Boye/Lafayette De Mente ‘Beware of using logic in Japan!’ (Accessed online at www.executiveplanet.com/community/items/970695928954_en_asp? Section=Japan) (extracts)
TOKYO – The cultural canyons between Japan and many Western countries – the United-States in particular – remain broad and deep, despite more than half a century of massive interaction on every social,
economic and political level.
From an American viewpoint, one of the most irrational and frustrating of these cultural chasms is the difference between the Japanese and American view and use of logic – ronri (roanree) in Japanese – a
difference that has an especially profound effect on political as well as economic relations between the two countries.
As is well known, Americans and other Westerners pride themselves on thinking and behaving in a logical manner…
Still today, few things turn older Japanese off more rapidly and more completely than for someone to take a purely logical approach to personal, business and political relations. They regard positions and
presentations that are based on logic as being cold and calculating, as failing to take into consideration the human and spiritual element.
On innumerable occasions, I have sat in on presentations by visiting American business (sic) that were perfect examples of logical reasoning only to see the Japanese side become increasingly uncomfortable
and withdrawn, unable to reconcile their own values with the rationale of the Americans.
Japanese logic is based on cultural imperatives that have to do with creating and sustaining the kind of cooperative, harmonious relationships on which their society was based for many centuries…
The main point of differences in Western logic and Japanese ronri is that in its Japanese context logic does not necessarily equate with rationalism. It can, in fact, fly in the face of reason so long as it satisfies a
human or spiritual element that the Japanese hold dear.
In Japanese dialogue it is perfectly logical to conceal one’s real thoughts and intentions (hone/hoan-nay) behind a public façade (tatemae/tah-tay-my) by using words and phrases that are so abstract they are
meaningless, or that give a false impression.
In such cases, which are the rule rather than the exception in most formal situations, it is left up to the listener to divine the true meaning or intentions of the speaker – a process that requires comprehensive
knowledge of the Japanese language and culture; a skill that the Japanese refer to as haragei (hah-rah-gay-ee) or ‘the art of the stomach’, which could be translated into English as reading the other person’s
It is also logical in the Japanese concept of things for responsibility to be diffused among a group rather than the placed on an individual…
When serious mistakes or criminal activity do occur in a Japanese company or government organization, it is Japanese logic for the head of the group to take responsibility and resign in a symbolic gesture that
makes it possible to maintain the façade of harmony in the organization.
Misrepresenting things, telling lies and engaging in other cover-up activities are logical in the traditional Japanese environment – logical when their purpose is to protect the group and the system…
The two main sanctions used by the Japanese system to enforce conformity to Japanese logic are bullying and ostracizing. The bullying by coworkers and superiors can be sadistic and continuous. The ultimate
tactic is to completely ostracize the guilty party.
Of course, most Japanese are perfectly capable of logical thinking in the Western mold, but their attitudes and behavior are controlled by the groups they belong to, and with rare exceptions they are not brave
enough, strong enough or foolhardy enough to break the codes that bind them.
Sugimoto, Y (1997) An Introduction to Japanese Society, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.1-4, pp. 11-14 (extracts)
Suppose that a being from a different planet arrived in Japan and wanted to meet a typical Japanese, one who best typified the Japanese adult population. Whom should the social scientist choose? To answer
this question, several factors would have to be considered: gender, occupation, educational background, and so on.
To begin, the person chosen should be a female, because women outnumber men in Japan: the 1990 census shows that sixty-three million women and sixty million men live in the Japanese archipelago. With
regards to occupation, she would definitely not be employed in a large corporation but would work in a small enterprise, since fewer than one in eight workers is employed in a company with three hundred or
more employees. Nor would she be guaranteed life-time employment, since those who work under this arrangement amount at most to only a quarter of Japan’s workforce. She would not belong to a labor
union, because less than a quarter of Japanese workers are unionized. She would not be university educated….
The identification of the average Japanese would certainly involve much more complicated quantitative analysis. But the alien would come closer to the ‘centre’ of the Japanese population by choosing a female,
non-unionized and non-permanent employee in a small business without university education than a male, unionized, permanent employee with a university degree working for a large company.
When outsiders visualize the Japanese, however, they tend to think of men rather than women, career employees in large companies rather than non-permanent workers in small firms, and university graduates
rather than high-school leavers, for these are the images presented on television and in newspaper and magazine articles. Some academic studies have also attempted to generalize about Japanese society on
the basis of observations of its male elite sector, and have thereby helped to reinforce this sampling bias. Moreover, because a particular cluster of individuals who occupy high positions in a large company
have greater access to mass media and publicity, the life-styles and value orientations of those in that cluster have acquired a disproportionally high level of visibility in the analysis of Japanese society at the
expense of the wider cross-section of its population.
While every society is unique in some way, Japan is particularly unusual in having so many people who believe that their country is unique. Regardless of whether Japan is ‘uniquely unique’ in sociological and
psychological reality, it is certainly unique for the number of Japanese publications which propagate the unique Japanese argument. This so-called group model of Japanese society represents the most explicit
and coherent formulation of this line of argument and remains the most influential framework for interpreting the Japanese and Japanese social structure. Put most succinctly, the model is based upon three lines
First, at the individual, psychological level, the Japanese are portrayed as having a personality which lacks a fully developed ego or independent self. The best-known example of this claim is Doi’s notion of
amae which refers to the allegedly unique psychological inclination among the Japanese to seek emotional satisfaction by prevailing upon and depending on their superiors. They feel no need for explicit
demonstration of individuality. Loyalty to the group is a primary value. Giving oneself to the promotion and realization of the group’s goals gives the Japanese a special psychological satisfaction.
Second, at the interpersonal, intragroup level, human interaction is depicted in terms of Japanese group orientation. According to Nakane, for example, the Japanese attach great importance to the maintenance
of harmony within the group. To that end, relationships between superiors and inferiors are carefully cultivated and maintained. One’s status within the group depends on the length of one’s membership in the
group. Furthermore, the Japanese maintain particularly strong interpersonal ties with those in the same hierarchical chain of command within their own organization. In other words, vertical loyalties are
dominant. The vertically organized Japanese contrast sharply with Westerners, who tend to form horizontal groups which define their membership in terms of such criteria as class and stratification which cut
across hierarchical organization lines.
Finally, at the intergroup level, the literature has emphasized that integration and harmony are achieved effectively between Japanese groups, making Japan a ‘consensus society’….
At least four underlying assumptions remain constant in these studies. First, it is presumed that all Japanese share the attribute in question – be it amae or miniature orientation – regardless of their class, gender,
occupation, and other stratification variables. Second, it is also assumed that there is virtually no variation among the Japanese in the degree to which they possess the characteristic in question. Little attention is
given to the possibility that some Japanese may have it in greater degree while others have very little of it. Third, the trait in question, be it group orientation of kanjin, is supposed to exist only marginally in other
societies, particularly in Western societies. That is, the feature is thought to be uniquely Japanese. Finally, the fourth presupposition is an ahistorical assumption that the trait has prevailed in Japan for an
unspecified period of time, independently of historical circumstances.…
Japanese culture, like the cultures of other complex societies, comprises a multitude of subcultures. Some are dominant, powerful, and controlling, and form core subcultures in given dimensions. Examples are
the management subculture in the occupational dimension, the large corporation subculture in the firm-size dimension, the male subculture in the gender dimension, and the Tokyo subculture in the regional
dimension. Other subcultures are more subordinate, subservient, or marginal, and may be called the peripheral subcultures. Some examples are the part-time worker subculture, the small business subculture,
the female subculture, and the rural subcultures.
Core subcultures have ideological capital to define the normative framework of society. Even though the life-time employment and the company-first dogma associated with the large corporation subculture
apply to less than a quarter of the workforce, that part of the population has provided a role-model which all workers are expected to follow, putting their companies ahead of their individual interests. The
language of residents in uptown Tokyo is regarded as standard Japanese, not because of its linguistic superiority but because of those residents’ social proximity to the national power centre….
…the slanted views of Japan’s totality tend to reproduce because writers, readers, and editors of publications on the general characteristics of Japanese society belong to the core subcultural sphere. Sharing
their subcultural base, they conceptualize and hypothesize in a similar way, confirm their portrayal of Japan between themselves, and rarely seek outside confirmation. In many Nihonjinron writings, most
examples and illustrations are drawn from the elite sector, including male employees in managerial tracks of large corporations and high ranking officials of the national bureaucracy.
Core subcultural groups overshadow those on the periphery in inter-cultural transactions too. Foreign visitors to Japan who share the images of Japan in their own countries interact more intensely with core
subcultural groups than with peripheral ones. In cultural exchange programs, Japanese who have houses, good salaries and university education predominate among the host families, language trainers, and
introducers of Japanese culture. Numerically small but ideologically dominant, core subcultural groups are the most noticeable to foreigners and are capable of presenting themselves to the outside world as
representative of Japanese culture.
How are the two texts related? What different perspectives on Japanese identity does Sugimoto provide in Text 2 that differ from those provided by Boye/Lafayette De Mente in Text 1?
What are the implications of what Sugimoto writes for how we understand and describe cultures?
LING7102/LING3105 Final assignment – recommendations
Criteria for marking written assignments are available from the document entitled: ‘Assessment details’ to be found in the folder ESSENTIAL DOCUMENTS on FLO.
You will find herewith some additional help regarding the final assignment.
Basically the essay question asks you to evaluate the two articles in view of the concepts discussed in class within the topic LING7102/LING3105. In order to help you I have articulated it into two sub-
questions, which you must address: a comparative analysis of the two assessments of Japanese culture from the points of view of their author (2/3 of the essay length), and an assessment of the implications of
Sugimoto’s position (1/3).
Regarding the content, I suggest:
1. Giving a brief synopsis of each article:
This does not mean repeating the text chronologically, but selecting specific and convincing examples from the texts that are relevant to the issues that you will raise in the discussion.
You must use your own words to cover what the author is talking about, what is his goal/what is he trying to convince the reader of? What is/are the main point/s of the argument/s or the central concepts? In
order to do this adequately you must:
utilize the information available via the texts and class discussion;
recognize the point of view of the author/s;
demonstrate a grasp of underlying concepts relevant to the analysis of the question and an understanding of the assumptions each author of the text must have.
2. Discussing what kind of evidence the authors use? How was it gathered? And does the author have a theoretical perspective?
3. Assessing what you think of each author’s argument – What are the implications for the way we analyse culture (refer to the last question). Do you agree or disagree with these approaches?
Regarding the formal presentation, the organisation and structure must be evident. Although I do not mean to be prescriptive on how you do, you may use headings to help with this. Your writing must be clear,
logical and internally consistent, using appropriate and precise word choice. If using specific terminology, ensure that you provide a definition of its meaning.
The introduction and conclusion must effectively relate to the whole.
Use an introductory statement to make the purpose and the structure of the essay clear. Get straight into the topic.
Provide background information, if need be, to establish the importance of the essay topic.
Conclusion: Summarise the main differences between the two texts. State the extent to which these views are significant for the purpose analysing culture/s.
Include references that are relevant: A minimum of two readings (other than those of the assigned texts). There is, however, no need to seek obscure references; whenever possible use the references we have
mentioned in this topic, thus showing that you have gained some knowledge from studying this topic.
Finally give yourself enough time to allow for revision and final editing before submitting your assignment. Be particularly aware of punctuation, grammatical and spelling errors, fragments of sentences and run-
If unsure, consult the information provided by the School of Humanities: https://www.flinders.edu.au/ehl/humanities/information-for-students/information-for-students_home.cfm;
And tips provided by the Student Learning Centre Study Guide: https://www.flinders.edu.au/current-students/slc/study-guides/
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