Monday, January 20, 2014


The University of Strathclyde and Japan Desk Scotland are holding a series of lectures on Japan and its relationship with Scotland.Japan’s geography and history was introduced as well as cultural similarities and differences between Scotland and Japan. There was also a screening of ‘Yokoso (Welcome to) Japan‘, a 10-minute video made by Japanese Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport which you can see below:

Japan is 80% mountainous , has 67% covering of Forests and its almost 130 Million population live mostly on the coastal areas with only 13% of the land being arable ( compared to 67% in the UK).These statistics alone give an indicator of the historical determinism which means Japanese Society and Community is so structured with a Top to Bottom culture of obedience and respect for authority , strict organisation and natural discipline for every member to play a role as a cog in a machine-like mechanism directed from above.This is not merely a cultural trait but an essential necessity to harness the required provision to survive in such an extreme and delicate food chain without going through the attendant famines and disasters that a more ad-hoc system would inevitably yield to.This also explains the great dependency to the natural bounties of the sea , something we should bear in mind when glibly condemning the Japanese likeness for Marine foods which do not match our cultural tastes, objections from us should be more receptive to the Japanese relations with sea food and should be more in helping them to preserve endangered stocks of what to them is a staple diet.To their credit very little of seafood catches are wasted as just as with the lack of arable land they also do not have too many places to store excess waste.Hence the Japanese culture has for a long time practised a natural occurring recycling process.

The lecturers did not sugar-coat or gloss over some negative things about Japanese culture , giving a very fair assessment of the positive and some negative outlooks and behaviours.For example , even today , the place of Woman in the public sphere is limited by a male-dominated cultural outlook.A Scottish Woman Manager who went as part of a Business Delegation did not receive even one business card from a Japanese counterpart even though it is a standard practice for cards to be exchanged among callers , all the Men in her party did get one.The lecturers themselves , who went back to Japan after nearly 25 years abroad , a man and a woman, were pulled up by their academic colleagues when the man consulted with the woman and actually acted on her input even though the woman was more qualified on the particular topic in question.

Privacy is also something that visitors to Japan might be slightly uncomfortable with, in Japanese houses there are mostly sliding doors without locks allowing persons to enter another persons room with easy access and the concept of staring is not considered rude as it would be here , something that happens a lot to foreigners.Tattoos of any kind are considered to be marking of gangs and the criminal underworld and you would be welcome in a public place with any showing.Most swimming pools even in International Hotels display notices that no persons with Tattoos are allowed.

Privacy is also an issue in the rubbish collection area.All bags are in clear see-through plastic and you have to put your name and address on the bag which means anyone can see clearly what you have been eating and doing with yourself , they can see what brands you use and literally tell what you had for dinner.Japan has for a long time that a very sophisticated recycling garbage disposal system in which there can be upto nine different types of separated rubbish bags , all in clear plastic and with your details on it. 

Japan has a very status orientated system with all kinds of etiquette for all kinds of occasions , the general rule is that hierarchy and age are respected.When one of the lecturers met with the Japanese Ambassador in London the diplomat was erect whilst the lecturer had to give a full and deep bow , a very unfamiliar role for the lecturer who would normally receive bows from the students.

We were also told of the rivalry between Kyoto ( which means capital) and Tokyo ( meaning Eastern Capital).Kyoto is the ancient capital for over a thousand years before Tokyo took over some 500 years ago.Kyoto regard Tokyo as the uncouth , uncultured , unsophisticated upstarts with no history whilst regarding themselves as the true home of the Emperors and the heritage of the Japanese code of life.The Cuisine are also different with some staples in Tokyo being unheard of in Kyoto and Meso being impossible to find in Tokyo.The sauces and spicing are also very different in both regions.

Family and Religion has also gone a large change in recent years.The devotion to working and lack of provision for child-services as well as the rupture of extended families looking after each other has meant that having children is now an economic and not lifestyle choice , even couples who would not mind having children are finding they simply cant afford to do so.This has meant Japans population is falling faster than most developed countries and the population is also getting older.Japan is not a particularly religious society , the very apt reason one of the lecturers gave was that religion was bonded to the state a long while back with a fusion of Buddhism and Shinto and has never that much appeal for this reason , the danger of this is , as happened in the past , that if you make loyalty to the Emperor or State your religion then the state may led you to dangerous avenues as we found the the 30s and 40s.

One important factor is the loss of the concept of a job for life in one organisation.This is not because the workers are more mobile and not loyal to working for one company but has been a top-down phenomenon in which companies want it to be easier to sack workers when there is an economic downturn rather than be obliged to be loyal patrons of a dedicated worker willing to give his whole career to the organisation.This is sadly a practice of modern neo-liberalism which has seeped into Japanese corporate working practices creating a worrying unemployment problem and has made Japan from being ,25 years ago, from the country with the smallest gap in income and wealth distribution to one with an increasing gap resembling unequal societies without the great Japanese value of togetherness and sharing of precious resources.

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