Consensus and Protest in Japan

for November, 2014

Consensus and Protest in Japan

Posted on 24 November 2014 in Cultural Awareness, News -

Japan’s recent mid-term election announcement has been widely discussed. Questions being asked include: “Why is Abe calling a mid-term election given the lack of viable opposition within Japanese politics and the need for decisive action?”  Other comments in the press suggest that he is stalling for time and diverting attention away from important issues.

Regardless of what prompted this decision, it has thrown up some interesting reactions towards the style of consensual style of decision making that comes naturally to the Japanese, especially since Abe has acted in a very decisive and individualised manner prior to this. Anyone who has worked within a Japanese environment will know that getting consensus can be time consuming and can seem fairly inactive and diversionary in comparison to other styles of decision making. It is, however, a mistake to assume that consensus means agreement-more likely an acceptance or approval that some things need to happen to keep the group-in this case Japan-functioning.

Of course, in Japan’s current political and economical environment, there are going to be voices of dissent and dissatisfaction. Protest and disagreement can be difficult in Japan, where open criticism is not the norm and keeping the harmony is important sometimes to the extent that people are expected to keep individual opinions suppressed and think of the effects on the group-in this case society as a whole. I often think how difficult it must be for those faced with the devastating effects of the nuclear fallout in Fukushima where thousands of people are still displaced from their homes resigned to the fact that without restarting nuclear power, Japan as a whole will face ever increasing energy bills and reliance on imports for their energy.

Demonstrations traditionally have a bad public image with scant press coverage in Japan-two recent acts of self immolation protesting against the decision to change the constitution towards self-defence brought criticism upon NHK, Japan’s broadcaster, for not reporting them in their main news coverage! In more individualised cultures, this would be seen as “sweeping negative things under the carpet”-something that is not tolerated in our cultures of open criticisms. More on this in my next blog…

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