SFSU professor puts to rest cultural
SAN FRANCISCO, August 15, 2002 -- Although still mired in a prolonged economic downturn and its population shrinking, a new Japan is emerging and wrestling with profound cultural changes, says San Francisco State University professor and Richmond resident David Matsumoto in his new book.
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 such as benevolence, politeness, honor and self-control that have helped Japan become the second largest economic power in the world, says Matsumoto, the author of the book "The New Japan: Debunking Seven Cultural Stereotypes."
"There is a sort of anxiety and unrest in Japanese society right now," said 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."
For example, Japanese have been thought to think collectively and identify more with the whole of society. But studies have shown that college students now think of themselves more as individuals than collectivists.
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 working weekends at the expense of personal and family time, Matsumoto said. 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.
And the notion of Japanese as emotionless robots has been proven otherwise in numerous studies, he said. "I believe the Japanese are highly emotional and value their own feelings and those of others above all else," said Matsumoto, a professor of psychology who has extensively studied the nature of emotion.
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 said, striking cultural changes are taking place in the areas of work, education, sports and even everyday 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."
In school, many Japanese young people have a need to be creative and think critically. However, the educational system still prizes rote memorization of facts.
In sports, the 2000 Olympic Judo match between David Douillet of France and Shinichi Shinohara of Japan highlighted a change in attitude among the Japanese, said Matsumoto. Douillet won on a questionable call by the referee, creating an uproar in Japan.
"What saddens me is the way so many Japanese decided to carry on a personal vendetta against others because of the loss," said Matsumoto, an award-winning Judo coach with his own school in Richmond, the East Bay Judo Institute. "It was an example of the lack of moral virtue and values."
In everyday life, Matsumoto said, politeness has given way to rudeness. The cultural changes in Japan have produced tension and stress for many individuals.
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 new found heterogeneity and dualistic cultural identity," he said.
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