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22 MYTH: Japanese are completely different from Americans and ... inscrutable.




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This article is from the American misconceptions about Japan FAQ, by Tanaka Tomoyuki ez074520@dilbert.ucdavis.edu with numerous contributions by others.

22 MYTH: Japanese are completely different from Americans and ... inscrutable.

THE TRUTH: not so different.

to me, Japanese and American peoples are more alike than different:
both are hard-working, practically-minded, and socially and
politically conservative. (Japan and the USA are among the most
prominent of the Western capitalist nations.)

---- (2.5.1) Benedict-Reischauer model of Japan as the polar opposite of
the USA, which has dominated American academia and journalism.

however, American media and academia like to depict Japanese as
completely different (diametrically opposite) and "inscrutable".
this has been a consistent pattern in the Western depiction of Japan
for centuries, culminating in Ruth Benedict's "Chrysanthemum and the
Sword", which contrasted the Western culture of "sin" vs the
Japanese culture of "shame". another common contrast is
"individualist" vs "group-oriented" (see the quote from Reischauer
below).

(Japanese authors are similarly guilty in this respect.
--- NAKANE Chie's "tate shakai no ningen kankei" (English tr.
"Japanese society") contrasts the Western "horizontal"
society vs the Japanese "vertical" society.
--- DOI Takeo's "amae no kouzou" (English tr. "The anatomy of
dependence") exaggerates the differences between the
cultures.
if AMAE really is a unique Japanese concept that can not
be translated into English, why not use AMAE in the
title of the English version?)

even Karel van Wolferen (Dutch journalist who showed his excellent
understanding of the Japanese society in [book] "The enigma of
Japanese power") exclaims, "Inside Japan, nothing is quite as it
seems." (printed on the dust jacket of the book, Macmillan edition)

I suppose this is due to journalistic exaggeration and appeal to the
exotic.
in [book] "Human Universals" Donald E. Brown describes how
anthropologists tend to over-emphasize the differences when
reporting customs of "exotic" peoples. he beautifully
illustrates this by taking a scene describing a foreign
custom where the reporter was trying to highlight the
differences, and noting the underlying commonalities in that
very description.

 

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