Yuya Kiuchi: Horizontal Japanese Society and Vertical American Society

0

Re-reading “Mirror on Japan” reminded me of one of the most significant gaps between Japanese and American societies: horizontal Japanese society and vertical American society. This is a concept that I share with my students when I teach a global culture course at Michigan State University or with Japanese students who are interested in American culture. I would like to elaborate because this cultural difference can come as a shock when someone is not aware of why such a gap exists, especially when Japan and the U.S. seem to share a lot in technology, popular culture, etc.

Many scholars in sociology, anthropology, and other disciplines have stated that Japan is a collective society and horizontal. This is to say that what your neighbor, coworkers, friends, and peers think about you is very important. This is why “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down” in Japan. Such a nail disrupts harmony. If you excel at something, you should use your skills so that people around you can excel at it together and make progress. If someone has a lot of work and has to stay at work until 8pm, especially if (s)he is your boss, you should stay there until 8pm, even if you don’t have much to do. If your boss says, “let’s go out for a drink” after work, you will not say no, even if you have children waiting for you at home. Things have changed, but in many ways, these cultural assumptions hold true to this date.

On the other hand, American culture tends to be more individualistic and vertical. Although “individualistic” can often mislead some to think it is equivalent of being “selfish,” the reality is different. So parents try to nurture their childrens’ individuality. “Leave me alone,” and “I don’t care” exist as a part of common lexicon among 5-year old American children. If you think something is right, you do it, even if your neighbor thinks you are strange.

Of course, there are exceptions. Both societies are constantly changing. Despite the name, “vertical,” I am not claiming that a form of divine being exists in every American’s consciousness. But American cultural tradition and public culture have a tendency to be more vertical than Japanese counterparts that tend to be horizontal. When you look at these two cultures from this perspective, sometimes misunderstandings disappear and it helps better cultural understandings.

Yuya Kiuchi

“Mirror on Japan”を再読したのは、日米間にある文化的差異を考えるきっかけになりました。日本は横社会であり、アメリカは立て社会であるということです。グローバリゼーションの授業で学生に話すことであり、日本人の学生でアメリカ社会に興味のある人には、やはりお話をすることです。アメリカと日本はテクノロジーや大衆文化の点で様々な共通点を持っていますが、だからこそ文化の違いが思わぬ驚きとなりえます。そこで今日は、この点についてお話をしたいと思います。

社会学や人類学、その他の研究者が日本は横型の集団社会であると特徴付けました。つまり、近所に住む人々、同僚、友達の目を気にすると言うこと。だからこそ、出る杭は打たれます。調和を乱してはならないのです。何かに長けるひとは、その能力を共有し、皆で前進することが求められます。職場で夜8時まで仕事に追われる同僚がいたら、一緒に遅くまで残業します。それが上司なら当たり前です。もしくは飲みに誘われたら、家で子供が待っていても、「結構です」とは言えません。少しずつ変わってはいますが、今でも基本は一緒です。

逆にアメリカはより個人的で縦型です。「個人主義」は「自己中心的」と誤解されがちですが、実際には違います。だからこそ、親は子供の自己を育成します。「邪魔しないで」「どうでもいい」と5歳の子供は言います。もしも正しいと思えば、近所の人がどう思おうと、関係ないのです。

もちろん、例外はあります。社会は変化しています。縦型社会だからと言って、アメリカ人の誰もが神的な存在を信じているわけではありません。しかしアメリカの文化的伝統は、横型の日本より、縦志向の傾向があります。2つの文化をこの立場から考えてみると、誤解が解け、よりよい文化的理解が可能になるでしょう。

木内裕也

Share.

About Author

Yuya Kiuchi

Mr. Yuya Kiuchi received his Ph.D. in American Studies from Michigan State University. His research interests include post-bellum African American culture and history, use of media for social change and community empowerment, history of memory production and consumption, and identity formation through media use and conten production. He is currently a fixed-term assistant professor of the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at Michigan State University. He has translated and published multiple books from English to Japanese, including Barack Obama’s first autobiography, Dreams from My Father.

Comments are closed.