Saturday, March 26, 2011
Japanese Stoicism vs. Arab Hysteria
Two Shame-Honor Cultures
Nancy Kobrin, PhD, Joan Lachkar, PhD
Not all shame honor cultures are the same yet they are key to understanding how people handle aggression, rage, violence and trauma. As psychoanalysts we are exploring the differences between Japanese stoicism and Arab aggression. In hearing and watching news reports during the tragic event of the earthquake/tsunami/radiation disaster and the recent uprising in Libya and the slaughter at Itamar, we cannot help but notice how both groups respond to disaster.
More simply stated, it becomes a matter of tolerance versus intolerance. The chaos, violence and hysteria we see in a large sector of the Arab revolution stands in sharp contrast to the stoicism and ability to cope among Japanese. In Japan there is a concept referred to as “wa” which means harmony - the desire to maintain the homeostasis at any cost. This is apparent with their regard for orderliness, their gardens, streams, lakes as they exemplify the soothing meditative quality. Even the unevenness of the rocks is placed in a way not to disturb the tranquility of the landscape. Even under the most dire circumstances the group seeks to maintain harmony by avoiding conflict. Refugee centers like the one in Hadenya exhibit this spirit, and also a keen desire to maintain Japan’s tidy perfectionism. See Martin Flacker, "Severed from the world, villagers survive on tight bonds and to-do lists." Perfectionism is a very dominant Japanese characteristic; one could even say obsessive but always under the rubric of maintaining harmony and peace. Chaos and things in disarray are tantamount to conflict. Even at the shelters we are struck by the orderliness, along the hallways, boxes of supplies lie stacked in orderly meticulous rows. The toilets are immaculate with cups and soap neatly lined up. At the entrance, sheets of paper list names and assigned tasks for the day, like chopping firewood, carrying supplies and cooking.
In recent developments many Japanese are beginning to show concern that the Japanese government has underestimated the seriousness of nuclear radiation to avoid conflict. Peter Berton*, Professor Emeritus at the University of Southern California, School of International Relations states that in Japan there are many ways to say no, where yes means no and no means yes in order to maintain the group’s cohesion. Although both groups adhere to submission, in contrast, Arabs do not share the same level of tolerance, to postpone, delay gratification as opposed to the Japanese. The Japanese adhere to the concepts of “honne” and “tatameo” whereby “honne” represents the home self or private self and “tatameo” the public self where one does not display emotions publicly. In Arab cultures they outwardly express rage as an expression of loyalty to their tribe.
Another dynamic in Japanese culture is “mato-damashi” or the Japanese spirit. Self-perception is imbued by the group. The responsibility is conformity to the group rather than the individual. Ironically, Arab Muslim culture is also a shame honor culture where the group self dominates the individual yet it is how aggression plays out that notes their distinctions. It becomes a matter of compliance verses revenge and retaliation as the more dominant traits.
The Jasmine revolution as it has been called in Tunisia shows how Arabs are actually trying to break out of that closed circle of a shame-honor society as David Pryce-Jones has so aptly described it. Different Arab Muslim countries now in the throes of change are at different points on the spectrum of breaking out of being hamstrung by shame-honor. In Libya Gadhafi still rules, Tunisia is up and running as well as Egypt a bit more, Bahrain and Yemen, we don't know yet and then there is Syria. They all seem to share the similar desire – the universal need for growth, freedom and human development. Of course we can only speculate and hope this is their mutually shared wish.
On the surface from the outside looking in, one could say that both Japanese and Arabs mistreat women as second-class citizens. Yes, Japanese women are raised to be subservient to men but there is a difference. Women are in charge of the finances and are in a position to make many decisions. They are also free to get an education, a job, a higher position and enjoy all that modernity has to offer. Another dynamic that has been transcended is conformity. Arab women are restricted from taking on any position of authority and are totally beholden to men. If they try to escape the bonds of authority they are beaten, stoned, honor murdered or publicly humiliated.
Yet why were the Japanese able to move on and the Arabs have remained relatively stuck? Professor Peter Berton also explained that this is to do with an economic revolution in Japan. The Japanese became obsessed with objects and modernity. This bolstered their group self as they could use these objects such as technology to move forward developmentally as transitional objects. We also reflect on how the internet, Facebook, Twitter and cellphones have facilitated the current upheaval in the Arab world.
A Memri January 22, 2004 no. 648 review of a book on Arab culture by noted Japanese scholar Nobuaki Notohara entitled The Arabs: The Japanese Point of View, stressed the fact that the Japanese had also developed the capacity for self-criticism. When asked by an Arab why the Japanese didn’t hate America after Hiroshima he said:
“We must admit our mistakes. We were imperialist and we conquered peoples and destroyed many lands – China, Korea, and Oceania. We must criticize ourselves and then correct our mistakes. As to feelings, this is a limited personal matter that does not build the future.”
But there is even a difference here in comparison to the Arabs. The Japanese do not kill people who bring Bibles into their country nor do they burn down the few synagogues they have. They have a more secure identity so that they do not need to prove their existence by constantly being in conflict with others. This is in contrast to the Arabs who are still in search of a more stable and satisfying sense of identity. Both societies adhere to submission and compliance, and in the case of the earthquake we see some fallout from this. The Japanese people are not trusting the government reports re the nuclear fallout because in Japan to disclose a source of conflict goes against harmony or "wa." The Japanese always try to suppress the internal tsunamis as we can see in the events unfolding today.
It will be interesting to see how the influx of foreigners who are helping with the reconstruction and aid will impact on the sense of a closed society. There is always incremental change. Japan opened up a bit more after World War II. Similarly one wonders to what degree Arab Muslim cultures and non Arab Muslim cultures are being impacted by the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the European/US and even Arab intervention in Libya.
In conclusion both communitiess adhere to the will of the group whereby the individual self is virtually non-existent. Both are shame-honor cultures, adhering to submission, and both over idealize the mother and devalue the female. Both share sword fantasies of the Samurai and the Jihadi. However, there are qualitative differences that are unique. Perhaps the Arabs can learn more about tolerance and stoicism from the Japanese. Perhaps the Japanese can learn about hysteria from the Arabs and allow themselves to be less submissive especially in time of crisis. Similarly by recalling the traits and dynamics of shame-honor cultures perhaps a greater understanding and appreciation of our own cultural differences can also be gained. Shame and saving face are common painful human emotions.
* The second author is very grateful to Professor Berton for his insights into Japan and Japanese culture. On November 3, 2010 the Government of Japan announced the recipients of its Fall 2010 Decorations. From Los Angeles Consulate General jurisdiction, Dr. Peter Berton, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, University of Southern California was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Ray with Neck Ribbon.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributor Dr. Nancy Kobrin, a psychoanalyst with a Ph.D. in romance and semitic languages, specializes in Aljamía and Old Spanish in Arabic script. She is an expert on the Minnesota Somali diaspora and a graduate of the Human Terrain System program at Leavenworth Kansas. Her new book is The Banality of Suicide Terrorism: The Naked Truth About the Psychology of Islamic Suicide Bombing.
FamilySecurityMatters.org Contributor Dr. Joanie Jutta Lachkar is a licensed and in private practice in Brentwood and Tarzana, California, who teaches psychoanalysis and is the author of The Narcissistic/Borderline Couple: A Psychoanalytic Perspective on Marital Treatment (1992, The Many Faces of Abuse: Treating the Emotional Abuse of High -Functioning Women (1998), The V-Spot, How to Talk to a Narcissist, How to Talk to a Borderline and a recent paper, “The Psychopathology of Terrorism” presented at the Rand and the International Psychohistorical Association. She is also an member for the New Center for Psychoanalysis.affiliateCorporationFamily therapistMarriage
You can find this online at: http://familysecuritymatters.org/publications/id.9077/pub_detail.asp