Ignorance and Apathy: an Analysis of Japan and America’s Values

by Kai Mandelbaum, age 14
Ignorance and Apathy: an Analysis of Japan and America’s Values Kai is a Japanese American who lives in NY. He frequently visits Japan and can speak Japanese fluently.

“Have you ever wondered what the cultural norms are 6,700 miles away? These cultural norms are systems of beliefs groups follow in order to maintain well-being. These sets of beliefs keep a society on one page and functional. Different cultural norms are also modified by the economy, integration, etc. Even though America and Japan are both first world countries, their values developed differently.”

Have you ever wondered what the cultural norms are 6,700 miles away? These cultural norms are systems of beliefs groups follow in order to maintain well-being. These sets of beliefs keep a society on one page and functional. Different cultural norms are also modified by the economy, integration, etc. Even though America and Japan are both first world countries, their values developed differently. Japan was secluded from the world for 220 years, but was heavily influenced by the outside world after WWII. Japan adjusted many parts of its culture, but it also kept most of its values. America, on the other hand, won WWII and was powerful. Instead of taking over the world, America chose to help out struggling countries. The culture also became prideful. People started becoming more independent and thinking outside of what the government wanted people to think. Under the laws created by the government itself, this type of thinking isn’t criticized. The two countries model themselves on a system that runs on values that are almost the opposite of each other. America values pride and individual rights, while Japan values conformism and respect.

 

Japan’s values, conformism and respect, emerged from being isolated from the world for centuries and the loss of WWII. In 1633, Japan closed itself off to the world with the exception of trade with the Dutch. No Japanese person was allowed to exit the country, and anyone living outside of the country also could not enter. This caused the Japanese to develop similar ideas, because they had no influences on their ideas from foreign countries. Also, the Japanese government implanted strict rules during this period, which made the Japanese people used to following orders without questioning them. Even after Japan opened up to the world, this culture still lived on. Many years later, Japan was in a similar situation. When Japan was fighting WWII, the government propagated propaganda, so the Japanese population, this time, was scared of the outside world. Japan’s hate towards the world quickly disappeared after the loss of WWII. Japan’s citizens realized that their country was very far behind and subsequently fell in love with foreign countries, especially the United States. Japan rebuilt its cities, but left a few reminders of war, like a building in Hiroshima, to never forget the horrors of war. This was not in any way directed against the US. Japan completely overturned its political views, but its thinking processes remained. Japan has still been obsessed with foreign countries, especially America, to this day.

 

However, America had external influences for its whole history. In 1787, the Philadelphia Convention wrote the Constitution, which by today’s standard, is still very democratic. America also evolved the way it did because of immigrant populations. America won the war and felt good about itself, because it was helping different countries recover. America’s people gained pride. However, America is very ignorant now, most likely due to the poor education system. America has the biggest economy in the world, but its education is the 14th best. America has a big culture which believes that America is always the best. All this contributes to America valuing individual and unalienable rights.

 

Japan and America’s values approach the task of keeping a community functional differently. Japan’s societal model has everyone working together and most people benefiting equally. This works perfectly in theory, but since everyone is expected to be similar, people who are any different, not necessarily worse than the expectation, are treated badly. There is even a saying in Japanese that translates to “the nail that sticks out gets hammered.” In America, people will undermine others to get ahead. Also, because of this, children are taught that being unique is always a good thing. They are also taught that everyone is unique. This creates a tendency for people to feel proud without work. However, this helps people’s unique strengths to be recognized. Japan’s values helps processes work smoother and more efficiently, because everyone always follows rules. An example of this is how in Japan, straight lines are formed to board the trains.

 

Values impact the way a civilization functions. Japan and America are two technologically developed first world countries with extremely different sets of values. It is important to know about these countries’ values because they are two countries which approach the task of forming a successful civilization from completely different angles through these two sets of values. By comparing these societies, one can gain knowledge about sociology.

 

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