5. Mental and Psychological Growth
Origins of Japaneseness
I think the Japanese are a unique ancestral group. Moreover, I think that they are rare people in the world, so rich in benevolent spirit. It is not so difficult for Japanese to believe that everyone is the same human being.
The reason Japan has nurtured such characteristics is deeply related to that it is an island country. It is also because until the occupation by the United States in 1945, Japan was a very lucky country that had never been occupied or conquered by foreign enemies.
For those countries in the world, especially those continental countries who border other countries, or which are isthmus or peninsula countries, they inevitably have been a passageway for other peoples to move. Frequent invasions and conquests have occurred. Consequently, the people who live there have learned how to protect themselves each time in the long history. In other words, they became sensitive to ethnic differences, did not trust others so easily, and learned clever negotiation techniques.
In an island country which is protected by the sea, instead of learning to avoid such dangerous experiences, the people were forced to be caught up in the so-called “island-country mentality” which lacked contact experience, even though they have strong curiosity about other places in the world.
When you look at the other countries of the world, Britain for example is also an island country, and it is in similar geographical conditions to Japan. But it is separated from other countries in Europe by the short distance of the English Channel, which a tough person can swim across, and which has a history of frequent aggression and exchange.
In the case of Japan in the past, the distance to the Asian continent was long, and crossing it used be the act that even the voyage by ship risked life, and the passengers and crew would place their lives in the hands of the gods.
However, the Korean Peninsula was a passageway of those people who came from the continent in ancient times because there was a stepping stone called Tsushima mid way. And it also became a passage used to invade the mainland by riding the momentum which was created by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who conquered the Japanese archipelago. Thus the Korean Peninsula became an avenue to realize the ambitions of the Japanese, and when the great power of Russia rose, it was used as a buffer zone against Russia.
The Japanese as “un-weaned” child
I actually realized the characteristics of the Japanese when I went out to a foreign country and actually interacted with people of different countries and experienced the real differences not as a so-called knowledge.
I thought then that my finding about the characteristics of the Japanese was like the process of a human growing to an adult.
In other words, in the process of becoming an adult, we must experience a decisive separation of ourselves from parents, whether we can “wean” ourselves or not.
This is my own theory, but it seems that the relationship between human beings and the natural conditions also is similar to this “parent-child” relationship on a collective level. That is, a whole local community had been closely connected with the land so to speak, especially during the feudal age when agriculture was the main living means.
In the case of Japan, there was another natural condition which tied an island country. Especially in the process of which the ruling system of the nation was formed on the islands, the king or the emperor who was the ruler from the ancient times and the later leader from the samurai class had created a peculiar national ruling system. That is, the national ruling system was made by supporting each other rather than by a different race who conquered them.
The national ruling system was forced to be waken up by the Black Ships (American steam ships) experience at the end of the Edo Era in the late 19th century. Consequently it brought urgently the artificial divine structure of the modern Emperor system, called “kokutai (national body)”, that was developed as a means of overcoming the invasion of foreign enemies in the early modern era.
Now let us contrast the national ruling system to the above mentioned “weaning”. Then we can find a turning point at which Japan experienced the weaning process or not as the decisive factor in creating her national identity structure. After the Meiji Era (which was established after the Edo Era), the idea of the Emperor being regarded as the great father for the family of the nation was established and had been maintained. And the mandate of worshipping and obeying the emperor had been forced on the people as if accepting the deliberate lack of “weaning.”
Meiji Ishin (the Japanese term for the civil war which brought the formation of the Meiji government), which is translated as Meiji Restoration in English, is definitely different from the civil revolution in Western Europe, especially of French.
Let us compare the Meiji Restoration with the French Revolution. Although the French Revolution destroyed kingdoms and guillotined, such a dramatic process did not occur in Japan, and the dismantling of the Edo Shogunate was accomplished by the so-called “Bloodless Return” of the formal power of the emperor and transfered the power to the Meiji government.
During the process, it was the Western powers who manipulated the civil war between the Edo Shogunate and the new Meiji government covertly. In particular, they secretly provided military funds and modern weapons to the anti-shogunate side, thus working to give the upper hand for the new Meiji government.
What is important here is that Japan’s political system after the Meiji Restoration has intentionally left the people with a lack of “weaning” i.e. in an immature state. As a result the people sadly were driven to war by their parents, and died in battle shouting “Long live the Emperor”, and experienced the devastating tragedy of unconditional surrender.
And then the post-war era began. The United States, which knew such national identity structure of the Japanese people, dared not to punish or kill Emperor Showa who was a war leader, and it occupied the country without destroying such a national identity structure by putting him at the top of Japan. In this way it established the core structure of the postwar system of Japan.
Through many novels by Ryotaro Siba, the so-called “Siba Historical View”, which has had a strong influence on the Japanese people, does not see the “lack of independence from the emperor” process in such a Meiji Restoration process. Rather on the contrary, I think that they were written to glorify the achievement of Japaneseness. He vaguely referred to the process as kitai or baby devil by which the Emperor led Japan to war, but ultimately, there was no mention of the trait of a lack of weaning.
Looking at it this way, it can be seen that the modern history of Japan has been formed within the double lack of independence from the emperor before and after the war.
Therefore, from what I see, I believe that the true journey carried out by the Japanese will be to experience the effect of true independence from the emperor as well as the parents.
Regarding the details of analysis of the mental structure of the Japanese people, please refer to my separate article, 私の日本分析 (My Analysis of Japan).
At the bottom of the dilemma to survive
Frankly, I think that the psychological structural tendency of a lack of weaning seen in the lack of independence from the emperor has changed the appearance and has been formed obstinately concealed in the deep bottom of the iron rule of securing the means of survival described in chapter 1 of this book.
Even though we Japanese, in a homogeneous culture, can share feelings or “the air” on something such as uncomfortable or favorite matters, it is difficult to see where it comes from.
In order to do so, it is absolutely necessary to get out of the bottom of the well and see the scenery from the outside. As my study abroad experience taught me, it bares the person. And from that nakedness, you can learn what kind of clothes you were wearing.
As you are feeling the “difficulty in life” which has already expanded like a “pandemic” into Japanese society for the last 20 years, the economic situation which is a pillar of physical infrastructure has been directly acting on our lives. But as to the psychological structure placed in the depth of all Japanese which tends to depend on someone, it is difficult to feel. Because it has been planted in their mind unknowingly and so it has nurtured a quiet nature of the Japanese which does not allow saying “no” explicitly in daily life. The causes of the quiet nature and the difficulty in life are seen being on the same soil and they have worked collectively.
Or for instance, in those areas such as nursing care, education, and even the poverty issue, there is the common problem where those social issues tend to be thought of as the matter that the family is responsible for. This is because such lack of independent mental structure is based on the thinking that it is a familiar kinship problem before the idea that it is a social need.
Of course, family ties are irreplaceable. But those two different types of problem, one which should be solved socially and the other which should be entrusted to family relationships, should not be mixed up and it is expected to be more effective if they are treated separately. For example, the “parasite” problem, in which an adult-age child staying with parents when grown up, is typical of such social issues which was left to the family. It is an example of a social approach having been overlooked.
In addition, the similar tendency can be pointed out in the workplace. The labour-management relations in Japan have modelled the typical family structure on the assumption of the family being made up of the bread winner and the full-time housewife. This structure is called the seniority system which assumes the lifetime employment.
Although there are differences depending on companies and industries, such a Japanese-style employment system has gradually changed over the past 20 years or so, and Western-style management has been taken in, with a focus on results and duties.
In particular, under the crisis of COVID-19, in order to introduce telework, it is absolutely necessary to clearly define the outline of individual work, and these changes are accelerating.
In today’s globalized business environment, more and more jobs are based on international movement, such as the job itself bringing in foreign experience or hiring people who have already experienced foreign countries.
In addition, in response to the shrinking domestic market in Japan, the heat of overseas expansion of many companies and industries is increasing, and the number of working positions based on overseas work accordingly is increasing.
Even if the chance to go out to a foreign country is offered to you, it could be said that there is not a critical difference because you still must clear the iron rule to survive. Any way it must be a sensitive issue whether you can catch two birds with one stone, or simply end up with getting a job by chance in an international labour market.
This might be another fundamental dilemma in the global era.