Skip to content

The Shallowness of Japanese Culture

I promised in an earlier post that I would stop complaining about things I don’t like about Japan or Japanese culture. I am keeping that promise. This post is not intended to be as much a criticism about Japanese culture, as using that topic as a springboard into a deeper discussion of two of my previous posts: The Shallowness of Fun and What is Love?.

This particular topic, of course, is a difficult one to write. I want to be objective without being judgmental. And that’s a difficult line to toe.

I like to start these posts with a quote. So let’s do this one:

No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.

Albert Einstein

There is something about the Japanese culture which makes me uncomfortable.

I love them on a material level. Let’s be utterly clear about that. Their culture creates beautiful, lovely, amazing things. Their attention to detail is top-notch, when you get a Japanese product you can be pretty sure that it is going to be of amazing functionality and quality (this wasn’t always the case, but they had a learning curve). I love their products, I generally love the society they’ve built, they are a clean and orderly people who are a joy to watch when they are doing something that they are skilled at. They are also incredibly persistent, and when they set their mind to doing something, they will do it or die trying – and that is actually quite literal in some cases. And they have a well deserved reputation of being outwardly polite, friendly, and helpful.

But what I haven’t been able to find in their culture is a reason.

I won’t pretend that western cultures such as mine are perfect. They are not. They, quite obviously and definitively, are not. But no matter how misguided it might be, we have a reason for doing what we do that generally has little to nothing to do with living in a material world (sorry 80s song afficionados). Because of our particular religious and spiritual cultural background, we feel that we have a purpose that transcends our short life here. In fact, that belief is so ingrained in us, that when that facade is ripped away and we are forced to confront even the possibility that this isn’t the case, it could and does send us into a depressive tailspin that is difficult from which to extricate ourselves. Even atheists have this idea so ingrained into our mindset that we will try to find gods where there are none, just so that we can have something that gives us meaning.

There may be such a meaning in Japanese culture, but I haven’t been able to discover it. What I have discovered is a kind of ruthless practicality, the notion that ganbaru, trying your best, achieving whatever goal you have set your mind to in harmony with nature, is sufficient meaning. They seem relatively unconcerned with the “afterlife”, or even any kind of (transcendental) spirit realm. If they could be said to worship anything, it would be nature and harmony with it, but nature is a created thing, so even then there is no concern with that which exists transcendentally.

And setting aside the transcendental considerations, which are very important, I love this about them. So again, I’m not criticizing. But I’m going somewhere with this.

The theses of my previous two posts linked above, then, are cause for much thought. And this particular section is proving very hard to write, so bear with me.

I guess an important question hearkens to the quote from Einstein I pasted above, that no problem can be solved on the level of consciousness from which it emerges. A transactional, false idea of love emerges from a zero-sum, limited resource world from which value emerges from what we can offer rather than who we are. So, would it then follow that in order to rise above that transactional, false idea of love, we would have to look at it from a perspective from which who we are is valued more highly than what we can offer?

But such a worldview is impossible in a material world, because in a material world, who we are has no value, and what we can offer, or present to others, is the only thing that matters. I mean, would not the best mating opportunities go to those who can convince the opposite sex that they would be the best mate? Would not the best food go to those who are fittest to grow and harvest it? Would not the best everything go to those who, for whatever reason, deserve it, and everything that’s left over, if anything, go to the weak, the infirm, the sick? Would this not be the consequence of an utterly materialistic society? Like, say, the one in Japan? And, perhaps, the one we in the west are becoming?

One can go to Japan, and be amazed at the beautiful society they’ve built, the beautiful things they’ve produced, the amazing things that their culture has to offer. You can see majestic mountains, tall buildings, beautiful women, amazing media. You can see huge public works projects like the seito ohashi, Tokyo Tower, Sky Tree, Shinto shrines everywhere. The things that Japan has to offer are, in some ways, beyond compare, and I’m absolutely sure they are well worth seeing, visiting, travelling to. And the people will generally be friendly, kind, polite, and helpful, and I’m sure that when going there, one could come home with many great memories of the country and its people. And these memories are fully warranted! It is absolutely a wonderful, beautiful country!

But would you feel loved?

I’m.. not so sure.

And I think that’s the point I was coming to.

Would you feel loved coming to my country? I don’t know. It’s a very legitimate question to ask, and the answer may well be no. But I feel like, in my country, the answer at least could be yes. I really don’t feel that way about Japan.

I might be wrong. But I don’t think I am. I fear I’m not.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
1 Comment
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

[…] on love and false relationship. The first three were The Shallowness of Fun, What is Love?, and The Shallowness of Japanese Culture. The last one I’m not too comfortable with, and it really didn’t get a very good […]

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x