August 8, 2006

Japanese diffidence

A reader who has lived in Japan for a couple of decades comments:

Japanese are shier than Caucasians or Africans. "Dating" was not, until recently, a part of Japanese culture. Even now, judging by what I see on TV, it is still somewhat ritualized and difficult.

It seems to involve first a "confession" of love by the male -- or sometimes the female -- to the other before either has even exchanged words beyond simple greetings. Then that is followed by a request that they "go together" with, of course, an eye towards marriage. The female can refuse this request, and often will, since the confession usually comes as bolt from the blue from a socially awkward male.

Among young trendy people relationships may be more casual, but in general Japanese dislike the unpredictability of informality and feel more comfortable with formality and ritual.

----- The extent to which Japanese life is ritualized would astonish most outsiders. Everyday human exchanges follow a set script. Eating, meeting, and calling on the phone are like that. When New Year's rolls around you must greet *everyone* with a a Happy New Year's and a request that they treat you "righteously" in the coming year. The office ladies, on the first day of work for the year, all line up and bow together to me (their boss) and beg to be treated righteously. When first graders enter school there is a ritual whereby the new kids are welcomed into the school by the older kids and the new kids are introduced to the social expectations of "group life." This is just the beginning of a life of ritualized ceremonies.

Almost every week on TV, we are treated to the scene of the senior executives of some institution (company, school, government agency) standing in a line behind a table and bowing deeply and apologizing. The words they use are almost always exactly the same (with small variations). "I/we would like to humbly apologize for the enormous trouble I/we have caused. I/we will try to make sure that it never happens again." These scenes are so frequent and so ritualized that Japanese are profoundly confused when some foreign company "causes trouble" in Japan and the executives don't immediately toe the line. They can't imagine a country where such things don't occur.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer

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