I love Michael Hoffman’s observations on Japanese society and culture. But his Big in Japan column headlined “Uncontrollable rage is a largely sober phenomenon” in the Oct. 20 edition fails to get to the bottom of the problem.

Hoffman quotes a university professor’s comments on road rage in the Asahi Shimbun. The professor, apart from what Hoffman used, also told the Asahi that ordinary drivers should be careful to avoid driving in such a way that provokes other drivers into a violent rage. I believe this meekness is part of the problem.

Instead of punishing the wrong, the Japanese palliate the situation while avoiding confrontation. There are diverse drivers on the road, including those who barely steer the wheel safely. How can they pay extra attention to crazy drivers to avoid giving the crackpot a reason to go mad?

The police have the means to police road rage, but neglect it. Similarly, businesses and schools have the means to eliminate bullying but have been busy denying the existence of problems in their charge.

Company managers are often bullies themselves. Some teachers force the bullied to shake hands with their bully and declare that both are now friends, regardless of the victim’s real feeling.

What has been bothering me these years is the excess of polite, beautifying language. Even TV reporters and announcers speak overly politely, instead of the journalistic norm of matter-of-factness.

Unnatural efforts to appear polite and the use of cosmetic words obscure the existence of problems and make it impossible to address them, because such attitudes make it difficult to objectively analyze the situation on a factual basis, and to discuss and solve the problems logically.

In Japan, civility has been given an unusually high value. Specious civility suppresses natural reactions to bullying and other unreasonable practices, thus allowing the underlying resentment to snowball. The built-up anger is now in free flow due to the irresponsible behavior of populist politicians, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe included. I call it “disinhibition,” and it undoes the restraint that is a condition for civil society.


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.

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