Now for something a little different...
Trip Start Jul 29, 2006
28Trip End Ongoing
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So, as I have alluded to in previous entries, I see Japan and America as existing on nearly oppositional sides of a grand spectrum. Japanese culture privileges the community, advocates taking responsibility for the community, and subliminally requests that its members conform to the norms of the community. This, naturally, has its positive and negative aspects. Positively speaking, people are much more aware of other people in this culture. They are less likely to get angry with one another, they live quietly and peacefully, they do not litter or deface their communities, and they are comparatively quite patient with one another. (Just for example, the other day, in the park, a teenage boy ran into an old lady on her bicycle. The lady's bicycle fell over and all her things fell out. She did not, however, get upset. The boy apologized for the accident, picked up her bike and items, and both went along their way.) (Another example, I live in a city of 700,000 people and, in the 2 months I have been here, I have yet to hear a single car use their horn for any reason.)
But, of course, this does not mean it is perfect. Because the community takes precendence here, in turn, the individual loses much of his/her ability to really shine. As a result, people are often afraid to express who they are. In class, students are afraid to raise their hands and, when they do, it is most surely NOT to express an opinion by any means. The students do not question anything teachers tell them. They do not develop those healthy types of questions and curiosities that lead one to explore the great mysteries of life. And if they do develop these curiosities, the culture offers very few outlets for which one can express these feelings and find others who are willing to do the same.
However, this is not a static place on the spectrum for the Japanese people. They are in transit... and they are heading straight for the American side of the spectrum. Why do I think this? Because of what I see around me and from my interactions with people. Ever since I have gotten to this country, I have heard nothing but about how "cool" and "awesome" America is. Whenever I try to tell a Japanese person that Japanese culture is just as cool in its own way, my compliment is quickly shunned and replaced with an even bigger compliment about American culture. In addition, you can see behaviors in the people that indicate this desire to move closer to an American lifestyle. For example, you are highly likely to see young women here dying their hair blonde, putting on 3-4 inch heels and, literally, using a special "eyelid glue" (that holds up their eyelids to make their eyes look bigger). And the result is a large number of Asian women are walking around looking like they are attempting to be western women.
What is the reason for this phenomenon in Japanese culture? Why do they exalt American culture in this manner and seek to emulate it? While I do not know, I can't help but wonder if these are part of the effects of America having dropped the atomic bomb here. To date, Japan remains the only country in the world who has experienced the effects of such a weapon. There are consequences to this act that we still do not fully understand. And I cannot help but wonder if some of these aspects of the culture I currently observe in my experiences are part of those consequences. For example, do the Japanese feel compelled now to emulate our country because they were made to feel weak, vulnerable, and powerless having fallen victim to the atomic bomb? Do they think that becoming like America will bring them to a more powerful and desirable position in the world? Again, I cannot be sure, but these are questions worth pondering.
I don't believe this movement towards an American way of life is necessarily beneficial for the Japanese. While America has some truly wonderful things to offer- for example, self expression and celebration of individuality- it also has its own kinks in the system that need to be ironed out. Therefore, in my opinion, it would be far more beneficial for the two cultures to learn from each other and move towards each other. Ah.. in a perfect world. But it is not the world we live in. So now, we can just wait and see where these current turns of events will lead both countries and the effects they may have on the rest of the world...