In defining people, and their cultural groupings, two terms are sometimes used:
– frame, which describes the circumstantial situation of a person i.e. place of residence, work etc.
– attributes, which is what a person is, so what skills they possess, who they’re related to etc.
In Japanese society, frame is the most important factor in determining social groupings – where you work, what town you live in, who lives in your house – is more important than what attributes you have. This is in contrast to most other societies, which place huge importance on the value of family, the most extreme being the caste system in India where where you’re born into determines you for your whole life.
For Japanese, this means that their workplace becomes more important than anything else, and more shockingly to me, that their homes once they get married are more important than the ones they come form – to the extent that even servants are included and are sometimes considered more important than sisters or even parents who live in other houses.
This is the first point made in a book i’ve started to read, and it’s fascinating. I’ll give you a little summary over the next week or so.
The next point is a further distinction. One of the things that it stresses is that the nature of Japanese people is one that will always make rankings. No one is ever exactly the same, unless they’re extremely close.
The next distinction, which will clarify this, is that of the vertical relationship compared to the horizontal one – i.e. older-younger vs peer to peer. The vertical relationship is the most important one in Japanese society, i.e. that if you are older, or if you have worked for the company for longer, you are superior to that of your colleague. You are always placed in this vertical system, even with people who work in the same department in the company as you.
As this tie is more important, along with your frame, your alliance will be with your sempai (your elder) and your kohai (your junior) rather than with people doing the same job but for a different company. This is so ingrained that not even the highest member in the vertical chain is able to make a change to this (though this vertical distinction is sometimes only really realized by the youth once they start a career).
This is a mindset that has become under increasing pressure recently with smaller business because merit has very little swing with your position – in fact what university you went to is far more important than what marks you got when graduating. But it is also a more stable mindset and form of ranking, which has allowed Japanese life to be so regulated.
2 more points on this latter topic:
– this distinction of older to younger goes so far, that even in a dining setting, the elder sits by the window with the plants, but the inferiour sits on the worst chair by the entrance.
– this distinction has made the Japanese mind as uninquisitive as it is. A junior takes great care not to create open confrontation with his superior (and as a distinction between senior and junior is made almost everywhere, you usually don’t say a thing). it’s better not to say anything than to say “no” or “i disagree” and risk being cast out of the group – which is why many conversations are one-sided sermons, usually intellectually dull and emotionally enjoyable only to the speaker, not the listener. I haven’t explained this point nearly enough but i just want to say that this explains so many things i have noticed – most people hate goign to office parties when their boss is there, and that in Japanese no one says “iie”, the Japanese word for no. They instead choose to use, “ii desu” it’s fine (for example if asked if you want the receipt, saying ii desu means no), “…wa irimasen” (I dont need…) or “chigau/chigaimasu” it’s different.
Now that shit would not fly back home!
Anyway, that’s what i’ve understood from the book so far.
On a slightly different note, i think you may find this link quite interesting:
It’s a video of a penis festival they hold near here every year – they carry a penis statue, and eat phallic-shaped ice lollies and everything!