Harmony is a key value for Japanese
Friends and neighbors in Washington community are talking about how the Japanese people are coping with the earthquake and tsunami that dragged whole communities out to sea and that killed thousands of people. There are no reports of looting, and that is a surprise to many Americans who have witnessed looting after natural disasters in this county. People want to know more about Japan — about its culture, its health care system and work ethic.
On Tuesday, March 15, Kumiko Makihara of Toyko wrote about the “stiff upper lip” behavior for Time’s Web site. She said her mother has “frequently used the word ‘fukinshin,’ which roughly translates as “indiscreet” or “inappropriate.”
“We shouldn’t rejoice and certainly shouldn’t display joy when others were suffering so much,” Makihara wrote.
“Foreigners might think my parents’ attitude sniffs of the self-importance of a martyr complex,” she continued. “But I believe it is this kind of extreme respect for others that has kept our country so calm during the turmoil.”
According to the Kwintessential Web site, “Harmony is a key value. Japanese children are not raised to be independent but rather to work together. This need for harmonious relationships between people is reflected in much Japanese behavior. They place great emphasis on politeness, personal responsibility and working together for the universal, rather than the individual good.”
Kathryn Blaze Carlson, writing for the National Post in Don Mills, Ontario, Canada, said that there are survivors who apologized to their rescuers for their inconvenience — surely someone is much worse off.
Carlson quoted a professor of sociology, Frank Furedi, who said, “The Japanese culture encourages a heightened sense of individual responsibility, but also a very powerful sense of solidarity.”
According to a CNN report from religion editor Dan Gilgoff, “most Japanese aren’t religious in the way Americans are.”
“It’s very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity, and their religions would emphasize that,” Gilgoff wrote.
According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Web site, about 84 percent of the Japanese adhere to Shinto beliefs and 71 percent to Buddhism. Two percent are Christians and nearly 8 percent are “other.” Many people combine Shintoism and Buddhism.
A story about Japanese spiritual strength, written by Cathy Lynn Grossman for USA Today, states that families who have found their dead may have begun funeral prayers and cremations.
“In Buddhist traditions, the seventh day ritual begins 33 years of formal mourning ceremonies,” Grossman wrote. “Buddhism addresses and tries to alleviate suffering, physical and mental. It stresses compassion while still acknowledging that death is part of life. Monks in Japan will assure people that they survived for a reason.”
Gilgoff made another distinction.
“Indeed, where Christianity, Judaism or Islam are often preoccupied with causes of disaster — the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example — Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy,” he wrote.
As for health care, The Washington Post and National Public Radio (NPR) describe Japan’s health care system as costing half as much as in the United States.
A story on NPR by T.R. Reid and dated April 14, 2008, reports that Japan produces the world’s healthiest people.
“Everyone in Japan is required to get a health insurance policy,” Reid states, “either at work or through a community-based insurer. The government picks up the tab for those who are too poor.”
The Japanese go to the doctor about three times as often as Americans, Reid continued.
The Washington Post reports that health insurance is universal and mandatory and consumes about 8 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Most doctors in Japan make far less money than their U.S. counterparts.
Katherine Bruce, writing for the Examiner in San Francisco, Calif., states, “The word ‘work’ is synonymous with life. In Japan, the only true acceptance into society, especially as a man, is deemed a hard worker for a company you stick with forever. Wall Street investment bankers and on-call cardiologists can’t even compare to the overtime hours that are implemented in factories and engineering facilities across Japan.”
For more, see our March 18 print edition.