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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Japaneseness - A Book Review

Japaneseness is a book a wish I had available to me before I went to Japan.

It is a book that anyone who is going to go to Japan or even is in Japan right now, should read.

Japaneseness is, quite simply, a book that will enable the reader to get a better understanding of the Japanese people themselves, and thus, a better understanding of the culture and society of Japan.

For example: In Japan, I used to wonder aloud in my head, just WHY the Japanese did certain things.

I would, on occasion ask my bosses at the Ohtawara Board of Education, or my Japanese English Teachers, or friends at the Ohtawara International Society, or my Japanese girlfriends, or my Japanese fiance just "WHY" the hell the Japanese did such-and-such, when to my brain there was a different and simpler way of doing things.

After much sucking of air through the teeth, and cocking of head to the side like a cute widdle puppy dog, I would invariably get a slow response that involved the phrase: "I don't really know why."

They might even acknowledge that my alternative suggestion was a better idea and wonder aloud why no one ever thought about it before...

... and I did, too. I mean... I'm no genius - close, but no, I'm not... but I'm sure smarter people than myself have come up with the same thoughts... so, WHY, Japan, don't you do things other than the way you do things?

Here's the most important thing I learned from Japaneseness: The Japanese do not ask why. There is learning the way to do things, and the why is answered in the learning.

Right there, in a frickin' nutshell, is the answer.

For three years of me racking my brain while in Japan, to the subsequent seven years I have been writing this blog... there's my freaking answer.

It's not "why ask why"... it's just do as we all do, and essentially there's no reason to ask why.

That's why foreigners have an incredibly difficult time in truly assimilating into Japanese society.

We can learn the language. We can learn how to bow. We can stomach all the food and drinks thrown our way. We can go see all the sights. We can learn all their sports. We can even dress ourselves up to look just like them...

... but unless one is raised in the society and culture of Japan, one can never truly be Japanese.

Japaneseness is a book written by Yamakuse Yoji (surname first), and is published by Stone Bridge Press.

There are no photographs or comic images in this book, because none are necessary.

Japaneseness is a guide through the 76 core life concepts that make the Japanese Japanese.

If you are a student of anything Japanese - whether you are someone who wants to do business with the Japanese, live amongst them or live with them... you need to read Japaneseness.

You need to have an open mind, yes, but it truly gives you a peek at the fundamental differences between the Japanese culture and everyone else.

Of course, if you are really smart, you will hopefully also see many similarities. But in these similarities, while you and I learned these rules of life, we wondered why we needed to learn them, while the Japanese just learned them.

For the Japanese, this is 'kata'... the form.

Now... having said all of that wonderful stuff about the book, after reading it and being fascinated by it, I did find some of the things the author Yamakuse described as being a Japaneseness to be... well...

... I had to say BS. Now, I realize this is just me the gaijin simply not getting what it means to be Japanese... but it's not... it's me questioning an aspect of the logic used to try and prove a point.

For example... on Pages 19 & 20 of the book's total 139-page count, I took umbrage at a Japaneseness called "kikubari"... which is, if I may borrow from the book 'thoughtfulness', where "Hospitality and thoughtfulness are one and the same. By anticipating someone else's needs before your own and making them your priority, you create a bond of warmth and respect."

I wonder if I picked on this subconsciously... as my fiance's father put HIS needs before the needs/desires/love of his daughter (and myself). Because of his will, we could not be together.

Anyways... he obviously didn't think this particular kata (form) was as important when a gaijin like me was involved.

But that's not my criticism of Yamasuke's description (which is presented in greater detail in the book) of kikubari/thoughtfulness.

Yamasuke asserts that because Japan has lived in relative isolation for so long, that they have developed an innate thoughtfulness for one another.

To me, that is an opinion that simplifies Japanese society and fails to take into account that until the 1860s, Japan was rigidly separated by class: farmer/peasant; merchant, samurai warriors; and the aristocracy.

The Japanese of pre-1860s Japan did not have a true understanding of one another, except perhaps for those within their own class.

I would bet the same exists nowadays, as try as one would like, there are still different classes, and each has its own unique needs.

The book correctly states that in the 1980s (and 1990s, in my opinion), that Japan was less modest, as its economy has a global juggernaut, noting that it liked to 'brag' a bit about how great its country was.

It was subtle, but it was , to even the dumbest gaijin like me, rather overt.
  • "Japanese rice is delicious";
  • "These are Japanese chopsticks";
  • "This is a Japanese kimono".
The Japaneseness of things was a given and pretty unnecessary to point out.

But anyhow... my point is that Japanese classes only ever understand the class they are a part of. It's been that way in every single country for as long as there has been differing classes... and don't you believe for an instant that all comrade communists were ever equal. Some were/are more equal than others.

The point is, kikubari... thoughtfulness... whether it is shown 100 percent of the time or not, IS one of those kata that the Japanese are taught.

For most of us who are not Japanese, we learn the concept of thoughtfulness/kikubari, too.

We might also utilize most of the kata found in the Japaneseness book, too. But I bet we never sit down and think about it.

In the Japaneseness book, you get an easy to understand book that I believe will give the reader a better understanding of the Japanese... and once acknowledged by yourself, it might actually make your stay in Japan a whole lot easier.

Japaneseness by Yamakuse Yoji, published by Stone Bridge Press, and available for US$12.95 at

Andrew Joseph

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