August 30, 2002
Although still mired in a prolonged economic downturn and troubled by a shrinking population, a new Japan is emerging and wrestling with profound cultural changes, psychology Professor David Matsumoto (right) writes in his new book, "The New Japan: Debunking Seven Cultural Stereotypes" (Intercultural Press).
The younger generation rejects the older generation's ideas of collectivism, lifetime employment and interdependence. But at the same time it has been the country's traditional values of benevolence, politeness, honor and self-control that have helped Japan become the second largest economic power in the world, Matsumoto says.
"There is a sort of anxiety and unrest in Japanese society right now," says Matsumoto, who frequently visits Japan. "You have the older, more traditional generations and the younger, more cosmopolitan and Westernized generations. As a result, those cultural stereotypes are proving to be just that and not today's reality for the Japanese."
Matsumoto has studied culture, emotion and social interaction and communication for 20 years and has written more than 250 works in these areas. The director of the Culture and Emotion Research Laboratory at SFSU, he is also an award-winning judo coach with his own school in Richmond, the East Bay Judo Institute.
In the work world, the people of Japan are believed to be "salarymen," individuals, usually males, who spend long hours at the office and often work weekends at the expense of personal and family time, Matsumoto writes. However, more Japanese employees now view their jobs as a means of obtaining income rather than their purpose in life, and they favor a merit-based pay system.
In his book, Matsumoto also challenges the stereotypes of Japanese people in the areas of self-concept, interpersonal consciousness, lifetime employment and marriage.
As these stereotypes are swept aside, Matsumoto says, striking cultural changes are taking place in various aspects of Japanese life.
In business, for example, more women are rising to positions of leadership, sometimes creating a difficult adjustment for those who have thought of women as "tea ladies."
What's ahead for Japan? Matsumoto suggests that the best course is the melding of the old and new Japan. "Japan, it seems to me, is at the brink of once again leading the world in teaching the rest of us what it means to be human, through navigating the challenges posed by its newfound heterogeneity and dualistic cultural identity," he says.
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