Contrasts with Japanese culture

Ushiku, Ibaraki

It was interesting to read Grant Piper’s June 24 letter, “Beware the national mythology,” and I agree entirely. Samuel Johnson was right when he described patriotism as “the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

Like Piper, I have lived in Japan a number of years and have become aware of a lot of striking parallels between Japan and the United States. Both are very inward-looking societies, albeit in different ways. They can afford to be inward-looking to some extent because of the sheer size of their economies.

While many Americans don’t know where Pyongyang is — even if they want to bomb it — they know their state flowers and capitals. Japanese, on the other hand, tend to be better informed factually, but that doesn’t stop many of them from hiding in tour groups and only eating Japanese food when they go abroad.

One of the most striking parallels seems to be the cultural position occupied by high school, evidenced by the number of television programs in both countries that are set in schools. School in both countries revolves around sports. Of course, the attitudes toward sports differ. In Japanese schools, all students are encouraged to pretend to be sporty in club activities, while American schools have a kind of apartheid where the sporty kids are revered and the “nerds” despised. In both systems, the perceived superiority of sports over study is very clear.

Parallels can only go so far, though. Religious attitudes in Japan have a lot more in common with those of Britain, where hardly anyone is religious, yet hardly anyone is an atheist. Japanese attitudes to marital fidelity have more in common with those of France, for opposite reasons: The French seem to enjoy sex a little too much, while the Japanese are the most undersexed in the developed world and tend to have affairs out of frustration.

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.

jack durutti