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idealized self aggrandisement that covers over ugly realities
on 24 May 2011
This is one of those basic tracts that is given to those who move to Japan, as a view into how things are supposed to work. While it sounds very good when you read it - there are indeed wonderful codes to live by that are elegantly expressed - once you have lived there for a few months you see that it has less (and more) to do with everyday life than meets the eye.
Afterall, there are two levels when dealing with Japan: Tatemae, the syrupy feel-good version of things that saves everyone's "face", and Honne, which is the way people really feel about things; the former gets pounded into your head at the office, the latter you elicit slowly when you go to the bars after work and get drunk. However, Tatemae is a useful tool for bureaucracies, as it is the official way things are supposed to appear to function, complete with a code for the behavior that one should simulate, no matter how differently (or alienated) one feels underneath. The "Bushido" is the purest Tatemae, an instrument of control that is wielded but has little personal meaning beyond that. In my opinion - and I witnessed this often while living in Japan - all the talk of honor and value and loyalty is just that: mere words to mask brutal authoritarianism and mindless obedience to one's place in the hierarchy. As such, there are very interesting things to learn here about how people choose (or submit to a compulsion from without) to behave, but it will not teach the reader about how they feel inside.
Recommended, but don't take it at face value. Indeed, if you accept this as reality, it is the same as believing that medieval knights lived strictly in accordance with chivalric codes and the Chritian ideal, I wish I could sound more inspired and interested about Japan, but having lived there, I know the ugliness underneath from experience.