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  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Jul 17, 2002

    Exclamation Shock of Western vs Japanese values

    The longer I live in Japan, speak to Japanese, and get to understand their mindset everyday a little better, the more I realise the abyssimal differences of morals that exist between my values (Western, or at least Western European) and theirs (or more broadly East Asian ones, as I found they were quite close in this respect).

    Firstly, I have the impression that for the Japanese, Westerners are just "cute" (well, it depends which ones, but that is what I, my family or Western friends in Japan are often told). It seems that Japanese won't take us seriously and think of Westerners as attractive or charming or entertaining, but they give them little credits for being "reliable" or "responsible" in the Japanese sense. Understanding (even being told) this, I couldn't be more surprised at the way they think, as personally, and I think most Westerners would also agree, I find the Japanese to me more immature and irresponsible than Westerners in general. The problem is that these words have completely different meanings in the West and in Japan, due to the cultural rift or millenia or separations, which is far from having disappeared because of Japan's westernization in surface (but not deep inside, at the core values).

    I have tried to summarized some of these divergences in values below.

    West => Idealistic & moralistic
    Japan => Pragmatic & cynical

    Examples 1

    West => Lying is wrong
    Japan => Lying is necessary to avoid causing offense/trouble

    Many Japanese think that something is wrong/reproachable only when it becomes known of others. Eg. If a man cheats on his wife but manage to keep it secret, he is not "wrong" as he doesn't hurt anyone's feeling as she doesn't know. This very way of thinking is enough to deeply shock most Westerners. But the same is true of Japanese politicians or business people. Frauds, abuses of power, briberies, etc. are only felt to be "wrong" when they become public.

    Examples 2

    West => Being responsible/adult means
    1) behaving in morally good/praiseworthy way (eg. dissuade a child to smoke, save somebody who is drowning...)
    2) be independent (be able to live by oneself, clean the house when necessary, etc.)

    Japan => Being responsible/adult means
    1) having money to support one's family or take care of them. From a moral point of view, the way the money is made is not important ("money is money").
    2) It is also being able to integrate in the group (company, etc.). Japanese being collectivists, independence from the group is not viewed as maturity but the contrary.

    See my thread on the concept of tayorigai on this matter.

    Examples 3

    West => The government's role is educate the people (e.g. fight against racism, smoking, etc.) and to protect them from abuses from companies (environment, health, security, discrimination at work, being fired without reason, etc.)

    Japan => The government's role is to protect companies and the economy. Laws to protect the people are only passed reluctantly when pressures from activists or foreign countries becomes too strong. The Ministry of Health helps/protects pharmaceuticals companies and doctors, not the patients. The Ministry of Agriculture helps/protects the farmers, not the consumers. Etc.

    Examples 4

    West => Laws are made to regulate/refrain immoral deeds or protect people agianst themselves (diseases, alcoholism, accidents, etc.)

    Japan => Laws are made to keep the public order, whithout consideration for morals
    - prostitution has long been legal in Japan, and was only banned by Americans after WWII, but the laws now exit only to for the international image or tatemae, as authorities turn a blind eye on it - even teenage prostitution. The same is true of gambling; illegal but everywhere around through pachinko parlours.
    - The Japanese government owns Japan Tobacco and thus, instead of fighting against tobacco consumtion, encourages it. It creates money to finance national projects, so it is not "wrong" by Japanese standards.

    Examples 5

    West => Right or wrong are just subjective concepts depending on one's moral views. Morals includes logic, reasoning and feelings.
    Japan => The winner is always right
    - that mentality helped the Japanese believe that they were right in conquering Asia from the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 to WWII, but also to admit defeat and readily adopt changes brought by the Americans after 1945.
    - Lots of mangas or Japanese movies have characters who try to prove that their ideas (or ideals) are rights by fighting and trying to win. If they lose, they very easily admit that they were wrong (just can't believe morals are just a matter of strength for them !!).

    Examples 6

    West => Happiness is measured by love, freedom, (political & social) rights, personal achievements, passions, realisation of one's dreams, security, etc. (also money and material possession, but people admitting it are usually frown upon as shallow)

    Japan => Happiness is measured by money , material possessions and security.


    Japanese often find that Westerners are naive of being so idealistic, and childish because they seem too excited and disconnected with reality. They know human nature and its weakness, and more readily accept things such as corruption, greed or treatment of women as sexual objects, because they think it is inevitable and has always been like that. In some way they are very cynical.

    Westerners often find the Japanese are irresponsible on such issues as protection from STD's, naive for being too trusting/gullible, or lacking intellectual and moral maturity.

    I can understand both point of views, and it is funny how living in one's home country accentuate the apparent maturity, while being in the other culture's country make one feel displaced and doubting their own values, because of the huge difference in environment.
    Last edited by Maciamo; Aug 17, 2004 at 02:11.

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