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Japanese society: changing and changeless Печать E-mail
30.12.2014 г.
Japanese society: changing and changeless. Project leader E. V. Molodyakova. Moscow: Institute of Oriental Studies Russian Academy of Sciences, The Japan Foundation, 2014. - 300 p. ISBN 978-5-91022-219-3


Introduction (Molodyakova E. V.)

Chapter 1. Ethos of the Japanese society (Molodyakova E. V., Markaryan S. B.)

Chapter 2. The Past as a Social Value and Political Issue (Molodyakov V. E.)

Chapter 3. The Religious Situation in Japan - Constant Basics and Transient Change (Molodyakova E. V.)

Chapter 4. Attachments of a Japanese Voyager (Kuzhel Y. L.)

Chapter 5. Classics and Contemporaries (Dolin A. A.)

Chapter 6. The Japanese Language: Constants and Variables (Korchagina T. I.)

Chapter 7. Formation of "Artistic Culture" Concept in Japan (Gerasimova M. P.)

Chapter 8. The Influence of Mass Culture on System of Values of the Japanese Youth (Katasonova Y. L.)

Chapter 9. Traditional and New Things in the Japanese Family (Markaryan S. B.)

Chapter 10. Japanese Family after the Great Earthquake

of March 11: Values and Priorities (Homenko O. A.)

Chapter 11. The Fates of the Life-long Employment System: Social Aspects (Lebedeva I. P.)          

Chapter 12. Regional Policy of Japan: from Colonization of Hokkaido to Japan of Regions (Timonina I. L.)

Chapter 13. Glocalization: the Way of the Samurai into a Post-Industrial Era (Stonogina Y. B.)


Summary. Developing a concept for this work, we wanted to create a comprehensive picture of a contemporary Japanese society. Of course, we do realize that it would require studying every single aspect of its existence, that is, as the saying goes, to embrace the unembraceable. So we decided to inspect it from the point of view of the value system, called kachikan in Japanese. This kind of approach enabled us to widen the scope of topics and tackle a number of issues so far scarcely addressed in Japan studies in Russia. Among the latter are Japanese history and language as social values, religion and classical literature within the framework of social values, aesthetical values and the system of values of the youth addressed in the light of mass culture, family and the future of the life-long employment practices. All this allowed us to distinguish between the constants and the variables, always on the move, acquiring new meanings and enriching the society as a whole and every person within it.

Our offer to participate was accepted by a large number of Japanologists working both in Russia and abroad, and specializing in various fields, each viewing the common object from his or her own original angle, and representing the results of the studies in different forms.

First and foremost this study analyzes the constants and variables of various aspects of life of the modern Japanese. Therefore, to begin with, we thought it important to scrutinize the Japanese ethos - and this is what Chapter One, Ethos of the Japanese society focuses on. The concept of ethos encompasses the sphere of the spirit and the values, as well as the socio-cultural environment, conjoining human ambiance, character, habits, morale, mentality, and professional activity. According to a definition by Abdusalam Guseynov, ethos is a set of norms and values regulating human activity in a given society.

Ethos is essential in forming and structuring of any ethnos. Therefore, to comprehend the principal features of the Japanese ethnos, it is crucial to grasp its archetype, central for a person's understanding of the world, oneself and other humans. An archetype accumulated the experience of situations where countless ancestors of a modern person had to act, and which constitutes the basis for the generic experience. Basic elements considered in this Chapter are projected to almost every aspect of the life of the modern society - economy, politics, social relations, ideology, and culture.

The position of national history among the set of values of the contemporary Japanese is the subject of Chapter Two, The Past as a Social Value and Political Issue. The Japanese are among those nations for whom their own past is more than simply a set of facts and knowledge, or a pretext for some intellectual reflexion, - it has a current value, one of the most important constants of civilization and culture. For an analysis of Japan's present and for forecast of its future, it is necessary not just to know its past, but consider its influence on the contemporaneity, primarily through the historical memory. For Japan, history has become one of the principal forms of national identity and self-identification. Therefore, studying its interpretations and perceptions is of great interest, especially in recent times.

The debates around national history and its interpretation hardly ever saw a break throughout the post-war era in Japan, involving scientists, politicians, writers and journalists. And the state is trying to adopt the "golden mean" position and avoid arguments of ideological or emotional content. Now, even though the social, moral and cultural significance of history meets no doubt with the Japanese, the degree of its applicability to the present, as well as the specifics of its perception, constitute a topic for never-ending arguments. Most of them are associated with the history of the 20th century, where the national conscience is searching for some "light" while acknowledging the existence of a certain "shade". However, only the events of the 1930s and the 1940s remain a subject for a passionate and irreconcilable debate, recently acquiring a new acute political dimension. This refers to crucially important issues of national identity and self-identification - whether the Japanese are to be proud of their history or ashamed of it. The main painful points of the past are the annexation of Korea and Japanese colonial rule in the peninsula for 40 years, including the issue of ‘comfort women', expansion in China, with special weight on the Nanking Massacre in 1937, territorial status of the islands of Senkaku and Takeshima.

Throughout the history of humanity religion proved one of the staple elements of the society. Chapter Three, The Religious Situation in Japan - Constant Basics and Transient Change, displays a rich and various religious landscape of the modern Japanese society. It comprises not only all confessions but also the representatives of different sects, including those banned elsewhere, acting in full harmony in Japan. The panorama of the religious life in Japan offers a picture of pluralism and tolerance of her citizens.

Japan never had a unified religious structure subordinating and controlling the whole human life. Family and home were the centre of the religious life. The co-existence of different religions in Japan is traceable back to ancient times and can be expressed by the saying that "Buddhism is the branches of the tree of Shinto, and the Confucianism is the leaves on those branches". This formula offers a clue for comprehension of the ways in which the religious mind of the Japanese was formed.

The base of it is Shinto (or the Way of the Gods) which can be defined as a national form of perception of environment by the Japanese. A particularly strong element of it is the ancestor worship reflecting the hierarchical structure of the real society, an irrational but socially powerful side. Shinto has no strict conventions or dogmas, no founders or prophets. This made it open for perception of Buddhism as well as Confucian and Taoist moral and ethic norms, and later of Christianity. Buddhism did not appear entirely foreign to the population of Japan because even while involving people it did not demand them to give up their previous beliefs. The two religions divided human lifecycle: birth and the whole life follow Shintoist rules, but the funeral and commemoration rites are according Buddhist rules. There were no religious wars fought for Buddhism to become firmly entrenched in Japan, which resulted in formation of Shinto-Buddhist syncretism.

Chapter Four, Attachments of a Japanese Voyager, bears a name that may seem unexpected, but in fact it is directly connected with the contents of the two preceding chapters. Journey as an element of Japanese culture has been its constant for thousands of years. Today people follow the same roads and paths as in the distant past, attempting to understand the logic of behaviour and perception of cultural artefacts by their predecessors. Modern Japan has a broad base for pilgrimage and a great number of those who enjoy this type of journey. The difference between the classical pilgrimage and religious tourism lies in the fact that the latter combines knowledge-oriented excursions to sacred sites and a full set of tourist services. In modern Japan tourism as a mass type of journeys is strongly connected with commercial and spiritual activity. As a nation-wide activity it has an active support of the state - sometimes it would seem indeed that the whole of the country is on the move.

Chapter Five, Classics and Contemporaries, has a clarification in the subtitle - An insider's notes on the fate of classical heritage in the modern Japan, as the author, being a professor of Japanese literature and comparative culture studies of Akita International University, analyzes the problem using the method of participant observation. The object of analysis is the fate of the classical literary heritage in the modern Japan. The author states that if the general trend does not change it will not take longer than 15 or 20 years before the classical literature becomes completely outdated and remains no more than museum pieces. What are the grounds for such an assumption?

The Japanese literature is no longer on the list of the priorities at school and refers to complementary subjects included into multi-year course of the national language (kokugo) thus becoming a heavy unnecessary burden. As such it is steadily perceived as a burden among other disciplines. This situation is due to the particularities of the language. In any country of an "alphabetic culture" a pupil is able to read and write by the end of the first year at school, while in a Japanese school it is only by the ninth grade when a sufficient level of literacy is reached after a required minimum number of characters are mastered. Most pupils have to deal with radically adapted and heavily illustrated national language textbooks which rather resemble manga. Moreover, in its cultural policy abroad the government has adopted a course aimed not at propaganda of the rich cultural heritage of the nation, but at promoting a new image of "Cool Japan". Nevertheless, classical Japanese literature still continues to occupy a certain place in the contemporary society.

The highly developed industrial society of Japan was formed while retaining sophisticated logographic writing system, and apparently the Japanese are not going to refuse it. The name of Chapter Six, The Japanese Language: Constants and Variables, is an evidence that changes take place in a wide range of fields - phonetics, vocabulary, grammar and even writing. Most often it would take an external impact, a strong influence of a foreign culture to promote changes in a language. This chapter uses a broad range of little-known data to show the most recent trends in the Japanese language. While examining some concrete examples of deviations from the norm, the author tries to understand which of them may become the new norm of usage and which of them are no more than an attempt to follow the fashion. The Japanese mostly are passive in their linguistic behaviour; they are inclined to understatements, omitting, vague and ambiguous expressions, using language to express social hierarchy and difference of age. Such linguistic attitude is largely different from that of the European culture due to the special mentality, interpersonal relations, and centuries-old traditions of lifestyle.

Chapter Seven, Formation of "Artistic Culture" Concept in Japan reveals some surprising facts related to those notions which form the concept of artistic culture, including art as such subdivided into types and genres, motivation for creativity, attitude to artistic values, comprehension of artistic criteria, and the means and the places for preserving works of art. For instance, up to the middle of the 19th century the Japanese had no the notion of art as such, they had no art collections, museums, and even later the status of the museums was quite distant from an art museum.

With the Japanese, a perception of themselves as part of the creation, all elements of which are universally interrelated, made them to consider material objects as a link between humans and Nature, or between humans themselves, a link lifting time and space restrictions. This explains the wish to keep up the natural order of things and not to deprive an object, no matter how precious it may be, of its context. Therefore there was no desire to acquire collections, where an object of art, becoming a mere exhibit, loses its function in the system.

In modern Japan mass culture has become another unavoidable reality causing irreversible changes in the national character of the Japanese, especially among the young. This is the topic of Chapter Eight, The Influence of Mass Culture on System of Values of the Japanese Youth. There has been a lot of talk today about the crisis of the young generation in Japan. It is called "troubled" and even "lost". This is explained mainly by fundamental social and socio-cultural transformations during the recent decades. The Japanese no longer place common interests of the group above their personal interests, while individuality and self-expression have become their creed. The changes, therefore, are everywhere: attitude to life and work, personal and family relations, etc.

Family has been a lasting value for the Japanese, no matter how many changes it underwent throughout the centuries. This important element of the society is in the focus of Chapter Nine, Traditional and New Things in the Japanese Family. In the 20th century the Japanese family underwent the most radical changes after the end of the World War II, along with the democratic reforms and acceleration of the country's modernization, started as early as after Meiji ishin.

With the influence of the new law amendments and other social and economic factors the most enormous changes occurred in the family structure. It became smaller in size, the share of households where members of three generations dwell together is constantly declining, while single families have increased in number and their share keeps on increasing. The appearance of smaller families with few children is due to the fact that objectively having many children is no longer a necessity, and the young people do not want to burden themselves with a family too early. Now they marry later and even after marrying they are in no hurry to have children.

An important factor of the family transformation is the rise of the women, who do not just play an important role inside the family but also become more active in the society which, in turn, enhances their authority in their families.

Historically the Japanese have always been particularly zealous in restoring the country after natural disasters. The tragedy of March 11, 2011, which combined natural disasters (powerful earthquake and tsunami) and an awful technological disaster - the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster and therefore called "The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake" went far beyond national borders. Although the disaster directly affected only a part of Japanese territory, that is, the region of Tohoku, its impact went across the whole country. Chapter Ten, Japanese Family after the Great Earthquake of March 11: Values and Priorities shows how changed attitude of the Japanese to the life and family based on opinion polls, analysis of the recent trends in the society and media.

Family was not accidental as an object of the research, as it was and still is a lasting value for the Japanese. After the events of March 11 their attitude to their own families underwent a remarkable change. People have become more attentive to each other communicating more with each other and taking more interest in each other's lives. In the recent three years family and children have developed a new meaning, close to the one they had after the World War II, when people hoped to reach sense of peace and tranquillity nowhere else but in the family.

The content of Chapter Eleven, The Fates of the Life-long Employment System: Social Aspects, is directly related to the everyday life of many Japanese. It is worth noting that within the period from the 1950s to the 1980s the privileges of life-long employment applied to men only. Starting from the early 1990s Japanese economy and society were exposed to changes, which greatly undermined the basis of its efficiency, namely the rate of economic growth went down, and a rapid ageing of the workforce set in.

In general, life-long employment system held out through the hardship in the 1990s and 2000s. Japanese enterprises took various steps to preserve the guarantees of long-term employment, career growth and rising wages for the core personnel. The most obvious effect of these measures was the progressing polarization of the Japanese youth, its division into two parts very different in the ways of life, income level, social status, and their ideas of the future. In Japan the regular employees get a salary roughly twice of those who work under conditions of casual employment, so that income polarization depending on the type of employment counts among the principal features of the situation with the Japanese youth.

Chapter Twelve, Regional Policy of Japan: from Colonization of Hokkaido to "Japan of Regions" reveals the interweaving and cross-support of traditions and innovations in the area of regional economic policy, which is deeply rooted in history. Traditional elements of the regional policy and system of centre-regions relations remain in the form of separate principles and elements. Among the tradition-based foundations of the regional economic policy is the paternalistic model of relations between the subjects of such policy (governmental bodies, local authorities, private enterprises) with a rather strict regulation by the state and a high level of centralization in decision-making.

The 1990s, the 2000s and the beginning of the 2010s were a period of deep qualitative transformations for the Japanese economy and society. No wonder the concept of regional development in a broad sense, including development of regions, relations between central government and regions, formation of the national landscape and urban planning, significantly changed. Adoption of the new National Spatial Planning Act in 2005 and new National Spatial Strategy in 2008 is an evidence of the radical character of that change. The creators of the Strategy consider a steep growth of the economies in East Asia, faster-than-expected decline of Japan's population, changes in people lifestyle, mainly due to spreading of the Internet and mobile phones, to be the main factors for correction of the approaches in regional planning. They also include the changes in the national system of values (increasing importance of such components as stability, security, favourable environmental conditions, attractive landscapes), and more diverse lifestyles.

It has already been mentioned in Chapter Six that the Japanese do not hesitate to borrow foreign words, adapting them to their own language. Not so long ago they created another new word - glocalization consisting of "globalization" and "localization". It is discussed in Chapter Thirteen, Glocalization: the Way of the Samurai into a Post-Industrial Era.

This notion describes the situation in present-day Japan when aspirations for a more proactive presence in global economy and world are combined with the export of specific Japanese local models which are very popular abroad. "Globalization" is represented by the multi-national corporations, dependence on the production sites transferred abroad, overseas markets, information business, etc. "Local" is the historical tradition of farming, strict dependence of the Japanese on the climate, laws and principles of living and eating. This is seen even in the Japanese ways of communication, especially in the times of disasters and social turmoil.

When using the term "samurai", the author is mindful of the role of samurai class in the process of Japan's westernization, when, as carriers of the traditional culture and values of Japan, the samurai helped the country to keep a balance (frequently pointed out even now) between the foreign and the national, the West and the East, the modern and the archaic. In particular, due to former bushi's participating in the creation of the modern business environment, many provisions of the warrior code were incorporated into the grounding articles of new companies, which enhanced the basically pragmatic ethics of the Japanese with significant elements of honour and self-sacrifice.

The position of women in Japan offers another striking example of glocalizasion, a clash between the traditional culture and trends of the developed economy. Womenomics is one of the "arrows" of abenomics policy of the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The change in the working status of women (first and foremost this concerns their eligibility for high-ranking administrative positions) will inevitably lead to a fundamental review of the gender hierarchy. However, so far the preferences of the women themselves are significantly comply with age-old national traditions.
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