• Takamatsu, Kagawa


Paul de Vries manages to encapsulate Japan in a somewhat rosy light, his article frames an us-vs.-them slight — or the gratingly hackneyed individual-vs.-group polemic. We all know Japan is a safe and generally hospitable place in comparison to a myriad of others. Few would truly disagree. It’s not news. But to assume that most Japanese fall within some neat cozy parameter, I would suggest, is toying with romance.

Examples abound daily of actions of indifference that cause great stress and discomfort. Look no further than the roads and workplaces. By the same token, daubing Westerners with the same brush is naive. What actual code are all Westerners purported to heed? What is a Westerner? Are Sicilians, Finnish, Nova Scotians, Australians, the Amish all the same?

And while acknowledging de Vries’ five-factors contribution to Japan’s self-sense of order, years of observation and participation in society have led me to believe that there is another very active force at work. The glue that binds, that grapples with it all, is none other than fear — not the spine-tingling, bloodletting fear of horror, but a more subtle, insidious fear that permeates the skin of commonality.

Fear of taking the extra step, fear of looks from others, fear of being commented upon, fear of failure, fear of anything that might not sit right. And this is not the same as groupism. A desire of belonging is offset by the colossal fear of ostracism, which is the extreme manifestation of bullyism.

I love living in Japan; I have learned and will continue to learn much. But, simply, many Japanese could gain more by incorporating some of the positives of other cultures into their lives. . . . It’s OK to laugh.

peter baillie

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