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The popular image of Japan as a homogeneous and harmonious is not nearly as valid as it seems. The aspects of Japan which could be argued are of this nature are enforced by both Western media and the impressions that Japanese society and media gives out. Japanese society has always strived and aspired toward this ideal, to such an extent, that an impressive illusion of homogeneity and harmony has been created. This is probably not something which many native Japanese consciously consider; it is more likely that many of them believe the illusion as much as Westerners do.
There is a great deal of cultural diversity in Japan, which, although greatly increased in the post-war period, was previously more heterogeneous than one might initially imagine. Likewise, the impression of harmony which Japan emits is quite far from the truth in more than a few aspects of society. One of the more recent examples of this conflict within Japanese society is the intermittent uproar over the politicized nature of the school system. Some see Japan as a land of opposites and contrast. From the ancient temples in the middle of nowhere to the gargantuan glass skyscrapers which tower over the metropolis that is Tokyo.
The farmer and the city businessman. The fantastic technological advancements which come from a culture which still adheres closely to ancient traditions and rituals (some of which have been assimilated from other cultures, especially the Chinese). However, the Japanese’ illusion of homogeneity still holds relatively fast over this school of thought. This is because society itself endeavours to impresses a sense of group effort over the entire nation. This means that an employee in Japan has a greater understanding of the role he or she fills within at least their immediate sphere of work environment.
The idea of this is to encourage employees to work for the benefit of the group (essentially, the nation) and not for their own personal gain. The society of today views Japan as a country of strong culture and a disciplined and uniform nature. The Japanese workforce is thought of as hardworking, loyal and verging on selfless when it comes to personal (or family related) sacrifice if required. This applies primarily to the Japanese white collar office workers (sarariman), but a similar work ethic is preferred in almost all occupations.
Japanese women are generally portrayed as motherly housewives; they appear to play a relatively small part in the business world and are equally not directly very active in political matters. Those few Japanese women who have been recognised as beneficial to their society and culture have been affiliated with the arts. Japanese family life is viewed as at worst amicable. The offspring are obedient and seem happy to learn about and follow the culture and traditions of the previous generations. Japanese schooling has proven to be one of the most successful educational styles to date.
The Japanese have always put a great emphasis on formal learning, students most often simply memorising information parrot-fashion. Although very different to Western schooling where far more free thought is promoted, Japanese schooling seems very effective for them. With ninety-four percent of students attending senior high school and around a third of these going on to higher education, Japanese Universities turn out a sizeable number of graduates on an annual basis. If you were to ask a random inhabitant of a Western nation what comes to mind when they think of Japan, you’ll probably get answers along the lines of:
“Samurai, sushi, sumo and sake. Geishas and gadgets, chopsticks and haikus. Bonsai trees and the expertly crafted gardens which come hand in hand with them… ” Certainly, these are elements of Japanese culture, but they are by no means as prominent within society as we are led to believe (chopsticks excluded). For example, there are incredibly few genuine Geisha girls. They have become a piece of heritage which has faded in both functionality and popularity since the technological boom hit Japan. The aforementioned sarariman model is one of the prime images the Japanese choose to utilise to promote their nation in the eyes of the world.
Seen as something of the epitome of homogeneity and harmony, the life of the sarariman is very much orientated around his career. Putting his work before his family, the office worker is looked after very well by his employers if he performs well. Businesses help their employees by finding them accommodation, lending money and even going as far as to set some of them up with wives. As a result of this, the sarariman do not get much chance to spend time with their families, overtime will often if not always be worked where needed and should you be required to transfer department, quite often the families would be left behind.
The companies do this in an attempt to increase the employee’s dependence on the company so they are less likely to seek employment elsewhere which is practically impossible to do. Many firms are reluctant to employ anyone who has left another firm, especially straight onto the same wage. This seems to be something of an unwritten law amongst businesses designed to keep one’s employees faithful to the company. most Japanese tend to work in one job or for one firm for their entire lives. Again, this reinforces the group ethic which the Japanese government seems to be so eager to impress.
History textbooks (particularly concerning the 20th Century war periods) are something of tomes of propaganda which, instead of presenting facts and deriving opinions from such facts, the opposite is done. That is, to present a take on a historical event and then to attempt to support this usually biased view with carefully chosen statistics. The Japanese seem very reluctant to admit to mistakes from their past, and have gone as far as to pass a law which states that all educational textbooks must be approved by the Ministry of Education.