My SNA VM27: “The Bright Side of Japan’s ‘Culture of No’.” Surprise! Debito has something positive to say about Japan. Oct 18, 2021


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Hi Blog.  As I am swamped with preparations for the release of my next book, here is a human-interest essay on Japan where, surprise!, I say something positive about what I learned from Japan about how to cope with the adversity of the global pandemic.  Enjoy.  Arudou Debito, Ph.D.


Visible Minorities 27: The Bright Side of Japan’s “Culture of No”
Surprise! Debito has something positive to say about Japan.
Shingetsu News Agency, October 18, 2021
By Debito Arudou

SNA (Tokyo) — As the pandemic stretches into yet another season, the media is starting to assess how Covid is changing the world permanently. At least one pundit has called the situation “epochal,” with the ever-rising worldwide death toll causing disruptions to politics, government, economics, and social life in general. It’s no longer a matter of just getting everyone vaccinated and then everything going back to normal: for the foreseeable future, we’ll have to accept some form of deprivation as the new normal.

Some countries are coping with deprivation (or at least a deferred gratification) less well. The United States is a good example. Despite being one of the most advanced economies and developed civil societies in the world, it has botched the pandemic badly–and it is not only because the previous president was willing to sacrifice hundreds of thousands of people to maintain his power. It’s also because of a design flaw deeply embedded in America’s national psyche.

American society is oddly susceptible to charismatic frauds posing as leaders, inept at everything except the uncanny talent of playing off social expectations framed as “freedoms”: 1) “freedom from want” (i.e., in a land of plenty, you should be able to get whatever you want); and 2) “freedom from being told what to do by government” (better known as “liberty,” where, as long as it’s not specifically illegal, you should be able to do whatever you want).

Consider how Covid has devastated American expectations. In terms of want, supply chains worldwide have broken down, meaning Americans have had to defer consumer gratification in places where it hurts, from toilet paper to used cars to sudden exorbitant rents. In terms of government nonintervention, the audacity of a national vaccine mandate demanding people get a Covid shot is being denounced as “tyranny.” Not all societies have reacted like this…

This is where Japan comes in.

At a time of historic stressors around the globe, I realized that my decades living in Japan have come in handy. In fact, Japan has been an excellent training ground for deprivation and deferred gratification. They seem to lack the ability to keep things in perspective, particularly the one I gained from living under Japan’s “Culture of No.”…

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6 comments on “My SNA VM27: “The Bright Side of Japan’s ‘Culture of No’.” Surprise! Debito has something positive to say about Japan. Oct 18, 2021

  • … ya know, doc, this has been kinda helpful. Been going through a rough patch lately, and though I got no real clear idea of how I’m gonna fix it, this has actually given me something to think about.

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Ha! True! I watched relatives on Zoom acting like they were the Donner Party after two weeks of lockdown whilst I happily devoted weeks to dieting, weight training and catching up on missed movies, like the extended no schedule vacation Japan never affords.

  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Thoughtful and insightful piece.
    While I occasionally read of punch-ups over toilet paper in my home country, lockdowns lasting months and the politicizing and weaponizing of masks and vaccines, here is relatively smooth sailing.

    I was initially fearful that Japan’s apparent hubris was going to cost us all big-time in this pandemic, but somehow Japan managed to land on their feet.

      • “we’ll have to accept some form of deprivation as the new normal” well, thats great for Japan’s elites as they have for the last decade been squeezing the populace with rising taxes and yet lower salaries. Abenomics for a source of government income.
        Covid normalizes this still further.

        Ganbatte! Shonganai desu ne.


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