Identity Crisis
- Where Is Homogeneous Japan from? -
in Boston, 2003

Unlike the United States, Japan is really a country of monoculture. How and why? Not only because of one race origin, long history of an island country, fairly secure and stable cherishing of their cultural development without experiencing invasion or colonization by other countries, but also there must have been a lot of causes to form their present situation, homogeneity.

   It might be least effective to change their heart that General Douglas MacArthur occupied them for several years. The Emperor's family originated from invaders from Korea, and then ruled all over Japan settling shrines as military bases and controlling the leaders of original Japanese into Iwami, or the west Shimane Prefecture. Although this is an ancient history, it might be the beginning of general Japanese tendency to obey authorities.

   One can say of them to have the least identity or originality, but have full talent to absorb anything from abroad, imitate and modify it. Originally, Japanese culture might have been that way. Even the characters to express their language they borrow from China. It was quite efficient for a barbarian living in remote Far East islands to use ideograms in expressing his thoughts. Through importing, their ancestors created the Katakana and Hiragana phonogram systems derived from them. Importing, absorbing of concepts, imitating, and modifying are some of their characteristics that they became good at. Imitation itself sometimes makes much more value than the original when effectively modified in a crowded, dense population with hard competition. Similarly, electronic products made in Japan which were like toys and synonyms of cheap in earlier days, are good examples of that.

   However, today's discussion is not about the virtue of their culture, but about the so called identity crisis they crucially face. They don't have enough tradition to think as individuals, and they think as a member of some group or organization that they belong to. They tend to see a person who graduated from a famous university, not by his/her intellect itself. Anyone who works for a big business earns more money the longer he/she stays not because of his/her merit, and tends to be treated as an elite. Even experts with long career might not be able to make much money unless they are promoted or recruited.

   The Japanese seldom debate on a topic seriously, strangely enough. In a mono-racial country with just one language rapidly standardized by the mass media, unique opinions sound so contrary that their holders hesitate to express them, knowing subsequent discrimination from others. People tend to talk about light topics such as yesterday's baseball game or star's gossip. To make it worse, TV also strives high audience rating by looking for highlighted topics only for average interest. It can be said a kind of mass idiot or mobocracy, which might be easier for journalists to form similar public opinions. Generally Japanese can't be said to be opinionated.

   Self-sacrifice for the benefit of others is a key characteristic for the highly educated, and should be one of the most important virtues of responsible leaders. However, full of knowledge often accompanies an egoistic personality. Further, recent tendency with materialistic prosperity which is called an age of satiation might be a hotbed for hedonism. Actually, Japanese culture is now morally decaying, the evidence of which is bookstores. They could easily find a good book in any bookstore for a reasonable price before. In addition to being expensive, they sell quite many unreadable books or magazines which disturb people’s choice especially in convenience stores. Now is the time to form their strong identity that is unwavering whatever environments surround them.

   By the way, let us discuss the causes of their cultural homogeneity. One student called their culture the agricultural, which originated by growing rice where cooperation had been the essential need without recent sophisticated machinery but with just skillful hand labor. Feeding is an essential cultural basis. Theirs, based on rice growing, has not been long changed from the ancient days of Jomon or Yayoi, the emperors' government and aristocracy, medieval military governments where the main tax was on rice and the ruling areas were measured by the amount of its product, industrial revolution under Meiji Imperial Constitution, through post-War democratization and modernization. Therefore he insists on their cultural peacefulness and cooperativeness, but, on the other hand, dependency on others originated from such agriculture. However, why do people tend to think or act so similarly even if they value harmony of their group? Isn't there any need to have their own way of life or thinking?

   The Japanese are obedient to authorities. Even in political issues, they tend to allow rulers not to be influenced by them. The long time isolationism that the Tokugawa shogunate had kept from the 17th to 19th centuries might have reinforced such a tendency. Otherwise the origin must have been very early. The shogun closed trading except for a small amount with China and Holland, and rejected immigration totally because they feared the propagation of Christianity. Buddhism is one of the origins of their culture which they owed to Nepal, India, the Silk Road, China, and Korea, which gave them its great sutras and philosophy. Temples under Tokugawa Shogunate, however, were used to identify citizen's permanent address, and people were not allowed to convert to another religion or school. Even religion itself was, and still now tends to be, used as a tool to rule ordinary people. It forms one of the ruling structures. Of course they have exception.

   Japanese proverb "Nagai mono niwa makarero," meaning “let us be rolled up with anything long,” symbolizes their obedience to authorities, while "I no naka no kawazu taikai wo shirazu," meaning “a frog in the well knows not the ocean,” their narrow-mindedness that comes from closed society. Japan's long history, of course, has cherished their sophisticated culture, but long isolation as an island country and a closed policy in the Edo Era seems to have formed very much complicated their social structures, connections, and customs that are suitable for the natives but great bars for foreigners or foreign companies.

   Whether the general Japanese tendency poor at foreign language might have come from its closed society, from its grammar differences, or from bad education system only to pass the exam, the result is that they are very quick in absorbing foreign ideas or information in translation. They owe much to the precious translations. Japan is, I believe, a big country full of information from all over the globe, but it is just in Japanese; the references of which are so limited that they have to make a great effort to find out what they want. On the contrary, there is a huge quantity of traditional cultural accumulation that could not and will not be translated into other languages. These closed, narrow minded frogs in the well have biases or prejudices even now.

   For example, music there is one of the decisive identity crisis from the beginning of modernization. So let me have a little time to demonstrate in singing.
* demonstration

   As for the ruling structure of common people, every aspect results from their long history. For example, I work in the health care field, where I can notice a conservative pyramid allowing physicians to become top rulers. Physical therapy there is a newly established profession with only 37 years of history, the beginning of which was aided by World Health Organization and many foreign therapists. We have a highly intensive educational, practical and research environment because of the need. We have been, and are now, enthusiastically searching to make our practice up to date with a pioneering spirit. Its quality has a high standard and is not delayed from international standard, although the numbers of therapists or the fields they work are limited.

   However, we are only allowed to work diagnosed, prescribed by physicians and not allowed to open private offices, even if we have our own system of assessment and treatment, while masseurs, acupuncturists and moxabustions, which generally one therapist have three of all, are allowed to have them. Physician's “diagnosis and prescription” has no meaning, or often confuses us. Nurses are always running diagnosed, prescribed, and directed by physicians, not ever having their own system to assess and treat patients in a small facility like where I worked. They seem to me just physicians' assistants, with little identity or pride in their field. The Japanese health care system is totally different from that of the West, where many experts work in their specified fields with high status and leadership.

   Even in an age of informed consent, many Japanese physicians can't educate patients very effectively because they don't have enough time. Further they have turned into
techno-chemicians, a new term I made meaning chemical medicine experts diagnosing aided by machinery and technology. Therapists have to educate and explain to patients as an everyday task, in order to encourage exercise and self-training, with full of time to talk with them. Now we do believe therapists can perform physical examinations even better than physicians, while they seek to be up-to-date with technological and mechanical advances. They tend not to see people as human, but just as a disease, in terms of technological outputs, while we see a patient as an actively living person with functional skills. I know many kinds of experts now work in the health care field, but physicians rule in an out-of-date manner there. We therapists are fortunate to have an education system for Bachelor's, Master's or Ph.D. degrees now in several colleges. At the beginning of our history, however, physicians forced us to settle for three years' education, which is still our main stream, because they wanted to suppress our status and have control over us.

   Japan's health care system, even with national insurance covered whole residents, comes from a long regional tradition of history and was late in modernization. For ordinary people, there are not enough accurate information even in our anatomy or physiology. People tend to prefer simple alternative way to keep healthy and look for advertisement full of ignorance of professional view point. This can be said one of the ruling structures of people, in the name of another mobocracy, making health care a secret. With less correct information available in public, how can people react like this? People obey a physician, whoever is. They often don't know even the name of medication, or its function. When it comes to surgery, families always say, "We totally depend on you, doctor. Please help us. We will obey any of your instructions." They could search for a second opinion, but still it isn't popular, even in crucial cases. Then medical malpractices seldom cause the court issues.

   Many corporations or organizations are now democratizing their system, but still it is oriented by top-down decision making. This could also be a result from the long tradition of obedience. Many people complain about their bosses behind the scenes, but not in public. When I began to reform our system, I faced some barrier or even persecution all the time. Executives don't care about the quality of nursing, but I have always strongly cared. Nurses or carers don't care about the management of patients' environment from the point of daily function or their quality of life.

   Often I claim that the side of a patient's bed they sit up from is different. They had better use sound side and not the affected side, which causes functional limitation or even accidents often. It might be a tiny fact, but I wish to educate coworkers to have such a point of view. Many nurses or carers might wish to deny my instructions, because they don't want to make their jobs busier. I have to act carefully. People easily act based on their worship of economy. However, economy in true meaning must be based on effectiveness. Unless they make an effort to change their system by discussion, this evil circle will accumulate into irreversible viciousness. I find my view and myself far beyond ordinary thinking. I'm very proud of it, but always suffer the decisive differences from others. A long enthusiasm working as a therapist may have changed my character completely.

   As for worship of money, prosperity and security spoil their hungry spirit and seem to increase people's habit to act like others. TV advertised, "The neighbor's car is bigger than ours," which illustrated mutual competition for materialistic prosperity. Is my car the status symbol? Am I jealous of others with a gorgeous car? I see it is just a locomotion tool, but most people don't. Increasingly, they seek to polish a new shining monster. To almost all foreigners, they, the Japanese, appear to be economic animals. Further, they don't have so much of a gap in income like that of the U.S. An average income means an average consumer's choice. An average life style reinforces their similar way of thinking. Also, the media or companies seek to stimulate their instinctive desire evoking a similar, not a variety of, demand. Yes, their thinking is average.

   It must be one of the greatest factors that they have the seniority employment system. It has been established so firmly that it could not be broken up easily so far. The unemployment rate is low, even when they suffer from economic recession. The longer they stay at work, the better advantage they have. If they only evaluate the worker by merit system, why do they need to cling to the permanent employment? This is truly a solid ancien regime. Without big error, people might stay longer. Thus, they tend to respond to employer's instructions passively, but not to work actively, taking a risk to reform against habitual patterns. Together with school education, they call it an escalator of the elite. Any graduate student from a famous university can keep working for a corporation until he retire, even if his/her life is not so creative, but boring. This education-employment system is a so-called assembly line of labor in Japan Co. Ltd.

   I did not take this escalator when I graduated from senior high school, and decided to live as a reformist. Many students joined the campaign to protest the governors of their university and the government to improve our education and society, but their campaign faded away day by day. I chose a newly found university based on a Buddhist philosophy, and took another approach to reform our society based on our individual reform. I could not have predicted joining a good company after graduation, because we were the first students. Being poor at sociology, I majored in law, which might have been a wrong decision, but I chose my poor subject to cover the hole. Two years after graduation, I came back to a natural science field, and learned physical therapy, in which I found my permanent expertise, but not permanent employer.

   They now have many problems in education, bullying among students even in elementary school, lack of students' originality or creativity, and so on. Their traditional education places too much emphasis on listening to a teacher's lecture, not on discussion. Teachers give the only true answer, while students memorize it. They don't need to think for themselves. They often are quiet when discussing some topics. When someone expresses his/he opinion, others agree almost automatically. Then, their education creates similar Japanese student always talking about yesterday's TV animation or Playstation 2. When a student doesn't watch the same program, he might lose a topic, and could be bullied. Their present education must reinforce the identity crisis, so we have to emphasize our life-long education. This shall be the key to reform. Also, it should be oriented by self-education, self-training, and self-regulation.

   I mentioned the tendency of moral decay in recent days, the most remarkable example of which are young prostitution and erotic videos. Video film studios willingly look for pretty girls who don't hesitate to make love in front of a camera and staff members. According to westernization and modernization they inevitably welcomed freedom in every field. Freedom does not mean license, but it must accompany responsibility regulating people themselves. Unless adults can indicate the right way by their own behavior, it is very difficult to lead younger generations. Those who buy the female students are the former generations. They might have failed to introduce free culture in the field of sexual expression. It must be more difficult because it is the field of instinctive desire. Now they have no other way but prohibiting it legally, but it must be based on our awareness of moral crisis in all generations. Unless they themselves face instinctive animal nature seriously, they can't introduce a good cure for these phenomena of erroneous freedom.

   Culture has bigger exclusive power than the gun, because it is our choice. When the Japanese keep having an inferiority complexity with western culture, rapid liberalization without responsibility accelerates the disastrous decaying of morality and chastity. The dying of hair color among students represents it. Daijuku Sutra reads,
   "... then people will all let their beards, hair and fingernails grow long ..."
Instead of long, what does dying or coloring them mean from the viewpoint of civilization? If it is a local phenomenon, I would overlook it. We see them in a remote rural village as well as Roppongi, Tokyo. Is it pleasant that all Japanese youth “Hawaiianize” their fashion?

Based on Individualism Revolution

   Yes, the Japanese are group oriented and have less tradition of individualism. Among assimilation of culture, however, many of authors of Japanese books must be individuals with unique opinions. Once they find a homogeneous Japan in themselves, they could change their direction as I have done after studying English. At the same time, they are proud of being cooperative and industrious. The verb work in Japanese, or “hataraku” literally means, “to make surroundings ease.” The Japanese work hard and are cooperative, for they are disciplined no matter what. If only they introduce just a slight change of policy of individualism and open-heartedness, they could become the best partners of the world.

   I heard that the Earth Charter campaign reached the final version of documentation at Hague, Netherlands, in June 2000, and a lot of Japanese have kept and are supporting to promote and encourage the initiative since 1992. The late emperor Hirohito himself took the lead in planting trees and conserving our environment after the disaster of World War II. 80 percent of their land shares mountains with green planted by ancestors. They love blue sky. They love animals. They have a lot of naturalists, especially here in Gifu, located at the center of Honshu Island. The late Prof. Kinji Imanishi is famous in establishing Japanese naturology and the author of "The World of Creatures." We have Nawa Insects Research Museum at the foot of Mt. Kinka.

   Finally, I have to mention that they once experienced homogeneity-based ultra-nationalism or fascism, and caused the second World War. After that, they seem to have succeeded in democratizing and modernizing their society rather superficially. Still they keep being the Japanese with similar spirit before the Meiji revolution, as I mentioned above. If only they can change their homogeneous culture into cosmopolitanism oriented by individualism revolution, they may be able to lead the globe from the Far East where they stand.

   Inevitably, we welcome a borderless society based on the information super-highway. The rapid rising of the Internet would transform our way of life or even social structure overwhelmingly. Then, English is a key ability people have to get. Now the Japanese tend to access to only a small cyberspace in Japanese, but they have to expand it. Of course they might not depend on auto translation at all, because it must have some mistranslation and doesn't afford the delicate nuance. Yet, language itself is just a means to communicate in. What they think and speak, and how they act in the world is, of course, most important.

   Fortunately enough, I think, but unfortunately they are the only victims of two A-bombs, then they have a strong responsibility to lead their peaceful future. They have grown up from disaster and poverty after War, because they are proud of being studious and industrious. It might have come from a long poverty and hunger of knowledge as a barbarian living in remote Far East. Their history has proved themselves to have enough spirit to change our whole Earth family into a happy and peaceful community.

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Copyright © Tamaki Hosoe, 2003