Saturday, March 30, 2013

Consuming Strangers

One of the interesting enigmas of Japanese society is that it is kind to an outlier. You may be surprised. You have heard that it is a homogeneous society. You may have been informed that that peer pressure is high in Japan. These observations are certainly true. At the same time, the Japanese society is kind to outliers, aka strange people. As long as they are entertaining, that is.

You may say something really unusual. You may advocate a very unique system of education. You may testify how corrupt the Japanese society is. As long as you provide some entertainment values (the way you say it might be rather cute, or the fact that you believe you can stand up to the status quo might be rather amusing), people don’t really care. They rather welcome you. They put you on tv variety shows. You can give interviews in large circulation magazines.

So as long as you provide some entertainment, giving a safe glimpse into a rather outlandish universe of human nature, people of Japan would welcome you. Actually that is precisely the status that some expatriates living in Japan have come to enjoy, whether they are comfortable with that situation or not.

The problem with this is that you are not really supposed to touch the core of society. It is OK if you say some unusual things about how children should be educated. However, you are not supposed to change Japanese education in any substantial manner. That would be quite another story. There, Japan is surprisingly resistant

There is a popular culture of consuming strangers. This tendency would be certainly true in many cultures on the globe. In Japan it has been made into an industry. It is a mechanism in which the nation is able to maintain the status quo while enjoying occasional distractions away from the norm. People can get bored even in a homogeneous society, you know.


Oli M. said...

Wow. Thank you for this insight--it does seem that way. It seems that in Japan, acceptance does not necessarily reduce distance, while in here America, reducing distance and gaining acceptance go hand in hand. (Take the changing of hearts in the same-sex marriage debate.)

D. said...

Thanks Ken for this interesting observation. I find it agrees with my own experience, albeit a brief one, in Japan. It is all a matter of degrees, as you say - not trying actually change the core values - and how you go about expressing yourself. If your rude and blunt in your expression it is probably likely going to be ineffective in achieving your goals!

Unknown said...

This is probably true even in the corporate business world, where major corporations such as Nissan, Sony and Olympus have welcomed foreign executives to take charge and seek to introduce "global" ways of management but really didn't allow them to get to the core. Perhaps that too may have had more to do with "entertainment" and "gasu-nuki", judging from the fact that their respective cultures at fundamental levels do not seem to have changed all that much.