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Theory of Japanese-ness... "Nihonjin-ron"

Emoni

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For those who are unfamiliar with this word, "Nihonjin-ron" roughly translates to the, "Theory of Japanese-ness." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nihonjinron

Now, there are uses for a so-called "theory" like this in study of societies in order to judge fundamental differences in belief and ritual; however, in most cases I have seen (especially in Japanese related classes in the US) Nihonjin-ron effectively ends up to be, "Why Japan is amazingly unique, no one else in the world is like us, and how this mysterious magical quality about us cannot be understood by the human mind."

The result? A highly inflated self-image of Japan that is based neither on reason nor in reality that is on par with the monstrous size egos of any other country in the world such as China, the United States, France... only with a nice dash of racial superiority. In my personal opinion it is simply excessive national and cultural pride which actively limits the growth of a more international and cooperative mindset with other nations in the world who's culture is different from the standard of "Japanese perfection" yet actually just as unique in their own way. This is even more ironically since Japan has strong aspects of Chinese and other mainland Asian culture since the major cultural exchanges around the Yayoi and Nara period respectively.

Is Japan alone in this? No, of course not. Every country in the world likes to think they are special in some way, and most people do as well. Yes, they are unique, just like every other country in the world! However, it is Japan's position in Asia and the world that makes this sort of behavior even more unacceptable. This racial arrogance causes a dangerous sense of national pride, hurts minority groups that exist throughout Japan, damages progress towards a more global mindset, and hampers efforts towards resolving major issues between Japan and Asia that have been left to fester since World War II. Minority groups face prejudice in even the most simple areas of life and where they live, Japanese politicians speak without concern to global politics and the global welfare of their own nation in their actions and words, national love-of-self is taught instead of expanding the education and fixing glaring problems, the Japanese system is seen with an imaginary sense of near perfection that cannot be bent in anyway to deal with others, and Japan remains at odds in many ways with all of its neighbors over issues from over 60 years ago. Nihonjin-ron.

nihonjinron.JPG
This sums up my feelings.

This is my rant based off some academic research I have done in the past. I'm very curious in hearing everyone else's; especially those who are veterans to the board and I know have very detailed thoughts on the subject.
Thank you.
 
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nice gaijin

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I would say that nihonjinron is "the theory of unity in shared diversity." I don't know if it's so much about racial superiority (at least the modern incarnation), but it focuses on highlighting the generalized differences between Japan and other societies. Language seems to be the central pillar of this, as it not only is one of the few arguably unique features of Japan (writing system aside), but it also affects the way in which these views are expressed, which then feeds back into those generalizations.

We define ourselves not by our similarities to one another, but our differences. Nihonjinron combines the two: "we define ourselves through the differences that 'all' Japanese have in common." Even the desire to define oneself this way is characterized as being a "Japanese" trait: it's a self-gratifying theory.
 

kireikoori

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I don't really see Japan as especially more unique or different than any other country. Including sociologically.

I think that to many Japanese, it's an ego inflater. And to many non-Japanese, since they exotify Japan, they assume differences where there are none.
 

Emoni

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I knew you'd reply to this NG ;)

Most of what I focused on above is the negative aspects of creating a cultural identity such as Nihonjinron. It is a "theory" (a label I think doesn't quite fit) that can be easily abused and misused to promote superiority and lead to many real problems. Of course, trying to define differences and cultural aspects that are separate from other cultures is an obvious tool to understanding societies around the world; however, it is only a tool and is such a vague concept that it is extremely easy to take and twist to mean whatever anyone would please it to mean. From what I have seen, over and over again through various venues, the concept of Japanese uniqueness is consistently distorted to an almost magical essence that cannot be defined or matched by anything in the world, thus giving justifiable superiority in numerous social and political situations.

Of course, that itself is being vague. Rather than continue into news stories and historical issues, I won't go any further at risk of derailing the main topic of finding what other's opinions are on Nihonjinron.
 

Chidoriashi

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An interesting topic. Personally though, the only time I ever really see this talked about, or displayed by someone, is here on the web. Usually talking (arguing) over certain issues with certain posters on this site. In real life interactions with Japanese, I sense more of an ignorance towards the West rather than, an over inflated ego about Japan. The exact same can be said back home for me too though. Most people from my area of the country, from non-Asian decent, that I have talked to, barely know the difference between Japan and China. One guy even thought that Japan was a city in China...

So if Nihonjinron.. is truly persistent in Japanese society, and having a huge impact on the way Japanese people define themselves in relation to the rest of the world.. then.. they tend to hide their arrogance well. (Which is entirely possible). But personally for me, my life in Japan (on the surface at least) doesn't really seem to be impacted by people who think this way, which makes me doubt that there are many Japanese who buy into this Nihonjin-ron (as you have described it) seriously.
 

tokapi

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The result ?

A highly inflated self-image of Japan that is based neither on reason nor in reality that is on par with the monstrous size egos of any other country in the world such as China, the United States, France.

In my personal opinion it is simply excessive national and cultural pride.This is even more ironically since Japan has strong aspects of Chinese and other mainland Asian culture since the major cultural exchanges around the Yayoi and Nara period respectively.

This racial arrogance causes a dangerous sense of national pride,hampers efforts towards resolving major issues between Japan and Asia that have been left to fester since World War II.Japan remains at odds in many ways with all of its neighbors over issues from over 60 years ago. Nihonjin-ron.

I must say,very impressive post covered this matter from accurate subjective angles.

日本人論 is a byproduct of defeated Japan,that country needed a theory to uplift demoralized Japanese population.Thus,the doctrine of Nihonjinron.

Since its creation in 1950's,it never had any audience or followings outside of Japan until ( 1990's to present day ) several thousand loyal Japanophiles ( some of them are social rejects in their culture or home country ) and J-Anime fans act as " surrogates " of theorized unique Japanese-ness.However,this population only limited to cyberspace as the real world don't give a hoot.

As for written Japanese,it's just a " bundled " language of mostly foreign origins ( 漢字 & 片仮名/katakana continues to obsorb non-Chinese loanwords ) 😊
 
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diceke

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The result? A highly inflated self-image of Japan that is based neither on reason nor in reality that is on par with the monstrous size egos of any other country in the world such as China, the United States, France... only with a nice dash of racial superiority.
I don't know if it's so much about racial superiority (at least the modern incarnation), but it focuses on highlighting the generalized differences between Japan and other societies.
The sense of difference from others is not necessarily that of superiority. It could simply be that of horizontal difference without explicit sense of superiority. :eek:
 

pipokun

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1) Every country in the world likes to think they are special in some way, and most people do as well. Yes, they are unique, just like every other country in the world!
2) However, it is Japan's position in Asia and the world that makes this sort of behavior even more unacceptable.

It is hard to find the logical link between 1) and 2).

Another Nihonjin-ron (I think)
It is fun for to see flame wars about some other culture fundamentalists in amazon.
For example...
Tradtional and Wealthy British house, Convenient but Poor Japanese house
It is a bit tricky, but this is also categorized into "nihonjin-ron", I think.

If those nihonji-ron would have fostered the ultra-nationalistic mindset in Japan, how could you explain the hate-crime free situation?
 
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Language seems to be the central pillar of this, as it not only is one of the few arguably unique features of Japan (writing system aside), but it also affects the way in which these views are expressed, which then feeds back into those generalizations.

Actually, that's an area where they are not so unique. Many Bronze Age societies had pictographic scripts matched with syllabaries, Linear B being an example. When I began to study Linear B, it amazed me at how the ideographs reminded me of kanji while the 250 syllables were like hiragana and katakana.

Even the desire to define oneself this way is characterized as being a "Japanese" trait: it's a self-gratifying theory.

Irony of ironies. So the Japanese see themselves as the emo-goth punk kids of the world--they are totally unlike all the other kids, and see themselves as individual, especially because they all act and dress the same. Self-gratifying indeed.

Granted, though, all countries have a concept of cultural uniqueness. What makes French, British, Germans, and Americans, well, French, British, Germans, and Americans? Culture, language, outlook, all sorts of things. The Americans are unlike any other people in the world in a number of ways. Horray. Same goes for everyone else. Everybody does this. It just seems to me that the Japanese have a propensity to do it to an absurd degree. They utilize this to set themselves apart as a sort of "members only" club, isolating themselves from the rest of the world.

These are, of course, generalizations. There are always exceptions. Besides, for all it's differences, historians and social scientists can identify a number of elements in Japanese culture and history that are decidedly not unique and crop up throughout history.

Example: Japan developed a system of feudal ties within a military aristocracy. This aristocracy is notable for its sophisticated warrior code and bonds of personal loyalty and duty to one's liege. This evolved a class of warrior elites that were bondsmen to the liege, pledged to his defense and service, in exchange for privileges and grants, notably the right to bear specific arms and armor. Each liege had his own unique insignia.

Ironically, such a system is not unique to Japanese history, but has been found in cultures from Bronze Age Greece to ancient Parthia to Warring-States China to medieval Europe.

All cultures and peoples are unique in a variety of ways. Nevertheless, many cultures also have astounding similarities. The differences and similarities are little more than characteristics, and don't necessarily make one culture better than another. These differences can only determine which cultures are more effective at world conquest than the others (i.e. see Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse as well as Victor Davis Hanson's Carnage and Culture and The Western Way of War for interesting insights into this topic).
 

tokapi

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Oh,I have a little story to share.One acquainted online female Japanese had Japanology course as part of vocational program for tourist interpreters.She often flaunted the baseless " uniqueness of Japanese & Japanese culture " to us.Case in point,she initially refused to accept English translation " concubine " for 側室 ( royal mistress ) because she believed it ( 側室 ) was uniquely Japanese ( :p ) therefore impossible it could share same English translated word for Chinese 妾 ( kept woman,mistress,& concubine ),not until I linked Jim Breen's dictionary page as proof of accuracy.

http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/cgi-bin/wwwjdic.cgi?1E

http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/cgi-bin/wwwjdic.cgi?1C
 
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diceke

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Yeah, this thread is ironic.

Whenever non-Japanese people get together to talk about Japan, people tend to cling on differences and the really weird things they observe in Japan, which, in many cases, are "based neither on reason nor in reality."

Japanese people also feel unique about themselves. Wow! I'm so shocked!!😲:eek:
 

pipokun

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Oh,I have a little story to share.One acquainted online female Japanese had Japanology course as part of vocational program for tourist interpreters.She often flaunted the baseless " uniqueness of Japanese & Japanese culture " to us.Case in point,she initially refused to accept English translation " concubine " for 窶伉、ナスツコ ( royal mistress ) because she believed it ( 窶伉、ナスツコ ) was uniquely Japanese ( :p ) therefore impossible it could share same English translated word for Chinese ツ渉ィ ( kept woman,mistress,& concubine ),not until I linked Jim Breen's dictionary page as proof of accuracy.
...
I don't know what she was trying to say, but fortunately no eunuch was introduced. The reason why I say "fortunately" is that I had a terrible experience to read a book about it by a Chinese author. (actually I could not read it, and I know I was a coward and I had too much imagination then)

Some may strongly claim the military brothels by Japan must be a horrible war crime, but they keep mysteriously silent about the ones run by the great Eighth Route Army or the Allied.
It is rather hard to tell history or *****-ness without politicizing or generalizing it.
 

Mars Man

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Please do be careful not to slide off topic here. . . which should not entail detail on matters that fit much better under other subject headings.
Mars Man
 

caster51

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Japanese politicians speak without concern to global politics and the global welfare of their own nation in their actions and words, national love-of-self is taught instead of expanding the education and fixing glaring problems, the Japanese system is seen with an imaginary sense of near perfection that cannot be bent in anyway to deal with others, and Japan remains at odds in many ways with all of its neighbors over issues from over 60 years ago. Nihonjin-ron.

What do you mean?
is that your nihonjin-ron?
 
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Whenever non-Japanese people get together to talk about Japan, people tend to cling on differences and the really weird things they observe in Japan, which, in many cases, are "based neither on reason nor in reality."
That is an interesting point. However, as an historian, I tend to look for both differences and similarities--case in point, my highly truncated example of feudal ties. As an historian, it is useful to identify similarities in an effort to isolate causes for the formation of such ties in a society--hence, comparative analysis is a powerful tool for research in my field.

Japanese people also feel unique about themselves. Wow! I'm so shocked!!😲:eek:
As I said earlier, all peoples are unique. It is simply that some Japanese scholars/writers/journalists have not only taken pride in the uniqueness of their culture, they have utilized it to rationalize a sense of "we" vs. "other". This is not a unique thing to the Japanese (again, profound irony). The Yanamamo of South America believe they are people, while others are "not-people", for example. The Jews have the concept of גוי (goy). Many societies develop a sense of "us vs. them" in which the "them" is often seen as somewhat subhuman. This usually disintegrates to an extent as the societies become more advanced, but sometimes it lingers.

When belief in your culture's uniqueness leads to a sense of superiority, then you have embarked on a slippery slope that can justify things like genocide and apartheid/segregation.

Although I reject the postmodern assertion that all cultures are equal (I certainly believe that some are downright evil, in fact), people are simply that--people. Humans are humans regardless of culture. All humans are created equal. What makes a culture good is not its uniqueness, but other factors.
 

Emoni

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While I've been impressed by honesty and returning lost items, I can also say there are plenty of items that are not returned as well. I know numerous people who have had their laptop stolen, or wallet if it is left. Oddly enough the wallet is returned, but just no money...

Make your own versions of the story up from that I guess.

I don't think you can clump some nice traits and honesty together and claim it is a universal cultural theory. The entire idea of a universal social theory that applies to 133+ million people is insane and serves more to promote Japan like a product in an ad campaign than serve academic interests. At least in my opinion.
 
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diceke

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Oh, do you remember this news?
Hundreds of honest people returned the money.:)

Toilet cash mystery grips Japan

People in Japan are puzzling over who has been leaving envelopes with 10,000 yen ($82; ツ≫??0) notes in men's toilets across the country. For months, some 4 million yen ($32,750) has been found in men's rooms from the northern island of Hokkaido to the southern island of Okinawa.
Most of the money has been found in government office buildings.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6294952.stm
 

gaijinalways

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I wouldn't say that an eccentric leaving money is usual in any culture. There have been people flinging out 10 dollar bills in America, as to why, I guess because they can. Some people also leave money anonymously for others. What7s unusual about leaving in government offices is that who is the person trying to reward, the public who uses the government facilities or the government workers themselves?

Again borrowed from Wikipedia; with my comments bolded in between.

Specific Theses of the Nihonjinron
(1) The Japanese race is a unique isolate, having no known affinities with any other race. In some versions, the race is understood as directly descended from a distinct branch of primates.[15]

A unique set of primates, oh boy!

(2) This isolation is due to the peculiar circumstances of living in an island country (shimaguni: 島国) cut off from the promiscuous cross-currents of continental history, with its endless miscegenation of tribes and cultures. The island country in turn enjoys a sui generis climate (fūdo:風土) whose peculiar rhythms, the putative fact for example that Japan alone has four distinct seasons (shiki:四季), colour Japanese thinking and behavior. Thus, human nature in Japan is, peculiarly, an extension of nature itself.[16]

'Island life' would apply to many communities and any island nation. Four distinct seasons, including the rainy season (fifth) in many parts of Japan

(3) The Japanese language has thus a unique grammatical structure and native lexical corpus whose idiosyncratic syntax and connotations condition the Japanese to think in peculiar patterns unparalleled in other human languages. The Japanese language is also uniquely vague.[17] Foreigners who speak it fluently therefore, may be correct in their usage, but the thinking behind it remains inalienably soaked in the alien framework of their original language's thought patterns. This is the Japanese version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, according to which grammar determines world-view[18]

Woo hoo, uniquely vague. I like that. I think the thought paterns of many speakers of other languages often remain different.

(4) Japanese psychology, influenced by the language, is defined by a particular cast of dependency wishes or desires (amae:甘え) that conduce to a unique form of 'human relationship' (ningen-kankei:人間関係), in which clearly defined boundaries between self and other are ambiguous or fluid, leading to a psychomental and social ideal of the fusion of ego and alter (jita gōitsu:自他合一)[19]

This is the idea of a collective society versus individualistic societies. Collective societies are predominant throughout most of Asia.

(5) Japanese social structures consistently remould human associations in terms of an archaic family or household model (ie:家) characterized by vertical relations (tate-shakai:縦社会), clan (uji:氏), and (foster-)parent-child patterns (oyabun:親分-kobun:子分). As a result, the individual (kojin:個人)cannot properly exist, since groupism (shūdanshugi:集団主義) will always prevail.[20]

See above note.
 
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tokapi

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Not according to The Taika Reforms ( 大化の改新 ).

The Reform began with land reform, based on Confucian ideas and philosophies from China, but the true aim of the reforms was to bring about greater centralization and to enhance the power of the imperial court, which was also based on the governmental structure of China. Envoys and students were dispatched to China to learn seemingly everything from the Chinese writing system, literature, religion, and architecture, to even dietary habits at this time. Even today, the impact of the reforms can still be seen in Japanese cultural life.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taika_Reform
 

pipokun

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About the book, Fudo, do you know when it was written?
Considering the situation in the era then, I don't think you need to use the code now.
 
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