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The Japanese Mind

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An almost timeless report.

Jan 19, 2000
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Does an excellent job of analyzing the ancient culture of Japan...

Cons:...but it's still a Japan before the internet and cell phone. (Needs to be updated.)

The book is really an excellent one -- a concise, to-the-point summary of the Japanese mass psychology. Robert Christopher uses certain historical data to back this up, or rather to give his insights a theoretical point of origin. The most interesting tidbit: the nation of Japan is 97% ethnic Japanese, with only three percent “foreigners,” which includes generations-old burakumin (a dispossessed, tiny segment of honest-to-god Japanese, who fore some reason shunned by the rest of the country) and generations-old Korean. This massive proportion is where Christopher finds the root of virtually all of Japan’s cultural identity -- “[Japanese are] members of a single great tribe united not just by common citizenship or common language but by common bloodlines, common racial memory and common tribal codes, some of which stretch back to prehistory.”

Having been here for a little over a year now, I keep this statement in the back of my mind whenever I’m engaged with any segment of Japanese culture. Watching a dance show on t.v. the other week, I noticed that even these scruffy, hip-hop, baggy-jeans-wearin’ homeboys and girls have the same facial gestures, speech characteristics, and general politeness and shyness -- even this pair of kids trying to look tough would occasionally break down and smile sheepishly, constantly used “so desu ne,” (“Yes, that’s right”) and said “arigato gozaimashita” (“thank you very much”) at the end. There really is a pervasive mass-identity in this culture, which is at turns fascinating, admirable, and sometimes just down-right spooky. It’s impossible to fully fathom, coming from America -- a nation of mongrels and mutts from every corner of the earth, with barely 200 years of collective history behind us. On one level, there is a definite sense of liberation from a background like ours in the U.S., but on the other, there is also a keenly-felt sense of loneliness and isolation. The sacrifice of solace for the sake of existential freedom, I suppose.

The two problems I had with this book, however, weren’t really any fault of the book’s or author’s. It’s primarily written from an economic and political standpoint, which isn’t really what I’m looking at during my time over here. Both of these topics are generously backed-up with social and educational and familial information, which is where the heart of the book laid for me. Beyond this over-emphasis on votes and money (a gross simplification, I know, but so what), the only other drawback to this book is the fact that it’s describing a Japan of almost twenty years ago, probably due to the fact that the book was written in the beginning of the eighties, which is certainly no fault of Christopher’s.

I would really be interested to see this book updated for the Japan of the nineties (and 'oughts'). There has been an entire generation that has come of age since this book was published, and in that time, Westernization has continued at a rampant pace, Japan’s bubble economy burst, and America survived two Republicans and one man masquerading as a Democrat. This is hardly mentioning the technological advances that have popped up even in the last five or ten years (i.e., the internet, cell phones and wide-spread satellite t.v.).



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