Consensus and Protest in Japan

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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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Football Fans Cleaning Stadiums & Students Cleaning Toilets: What does it tell us about Japanese culture?

Posted on 7 July 2014 in Cultural Awareness, Inter-Cultural Training -
Class in Japan2

Having taught in Japanese schools, it came as no surprise to me that the Japanese football fans were cleaning up after themselves in the stadium in Brazil. Every day, children had to clean the school, including the toilets. I recently told some British primary children about it. Although they recognised that it would foster pride, they still couldn’t totally understand it. For the Japanese, this kind of behaviour is natural and is evident in all parts of society. When I first got to Japan, at 7am one Sunday morning, an old man knocked on my door gesturing to me wildly. I was expected to come and clean the steps in my apartment building along with the whole community! I know several friends who were expected to come in early to their office jobs to help clean and keep the place tidy-notably it was only the women though. I even had it written in my contract when working for the Japanese Government to keep my desk tidy.

This sense of social responsibility stems from the expectations of respect and consideration for others. These traits are woven into all aspects of Japan’s group orientated society. Every group member has a responsibility to help it run smoothly. It is often expected that individual needs are second to that of the group and the Japanese learn to cover up real feelings to maintain harmony. It would be unusual for any Japanese child to have refused to clean because it is “not fair”-a phrase I often hear from my own children. It is not fair to put other people out by not pulling your weight. Consideration for others is so important and they expect others to do the same.

As you can imagine, this culture conflicts with western individualism. If expectations of what behaviour is considered respectful are not communicated, frustrations and distrust can arise. As always, understanding and adaptation are the key. We can learn lots from their wonderful culture as shown in Brazil. I don’t think we will ever see British children cleaning school toilets though!

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