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Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011
READERS IN COUNCIL
Conforming to a culture of denial
By RAJDEEP SETH
Almost no Japanese today would believe the incident (Shinjuku Riot of Oct. 21, 1968) mentioned at the beginning of Roger Pulvers' Oct. 2 Counterpoint article, "Japan's leaders still don't get it — but whither that 'heretical' 1960s spirit?" This is more evidence of the utopia-denial syndrome that afflicts many people these days.
What a coincidence, too, since it was only Sunday night that I was watching an NHK program that told of how some victims of the March 11 tsunami refused to budge from their homes and began to repair the broken leg of a table or clean up their rooms rather than pay attention to radio warnings and try to escape. The program pointed out that such actions might have been the result of people either trying to stay calm in a crisis or reverting to a denial of the situation in the belief that everything would be OK.
Pulvers raises some very appropriate questions about modern Japanese society, such as "devotion to what?" It's not that most Japanese people work less hard these days, but that there is a lack of direction to their hard work. We are back to the days of meekly following, without understanding or protesting a way of life.
Many of us believe that life has always been like this, although things were quite different just 35 years ago. What irks me is when someone tries to sermonize that conforming is what Japanese tradition has always been about. For example, dropping a ¥100 coin in a box is not the only way to help tsunami victims. I wish the system encouraged other ways in which people, including myself, could play a better part.
And I wish someone would do some research on how the proverb "Deru kui wa utareru" (The stake that sticks out will get hammered down) originated, and how it has been interpreted over the ages. The result might provide valuable insight into the thought processes of Japanese society at different times.
Pulvers' article article is very well written, as it argues against the numbing culture of denial and disorientation and for a more wide awake and concerned society. I eagerly await the second part.
The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer's own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.