08 March, 2006

Japanese Society and the "oyakusoku"

oyakusoku - how many of you know this word? It's not a mere yakusoku, it's an oyakusoku.
It means "a tacit understanding", and what it presicely means is the patterns of cause and effect.
For example, let's say there's a banana peel left right there in a comedy show. The actor in this show, with barely any exception, will "accidentally" step on this peel and slip. Or say, a grade-conscious mother in a TV drama most likely wears a sharp, pointy pair of glasses. I don't know about the banana peel situation or the education mama situation, but I'm pretty sure there are many many kinds of these "oyakusoku" around the world, and there must be a fit phrase in each language to describe this kind of situation.
There are so many oyakusoku and in some cases, people intentionally betray this oyakusoku to impress the audience.

Anyway, why I got into writing about this is because I have heard so many times here and there that "Japan is a very closed country." and I'd like to take some time to reconsider this preconception.

To tell you my conclusion first, yeah I'd have to agree that Japan is closed somewhat.

But I don't think it necessarily means that Japanese is bad in nature, and I even think that this closedness is what makes Japan Japan.

In Japanese culture and language there are these two concepts "honne" and "tatemae". The former is the true feeling / thought and the latter, public face. "Well I actually think A, but I don't want to break the harmony here so I think I'll just say B." In another word, if the consequences are going to be smoother for all, let's just give in to the social oyakusoku.
In a way I guess this can be explained as a Japanese survival skill to live in a small country where you have to live just a few inches away from your nextdoor neighbor and you don't want to cause any disputes.

This way of thinking is now causing some controversies in the online world these days among Japanese net users. To react in a way not to break the harmony, we describe this as "to read the air (=atmosphere).

Say, you're new to this popular blog or a forum and forget the fact you're a newbie and try to join communication rings of regulars by throwing in flabbergasting comments as if you've been here all the time. Most definitely someone would shout at you to read the air, and the surprised newbie will either stop saying anything or snap at the warner and start an endless quarrel. No one really starts reading the air.

This is most likely to be a phenomenon unique to the faceless and nameless world of Internet.

I realize these days as I write this blog, that non-Japanese people tend to have more real faces on the Internet as compared to Japanese. Not as many Japanese display their real names or have their face pictures on their profiles. What I came to think of is that maybe b/c Japanese people are more brought up to distinguish honne and tatemae in the offline society, the online world is the only place where they (or we) can blurt out our real feelings without risking to be tracked down who said this or that.

Having said so, I don't have my face out neither here nor Japan Mode. It's only because I don't think there's the necessety to do so. But some other people even put mosaics on their personal travel pictures they put up on their private blogs.

Of course, a whole lot of them are conscious about privacy and net crimes, but why then, do more non-Japanese expose their profiles than Japanese? Hmm.

Maybe some of you know about this: there's a new kind of mega net business in Japan called "mixi" and this is an online social network that boasts a huuuge number of members. This gives another kind of description to what I wrote above.

Gotten way too long... I'll try writing about the relationship b/w mixi and oyakusoku next time.

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