The Nihonjinron Idea and Political Socialization

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In the 21st century, the world has experienced rapid globalization and many countries and regions have changed their ways of governance. On the other hand, most of them have been trying to protect their cultures, especially political culture due to keep their position in the global relationships, by showing their own perspectives respected to their backgrounds. Although it has the history of the country dramatically grown after the World Wars within a few decades, it still has many unique customs that have not died. The homogenous society made Japan encourage political socialization in a different way than the western countries, that is based on the idea that Japanese society has. This idea is called Nihonjinron, and it is delivered to Japanese people through their family members. Based on Nihonjinron, education systems that they go throughout their childhood to adolescenthood build up political culture in a child. This paper will discuss how Japanese people are built upon the idea of Nihonjinron that is lead by family members, how it makes the society politically socialized through educational systems, and the issues that happen because of the way of political socialization.

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Firstly, Nihonjinron is a term that explains Japaneseness of its society and people (Ando, 2009). This theory is developed based on Japanese traditions and customs that differ from the other cultures’ traditions and customs, not based on researches (Ando, 2009).

The five of uniquenesses that Nihonjinron states are:

  1. The Japanese race hardly mixes with other races
  2. Japanese people enjoy the nature they have as an island country and their distinct four seasons seasons
  3. The language that is spoken is concerned too difficult for non-native speakers to understand and speak as well as the native speakers since the language contains many implied expression
  4. There is the basic idea of vertical structured society, so that there is a groupism although people do not exist as individuals in the society
  5. The feeling that one has toward the others based of the idea of dependency forms that human relationship within Japanese society (Ando, 2009).

These factors make them feel distinct from the other cultures. These factors are also the ways of political socialization.

The first point that Ando brought up why Japan has a unique culture is because of its extraordinary high percentage of one ethnicity. Japan has about 127 million people in 2018 (Worldometers, 2018a). Although it is in the era of rapid globalization, ethnicity of Japanese covers 98.5% of the entire population in Japan, besides 0.5% of Koreans and 0.4% of Chinese (Central Intelligence Agency, n.d.). It can be thought it was extremely difficult to have many immigrants or people who are mixed with different ethnicity, because of the national isolation that Japan had for about two hundred years during Edo era, which was from the mid seventeenth century (Arano, 2013) and the two world wars. During those times, the country allowed only few people to immigrate or enter. Even after the World War ended, the idea of xenophobia remained, so that Japan still has an extremely high percentage of the Japanese ethnicity.

The second point is not directly connected to Japan’s political culture, however, it is a quite big reason why it has an exclusive culture. Japan has a geographical feature that differs from many other countries that is being a group of islands. Comparing to other countries that are parts of continents, it is more difficult to interact between countries. The biggest religion of Japan’s, Shinto, is also related to its climate. Shinto believes and worships Gods of nature, so that nature, as well as natural activities have been important for Japanese people for over a thousand years. For instance, shrines in Japan tend to be built in woods and there are often holly trees, rocks, waterfalls, etc.within the area and there are gods in those objects, so that shrines worship them as well as figures inside the buildings. Also, there are different kinds of celebrations for seasons such as solstices for each season, and people do certain activities to thank to have the stable seasons and crops that are made because of nature, that is also gods.

The third point of Ando’s is a big part to form the Japanese culture. There are over 7000 languages existing in the world in 2018 (Michaels, 2018), and there is mainly only Japanese spoken in Japan. This language is considered that it has similar grammar to Korean and writing to Chinese, however, it is quite different from any other languages. There are 128 million people who speak Japanese (Statista, 2018) which is almost its entire population, and Japanese is the ninth biggest language, although it is not set as the actual official language. Also, Japanese has a very densely concentrated population for a single language, since there are only Japan and Palau that have de facto, or officially Japanese as the official language. According to the data of native speakers of languages from Statista (2018) and population of countries from Worldometers (2018b), the percentage of native Japanese speakers is 100% in Japan and Palau (Worldometers, 2018c), while Chinese, the world biggest language, is spoken by roughly 90% of the population where Chinese is the official language, in China (Worldometers, 2018d), Hong Kong (Worldometers, 2018e), Macau (Worldometers, 2018f), Singapore(Worldometers, 2018g), and Taiwan (Worldometers, 2018h) (The World Nations Online, n.d.). This implies why it may be difficult for foreigners to understand Japanese fully: even though there is history that Japan has invaded other Asian countries and there are Japanese people who have migrated to other places in the world, Japanese has not spread as a common language, unlike European languages. One of the reasons why Japanese is relatively more difficult than some European languages is the number of vocabrary. According to Yoshida (2008), Japanese requires over ten thousands words to read a magazine,while English, Spanish and French require a couple of thousands words.

The Japanese social structure which is mentioned for the 4th point Ando states, is concerned unique as well as the communication methods and the hesitancy, that is a vertical structured, group-oriented society (cited as Nakane, 1972). People show respect to the elders in any kinds of communities. For example, in school systems and companies, people use a word senpai, that refers to the seniors, and kouhai, to the juniors.

Adding to the fourth point about the vertical structured society, for the fifth point, there is a relationship of dependency between people called amae, that means indulgent love. This creates a young individual or a group of young people’s dependence on those of who are older (Feldman, cited as Doi, 1973) . This is originated from a relationship between parents and children, although it often happens in the adult society. One of the examples that happen the most often is an older worker paying beverages for younger workers at drinking parties. In this situations, there are many people who use a sentence to thank, Okotobani amaete, that means please let me be spoiled by your words. However, the expectation that the elder ones have for the younger ones is to order and serve food and drinks for them, to sit in shimoza which is the are of closest seats to the entrance and let the older ones sit in kamiza the furthest seat area from the entrance, etc. at those parties. The younger ones also must follow what the older ones say about anything, and being critical to the older ones is not generally allowed.

Moreover, according to Feldman (cited as Tsujimura, 1987), he points out that there is a way of communication that Japanese people use based on four elements, tacit understanding, taciturnity, mood or atmosphere, and implied communication. He also mentions (cited as Benedict, 1946) about Japanese culture as a shame culture since people are always concerned about the way they are thought in the society, so people hesitate to state their real opinion out loud (cited as Rosenberger, 1992; Bachnik & Quinn, 1994).

These points that are risen are the basic ideas of Nihonjinron, and these ideas are delivered in the early stage of life by family members and educational systems, that will affect one’s thoughts about Japanese politics. In Japanese educational system, there is a propensity that people are taught Japan is a distinct society, and has a distinct culture that never mixes up with other cultures in the globalized world. The next part will explain why and how this is connected political socialization in Japan.

As it is written, Japan has a huge percentage of Japanese ethnicity and most of them have Japanese language as their mother tongue. This is built by the family structure, where most of the family members are able to speak Japanese, unless one or both the parents are foreigners. In Japanese school systems, most schools have a curriculum only in Japanese, while some other country teach in world common languages, for example, Indian schools teaching in English. From this fact, it can be thought that there are Japanese terms that are naturally delivered to individuals. At the early stage of the childhood, family members and schools also teach children about Japanese special traditions, that are related to the basic national history and ideology. For example, the emperor’s birthday is a national holiday, so children know why people celebrate. Another example is learning traditional children’s songs. They mostly include nostargy to people’s hometowns, scenes and feelings of each season, Japanese historical incidents, etc. that they are considered a sort of patriotism, since all of them include what only people in Japan have ever had. These basic childhood cultures are delivered at the early stage, and these remain in individuals as a base of further education. Thus, the very first step of political socialization, that builds one’s patriotism idea to the country is done by family members as well as early school education.

In addition, Board of Education also require schools to give history to the students throughout late elementary school to high school. The most important part of Japanese modern history education is after 1854, when Japan started joining into world trading system. This part is especially going to focus on history education about after the World War 2.

Japanese educational system and its contents have had a significant change after the World War 2 ended. As Japanese Empire, as well as the Emperor was made no longer to have such power in the role as an objective for political activities, the educational contents, especially in the field of social studies have been changed, because of the policy of General Headquarter who was in the charge of reconstruction of Japanese society with the idea that Japan should have been given no military strength and extreme worship to the emperor, then Japan would not fall for another extreme nationalist, militarist activities. For example, before and during the World War 2, there were subjects that included the Imperial Rescript and miliarist stories on Education, that crucially formed the country’s identity (Nozak, 2008). At that time, publication of the textbooks was not so fast enough that schools had to provide books with crossed out contents with black inc, called kuronuri-kyoukasyowhere, on any contents related to wars, militarist or nationalist thoughts.

In addition to the change in educational system and contents, Japan also renewed its constitution under the supervisor of General Headquarter (GHQ). The constitution is known for its pacifist idea, because of the article 9 that says, the country does not believe armed force is the solution of international conflicts and it has given up having military (Huffman, 2010). The process of drafting the constitution also explains how much it was relied on the GHQ. In history education in junior high school, every student has to learn how it was meant to be. There are two major understandings that students have about the constitution: this was drafted by the Prime Minister and the government but it involved too much idea about the loyalty to the Emperor so the GHQ wrote a draft based on the first draft, and the GHQ reflected their goal of demilitarizing Japan on the constitution. Although, the big part of the constitution was made by the Americans, it has never been amended since 1946 until today.

Moreover, the combination of history and social studies teaches that Japan contributes the United Nation by paying the regular budget. Japan’s payment has been the second highest budget by 9.68% following the United States by 22% (Dubbudu, 2016). The biggest reason why Japan keeps doing this is the Article 9. Since the Article 9 restricts, Japanese troops are not entirely able to take part in the UN Peacekeeping Operations(PKO) (Tatsumi, Rudolph, 2016). This fact is taught as a piece of evidence that Japanese constitution is used as it meant to be, that Japan has given up the voluntary armed attack.

According to these facts, it is able to say that Japanese educational system teaches Japan is has a contrasting political activities in the global society because of its history, that has never been colonized by the world power, but it has been reconstructed and made its constitution by GHQ as well as allies of the World War 2, and it still uses the constitution. The constitution is doubtlessly believed that it is peaceful by most of the population, because each individual learns that the wars that Japan and the world have experienced made horrible effects to all over the world, and this change that Japan has faced after the wars was needed dues to build the most peaceful era of the world history.

However, there are critiques to the Japanese constitution mainly by two groups of people: since the other countries who contribute to UN by the budget payment also contribute by giving larger range of tolerance to activities to the PKO, they consider that Japan buys lives with money, and nationalists and conservationists in Japan criticize there must be amendment of the constitution because it was made by the Americans. This has been a controversial topic for years.

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