The ongoing crisis in Japan has caused a lot of deep thinking about the country in general by the Western media, and one article I caught on CNN was titled, “Are the Japanese Different?” This is certainly an interesting question: does Japan’s calm, ordered response to this unparalleled disaster indicate that they’re somehow fundamentally different from the rest of us? On the one hand the answer is yes — Japan is an island nation with an incredibly unique and strong culture that enabled it to resist colonization by the Mongols and the European powers (the only Asian nation other than Thailand to achieve this), and it spent 250 years closed off to other nations, living in a highly structured inward-looking society. On the other hand, the common Japanese belief — really more of a national meme — that they are fundamentally different, that (for example) the Japanese langauge is more difficult than every other language in the world and that Japanese brains are are uniquely tuned to speak it, is obviously untrue. These beliefs are part of what’s called nihonjinron (lit. “theories of the Japanese people”), a body of ideas about the Japanese as a race put forth by both Japanese and Western writers who were trying to describe Japan’s “special” role in the world before, during and after World War II. Among other things, the Japanese fascination with blood types determining one’s personality derives from nihonjinron ideas, from back in the days when the Japanese Empire tried to figure which blood type made the best soldiers (it was type O, if you’re wondering).
Are the Japanese “different”? What do you think?