "old" self-sufficient ways of life. How about a Japanese countryside, "off-grid", hunter-gatherer type of lifestyle just until I familiarize myself with the culture and language? lol. Is that a possibility for me in Japan? Without imposing on a host, are there cheap solutions for expatriating to Japan? I heard a story once that in one prefecture so many people were leaving that, after the normal red tape, they gave land away to one couple for free if they agreed to settle it. I know that's probably the exception rather than the rule but what are land prices like in the Japanese countryside?

Last edited by Shankapotomus; 04-08-2011 at 08:41 AM..
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Old 04-08-2011, 10:06 AM
 
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dude they are people, and people are the same wherever you go
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