Tuesday, 21 December 2010
Japan and China - a culture clash waiting to happen
Now that I've been back in the UK for a while, I feel I can finally start to reflect properly on my year living and working in Japan. Obviously, having first lived in mainland China and Taiwan, it is perhaps natural that I should compare Japanese culture to that of China. Whilst the two are, for obvious reasons, similar in many respects, and there is still much in the way of cultural cross-pollination, I think that even without the historical factors it is not surprising that the two cultures do not always get on.
Whilst Japanese seem, on average,to prefer the quiet seclusion of the shuttered rooms of the Izakaya, Chinese people seem to prefer the cheerful chaos of the Huo Guo. The intense privacy of the Japanese household, the fears that Japanese people often express about crime in their neighbourhoods despite the extremely low levels of crime found in Japan, the extreme sensitivity to danger, all show a culture in which fear of the outside or unusual are deeply ingrained and only ones closest associates and family are trusted. Next to Japan, China is a country of flamboyant risk-takers.
Japanese people are, in the main, formal and deferential to authority in the extreme - anyone who has stood in a Tokyo side-street and watched people waiting at a pedestrian crossing for the light to turn green when there is not a car in sight and the street itself is only a couple of yards across will know this. Chinese people, on the other hand, despite (or, perhaps, because of) coming from a culture dominated for centuries by centralised, authoritarian rulers, are much less deferential, much more willing to criticise authority - so long as such criticism will not reach the wrong ears.
You sense that, at least in comparison to Japanese society, the characterisation of Chinese culture as being essentially democratic may have some truth in it despite the misfortune that the Chinese have had in their dictatorial leaders. The flip-side to this is that the description seen on Chinese nationalist websites of Japan as an essentially feudal society may have a glimmer of truth in it despite the fact of Japan's democratic political system. On this basis, it is not surprising that Taiwanese democracy has delivered two changes of power in the last fourteen years, but that Japanese has only seen one real handover in almost 60 years - and that only last year and driven by a two-decade-long economic crisis.
Posted by Gilman Grundy at 02:10