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Clephas

Barriers to Americans understanding the Japanese

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There are a lot of barriers, both minor and major, that prevent Americans from understanding Japanese culture in any significant way.  Since Japanese as a language is shaped and helped shape their culture, this is very significant for VN players in particular. 

 

I.   Japanese society is collectivist rather than pseudo-individualist. 

      A.  America pretends at individualism (though individualism is fundamentally detrimental to having an organized and healthy society)

      B.  Societal expectations and family expectations are still more important in Japan than individual rights and desires... at least on a social mores level. 

II.  Japan is an old culture, whereas America is relatively young

     A.  Japan has existed historically for over thirteen hundred years under the same dynasty (if you add in the claims that can't be backed up, it expands to over two thousand) with varying degrees of political influence and its culture prefers stability over expansive growth 

     B.  The US is a mere two and a half centuries old, and our culture is an odd mix of foreign concepts, along with a unique political culture

III.   Where Americans focus on rights, the Japanese focus on civic duties

      A.  In Japan, one's duty to one's society is as important or more important than what rights you possess

      B.  In America, the focus is almost entirely one what rights people possess inherently without any strong focus on the civic duties that should accompany them

 

There are other, more specific issues, but these are the ones that come to mind to me, in particular.  Feel free to discuss. 

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Although all three points are valid and very much agreeable, I think that, in my personal opinion, the 1st and 3rd points are the major ones to take into account. Although the 2nd point is also good, nowadays it has much more to do with the relation that an individual has with the society that s/he lives in. Westerners as a general rule, not just Americans, tend to be more carefree and self centered regarding their conduct and most social interactions and expectations. This point is made strictly from a Gaijin's POV(aka me) so it might not be correct, but it is what I think it happens.

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Another important issue is that of immigration.  Immigration is commonplace in America and even arguably the backbone of many parts of our culture.   Japan, however, is extremely averse to immigration and still continues to severely limit it despite their rapidly shrinking population.  

 

While this may be beneficial to preserving their cultural heritage, it makes it extremely difficult for outsiders to reach an emic perspective and is a major blockade to cultural understanding.  

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I personally reject Japanese culture from a fundamental level in my head. I hate it because it goes against almost everything I believe in. Just as an FYI I am not actually american. I spent 1/2 my life here and half in another country. Working for other just does not sit well with me. I prefer a broken society of individualist than a perfect society of drones.

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Stock answer: there's good and bad in both societies. 

Japan has a certain attraction to foreigners, particularly in the West because of its exotic long standing, cultural traditions. Double interest for those who are already a student of Japan's culture (have an affinity for all Japanese related items like Anime and Manga.) 

 

I can't say how much of it is an exaggeration or not without living there, but based on studies and researches released by the government; every rose that we hear about from Japan comes with thorns underneath it. It's the same with Americans who still believe there's no other place better than America in the world. I've had foreign exchange students, and my ex-fiance in fact was from out of the country, who have expressed their disappointment on American soil. Everything from fashion, technology; to comfort of living; Americans are several years behind according to them. This is a big contrast to 15 years ago when I visited the poorer Asian countries who couldn't afford a nintendo; and now each family not only has the latest console when it comes out, the children of each family own a freaken IPAD. The one thing that still remains true around the world and to most foreigners who visit is that Americans are super friendly. They don't know how superficial us Californians are. Americans really need to change to remain competitive in the world.

 

Didn't mean to make this into a USA thing, but my point is Japan's traditional culture while it is something I respect, it also needs to go under a reformation to improve the country. The old Japan and the new Japan have distinctive divide in their thinking due to a rapid flux in culture after WWII. The introduction and assimilation of Western influence for them, happened relatively recently. It didn't give them any time to adapt, and seamlessly mold into the next generation. Now it's causing a lot of clashing that's threatening Japan's stability. 

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Mandatory language barrier reply. 

 

Also, America is still the best country to live in for living quality compared to other countries, at least based on where I've been.  

You obviously haven't been to Scandinavia.    :P

 

Every country has issues, that's the truth and the U.S. is still an excellent place to live.   I just believe that the U.S. is a bit behind in issues that matter more (or at least I consider more important), such as healthcare. 

 

I found this while looking around, it's quite interesting. 

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To me, I think anyone can learn any language as long as they put the TIME AND EFFORT into it. I'm learning Japanese on my own, and I tell myself to do it every day. You can't get better at something if you don't practice. And if you're surrounded by Japanese people, hell that makes things even easier for you.

 

I agree though that culture is something that has to be adjusted to. But as someone who has a Chinese father and a Canadian mother, I understand both sides of East and West. It's a totally different mentality of thinking. You just have to adjust appropriately the best you can. Reading James Clavell's Shogun is an excellent example of a Westerner trying to live in Japan.

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Generally speaking, learning a language is much easier if you make an effort to shift your thought patterns into those native to the language inasmuch as it is possible to do so.   I wouldn't have gotten so good at comprehending Japanese if I hadn't discarded the preconceptions born of my American/Texan upbringing in order to gain a better understanding. 

 

The unfortunate side-effect of that is that my thought patterns in Japanese tend to be irreconcilable in some ways with my English thought patterns.  I weird out some of my relatives with the way my personality shifts depending on which language I've been thinking in more lately.

 

Edit:  Incidentally, if you happened to ask me which 'me' I like better... it is definitely the Japanese-speaking me.  He is a lot less arrogant and more considerate of others' views.  The English-speaking me is a pragmatist and efficiency-freak who despises wasting time and energy on anything outside of his interests, and who is stubborn to a fault at all the wrong times. 

 

Edit2:  Also, my English-speaking self is a lot more misanthropic and gloomy... lol.  The only thing that is common to both mes is my sense of humor and a general intolerance of excessive stupidity.

 

Edit3:  If I weren't such an introvert, I probably wouldn't notice the degree to which language reshapes my reactions and thought patterns.  I developed a habit of trying to look at my own thoughts objectively at a young age, utilizing cues from other people and my own reactions.  That tendency only gets stronger as I get older... since I get more misanthropic as I get older (my misanthropy is general to the whole human race, including myself, lol)

 

Edit4:  Human beings are surprisingly malleable, given the right stimuli.  Proof of this comes in the phenomena of 'going native' and Stockholm Syndrome.  Switching between languages is enjoyable for me in the same way flipping a light switch over and over again was as a kid, lol. 

 

Edit5:  Anyway... as an answer to the question I tacitly asked in this thread... is it possible for two cultures so completely different in so many fundamental ways to understand one another?  The answer in my opinion is a qualified no.  We can change the surface levels of our cultures, to give a facade of similarity, and indeed, the westernization of Japan has blurred the lines in some areas.  However, the fundamental differences in ways of thinking are still evident and the lines created by them are difficult to see for both sides.  To be blunt, every time I think I understand the Japanese way of thinking, I hit another figurative roadblock.

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Semi derail (inspired by Clephas), but I think it might be interesting: I tend to prefer typing and talking in English, because English me is more confident, eloquent, and less choked up by emotion than Swedish me. Writing anything in Swedish at all kind of scares me at this point, most of the time.

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I know that conversely, America seems to be one of the most 'rude' countries because many people like to be familiar with one another. Meanwhile, Japanese society places great emphasis on higher or lower stations, and also politeness. (This sort of fits in with individualization, I suppose. While America wants to make sure that everyone is seen as equal, Japan wants to make sure that they are honoring respect boundaries.)

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Equality and individualism is a contradiction, since individualism is bound to trample on the rights of others.

 

Collectivism and status is also a contradiction. since those in higher standing will get prioritized attention. 

 

 

 

 

Edit5:  Anyway... as an answer to the question I tacitly asked in this thread... is it possible for two cultures so completely different in so many fundamental ways to understand one another?  The answer in my opinion is a qualified no.  We can change the surface levels of our cultures, to give a facade of similarity, and indeed, the westernization of Japan has blurred the lines in some areas.  However, the fundamental differences in ways of thinking are still evident and the lines created by them are difficult to see for both sides.  To be blunt, every time I think I understand the Japanese way of thinking, I hit another figurative roadblock.

 

 

There is the exception where the child is equally exposed to both cultures since birth. That way their thinking is wired so that both cultures appear to be seamless. 

 

When a baby grows up learning more than one language simultaneously, they can access both languages as though they are one. 

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Equality and individualism is a contradiction, since individualism is bound to trample on the rights of others.

 

Collectivism and status is also a contradiction. since those in higher standing will get prioritized attention. 

 

 

 
 

 

There is the exception where the child is equally exposed to both cultures since birth. That way their thinking is wired so that both cultures appear to be seamless. 

 

When a baby grows up learning more than one language simultaneously, they can access both languages as though they are one. 

That also can lead to a strong sense of belonging to neither culture, helplessness and in some cases depression.   This is especially common in second-generation immigrants. 

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Generally speaking, learning a language is much easier if you make an effort to shift your thought patterns into those native to the language inasmuch as it is possible to do so.   I wouldn't have gotten so good at comprehending Japanese if I hadn't discarded the preconceptions born of my American/Texan upbringing in order to gain a better understanding. 

 

Bit off topic, but glad to see I'm not the only Texan eroge fan here. :)

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Although Japanese have their own specific culture, I feel like it wasn't too difficult to understand it. Probably because I grew up with both american and asian values being a first-generation born in the US. It was pretty obvious how teachings/values differed... to the point it got confusing to me sometimes growing up (hard to find identity to fit into either one).

 

But it probably more easily helped shift my thinking when learning Japanese. I can see some similarities, such as the use of honorifics, etc. when compared to my own asian language/culture.. there are difference but lots of similarities too, especially in the importance of respect/etiquette for authority & older people and social harmony.

 

I sometimes wished my asian native language was at least Chinese though lol, that would have been so much more helpful in learning Japanese. xD

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Although Japanese have their own specific culture, I feel like it wasn't too difficult to understand it. Probably because I grew up with both american and asian values being a first-generation born in the US. It was pretty obvious how teachings/values differed... to the point it got confusing to me sometimes growing up (hard to find identity to fit into either one).

 

But it probably more easily helped shift my thinking when learning Japanese. I can see some similarities, such as the use of honorifics, etc. when compared to my own asian language/culture.. there are difference but lots of similarities too, especially in the importance of respect/etiquette for authority & older people and social harmony.

 

I sometimes wished my asian native language was at least Chinese though lol, that would have been so much more helpful in learning Japanese. xD

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/thread

I don't necessarily think these are 'barriers' to understanding Japanese culture. People devote their lives to understanding different cultures and just because the way Japanese society operates isn't akin to our own doesn't mean that it's a barrier of understanding. Really all it takes is an open mind.

Other than that. This could be said about almost any other culture besides places like the UK Canada and so on and so forth. Communities like Fuwanovel inadvertently educate people on other cultures (in Fuwa's case, Japanese) by bringing people together who are interested in foreign tradition.

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'Having an open mind' is a deceptive concept.  What it really means is something similar to adding new paint, carving pieces out, or adding on new accessories to the mind through experience.  The core doesn't change all that much and the foundation of your way of looking at the world will rarely change completely.  It is quite possible to get a grasp on other cultures through objective observation or immersion... but you are still ultimately getting a view that has the remnants of your original view coloring it, thus making it impossible to grasp it completely on a gut level.  To be blunt, as long as you are having to think 'oh this makes sense because they are this way' your intuition will continue to mislead you. 

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'Having an open mind' is a deceptive concept.  What it really means is something similar to adding new paint, carving pieces out, or adding on new accessories to the mind through experience.  The core doesn't change all that much and the foundation of your way of looking at the world will rarely change completely.  It is quite possible to get a grasp on other cultures through objective observation or immersion... but you are still ultimately getting a view that has the remnants of your original view coloring it, thus making it impossible to grasp it completely on a gut level.  To be blunt, as long as you are having to think 'oh this makes sense because they are this way' your intuition will continue to mislead you. 

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Sorry if it gets off topic. While i'm not a american, when i read "the ravages of time", i left a lot of question marks in morality and culture barriers. Searching a little i ended up in texts about confucianism, taoism and xia codes. It might be not what people are, but their ideal/horizont in moralitty....in the same way that catholics don't necessarily follow Ten Commandments, but it's their definition of right and wrong.

This text is kind of long, but bringed me some responses http://www.heroic-cinema.com/eric/xia.html

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 I think the main difference between American and Japan culture is the values I.E America has no values and japan has a few. Also the upbringing of the youngsters are polar in some cases so you would find that happening 

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