The dangers of rapidly imposing cultural change
Japanese society, in this, the early part of the millennium, is unique amongst the world’s developed countries. It has a culture that is embedded in a rich and proud tradition and until recently has been resistant to change. As a culture develops, we often find that it gradually begins to embrace aspects of other cultures. For the most part these changes are introduced into the cultural base of a society at a pace that allows the people living within that society to adapt in a healthy and successful way. It is a natural, even-paced form of cultural evolution within a given society.
However, when we talk about cultural change within Japan, this is not the case. The shift towards a “Western Style” culture has been, and continues to be thrust upon Japan, albeit in a passive way, at an alarming pace.
When one imposes change at such an unnatural pace, there are adverse consequences. These consequences are further compounded when they demand stripping bare the core psychology of an individual and changing the base philosophy of the society to which the individual belongs. You need look no further than “Iraq” as a recent example of imposing rapid philosophical and psychological change on a culture. The war on Iraq has left the people there with no direction, no purpose (much to the public façade of “surprise” displayed by American political leaders). Iraq is a nation of people that have always been dictated to. They need orders, they need conflict. It gives them a sense of purpose and direction (even if non-Iraqi’s do not condone their life style). It affords them a way of life that they understand and as such offers them a degree of control (albeit somewhat misplaced and fabricated). This balance has been systematically dismantled in the name of democracy by power hungry American politicians and replaced with a “fend for yourself” philosophy disguised (rather cynically) under the banner of “freedom”.
Political opinion and war aside, there can be no argument about the extensive psychological and cultural damage that has been done to the people of Iraq as a direct consequence of rapidly imposed cultural change. Make no mistake, the psychological fallout from this action (not the act of “war” in and of itself) will be far reaching and long lasting. When one looks back at any event involving the radical, rapid change to the fundamental way of life within a society (e.g. South Africa), one can clearly see the psychological chaos that such action elicits.
You can change the rules and regulations of a society in the blink of an eye. Changing people takes much longer (just ask “Mahatma Ghandi” or “Martin Luther King”).
Japan’s loss of identity
The change in Japan of course is not via war. It is more subliminal than that, much more sinister and covert. It is also not as rapid as the change in Iraq or South Africa. However, the psychological consequences of this imposed cultural change are as far reaching and devastating to the people of Japan as they are to the people of Iraq. Indeed, recent statistics published by the “World Health Organization” (WHO) and by the “Japanese Ministry of Health” regarding suicide rates in Japan would suggest they are having a much deeper impact (another area of research I am currently investigating and reporting on).
The secret to good mental health (or at least one of them) is balance. A healthy range of emotions, both good and bad is important. A sense of purpose and direction is essential. Choice and control (actual or perceived) leads to understanding and acceptance. This fuels the notion that we are, to some degree, in control of our own destiny. The mind is no different than the body so far as when it becomes overworked, it needs to rest. Failure to maintain this “work and rest” balance can and will lead to difficulties. To that end, Japan is something of a paradox. The socially accepted norm in Japan is to work hard, do your best and never give up. The purpose of living is to work. Work is the priority in Japanese society. It takes precedence over everything else, including family. This obvious imbalance actually creates a harmony, a balance (therein lies the paradox) within the society and its origins are firmly set in a strong and proud tradition that spans thousands of years. Pride, confidence and ultimately happiness are, in Japanese society, judged primarily on status. Status is judged primarily on an individual’s achievements in the work place. In order to better oneself one must increase their social standing. This is done by improving social status and academic achievement. There has always been a very strong hierarchical system in Japan where pride for oneself and respect for others (depending on social status, age, gender, etc) are seen as the most important socially acceptable attributes. TO BE CONTINUED………………..