JAPAN A CONFORMIST SOCIETY?

Introduced by Professor James Coveney on 19 September 1997

Professor Coveney is head of the Modern Languages Department of Bath University and has been
compiling an English - Japanese dictionary of business terms, which has involved several visits to Japan,
during which he encountered the culture.
Much of Japan's society is governed by status and the hierarchy. The level of politeness a person
expresses depends on whether he is speaking to a person of higher or lower status and this includes older
or younger siblings, not just business colleagues. Similarly the depth of one's bow indicates the status of
the person greeted. In spite of the importance of the hierarchy, decisions are not taken from the top
but in meetings which go on until consensus is achieved.
In business, your visiting card must be 91 x 55 mm in size to fit a Japanese wallet, and printed in
Japanese on one side, otherwise it will be thrown away and you will not exist.
Children are strictly controlled and very well behaved. They have to clean their classroom at school
each day and the whole school monthly! However, they can walk to school safely; there is almost no street
crime. Gangsters concentrate on companies by blackmailing them to prevent disruption of their Annual
General Meetings.
The conformist society was imposed during the Shogunate period (1603 - 1868), when military
dictators controlled the country, under ineffective Emperors, and has continued with only gradual change
occurring since 1945, even though the Emperor Meiji regained power in 1868 and dismissed the dictators.
During the Shogunate everyone had to display a notice by their door stating their caste Soldier (Samurai),
Farmer or Merchant. Under these castes were the out-caste Burakumin, who were considered not to exist.
Even the roads in their villages were not shown on maps. They got all the dirty jobs, but now some of them
are rich because they have a monopoly of such jobs. But they still suffer discrimination.
Other non-conformist groups who are despised are the 25,000 remaining Ainu, the aboriginal
Japanese; the 600,000 Koreans descended from imported forced labourers from Japan's occupation of Korea
from 1910 - 1945 and the 100,000 Chinese, who are prosperous.
There is also a religious minority, the Christians, about one million. Christianity is considered a
foreign religion, since the Japanese religions Shinto, Buddhism and Confucianism all blend together, but
Christians are exclusive and want to convert people. But wealthy Japanese have Christian weddings
because they like the clothes and ceremony. They are buried as Buddhists and live as Shintoists.
Shintoism, a mixture of nature and ancestor worship, explains the Japanese character; the Emperor
is a God, descended from the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu, so his subjects are superior to others. Hence
Japanese nationalism. But September 15th is Respect for the Aged Day' what a good idea!
D Lovell