In Response to Anne Allison's, Chapter 2 of "From Lifelong to Liquid Japan":
One spot in Allison’s “Precarious Japan” that stuck out to me was near the beginning when she recalled a conversation with a Japanese salesman in the 1980s. The salesman is quick to boast of his superior work ethic and willingness to work extra hours without pay. He explains that he does not mind working extra hours as he is doing this FOR his company and FOR Japan. His desire to work longer hours does not at all involve a desire for more money, but instead lies in his desire for honor and strong devotion to his country.
I find this interesting because Allison discusses the rise of consumerism and capitalism in Japan, so earning money through capitalism did become a part of the Japanese narrative during this period of economic growth. However, contrary to American ideals, monetary gain and power were not the only driving factors in a Japanese man’s desire to work for capitalistic endeavors. In the United States, most people work to earn money in order to maintain a certain living standard and overtime work will almost always require some kind of reward or there will be no desire to perform extra hours. In Japan, this is different. There is motivation in serving one’s country through contributing to the growth of the economy. This is considered an act of honor.
This aspect of Japanese identity appealed to my interest, but it wasn’t until I watched the lecture that I realized an interesting factor contributing to this contradiction of motivation between the United States and Japan. Japan’s recent history has primarily consisted of a struggle between belonging to the West or to the East. This motivational difference, I believe, illustrates this battle between the two sides. The Japanese economy moved toward capitalism and big business, but Japanese traditional ideals or values remained important within Japanese culture. The idea of honor is an ancient Japanese value that still remains despite the new shift to a more Western society. Japan’s identity should be allowed to contain both aspects of Western and Eastern culture.
In Response To: Yoshio Sugimoto, “Nation and Nationalism in Contemporary Japan,” Sage Handbook of Nations and Nationalism (2006), pp. 473-487.
National homogeneity remains an important part of modern Japanese culture despite a growing multicultural and ethnically diverse population. Sugimoto suggests a cooperation or intertwining between these two seemingly opposing aspects of Japanese society and I tend to agree. Though nationalism maintains the ability to exclude various groups of people within any society, as seen throughout the history of the world repeatedly, I believe ethnic diversity and celebration of multiculturalism can strengthen a state’s national identity.
The United States pretends to pride itself on its status as a nation of immigrants while utilizing an exclusive version of nationalism to stifle the success and growth of certain groups of people. This example of a multicultural nation embracing nationalism is not what Sugimoto or I encourage a newly diversifying Japan to embody.
Instead, Japan has the opportunity to build a stronger sense of nationalism and state pride through an encouragement of multiculturalism. Japan’s national roots remain an important aspect of Japanese society and bringing immigrants or other ethnicities into that narrative can be challenging, but it is not impossible. Japan utilized Western technology and ideas to modernize and establish itself as an economic hub outside of the traditional, geographical Western society (Sugimoto, 475). Japan modernized without losing its sense of tradition and national pride. The country remains loyal to its historical values and ideologies while incorporating newer ideas from outside its own cultural context and this combination has strengthened Japan’s position on a global scale and stimulated its economy. This same thing can be done in Japan with the influx of different groups of people. Japan has the opportunity to thrive with both national homogeneity and ethnic diversity as important aspects of Japanese society.
I believe it is a sad notion that nationalism must be separate from multiculturalism because this suggests that humans must be separated by race, religion, or ethnicity to create a society with strong cultural values and traditions. Multiculturalism should be celebrated as a tool to create a better national identity, a more inclusive nationalism.
Growing up in a conservative neighborhood in Texas I became aware of two things: 1) how it feels to be on the outside and 2) why people I disagree with feel the way that they do. I came to Seattle to escape a community that intentionally silenced people like me. My identity at the time came from being one of the few liberal voices in my high school and I constantly faced a sexist and racist society demonizing me for my beliefs. I never felt comfortable being myself in this environment; I still haven’t told many people at home that I’m bisexual.
My experiences in Texas taught me what it feels like to be the unheard. I use this awareness to relate to people everyday. I am incredibly privileged and I will always strive to be more aware of that privilege because people not as privileged as myself are the unheard in many aspects of their lives living in the United States. Living in a community that promoted such different beliefs than my own, I learned how to understand how other people feel and think. This doesn’t mean I believe every thought and feeling is justified because I can understand it, but it instead means I know where a conversation can be started.
My greatest passion in life is advocating for human rights. Specifically, I hope to one day contribute to the fight against torture. To me, torture is the most basic violation of human rights and to live in a country that has a long history of torture based on racial and religious discrimination is disgraceful. Japan and the US have a haunted history of torture and other violations of human rights and I am interested to explore this further in regards to political and personal narratives. I believe an evaluation of human rights implications will benefit our understanding of the relations between Japan and the United States.
I'm Laura and I am a rising junior studying political science at the University of Washington. This summer I will be traveling to Tokyo with the Honors Program at UW to study political narratives in Japan and the US. This will only be my third trip out of the United States (including Canada), so I am nervous but excited!
I am most excited to study a different perspective of historical and political events that have shaped our world, while experiencing a culture so different than my own. We will be visiting Kyoto and Hiroshima during our stay in Japan and I believe this will contribute to my overall understanding of Japanese culture.
If anyone has suggestions of where I should go while in Japan, I’d love to hear them!