What justifies Japanese sense of cultural superiority?

We both have different styles of posting, it seems. I would rather not make a thread where every other post is made by me, because if a thread will take off, then it will take off without my constant interfering.

I got them from a few decades of living. I decided to start the thread the way I did because I assumed people would either agree with them, or disagree with them, and I was hoping for both.

That is fair logic. However I do not feel threated by japanese, I am merely curious.

That was the point of this thread, unfortunately yours did not help much.

Despite the racist overtones of a couple of the posts in here, I will attempt to give a serious answer, rather than just bashing people who aren’t gonna get it anyway.

First of all, in my opinion it is true that Japan is a highly xenophobic society. It’s an extremely homogenous country, and there’s a lot of resistance to foreigners integrating into the society. In a lot of ways, Japanese culture is superior to American culture. There is a much, much lower incidence of crime in Japan; people tend to be more civil and polite to each other, and there is a very strong code of honor and work ethic prevalent in their society. But all that comes at a cost: It’s also a very rigid society where people feel stress and anxiety on a daily basis, where suppressed anger often manifests itself in unusual ways like discrimination, mysogeny, and alcoholism. Things seem to be gradually changing, with each new generation being less rigid and more open to change. But there are consequences for that - they also are starting to have their first real cases of violent crime. I suspect that the fascination they have with American culture is a genuine admiration for the openness and diversity of our culture. It’s not a one-way street, though. I know lots of Americans who admire and emulate Japanese culture as well.

As for the military thinking that was alluded to, it was my experience living in Japan that things have definitely changed since WWII. There actually seemed to be a strong pacifist movement there.

Plus, you gotta love the electronic toilet-seats that spray you with warm water and then dry you with a jet of warm air.:smiley:

“Do you have a gun?”
“Have you ever shot someone?”

Yeah. It’s stuff like that that shows how racist Japan really is. You wouldn’t believe some of the experiences my friends have had in the past two years in dealing with Japan. People who are non-Japanese are still regarded as freaks or curiosities in the non-major cities in Japan.

And it’s not just non-Japanese from outside of Japan, people who were born in Japan to Korean parents are still not considered Japanese.

And Gaijin IS a negative term according to what I’ve heard. I’ll try to dig up some cites.

** hansel[**, although group-think is declining as Japanese become more Western, it is still in practice. Your place in Japan and how you are viewed in society often rests on where you work or go to school. One of my friends transferred over and was put in Tokyo University. Just because she was placed there, she was treated with an extra degree of respect.

Your friends may be catty at work, but hang out at their home for a while and/or try to date them, and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

And from dealing with my boyfriend I know group-think is all too alive and well. :stuck_out_tongue:

Governor apologizes for calling all foreigners thieves.

United for a Multicultural Japan. Look around on here and read some of the personal testimonies on racism.

Hmmm…I’d like to think that, but I have to admit that I experienced out-and-out racism first hand, as in being denied entrance to restaurants, refused service by simply being ignored once inside, and being followed while shopping. By and large, though, the majority of people were very friendly, kind, and generous. Thankfully, the racists were a small minority, but it was racism nonetheless. This is just my own opinion, but while there is definitely a fascination with American culture, I didn’t really get the feeling that all Japanese people are quite ready yet to allow foreigners into their culture without any reservation. As for the leasing thing, I’m sure American landlords would have a similar “cultural difference” justification for refusing to rent to blacks or hispanics; that doesn’t make it right.

Here’s my question. Within the past couple of years, I have read Dogs and Demons and Lost Japan by Alex Kerr, two of the more depressing books I’ve ever read. I would like to hear reactions or reflections on them from people who are in a position to know.

I read Lost Japan some time ago, and though frankly my memory of it is a little foggy, my impression at the time was that Alex Kerr was an unabashed romantic. He also has a terribly negativist attitude. You cannot argue with what he writes because it’s mostly his own opinions and impressions, but you should remember that he likes to focus on the negative. In my perception of things, it’s not nearly as bad.

Save yourself the trouble. “Gaijin” can be negative, and it can also be inoffensive. One thing it is not is derogatory. It’s nothing like the n-word. “Gaijin” is negative because it carries connotations of “outsider” rather than just “foreigner”. I use the word in this sense regularly in this sense. “I went to North America for the holidays, and man did I feel like a gaijin!” (i.e. I did not fit in.) Gaijin is negative because many foreigners don’t like the word, and I do agree that people should make an effort to not use it because of that. However, people do use it regularly and in the vast majority of cases mean no disrespect. Foreigners who take people to task in a strong, socially-incongruent way for having used the word, ironically enough, act exactly like real “gaijins” - people who have not assimilated the local mores, customs and social norms. Where generalized use of the word can become really grating is when you’ve been living in Japan for 15 years, you call Japan home, heck, you even have Japanese citizenship and people still assume you’re an “outsider”. It does get tiring.

When you go to the country side you are treated as a curiosity because you are a curiosity. Accept it. It’s like being a celebrity. You don’t see them often and when you do, you can’t help staring and you tell your friends. You might even walk up to them to exchange a few words, although you’d never do that if they were just another stranger. Except that instead of talking about your latest movie, people try out the only English they know. You are special and you have it written all over your face.

Of course, that’s “racist”, you are judged for your general phenotype after all. But, in my opinion, you need to make distinctions between deep racism, shallow racism and that which is not really racism. When people stare at you when you go to the boonies is relatively shallow and inoffensive racism; you look different, you probably don’t speak the language, you act differently - you stick out. Hell, if you pay attention, you’ll notice even other foreigners are staring at you.

On the other hand of the scale, there are the kinds of deeper-rooted more malevolent attitudes that some people have towards, say, the many Brazilians in my town or Korean immigrants.

I’m curious, though ava, what where the experiences that your friends went through?

Finally, I’ll try to steer back to Brandus’ question:

Which Japan? The Japan of Shibuya? The Japan of Totsugawa? The Japan of Yasukuni Jinja? The Japan of Kabuki-cho? The Japan of Tezuka Osamu or that of Yukio Mishima? That of Morning Musume, or that of Noborikawa Seijin?

There are many people who feel that, on the whole, Japanese culture is the most superior. There are many who think it sucks and are ashamed of it. There are some who manage to feel both ways.

“Japan” is not a pale imitation of American culture. There is a very outward, noticeable, trend that sees “Amerika” as hip and cool. This is not the America you know. It is some sort of warped fantasy land with very little in common with the U.S.A., much in the same way that 19th century Europe’s dreams of harems and bath houses had very little to do with actual Arab culture. That’s where the random flags and $ signs and whatnot come from.

Yes, there is an Americanization of the culture, but that’s a global trend and it’s much more a matter of economics than anything else, IMV.
A happy Emperor’s birthday to all!

First, I live in Japan now, have lived here for more than 7 seven years (though not all at once), have been married to a Japanese woman for 3.5 years, and am completely fluent in the language.

OK, here’s my overall take, then I’ll get into specific posts. It’s very hard to confront stereotypes/concepts of Japan because the association we apply to the discussion are often wrong on both macro and micro levels. For example, Japan is a conformist country, but so is the US. But conformity in Japan is a lot different than it is in the US. Another. Japan is racist, it is true, but racism takes a very different form than it does in the US.

Another. Japan is rich. Yes, but the number of homeless here is absolutely staggering; you see bums everywhere and absolutely every day. They are dropouts from society. They build shanties along river banks or right on the street. Now, what do your associations tell you–what do you imagine? Bums often beg in the US; in Japan they almost never do.

Do you see what I mean about associations? One qualification leads to another to another to another…


Japan also has a very homogenous society, which refuses to grant lesser races, such as the koreans, Japanese citizenship.

Yes, I’ve read it is the most homogenous society in the world, the biggest minority being ethnic Korean. Yes, it’s shitty how these people are treated. But things are changing, and more and more people are able to get Japanese citizenship. A Chinese person in my company has done so.

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.

This is wrong. This is where your associations have led you up a blind alley. Points:

  1. Most Japanese don’t consider the Japanese race to be superior to other races; if anything, they have an inferiority complex vis-a-vis Caucasians. Of course, some Japanese are outright racists.

  2. Many Japanese, on the other hand, feel that Japan is in a limited sense culturally superior to most other countries. Basically, many Japanese feel that they are hard-working and what they should, whereas “gaijin” are not so conscientious.

  3. Now, as a foreigner living here, I rarely feel that a Japanese person is looking down on me as not being “equal.” That does not mean, however, (associations again!) that many Japanese do not have tons of stupid prejudices and foolish associations of their own. They do.

It is very difficult to secure an apartment in Japan unless you can reference several people who are already japanese citizens.

I’ve never had a problem myself, but I’ve always had a company or my Japanese family to back me up. I’ve heard similar stories, however. One fact, however, is that most Japanese banks won’t give you a home loan unless you are a citizen or have permanent residency (the latter being about as difficult to get as citizenship). These banks are practically beggining for credit-worthy people to borrow money, but they won’t even consider foreigners. In fact, I had a confrontation in the co. cafeteria the other day with a dim-wit from just such a bank.

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.

No, this is way extreme. There is not that level of negativity. Here’s another false association, I think, that is troubling you: Japanese people are not much into theory at all. There is no this Nazi/Euro-style myth of who is inferior, to what degree, and why. Most of the time Japanese people just don’t think at all! That’s the big problem I have with this country.

At any rate, it take a certain kind of nerve to live here as a foreigner. It is not nearly as bad as it used to be (things have changed even since I first came here in 1992), but there are just lots of dumb thoughts about “gaijin” and what to expect from them and, heck, life in general, that, yes, life here is often frustrating. For example, one of the least pleasant activities for me is ordering fast food at McDonald’s. The kiddies at the register just assume based on my white face that I’m a tourist who can’t speak Japanese–and you really have to fight this vibe, or it makes you flub your pronounciation, etc.!

On the other hand, I’ve intereacted with Japanese people who barely even seemed to notice I was “foreign.” And I’ve interacted with Japanese who simply couldn’t comprehend that I could speak Japanese. And the two types are not necessarily correllated with intelligence/education, either.
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.

When I was in graduate school (1998-2000), the Chinese students were incredibly cliquish, the Japanese moderately, and the Indians not much at all. In my experience, Japanese people tend to be very uncool in foreign countries, however. They bitch about the food and everything else and seem, oddly, to experience very little enjoyment or sense of wonder at being in a new place. I got this impression while on a company trip to Australia with a bunch of people who were not, in that instance, self-selecting for travel.

My reasoning is that Japan suffers from a strong sense of self-doubt of their own culture, so in response, their pride is exaggerated.

This is an incredibly complex matter, although I think this is basically true. Japanese tend to have a vague insecurity toward Ameri-Euro cultures. But they often know so little about them in the first place, or have false understandings, so they might not know what to be insecure about to begin with!

For example, it can be argued that Japanese culture was initially inherited from the Chinese.

This is wrong. The Japanese got their writing system from the Chinese, but very little Chinese vocabulary is used in the classics until, I don’t know, the 1500s or so. You’d have to know Japanese to know what I’m talking about. Of course, there was big influence from China, but also from Korea. For example, classical Chinese and Japanese poetry don’t have much in common.

More recently, Japanese culture can be seen as a pale imitation of american culture.

What culture? I think the problem with modern Japan is that there isn’t one. Not a deep one. The pop culture here works pretty independently of American pop culture, however. The thing is, there tend to be two categories for everything. For example, there is a chart for Japanese pop and one for “foreign pop.” This is partly logical because of language, but I think another big aspect is to create a market for locally produced music, movies, etc. It’s media-driven.

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?

Japan had great pop music from 1990 to 1998, and now it’s all pathetic pre-teen bands and junk. I don’t know what happened, but things were good for awhile.

But let me give you the real dirt on Japan. I think all foreigners sooner or later come to this conclusion. I fought it for a while myself. Oh no, I was never one of the dumbasses who can come here, live here awhile, and still think Japan is about tatami mats and “zen” (Buddhism is totally dead in this country btw. Totally).

But the conclusion is this: Japan is a fundamentally fucked-up country. People’s heads are filled with junk pop culture. People here are rigid thinkers and incredibly small-minded. This country, as a whole, is willfully so. It is very frustrating trying to work in business here; logic does not rule: emotion and a vague “Japaneseness” do. Businesses would rather go down the loo while staying Japanese than do it the right way and survive. Hey, this is a suicide culture. It really is. Japan right now would rather suffer permanent economic stagnation and a disastrously low birthrate than adapt and thrive. And I’ll tell you this: it ain’t gonna change.

All that said, there are many good things about the Japanese and living here. They are basically nice, good people who don’t get in your face and who avoid conflict and problems. They know what good food is, and good liquor. They are creative and funny; it’s just a canard they they only “imitate.” It’s a safe country, and they do make many good, high-quality products, for which they are justifiably rewarded with money.

My 2c!

One book I read a while ago by a Japanese author made some interesting points about Japanese culture. (Sorry, I forget the title, etc.!)

He said that, in Japan, inclusion is based primarily upon location and not upon qualification (shikaku). In other words, if you’re an employee of a company or a member of a family, you’ll be treated so accordingly. You don’t have to demonstrate “Japaneseness” or “company-ness” or “family-ness.”

I thought this was quite an insight, and I still think so. I was in a small Japanese company and was never treated any different. It was great. And I am treated like a member of the family at our house (we’re living with the in-laws for the time being).

In fact, I think the problem arises when one is in such a situation because you’re expected 100% to be like everyone else, even if you’re not nor wish to be.

Also, the author pointed out that Japanese people often don’t wave to each other or greet each other when they happen to meet in foreign countries. At least, they don’t go out of their way to do so. The reason being that the mere fact of being Japanese (shikaku) is not enough reason to do so.

BTW, Jovan, what’s this Emp’s birthday crap? I agree with everything you wrote, but you’re not one of those foreigners that tries to “get into” the culture here, are you? Gag!

I despise the royal family (not the human beings, but the system) and the infantalizing effect it has on the populace here. Worship of Masako-“sama” (barf, puke) and all that shit.

But I will pray you were only jesting!

It was in jest, I assure you. I’ve been signing too many e-mails with holiday greetings, I’m getting a bit fed-up.

Alas, I think I am one of those. I religiously listen to Hogaku no hitotoki on NHK, I have been practicing zazen for some time, and I have memorized large parts of Makura no Soshi, Turezure-kusa, and a few poems by Ikkyu. To my defence I genuinely really like this stuff since a long time ago, and as strange as this might sound, it’s somewhat unrelated to my being in Japan.


No no, those are a little different, I assure you.

I’ve memorized a few waka and think Manyoushu to be pretty damn fine stuff (I’m a fan of all things poetical).

Makuranososhi? “Haru ha akebono,” hell yes.

I’m also a fan of good Japanese pop music, of good Japanese movies, and I love Shimura Ken (unlike many Japanese, heh heh).

But you those foreigners, don’t you? There are so many fucked-up types. The angry foreigner–everything about Japan sucks. The naive foreigner, who thinks it’s all peachy perfect. The foreigner who can’t even master katakana, etc. etc.

Then there are the superior ones, like you and me.

BTW, where you at? I’m writing right now from work (shh, don’t tell nobody), in Ohta-ku, Tokyo.


Oh yes, it’s not related to being in Japan, other than that it’s available here. I like what’s good here because it’s good, period.

Japan, little crime? Bullshit! Rape is very common in Japan, especially in the red light district, in Tokyo. I will find cites, but in Japan there are actual gangs that will hunt down women for you to rape…no shit!

I think you’ve read too many sensationnalistic articles… Anecdotal evidence reported in the medias does not equal statistical significance.

Here’s what I can find in a 5mn googling:

Social deviance (1992). Offense rate per 100,000 population for: homicide 1.0; rape 1.2; robbery 1.8; larceny and theft 1,227.3. Incidence in general population of: alcoholism, n.a.; drug and substance abuse, n.a. Rate of suicide per 100,000 population: 16.8.

Social deviance (1993). Offense rate per 100,000 population for: murder 9.5; rape 40.7; robbery 255.7; aggravated assault 439.7; motor-vehicle theft 604.8; burglary and housebreaking 1,098.3; larceny-theft 3,030.0; drug-abuse violation 309.2 {5}; drunkenness 260.1{5}. Drug and substance users (population age 26 and over; 1993): alcohol 52.1%; tobacco (cigarettes) 25.3%; marijuana 3.0%; cocaine 0.5%; analgesics 0.5%; tranquilizers 0.2%; stimulants 0.2%; hallucinogens 0.1%{5}; heroin, n.a. Rate per 100,000 population of suicide (1993): 12.2.

I’ve shown my cite, now show me yours!

Same here. In the end I choose to live in Japan because I think the good outweighs the not-so-good. The occasional gaijin-atsukai sucks, but the general politeness more than makes up for it.

I’m a graduate student in thriving Ogaki, Gifu (Zzzzzzzz…), although I’m currently in Montreal for Christmas.

Re: crime, to be fair, you have to mention that in Japan, as elsewhere, a lot of rape unfortunately goes unreported. Although, yes, the incidence of violent crime is very low. Probably even more so if you leave out yakuzas offing each other.

Worth way more than 2cents, thanks for the incredibly informative post.

Although, like you said these people did not voluntarily wish to travel, I find this contrasted sharply with the conception (stereotype) of the “Japanese tourist” who is giddy with awe at everything they come across.

*Originally posted by jovan *
Save yourself the trouble. “Gaijin” can be negative, and it can also be inoffensive.

Because of the negative connotations, it is regarded by many as being a negative word. It is extremely grating to have lived most of your life in Japan and still be referred to by those terms. Gaikokujin is the more polite term.

I’m curious, though ava, what where the experiences that your friends went through?

All sorts of things. Most of my friends fell in love with Japan and most of them still want to work/live there. A few had horrible experiences, but those are mostly the older ones.

A basic summery:
-trouble finding housing
-trouble finding jobs
-being regarded as just a sex object
-being treated disrespectfully
-being regarded as a curiosity/freak

Racism is still a major problem. Some of the stories my black female friends have reported are unbelievable. Men masturbating on the train beside them, people taking pictures of their chests with cellphones, etc.

One of my boyfriend’s Mexican friend, Yuli, speaks perfect Japanese. He knows more kanji than a lot of NJs do. He tried to play a game in an arcade but the owner refused to let him, insisting that Yuli wouldn’t be able to understand what was happening because he was American.

A black friend’s Dad went out to a small town and the townspeople asked if he had a tail.

Most of the people who I have talked to about this subject said that “Yes, Japan is very racist, but yes, I still love it.” There were a few however that wish they had never gone to Japan in the first. One of my friends went over back in the 60s-70s and worked in the animation industry over there for a while. She
had a rough time and says it was a waste of time.

I also have a lot of Japanese friends that are full of pride for their culture. When I asked this question to my friends, one of my half-Japanese friend agreed with my assessment, then complained about how White people are always “poking, prodding, prying, disecting and discussing” the Japanese. They point out the reasons for Japan having a sense of cultural superiority and a lot of the reasons they gave are good ones. Japan is a very remarkable society and it is amazing to look at what they have accomplished.

In my own experience, I know that my boyfriend’s parents don’t consider me “good enough” for him because I’m not Japanese. I have yet to go to Japan. I really want to, but my boyfriend doesn’t. It is partially because he will face discrimation because he is half-Korean but mostly because we will spend way too much
money. :stuck_out_tongue:

There are many people who feel that, on the whole, Japanese culture is the most superior. There are many who think it sucks and are ashamed of it. There are some who manage to feel both ways.

There is a lot right with Japanese culture, and there is a lot wrong with it. A lot of people, especially anime fans, go through a stage where they think that Japan is the land of wonderfulness that they will find complete happiness and acceptance there. I know a lot of anime fans, so mostly when I talk about Japan
it sounds negative. But I actually love many things about the Japanese culture that I have incorporated into my own life. I wish I could do certain things that my boyfriend can, like the “8-fold-fence” thing. I’ve been with him about 18 months and I’ve learned many interesting things. I used to embarrass him when
we went to Japan Town together, but now I get embarrassed when I am there with my non-knowledgeable white/non-japanese Asian friends. :x

And I do think that by the time I have kids and they are my age the situation will have changed in Japan. At least, I hope so.

Really? Just to toss my experience out there, I visited Taiwan with a number of co-workers and they were absolutely thrilled with being there, pointing out the strange kanji on the signs, etc. They did spend a lot more time shopping than I think most Western tourists would, however.

Really? Just to toss my experience out there, I visited Taiwan with a number of co-workers and they were absolutely thrilled with being there, pointing out the strange kanji on the signs, etc. They did spend a lot more time shopping than I think most Western tourists would, however.

Well, I should have pointed out that there are a lot of different people in Japan. Some people are fundamentally good and cool, some are not. Only a fraction of people fit the stereotype fully, of course.

BTW, I have never, ever understood the appeal of anime and manga, and I find the interest in them to be nearly incomprehensible. To be they are the dregs of this country’s wine. True, there are decent manga and anime, but as a category it is pretty low-grade ore.

The clumsy and ham-fisted writing style along with the consistently made spelling mistakes and grammmatical errors suggest that the above-referenced thread was authored by one person. Obviously the stuff of urban legends no less…