What justifies Japanese sense of cultural superiority?

First, some examples of my biased, uneducated opinion on Japan; second, my responses to these opinions.

Japan also has a very homogenous society, which refuses to grant lesser races, such as the koreans, Japanese citizenship. Japan is concerned about their society being over-run and inter-bred into decline. Japan is a racist county where a caucasian, african, or indian person will never be seen as an equal to a true Japanese. It is very difficult to secure an apartment in Japan unless you can reference several people who are already japanese citizens. The term gaijin accurately connotates these fears/biases, meaning foreigner with a negative, inferior connotation. Those who visit japan and learn the language, and customs, are seen as animals merely imitating what they see, it is somewhat like a zoo with the tourist in the cage.

These feelings are not limited to the island. I recall a History documentary on WW2 internment camps housing japanese, german, and italian citizens seen as a threat to the war effort. In these scenarios, the japanese formed their own impenetrable “clique”, not even acknowledging the other people’s presence.

My reasoning is that Japan suffers from a strong sense of self-doubt of their own culture, so in response, their pride is exaggerated. For example, it can be argued that Japanese culture was initially inherited from the Chinese.

More recently, Japanese culture can be seen as a pale imitation of american culture. For example, I pick up international stations on my 500 odd channel cable system. A program broadcast by a Tokyo company featured a fourteen year old girl singing a song, wearing a t-shirt with an american flag, and wearing a gold belt with the word "C A H" on it. Certainly "bling" is not a japanese custom? Furthermore, the symbol, used as an S here, is the symbol for the american dollar, dervied from the letters U and the S (United States) super-imposed on top of eachother, and the bottom U of the curve was eventually dropped. The host of this show was also wearing a shirt with an american flag design on it.

Countless other examples exist since Hirohito bowed to MacArthur.

Hopefully someone who has been to the island can share some insight. In the meantime, are my accusastions way off the mark, is does Japan truly have this sense of cultural superiority? Is modern Japan a pale imitation of American pop culture?

Understandably, all cultures feel their own is superior. Across the globe various civilizations push up the greatest they have produced, for the English it’s Shakespeare, for the Greeks it’s Plato, and so on. However I am most interested in Japan’s sense of cultural superiority. Hopefully this topic is more of a debate than a factual question.

Well when your richer and more developed its natural to feel smug about it. The US itself has a sense of cultural, moral and business superiority. Yet americans drool at someone with a quaint British accent… they love many traditional British things. Its more a issue of imitation and fashion… I suppose the Japs like to do the same with some american things. By pointing out one case of American Flags you would have to compare how the rest of their culture is or not japanese.

Can you justify notions of cultural superiority ? I doubt it since its pretty relative. I see many american saying their country is the best and then loads of Brazilians complain that the US is like living in cold and uncaring country. Americans going to Germany, Germans going to Japan… etc… would probably think the same… We are used to certain standards.

Do the japs have a good basis for this smugness ? Up to a point yes. The same way the US has a dominant role in the west... Japan has led the fashions and trends of Asia for some time. (I understand that Korea now is the trend setter.) Japan has demonstrated a national unity of purpose and dedication to their country very rarely seen in history. Their culture seems to be very admired and interesting. If that justifies smugness is another matter.

I suppose every country likes to think of itself superior culturally speaking in some aspect. Brazilians love to think of themselves as very tolerant and friendly people for example...  French liken themselves to very politically aware... Argentines as more cultural and sofisticated, etc...

First of all, Japanese have viewed themselves as the best long before America was even getting started so I can assure you it has nothing to do with self-doubt of their own culture. And while the Japanese steal a lot of things from everybody else, they always manage to make it uniquely Japanese.

The Japanese do seem to regard themselves and their culture much higher than any other group of people. I like in an area which is mostly Asian and I come into contact with many groups of people and while most groups do regard themselves as being the “best,” I have yet to see it on a scale as I do with the Japanese. It is most evident, as you pointed out earlier, in the ease at which a non-native person can integrate into the society. And while I have known many many people who work and study in Japan, they will always be gaijin, no matter how long they live nor how much they know. (I know some non-Japanese that know more Japanese than natives.)

The reason for this is mostly from two things.

  1. Japan is an island. Although the Japanese did have contact with the Koreans and the Chinese and other groups, they remained a lot more isolated than any other Asian group. All of my Japanese friends would probably be insulted by your statement that their culture was inherited by the Chinese. And they have a reason to be, although a lot of things are shared by both cultures, Japanese and Chinese culture could not be more dissimilar. Think difference between Americans and Britains but on a MUCH MUCH larger scale. Koreans and Japanese, yes to some extent, but not Chinese. My Korean/Japanese boyfriend and I lived for a while with a Chinese boy and they clashed on many things.

  2. The requirement of Japanese society to be “one of the group.” Japanese society and culture depends a lot on how you interact with each other. Japanese people are constantly required to think of how their actions will benefit others and to do things to help the company/family/group rather than themselves. It’s why Japanese men until recently worked their entire lives for one company, devoting everything they had to it. Always having to put the needs of your group before your own makes you depend on the group a lot more than another who would care mostly for their own needs. You’ll also care more about how the group succeeds. You are a success or a failure based upon how well the group is doing. Because of this, you are going to hold the group in high esteem and regard it as the best.

Now, I am not Japanese and I’ll ask my boyfriend if he can write a better response when he wakes up. These are my thoughts based upon my understanding of Japanese culture which may or may not be correct.

Is this different from China (ie, the Middle Kingdom)? Is it possible that Japan inherited this (along with much its culture) from China? I don’t necessilty think that is true, but it’s just as reasonable an explanation as anything. Japan is hardly unique in its cultural chauvinism.

First off, I want to ask people not to use the word “japs”. It tends to have racist connotations. I apologize if I’m coming off as overly-PC, but it’s something a bit important to me.

While I’m not knowlegable enough about Japanese culture to give a detailed answer, I will say that many of the stereotypes used here are incorrect, especially those regarding European and American cultures (if anything, occasionally the Japanese view them as superior in some ways). The term Gaijin is also being misused here, and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything other than foreigner. Like the English term, it depends completely on the context. Japan as a whole isn’t that concerned about interbreeding (especially with Caucasians), though there are a few loud exceptions. While I certainly don’t say Japan is blameless, based on my knowledge of their culture and language, I would say that they’re probably no worse than Americans are regarding this issue.

Of course the Japanese think we are a bunch of barbarians, we wear our shoes in the house.

I think most every nation feels superior to others. Icelanders most certainly do.

Japan is unique despite its T-Shirt fashion. Americans remake mainly French films, import its musik from most everywhere and add that American quality to it (no pun intended). Everyone picks things up from everyone, this is not specific to the Japanese or Americans.

And yes nations who wear shoes indoors are barbaric.

I haven’t seen any generalizations in this thread yet that are at all defensible beyond a casual, anecdotal sort of justification, especially the OP’s. The Japanese in general do not view themselves as superior to other cultures, any more than Americans or any other culture do, which means you can always find a Yank who thinks old Glory is the best flag in the world, but that says little about the culture overall. Every nation has its chauvinists; in my experience working with the Japanese over the last few years, there is no more general chauvinism in them than in any other nation, especially in the under 40 generation, which is a very international generation.

In particular, I haven’t seen Ava’s “must be one of the group” ethos–just the opposite, in fact. The Japanese at work (around twenty of them) are as catty a bunch as any group of Americans, with shifting relationships, trash talking, cliques and all. If they weren’t speaking a different language, I wouldn’t know they weren’t locals.

I do suspect that the current under 40 generation is very different from their parents (and I’ve been told that by older Japanese). This generation was raised in relative prosperity, with wide access to world culture. Their parents may have tended to support the OP’s claims, but that’s the generation that grew up during WWII and afterwards during the American occupation, when nationalism was stronger.

I think one telling aspect of Japanese culture is that Japanese, as a language, is borrowing heavily from English vocabulary, without shame or embarassment. Contrast that with French, which maintains an academy that makes pronouncements on “proper french”, with legal implications.

I’d like to ask the OP from what sources he obtained his “biased, uneducated opinions”. They’re frankly racist.

I hate generalizations, but I’ll do my best to give my view on it.

There is a racial way of thinking here, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as nasty as you make it out to be. Rather, I think that the Japanese just have an exaggerated sense of their own uniqueness. They see a giant wall between us and them. It works both ways, btw. Just as they’re amazed when a foreigner can speak Japanese, they are amazed when a Japanese can speak a foreign language.

To take your example of the difficulties faced in securing leases here. Japanese landlords assume that foreign tenants are not familiar with Japanese customs, do not speak Japanese, etc. They probably also assume that the foreign tenants can’t really learn these things, either. In other words, they view a foreign tenant as a massive headache in the making. That’s why they can’t get leases, not because they are members of a ‘lesser race’.

While it’s tempting to view all this as pro-Japanese racism, I just can’t see it that way, given how immensely popular America and Americans are here.

A question I am asked fairly often by my high school students :

“Do you wear your shoes in bed, too?”

Any culture that invents tentacle porn has every right to feel smug. :smiley:

I have recently been trying to deal with these exact American (mis)conceptions of Japanese culture. Although I am no expert on the Japanese, it seems their are some strange American prejudices and ideas about Japanese people, deserved or undeserved (I’m not sure).
This is a recent email correspondence that brought up this topic indirectly. I personally found this story very hard to believe and tried to battle the ignorance. What do you think about this story?

— “Scott B” wrote:
I was talking to a friend a couple months ago about another friend of mine. The conversation got wrighten up in a local entertainment newspaper. I thought that I’d relay the story to you, although my name got missprinted (Love you, North).

Don’t believe everything you read

Scott B, relayed this story to me that really hit home. In the early 1990’s, a japanese college student settlerd in the (censored) area, eventually living in (censored). Scott, generous soul that he is, brought Toni)pronounced Taw-nee) over to his house for dinner. While there, Toni started reading about Japan in an encyclopedia at the house. Scott said that the next thihg he noticed was his friend weeping. Toni explained that he hadn’t been told that Japan lost the World War ll. It had not been mentioned at home or at school. Now, Toni is a member of Japan’s elite, so for him not to know means that millions of other Japanese who don’t know eather.What struck Scott was that it could happen right here. He’s right. When I was growing-up, Rosa Parks was portrayed as a tired seamstress whose only fight was for her own dignity. We were never told that she was a prominent member of the civil rights movement even before she was arrested for not giving up her bus seat to a white man. Newspapers, too, useally take the slant of their editors od publishers. You know the slant of this newspaper, although the cover stories, as far as i can tell, have been pretty oblective. Most local newspapers downplayed any coverage of protests against the War Against Iraq. One editor even went so far as to tell the staff thatit was going to be covered as a war for freedom. Before you believe anything on the internet, on TV or in the newspapers, do your research. And while the internet is most prone to errors, it also offers the widest variety of opinions and the greatest amount of information, so it’s the easiest place to check out the accuracy of the information.
-Steppin’ Out Nov.2003
Devilsknew wrote:
> Should I believe this?
> You’re kiddin’ right?
> A Japanese native, that didn’t know that Japan lost
> the war? He didn’t know that two of the first three
> nuclear weapons ever made were dropped by the US on
> Nagasaki and Hiroshima? I think there must have been a
> cultural or linguistic misunderstanding. I find this
> story hard to believe. Perhaps he feigned that
> reaction. When faced with certain social pressures,
> Japanese people may react in what would seem a very
> strange way, mostly due to a rigid japanese social
> etiquette.
> If Toni attended a Japanese school then he either must
> not have been paying attention or was asleep in
> history class to have not known that they lost WWII.
> Skeptical,
> Devilsknew

Demetrios wrote:
I’m the far from knowing much about Japanese culture let alone being
an expert. What little I know or have heard is they are proud
warriers who would rather die than suffer the shame of defeat or
surrender. The Kamikazis knew they were on a suicide mission, that
there wasn’t enough fuel to return to base. With Japan it’s death
before dishonor. Now can someone explain to me just how it is to be
explained to them at school that they lost a war. We have been taught
they surrendered unconditionally and that sounds fine with us. But
who knows what they were taught unless we talk to them to find out.
They may have been taught that the war came to an end because they
decided to stop fighting. It could have been explained in such a way
that allows them to not have an inconsistancy with their pride and
honor code.

Now to the general subject of not beleiving what you read. I’ve been
in the papers several times and nothing they wrote about me was true
at all, not even the small details. Papers need to sell and therefore
capitolize on sensationalism. Like gossip they put a spin to it to
make things sound bigger than life. Then there are political
propaganda type news. Now that we live in an era with news 24 hours a
day and the Internet, a time when we should truly be in the know with
all the news we get, they block out most news and keep most people
occupied with sensational stories like O J Simpson and we never get
informed about anything else, that’s all people talk about.

Someone mentioned Japanese putting english words into their vocabulary… from what I have been told the japanese do this quite commonly and don’t perceive it as bad… english or not.

Arigato comes from Portuguese Obrigado (thank you) for example… much older origin of course.

Brandus, if you got your information about the origins of the “$” symbol from the same source as your information about Japanese cultural beliefs, it is small wonder that you are as mistaken as you are.

Don’t the Japanese view westerners as undisciplined and lacking in respect because theres no social formality over here? I’m no expert, but I think discipline and observance of formal rules of social conduct are very important to the Japanese.

Maybe the same is true about the Chinese, but I get the impression they’re not so serious about the discipline?

What culture doesn’t feel superior?

There are some in Japan who criticize the continual adoption of foreign loan words, mostly because of concerns about how understandable such loan words are to the older members of society, but they are losing the battle. Japan has been absorbing foreign words for so long that some words (such as ‘tempura’ which comes for Portuguese) aren’t even recognized as foreign anymore. How else could a culture jump so many centuries so quickly?

Unfortunately, arigatou is not related to obrigado :


Words that are from Portuguese :


The dollar sign ($) is also used by other countries, and was so used before the United States existed. I wonder how the OP explains this remarkable feat of precognition?

Well… They have a very nice country (cities and countryside), a long history, lots of nice temple, hardworking people (even the homeless work!), practically no crime, went from busted country after WWII to economic powerhouse in 30 years.

And JP woman always dress sexy…

Frankly, if I was JP, I’d :

  1. feel smug about my country (althought Shintaro Ishihara should STFU about China’s man in space seeing that they can’t put sats into orbit)

  2. wouldn’t see any reason to emigrate to another country

  3. wouldn’t see any reason to share my good things with a bunch of foreigners (did you know that a recent poll of JP revealed that a large majority of JP would rather NOT have foreign tourists?)

So, uh… hey, Brandus, where did you go? This is Great Debates, ya know? So you’re just gonna post and run?


First, it’s really weird to offer some examples of your “biased, uneducated opinion on (sic) Japan”, and then your responses to these (your own) opinions. You started off talking to yourself… did you suddently get shy?

Do you know what “debate” means?

If your “biased, uneducated opinion on (sic) Japan” actually exists, where did you get such ideas? Why did you start an internal dialog about “your” opinions?

Most of your blather can quite reasonably be applied to (gasp!)… nearly every other country when that country’s major media is used as a benchmark of individuals’ opinion. So, if FOX TV says it, that’s what every American (and Canadian) believes. Right?

Japan has 2000+ years of history and culture compared to the U.S.A.'s 200+, so, yeah, there’s naturally probably a bit of a feeling of (at least)… the same kind of superiority your great grandma feels towards you, eh? That is, if your great grandma is some kind of pathetic, overly -competitive, insecure bitch. Then again, nobody is alive now that was alive 2000 years or 200 years ago, so, who cares?
Why are you worried?

It seems to me that someone who is worried about another culture’s superiority or sense of superiority, is in fact, more worried about his own culture’s inferiority. Just because you may feel inferior and somehow threatened does not mean that another automatically feels superior and is threatening.

Instead of bragging about your ignorance and bias, why don’t you try to educate yourself a little?

If you’d really like to have some insight from “someone who has been to the island (sic)”… here ya go…

The major difference between Japanese people and Americans is… more Japanese people know more about America than Americans know about Japan.

Maybe you should feel threatened…