Many cultures have fascinated people through the centuries. Some from the ancient past such as the Babylonian and Egyptian cultures, have stoked the imagination as to their elaborate and often mystical past. Questions on their way of life, their values, their language and social structures have time and again been the subject of many a study by researchers from all over the world. But if we want to look at an ancient culture still thriving in our midst, we need to look no further than our Asian neighbor, Japan.
The vitality and the values they exhibit go far back than recent memory, and afford us a small view of a rich and living erudition.
The Japanese and their traits
Cultures and people are often times measured on the scale of civilization by the traits that they exhibit. In our society, we say that a nation’s people are backward in their level of society if they display certain traits that are considered primitive by present day standards.
We say that some tribal groups in Asia, Africa or South America are less progressive in their society in that they adhere to some personal or group practices that are considered primitive in the present practice of conduct and norms. How does the Japanese in this criterion?
Most of the Japanese see themselves as part of a larger cluster, and the group that they belong to is always at interaction with some other group in their society (Japan FAQ). In short, it is the thinking of the Japanese as against all other nationalities (Japan FAQ). This fact is not only evidenced in the Japanese competing with other nationalities, but is also seen in Japanese schools, businesses and in other aspects of daily life (Japan FAQ). But even if a “gaijin”, or an outsider, becomes fluent in their language, or is extremely nice to the native Japanese, they are still treated as outsiders (Japan FAQ).
Another aspect of this trait is that the Japanese are almost obsessive of the opinion of others about them (Japan FAQ). This is important to them, since the Japanese were raised to think of themselves as part of a particular group. The thought of being cast out or isolated in that group is a matter of concern to them (Japan FAQ). The actions of the individual member, or the “I”, is synonymous with the decision of the one having the nod of the group (Japan FAQ).
“Gaijin”- The Outsiders
To the foreigner, how the Japanese take note of them is often debatable (Japan FAQ). Most of the time, the conduct of the Japanese would sway between admiration and suspiciousness, and swing back to nervousness in acting toward someone who does not look, talk, or act like one of them (Japan FAQ). Foreigners that seem to be well-liked by the native born Japanese are the “tarento”, or foreigners that the Japanese see on television. Incidentally, the only thing that bonds them to the ordinary Japanese is their ability to speak the language well (Japan FAQ).
“Nihongo Wa Jouzu Desu Neh”
It is a common trait in Japan that one can insult and compliment a foreigner in one fell swoop (Japan FAQ). For example, in Japan, there are a slew of cheap brothels available for lovers that feature one of America’s most revered symbols, the Statue of Liberty (Japan FAQ). When one arrives in the airport, the Japanese would shower the visitor with commendations like “Nihongo Wa Jouzu Desu Neh!” (Your Japanese is good!) (Japan FAQ). But in reality, the tone of the delivery is actually done in a condescending manner (Japan FAQ).
Even when foreigners use the Japanese instruments for eating, Japanese still condescend in their way of complimenting the “gaijin” (Japan FAQ). When foreigners use chopsticks, the Japanese would usually compliment them by saying “O-hashi jouzu desu neh!” (Japan FAQ). This would infer that the foreigner is adept in his use of the eating utensil; in reality, Japanese children as young as 4 to 5 years old are supposed to be able to use chopsticks well (Japan FAQ). But “gaijin” does not solely mean just foreigner (Japan FAQ).
The term “gaijin” in the language of the Japanese actually means an alien (Japan FAQ). But in actual everyday conduct, it would apply to a person of Caucasian skin, or “white person” (Japan FAQ). The Japanese are wont to be discriminative; Chinese and Koreans are called by their nationalities, if the phrase is not in legal terminology (Japan FAQ). Japanese are thought of as an embarrassment if they speak English fluently, especially for kikoku shijo, or Japanese children who spent a good spell on foreign shores (Japan FAQ). For these children, they will be immediate targets of bullying from their classmates (Japan FAQ).
Hoping to get along with you
In Western societies, if a person offers someone to go out to dinner, there is no confusion on the meaning of the offer, that of eating out with a friend (Japan FAQ). But to the Japanese, an offer to go to a person’s place is quite confusing (Japan FAQ). If an offer is made, that would usually mean that the person is wishing that harmonious relationships would come to existence between the two (Japan FAQ). Words can be misconstrued if not placed in the proper Japanese placement of words, or sentence construction (Japan FAQ).
Westerners place their sense of privacy in a very lofty place of their priorities (Japan FAQ). In Japan, they do still do desire their privacy, to pursue their own life directions and to live at your own good pace (Japan FAQ). But, as earlier discussed, the Japanese are taught this is not to be so, that the way to live in the society is conforming to the greater society (Japan FAQ). As space for the affording of the “privacy” that they seek, the Japanese usually sink back to the one place that they have all to themselves, their minds (Japan FAQ).
As such, they tend to become sullen and withdrawn. Japanese youth however relish the interaction they have with the Westerners as they can be understood better in their expression of themselves (Japan FAQ). As is the case, ordinary Japanese consume a large amount of alcohol (Japan FAQ). Also, the obsession of the Japanese that all walk to the same beat, so to speak, infer that there are people who take the liberty to engage in gossip, backbite or meddle in others affairs, all not taken in a good light (Japan FAQ). This fact can be taken in two ways; in a positive light, these people who know them can assist in many different ways, such as helping getting loans or getting difficult to get reservations (Japan FAQ). But in a negative light, there can be seku hara, or women who tend to be aggressive to the point that it borders on sexual harassment (Japan FAQ).
As earlier discussed the tendency to move alone or in an individual manner is usually considered taboo in Japanese society (Japan FAQ). The Japanese are basically raised in a society that espouses dependency, or “amae”, on the group (Japan FAQ). The individual member or kobun is supposed to be dependent on the head of the group or the oyabun (Japan FAQ). This scenario often interprets to success if the person moves within the confines of the group; success is attributed to the many; failure is spread out (Japan FAQ). For instance, the portrayal of women is that of weak, delicate and is often seen as inferior in the media (Japan FAQ). Instead of the corporate women in the Western society, women are often seen as minor clerical workers (Japan FAQ).
Burakumin: Against one’s own
In the Japanese language, the term “Buraku” is for a small village, or hamlet (Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute, 1997). In the Meiji period of Japanese history, the term started to be used as “Tokushu Buraku”, usually meant to specify outcast communities as a mark of identification form other towns and villages in the area (Buraku Liberation, 1997). Among the ethnic Japanese, they are discriminated akin to the caste system in other countries (Buraku Liberation, 1997). In the scheme of the Japanese culture, scaling down from the samurai class down to the village inhabitants, their level was classified as Hinin, or “non-human” (Buraku Liberation, 1997).
In the present society of Japan, the discriminatory practices against the “Buraku” are seen in almost all aspect of Japanese life (Takuya Ito, 2006). This may be inclusive of discrimination in graffiti, in the arrangement of marriage and availability of employment opportunities (Ito, 2006). For example, a person may be able to break off wedding arrangements if the person to be wed is a Burakumin (Ito, 2006). Not only can the people to be wed call of the wedding, it is also in the ambit of the parents and the relationships of the person to do the same (Ito, 2006).
In employment opportunities, it has been seen that Burakumin are often refused jobs since they are descended from the caste (Ito, 2006). Akin to the refusal of people to wed Burakumin, the company is not apt to hide their dislike in hiring people with Burakumin lineage (Ito, 2006). Also akin, to marriage practices, where the parents hire private investigators to determine if the person has any lineages from the Burakumin, companies also do the same in their background investigations for potential employees (Ito, 2006).
Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute. (1997).What is Buraku discrimination? Retrieved December 18, 2008, from
Ito, T. (2006). Cooperativeness and Buraku discrimination. Retrieved December 18, 2008, from http://www.japanesestudies.org.uk/discussionpapers/2005/Ito2.html
Japan FAQ. (n.d.). Japanese culture: a primer for newcomers. Retrieved December 18, 2008, from
Cite this Japanese Traits: In everyday life
Japanese Traits: In everyday life. (2016, Oct 31). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/japanese-traits-in-everyday-life/