The Japanese people

 History

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The Japanese people have studied their own origins since the Meiji period. There have been many hypothesis, styles of housing and legends, pointed towards Polynesia, various cultural similarities directed attention towards Southern China. Yet, other clues pointed towards Korea and Northern China. It does seem likely that the first Japanese made their way across land bridges from the north and south Asia. This would have occurred during the last Ice Age, about 18.000 years ago.


Japan could be accessed very easily at this time, connected to the Asian continent at many points by the vast land bridges. To the north, came the Mongoloid races, short in height and fairly flat featured from the south came another Mongoloid race, round faced and tall, they were prevalent throughout South East Asia. These two races mixed and out of this mixture came the first Japanese people.


It is generally thought that the original Japanese, spread throughout Japan, fairly evenly. From the Yayoi to the Kofun periods. After that came the advanced Chinese and Korean races who immigrated to Japan bringing their technology and culture. The taller immigrants, assimilation into the Japanese race took time to spread. Traces of the original Japanese can still be found in the people of the Northern and Southern most parts of Japan. The Japanese to the north tend to be round faced and shorter whereby the southern Japanese tend to be taller with narrower faces.

The Japanese People and Nature


The Japanese appreciate nature, it is not an enemy because the Japanese climate is relatively mild with a lot of rainfall. From the earliest fisherman and later, farmers, the rhythms of nature were closely followed by the people of that time. This identification with nature by a society sensitive to the changing seasons, led to the awareness of the smallest changes, like a breeze in the trees, the tinkle of water in a stream, etc. It follows then, that many arts and customs followed their sensitivity towards nature.


The Buddhist belief of the passing of time and the Japanese ideal about nature have been incorporated as a concept to the belief of nature as an extension of oneself.


Yugen (mysterious tranquil beauty), Wabi ( tranquility around us) and sabi (sadness in ones heart, a lack of desire) are intrinsic characteristics in the traditional Japanese garden, flower arranging and the tea ceremony. In all of these arts the ideal is to achieve a representation of nature itself.


The traditional martial arts also use this philosophy, believing that power comes from being relaxed and in tune with nature.

The Family


Brief History:

In the late 1930's to early 1940's, the average family consisted of 5 members. It was quite common for three generations to live under the same roof. The father had the dominant role in the household. One word for "wife" is "kanai" (meaning: inside the home). She would have to wait hand and foot on her husband and also on her husbands parents, look after the children and do the household chores. During the last World War, while her husband was away at war, the wife, much the same as those in the west, had to find enough food to feed her family and try and ensure their safety. She could not share any of her problems with her husband, while he was away
fighting.


After the war, things started to change in the family. The nuclear family became more prevalent, the husband started to loose his grip on absolute authority in the home, he could no longer veto his children's marriage, education or silence his wife.


The, mother-in-law / husband / wife,  triangle, is quite often at war, the wife no longer taking abuse from the mother-in-law, and the husband stuck in the middle of it. Modern wives "take no prisoners" where their children or family are concerned. The husband sometimes has very little say in family affairs, children's education, finances and such.


The stereotypical image, many foreigners seem to have of Japanese women (and Asian women in general) as a slave to her husband's every whim or desire are sadly mistaken. There are many inequalities facing women in Japan, pushed by greedy corporations and small companies alike, to pay "part timers" a lower wage for working full time hours, often working harder than those male employees who are full timers. The government, naturally, will not change the laws here any time soon, to better protect women at work, and give "teeth" to the sexual harassment and discrimination laws (guidelines) that are in place now. 


But on the home front the woman usually rules. Husbands can expect to be given pocket money by their wives. Wives normally keep careful track of all credit and debits, keeping receipts, complaining if the husband comes home smelling of alcohol late at night. A Japanese woman at first glance may seem to be docile and everything you expected her to be, but later on, you may see the real woman emerge out of the camouflage.

 Family Life


The Japanese family on the surface is very harmonious, compared to many Western families. There are never public displays of discord between husbands and wives as this would be considered very disgraceful behavior by society, where everything should be placid, at least outside the home.


This philosophy has its roots in Confucian teachings, brought to Japan in the 6th century from China. Confucian ideals run all through Japanese society, often making the Japanese people unfathomable to foreigners. This is especially "telling" when
Western businessmen try to negotiate with their Japanese counterparts, or for the many foreigners living in Japan, who often complain about their host country to anyone who will listen. I will be listing the gaijins most popular complaints of 1998 at the end of this year.
It is rare to see a child scolded in public. For me to witness children running riot through a shop or restaurant with the parents, doing nothing to curtail the badly behaved children, makes me feel anger towards the parents. For Japanese to witness me scolding my first daughter, when she was going through her "terrible two's", probably made them angry at me. Who is right? I prefer my way, one reason
is that my oldest daughter, who is nearly five years old now, can be taken to an expensive restaurant or hotel and behave with admirable good manners, towards the waiters and anyone else around her. This was not beaten into her, but we always corrected her patiently when she was a toddler. Now she takes it as normal to sit in her seat and not run around as so many other children her age or older usually do. Sometimes I have noticed other parents looking at her, and maybe they are wondering why their children cannot behave as my oldest does. Still our youngest daughter is just " hitting her terrible two's"!


The Japanese family in the privacy of their home, may not always be as tranquil as they would have you believe. Spousal battery is not often reported, but there are groups emerging to assist wives who have been beaten by their husbands. Most wives are too ashamed to admit there is a problem.


I think also, the older generation of Japanese (pre Second World War), took it for granted to beat their wives from time to time. This was highlighted to me, by one of my friends, who was married to a Japanese woman for 11 years, until they both decided to end the marriage a couple of years ago.


He and his ex-wife often used to have rabid disputes, they were living with her parents and younger sister in Tokyo at the time. One evening they were quarreling again, his mother-in-law came into the room and told my friend, "give her (daughter) a good smack round the face, that should shut her up". Needless to say, he didn't
follow that advise. He was too stunned to hear that from his wife's own mother, and he was also too good natured, to do it anyway.
     
Husbands abusing wives, wives abusing husbands, child abuse, it all happens in Japanese homes, as much as it happens in most other countries.


Child abuse is perhaps the most taboo subject in Japan more so than eating whale meat or talking about the Emperor. Japan has become the center for all pedophile activities in the world, since other countries including old pedophile centers such as Thailand and the Philippines have put teeth into their child protection laws.


Japanese internet sites provide a host of disgusting pictures and videos to pedophiles around the world. I believe these sites are well known to various police agencies in other countries. They are also known to the National Police Agency in Japan, but they are powerless to stop these sites from operating. Japanese law does not prohibit the display of naked children, etc. These sites are believed to use material from other countries, so it is not only Japanese children who are put at risk by these sites. I would ask  you to take a minute to protest these feeble Japanese laws, protecting children, by clicking here , a link to the National Police Agency (Japan) which will deliver you to their e- mail form. You can type your message in English or Japanese. Thank  you!
One final point: Many Japanese men have been arrested for engaging in illegal sexual activities with children in the above Asian countries.

Typical Japanese mothers are sometimes hard to comprehend, when you can witness on a daily basis, children loose in a car, often standing up in the front seat head against the windshield, while the mother happily drives along the road. Child seats are not a fashionable item for the family car in Japan. Color TV, navigation
system, CD player, MD player, are all a must if you want to keep up with the Tanaka's.

"A child seat?" "No, they are cruel devices that restrain a child's movements in a car, how can dear Taro enjoy the journey?"

I have heard it all,  another example:

"I wouldn't buy a child seat because my neighbors would think I am being cruel to dear Taro".

Another opinion, "I can't buy a child seat because the other neighborhood mothers would not accept the idea".
My advice has always been and will always be, "think for yourself and the life of your child, first".
Easy for me to say, as I don't have to conform to every whim and fad of Japanese society.


The government, as usual, has just recently made a half hearted attempt to educate parents on the safety of child seats. Much as it tried to inform the public about AIDS and using a condom, many  years ago. It was soon forgotten by the general public and government alike.
Bicycle helmets for children are an unknown piece of equipment in Japan. Adults on their fancy racing bikes and racing outfits always seem to wear helmets. I think because it looks fashionable, matching the bright spandex outfits, not out of any consideration to safety.


My children do have helmets now. We always take them on our bicycles when we go shopping, so a helmet is important, as other foreign families do in Tokyo.


We were living in the countryside, we searched high and low for helmets. We finally ordered two, the shop manager, maybe, thought we are very odd parents, but business is business.
     
When we went out to the local shops, we got many strange looks from people, as though our children are aliens, well they do look a little alien in their helmets and they are aliens in Japanese people eyes, when they remove them, so I guess it doesn't matter.
     
On a positive note, most Japanese parents do devote themselves to their children's needs, buying them anything, clothing them well at all times, spending a great deal of money on their children's education. Paying for expensive school trips, often to other
countries, maybe sacrificing their own happiness in order for their children to be happy!


It is all a contradiction, that makes Japan, Japan. To get a Japanese woman's perspective (my wife's) on these issues and many  others click here.

 Modern Japanese

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A Day At The Beach

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Japanese enjoy much the same things as their Western counter parts, skiing, mountain climbing, hiking, walking, sport, dating, going to the beach, and so on. It is not always all work and no play, not these days anyway, and not with the younger generations!

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I have often felt the same things as, so many other foreigners, that the Japanese people are cold, heartless, illogical and bigoted. I still believe many Japanese are bigots "of the first order" and most Japanese are completely illogical. Cold and heartless, no, not any more than other nationalities or races of people. I know some people dislike or hate the Japanese because of atrocities committed during the Second World War. I do feel very sad, because I understand something about both sides. Recently (end of November 1998) a group of veteran prisoners of war from many countries had their case thrown out of a Japanese High Court, with the Judge not clearly admitting that they had even suffered abuse at the hands of their Japanese jailers. One British veteran was nearly in tears after the verdict. It is not possible for the Japanese Government to openly admit wrongdoing during the last war. It goes completely against the grain of Japanese society.


There are many cases to prove this point. Recently the Chinese President, Jian Zemin, made a state visit to Japan. Prime minister Keizo Obuchi, was unable to clearly and without reservation, make an official apology to China, for the atrocities caused by the Japanese military in that country. 


The so called "comfort women" (sex slaves), are yet another example of Japan not coming to terms with its responsibilities, With case after case thrown out of the Japanese courts. A private charity was set up to "assist" some of these women, if they signed a document, relinquishing any further attempts to take legal action. This
private charity was sponsored by the government to quite former slaves. Many women have refused this "hush" money!


We should remember that Japan suffered terrible devastation during the last war, with Tokyo razed to the ground, and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I think the Japanese people paid a very high price for the wrong doings of their military and bureaucratic leaders during that war with many atomic bomb victims still suffering today. One last observation on this topic: which modern industrialized country has not committed an atrocity during war or peace? I don't think any of the people were given an apology or compensated in anyway, by our great countries. Doesn't the Bible say, "Do unto others....."

The ordinary people of Japan have the same feelings as the rest of the human race, but from an early age, are not allowed to express those feelings, always holding them inside, sometimes leading to mental illness, suicide and rash acts, they are all prevalent in Japan.


When a very popular singer committed suicide, many young girls tried to follow suit, a couple were successful. Maybe this demonstrates the shallowness of many young peoples lives, that they can destroy themselves so easily. Who is to blame? Japanese society, the family, or both,  I tend to believe that the latter is true.

  A typical family day

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Family life is usually pretty busy in Japan. The husband may have an hour or so commute to his office. He would have to get up at 6:30-7:00 am in order to have a light breakfast and shower. He would be in his office by 8:30 usually, certainly before the official time.
     

Japanese workers are famous throughout the world for the long hours they put in every day, I will be discussing this issue in some detail in another section.

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He would not usually finish work at 5:00 pm, but stay on in the office until the work is done. Then he may go and have a few drinks with his colleagues, getting home at maybe10:00 or 11:00 pm, eating the meal his wife has prepared, taking a bath and sleeping after midnight and the cycle will continue the next day.

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The wife will get up earlier than the rest of the family, to prepare breakfast, for her husband and sometimes a lunchbox. She will then have to get the children ready for school and also prepare their breakfast. By 8:00am the house will be empty, the housewife can then start the housework, taking frequent rests to watch her favorite daytime TV. program, reporting the latest scandals about Japanese stars. Then she must watch the phone in programs where other housewives talk to various "talents" about their sexual, emotional, medical, and other problems. Then she may  visit the other neighborhood housewives, for coffee and a gossip. By early evening she will then prepare the family dinner and wait for her children and husband to arrive home.


Children, as mentioned in another section, have a hectic school life, if they attend a cram school, then they may not arrive home until 9:00 or 10:00 pm, eating a quick meal and then going to their rooms to do their homework and study. It may be quite normal for them not to see their father, perhaps until the weekend, if the children are high school age, then perhaps they will hardly ever see their father, as they will spend time with their friends or studying for exams.


The housewife is often the mediator between father and children, the children have grown apart from their father and may not understand or sometimes even like him. The father will grow more distant from his family, staying out even later, getting more drunk in the evening and maybe passing out on a station platform or even in the street. This is a quite a common sight in Tokyo, late at night. I heard one story, that fits the above points exactly. The father went drinking with his office friends until late, it was a very chilly February evening, outside of Tokyo. He said "goodnight" to his friends and started walking to the station.


The next day the police visited his office, announcing that he had died of hypothermia. He was found laying on the sidewalk by a patrol car, early in the morning. They speculated that he stopped to have a rest and then fell asleep and died on the sidewalk. He left a wife and two children.


For the majority of families weekends are a time, to spend together, going on a small trip, shopping, having lunch or dinner in a restaurant, especially for the new generations of parents, where some western ideas on raising a family have taken root. The husband no longer sacrificing himself and his family for the sake of his company, spending more time with his wife and children. Many families also plan expensive vacations abroad, before the children start high school. This is seen as one of the last chances for a family to spend a long vacation together.


In more traditional homes the mother will educate her daughter on cooking skills and so forth. She will also teach her how to serve guests in a correct manner. The daughter from her early teens will be expected to serve guests at the family home. The son is usually exempt from such work.


Numerous parents send their young children to music schools, there  are an abundance of them everywhere, teaching even very young children. Japanese parents are much like their counterparts in the West, taking enormous pride in their children's achievements, even if it is playing a piano off key at a local music school concert !

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