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Japan, an Asian country, situated in the northern tip of East Asia, has many things in common with her neighbors. Both historically and racially Japan's origin has much to do with them. Even in the 20th century, though drastic changes such as colonization, westernization and wars swept the whole Asia, the similarities still remain.

In studying Asia, we can find three common factors; agriculture, nominal democracy and the absence of definite forms of monotheism. These characteristics make Asia distinct from other regions. Yes, even Japan, often regarded as a mini-USA, cannot escape being one of the Asian members, however hard Americanization is strongly upheld superficially here.

Agriculture has been and is a basic structure throughout Asia. Even in Japan, Korea and Hong Kong, where industry is thriving, it was in the center of cultural formation. For the most part cereals are favored and meat-eating has been discouraged or prohibited.

The behavior pattern of the people is that of herbivorous animals; less aggressive, less outspoken, more opportunistic and sometimes less energetic. Growing plants makes people stay in one place for generations, thus has made them take more conservative views towards their lives and society. Unpredictable droughts, cold weather and flood forced them to become fatalists. Thus adventure, enterprise, frontier spirits were the concepts that did not originate in Asia.

On the other hand, majority of Asians are comparatively pacifists at least compared with American and European people. But it does not mean they were intrinsically peace-loving; this was simply because they couldn't afford to take in enough calories and their farmland required year-round care, which made it more difficult for them to organize a regiment, hired or drafted than for nomads. In a word, they lacked in energy and resources for the making up of modern armed forces.

Sadly enough, democracy was almost non-existent in Asia, because there were no major cities, thus very few opportunities to discuss various problems, and partly because land-bound farmers were too hard-working to be interested in politics and social affairs.

Economy and politics go hand in hand, and since the modernization of Asian industry was heavily delayed on account of colonization, there were very few among manufacturers and small entrepreneurs who recognized the importance of economic freedom. If it had been for guilds, or some form of loosely organized trade unions in Asia, like those in Hamburg, Germany, the circumstances would have been quite different.

Confucius and Mencius, both the advocates of old feudal loyalty, have make it difficult for Asian people to assimilate the ideas of equality and freedom. People were to behave within the framework of their moral codes. This strictly curtailed the opportunities for speaking out and having free debate.

Religion, one of the most distinct features of Asian life, has exerted profound influence over the lives of the people. There are very few monotheisms in Asia; Hinduism and Brahmanism are typically polytheistic, and even Buddhism, apparently monotheitic, is in fact a kind of atheism and does not necessarily put man into one-to-one relationship with Buddha.

These gods are not absolute object of worship, nor do they require individual exertions to get saved. This may have led to the absence of strong sense of individual responsibility both toward oneself and his society.

The nature of their behavior is very negative one; just not to do mean things whatever. This strongly contrasts with that of Western counterparts who are brought up with the command, 'thou shalt love thy neighbor', and this causes many positive actions seen in their society; helping the needy, self-sacrificing act for the sick people etc... Christianity has quite strong social impact, whereas Asian religions tend not to.

Also, moral codes are determined either by social enforcement or one's inner self. In Asia, stronger emphasis has been traditionally put on the former than the latter; many Asian cities find signs saying doing this or that, such as 'No Smoking Here', 'Don't Spit','Don't' Litter Trashes' etc. It is as if people could not behave properly without such instructions!

This is also reflected in overprotective attitude in bringing up their children. The inner self, in other words, conscientious is very important when one has to deal with the evils of the modern world. Without it, it would be very difficult to make sound judgement against them and one is in danger of being swept away by the fierce torrent of ideology, fad and social conventions.

These factors mentioned above are indispensable to understanding Asian problems which also exist in Japan. And the next three phenomena are typical examples of Asian problems.


Conformism is preferred once one's social life has become unstable, full of worries. As in the case of Germany, where high-inflation and recession ravaged the country after World War 1, people in the stressful condition sought for peace of mind by strictly conforming to social conventions, and in the end, Nazism. Erich Fromm describes this historical tragedy in his book, 'Escape From Freedom'.

The same is true of Asian countries where for centuries people have suffered prolonged both natural and political disasters. Dictators exploited the poor and consequently drove them into despairing helplessness. Years of dictatorship made them completely adapted to submissive position. They are too poor and helpless to revolt against those arbitrary and ruthless rulers. The most typical example can be found in uniform. Students, to say nothing of soldiers, are forced to wear it all the time. People are deprived of opportunities to choose what they want to wear by their own free will.

In Japan the most internationally notorious system of censor is screening of school text books. This also severely curtails historical perspectives of the students, with the result that they are conformed and condemned to, say, the same historical standpoints on Nanjing massacre.

Industrial workers, too, are very obedient compared with American counterparts. According to 'Jidosha Zetubo-Kojo ( an automobile factory in a despairing condition ) by T.Kamata, which depicted the harsh working conditions in Toyota Motor's plant, Japanese workers are just patient and hardly make any attempts to go on a strike or sabotage, while Americans express their discontents more explicitly, resorting to vandalism, quitting without notice, spitting, to say nothing of going on strikes.

The most important fact about conformism is that those who make people conform such a administrators, teachers and commanders do not trust their subordinates' capacity or judgement, let alone let them have their own way. Educators are greatly to blame on this point; they are always worried about students deviating from regulations.

The flooding of trivial school rules in Japanese junior and senior high schools derives from the teacher's overprotective attitude towards their students that they may fall into the prey of delinquents at any time. Teachers are also afraid to let the students have their own political views, either of right or left.Japanese society seems to fear strikes, and the best way to prevent them is put the buds off in its infancy.


The absence of moral-strict religion allows people to become 'moral opportunists'. Unlike Christians and Muslims who they believe are always under the scrutiny of God and think themselves sinful because of 'original sin' committed by Adam and Eve, most Asian people are in some sense realists, amazingly adapted to the ups and downs of the social attitude toward morality.

This makes them have double-standards; taking money in political scene is one thing and leading an honest private life is quite another. Or they behave themselves not because their god commands them to but because it is a shameful act not to do so in the presence of others. This is why in almost all the Asian countries bribery is taken for granted and more often than not the society cannot go without it.

This is true of throwing out beverage cans on the roads. This can be prevented by only enforcing harsh rules such as heavy fines. Singapore is known for a very clean and crime-free city, where we can scarcely find trashes and pet's droppings; the world-famous austere prime minister Lee Kuanyu imposed strict rules including death penalty on the city dwellers.

When we travel in China, we see many slogans and posters are put up as if the whole society were rushing towards some political or economic goals. But this is misleading. The very presence of slogans proves that people are reluctant to take them in, let along carry them out to the contrary.

All these facts account for the fact that in Asia, the inner consciousness of the individuals and what society seeks after or impose on them do not always go hand in hand. This leads to regarding moral not as something absolute and universal but as something subject to definition and circumstances.

Democracy is an ideals, and it must be pursued with determined will and nevertheless people give it up because they think they can't afford to. This is one of the reasons why democracies in Asia are quite easily controlled by military men, dictators and money-mongers.


Since many Asian countries have a long tradition of agriculture, the attitude peculiar to farmers and peasants is greatly reflected in bringing up their children. The most important fact is, again, poverty. Peasants are always worried about life after growing old and this naturally leads to dependency on their children; the more children the sure they will be to be looked after. And this, ironic enough, accelerated the poverty with the result of population explosion.

Besides the problem of overpopulation, we are faced with 'family system' in Asian in which mutual dependency of the members always to be observed. In particular, Chinese are always looking forward to strong family ties and as the number of their children decreases, more and more numerous problems including over-protective attitude toward children.

In Japan, along with Korean and Hong Kong recently, over-protective parents are on the rise with the increase of small families. The rest of the Asian countries will follow the same path sooner or later. They regard a child's happiness not in longer term such as formation of personalities and cultivation of endurance but in a very near-sighted perspective---giving candies when the child is making a fuss at a supermarket or letting him watch his favorite TV programs freely or snatch snacks whenever he wants to. Do parents genuinely think for their children's health when they give up their seats for him in a train or bus?

Discipline in social situations is much less strict. The liberty enjoyed at this time of his life is the greatest, and it diminishes as he grows older, thanks to the dictatorship or feudal system of most Asian countries.

It is also taken for granted that children, even long after coming of age, get help from their parents; tuition fees for university, housing, job hunting and even the expenses for wedding ceremony. At this point Asians are in contrast to American counterparts, who try to be independent of their parents as early as possible. There appears to be a kind of fatalism in their attitude; since their society is rigid and undemocratic, they have no other way to achieve their goal but to get help.

Japan, seemingly a land of democracy and freedom, is in fact overshadowed by feudal society since Edo period. The Tokugawas tamed that much submissive people. Not a few Japanese have a way of calling their politicians and bureaucracies 'Okami', the boss. So, pioneer spirit is non-existent; unlike British people, these islanders are reluctant to go overseas. Japanese are not 'a seafaring people' at all, contrary to the general belief. If you want to be a congressman, your father or grandfather must be a congressman. Electoral systems are inherited!

Those spoiled children, especially boys, are mainly affected by their mothers. The children will reproduce the spoiled, one after another, because the wives of those who are spoiled will have a greater say on the education of their offspring.


These are the prominent characteristics observed in Asian life. Though embraced with common cultural background, people here are under constant raid of Americanization. And for better or worse, the norms of their society may gradually change, but it is a very slow process.

First Written in July, 1986*** Revised in February, 2001

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