Having run in anime circles for nearly a decade now, I’ve run across a disproportionate number of people that have an interest in Japanese culture. My friend Quen speaks Japanese pretty fluently, as does my Deseret friend and coworker Milton. My friend Clint tried to take some classes and a group of us considered going to Japan to teach English in the JET program.

Generally speaking I believe it to be a good thing to be interested in cultures outside of America and Europe and I applaud all those that went beyond just watching anime and chose to learn about the culture. There is an underside to this, however. More than a few people that have done so turn around and use what they’ve learned to demonstrate their internationale cred at the expense of actual enlightenment.

To put a finer point on it, a number of Japanophiles I know are quick to argue that Japanese culture is superior to American culture. They point to Japanese artistic work (more than just anime and manga, usually), their long traditions, embracing of Buddhist (or any non-Christian, really) religion, and every way that their culture differs from ours as proof that their culture is more enlightened than ours. Implied is that they, by appreciating said culture, are more enlightened than we are. It’s an extension of the traveling abroad issue recently mentioned by Bob.

Even that wouldn’t bother me if these people didn’t so often complain about American culture in the ways that it is like and even less extreme than Japanese culture. For instance, the same people that exalt Japanese culture often complain about (to pick two examples) American conformity and the failure of our government to respect our rights. Say whatever great things you want about Japanese culture, but by any reasonable measure these are not things in which the Japanese demonstrate a better record than the US.

Quite the opposite, actually.

As a disclaimer I want to say outright that I am not saying that American culture is superior to Japanese culture. It’s beside the point even if it is true. Japan has its problems (not unlike America), but it remains a prosperous, cohesive nation that went from decimation during World War II to an economic powerhouse. Which culture is “better” depends largely on who you are. It depends on your social status, your economic status, and probably more than anything else your temperament. Some people are more naturally suited to American culture, some people more naturally suited to Japanese. So having said that bear in mind that I intend the distinctions between cultures to be relatively value-neutral simply because I don’t want to get into a discussion over superior and inferior cultures.

With that out of the way, it stretches credibility beyond the breaking point to say that American culture demands more conformity than Japanese culture or that Americans are further on the policing spectrum than the personal rights spectrum when it comes to law enforcement. But logic isn’t the point, feeling superior is. They see Japanese conformity as fundamentally different from American conformity. Better in some indescribable way that a simpleton like myself could never possibly understand.

Good grief, I really hate people sometimes.


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6 Responses to Nippon America: Poseurs

  1. Webmaster says:

    The grass is always greener… and I think that’s an incredible portion of it. I consider japanese culture to be admirable on some levels, but I’d never consider it the end-all and be-all of existence.

    That being said, it could be worse – there are certain other cultures in the world that are just bad all the way ’round.

  2. Bob V says:

    I think you are looking at the need to feel superior to others coupled with the halo effect. It’s easier for people to remember and act on:
    Japan = good; US = bad.
    than on:
    Japan = good on these specific criteria but bad on others.

    Those that we love have no flaws.

  3. logtar says:

    American Culture is different for almost every single American. Even if you just take geographical location, the beliefs are WAY too different to even say that America as a whole has a culture.

  4. trumwill says:

    I don’t think I would be bothered so much by it if their critiques were even accurate. It’s one thing to say that the solidarity of Japan is better than the individuality of America (I can definitely understand why one might feel that way). It’s the going of a step further, I guess, that really bothers me. I guess some of it is a halo effect combined with the Ray Charles is God fallacy. Japanese culture is better than American culture. Individuality is important. Thus Japan must have more respect for the individual.

  5. trumwill says:

    Logar,

    I’m not sure whether you’re saying that different geographical regions do or do not have their own culture. I very much believe that they do.

    As for America as a whole, I think that we do have certain cultural norms and values that most of the country either honors or rejects. We’re distinctly religious compared to most of our western brethren and we view religion in particularly positive regard (even as we spend a great deal of time and effort squabbling over which religion is correct). We seem to place more emphasis on individual achievement and self-reliance than do most of the countries around us. We’re by no means pure in these regards, but it’s distinct enough that I hear these rather commonly in critiques of America from abroad.

    Listen to politician speeches and advertisements and you’ll see some pretty consistent themes that you are less likely to hear abroad because they’ve determined that we’re more succeptible to those particular angles. I would agree that America has less tightly-woven norms and values than other countries, but I don’t think that they’re absent.

  6. Spungen says:

    How nice, that some Americans have moved beyond just kissing Euro asses for a sense of identity.

    I bet these Japanophiles are all male, right?

    Here’s my simple theory about [insert foreign nation]-philes: In their own country, girls/guys/people don’t like them much. But when they traveled abroad as foreign tourists, they enjoyed some unprecedented acceptance due to their exotic status. This is especially common for nerdy guys. So they decide that in [insert country], people have better values and are more able to appreciate what’s really important. This leads to all sorts of otherphilosophical contortions.

    One shortish, chubby guy told me that in Japan, girls will sleep with you at clubs, right there in a private room, just because you’re an American foreigner. And they’re not prostitutes. He swore.

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