SOCIALIZATION OF EMOTIONAL ADAPTATION IN JAPAN:
Presented in Partial Fulfillment of
the Requirements for the
Social Cognition Comprehensive Examination
DONALD F. KILBURG III
Advisor: Kathryn E. Grant, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Introduction...................................................................………. 3
II. A Cautionary Word......................................................……….. 4
III. Japanese Culture and Society..........................................…….. 6
Enryo (Hesitation)......................................................……. 8
Honne and Tatemae (Private Self and Public Self)........…… 9
The Japanese Language..................................................…. 12
IV. The Japanese Child’s World...............................................….. 17
Gakurekishakai (Academic Credentialism)....................…... 18
Achievement Motivation..................................................… 19
Gaman (Perseverence).………............................…………. 21
On (Duty) and Honor.....................................................….. 23
Ijime (Bullying) and other Social Problems......................… 24
V. Attaining the Socio-Emotional Ideal in Japan........……………. 27
Amae (Instrumental Dependency).................................…... 27
Primary and Secondary Control......................................….. 31
VI. Concluding Remarks............................................................… 37
In recent years, American psychologists have increasingly attempted to outline
culture-specific patterns in emotional adaptation. They are beginning to take considerable
interest in the Japanese. As a result of a largely isolated, 2000-year history, the Japanese
have become one of the most genealogically distinct and culturally homogenous
populations in the world. From a Western perspective, these characteristics make Japan
an intriguing if not mystical place, with rituals and customs very different from our own.
Unfortunately, this perception of exoticness has often allowed us to deny that Japanese
ways have any relevance for America. It comes as no surprise then that many Americans
do not realize the Japanese population is almost half that of the United States and
therefore outnumbers, by a factor of 2 to 1, all U.S. minority groups combined. Such
numbers surely merit consideration of Japan as more than a dismissible anomaly on the
world scene. Indeed, the pace of globalization demands that our quest to recognize
diversity not be limited to that within our own national borders.
The present paper attempts to link important issues in the emotional adaptation
and child-rearing literature with well-established concepts of U.S.-Japan cultural
comparisons. It addresses the American psychologist, with the goal of providing an
overview that might be of help in guiding future developmental, cross-cultural work in the
emotional adaptation domain of stress and coping, in particular. The assumption is that if
we are to fully understand this domain, broad comparisons must be undertaken with
attention to the wider patterns of socialization and enculturation. Such societal
comparisons are especially interesting for what they tell us about ourselves as a matter of
contrast. [For exhaustive reviews of Japanese history and culture, see Benedict (1946),
Beasley (1990), and Lebra & Sugiyama (1976).]
II. A CAUTIONARY WORD
In considering cross-cultural work in general, the importance of maintaining a
“beginner’s mind” cannot be understated. Extensive research on judgment, attribution,
and stereotyping has demonstrated the biasing power of preconceptions (for a review, see
Kuhn & Sieger, 1998). Withholding preconceptions may be especially important for
Americans studying Japan at a distance, due to the low level of cultural affinity
Americans generally feel toward the Japanese. Intuitive understanding of Japanese
behavior may be impalpable to such Americans mainly because of the difficulty of
imagining how a given behavior (e.g., bowing) could possibly have a different tone in
Japan than it does in America (Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Stening, 1979).
This researcher collected self-report data from both American and Japanese
psychology undergraduates who had no experience of direct contact with each others’
cultures (unpublished data, Kilburg, 1997). Students were simply asked to write the first
five things that came to mind about each others’ countries (responses were kept
anonymous). In a total of fifty students, the most common responses for Americans
about Japan were: “good education,” “family values/conservatism,” “hard-working,”
“tradition/politeness,” and “crowded.” The most common responses for Japanese about
America were: “freedom,” “large,” “dangerous/selfish,” “multi-racial,” and “nationalistic.”
Certainly the students’ ideas are grounded in some level of reality. Yet such ideas
about cultural features often defy rigid categorization (Berry, Poortinga, Segall, & Dasen,
1992). Mundane and anecdotal examples can be illustrative. For example, in Japan it
would not be unusual to encounter: people making loud noises while eating, nudity on
television, public urination in broad-daylight, customers yelling out for the attention of
waitresses, young women clothed in risqué fashion, photography of the deceased at
funerals, forthright comments about physical characteristics (e.g., being overweight),
people who enter residences without first knocking, men viewing pornographic magazines
on rush-hour trains, groups of adults bathing together, women cleaning men’s locker-
rooms when such men are naked, public restrooms wherein men and women coexist,
people smoking nearly anywhere, men dancing together, etcetera.
In summary, the cross-culturalist is cautioned to remember that cultures are often
“mixed bags” when viewed from the outside. This includes one’s own culture. Indeed,
many American ways appear to be at cross-purposes to the outsider, in spite of their
assumed logical coherence to Americans. For example, to many Americans, true freedom
includes permissible gun ownership. Conversely, to many Japanese, true freedom is
precisely what is compromised when strict gun control is lacking. That is, one cannot be
free from the fear that another citizen might be armed and dangerous.
Another example of American assumed consistency can be found in the American
regard for dispensing with formalities. To Americans, such formalities might “get in the
way” of efficient communication. However, to outsiders from Confucian heritage
cultures, efficient communication is often seen as requiring exactly those conventions that
Americans like to part with, such as the use of titles. Without such direct labeling and
overt acknowledgment, the Japanese cannot easily and comfortably know “where they
stand.” That is why the exchange of business cards is an integral part of introductions in
Japan. We now turn to a discussion of fundamental concepts and issues relevant to
emotional adaptation in Japan.
III. JAPANESE CULTURE AND SOCIETY
Individualism-Collectivism. Japanese culture has been described as collectivistic,
relative to the individualistic mainstream culture of the United States (Heider, 1958;
Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Hofstede (e.g., 1980) and Triandis (e.g., 1988) have argued
that individualistic cultures emphasize assertiveness, self-confidence, and freedom, while
collectivistic cultures emphasize communal feelings, social usefulness, and acceptance of
authority. These concepts are nicely illustrated by two contrasting metaphors: “the
squeaky wheel gets the oil” (America) and “the nail that stands up gets hammered down”
Americans are often puzzled by the individualism-collectivism distinction
(Bourne, 1975; Guthrie, 1979; Huang, 1977; Kim & Gundykunst, 1988; Oberg, 1960; for
reviews of the culture shock literature, see Barna, 1983; Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok,
1987; Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Stening, 1979). They may interpret distinction in their
favor, to mean that Americans have more freedom and Japanese are mechanically
conformist (an assumption that is inaccurate, as we shall see). Conversely they may
interpret the distinction as being offensive, thinking America has somehow been
characterized as a place lacking in empathy or concern for social welfare (Huang, 1977;
Kim & Gundykunst, 1988). Such defensiveness would appear to be unnecessary,
considering the average American gives nearly 2 percent of his annual income to charitable
causes (Evans, 1999).
In spite of the seemingly elusive nature of the individualism-collectivism
distinction, evidence of a more collectivistic orientation may be found in very mundane
aspects of Japanese life. Consider that at group meetings in Japan it is grossly
inappropriate to pull out food for one’s own private consumption - something that is
very common in America. Consider that on Japanese television, talk shows are typically
hosted by panels, as opposed to solo-personalities like Jay Leno or Oprah Winfrey.
Consider that when drinking alcohol socially, one should both refrain from pouring one’s
own drink, as well as from taking a sip before the group. These examples may be trivial,
but they are certainly what one would expect to find in a society where participation in
groups is of prime emphasis. More rigorous examples will be discussed throughout the
paper. The important point is that the individualism-collectivism dimension is not one of
altruism per se. Rather this dimension refers to the degree to which a culture’s members
are inclined to seek out and function in groups, with at least overt attention to consensus
Markus and Kitayama (1991) offer extensive discussion of individualism and
collectivism in America and Japan, as the concepts may relate to questions about culture-
free aspects of cognition, emotion, and motivation. These veteran cross-cultural
researchers present wide-ranging and fascinating evidence that makes a solid case for East-
West cultural differences more powerful than previously thought. Their main assertion is
that the Asian interdependent view must be more fully considered in research relating to
construals of the self. Research has in fact shown differential encouragement of self-
construals between Japanese and Americans from early childhood. Japanese mothers
encourage their children’s effective participation in groups, much more than do their
American counterparts. Conversely, American mothers tend to emphasize the
importance of their children’s verbal expression and leadership skills among their
children’s peers more so than do Japanese mothers (Hess, 1996; Azuma, 1996; and
Azuma (1996) argues that this difference may have historical roots that stretch as
far back as the 16th century. America was a land deemed full of opportunities and
exploitable resources. Assertiveness and innovation were therefore immediately
rewarded. At the same time, Japan had become a closed society, with a “zero-sum” state
of resources (a state wherein one person’s gain is another’s loss). Azuma admits
competition has always existed inside Japan, but that the long-standing zero-sum state
has bred a system wherein the self-assertive personality is taboo. Whether that is true or
not, it is clear that Japanese history lacks clear individualism mythologies (Benedict,
Enryo. Consistent with an emphasis on community, Japanese people are often
remarkably sensitive to each other’s feelings, on a moment-to-moment basis (Markus and
Kitayama, 1991). The Japanese word enryo, has been used to describe a near paralyzing
hesitation Japanese people reportedly feel in certain social settings demanding group
harmony. There may be intense stress associated with the potential of offending others
in such cases. This offensiveness is not limited to affront; immodesty is included.
Americans who have traveled to Japan often note experiencing numerous interactions
between Japanese wherein the participants frequently avert eye-contact, pull air through
their teeth, and even visibly shake, in what would seem to be matters of casual conflict in
America (Benedict, 1946; Bourne, 1975; Guthrie, 1979; Huang, 1977; Kim &
Gundykunst, 1988; Oberg, 1960; Barna, 1983; Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok, 1987;
Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Stening, 1979).
Honne and Tatemae. The previously discussed enryo (hesitation) may be partly
explained by another aspect of Japanese culture that appears to differ substantially, at
least in degree, from that of the United States: honne and tatemae. The former represents
private affect or cognition and the latter represents public affect or cognition (Doi, 1973).
Japanese people often feel they should keep their opinions to themselves, in the interests
of not offending others (Chen, 1996). Americans may conceive of this as unreasonable
timidity and even sheepish conformity. However, the Japanese are not as driven by
values of self-expression as are Americans (Barnlund, 1975; Markus and Kitayama,
1991). In this vein, Azuma (1996) argues that Japanese are socialized to be good
listeners, whereas Americans are socialized to listen “with a mind full of opinions (p.
Recent experimental evidence of the importance of the honne/tatemae
(private/public) distinction was provided by Iwao (1997). She examined cultural
differences in the inconsistency-reducing behaviors (i.e., those aimed at reducing cognitive
dissonance) of 110 Japanese and 169 American university students with regard to
differences of opinion with significant others on ego-involving issues. Americans had
more preference for active inconsistency-reducing responses than did Japanese. The
Japanese were evidently more tolerant of cognitive dissonance. In more positive terms,
the Japanese were more concerned with interpersonal harmony. This further relates to a
discussion of roles in Japan.
Roles. The importance of roles in governing nearly every aspect of Japanese life
cannot easily be understated. Asian societies, in general, are assumed to be highly
demarcated based on their common Confucian heritage (Benedict, 1946). The primary
social distinction made in Japan is between uchi (family, household, friends, and often
place of employment or study) and soto (strangers and those who are not uchi members).
Within the uchi/soto distinction, there exist many levels of status of permanent and semi-
permanent nature (Lebra & Sugiyama, 1976).
A discussion of Japanese roles is not solely limited to social status. It also
includes consideration of the shifting, often highly contrasting behavior of Japanese as
they make their way in and out of various social contexts. Certain activities represent
discrete roles of time and place. These include festivals, professional meetings, fine arts
classes, sports and martial arts classes, and nomikai (drinking parties). The behavior of
Japanese can take on a very different tone, depending on these contexts (Kitayama, et al.,
1997). Of course, the behavior of individuals of any culture may radically vary across
situations. However, in Japan what appears to be the basic presentation of personality
to an American can be very context-dependent. For example, American businessmen in a
Japanese office are often befuddled when Japanese salarymen do not revel in reminisce
with them about the previous night of drinking. The workplace is typically seen as a
place restricted to work. Moreover, such reminisce is likely to be very state-dependent in
The extensive use of uniforms in Japan underscores role-specific behavior. Nearly
all students and workers wear uniforms. Uniforms serve to invoke a structured “frame of
mind” that is highly valued in Japan. Japanese people generally like wearing them too,
because it gives them a sense of belonging. Americans may tend to see the personality of
such highly role-specific behavior as being somehow superficial or insincere. Yet
Japanese tend to view expression of a more cross-role-consistent personality as being
highly disorganized and thus inappropriate. But again, the difference is relative, not
Numerous other examples reflect highly role-specific behavior in Japan. For
instance, the public display of romantic affection one can observe in America is grossly
taboo in Japan. It is considered behavior that belongs in the context of the home or the
“rabu-hoteru,” which are anonymously-paid-for motels wherein a tryst can be discretely
arranged. This prohibition of public display of affection also extends to family members.
Americans are often perplexed when they see Japanese family members reunite with a
simple bow, after even a year’s time apart. Nevertheless, there are contexts in Japan
wherein, directed at family or not, expression of affection might seem excessive to
Americans. The “karaoke bokusu” (English: “kari-oki box”) is a definitive example.
While singing to their favorite tunes in semi-private booths, Japanese people young and
old alike might hang on one another in maudlin fashion.
Here a discussion of roles includes the issue of self-disclosure. In general,
Japanese roles (at least relative to American roles) limit self-disclosure of true feelings to
uchi members (family/friends). This is related to the honne/tatemae (private/public)
distinction and to enryo (hesitation). As Iwao (1997) demonstrated, Japanese are
reluctant to express ideas that might risk confrontation, the offending of sensibilities,
and/or the transferring or projecting of stress or so-called “dirty laundry.” To Americans,
“tightlippedness” of the Japanese degree is typically perceived as being too formal and
thus undesirable. Americans tend to disclose more, equating casualness with kindness
(Benedict, 1946; Bourne, 1975; Guthrie, 1979; Huang, 1977; Kim & Gundykunst, 1988;
Oberg, 1960; Barna, 1983; Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok, 1987; Furnham & Bochner, 1986;
Here it should be cautioned that the very definitions of “casual” and “formal” are
relative. Americans who interact with Japanese tend to think they are allowing the
Japanese to dispense with formality, and thereby doing them a favor. For example,
President Clinton probably thought he was easing the feelings of Japanese Prime Minister
Obuchi at their recent meeting by addressing him with his first name, Keizo. However,
even Japanese people who have known each other for decades do not call each other by
their first names. They nearly always use family names followed by one of several
To an extent, formality is not seen in Japan as detracting from kindness, but rather
enhancing it. Japanese generally believe that explicit honor and humility serve to maintain
harmony. They also tend to believe that status/role distinctions and careful
communication are crucial for keeping relationships clear (Benedict, 1946). This kind of
attention allows for a high degree of predictability, something Japanese tend to value
(Lebra & Sugiyama, 1976). In this sense, the American style of communication can be
very indirect and challenging to the Japanese. It requires striking a delicate balance
between casualness and deference that is not clearly defined by fixed vocabulary as it is in
The Japanese Language. A discussion of emotional adaptation in Japan would be
insufficient without consideration of the contribution of language. Human beings are
social animals and the ways in which they negotiate social reality through language surely
impact on the balance of affect. One example is deference. Students of Japanese as a
foreign language are quick to note that in order to convey the necessary level of deference
they have to learn three or four different versions of the same words (not including
conjugation for tense). Many Japanese verbs have at least four forms: “dictionary form,”
polite, humble, and honorific. Nouns are often accompanied by various prefixes,
depending on the status of the person to whom they belong. Proper names are typically
preferred over pronouns and even when they are not, use of the second person is highly
taboo. Rather than saying, “you...,” the appropriate way to speak to someone is to use
their family name (as if you were talking about someone who were not there). There is
also a multitude of words to indicate the actions of giving and receiving, depending upon
each actor’s status. All these politeness features of the Japanese language constrain and
impinge upon the flow of emotion between people, affecting their adaptation in various
When speaking to or about non-uchi members (i.e. people outside of their
household and close social circles) Japanese people are expected to use at least the polite
tense. They also almost always add the honorific suffix -san or -sama to non-uchi
members’ family names. Yet even within the household, each member addresses the
others according to their membership title. For example, one sibling would say to
another, “please come here oneisan (older-sister).” Husband and wife often use the terms
otousan (father) and okasan (mother) when addressing each other. Moreover, as man and
woman, they have various words and particles of their own - marking their gender clearly.
Even university students (who are often thought to be in the least restricted Japanese life
stage) refer to each other hierarchically as kohai (junior) or sempai (senior). According to
the Confucian framework, power and knowledge thereby run from top to bottom,
according to seniority.
Interestingly, one use of honorific terms that particularly surprises the foreigner in
Japan is that which accompanies the “royal treatment” that customers receive. The
customer is afforded a very high status in Japan. Clerks and waiters in Japan rarely make
self-disclosures or “chit-chat” as they often do in America. They are strictly bound to
very scripted roles of interaction that are essentially standardized nation-wide. Such
standardization is highly valued in Japan (some airline customer service representatives
are not even allowed to wear corrective glasses).
Perhaps the most crucial element in a discussion of how the Japanese language
might bear on emotional adaptation is the way in which the language is used. Very
seldom is it used in such a direct way as is English (Brown, 1987). Foreign “non-
initiates” of the Japanese ways, tend not to realize the extent to which this is true. The
following examples illustrate: (1) the Japanese word for “no” (ie) is generally restricted to
completely neutral subject matter, (2) the word order (subject-object-verb) is such that a
statement can be made affirmative or negative at the last moment, (3) subject assignment
is diffuse and often omitted altogether, (4) use of passive and intransitive tenses
predominates (thus very often agency is expressed as being not necessarily internal to
anyone), (5) use of hedge words permeates nearly all kinds of verbal interaction, for even
the most mundane topics (e.g., when a Japanese person answers the telephone, he/she
says “this is Tanaka, however.”), (6) use of “volley” words (such as the Canadian English
utterance “eh” or the American “ya know”) to keep conversation consensual is a hallmark
of moment-to-moment interaction - the utterance “neh” is particularly common, (7) there
are scripted phrases for seeking interdependence and conveying indebtedness (e.g.,
yoroshiku-onegaishimasu and o-sewani-narimashita). (8) use of a recitative style of
speaking is common and allows for a high degree of superficial conversational
predictability. In sum, if Japanese were a computer programming language it would be
composed of a very high percentage of statements that serve no overt function and have
no overt content. Such predisposition for indirection allows the Japanese speaker to be
highly circumspect, relative to the English speaker - perhaps especially the American
English speaker (Makino & Tsutsui, 1986).
Americans may wonder how real meaning is communicated, given such seeming
indirection. The answer is that communication between two Japanese people often
operates at two distinct levels; one highly superficial, the other rich with paralinguistic
information (Lebra & Sugiyama, 1976; Benedict, 1946; Brown, 1987). At the
paralinguistic level, a number of uniquely Japanese facial expressions, gestures, and other
actions have been noted (Lebra & Sugiyama, 1976; Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Furnham
& Bochner, 1986; Reischauer, 1987). Examples of these include: tilting the head, crinkling
the lips, averting eye-contact, pulling air through the teeth, nodding the head, and of
course bowing from the waist.
The use of understatement accompanies paralinguistic communication. Whereas
Americans will exclaim their love or hate for things as seemingly neutral as pizza or lima
beans, Japanese will report that something is suki (likable) or amari sukijanai (not
particularly likable). Again, this kind of understatement is connected to avoiding
disagreement, and thus risk of negative feelings. When Japanese interact with Americans
for the first time, they may not realize that Americans are not especially offended when
people hold views that oppose their own. Conversely, Americans in Japan are often
surprised at how sensitive Japanese can be in the face of negativity.
Expression of negativity is much more taboo in Japan than in America (Lebra &
Sugiyama, 1976). This writer once witnessed a Japanese who lost his wallet with his
identification, credit cards, and about 300 dollars worth of cash. His public expression
was simply to frown a little and put his head down. In another instance, a friend
inadvertently dropped her contact down the drain. Her response was a mere sigh. In
contrast, Americans may seem over-expressive, theatrical, and even unpredictably volatile
to Japanese. The caveat for researchers is that base-lines may vary, calling scales in
Interestingly, Kitayama and Markus (1995) have pointed out that not only does
the base-line for what constitutes negative expression differ between Japan and America,
but so too does the actual experience of negative emotions like anger. The reasoning is
that anger stems from a highly independent self-construal, something less common in
Japan and other highly collectivistic countries than in America. Thus what Americans
often perceive as simply a facade can have real consequences for decreasing the actual
subjective experience of anger - not only by preventing the “spread” of it, but also by
virtue of the fact that anger is associated with affront to one’s identity at the level of
There are other ways strong negative emotion is minimized in Japan. Iwao (1997)
explains that Japanese speech and thought tend “to emphasize the inability to attain or
recognize absolutes (p. 331).” Essentially, the Japanese way is to hedge in such a manner
that equivocation is uncommon. Accordingly, “agreeable words” are used liberally. Two
of the most common words of scripted use are sumimasen (literally, “excuse me”) and
chotto (literally, “a little”). They are all-purpose, “smoothing” words and can serve to
make an excuse, apologize, get attention, say good-bye - or even express surprise or
disgust in a gentle way. Because these words and numerous other words are available for
stabilizing communication (and thereby relationships), Japanese are able to maintain
“face” in nearly every situation (maintaining “face” is not limited to one’s own).
Tannen (1998) points out that the Japanese apologize in conversation far more
than do Americans. She argues that such apologies help to diffuse negative feelings
without necessarily assigning blame. The fact that litigation for even minor accidents is
common in the U.S. and highly unusual in Japan is cited by Tannen as evidence that
Japanese typically employ non-confrontational means of conflict resolution. The use of
such words as sumimasen, gomenasai, and shitsurei are all ways to say “sorry” and
“excuse me.” Whereas Americans tend to use such expressions conservatively, a
Japanese may repeat them over and over in one short interaction. In fact, Japanese often
say “sorry” in cases where Americans say “thanks” - the notion is that the receiver is
taking the gift away from the giver. (Interestingly, the travel books Japanese read about
the U.S. warn them not to make apologies in their normal manner, for risk of being taken
IV. THE JAPANESE CHILD’S WORLD
Authority. Given the tone of the previous sections, one might suppose respect
for authority is greater among Japanese children than American. This has in fact been
reported by Vaughn (1996). Vaughn examined projective stories Japanese adolescents
wrote in response to the TAT (Thematic Apperception Test). Compared to American
adolescents, Japanese showed little ambivalence to authority and little concern about
assertion of individual decision-making. This is not particularly surprising given previous
research. What is curious is that Japanese mothers have been found to de-emphasize their
authority role with children and instead give their children a high degree of respect
(Lanham & Garrick, 1996; Lewis, 1996). Thus, while authority is pervasive in wider
Japanese society, adult authority with children plays a very subtle role in the attaining of
behavioral compliance. Moreover, the importance of firm control of children as a cultural
ethic is considered by many researchers to be greater in the U.S. than in Japan (Lanham &
Garrick, 1996; Lewis, 1996). Americans who have been around children in their own
country as well as in Japan typically note that young Japanese children seem to be
allowed to “run around as they please.” That young Japanese children are in some sense
“let to learn” with a “hands off” approach was reported by Hara and Minagawa (1996,
p.17). Questions about the extent to which this is true remain for consideration in the
Gakurekishakai (academic credentialism) has been characterized as rigid, fast-
paced, and highly competitive in Japanese society. From relatively early on, Japanese
parents, particularly mothers, are generally very involved and insistent in their children's
educational development, compared to American parents (Shwalb & Shwalb, 1996;
Shelley, 1993). This is reflected in the time children spend at school. The Ministry of
Education reported that Japanese students now have 29 class hours/week, 220 days/year.
This compares to 25.5 hours/week, 180 days/year in the U.S. (“Toward more creative
In Japan it is not enough to study more than Americans. Japanese parents want
their children to gain an early edge over other Japanese children, against whom they must
directly compete. In fact, nearly 50% of Japanese preschoolers, 60% of elementary
school students, and 70% of junior high school students get some kind of formal
education outside of the home and after the regular school-day (“Nearly half of all
preschoolers,” 1996; Vaughn, 1996). Many such students attend private juku (“cram”
schools) every day. Well-known Japanologist Ezra Vogel (1996) has explained that these
cram schools provide supplementary education that can be of primary importance in
determining whether one passes or fails high school and university entrance examinations.
The outcomes of the entrance exams are crucial because employers are highly likely to
recruit university graduates based primarily on school name recognition (White, 1996).
There is, however, evidence that gakurekishakai (academic credentialism) is
changing, (“Toward more creative learning,” 1998). Japanese students currently attend
school two Saturdays a month. This is down from four Saturdays just a few years ago
and the Ministry of Education has reported that effective April 2002, a 5-day school
week will be instituted. There is also talk of consolidating the exam system such that
students compete for junior and senior high schools as a set, rather than taking a test for
each. This would certainly reduce the number of tests. Yet it would also likely shift the
intense preparation to even younger ages. It therefore remains a controversial
Achievement Motivation. Formal education is the occupation of children in all
developed countries, but what is perhaps uniquely Japanese is the pervasiveness of
motivation to achieve academically (De Vos, 1996). Numerous studies have noted that
achievement motivation in Japan is intimately tied to both positive accomplishment and
to personal alienation or delinquency (De Vos, 1996; Stevenson, Azuma, & Hakuta, 1986;
Stevenson & Stigler, 1992). That is, Japanese children have been found to be highly
motivated to attain external recognition of their success and when they fail at this task,
maladaptiveness of some kind often results.
Other studies have found a greater appreciation for the value of effort and hard
work among Japanese children compared to American (Vaughn, 1996; Machida, Hess,
Azuma, 1996). Perhaps most interesting is the socialization link that has been established
in studies comparing patterns of mother-child communication in Japanese and Americans.
Japanese mothers have been found to put more emphasis on their children’s effort. In
contrast, American mothers put more emphasis on their children’s ability (Machida,
Hess, Azuma 1996).
Machida, et al. (1996) also found that mother-child communication accurately
predicts performance in mathematics in Japan and performance in vocabulary in the U.S.
In the Machida et al. study, Japanese mothers hassled their children less than American
mothers when mistakes were made at math problems. Conversely, American mothers
were shown to provide more verbal instructions. This difference may indicate Japanese
mothers are more likely than American mothers to provide their children with a learning
environment wherein their children’s efforts can pay off with optimal feelings of self-
efficacy on the part of the children. At the least, the difference is consistent with the
noted importance of paralinguistic communication in Japan.
Controlled experimental evidence has suggested the Japanese emphasis on effort
and achievement motivation may be detectable in even basic problem-solving tasks.
Smith & Caplan (1988) tested Japanese, Chinese-American, Israeli, and American
children’s performance on the Matching Familiar Figures Test (MFFT). The MFFT is a
test involving accuracy-speed tradeoffs that children make in problem-solving tasks. The
results of this test demonstrated that for all four cultures, error rates decreased much more
than latency increased, across ages 6-10. That is, the older children of all four cultures
(with no significant difference between them) were able to hold down the number of
errors without wasting as much time as the younger children. However, of all the younger
children, the Japanese were much more accurate, without compromising latency to the
same extent. The researchers suggested that Japanese children may be socialized along a
skill-ability dimension relatively early in their development.
Gaman. According to Lanham & Garrick (1996), gaman (perseverance) and
related gambaru (trying hard) are strongly emphasized in Japan, beginning in the first
grade. Indeed, anyone who has lived in Japan has heard versions of these words uttered
nearly every single day. In particular, Japanese people often say, ganbatte kudasai,
which means roughly “please try hard.” Ironically, Americans tend to use the fatalistic
“good luck” in similar circumstances. The word gaman is typically used in the context of
“can you gaman?” In other words, “can you make it through?” (for example, make it
through class without having eaten lunch). Interestingly, there are numerous “game”
shows on Japanese television wherein contestants must maintain gaman in the face of
various intimidating tasks. One show recently had bowling-balls rolling at adult
contestants’ heads (which were locked in frames resembling Medieval torture devices) to
see who could “play chicken” the best. Another show had contestants see who could
“last the longest” in a bath of scorching hot water. A final example of a gaman show used
child participants. The unwitting first graders had to make it through a “haunted” house
under timed conditions. If they cried, which many did, they were disqualified. This
writer suspects the show would have raised some protests in the U.S. Nevertheless,
in all these shows, a means of escaping the difficult situation is always provided, so the
mood is generally a humorous one.
To investigate the presupposed importance of gaman (perseverance) and
gambaru (trying hard) in Japanese culture, Blinco (1992) tested the hypothesis that
Japanese children would demonstrate higher task persistence than American children.
Utilizing a puzzle-like game, 193 first grade students were timed with a stopwatch.
Results strongly supported Blinco’s hypothesis, leading her to consider that Americans
might have lower thresholds than Japanese for abandoning work in the face of an inability
to attain completion of the work. Moreover, Blinco suggests that the mechanism for such
a cultural difference could be that Japanese mothers place more emphasis on effort than
ability, compared to American mothers. Of course, conclusions about the differential
worth of effort and ability should consider that at some point the marginal returns of task
persistence diminish. Thus, knowing “when to quit” has its own advantages.
In addition to being reputed to be academically motivated and persistent, Japanese
children are also sometimes criticized by the popular media for being less curious and less
creative than their American counterparts. It is certainly true that as students they must
meet strict conformity demands of behavior and appearance that serve to inhibit
individual expression (Shwalb & Shwalb, 1996). The Japanese junior high school, in
particular, is noted for its uniformity and discouragement of spontaneity (Shand, 1996).
Based on some practices, the Japanese junior high school might even be considered a kind
of cultural “basic training.” For instance, some schools require students with naturally
lighter hair to die it, so that it conforms to the acceptable standard of dark brown/black.
On and Honor. In reflecting on gaman/gambaru (perseverance/trying hard), it
would be inappropriate to overlook the importance of on (social indebtedness) and honor
in Japanese culture (De Vos, 1996). The value of persevering for the sake of on and honor
throughout Japanese history has been well-documented (Reischauer, 1987). Japanese
Samurai myths of endurance, courage, and duty are inculcated from early childhood. The
Samurai, it is told, enforced the code of conduct for centuries. Honor was his life. He
avoided disgrace and shame, and he avenged insults with his sword. Essentially for over
half a millennium, order was kept in Japan by these Samurai, and only this century by
politicians and bureaucrats. It makes sense then that the Samurai is still a deeply revered
symbol in the Japanese collective consciousness.
On is conceived of as a need to repay others. The word on is used in the sense of
“wearing an on to someone” or “having an on to repay” (Benedict, 1946; Lebra &
Sugiyama, 1976). On operates on a number of levels related to one’s identity and can
even stretch back to long-since-deceased ancestors. In regard to daily life, Japanese are
known for their practice of keeping highly organized “mental records” of the “balances” in
their social worlds and whether reciprocity is being maintained. When repayment of on
occurs, it is likely to exceed the debt, such that interdependence can continue if so desired.
Americans do not typically function this way (Althen, 1988). Generally speaking,
American repayment of “casual” debt may or may not occur in a timely fashion. On the
other hand, exchange of goods or services is likely to be an explicit, contractual matter - at
least among professionals.
In terms of child-rearing, De Vos (1996) argues that such a Japanese social
identity of indebtedness is highly related to socialization within the primary family.
Mothers foster a sense of hierarchy. This is coupled with a deep feeling of owing others,
especially members of the ie, or household - which ideally carries on in an unbroken chain
suggestive of a fraternity.
Ijime and other Social Problems. We now turn to a discussion of some common
stress responses in Japanese children that, in light of the proceeding concepts, may have a
decidedly Japanese character to them. As we noted before, school violence is on the rise
in Japan. The term ijime was thrust into the Japanese mainstream over a decade ago
(Schoolland, 1986). It is the Japanese word for “bullying.” Connections have been made
between ijime, child suicide, school refusal, delinquency, violence, and the rigid system of
academic credentialism (McClure & Shirataki, 1989).
The problem of ijime is perceived as being so threatening that recently a junior
high school in Hatogaya, Saitama-Ken issued all students special telephone cards that
would automatically connect to school counselors - for use by bullying victims who are
reluctant to seek consultation in person (“Students to get telephone cards,” 1996).
Although it is doubtful that this practice is very widespread, other unique measures are
being adopted. Recently Newsweek reported that Japanese mothers are even bugging
their kids with credit-card size transmitters, that can now be rented for about 100 dollars
a month (Howard & Tobias, 1998).
Novel precautions aside, bullying is a very serious concern in Japan. A recent
article in the Mainichi Daily Shimbun declared: “Survey: Violence running rampant in
elementary schools.” In a 92% response-rate study of 33,323 participants representing
58 schools, the Japanese Management and Coordination Agency reported that 36% of
elementary school students and 23% of junior high school students have been victims of
school-yard violence (“Survey,” 1998). To add to that, the Japanese Ministry of
Education found that violence is on the rise from first grade through twelfth. Violent
incidents among students topped 10,575 in 1997, up 32 percent from 1995 (“Too much
pressure too young,” 1998).
Chen (1996) has argued that gakurekishakai (academic credentialism) is one
culprit in the matter. Evidently the pressure to compete academically results in
frustration and anger that is in turn displaced on peers. Other researchers have implicated
the ethic of gaman/gambaru (perseverance/trying hard) and the kohai/sempai
(junior/senior) system, for the added compulsion and imposed hierarchical structure they
present, respectively (Stevenson, Azuma, Hakuta, 1986; Stevenson, H. & Stigler, 1992;
Schoolland, 1986). A former Japanese bullying victim, Hiroyuki Tamura, came out of the
closet recently with a book (“Why Bullying Won’t Die”) that corroborates this analysis.
He wrote that bullying would not stop “unless we have a society where people respect
other people for their character and not judge them by their test scores” (“Bullying won’t
die,” 1996). The use of social ostracism as a way to modify behavior is seen as a major
component of this (De Vos, 1996; Lanham & Garrick, 1996).
McClure & Shirataki (1989) reviewed the child psychiatry literature in Japan,
arguing that competition and social ostracism lead to school apathy, hatred of classes, and
eventually nonattendance and anger directed at the mother for returning the child to school
(parent-abuse is actually more common than child-abuse in Japan). Data from the
Japanese Central Council of Child Welfare implicates Japan’s rapid modernization.
Evidently, this modernization has undermined the traditional extended family structure,
particularly lessening the father’s role (McClure & Shirataki, 1989). Loss of the father’s
role is cited as a main factor in adjustment failure, but the precise mechanism is unclear.
One thing is evident - most school-refusers give bullying as a reason (equally in both
sexes). Moreover, bullied kids often report the reason for bullying is that they are: ugly,
different, even “too clever” (McClure & Shirataki, 1989; De Vos, 1996; Lanham &
Garrick, 1996). They also report having only superficial friendships. What is
particularly troublesome is that, as anger is displaced, bullying can spread downward
from older to younger children.
In extreme cases bullying in Japan leads to suicide. In 1985, the suicide and self-
inflicted injury rate of children under 14 was thought to be high at 0.5 per 100,000 people
(McClure & Shirataki, 1989). This problem is associated not only with bullying, but
with letting down parents. This stands in contrast to suicides in older groups and other
cultures, which often result from relationship problems with members of the opposite
sex. McClure & Shirataki cite a ”yearning for adoration,” as suicide is often calculated to
affect others - in terms of mourning and regret.
Certainly there is no shortage of romanticized ritualistic suicide in Japanese
history. Harakiri, as it is properly called, was an act of honor in the face of hardship
with no way out. It involved a set of highly circumscribed rituals that culminated with
insertion of a dagger into the abdomen (Benedict, 1946; Beasley, 1990; Lebra & Sugiyama,
1976). Indeed, even in modern Japan, suicide is an option many take. In fact, since 1971
the police annually search for suicide bodies in a forest north-west of Mt. Fuji, in
Yamanashi-Ken. The year’s total for that small forest alone was 58 (“Toll mounts in
‘suicide forest’,” 1998).
Other Japanese childhood problems include: solvent sniffing, spending an
excessive amount of time at game centers, and various psychosomatic and eating
disorders. Anorexia apparently occurs in the same form as in the West, but obesity is
much less common (perhaps because the Japanese menu is quite light). Therefore when
obesity is found it is likely to indicate psychological problems. Personality
abnormalities, in general, have been shown in many asthmatic children. Lastly, children of
alcoholic fathers have been shown to have a high incidence of psychosomatic disorders
(McClure & Shirataki, 1989).
In spite of the noted increases in Japanese childhood problems, most Japanese
young people evidence few problems compared to American young people. Crime,
divorce, and social unrest in wider Japanese society are also still very low when compared
with other technological societies (McClure & Shirataki, 1989). This sustained
“innocence” is likely related to homogeneity and isolation (Shwalb & Shwalb, 1996). Yet
it must surely be rooted, in part, in how the Japanese socialize their young to adapt,
V. ATTAINING THE SOCIO-EMOTIONAL IDEAL IN JAPAN
Amae. Of all the concepts presented so far, amae and its various derivatives are
perhaps best suited to delineate Japanese-American differences in the process of
socialization of emotional adaptation. De Vos (1996) built on the original work of Doi
(1986) to explain amae as a relationship whereby the “sacrificial” Japanese mother
stimulates her child in a kind of guilt-based manner. This relationship of “psychological
discipline” forms the basis of what can be called “instrumental dependency” (De Vos,
1996). It stretches far beyond the mother-child relationship.
At the outset of this paper, individualism and collectivism were put forth as
useful concepts in contrasting broad-based behaviors of Japanese with those of
Americans. Surely in America, maturity is viewed in relation to independence, a correlate
of individualism. That is, the mature American is one who has attained a high degree of
self-reliance and autonomy. In contrast, Japanese maturity is marked by knowledge of
“on whom to be dependent or not to be dependent.” In other words, in Japan, one must
learn how to amaeru (Hara & Wagatsuma, 1996).
Doi (1973, 1986) has argued that Japanese mothers tend to see their infants and
young children as being asocial. Their goal is then to bring them into attunement with
others, as opposed to encouraging them to “stand on their own,” per se. Thus emotional
nurturing is the focus, in contrast with assertiveness and independent self-control. The
Japanese image of the ii ko, or “good child,” therefore places an emphasis on “sweetness,”
receptivity, and acceptance of guidance in particular. The Japanese mother hopes her
child will carry these qualities into adulthood.
Interestingly, this may help to explain why, half a century ago, General Douglass
MacArthur declared Japan to be a “nation of 12-year-olds.” From the standpoint of a
member of a culture that reveres independence, Japanese receptivity surely appears
childish. To add to this, many Japanese (adults included) have a love of things kawai
(cute) that Westerners often find sophomoric. At the least, it is apparent that Japanese
children lead lives that are much more sheltered and supervised than do American children
(Gjerde, 1996). Japanese children’s lives are basically dominated by home and school, in
a society that is in many ways reminiscent of the American 1950s.
With the goal of dependence (more accurately, interdependence) in mind, children
under 7 years of age are often indulged more so than American children of 7 (Hara &
Wagatsuma, 1996). Encouraging interdependency is seen by Japanese mothers as a way
to achieve sunao, or “wholehearted cooperation” (White, 1996; Gjerde, 1996). Once
sunao has been established, demands on the child can become increasingly extreme
because the close mother-child bond can be used as an instrument of control (Gjerde,
1996). Overt control then ceases to be as necessary as it presumably is for American
mothers. The will of the “sunao” child has thereby intentionally not been separated to a
large degree from the will of his/her mother (Rohlen, 1989).
Consistent with sunao (wholehearted cooperation) and emotional nurturing, there
is considerable evidence that Japanese mothers coddle their children more so than
American mothers (Doi, 1986; .Hara & Minagawa, 1996; Zahn-Waxler et al., 1996). So
great is the Japanese mother’s desire to be protective of her child, that “baby-sitting” is
highly uncommon in Japan. Even in times when mothers must express negativity, as in
punishment, they may do so in a way that reinforces the importance of the protective,
collectivistic relationship. For example, it is common for Japanese mothers to take away
benefits of dependence as punishment (Vogel, S.H., 1996). An indication of this is the
relative absence of the practice of “grounding” in Japan, compared to America.
Interestingly, when children refuse to go to school, Japanese mothers may become even
more indulgent, blaming themselves for not having fostered amae (instrumental
dependency) enough (Vogel, S.H., 1996).
It is worth noting that Rohlen (1989), a Japanologist at Stanford, has drawn
connections between sunao (wholehearted cooperation) and wider institutions of
Japanese society. He argues that individualism is not comfortable with the kinds of
emotional attachment that are pervasive in Japan. As an example, Rohlen calls attention
to the aforementioned fact that mediation and conciliation have been highly successful
ways of reducing conflict - as opposed to formal written agreements and litigation. His
central idea is that since Japan is neither a police state nor a totalitarian society, the
distinctive mode of Japanese social control becomes a compelling issue.
Unless Japanese ways are dismissed as being somehow reserved for Japan alone,
the question then inevitably becomes, “what kind of relationships should society value?”
In his lengthy essay, Rohlen proposes withholding the label of “Japanese” and discussing
the modes of control themselves. Essentially what Rohlen asks is: “Can society make
individuals who ‘bask’ in pleasing one another?” This question is a progressive one,
discussed by many Japanophiles who are interested in the potential influence of Japanese
culture on other cultures.
In further delineating amae (instrumental dependency), wakaraseru and omoiyari
should be discussed. Wakaraseru simply means “having understanding” and omoiyari
has connotations not far removed from “thoughtfulness,” “sympathy,” and “empathy.”
When combined in the context of mother-child socialization, the dynamics of these
concepts are more understandable. That is, if a child is interdependent with his mother
(and wholehearted about it), then all the mother needs to do to control the child is to have
the child understand the ramifications of his behavior in the context of her feelings - and
therefore the feelings of others whom she has noted as being worthy.
There is mounting research that supports the above conceptualization. Lanham
and Garrick (1996) have demonstrated that Japanese mothers typically ask obedience of
their children by giving the reason that the undesirable behavior would “cause others
trouble.” That is, Japanese mothers tend to focus on the social consequences of their
child’s behavior. In contrast, Machida, Hess, and Azuma (1996) have found that
American mothers tend to control children by explicit, authoritative means (e.g., “don’t
do that, because I said not to”). Other researchers have further argued that interpersonal
sensitization is the primary focus of Japanese mothers (Vaughn, 1996; Zahn-Waxler,
Friedman, Cole, Mizuta, & Hiruma, 1996; Holloway & Minami; Gjerde, 1996).
Ironically, Azuma (1996) found a negative correlation between American mothers’ use of
authority messages lacking explanation and children’s school achievement. In Japanese
mothers a positive correlation was found. To explain these findings, Azuma speculated
that directive methods may work only in secure mother-child pairs, with perhaps amae-
like affiliation (i.e., that of instrumental dependency).
Primary and Secondary Control. In a 1984 issue of American Psychologist,
several Japanese and American researchers had an illuminating discussion of cross-
cultural differences in emotional adaptation that yielded a useful conceptual distinction.
The Americans (Weisz, Rothbaum, and Blackburn) provided the initial concepts and the
Japanese (Kojima and Azuma) responded with important parameters. Two types of
psychological control were discussed: primary and secondary. These are essentially
types of coping. Primary control is aimed at influencing existing realities. It is thought to
be pervasive in American coping styles. Secondary control is aimed at accommodating to
existing realities. It is thought to be pervasive in Japanese coping styles. That is,
American control tends to be assertive, deductive, and perhaps strong-armed at times. In
contrast, Japanese control tends to be suggestive, inductive, and generally acquiescent.
Secondary control relates to amae and enryo. To learn how, consider otonashi.
Otonashi is a “reserve, modesty, and reflection” that Japanese mothers hope to instill in
their children (Gjerde, 1996). It is considered part of the ideal state or personality in
Japan. It is both a reflection of the amae relationship and something that contributes to
the maintenance of it. Enryo is simply the feeling or condition of being sensitive or
vigilant of the possibility of breaching the state of otonashi (literally, “soundlessness”).
The monkeys of “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” are certainly illustrative here,
and were in fact enshrined at Toshogu in Nikko, by the indigenous Shinto religion, in
That enryo and otonashi are any more prevalent in Japan than in America is
reflected by numerous mundane practices (Lebra & Sugiyama, 1976). Particularly
amusing is that of automobile etiquette. When drivers come to a stop-light after dark,
they turn their head-lights off - so as not to shine in the rear-view mirror of the person in
front of them. When they are yielded to, they offer a tap on the horn in “thanks” (or
more accurately, “sorry.”) And when they are let pass, they momentarily activate their
emergency lights in a visual “excuse me for going first.” Such common courtesies
represent the proverbial “tip of the iceberg.” Much deeper is a reactive predisposition for
secondary control, the preferred means of accomplishing goals within a system that
emphasizes harmonious interdependence.
Essentially, Japanese people value interpersonal harmony very highly and the
way they maintain it is by sensitizing (Americans might say hyper-sensitizing) their
children to the kinds of cues that would jeopardize it. They attempt to do this by
fostering the kind of mother-child attachment wherein the child becomes highly conscious
of cues that might indicate he or she should feel guilty about upsetting the balance of the
interdependent relationship in question. Theoretically, amae develops between the
mother and child and then becomes generalized to other relationships. Secondary control
is therefore highly valued in Japan, because of the perception that acquiescence is the best
way to maintain amae.
As one might imagine, however, secondary control can have ulterior motives. Put
another way, primary control can have an indirect form. Japanese researchers Kojima and
Azuma reminded Weisz et al. that a covert way of actively influencing existing realities
can easily explain what often appears to be passive resignation in Japanese coping.
Japanese tend to employ a number of strategies that are indirect - yet tactically so.
Kojima and Azuma provide numerous anecdotal and proverbial illustrations. In times of
confrontation, Japanese will often attempt to issue subtle cues aimed at raising a finer-
grained consciousness of an issue [the reader is reminded of wakaraseru (having
understanding) in the previous section]. In order to avoid the risk of further
confrontation, this is typically inductive or “bottom-up” in nature. Kojima provides the
example of a rakugo, or comic story master, who is annoyed by his disciple’s singing.
Rather than jeopardizing the master-disciple relationship, he earnestly remarks about how
well the disciple sings - prompting the disciple to realize he is being a nuisance.
Indeed, any American who has lived in Japan and understands basic Japanese can
report about the daily culture-shock of numerous examples of this kind of control
(Bourne, 1975; Guthrie, 1979; Huang, 1977; Kim & Gundykunst, 1988; Oberg, 1960; for
reviews of the culture shock literature, see Barna, 1983; Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok,
1987; Furnham & Bochner, 1986; Stening, 1979). The present writer vividly recalls a
holiday at a Japanese professor’s summer house. One afternoon, the professor
collectedly stated, “this house is enjoyable, but difficult to keep up” - at which point
cleaning supplies appeared!
Another case of indirect primary control can be seen in the Japanese habit of
seeking the assistance of third parties. For example, if one has a complaint, he or she will
often find someone else to speak with the source. This contrasts with much of what
Americans prefer in conflict resolution. Indeed, Americans would likely be quicker than
Japanese to judge such indirect primary control as being manipulative or even deceitful.
American taboos against indirect primary control are captured nicely by the
colloquialisms: “head-games,” “double-dealing,” and “going behind my back.”
Of course, any form of control has the potential for being manipulative or
deceitful. The worth of the intention is the underlying determinant. In the interests of
cultural sensitivity, it must be noted that Japanese who employ indirect primary control
are often truly invested in allowing their adversaries the dignity of keeping their
unpleasant feelings about the conflict concealed, and thereby maintaining or saving their
“face.” Moreover, because there is a disdain for outright assertion (and probably a
relatively large measure of classic “shyness” too), such face-saving is generally
appreciated by all parties involved in a given conflict. This may be a central feature of
Japanese-American cross-cultural differences in emotional adaptation.
Ruth Benedict (1946) noted rather astutely that in a discussion of the value of
indirectness, the very definition of “sincerity” is called into question. In America, people
are typically considered insincere if they do not “tell it like it is.” In Japan however,
one’s sincerity is more likely defined by how well one upholds the code of etiquette.
Therefore, although direct primary control would be seen as honne (inner thinking), it
would not be deemed heartfelt or conscientious - the true definition of sincerity in the
Japanese mindset (the reader is reminded of the Japanese mother’s goal of fostering
sunao, or heart-felt cooperation, in her child).
According to Azuma (1984), Japanese mothers emphasize that conscientious
yielding demonstrates tolerance, self-control, and flexibility (1984). He gives the example
of the proverb, makeru ga kachi - roughly, “to lose is to win.” Although such tactics
may not always produce the desired results, Azuma explains they are thought to
eventually modify behavior in the appropriate direction, without the bad feelings that
might be associated with American style confrontation. Of course to argue that American
mothers generally socialize their children to be unyielding and stubborn would be
baseless. Rather, because Americans are socialized for explicit conflict, they tend to have
a higher threshold than Japanese for labeling behavior as unyielding or stubborn.
Accordingly, Americans do not pay as much attention as do Japanese to the “subtle
hints” or the “extraneous noise” of paralinguistic communication. This underscores the
notion that the basis of a reality is often defined by consensus. For example, a group of
men living together might have different ideas about what constitutes a dirty house than
would a group of women. In the same manner that people must be sensitized to “feel
dirt” before they consider that it is time to clean, individuals must be sensitized to many
subtle cues in order for indirect primary control to “work,” or even be necessary or
desirable. (Interestingly, this leads some Japanese to claim that Americans cannot “take a
There is fascinating evidence that Western and Eastern socialization settings have
fostered divergent attitudes about the relative worth of modes of control for some time
(Markus & Kitayama, 1991; Triandis, 1989; Iwao, 1997; Lanham & Garrick 1996). The
diary of Natsume Soseki presents an interesting case of culture shock along these lines.
During the Meiji restoration of the late 1800s, Soseki was sent to England as a
government scholar. He wrote that his stay in London ended in despair because, lacking
the proper assertiveness, he was treated as a meek inferior. In contrast, the Westerner in
Japan must overcome assumptions that his or her assertiveness represents a lack of
refinement. His behavior must be “toned-down” in many ways. Certainly direct eye-
contact, demonstrative hand-gestures, and speech volume should be reduced in many
settings. This is especially true in times of interpersonal conflict, when hedging and
circumlocution are often essential (Hermans & Kempen, 1998). To really understand this
as an American, one might imagine communicating with a member of a culture much more
direct and expressive than our own. In this situation, violations of one’s familiar norms of
“body space” can be particularly uncomfortable. Violations of “psychological space” are
With divergent values about what should be explicit in Japan and America, the
“double-edged swords” of control types can be seen to operate differentially. Namely,
the societal malfunctioning of primary control is not of particular concern in Japan,
whereas it is in America - and vice versa with secondary control. There is evidence of this
in the child pathology literature. Lewis (1996) has reported that in America, the pressing
need has been to research aggression. In contrast, Japanese researchers have seen the need
to focus on children who have trouble asserting themselves. It seems that when a society
structures itself to avoid one type of error, it opens itself up to another - the inverse of
VI. CONCLUDING REMARKS
This paper has attempted to outline major characteristics of Japanese culture as
they might bear on emotional adaptation. The goal was to provide a working set of
schemas that would sensitize American researchers to broader issues involved in the
cross-cultural comparison of Japanese and American children’s stress and coping
behavior. To this end, a number of important concepts were discussed in the context of
research findings, such as: honne (private self), tatemae (public self), enryo (hesitation),
gakurekishakai (academic credentialism), gaman (perseverance), and amae (instrumental
dependency). An understanding of these concepts will be crucial if data from future
cross-cultural work is to be interpreted accurately, with respect to cultural context.
In coping research on Japanese, particular attention should be paid to the concepts
of secondary and indirect primary control. The phenomena behind these concepts have
not yet been sufficiently incorporated into the emotional adaptation literature as more
than curious aberrations (Kitayama & Markus, 1995). In searching for an explanation for
this, Japanese psychologist Iwao (1997) has argued that the models of “normal” social
psychology are rooted in “Western thought deriving from Aristotelian logic, the Judeo-
Christian tradition and Cartesian logic (p. 330)” - the tools so favored by individualism.
Modern psychology is a product of the West, represented in large part by the
United States. Considering the United States emerged from the defining war of the
century as the most economically and militarily powerful nation in the world, it would
not be surprising if an intellectual “trade imbalance” had in fact occurred in psychology.
In a very subtle way, individualism-based models of thought may have permeated global
academe, shifting assumptions not unlike how Freud’s Unconscious shifted assumptions
in America. It is perhaps hard to imagine, but had modern psychology first come to
fruition in a non-Western country, such as Japan, psychology’s prevailing models might
have begun with a different set of assumptions - assumptions that Americans might find
This conclusion does not discount the value of tendencies that might be assumed
Western in origin (e.g., that of cognitive consistency). Rather, it is aimed at sensitizing
the American researcher to the possibility that other cultures may have their own unique
tendencies. If psychology is to explain non-Western emotional adaptation in particular,
prevailing models may need to be expanded in fundamental ways. If, for perhaps
economic reasons, global acculturation to Western norms is inevitable, this task may be
more pressing than previously thought.
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