1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Ask me about Eastern Asian culture, mostly Japan related

Discussion in 'Research' started by Reilith, Mar 17, 2015.

  1. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

    255
    58
    28
    If anyone needs references of any kind tied with Japanese culture, or Asian cultures that were in contact with Japan, feel free to ask your questions here.

    Whether about culture, language, writing and education system, Court and politics, religion, military, ideology or even interpersonal relations, I will do my best to help and provide information.

    I am Japanese language and Japanology major, on my fourth year of studies, so I did go through mostly all aspects of the culture and it's ties to China and Korea.

    Contemporary and historical stuff, all is welcome.
     
  2. Fyle

    Fyle Inkling

    402
    51
    28
    なぜ日本人に骨手建前は大切なことですか。

    See, maybe I am a ninja!

    I guess I should translate...

    Why do Japanese feel hiding their true feelings from one another is a healthy way to live ? There is a very artifical layer of society like in no other culture, especially western cultures. I don't know that much about China or Korea.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2015
  3. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    1,474
    426
    83
    I've heard that it relates to living crowded together with (literally) paper-thin walls between them. How long that's been true and how it relates to older factors might be the real question.
     
  4. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

    255
    58
    28
    Well, the first thing is that different cultures have different views on what is acceptable and unacceptable. When talking about the Japanese it is the base of their religions, their deeply rooted philosophy that binds the mind of people even today. Avoiding the topic of Western influence on culture (I would go too wide for the subject) the Japanese do believe that it is an epitome of good behaviour to keep your emotions in balance, which means not to show them in public. It doesn't mean they don't have emotions certainly, but when being surrounded by the same behavioural pattern your whole life, you learn from the environment. That is why Japanese people emotionally bloom (in my opinion) when they go to visit or live in other countries. Yes, they still keep the air around them, but they are more relaxed as they are not as constricted by the environment anymore. A good example of that are my teachers who came to work here from Japan and they got friendlier and closer than your average Japanese person. As students we even went drinking with them, partying and billiards, having what is considered normal human contact, laughing, hugging, friendly body interaction etc. But we still kept the teacher-student relationship intact in terms of respect and way of speaking. Of course, in class that type of relaxed behaviour is diminished by the authoritative place.
    What I am trying to say is that because of the philosophy which is common there it is common for the people not to get openly emotional in public. Even in smaller circles of families it is considered inappropriate when a child gets older, or between spouses in front of anyone else. Emotions are private and because of it they should be kept in privacy of the people they are entitled to. When it is a negative type of emotion it is usually suppressed, because the culture teaches politeness over everything, to the point that when they want to say 'no' they will instead say 'maybe'. And these types of responses are numerous.
    Maybe the strongest influence leading to it is their view on 'pride'. Not as in pride being proud of your accomplishments or proud of someone, nor bragging, but pride in the Japanese sense, that being giri.
    Giri is more like duty, obligation towards keeping yourself and your family's name clear of anything bad or disrespectful. As my good friend wikipedia notified me it is "to serve one's superiors with a self-sacrificing devotion". But it is more than even that. It is the deepest awareness of one's actions and how they influence the world and the way the world will see them, so it must follow the rules which came to be through the religion, philosophy and cultural heritage. The best portrayal of giri is probably seppuku (harakiri) which is the washing off a person's sins from them and their family, so their giri is not destroyed. Families that have the code broken are shamed by everyone, so the only way to erase the shame is by doing the act of ritualistic suicide. It is the only way to restore honour.
    I know all this may sound rather complicated to a Western point of view, so I do have a recommendation which helped me clarify to myself when I was starting my studies. Read the short story by Lafcadio Hearn, "The Japanese Smile" that clarifies a lot why the Japanese act in this way. You can find it here: Lafcadio Hearn's Essay: The Japanese Smile

    Also note that Lafcadio was a Westerner who went and lived in Japan until the end of his life, and was one of the first who managed to understand their culture in such deep social and personal ways that he was named an honorary Japanese and given a Japanese name. Read that one, and find other short stories of his, they are a wonderful read and clarify many subjects that the West has a problem understanding about Japan.
     
    Last edited: Mar 18, 2015
  5. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,349
    642
    113
    This is a phenomena that I've been curious about. I study workplace sociology for a living (in short, I'm a HR person) and I've noticed an interesting difference between Japanese and American behavior when it comes to work vs. play. (I'm going to be generalizing a lot, just warning you)

    Westerns, especially Americans, like having a very clear distinction and balance between work and play (usually with more play and less work). Millennials in particular like treating their work like play - which is fine, there's evidence that people with that attitude tend to be more productive than the "all work, no play" types.

    Japanese people, on the other hand, almost seem to treat fun like work. They seem to develop very clear rules, etiquette and expectations on how to properly have fun and this attitude bleeds into their work where things like hanging-out with coworkers after hours is mandatory. Or they have very clear rules on how light conversations are suppose to play-out. It's as if they act like everything is "play" while treating it like work. Very strange (at least, to westerners).

    I was wondering if you had any ideas as to where this attitude comes from? Like the source. You mentioned religion but Japan is a very secular country (there's that saying that Japanese people are Buddhist on a good day and atheist on a bad day) so it seems strange that religious beliefs would so strongly dictate social norms. I assumed that their "professional fun" attitude is a carry over from the imperial era when social norms were more strictly enforced but it seems strange that these attitudes would survive all the change that has happened to Japan since then.

    So, any ideas?

    I'm from a part of the US where everyone is kind of a jerk and I moved to a part of the US where everyone is really nice. Naturally, I find strangers being nice to seem fake and weird. I've been wanting to write a story about this subtle culture clash - like a harsh character coming to an artificially friendly place but I don't want this place to come across as creepy or Stepford Wives-y. I assumed Japan might be a good point of reference.
     
  6. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

    255
    58
    28
    Religion was just one of the catalysts for the forming of Japanese behavioral patterns. And Japanese are not only Buddhists, but also practice Shintoism. And there are all the other mono-theistic religions present as well. But, when I said religion as a factor, I was more on the line how their religion taught philosophical and ethical lessons.

    Japan managed to merge its two most widely spread religions at one point in history; but not merge as in they became one. It was the practice of both, together, because they were complementary in their teachings that this sort of merging could've occurred. Buddhism and Shintoism have a lot in common with teaching behaviour, life philosophy etc. and so they are not the religion in the sense that Westerners see it. They are religions none the less, and with making them a part of everyone's lives they managed to set the values the society honours to this day.

    As for your question, giri is again one of the answers, as you must keep your honour intact by doing your job well, being efficient, making good results and not wasting time and resources. But what I think is mostly responsible can be found in the Japanese modern economics - Keizai.

    Not to drown you in the total mass of keizai politics, the gist of it all is in the phrase: "Quality over quantity."

    That phrase defines the Japanese market in all of its aspects, as opposed to the Western market where in production quantity is the most important factor. Quality control is the term that describes a set of rules and regulations that must be applied for every single product in a line, so it can be deemed of enough quality to be put on the market. Transfer that to another branch, like educational system/workplace and you can see why they study/work so hard. The exact origin, I would have to look up, but it is probably because in the past efficiency was one of the highest values in the society so it is maintained even today.

    Off-topic a bit, Japanese treat everything in life with focus and dedication, half-as*ing it is out of the question for them, even in ordinary life stuff.

    Fun fact: Japanese language is one of the rare languages, if not the only one in the world that has a word for "death from overworking". It is karooshi.
     
  7. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,349
    642
    113
    I was under the impression that very few Japanese people actually believe in Shintoism as a religion. Instead modern Shintoism is more about nationalism/cultural rituals than religious beliefs. Sort of like the whole "Christ in Christmas" debate that's going on in the US - Christmas becoming more secular than it used to be.

    This isn't off-topic, this is the closest you got to addressing my query as to why they seem to have specific regulations and expectations for things that should be, y'know, loose and fun.
     
  8. Fyle

    Fyle Inkling

    402
    51
    28
    Rei, or should I say レイ,

    Your post is long, so I do not want to copy and paste single lines, but I will say this. Japanese are "Buddhists" in a very very hollow sense. They do not practice Buddhism and modern Japanese can hardly even tell you details about Buddha or his philosophy.

    It has influenced rituals they do, and by that I mean taking pictures at shines and buying good luck charms and stuff… not rituals in a “religious” sense, stuff comparable to say Halloween or wearing all green on St. Patty’s day.

    Japan today, is a secular, atheistic society who is border line brainwashed by their superiors due to false respect that is given to them (in many cases, not all, but in general).

    I had lived here for 8 years (9 if you count visits) and discussed religion and Buddhism with hundreds of Japanese in their own language mostly (and English, once in a blue moon when I met someone on the level for the conversation, but outside the major cities, they are few and far between). I can tell you, I have found not one yet of any age group who had "Buddhist" values or even was that interested in the conversation very much. Some of them might say Japan has Buddhism, but it’s an attempt to fit in to an extend due to the fact it is not practiced in any way shape of form and rarely referred to by politicians or in the media like religion in other countries. I would even go far as to say, most Japanese have lost touch with Buddhism and their lifestyles contradict it (big cities mainly; but that's where the dense population is).

    I have been all over Japan from Osaka (尾坂)up to Akita (秋田) and had these conversations. Because I am skeptical about religious thinking I have searched for a Japanese family of person that is the contrast to an American Christian or Jew and have not found any meaningful conversation on the topic yet - or should I say passionate, that someone really wanted me to understand their viewpoint about Buddhism on.

    I have also gone to churches in Japan to understand their take on Christianity and got my hands on a Japanese Bible to check some of the translations (and every word has 読み仮名! Yay! I can read it all!). I have gone to different churches on a weekly basis, and from my experience, Church is a tea party, not a spiritual gathering. They go throught the motions, that's about it.

    My point is, please do not say Japanese are “Buddhist.” This is something westerners say because they understand language through labels. You are this, you are that. And they think this is a way to understand each other’s perspective.
     
  9. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

    255
    58
    28
    Shintoism is not practiced in the way the Western religions are practiced. And the same goes for Buddhism as a matter of fact. It is the way of thinking and living, and small daily rituals that portray what became of their religions, not that being religious is something everyone does. It is not so much the religion as it's the religious doctrines being rooted in the society.

    And Fyle, you probably have a lot more experience with the subject since you were in Japan (while I can only dream about it) but what I wanted to say wasn't the thing you are implying (it is a misunderstanding, probably because my explanation was lacking). The thing I said above applies here as well - it is not devotion to religion, rather a sense that forms a person with things that are taught to be right and wrong from childhood, and thus they influence how they act. There are some instances though that the religious practice does come into view - matsuri for example, or weddings and funerals, and visiting shrines on special occasions.

    Modernization has destroyed the sense of being Japanese as some older people are saying there (I saw an interview somewhere about that), as the Western influence was so strong, and Japan being the epitome of accepting other's cultures and views and then transforming them is probably why it was inevitable for people to change. A lot was lost, young people are not so deeply rooted into the older culture and heritage in the same way, they are increasingly uninterested in anything but a small circle of things, do not want families, or do not want jobs. The former leads to overworking, the latter to hikikomori (in the worst case scenarios). I will note that all this is not true for every individual Japanese person, but the overall feeling is there somewhere.

    And to come back to your words, they are still considered Buddhist, even though the practice of Buddhism is lost from what it was before. When religion is concerned, there are always people who are active practitioners, and the ones that are not. Of course, if a person says they are not religious, then they surely don't fall into the Buddhist category, or any other. But the Buddhist teachings that were so pronounced in previous centuries (or should I say, before the Meiji period) are alive in the form of ethics and philosophy that influence the Japanese way of thinking.
     
  10. Fyle

    Fyle Inkling

    402
    51
    28

    By who are they considered Buddhists? Outside people who label them Buddhists is my guess. You can't tell someone what they are if they don't claim to be it themselves. That's just labeling people in a way you can understand it.

    You seem to know a lot on the subject, more than me on the whole, I just have access to certain things since I am here as far as real dialogue. Just saying, Westerners label them something they aren't really claiming to be anymore - at least not the large majority of them aren't. So, who is the authority who says they are considered Buddhist ?

    The government? The media ? The school system? Some textbook?

    Whether they are Buddhist or not lies in what the people consider themselves to be.
     
  11. WooHooMan

    WooHooMan Auror

    1,349
    642
    113
    Could you be nationalist towards a nation you're not part of? Is there a term for that?

    There's nothing wrong with Japan getting a little western just like how there's nothing wrong with America getting a little more eastern. Considering the classes you've taken, you of all people should be okay with this.
    Accepting outside influence is part of growth, for both individuals and society. At least, in my opinion. Maybe this is neither here nor there.

    Is it possible that it's not Buddhism alone but Chinese philosophies? I get the impression that you're typing "Buddhist religion" when you mean "other east Asian philosophies and spirituality".
    I've always got the impression that the Japanese worldview was more Confucian than Buddhist.
     
  12. Reilith

    Reilith Sage

    255
    58
    28
    Fyle - I actually said the same thing when I said that if they are not they shouldn't be labeled as Buddhist.

    WooHoo - What I stated and you quoted is from the interview I saw that a Japanese man was saying. It is not by any means my personal opinion, and being a nationalist even less. In my opinion Japan did a fantastic job with merging all those different things, becoming what it is today. Unlike the man in the interview I don't consider their traditional spirit lost completely. I was just stating what was the view of someone who is Japanese. I really hope I won't always have to backtrack on every thing I say if people are going to point out each little thing I write like this.

    And I do mean Buddhism, I know my terminology, although I did say philosophy under which I did mean Confucianism. In Japan they are all mixed and matched, they are used together and not separate, so they basically share almost completely similar set of values - Buddhism, Shintoism and Confucianism. Don't take it literally, there are many differences between them, but the similarities were the ones that were able to make it possible for the Japanese to have them all without interfering or annulling each other.
     
  13. Fyle

    Fyle Inkling

    402
    51
    28


    Fair enough.

    I'm sure you know than me about it on a political and historical level. I just think people do wrongfully label Japanese Buddhists is all - not you personally.
     
Loading...

Share This Page