Nihonjin-ron (Discourses on Japanese People) (日本人論)

Nihonjin-ron is a study, books, and reports discussed on Japanese people.

Originally, the Nihonjin-ron discourses were found in missionaries' reports to their mother countries which were written from the Azuchi-Momoyama to the Edo periods, and experiences told by Japanese fishermen or boatmen who had a chance to see Russia, Canada, or other countries due to an accident or drifting at sea. From the end of the Edo to the Meiji periods, the Nihonjin-ron discourses were written in the reports by overseas inspection teams from Japan cultural antholopological observations and essays by foreigners visiting Japan, and so on.

After the Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War, and two world wars, foreign people took growing interests in Japanese strategies and tactics, a moral sense, and what was behind loyalty and patriotism, so a Japan study was pursued such as "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" by Ruth Benedict and "Zen in the Art of Archery" by Eugen Herrigel.

After the World War II, various books on Nihonjin-ron were written again by raising awareness about Japanese social infrastructure that supported marvelous progress in economy. Most of them inclusively treated Japanese people as a standardized group, ignoring historical changes and class differences, and uniqueness was discussed through a comparison with foreign countries and cultures. This genre of book becomes popular now and even some best-sellers were brought out. Some people claim that such a phenomenon cannot be seen in the world except Japan. However, it is because the countries compared with Japan in the essays were powerful developed countries such as U.S. and European countries, especially U.K., France, Germany, and so on, which were considered more excellent than Japan in the past.

If you look away from these countries, discourses on own ethnic group are popular in other countries such as Turkey, South Korea, Malaysia, and so on. Therefore it can be said that the idea itself that the Nihonjin-ron discourses are special is typical in the discourses on own ethnic group in other countries.

There are discourses on Japanese people from the view of cultural anthropology or the study of sociology, while many books are also written by Japanese writers and published in order to emphasize especially their own peculiarity based on their feelings of nationalism. So there are scholars such as Peter N. Dale (1986), Harumi Befu (1987), Kosaku YOSHINO (1992), and others who study the Nihonjin-ron critically as they consider such discourses as a form of cultural nationalism. That is why today the Nihonjin-ron discourses are generally considered not as a genre of study but as 'criticism' by the academic people.

Characteristics of the Nihonjin-ron Discourses
Yoshio SUGIMOTO and Mouer (1982) pointed out that many of the Nihonjin-ron shared the following three basic opinions. Japanese people have weak ego-strength at the level of individual psychology.
They do not establish Independent 'self.'

Japanese people are group-oriented at the level of human relations. The relationships between Japanese people are characterized by 'groupism;' Japanese spontaneously devote themselves to the group which they belong to.

At the level of whole society, the principles of consensus, harmony, and integration are accepted. Therefore the society is extremely stable and people have a strong sense of unity.

On the other hand, the tone of argument in the Nihonjin-ron has changed, reflecting social conditions in each period. For example, in the desolated days after the war, while Japan was aiming at reconstruction as a democratic nation, unique feudal system and custom left in Japan were critically inspected, being compared with those in the U.S. and the Western European countries. When a period of high economic growth came, however, peculiarity of Japan came to be reconsidered positively.

Tamotsu AOKI (1990) classified such changes in the Nihonjin-ron which were written after the war into four periods.

The first period, 'recognition of negative peculiarity' (1945 - 54)
"The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" (1948), "Family Structure in Japanese Society" (1948), and so on.
The second period, 'recognition of historical relativity' (1955 - 63)
"Hybrid Culture" (1956), and so on.
The third period, 'recognition of positive peculiarity,' the prior period (1964 - 1976) and the latter period (1977 - 1983)
"The Anatomy of Dependence" (1973), "Japan as Number One" (1979), and so on.
The fourth period, 'from specialty to generality' (1984 -)

Although they are the same Japanese, it has to be taken into consideration that their characters are much differ from age to age. So vigorous studies in various places in different periods are waited. In the first place, to apply a racial characteristic or a national characteristic to an individual high-handedly can bring out a prejudice if it goes too far, so it is a dangerous action.

The number of books and classification of the Nihonjin-ron discourses
According to the research conducted by Nomura Research Institute (1978), 698 books that were classified into the genre of the 'Nihonjin-ron' were published from 1946 and 1978. 58 percents of them were published after 1970, and more than 25 percents were for the three years between 1976 and 1978.
A breakdown is as follows:

Books in general (according to a profile of the writer)
5.5 percents
Writers and Dramatists
4.5 percents
Social Cultural Anthropologists
4.5 percents
Historians and Folklorists
4.5 percents
Political Scientists, Jurists, and Economists
4.5 percents
4.0 percents
Linguists and Literary Scholars
3.5 percents
Diplomats, Critics, and Journalists
3.5 percents
3.5 percents
Foreign Scholars
4.0 percents
Foreign Journalists
5.5 percents
7.0 percents
5.5 percents

Investigation Report (according to the theme)
General Remarks on the National Characteristic
7.0 percents
Desire and a Level of Satisfaction
3.5 percents
A Sense of Labor
4.0 percents
A Sense of Saving
4.0 percents
Various Senses
6.5 percents
Time for Living of Japanese People
3.5 percents
Economic Activity Seen by Foreigners
6.5 percents
Surveys of Public Opinion about Japan Conducted in Foreign Countries
4.5 percents

Major essays on Japanese people
A comparison with foreign culture
"Climate and Culture" by Tetsuro WATSUJI (1931)
It is a comparative study of cultures that focuses on climate and natural features in a monsoon, a desert, and a stock farm.

"The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" by Ruth Benedict (1948)
It unilaterally concluded that the western culture is 'sin culture' which has ethical standards inward, while the Japanese culture is 'shame culture' that has the standards (appearances or decency) outward. This book was written during the World War II in order to examine a measure for the U.S. occupation policy toward Japan, and it was also published in Japan after the war and became a best-seller. However, it is now criticized about its stereotypical and unilateral way of assertion.

"The Japanese and the Jews" by Isaiah Ben-dasan (translated by Shichihei YAMAMOTO), Bungeishunju Ltd. (1970, now it has been published by Kadokawa Group Publishing Co., Ltd. as a book written by Shichihei YAMAMOTO, 2004.)
It is a comparison with the Jews, and stated that the Japanese think that safety and water are free. It became a best-seller at that time, but now is criticized for many mistakes of fact and considered unreliable.

"Japanese Culture" by Takeshi UMEHARA, Kodansha Ltd. (1976)
It stated that the polytheistic Japanese culture is 'broad-minded and peaceful,' being different from the monotheistic western culture.
It had a great influence on a lot of 'arguments on superiority of Japanese culture' in the 1980s in Japan, which 'economically succeeded under the "peace constitution."'

"The English and the Japanese" by Peter Milward, Kodansha Ltd. (1978)
"The Japanese Tribe, Origins of a Nation's Uniqueness" by Gregory Clark, Kodansha new book (1979), ISBN 4061455605
The author, who was born in England and encountered several countries and cultures as a diplomat, tries to grasp differences between other countries and Japan that he actually experienced. Then he arrived at conceptional understanding such as a sensitivity principle versus intellectualism, and particularism versus universalism, so presented and proposed them.

"Wonderland, Japan - through the eyes of a French resident in Japan" by Paul Bonet (a pen name of Taisuke FUJISHIMA), Kadokawa Group Publishing Co., Ltd., 1982
"The Korean and the Japanese a prism of dual culture" by Kim Yong Woon, Saimaru Publishing Ltd., 1983
"An English view of Japan 'Nippon' Told by the People Visiting and Knowing Japan" by Masayuki IKEDA, Kawai Publishing, 1990
"The Japanese and the German; a culture of hunchback versus a culture of chest out" by Yujiro SHINODA, Kobunsha Co., Ltd, 1997
"The Credulous Japanese and the Tough German" by Takako Klein, Kairyusha Inc., 2001
"The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently... And Why "by Richard E. Nisbett, Diamond Inc, 2004

A problem of a spiritual symbol

Discourses on Japanese culture

"The Structure of 'chic'" by Shuzo KUKI, 1930
"In Praise of Shadows" by Junichiro TANIZAKI, 1933
"Hybrid Culture" by Shuichi KATO, 1956
"Traditions of Japan" by Taro OKAMOTO, 1956 (essays on Jomon culture)
"Jomon prototype and Yayoi prototype" by Tetsuzo TANIKAWA, 1971
"A Progress of Social Recognition" by Yoshihiko UCHIDA, Iwanami Shinsho 1971, ISBN 4-00-411063-7. The author, who studied economics, discussed the way of making social recognition in Japan and reading books on social science from the view of what a theory to get or not to get power mean.

"The Chrysanthemum and the Bat" by Robert Whiting, Saimaru Publishing, 1977
It was a book of a comparative study of Japanese and American cultures through baseball games. The book was named after "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword" by Ruth Benedict.

"Aesthetics of a Variety Box Lunch" by Kenji EKUAN, 1980
"The Chinese spirit" by Michiko HASEGAWA, Chuko Sosho, 1986, ISBN 4-12-001489-4
The author, born in 1946, actually realized 'the Chinese spirit' claimed by Norinaga MOTOORI, and hesitantly considered it.

"Japan Corporate, a System of the International and Interdisciplinary Research" by Ronald Philip Dore, NTT Publishing Co., Ltd, 1995
"Education in the Edo Period" by Ronald Philip Dore, Iwanami Shoten Publishers, 1996
"Creating a Future of Japan" by Sadayuki MURASHIMA, Bokkasha Co., Ltd., 2007
A background of economical success
Since around the latter half of the 1970s, the tone of argument as follows could be seen a lot; 'Japanese-style management' such as lifetime employment and a seniority system form the foundation of economic development in Japan (Japanese-style management).

"Japan as Number One" by Ezra Vogel, 1979
"What kind of Japan would it be without Japanese-style capitalism" by Yusuke FUKADA and Ronald Philip Dore, Kobunsha Co., Ltd., 1993
"The Japanese System That Denies Human Happiness" by Karel van Wolferen, 1994

Structure of Japanese Society
"Family Structure in Japanese Society" by Takeyoshi KAWASHIMA, 1948
It criticized Japanese feudal system, or a fictive family relationship between a boss and his underlings, from the viewpoint of the sociology of law.
"Personal Relations in a Vertical Society: A theory of Homogeneous Society" by Chie NAKANE, Kodansha Gendai Shinsho, 1967
"The Anatomy of Dependence" by Takeo DOI, Kobundo Publishers Inc., 1973
"The Pathology of Japan As a Maternal Society" by Hayao KAWAI, Chuo Koronsha, 1976
"The Study of the Atmosphere" by Shichihei YAMAMOTO, Bungeishunju Ltd., 1977
"The Center-Empty Structure: the Deep Structure of Japan" by Hayao KAWAI, Chuo Koronsha, 1982
"The Japan That Can Say 'No'" by Shintaro ISHIHARA and Akio MORITA, 1990
"The Anatomy of Dependence Revisited" by Takeo DOI, 2001

Introduction of Japan by foreigners
"Gishiwajinden" (literally, an 'Account of the Wa' in "The History of the Wei Dynasty") by Shou CHEN (233 - 297), the third century.
"The million: Travels of Marco Polo" (Il millione) by Marco Polo (1254 - 1324)
"The History of Japan" (also known as "Travelogue by an Envoy to Japan," "Records by an Envoy to the East India Company," "Travelogue by an Envoy to the Dutch East India Company and Imperial Japan," "Major Envoys to Japanese Emperor from the Dutch East India Company") by Anoldus Montanus van Bergen (1625 - 1683, a Dutch), 1669.
"Amoenitatum Exoticarum" and "The History of Japan" by Engelbert Kaempfer (1651 - 1716, German), 1712 and 1727 respectively

Introduction of Japan by Japanese people
Books written in English for foreigners. Later they were translated into Japanese.

"Japan and Japanese" and "Representative Men of Japan" (revised edition) by Kanzo UCHIMURA, 1894 and 1908, respectively.

"BUSHIDO THE SOUL of JAPAN - Another of the History of the Intercourse between the U.S. and Japan" by Inazo NITOBE, The Leeds and Biddle Company, 1900
The author was a Christian and a scholar who had a wife of US citizen, and was active in Japan, the United States and European countries. He was asked about Japanese moral doctrine and customs, hesitantly thinking about such things and concluding that they were based on Bushido, so he commented and explained them in the book.

"The Book of Tea" by Tenshin OKAKURA, 1906
He investigated Japanese art following Ernest Fenollosa, which led him to be aware of Japan, and in this book he throw a question of the way that self-containment should be through tea ceremony to the United States and European countries, which were in a golden age of imperialism.

[Original Japanese]