My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column 45 Nov 1, 2011: “The costly fallout of tatemae and Japan’s culture of deceit”

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Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011
Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE
The costly fallout of tatemae and Japan’s culture of deceit
By ARUDOU Debito
Courtesy http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20111101ad.html

There is an axiom in Japanese: uso mo hōben — “lying is also a means to an end.” It sums up the general attitude in Japan of tolerance of — even justification for — not telling the truth. (sources here and here)

First — defining “telling the truth” as divulging the truth (not a lie), the whole truth (full disclosure) and nothing but the truth (uncompounded with lies) — consider how lies are deployed in everyday personal interactions.

Let’s start with good old tatemae (charitably translated as “pretense”). By basically saying something you think the listener wants to hear, tatemae is, essentially, lying. That becomes clearer when the term is contrasted with its antonym, honne, one’s “true feelings and intentions.”

Tatemae, however, goes beyond the “little white lie,” as it is often justified less by the fact you have avoided hurting your listener’s feelings, more by what you have gained from the nondisclosure.

But what if you disclose your true feelings? That’s often seen negatively, as baka shōjiki (“stupidly honest”): imprudent, naive, even immature. Skillful lying is thus commendable — it’s what adults in society learn to do.

Now extrapolate. What becomes of a society that sees lying as a justifiably institutionalized practice? Things break down. If everyone is expected to lie, who or what can you trust?

Consider law enforcement. Japan’s lack of even the expectation of full disclosure means, for example, there is little right to know your accuser (e.g., in bullying cases). In criminal procedure, the prosecution controls the flow of information to the judge (right down to what evidence is admissible). And that’s before we get into how secretive and deceptive police interrogations are infamous for being. (source here)

Consider jurisprudence. Witnesses are expected to lie to such an extent that Japan’s perjury laws are weak and unenforceable. Civil court disputes (try going through, for example, a divorce) often devolve into one-upmanship lying matches, flippantly dismissed as “he-said, she-said” (mizukake-ron). And judges, as seen in the Valentine case (Zeit Gist, Aug. 14, 2007), will assume an eyewitness is being untruthful simply based on his/her attributes — in this case because the witness was foreign like the plaintiff.

Consider administrative procedure. Official documents and public responses attach organizational affiliations but few actual names for accountability. Those official pronouncements, as I’m sure many readers know due to arbitrary Immigration decisions, often fall under bureaucratic “discretion” (sairyō), with little if any right of appeal. And if you need further convincing, just look at the loopholes built into Japan’s Freedom of Information Act.

All this undermines trust of public authority. Again, if bureaucrats (like everyone else) are not expected to fully disclose, society gets a procuracy brazenly ducking responsibility wherever possible through vague directives, masked intentions and obfuscation.

This is true to some degree of all bureaucracies, but the problem in Japan is that this nondisclosure goes relatively unpunished. Our media watchdogs, entrusted with upholding public accountability, often get distracted or corrupted by editorial or press club conceits. Or, giving reporters the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to know which lyin’ rat to pounce on first when there are so many. Or journalists themselves engage in barely researched, unscientific or sensationalistic reporting, undermining their trustworthiness as information sources.

Public trust, once lost, is hard to regain. In such a climate, even if the government does tell the truth, people may still disbelieve it. Take, for example, the Environment Ministry’s recent strong-arming of regional waste management centers to process Tohoku disaster ruins: Many doubt government claims that radioactive rubble will not proliferate nationwide, fanning fears that the nuclear power industry is trying to make itself less culpable for concentrated radiation poisoning by irradiating everyone (see http://www.debito.org/?p=9547)!

Apologists would say (and they do) that lying is what everyone in positions of power does worldwide, since power itself corrupts. But there is the matter of degree, and in Japan there is scant reward for telling the truth — and ineffective laws to protect whistle-blowers. It took a brave foreign CEO at Olympus Corp. to come out recently about corporate malfeasance; he was promptly sacked, reportedly due to his incompatibility with “traditional Japanese practices.” Yes, quite so.

This tradition of lying has a long history. The Japanese Empire’s deception about its treatment of prisoners of war and noncombatants under the Geneva Conventions (e.g., the Bataan Death March, medical experiments under Unit 731), not to mention lying to its own civilians about how they would be treated if captured by the Allies, led to some of the most horrifying mass murder-suicides of Japanese, dehumanizing reprisals by their enemies, and war without mercy in World War II’s Pacific Theater.

Suppressing those historical records, thanks to cowardice among Japan’s publishers, reinforced by a general lack of “obligation to the truth,” has enabled a clique of revisionists to deny responsibility for Japan’s past atrocities, alienating it from its neighbors in a globalizing world.

Even today, in light of Fukushima, Japan’s development into a modern and democratic society seems to have barely scratched the surface of this culture of deceit. Government omerta and omission kept the nation ignorant about the most basic facts — including reactor meltdowns — for months!

Let me illustrate the effects of socially accepted lying another way: What is considered the most untrustworthy of professions? Politics, of course. Because politicians are seen as personalities who, for their own survival, appeal to people by saying what they want to hear, regardless of their own true feelings.

That is precisely what tatemae does to Japanese society. It makes everyone into a politician, changing the truth to suit their audience, garner support or deflect criticism and responsibility.

Again, uso mo hoben: As long as you accomplish your goals, lying is a means to an end. The incentives in Japan are clear. Few will tell the truth if they will be punished for doing so, moreover rarely punished for not doing so.

No doubt a culturally relativistic observer would attempt to justify this destructive dynamic by citing red herrings and excuses (themselves tatemae) such as “conflict avoidance,” “maintaining group harmony,” “saving face,” or whatever. Regardless, the awful truth is: “We Japanese don’t lie. We just don’t tell the truth.”

This is not sustainable. Post-Fukushima Japan must realize that public acceptance of lying got us into this radioactive mess in the first place.

For radiation has no media cycle. It lingers and poisons the land and food chain. Statistics may be obfuscated or suppressed as usual. But radiation’s half-life is longer than the typical attention span or sustainable degree of public outrage.

As the public — possibly worldwide — sickens over time, the truth will leak out.

Debito Arudou’s novel “In Appropriate” is now on sale (www.debito.org/inappropriate.html) Just Be Cause appears on the first Community Page of the month. Twitter @arudoudebito. Send comments on this issue to community@japantimes.co.jp
The Japan Times: Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011

ENDS

— UPDATE: On a more personal note of thanks, I see that as of Midnight November 5, 2011, this column is in its fifth day after release still placing in the top ten “most read stories” on the Japan Times website (go to the story, look down the right-hand column at the Poll, and click on the upper tab that reads “Most read stories”). I think, other than my column last year on the JET Programme, this is the first time one of my columns has been read this much this long. I want to thank everyone for reading! Debito

77 comments on “My Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE column 45 Nov 1, 2011: “The costly fallout of tatemae and Japan’s culture of deceit”

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  • I still remember the sensation in my early days in Japan of being looked down the nose at in situations where i shared my true feelings on any topic even remotely controversial, so much so, that in time, i too started feeding Japanese people in my everyday life, even girlfriends, tatemae.

    At this point i started to feel a profound distance and growing lack of trust in these people.

    It cant be healthy growing up in this culture for a child psychologically, not trusting what one hears from anybody.

    But Debito points out the even more sinister side of it this divisive behavioral trait. There is a patronising divide between rulers in Nagatacho and the ruled out here in the real world. I’ve developed a sense from time over Japanese colleagues who’ve become comfortable enough with me over time to share their true feelings, that they have a profound mistrust of their leaders.

    But their mistrust doesnt run deep enough yet. When the lies can be deadly, as in japan this year, these politicians need to be called on it.

    We’ll get the usual nitpickers criticizing Debito for being too negative, for needing to pull his head in.

    I say, at least someone is speaking truth to power.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  • — Speaking of GOJ nondisclosure: Courtesy of reporter Joel Legendre-Koizumi, RTL France (used with permission), November 2, 2011:
    ====================================
    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=313323415348979&set=a.179594385388550.49429.100000139696684&type=1&theater

    BEGINS
    One more time the Japanese government obstructs the work of the foreign media in Japan: The “Japanese Cabinet Office will allow domestic and foreign media representatives to enter the compounds of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Nov. 12”. BUT! It is offering to the foreign press “FOUR” seats. Yes you read correctly 4 places to the world media out of only 36. Two TV, one stills and one pen. Laughable or deep censorship for a story of such international importance. Of course our media organizations which we represent with our credentials will ask asap for significantly more. It is not 36 seats but 200 that should be opened!

    But the surprise is also in the unbelievable conditions to cover the Fukushima nuclear plant: ” Due to protection measures against nuclear materials, shooting inside of the nuclear power station may be restricted during certain times. Moreover, please kindly note that TEPCO staff will check the video or images taken inside of the facility, and if it is decided that said material may create problems from the perspective of protection measures against nuclear materials, please be noted in advance that we will ask that the material in question be deleted on the spot. (Please bring handheld, data-based video cameras. Do not bring video cameras that use videotapes.)”
    End of quotes.

    Absolutely outrageous censorship and we can’t let the government censure the reporters, this is a world news and we foreign media representatives have expressed our complains to Mr. Noda’s administration! Is it Tepco who rules Japan or the Kantei? (office of the prime minister).
    ENDS

    Reply
  • “I want to regain the public’s trust” is not only boilerplate, it also may be the most cynical thing a Japanese politician could possibly say. This is because “trust” is precisely what the governed should not be giving elected officials and bureaucrats. Far better–and what ideally ought to compel public cooperation–are mechanisms that ensure accountability and an ethic of honesty and forthrightness. As regards politics and policy the problem is actually too much public trust, tacit approval and passivity and too little critical thought, coupled with a fatalistic bent and, of course, all of the other baggage of a “culture of deceit.”

    Reply
  • Congrats to be in the top ten of read JT articles.
    But what you wrote about Fukushima in this article is wrong.

    The following sentence is cleverly phrased. Congratulations, Debito. You cannot be held liable for spreading such rubbish:

    quote Debito:
    Many doubt government claims that radioactive rubble will not proliferate nationwide, fanning fears that the nuclear power industry is trying to make itself less culpable for concentrated radiation poisoning by irradiating everyone.
    End Quote

    Weasel word ‘many’ and no reliable source (no source at all!).
    I give you, and all interested, well-sourced data that this is complete rubbish:

    1. One Sv radiation exposure in one’s lifetime increases the cancer mortality by 5.5%. Extrapolated down to 100 mSv, one gets a barely recognizable blip in the statistics of 0.5% (Source: IAEA and EU expert of Catastrophe management). Nobody in Fukushima (except the emergency workers and the ‘Fukushima 50’, maybe) has received a dose of 100 mSv or more.

    2. In order to expose the Japanese population to such a high level of radiation (mind you, you said that ‘some’ are concealing ‘radiation poisoning’ (wrong word here! More on that later), one needs to spread several tens (hundreds?) Petabequerel of radiation homogeneously. How to do that? By air (incinerators?)? Within one week the cloud is in the US and will be duly noticed. Through water supply? Independent groups in Japan will notice it on the first day. The same is true for most other vehicles to get such high amounts of radiation into a human body. The only one I can think of that might be obscure enough is by contaminating mass influenza shots with radionuclides.

    3. Out of 600.000 people around Chernobyl that received the highest amount of radiation, there was an excess of 4.000 deaths by cancer. This is 0.67% of all irradiated people. This is barely a blip in the statistics. Out of the people irradiated by the two atom bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima, there was an increase of less than 2.000 cancer deaths, as far as I know. Another small blip.
    Fukushima has released less radioactivity than both historic events in a less populated area, so I doubt that there will be a statistically significant increase in cancer deaths. So, nothing needs to be concelealed.
    What those ‘some’ are saying goes into the category of Chemtrail conspiracy.

    4. wrong vocabulary: ‘radiation poisoning’ is reserved for the immediate health effects of high dose exposure, such as in the Tokai-mura incident (2 dead?), and in some cases for chronic extreme over exposure that leads to a reduced white blood cell count, thinned intestine walls (which then leads to excessive bleeding), and cataracts of the eye.

    your article ends with another weasel phrase
    “As the public — possibly worldwide — sickens over time, the truth will leak out.”

    The world will not ‘sicken’ because of Fukushima. Face it.
    Your article had its expiry date 7 months ago.
    In the initial confusion (maybe around march 15, or so), I would have thought that your bleak scenario might be possible, but now, in October, we have a much more detailed picture and know more or less what happened, what to do to clean up, and how to move on.
    I would even dare to say that cancer mortality in Japan can go DOWN because of Fukushima. Increased screening (if done by the gov.) will lead to more early diagnostics of all cancers (radiation induced or not) and better healing chances.

    — We’ll see. With better disclosure of information (and that’s a big assumption given past and present GOJ behavior), history will eventually prove one of us more correct than the other.

    Meanwhile, check this out, from the alternate media in Japan, about rising health concerns in the area, which cited specialists are saying are symptoms of radiation exposure. Dated July 14, 2011, courtesy YK. Listeners who need translation should click the “cc” button for English subtitles:

    Reply
  • First off, I have to say I absolutely agree with you.

    Second, I see you have finally reached a critical point; you are now insightfully seeing into some traditional fundamentals of this society, and you are not liking what you are seeing.

    And inevitably, the argument links back to Japan`s conduct in World War 2.

    My question is, why now stay? I reached the same conclusion as you, and it sickened me, so I left. I just didnt want to be a part of this anymore.

    I want to do the “right” thing, and I felt I could not do that in Tokyo/Japan. I did not want to “live a lie”.

    We are no longer talking about a few annoyances. We are no longer talking about discrimination.

    We are now talking about a society that is fundamentally unchanged since the war in certain aspects (surface westernization aside, which some people here adapt or buy into as part of their personal identity and thought process more than others, whereas conservatives logically keeping more to the traditions we are criticizing in this argument).

    I know you are a Japanese national, but even so, why stay in such an arguably fundamentally “wrong” society?

    ps. I am not suggesting you leave, far from it, I am merely asking why you would bear to stay.

    Reply
  • Olaf`s “book review” may focus on wikipedian style guidelines (e.g. weasel words) rather than newspaper article essay style, but it really does not matter.

    The culture of lying led to the construction of and continued reliance on the greatest concentration of nuclear reactors in seismically active areas on the planet.

    “Daijobu daijobu”.

    And who are you to suggest otherwise? (sarcasm mine, arrogance Tepco`s).

    Reply
  • Not to put to fine a point on it, but perhaps you should throw your critics a curveball and write something really positive about Japan in your column for next month.

    — Hm, lemme think about it.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Olaf,
    Is there a picture of you under ‘gullible’ in the dictionary? I have no idea why you should repeat TEPCO’s figures as some kind of proof that Debito is wrong. Tepco has a terrible record of telling the truth. Didn’t you notice in the news yesterday that fission is still occurring in those ‘ever-so-safe’ reactors that Tepco has ‘well under control’?
    In the absence of reliable and independently verifiable facts, erring on the side of caution would be sensible. Just because you choose not to do so, does not give you carte-blanche to speak as a radiation safety authority. Everyone (even Debito and ‘fly-jin’) have the right to make and share their own personal opinion on this issue, and act accordingly. It’s called ‘free-will’ (if you believe in God), better known as the ‘right to self determination’ (if you don’t). Why would you want to deny anyone that? There is no prize for ‘playing the house-broken NJ’, as it were.

    — No, I think Olaf is seriously arguing as a scientist.

    Reply
  • Honne & Tatemae is such an interesting topic. In this years I found myself so many times in kafkaesque situations: me entering in an elevator with two Japanese “gentlmen”/oyaji and being said “ah kusai naaa” and then when I asked “why did you say that?” the reply “I didn’t say that”.

    It is simply mind blowing.

    The lie in Japan is just moral, good practice. There is no religion and ethical principles stating “do not lie”. we are coming from different cultures.

    Fukushima consequences:
    few remarks to Olaf comments

    -Chernobyl peak of effects on human health has still to come. We cannot tell the actual numbers. all the babies born from 1986 they are going to have babies themseleves in the next years. Radiation is a natural long term force, very difficult to be measured by us in a lifetime period.
    I would be cautious to say 0.67% and so forth.

    – food contaminantion in Japan: milk. it is good practice from major companies in Japan (Hokkaido Debito) to collect milk from all over Japan and mix it up. OK we are not drinking petabequerels for sure but we might have drink some small dose. The freaking aspect is there no control by the government. Data from IAEA are there but again nuclear energy is 60 years old and are we sure we can jump into conclusion to say 100mSv is OK or not OK? I don’t want to drink any celsium or plutonium. period.

    To end my comment, in case of a nuclear plant accident I think you cannot expect any government to go with the crystal clear truth to the public. in Japan they are tatemae professionals so they can perform much better than other governments.

    Reply
  • @Flyjin,

    I too left.. for China. I spend a part of the year there and loving it. Frankly the country is a mess, at times pure mayhem. Why would I leave Japan for a mess like China? because what you see is what you get, The Chinese tell you what they feel. they’ll tell you their country is shit. There is a reason the Chinese Government has to use a iron fist to keep the people down, because they’ll raise hell if they didn’t. I was so tired of the conformity and pliancy of the Japanese not to mention Tatemae, Japanese are so civilized to a fault, and it’s only sweeping the issues that this country has further under the carpet. It’s no longer working for them and holding them back. The one good thing this disaster has done for this country is that they started to question the state and it’s working, more power to them, Raise Hell!

    Reply
  • “Lying is also a means to an end” A well written piece, Debito and one that resonates with me at the moment due to the experiences I have had, and those of a good friend of mine.
    My friend is from the USA, he has been in Japan for about a decade, is married with kids, and until recently was considering remaining here indefinitely. He had developed a software package specifically for use in stock-market and financial transactions. He tried explaining it to me and I barely understood much more than the vaguest outline.
    for the past five months, he had been having regular meetings with a potential client, a medium-sized Japanese company that expressed great interest in his product. He took along an interpreter, for although he speaks pretty good Japanese, he wanted to sell his product without worrying about being able to handle all the nuances of language that might have tripped him up. At each meeting, the negotiators requested that he incorporate yet another feature, or have some part translated into Japanese, all reasonable requests, but all cost him in total several hundred thousand yen to put into place. He had to make use of a computer programmer for some of these changes.
    Finally, after yet another indecisive meeting, he demanded they give him a firm yes or no. Incredibly, the people told him they couldn’t say until next spring when the new budgets would be out. They said perhaps they would be interested, he should come back then. His point was, why did they keep stringing him along month after month when it was patently obvious they were not in a position to commit for months, if ever? Even his business associate who acted as the interpreter was aghast. He said “Never do business with the Japanese” and he is one of them! My friend is very disillusioned and now is seriously considering returning to the States.
    My story is similar. In January, at a New Year’s Party (Shinnnenkai) one of the companies I work for part-time intimated they were looking for someone to expand their business in the UK. Since I already told them I am planning to move back there as soon as possible, I told them I would be interested in working for them. The same process ensued as with my friend, I tried to pin them down on a meeting, or what it was they had in mind, they made all sorts of excuses ranging from the March 11th earthquake, to having lost two staff members, and so forth. Finally, I managed to get a meeting with them last Monday. I showed up hoping to finally hear about this “Job” they had been talking about so indirectly. It turned out to be nothing more than a couple of times a year organising a few homestay families for their students during spring and summer months. Not even close to what they hinted at repeatedly. I was able to hide my disgust, just berely. It only reinforces my belief that the Japanese are inherently incapable of being direct and upfront on so many levels. It saddens me in some ways, because there are still things I like about this country, but in the same breath, I can’t wait to leave it.

    Reply
  • @ Hank. You say China is a mess. What about Japan? Thats a real mess in my opinion on so many levels. Most of the reconstruction seems to be about making that hardly used road destroyed by the earthquake squeaky clean again- appearances, after all, are at stake!!

    So, tatemae is the carpet that serious structural weaknesses, or just a complete void of necessary laws or systems, are swept under.

    @ Blackrat. I am sorry to hear how naive you were. After many years of bitter disappointment, I have learnt to rarely take most Japanese business people at their word. They are representing their company and they cannot easily admit that their company does not have the funds or resources.

    All this made me cynical and a drunken liar as well, and so I left Japan as I wanted to reconnect with my Christian faith and not live a double life.

    It was getting quite schizophrenic. Also a couple of beers a day helped take the “edge” off “cultural differences”- I would get tipsy and think “its not so bad here after all, the people have their reasons for acting that way, blah blah” but that alcohol reliance was spiraling out of control.

    Again I would recommend Tanya Powers “Working in Japan” book (1990) for a couple of memorable quotes to keep in mind:

    “Beware of the vague promises the Japanese make, they say what they think you want to hear. Just remember, those promises are mighty big!”

    And

    “After you have been to an interview in Japan, it is best that you just forget about them!”

    — Stop. The criticisms here are getting out of hand. Let’s get more sophisticated, please.

    Regarding “appearances”, a better example is not some anecdote that could be dismissed as mere bad luck, but what the NYT has to say about one case of counterproductive-yet-revived porkbarrel up in Kamaishi:
    =====================

    Japan Revives a Sea Barrier That Failed to Hold
    By NORIMITSU ONISHI
    The New York Times, Published: November 2, 2011

    KAMAISHI, Japan — After three decades and nearly $1.6 billion, work on Kamaishi’s great tsunami breakwater was completed three years ago. A mile long, 207 feet deep and jutting nearly 20 feet above the water, the quake-resistant structure made it into the Guinness World Records last year and rekindled fading hopes of revival in this rusting former steel town.

    But when a giant tsunami hit Japan’s northeast on March 11, the breakwater largely crumpled under the first 30-foot-high wave, leaving Kamaishi defenseless. Waves deflected from the breakwater are also strongly suspected of having contributed to the 60-foot waves that engulfed communities north of it.

    Its performance that day, coupled with its past failure to spur the growth of new businesses, suggested that the breakwater would be written off as yet another of the white elephant construction projects littering rural Japan. But Tokyo quickly and quietly decided to rebuild it as part of the reconstruction of the tsunami-ravaged zone, at a cost of at least $650 million.

    After the tsunami and the nuclear meltdowns at Fukushima, some Japanese leaders vowed that the disasters would give birth to a new Japan, the way the end of World War II had done. A creative reconstruction of the northeast, where Japan would showcase its leadership in dealing with a rapidly aging and shrinking society, was supposed to lead the way.

    But as details of the government’s reconstruction spending emerge, signs are growing that Japan has yet to move beyond a postwar model that enriched the country but ultimately left it stagnant for the past two decades. As the story of Kamaishi’s breakwater suggests, the kind of cozy ties between government and industry that contributed to the Fukushima nuclear disaster are driving much of the reconstruction and the fight for a share of the $120 billion budget expected to be approved in a few weeks.

    The insistence on rebuilding breakwaters and sea walls reflects a recovery plan out of step with the times, critics say, a waste of money that aims to protect an area of rapidly declining population with technology that is a proven failure.

    Defenders say that if Kamaishi’s breakwater is not fixed, people and businesses will move away even faster for fear of another tsunami.

    “There may be an argument against building a breakwater in a place with little potential to grow, but we’re not building a new one — we’re basically repairing it,” said Akihiro Murakami, 57, the top official in Kamaishi for the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, which oversees the nation’s breakwaters. “At this point, it’s the most efficient and cost-effective choice.”…

    Rest at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/03/world/asia/japan-revives-a-sea-barrier-that-failed-to-hold.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all?src=tp

    Reply
  • This new investigative report of serious criminality at a Japanese government owned entity seemed apropos of your article.

    http://www.reportingproject.net/troubles_with_big_tobacco/

    BIG TROUBLE AT BIG TOBACCO
    Tales of Smugglers, Mobsters, and Hackers
    By OCCRP, undated, but documents cited from 2009
    Reported and written by John Holland, Bojana Jovanović and Stevan Dojčinović for OCCRP

    Reports piled up from Japan Tobacco International (JTI) investigators around the globe. Mobsters were doing business with the firm’s Russian distributorship while shipping tons of illegal cigarettes into Europe. Workers felt endangered. Accused smugglers and criminals ran some of its Middle East partnerships.

    And when investigators received information that 13 JTI employees or distributors may have been working directly with smugglers, a senior executive at JTI blocked an investigation, according to company e-mails and internal memos.

    JTI had some problems.

    The company’s investigative team – experienced hands culled from the CIA, British police, U.S. Special Forces and elsewhere –chronicled and fought those problems for years. They went undercover, shut down smuggling routes and worked with European police to intercept shipments worth millions of Euro. The deeper they dug, the more evidence they say they uncovered against JTI’s employees and its distributors.

    And that, according to thousands of pages of company records, e-mails and secret recordings obtained by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), along with interviews of a half-dozen past employees, created another problem for the world’s third largest tobacco company.

    The investigators had become too successful, they say.

    JTI’s own investigators say JTI and its parent Japan Tobacco did almost nothing when faced with reports their distributors smuggled tobacco through Russia, Moldova, the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Middle East. The apparently rampant smuggling occurred despite a 2007 agreement with the European Union mandating that JTI proactively investigate all claims of smuggling. The agreement prompted a public pledge by the company to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on illicit shipments. Those investigators say they were fired by management for doing their job…

    Rest at http://www.reportingproject.net/troubles_with_big_tobacco/

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Debito
    NYT is spot on! Thank you for posting.
    This one sentence sums up so many of Japan’s problems;

    ‘Japan has yet to move beyond a postwar model that enriched the country but ultimately left it stagnant for the past two decades.’

    The Jgov spend far too much time trying to get back to ‘the good old days’ of the bubble, and not enough time thinking about a real future.

    — And related to Bubble Logic, check out this article from The Independent UK. Feels like a hoax, but it’s published in a reputable paper:

    =========================
    Japan to build new city as back-up to quake risk Tokyo
    New metropolis south of the capital will house 50,000 people and boast world’s tallest structure
    The Independent, ENJOLI LISTON FRIDAY 04 NOVEMBER 2011, courtesy of MW
    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/japan-to-build-new-city-as-backup-to-quake-risk-tokyo-6256912.html#

    Developers in Japan have unveiled plans to build a “back-up” capital city in case Tokyo is hit by a devastating natural disaster.

    The proposed metropolis, mooted eight months after a powerful earthquake and tsunami ravaged Japan’s north-east coast in March, would provide a stand-by base for the Japanese parliament in the event that a debilitating emergency hit the capital.

    But it would not be a solely functional development. In addition to government buildings and sprawling office complexes, it would boast hotel resorts, urban parkland, casinos and a 652-metre-high skyscraper, which would become the tallest building in the world.

    The city, which has been given the functional name IRTBBC (Integrated Resort, Tourism, Business and Backup City), would span approximately five square kilometres and would potentially replace Japan’s Itami International Airport located near Osaka, around 300 miles west of Tokyo.

    “The idea is being able to have a back-up, a spare battery for the functions of the nation,” said Hajime Ishii, a member of Japan’s governing Democratic Party, who helped unveil the project.

    The plans offer the latest reaction to the devastation caused by the powerful earthquake and tsunami which struck Japan earlier this year, killing nearly 16,000 people and displacing more than 400,000. Almost 4,000 people are still missing, according to figures published this week by Japan’s National Police Agency. Tokyo escaped the disaster relatively unscathed, as most of the city’s buildings were constructed to withstand tremors, unlike more traditional buildings in rural areas.

    However, scientists at the Tokyo Earthquake Research Institute have since warned that the capital faces a 70 per cent likelihood of being affected by another powerful earthquake within the next 30 years.

    The proposed city remains in the planning stages, though the developers behind it already claim to have the support of more than 100 politicians, including former Prime Minister Naoto Kan and Shizuka Kamei, a leading member of Japan’s opposition People’s New Party. Planners have asked the government for 14 million yen (£115,000) to research the feasibility of the proposed developments. It is thought the full cost of building the city would mostly be met by private investors.

    Far from being a ghost city during less turbulent times, the developers behind the plans have proposed that the city would have a resident population of around 50,000 people. They also expect the state-of-the-art offices to attract around 200,000 workers from nearby Osaka.

    ENDS

    Reply
  • I do not know whether Japan has a law like the Netherlands law on transparency:

    http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/onderwerpen/goed-openbaar-bestuur/vraag-en-antwoord/wat-is-de-wet-openbaarheid-van-bestuur-wob.html

    that provides the public with the right to gain access to many governmental records.

    That too is a step that promotes openness, and has been used by the media in the Netherlands to investigate official misconduct.

    — Yes, there is the Freedom of Information Act (jouhou koukai hou), not passed until ten years ago. But as I wrote above, there are loopholes within it that make it essentially meaningless unless you know the EXACT NAME of the document you’re looking for. I have tried to avail myself of information through this, mostly unsuccessfully. See my results here.

    Reply
  • — UPDATE: On a more personal note of thanks, I see that as of Midnight November 5, 2011, this column is in its fifth day after release still placing in the top ten “most read stories” on the Japan Times website (go to the story, look down the right-hand column at the Poll, and click on the upper tab that reads “Most read stories”). I think, other than my column last year on the JET Programme, this is the first time one of my columns has been read this much this long. I want to thank everyone for reading! Debito

    Reply
  • I have no idea if it’ll turn up or not, but I did send a letter to the Japan Times that was critical of this piece. I’m not necessarily looking for a discussion on this, but felt obligated to give you the heads up in case the letter I sent does turn up.

    I focused on the following specific criticisms:

    1. You can’t just criticize society without some idea of who belongs to that society and who doesn’t. The same basically goes for culture. For example when you say something like “consider how lies are deployed,” who is being implicated? Are you implicating yourself? Why not, because the analysis is for “Japanese only.” You don’t address this — but you leave the question hanging.

    2. By trying to describe Japanese culture as a whole you identify yourself with those who feel culture in Japan can in fact be described as a whole. Isn’t this the big mega-myth that allows for discrimination in Japan in the first place — that whatever else, Japanese are a whole that can be discussed as a whole. In _An Introduction to Japanese Society_ Yoshio Sugimoto shows how impoverished this viewpoint is. He discusses the pernicious effect he thinks this myth has by causing people to not see the actual diversity that is present.

    3. The methodology you use is identical to that of nihonjinron. This has been painstakingly documented by Yoshio Sugmimoto and Ross Mouer. The place where they do this best is in _Images of Japanese Society_ where they list as the top three things that nihonjinron writers engage in as being, 1. using Japanese terms and explaining them, 2. using selected handpicked examples, 3. using kotowaza. You do all three of these. It’s like a text book case of nihonjinron.

    4. Historically — and again this is documented in John W. Dower’s _War without Mercy_ the idea of Japanese being deceitful (via culture) is nothing new at all. It’s often been used as justification for western dominance over Japan. In general, the idea that African-Americans are deceitful has been another really popular meme. My *guess* is that it is a typical claim made when one wants to *other* someone else. This is because assessments of honesty are very situational and subjective, and so claims are very easy to substantiate. After all, we all lie sometimes and in some situations. However, when the claim is put under closer scrutiny it never really holds up. African-Americans aren’t dubious liars nor are Japanese. I mean, why not state that Japanese are unusually honest:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/08/world/never-lost-but-found-daily-japanese-honesty.html

    http://abcnews.go.com/International/honest-japanese-return-78-million-cash-found-quake/story?id=14322940

    I’m not making that argument, I’m merely showing that it can easily be made. I could cite some clever Japanese kotowaza, discuss some typical Japanese terms, and then cite these examples.

    You see the problem?

    My guess is the pressure all of us feel from the Fukushima meltdown has increasingly made people want to reach out at easy answers. But saying Japanese are liars isn’t one of them.

    I would encourage to read Yoshio Sugimoto’s _An Introduction to Japanese Society and to pay close attention to the last chapter where he discusses what he calls, “friendly authoritarianism.”

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Matt D

    ‘I’m not necessarily looking for a discussion on this’

    That’s a shame, given the long list of accusations in your comment. It appears that you have completed ‘Japanese Studies 101’.

    Well, just for starters, let’s accept your insinuation that Debito’s argument for the case that Japanese people are inherently handicapped in the ‘telling the truth dept.’ is nihonjinron giron, so what of it? Are you agreeing that nihonjinron giron is bad science, and racist?
    Furthermore, why shouldn’t Debito use the tools of discrimination (nihonjinron giron) against those who discriminate against us in order to show how illogical it is? It’s the chrysanthemum and the double edged sword.

    Reply
  • Too many critics of Debito seem to think his criticism of the J Government is a criticism of the whole Volk of Japan and the Japanese, as if the J Govt is somehow a wonderful representation of the People`s Will.

    They are wrong.

    I have also written in a response previously that quite a lot of Japanese have “bought into” or identify with the surface “westernization” for want of a better term, or should I say “Democratization” “Individualism”, or ” I dont want to sacrifice my life to the company only-ism” and live their lives accordingly. It is only since 2000 and the Koizumi/Ishihara axis that there has been a massive but subliminal campaign to roll back these advances in favor of “Japanese” (it means reactionary, nationalist) values.

    Crusty j-conservatives, on the other hand, pay tatemae lip service to the progressive laws passed since 1945 but keep on living in a “traditional” ie. reactionary or hierarchical lifestyle, based on the culture of broken promises that is “tatemae”.

    This is evident on the macro and micro levels, thus the GOJ says the right tatemae things the Americans want to hear but doesnt bother implementing the human rights treaties at home.

    Or in the corporate world, older bosses think they can act with impunity outside labor law. Thus we have someone trying to quit at a months notice but not being “allowed” to for 6-9 months, or we have the 75 year old J- boss at my company saying it isnt a Japanese custom for his employees to be present at the birth of their child, but the 30 something J-secretaries saying “bull, thats just his custom.”

    Reply
  • Excellent post, Matt D. And although I agree with you 100%, I must add that this fallacy (of homogenizing an entire culture to make a statement) is an easy sidetrack to take. Especially for us Non-Japanese who have been homogenized as “the others.” We learn by example, don’t we?

    Yoshio Sugimoto does make an interesting case in that last chapter when detailing what he terms, “Manipulative Ambiguity” in modern Japan. He shows how this ambiguity displays an ‘honest Japan’ in many shades of grey in the arenas of law, community, business and education.

    But, as you say, we all lie sometimes in some situations. Each one of us can look to our home countries for examples. Yet, this is tatemae we are talking about. From a western perspective, the idea of raising social harmony above truth in terms of virtue is abhorrent, don’t you think?

    But in the end, this is a study of Japan. And what better way then to use traditional nihonjinron.

    Good Job, Debito.

    P.S. – I also agree with El-Guapo — a positive review would work wonders for adding weight to the much-needed social activism.

    — Regarding the last point: Look, Debito.org deals with problems in Japanese society. It tends towards the negative because problems are by nature negative. I don’t believe in blunting the drive or the points made by adding sweeteners as sops, just because some fragile souls don’t like negativity or criticism. That’s how this venue has worked since 1997. Get used to it, I guess.

    Reply
  • @Jim Di Griz:

    I said I’m not necessarily looking for a discussion. This means it’s not a requirement that discussion has to follow, but an option.

    You state I’ve made accusations, but I think I’m responding to specific arguments made with specific criticisms.

    You then say I’m insinuating something … as in there was something I wanted to say, but didn’t say. No, I said what I wanted to say, fairly clearly, but I’ll clarify further because you are asking.

    Yes, nihonjinron is bad science. It’s a bad methodology. Why? It delivers its arguments in a way that is unconducive to potential criticism. Again, who gets to count as Japanese, and who doesn’t? (Or who gets to count as part of Japanese society and who doesn’t?)

    Nihonjinron *depends* on the notion that there is an entity called a nihonjin in terms other than just legal citizenry. This argument can be made in cultural terms … a nihonjin can be a nihonjin by virtue of culture, not race.

    Also, in this case, what gets to count as a counterexample to the general claim? That is, what gets to count as an instance of honesty?

    I think Debito is specifically trying to address what he sees as a cultural phenomena. But the problem with making arguments as they are made in the editorial is it will lead to people saying things like:

    >> Japanese people are inherently handicapped in the ‘telling the truth dept.’

    First, Debito didn’t quite say anything like that, did he?

    Second, what do you mean when you say Japanese people?

    As far as your fight evil with evil argument, I guess to each his own. But your eagerness to take up your sword agains this evil *other* (i.e. “the Japanese people”) is a mistake, I think.

    For starters you haven’t even defined specifically who this *other* is. How shall I know the face of evil when I see it?

    @Curious:

    What tatemae is or isn’t seems to be open to interpretation — much like the notion of God is. So in order to discuss whether we agree with it or not, we first have to explain what we think is intended by it.

    Again this presents a methodological problem, because if your argument depends mostly on what you mean, then when criticism is applied, all we need do is shift our meaning a little so as to avoid it. Nihonjinron is rife with claims that depend mostly if not entirely on what is meant by certain terms. It’s rare arguments are put up in such a way that they can be critically examined — or even empirically tested.

    Racist writings are rife with this type of methodology as well. In general, as race is an idea without content, they *depend* on this type of methodology.

    >>the idea of raising social harmony above truth in terms of virtue is abhorrent

    That is too huge an issue to get into. What Sugimoto does is posit certain institutions as existing. He discusses these institutions in a universal manner — as in terms what consequences the practice of these institutions can produce. Because he discusses these institutions as universals, he can criticize the institutions without any criticism falling on any specific person or any society or any culture. Nothing is insinuated. You argue, if you do things this way, this will result.

    He notes that he feels these institutions are very prevalent in Japan, which is why they are relevant. In this sense, his claims are very open to examination, and therefore criticism — do the institutions he discusses really lead to the consequences he posits? Do the institutions really exist in Japan? This is an excellent approach, I think. But it takes a lot of work.

    It’s worth it though, I think, because our claims are much more significant in the end, and we avoid falling into the pitfall of creating arguments that can be used to buttress the very claims we deplore.

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @ 20 Matt D

    Contrary to what you say, the fact that you send a letter to the JT and share your thoughts right here in this forum shows that you are assumed to seek discussion—knowingly or unknowingly. This means that you are subject to critical responses from a range of audience here, and that makes you feel obligated to defend your position. Anyway, here’s my response to your comments. Note: You don’t necessarily have to respond if you don’t feel comfortable doing so. It’s up to you.

    > 1. You can’t just criticize society without some idea of who belongs to that society and who doesn’t. The same basically goes for culture. For example when you say something like “consider how lies are deployed,” who is being implicated? Are you implicating yourself? Why not, because the analysis is for “Japanese only.” You don’t address this — but you leave the question hanging.

    The issue covered in the article goes beyond “the idea of who belongs to” and “who’s not.” It’s not a repetition of “Japanese only” argument. It doesn’t matter the speaker is Japanese or non-Japanese because the problem has been affecting millions of Japanese—both native and naturalized citizens—, as well as permanent residents.

    > 2. By trying to describe Japanese culture as a whole you identify yourself with those who feel culture in Japan can in fact be described as a whole. Isn’t this the big mega-myth that allows for discrimination in Japan in the first place — that whatever else, Japanese are a whole that can be discussed as a whole.

    I don’t know what you mean by describing culture as a “whole” in this context. Sounds like you’re assuming that it’s not a right way to frame “culture,” but who knows? What does framing culture as a part of national identity look like? You seem to make a synecdoche argument—but it’s not very clear to me what it would be a “part,” which is an alternative to a “whole.”

    > 3.The methodology you use is identical to that of nihonjinron. This has been painstakingly documented by Yoshio Sugmimoto and Ross Mouer. The place where they do this best is in _Images of Japanese Society_ where they list as the top three things that nihonjinron writers engage in as being, 1. using Japanese terms and explaining them, 2. using selected handpicked examples, 3. using kotowaza. You do all three of these. It’s like a text book case of nihonjinron.

    I’m not an expert in “nihonjinron,” but Debito’s argumentation is not its representative at all. In my understanding, “nihonjinron” is considered as pseudo-theory invented by a particular group of people who live in a very secular, provincial community. It’s theoretically flawed due to its failure to expand, refine, or even de-construct the ontological assumptions for the productive development of Japan study. Term definition, providing examples, and axioms are still within the realm of traditional western rhetoric–i.e., Aristotle, Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca, Weaver, Burke, etc. However, “Nihonjinron” veers off from any of those in terms of argument structure, style, and audience. One of the examples is the deployment of double motives—one (false) is explicit, the other (true) is hidden.

    >4. … After all, we all lie sometimes and in some situations. However, when the claim is put under closer scrutiny it never really holds up. African-Americans aren’t dubious liars nor are Japanese. I mean, why not state that Japanese are unusually honest:

    OK. You are overgeneralizing the argument. Debito’s article primarily focuses on the problematics of myth– i.e., farce v. honesty. His main criticism is on the systematic practice of such institutional discourse that obscures Japanese democracy in a way to harm citizens and communities, especially after March 11. Just because the state authority and political machine are deploying the systematic demagoguery does not mean that Japanese people are born dishonest. That’s totally ungrounded. Contrary to what you say, many Japanese people are distrusting the government, media, and corporations today.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Matt D
    Well, I’m not going to fight with a Tepido.org troll, not until you have expanded your reading beyond Sugimoto, and (presumably) Dower.

    Reply
  • Debito Arudou again brings up a brilliant point, and gives me a new favourite word – obfuscation. I would like to congratulate him for it.

    I don’t know how destructive tatemae culture is to Japan itself – they seem to be doing fine – but its a serious barrier to understanding and fitting into Japanese culture. After years of living here, thinking Japanese people were unbelievably accomodating, friendly and unthreatening, I only recently realized how stupid I have been thinking everyone is my friend. “Everyone loves me,” you think. Such an ego boost. Of course the reality is that just like anywhere else, some people are and some aren’t your friends. The difference is that Japanese are more likely to whip out the tatemae and pretend to keep social harmony. Growing up in a family and society where deception is frowned upon, and makes you few friends, and coming to a place where tatemae is considered a point of refinement and intelligence is a difficult transition, particularly because it is a form of deception by western standards. Of course its nothing like it by Japanese standards where different – not defficient – morals and norms rule.

    I see fresh foreigners all the time honestly delivering their feelings only to be played by their Japanese “friends” who are really being facetious, putting on a good face, perhaps looking for English conversation. I don’t put up with it. Still, I wonder and admire how Arudou puts himself on the line for the seemingly unreachable cause of changing Japanese ways.

    — If you liked the word obfuscation, here’s another one I should have woven into the article: obscurantism.

    Reply
  • In court, there is no law against an individual that commits perjury. If you lie, so what…it appears “laws” are created in an attempt to catch people out rather than the obvious, being an offence to commit perjury. It is expected that a witness or defendant will lie under questioning. The skill of the lawyer in Japan is to trap an obvious lie, yet without saying it is so! (My lawyers did a bloody good job…!).

    Not having any law against perjury in court just perpetuates the lying culture, or rather, not telling the truth!! If you can get away with lying in court…what hope is there for the rest of society?

    Reply
  • Just looking briefly at Wikipedia, it seems that Japanese criminal law includes perjury (article 169 crime of perjury; additionally article 171) with punishment of up to 10 years of imprisonment. So why do you keep saying that Japan has no law against perjury??? Do you mean that it is not being used??? If so, please quote some references.

    According to Wiki, there are countries where lying in court under oath does not constitute crime of perjury (e.g. France, Italy, Germany), so it seems that “tatemae” is often sanctioned even in our own “Western” culture…

    — I argued in my essay, “Japan’s perjury laws are weak and unenforceable”. That I know both from personal experience and from other people’s experiences in Japanese court.

    Reply
  • @Jim Di Griz:

    The tepido.org position seems to be that “Japanese society is good” in some sense. I guess. I don’t spend any time over there so wouldn’t really know. Debito’s claim in his article, as I read it, is that “Japanese society is deceitful” in some sense. It is a “culture of deceit.”

    What I’ve stated is that it is the belief that “Japanese society” is there as a special whole to which we can affix such labels and talk about, as Debito talks about it, that provides the basis for discrimination. It suggest some are members and some aren’t — but doesn’t say who.

    So to the extent that Debito makes such claims, not only are they reminiscent of basically racist claims made historically, he undermines his own efforts at ending discrimination.

    Why you should see this as being related to tepido.org in some sense or call me a troll in some sense is your own business, I suppose.

    Perhaps you see this as an “either you are with me or against me” issue. Whatever.

    @Loverilakkuma:

    >>The issue covered in the article goes beyond “the idea of who belongs to” and “who’s not.” It’s not a repetition of “Japanese only” argument.

    It seems like a serious thing to say about someone, to say they are a being deceptive. So when we say this about a group of people, it seems we should have a very, very clear idea of who does and who does not belong to that group. I don’t think the article provides that.

    >>Sounds like you’re assuming that it’s not a right way to frame “culture,” but who knows? What does framing culture as a part of national identity look like?

    The point is this, if the observation is in error, that error will be hard to detect. Not only that but large numbers of people are being implicated in an act no one finds morally praiseworthy.

    >>Term definition, providing examples, and axioms are still within the realm of traditional western rhetoric

    Where does Debito provide axioms? In any event, what counts as an instance of lying here, and what doesn’t? What counts as a counterexample to the claim? If the only thing that counts as a test is a substantiation of the claim, then obviously it can’t be wrong. But if you think science achieves progress this way, you are simply in error.

    >>His main criticism is on the systematic practice of such institutional discourse that obscures Japanese democracy …

    It may be that there are institutions in Japan that do not foster democracy. We need a means of identifying those institutions, and then we need to criticize them directly, not state something like “Japan’s culture of deceit” or “the general attitude in Japan of tolerance of — even justification for — not telling the truth.”

    Note, Debito’s discussion about tatemae is at minimum open to discussion. I don’t care much for the concept because it very vague and ambiguous. My impression with interactions with Japanese over the years is that usually they are very honest. But I consider this to be subjective — so the question is, if we want to make an issue of honesty, we need to determine a means of what counts and doesn’t count as honesty.

    Again the link I provided earlier:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/08/world/never-lost-but-found-daily-japanese-honesty.html

    — For the record, the article’s title with “culture of deceit” is my editor’s title, not mine (I get to title very few articles anywhere I get published). My nominal title was “THE FALLOUT FROM SOCIALLY-ACCEPTED LYING”, which sounds a lot less generalizing, and affords me less accusations (one would hope) of overgeneralizing.

    As for the question, “Where does Debito provide axioms?”, try just after the fourth word in this essay.

    Reply
  • >>As for the question, “Where does Debito provide axioms?”, try just after the fourth word in this essay.

    Right. I do too much arguing over logic, and I forget that axiom is a synonym for proverb … and that you actually referred to uso mo houben as an axiom. When I read Loverilakkuma comment I was thinking along the lines of a geometry postulate. Duh. Sorry.

    There’s a lot of potential ambiguity in the phrasing in the editorial, and the use of passive tense as well, and when you start with the a title like “the culture of deceit” it certainly leads in one in one direction rather than the other. I’m still not clear on who counts.

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Matt D

    > It seems like a serious thing to say about someone, to say they are a being deceptive. So when we say this about a group of people, it seems we should have a very, very clear idea of who does and who does not belong to that group.

    That’s how personal bias kicks in. Detractors can’t tolerate the ideas they don’t like because that totally goes against their grains. It means killing your identity at one swoop. “Haters got to hate,” period.

    >The point is this, if the observation is in error, that error will be hard to detect. Not only that but large numbers of people are being implicated in an act no one finds morally praiseworthy.

    Then, show me how to prove one’s observation is in error. What makes one’s argument credible and irrefutable And what’s not? I don’t think there is only a single answer to this question. Moreover, argument based on scientific observation is just one of the ways—not necessarily a silver bullet.

    >Where does Debito provide axioms?

    Look at the first sentence of the paragraph, for example.

    >We need a means of identifying those institutions, and then we need to criticize them directly, not state something like “Japan’s culture of deceit” or “the general attitude in Japan of tolerance of — even justification for — not telling the truth.”

    What else do we need to debunk the cartels of mind? The Japanese public is already witnessing the series of institutional screw-job by government agents—i.e., Ministry of Health, Labor, and Wealth; Ministry of Education, METI, NISA, and private corporations—i.e., TEPCO and Olympus. News media– from both domestic and foreign—drop these names because of their acts that are under suspicion—possible violation of ethical standards or falsifying the report, a cover-up, or a gross misconduct. TEPCO, METI, NISA, and Kyushu Electric Company are representatives of these. Moreover, the article provides the list of examples—i.e., civil court case, Environment Ministry’s strong-arming, gross misrepresentation of national history.

    >My impression with interactions with Japanese over the years is that usually they are very honest.

    Again, the question being asked is not about what Japanese people think and behave in general. The state officials’ perspective does not necessarily reflect on the characteristic behavior of Japanese citizens in general. The problem is that you equalize the question of Japanese political system as question of Japanese people’s behavior. It’s completely a separate issue.

    The link you provide is about the civic virtue of Japanese citizen—not about the characters of political system or institutions. Besides, the author Norimatsu Onishi is famous for his outspoken critic of Japan’s politics.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @Matt D (who is still not looking for a discussion?)

    ‘if we want to make an issue of honesty, we need to determine a means of what counts and doesn’t count as honesty.’

    Good point! Let’s start with ‘there are no meltdowns at Fukushima Daiichi’ (announced at the time of a meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi).

    Reply
  • And on it goes.

    Here, yet another example of, don’t question me I am the boss. Looks like the institutionalised lying that is so endemic in Corportate japan shall see another failure:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-15632320

    “This is very serious. Olympus admitted it has made false entries to cover its losses for 20 years. All people involved in this over 20 years would be responsible,” said Ryosuke Okazaki of ITC Investment Partners…”

    Let’s turn another blind eye to the lying…oh wait, can’t this time, darn it!!. The lying is hitting “them” where it hurts…in their pockets.

    The rosey glow of all things fine and dandy in polite, calm, disciplined and kind Japan to the world is finally being exposed for what it i: Corp. Japan can no longer keep presenting a positive image abroad as it wishes.

    ============================

    8 November 2011 BBC News
    Olympus shares fall after it admits hiding losses

    Shares in Olympus fell as much as 30% on Tuesday after the company admitted to hiding losses on securities investments for decades.

    The company said it had used funds related to past acquisitions to cover these losses.

    This is the biggest disclosure Olympus has made since former chief executive, Michael Woodford, claimed that he was fired for raising questions about them.

    Executive vice president, Hisashi Mori, has been dismissed as a result.

    Olympus president, Shuichi Takayama, is blaming former president Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, former vice president Hisashi Mori and the company’s auditor Hideo Yamada for the transactions.

    “I was absolutely unaware of the facts I am now explaining to you,” Mr Takayama said. “The previous presentations were mistaken.”

    He added that the company would consider criminal charges if necessary.

    Untenable position?

    The controversy surrounds the payments made by Olympus to financial advisors as part of its acquisition of companies including British firm Gyrus.

    The payments came to light when Mr Woodford claimed that he had been forced out of the company for raising questions about these and other accounting practices last month.

    For its part, Olympus maintained that it had done nothing wrong and launched a third-party investigation into the matter.

    “Through this process (of the third-party investigation), we found that from the 1990s the posting of losses on securities investments had been deferred,” the company said in a statement.

    The company also admitted that it had channelled money related to the acquisitions through various funds and other measures to defer posting losses.

    After the company released the statement, Mr Woodford was quoted by the Reuters news agency as saying that “the position of the board and non execs is untenable now”.

    Keiji Isaji, an attorney with K&L Gates law firm in Tokyo added “the members of the board appear to have breached their fiduciary duty owed to the company and to the shareholders”.

    ‘Very serious’
    Olympus has seen its market value plummet by more than half since the scandal broke in October.

    Analysts said the latest disclosure has raised questions about the very future of the company.

    “This is very serious. Olympus admitted it has made false entries to cover its losses for 20 years. All people involved in this over 20 years would be responsible,” said Ryosuke Okazaki of ITC Investment Partners.

    “There is a serious danger that Olympus shares will be delisted. The future of the company is extremely dark,” he warned.

    Yukari Hozumi of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, where the company’s shares are listed, told the BBC that it needed more information, such as the size of the deferred losses, before making any decision.
    ENDS

    Reply
  • @Matt D etc.

    The fact the phrases “tatemae” and “uso mo houben” exist, are used and are not looked down upon suggest that lying is tolerated in Japan more than in certain other societies.

    You can put it down to “cultural differences” if you like. In this case, not a particularly nice one, literally “lying is allowed in Japan in some,or many, circumstances. From Hofstede to Eno`s “Zones of Pragmatic Deceit”, countless writers and social scientists have pointed out that different societies will tell a lie in different ways and situations. It`s like certain Islamic countries denying the existence of homosexuals when in fact homosexuality is rife, but it is called a different name. Like Heath Ledger in “Brokeback Mountain” still asserting he “aint queer”, but I digress.

    Japan is a traditionally ageist, top down, Confucian, hierarchy of mandarins who think its ok to lie to the masses, but who have been burdened with western individualist buzzwords and lifestyle choices because of that pesky American influence.

    Its a clash of classes, ages and cultures and is historically inevitable after one nation defeats another.

    Just stop pretending that everything is shiny, happy and honest here, and we will get along fine.

    Reply
  • “Everyone in a Culture is an individual!” So, don’t even try
    to find and state the overall average behaviors of a Culture.

    Cancel every class discussing patterns found about Cultures
    (for example, Sophia’s Comparative Culture Faculty) because
    it is no longer acceptable to state that Cultures even exist!

    Unless of course the behavior is a positive one, then it’s OK.
    Get it straight everyone, you can praise a Culture, that’s fine,
    but you can no longer criticize behavior practiced by a Culture.

    Culture no longer exists: unless you are praising your own Culture.
    If you are praising your own Culture then you may generalize freely.
    If you are trying to improve the Culture you live in: “Shut up racist!”

    Reply
  • I dont get where anonymous is coming from, is it irony?

    Most sociologists examining culture tread carefully nowadays and avoid the sweeping generalisations of 17th century
    Montesquieu.
    The modern accepted simplification is that cultural behavior and habit is a bell curve; the majority of people of any given culture MAY act in that certain way, but a minority of people at each end of the bell curve do not, and they are at the extremes. Lets say TEPCO are extreme liars, Greenpeace are extreme truth seekers, and everyone else is in between, but getting their info from a press club dominated reactionary media, with only one or two, mostly internet based, alternative sources. They sometimes believe it, they sometimes don`t, but they are inherently “conservative” if they re doing basically OK in their lives.

    This is hardly racist, is it? Who says that exactly?

    Most people in Japan speak Japanese. Tatemae is a Japanese concept, a part of the language and culture. Its usage may be shrinking from the body of the bell curve to the extreme end (bureaucrats, TEPCO, politicians, 75 year old company bosses who use ware ware nihonjin to get you to work overtime), whereas at the other end of the curve we have foreigners, baka shojiki people, alienated individuals (tying in with Max Weber here) who never use tatemae at all.

    Why bother bringing up Sofia University? There are better cultural studies, including of Japan and I dont mean Nihonjinron.

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma said:
    “The problem is that you equalize the question of Japanese political system as question of Japanese people’s behavior. It’s completely a separate issue.”

    Loverilakkuma,

    You raise a lot of epistemological questions. I’m very interested in addressing these issues, and I often discuss them in other avenues. They are relevant, but they would take the discussion far aside form what’s being discussed right now.

    You are welcome to contact me at “matt at anarchyjapan dot com” and I can provide you with lots of links or discuss these issues with you directly. My opinion is certainly different from yours, so that’s usually a good starting point for a discussion.

    Now let me address what I think to be most important.

    If what you say is correct and Debito is *only* addressing Japan’s political system, then I misread the article, and then I should offer an apology for having made a nuisance of myself.

    Let me explain to you what I regard as the main thrust of what I am saying.

    In any case where a person identifies with a group (real or imaginary) and uses that identification as a means of justifying that behavior — if you (as a percieved outsider to this group) accept that as a means of justification — you exclude yourself from the debate about that behavior.

    There are a lot of *individuals* in Japan who justify their behavior on the basis of being Japanese. When confronted with an explanation for what it means to be Japanese, these *individuals* really aren’t sure. Often they will rush to assure you they don’t really mean anything racist or genetic, but they feel pretty sure there is something significant about being Japanese and that it justifies their behavior.

    Individuals like this are very interested in what it means to be Japanese. They love to absorb literature that contemplates just what it means to be Japanese. They are infatuated with terms like tatemae and honne, by terms like wa …

    Now, if you criticize the “Japanese” that nebulous group these individuals feel they belong to, that’s okay by them, because it will help them in their quest to achieve identity. Even if what you say is quite harsh, they’ll absorb it with a sad and grave heart, knowing, yes, that’s the way I am, isn’t it? Or perhaps they will rush to assure you, that as you are not part of the group, you just can’t quite get it, can you?

    Of course, this is all a ludicrous myth. Individuals are responsible for their behavior. That is a reality and *not* a cultural preference. Every time Debito asserts he’s Japanese and does something contrary to what *Japanese* are expected to do then that is a strong rebuke to these individuals. Some of them might even regard it as a kick in the teeth. I *strongly* endorse this. Good. They need it. It is time these individuals stopped foisting their own personal responsibility on some nebulous concept of being Japanese, and realized that they themselves are responsible for their behavior.

    Am I indicting here every person in Japan? Of course not. Some of the most wonderful people I have ever met in the entire world have been ethically Japanese in every way you could possibly claim — but they take self-responsibility seriously. But surly if you’ve lived in Japan long enough you’ve met some of the people I am talking about — they do seem to be popular among the political class.

    But note, my criticism falls on a specific action here. Creating this ideal group, identifying with it, and then justifying one’s actions on that basis. I don’t approve of that action. It’s not even so much that I disapprove of any particular individual who performs this action, I don’t. It’s an easy trap to fall into. I disapprove of that action.

    Now, assuming you are still with me, note again, that every time some person who is perceived as being outside this group criticizes what is perceived as the inside members, the criticism no matter how harsh falls flat. Instead, it’s absorb as *proof* of the theory that that group does indeed exist. As long as it is mostly in a serious vein, no matter how bad that criticism is, the criticism will be absorbed as *positive* confirmation of that individual’s identity.

    Are you beginning to see the problem?

    And I have to add, perceived outsiders (gaijin) often approve of this. They’re not sure either, what “Japanese” entails, but they know they are not it. Part of their identify is not being “Japanese.” Of course, this is all nonsense.

    Now how did I read Debito’s article, perhaps incorrectly, I’ll explain.

    The first thing I saw was “culture of deceit.” (Which Debito was not even responsible for.) This is a really malicious meme that’s been used in the West to *other* Japanese. (As if they didn’t *other* themselves enough.)

    But more relevant here, culture is clearly a code word for “Japanese.” You can laugh at me if you want, but we all know we’re talking about Japanese culture … the culture that is exclusive to the Japanese. This tugs at heart strings of those individuals who identify themselves as Japanese. It says, get read, I’m going to start telling you about yourself.

    What? From Debito? Whose fought so hard for inclusion?

    Then we read on to “axiom,” I didn’t even catch this at first, an axiom is a self-evident postulate. Uso mo houben is a self-evident truth! But to whom? Not Debito … so who do we juxtapose against Debito … in my mind the word *Japanese* screams out at me. So Debito has *excluded* himself from this group, and now proposes to tell us about them? This is heartbreaking.

    Then we go on, “the general attitude in Japan” but *not* Debito’s attitude clearly. So who do we juxtapose against Debito. The world *Japanese* screams out in my mind. What? Debito is excluding himself from this group … when all along everything he has done is to argue for inclusiveness? I could cry.

    To move on, “consider how lies are deployed in everyday personal interactions.” Whose everyday personal reactions? Clearly not Debito’s. Here, again, the word “Japanese” screams out at me. So again, a third time, Debito is excluding himself. I hate to get biblical (I’m not really religious), but I’m reminded: “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

    Then, we go into a discussion about tatemae, honne, bakashojiki. By god, those individuals who see themselves as “Japanese” just *love* this kind of discussion. So do those who like to see *Japanese* as being something *other* than themselves. It’s all about identity. Sure, people write stuff like this everyday in Japan — it’s common fare, but I thought Debito was about showing this whole identity thing was *wrong*, not right.

    So this is the context in which I read the article, and why, for me personally it was a disappointment.

    It is possible to talk about Japan and Japanese society without falling into this trap. This is why I pointed out Yoshio Sugimoto. He’s someone who usually manages to pull this off really effectively. Not surprisingly, he has a book in Japanese entitled, _How to Cease Being Japanese_:
    http://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/4480027769

    The “Japanese” part in the title is intended as a pun, because he’s a nationalized Australian, but I think he also realized how being “Japanese” was an identity issue and got over it.

    Maybe I was thrown off by the title of the article, but I think to anyone who supports non-exclusion, and has been thrilled by Debito’s determination that he be included, they should seriously question just how far they want to idealize a group called the “Japanese” and then criticize this group while excluding themselves.

    You are only excluded only if you let yourself be. The reality is that you can be excluded in practical terms — from a shop, or from voting, or what have you — but you can’t be excluded in any deeper real sense. While there may be some wiggle room in the editorial for Debito to say, but that’s not what I meant, in the comment section it is all too clear some commenters have already excluded themselves from what they perceive as “the Japanese.” A group they clearly don’t see Debito as fitting into.

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Matt D

    >If what you say is correct and Debito is *only* addressing Japan’s political system, then I misread the article, and then I should offer an apology for having made a nuisance of myself.

    Well, as far as the article goes, his critism is centered on a hegemonic institutional discourse that empowers political system, corporations, and/or any agents constituting ‘Team Japan.’

    >In any case where a person identifies with a group (real or imaginary) and uses that identification as a means of justifying that behavior — if you (as a percieved outsider to this group) accept that as a means of justification — you exclude yourself from the debate about that behavior.

    Sorry, I’m not gonna buy that argument. It’s simply dubious. The way you describe the public or a civic community for any type of rhetorical act—(i.e., editorial, column, speech/debate, political campaign, protest) is all up to oneself—such as, author, rhetor, speaker, etc. I don’t see any problem with an act of identification/signification in itself. You should read Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Community or Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, for example. Moreover, I have trouble understanding your reference to “that behavior.” If you mean public/political dissent in general, my answer is NO.

    > There are a lot of *individuals* in Japan who justify their behavior on the basis of being Japanese. When confronted with an explanation for what it means to be Japanese, these *individuals* really aren’t sure. Often they will rush to assure you they don’t really mean anything racist or genetic, but they feel pretty sure there is something significant about being Japanese and that it justifies their behavior.

    So you’re saying, any sort of rhetorical significations for instigating public/political dissent– in any segment of Japanese civil society—is, morally wrong. If this is true, anyone—regardless of age, gender, race, nationality– who attempts to challenge a hegemonic practice of institutional politics or democratic dissent to social injustice in Japan will be automatically guilty for ‘uncivil’ act. Also, you are expected to turn a blind eye on the problematic behavior of powers that be—who unabashedly punish those powerless (i.e., ordinary Japanese citizens and foreign residents), or become selective about punishing those powerless based on administrative discretion—i.e., ethnicity, habitual of residency. Sounds like an absolute monarchy or Japanofascism to me. Are we slipped in a time of the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War??? Oh, wait, wait, wait. We’re talking about Japan, right? But, hey, the Alien and Sedition Acts(1798)? Hmmm, not a bad idea. Why not take that?

    >But note, my criticism falls on a specific action here. Creating this ideal group, identifying with it, and then justifying one’s actions on that basis. I don’t approve of that action. It’s not even so much that I disapprove of any particular individual who performs this action, I don’t. It’s an easy trap to fall into. I disapprove of that action.

    Well, that’s your personal opinion. I don’t have any problem with that. And I respect your choice. We all agree to disagree. That is what many native Japanese people have trouble understanding.

    >But more relevant here, culture is clearly a code word for “Japanese.” You can laugh at me if you want, but we all know we’re talking about Japanese culture … the culture that is exclusive to the Japanese.

    I would emphasize my point that the problem emerges when the nation ‘politicizes’ culture– based on race, bloodline, gender, and ethnicity.

    Reply
  • @Loverilakkuma

    >>hegemonic institutional discourse

    Nihonjinron is a discourse that is entirely about establishing the identity of “Japanese.”

    It’s institutional and hegemonic.

    When I stated, “In any case where a person identifies with a group (real or imaginary) and uses that identification as a means of justifying that behavior”

    The “that behavior” should have been “their behavior.” Sorry.

    Moral decisions can’t be justified in any ultimate sense. All we can do is take responsibility for our decisions. I don’t think this suggests we can’t improve our moral decision making. We can. I would encourage you to read Karl Popper’s _The Open Society and Its Enemies_.

    Put your hand in front of you, open and close your fist. Who is doing that? If I lie to someone, or if I hurt someone, or if I refuse to sell something to someone, I am responsible for my actions. However, if I state that my actions are a result of being part of a group — are basically justified by being part of that group, then I’ve abnegated my responsibility for these actions. Most nihonjinron seeks to explain “Japanese” actions in such a manner. It’s all about explaining behavior, not taking responsibility for it.

    In this sense, it’s closer to astrology then a serious theory about human behavior.

    >>I don’t see any problem with an act of identification/signification in itself.

    All I am saying is that individuals are responsible for how they act and for the opinions they hold. That shouldn’t be controversial.

    If people are not responsible for their opinions, then discussion quickly becomes futile. If people are not responsible for their actions, then the idea of law is meaningless.

    >>So you’re saying, any sort of rhetorical significations for instigating public/political dissent– in any segment of Japanese civil society—is, morally wrong.

    No. I haven’t said anything like that at all, so all these conclusions you draw don’t follow.

    If people are being treated wrongly, they can organize and attempt to fight that wrong. Why would anyone find that disagreeable?

    If you honestly think Japanese means something other than just nationality (in a legal sense), then I’ll leave it for you to puzzle it out. As for me, I’ve seen past that.

    Reply
  • I just wanted to note briefly that if someone wanted to examine the issues of government honesty and nuclear fallout — so as to make a comparison with Japan, it would be useful to learn about the US policy of testing nuclear weapons in the Nevada desert.

    We’ve been told in the media that Fukushima fallout has equaled about 168 Hiroshima bombs. There were at least 90 probably significantly more powerful bombs blown up in the desert of Nevada above air in the late 1950s to early 1960s. (And many more in the Pacific ocean.)

    Though there were, indeed, controversies at the time, did the government discuss these? No. Why? America was in a cold war with the Soviet Union. It was felt that national security took precedence over these controversies. People were continuously told not to worry. So this is a actually a good example of *uso mo houben*.

    If you don’t think the US suffered much fallout from these tests, here are two links.

    First a map of US terrestrial Gamma-Ray Exposure at 1m above ground:
    http://energy.cr.usgs.gov/radon/usagamma.gif

    That was in 1993 about 30 years after the *last* test was done above ground. Study the area around Nevada.

    Wikipedia has a discussion of this here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nevada_National_Security_Site#Cancer_and_test_site

    Most of the details here are discussed in _Elements of Controversy_ by Barton C. Hacker.

    If you read _Uranium: War, Energy, and the Rock that Shaped the World_ there is a portion of the book where he discusses John Wayne out in the desert making films while everyone on the set is dealing with a dust storm. Not far from the set there’s been a nuclear bomb test. John Wayne died of lung cancer — but he smoked as well, of course.

    Reply
  • @Loverilakkuma
    ‘the problem emerges when the nation ‘politicizes’ culture– based on race, bloodline, gender, and ethnicity.’

    I agree with you. Unfortunately, I would assert that all Japanese culture is politicized. perhaps that is the function of all culture. Except that so few cultures in the world are politicized definition of exclusion, as Japan is. Example;
    ‘Japan is a rice culture!’ (well, so is China, Korea, Thailand, Vietnam….)
    ‘Japan has four seasons!’ (so does every temperate zone in the world).

    I could go on all day.
    The subject of my Phd. was that all Japanese ‘traditional culture’ is either imported, or was invented after the Meiji restoration (with fake history to match). I can find not even one example of unique Japanese traditional culture with it’s origins in Japan, without a fake historical record created in the modern period.

    — We’re getting off track. Bring it back.

    Reply
  • The New Rules 🙂

    “Ware Ware Nippon-jin wa [insert Positive supposed behavioral trait here.]” Positive patterns = OK.
    “Most Japanese people [insert Negative supposed behavioral trait here.]” Negative patterns = Taboo.

    Reply
  • 建前 sometimes manifests as holding one’s tongue: saying nothing, remaining quiet.
    建前 sometimes manifests as intentionally giving a false impression: not lying per-se.
    建前 sometimes manifests as politely lying about you think: saying “A” while thinking “B”.
    建前 sometimes manifests as bold-faced lying about what you did or didn’t do: serious lying.

    Sometimes it is done for the benefit of others, sometimes it is done for the benefit of oneself.
    Altruistic lies for the sake of 「和」 are more forgivable than selfish lies for personal gain, of course.
    Sometimes folks pretend that is is for the benefit of others when actually it is for selfish personal gain.

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Matt D

    >Moral decisions can’t be justified in any ultimate sense. All we can do is take responsibility for our decisions.

    Here you go again. You are making a questionable generalization on personal choice for making decision assuming that it is applied universally to everyone under a titular name of “responsibility.” Why? Because you are still tweaking the tone of accusation for those expressing their opinions based on their choices by judging from their audacity to act– rather than the quality of their justifications that lead to such act. I agree that people should have the accountability–or moral obligation for their justifications for their rhetorical act/ choices. However, I find it problematic when it comes to universalizing one’s obligation based on a titular name of “taking responsibility.” You can’t thrust the exactly same sort of social or physical “responsibility” upon all people for what they are doing socially or professionally. It’s kind of like saying, “you have no rights to express your opinions in this blog or elsewhere unless you have any idea to solve the problem.” Or seeing some people spewing their ire off the bile like, “how dare you challenge the conventional norms of Japanese society by bringing up such a BS like multiculturalism or political correctness in human rights? You’re a dime a dozen ‘gaijin,’ and you have no rights to talk shits about it, sucker!!”

    You should ask exactly the same question about moral judgment to Debito, if you want.

    I would mince no words about an act of essentializing individual responsibility in this respect—especially for participating in public forum. It is an act of cultural tokenism. It allows the powerful bullies—i.e., conservative news media, right-wingers, haters—to clobber those who stand against them—both Japanese and non-Japanese. (Example: Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly, the Tea Party Goers for the US; NHK, Zaitokukai right-wingers, NPA, for Japan, respectively.) It eventually leads to character assassination by creating a schism in politics of Japan studies (and beyond, maybe) in both academic and business aspects. Isn’t that the main reason many folks here are fighting for?

    — I appreciate the illustration with the American context, but just a word of warning that I won’t approve comments that allow the conversation to devolve into American politics. I also hope this long conversation will reach a conclusion sometime soon.

    Reply
  • @Debito
    ‘I also hope this long conversation will reach a conclusion sometime soon.’
    Me too.

    @MattD
    You are flip-flopping backwards and forwards on your standpoints (I can’t really say what point you are trying to make as you talk in such vague terms). In the beginning you claim Debito is racist for attacking the concept of monolithic Japanese identity, and then finally you claim that the underlying conceptual framework of that identity (nihonjinron giron) is something to be discredited (‘I’ve seen through that’ inference)! I wish you would stop trying to sound clever, and state in clear terms what your position is. At the moment you are generating a lot of vague noise.

    Reply
  • @MattD

    Let me refer you to this interesting web-site, maybe you know it?
    http://www.anarchyjapan.com/
    ‘Coca-Cola in Japan has stricter standards than the government.’

    This paragraph is very revealing;
    ‘The person I spoke with was very friendly and tried to be helpful. Our conversation was in Japanese, so he kept saying more than I wanted to hear. This made it hard for me to get it straight what he was saying. So, perhaps coming across as rude, I parroted back what I thought to be his main points. I then asked him I had gotten it right nor not. He didn’t like this, because he wanted to soften the message — and not have it as stark as I put it, but he could not tell me I was wrong. He specifically told me I was correct.’

    I especially like these parts;
    ‘he kept saying more than I wanted to hear. This made it hard for me to get it straight what he was saying.’
    ‘I then asked him I had gotten it right nor not. He didn’t like this’
    ‘he wanted to soften the message — and not have it as stark as I put it, but he could not tell me I was wrong.’

    This is a very good example of what Debito is claiming in this thread; that the culture of tatemae inhibits the simple conveyance of straight FACTS (otherwise known as not telling the truth; lying).

    Reply
  • Most people seems didn’t notice that. In Asia, honesty is not consider as virtue. Asian cultural is heavily influenced by Confucius…and I think you can find origin of “uso mo hōben” from his follower.
    I also notice that, in Japan, people seems don’t really distinguish between criticism and blaming.

    Reply
  • @ML
    Confucius had many followers, some more pragmatic than others. I have not found one that stated that ‘lying is a means to an end’ (sounds more like something that Sun Tzu or Sun Pin would say), but since Confucius was concerned with the proper management of the state, and control of the people, IF ‘uso mo hoben’ is a derivation of Confucian philosophy, remember that the relationship is supposed to work both ways, and the people have the right to overthrow ruling elites who do not respect the people (they lose heaven’s mandate to rule; Tien Ming). I don’t see much evidence that the Japanese people are that influenced by Confucius, as the idea of opposing officialdom doesn’t seem to exist. Put an arm-band on any Oji-san, and people will jump when he says jump.

    — The idea of Confucian effects was further developed in a Letter to the Editor at the JT yesterday, second one of four. See here:

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20111115hs.html

    ===============================
    Exaggeration spoils argument

    “Do you think anybody believes these tales about food safety they are dishing out these days”, I was asked the other day by a Japanese lady. I was surprised by her frankness but I also realized that mistrust towards the government and officialdom was more endemic than I had thought.

    With so much distrust around, you would think that Debito Arudou had a just cause for his polemic, when he writes about lies seemingly embedded in Japanese culture. But then he spoils his whole argument — as so often — through his gross generalization and exaggeration.

    First of all, he quotes the Japanese expression uso mo hōben, which he translates as “a lie is also a means to an end”. The word “hōben” is originally derived from the Buddhist concept of “upaya”, which means that skillful means have to be applied to help deluded people on the spiritual way. In other words, If you are afraid that your kid could fall into the well and think that this danger is beyond its grasp, you might as well tell the child that a fierce beast lives in the well that devours young kids if they get too close. A lie, yes, but one that stands to reason by any standard.

    So which are the despicable lies lingering around? Another Buddhist concept to progress on the spiritual path is jiko o korosu, or “kill the small ego”, in order to embrace the true and universal self.

    But just as with the above-mentioned word “hōben,” the original meaning has been lost. The place where you might encounter this expression nowadays could be your workplace, meaning that you should give up all egoistic thoughts in favor of the bigger association, in this case the company.

    The Japanese group system has incorporated these Buddhist or Confucian values in order to enhance the dynamics and the clout of the group and, it has to be emphasized, Japan has still a very particularistic group-oriented society. So if loyalty to a certain association takes priority to accountability towards the general public, then a “white lie” may well be an acceptable means for an individual to advance their interests, or save the face of the association.

    I think that at this level, lying is widespread and embedded in the Japanese culture, and that is exactly what is happening at Tepco and Olympus.

    PETER LINK, Kyoto

    Other letters regarding this column at http://www.japantimes.co.jp/text/fl20111115hs.html

    Reply
  • @Jim Di Griz:

    You’ve responded specifically to me — as if in some sense to discredit what I’ve said. You do this by stating points I never made.

    For example, you state:
    “you claim Debito is racist for attacking the concept of monolithic Japanese identity.”

    I didn’t state this, nor anything like it. In fact, in responding to one your own comments I specifically stated what I thought, ‘Debito is specifically trying to address what he sees as a cultural phenomena.’

    I noted that in doing this, Debito seems to exclude himself, when he talks about axioms (self-evident truths), general attitudes, and everyday interactions … but if he excludes himself, then who is he talking about?

    I think this is a problem Debito needs to address. I have put forth suggestions for how he can do this. Also, trying to be fair, I noted, it could be the headline, “A culture of deceit” mislead me. Debito was not responsible for the headline.

    Moving along, you also state:
    “you claim that the underlying conceptual framework of that identity (nihonjinron giron) is something to be discredited”

    I don’t know what this means. What “underlying conceptual framework?”

    Nihonjinron is something similar to astrology. It’s all about identity. Some individuals in Japan subscribe to it, some don’t. Some foreigners subscribe to it, some don’t. It’s bunk. If you look through the archives at Debito.org you’ll see Debito, himself, has commented on this. More than once.

    Here is one example:
    http://www.debito.org/?p=7719

    Now, you also cite a phone conversation with a single person I had, a representative of Coca-Cola, infer from my comments that I thought this person was a liar, and then suggest from this I feel all Japanese are liars. You then seem to suggest that this in hand supports your own claim that “Japanese people are inherently handicapped in the ‘telling the truth dept.’” This is all very, very tenuous.

    Please look again at your own statement: “Japanese people are inherently handicapped in the ‘telling the truth dept.’”

    So there something called a “Japanese people” and these people possess “inherently” a “handicap” for the truth.

    Isn’t it perhaps possible that you misspoke a bit here, when you made these statements?

    Reply
  • @Debito,
    Thank you for the link.
    MattD’s letter proves what I claimed earlier; his reading appears limited to Sugimoto and Dower. Better yet, within his own letter he flip-flops between condemning Japanese racism, and condemning you for condemning it. His own mind is not clear.

    Reply

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