Post-Modern Japan

A writeup about Japanese culture, society, and people.

Introduction

Japan has changed drastically in the past 100 years. It has grown from a near-isolated island in the Pacific Ocean to a modern superpower, dominating the world trade in more ways than one. It is powerfully in its population, its technology, and its economy.

History

Up until the late 1500s, Japan was a country isolated by the Pacific Ocean, and the Sea of Japan. It didn't trade with outside countries, and had strict laws forbidding any relations with other countries. Japan had a system of moral codes and values unique to itself, no other country has a system similar. Its artwork, and architectecture are borrowed from China, but has its own special style embedded within it. Japanese people lived simply, and lived by a simple caste system. The eta were the lowest form of human, frequently butchers, and gravediggers, and outcasts. These people lived in seperate villages from the main towns, and were not even seen as human. Next were the merchants. These were the only people that made money, and were often nomadic and unwanted. These people were seen as dirty, as money is seen as dirty in japanese culture. Above them were the peasents, the farmers, and townspeople who lived hard-working average lives. The had names of what their profession, such as "gyoji" for porter. The sometimes had last names, but were named after the village they lived in, or a characteristic of where they lived, such as "kawaguchi" or mouth of the river. This class worked the land, but was highly taxed for it, they owned the land, as they were the only class allowed to own land. Above them were the samurai, or guards. Samurai officially means "to serve" in japanese. Samurai didn't own the land, or deal with money, but owned whatever the lands produced. These men and women were the elite members of society who were the loyal servants of their lord. They lived by the bushido, which is a code of ethics that goverened their lives. It was simple in that a samurai was to be completly loyal, honest, proud, and always hold your honor above all else. Above them was the Emperor, ordained by god, as the ruler, and a direct descandant of the original god.

Japan was almost always in civil war between the higher ranking samurai of the lands. The Daimyo, or higher lords who ruled the lower samurai were always trying to become the ultimate ruler, or Shogun of Japan. This title granted supreme power, as the Emperor only was a figurehead. This state of unrest lasted for most of Japans history, up until it came in contact with foreign countries in the middle of the 2nd millenium.

At the end of the 1500s Japan, China, Portugal, and England began to trade through the help of the Jesuits. For twenty or so years it went well, with Japans trading port of Nagasaki fuctioning as its main shipping port. Trade of silk, and guns were the main source of revenue. Then at the beginning of the 1600s, the new Shogun Tokugawa took reign, and closed all of Japan to foreign countries believing them to be corruptive to Japan. Japan did't reopen for many generations

Japan stayed in that slump until the late 1800s/early 1900s when it began its industrial revolution. The main company that fostered this was Mitsubishi. It bagan as a coal mining company, that used japanese criminals, POWs, and slaves to do all its work on an island called "Battleship Island". This revolution brought many western ideas to Japan, and thus began the transformation.

Japan began to trade with other nations, and once again opened its ports. Trains, and cars began to change the society, and many japanese fell into "western-ethnocentricism", an obsession with anything western-style. From the clothes, to the food, and even its beliefs, morals, and values. For 20 years, the country went through industrial adolecence. There were too many jobs, and people could be fired so easity, and the next person would just jump in, this caused many serious issues where people were almost slaves, working 20 hour days, and getting paid just enough to feed themselves. This also made it nessesary for every member of the family to get a job, just to feed themself. Eventually western ideas became passe, and the industrialization became to slow down. Japan began to settle into a more normal lifestyle with cars and kimonos. Japanese culture abandoned the extreme western style, and apted to combine the best of both cultures, a process which is still going on today.

Wartime Japan

In the late 1930s, Japan began to work with Germany, and Italy for the cause of World War II. It saw the technology it could recieve, and to finally prove itself as a world superpower. The Leaders of Japan immediatly took sides, and felt the need to prove themselves.

The Japanese took their first big and bold step into the Pacific Ocean and took control of all the small island chains. These included Okinawa, and Midway Island. Thousands of islands were now under the Japanese Imperial Army, and all of these native islanders for basically forced to become Japanese. One of the major islands, Okinawa, is now ruled by Japan.

Japan then moved in a single giant leap into the war with their attack on Pearl Harbor. This was the step they took inorder to become a "force to be reconed with". The attack was quick and without warning, no honor was involved, which is very strange for a japanese battle. It seemed that the honored Bushido that the generals in the japanese army were still fighting with were thrown out the window in order to fight in a completly western fashion.

The country of Japan became a single entity. Factories, companies, and the people all came together to build the monster that would become the Japanese Imperial Army, Navy, and Airforce. The amount of force that this country put into the war effort was amazing. Almost all manufacture and labor was directed to the war effort. Japan produced a sizeable army, an huge airforce, and an astounding Navy all in under 10 years. They had ships and planes from before the war, but nothing that was substantial. The war turned Japan into a manufacturing island of power, which would stay with them until the mid 1980s.

After the war, Japan was decimated by the amount of distruction that their country had suffered. ALL major cities were destroyed by US firebombing. Their manufacturing, and economic status was non-existant any more. All money was lost into the war effort, and all productivity ceased for a short period. Once the US, and other countries began to help rebuild the countries, Japan began to quickly regain what it had started before. The country quickly bustled with workers from every field redesigning the country from ground up. Government, economy, and the actual layout of the country began to quickly blossom with the rebuilding. Everyone wanted to start over again, and this time they wanted to start something new.

After the War

As the war came to a stop, the Post-war effort was a huge rebuilding process. Not only in the physical sense, but in the cultural, and mental sense as well. All of the major cities in Japan were destroyed by firebombing during the war, but they were quickly rebuilt with a speed and enthusiasm never before seen. The people were eager to start a fresh new society built from the remans of the old, but with the ideals of the new.

As Japan began to create a new culture, they had the unique oppertunity to craft it from a rich past, and a promising future. The Japanese combined the moral values of their heritage such as honesty, courage, honor, and loyalty, with new western ideals such as constant change, open mindedness, capitalism, and democracy. With these unique values, a new type of Japan emerged. This time it was ready to compete with the western world without harming its traditional way of life.

Japan today is a center of capitalism. It is one of the most powerful money-making countries in the world, right alongside the United States. Its new values have changed a country of Samurai, into a country of Samurai-Workers. These men (and women!) have taken on the role of bringing their country, and companies into the future. It is a personal battle with each and every one. The success of the company is their rewards for their hours of self-sacrifice. They sacrifice their social lives, family, and free time in order to help the company.

Japan Today

Japan is still very focused on honor and outward appearences, trends and pop culture are almost a basis on how to live. High school popularity is based on how new, expensive, and what brand name your clothes are. The trends move so fast in Japan, that many times a certain clothes style is so specific, that it can only be worn that season, and then it will become "that is so last year". Anyone seen wearing an old fashion will be left out.

Success is a major issue in Japan today. A persons worth is judged by the amount of success they have achieved. It begins in Grade school, where children are taught the basis of their future in the education. Not all reading, not all math, but competition. These children are first taught the art of winning, or achieving the best. They are told that winning is all that matters, or comming in 1st place. To them 2nd place is no different than comming in dead last. Grade school begins the competition to get into a good High school. In Japan, high school is similar to a private high school or college in the US. The kids have to pass rigerous tests, and trials to get into a good high school. The more work they put in, the better their chances.

Problems arise when kids no longer study to learn, but study to get good grades just to get into a good school. They cram before a big test, but the knowlegde doesn't stick. Something new started when many children started going to tutors, and after-school prep-classes to enforce what they had learned that day in school. Within 5 years, most kids were going to these "after-school schools" not because they had to, but because it was expected of them. It became an unwritten law that in order to get into a good high school, these after-school schools were required. This forced children to leave the playgrounds, and go indoors to study. Monkey bars, and seesaws became desks, and pencils. The sound of laughter became the sound of erasers.

Once in high school, the logical next step was to begin trials to get into a good college. The same routine began again, but this time with after-school clubs, organiations, and sports. These teenagers were spending less time in personal matters, and more time working in a society where the expectations where so high, and specific that the kids no longer lead a life of their own.

In the last 10 years, colleges in Japan have had to lower their curriculum demands, and grade expectations. This is not because the kids are less smart, or not as intelligent, but because of lack of school enthusiasm, and lack of effort. Japanese Universities are having a problem with increased class attendance, attention to class material, and a general lack of interest. The kids today have been so "bottled up" that their childhoods are being expressed when they experience the newfound freedom of their college lives. Their lost childhood fun is transferred to young-adult drinking, promiscuity, and drug abuse.

Crime rates in Japan have increased in the last 10 years, most crimes have been commited by people who first started to experience the new generation of schooling. Another new phenomenon is the kogaru, these are normally high scholl age, or college girls who need spending money for the ultra-high, and trendy fashion. These girls are similar to prostitutes, they make themselves attractive to a specific demographic of older men. These men then "hire" the girls to go on "dates". Sometimes they are just dates, other times sex is included.

Social Position, and reputation are another aspect of modern Japan. What other people think of you is far more inportant that what you think of yourself. The college that you went to, the position at your job, they kind of clothes that you wear are all very important to your friends, relatives, family, and co-workers. If you don't have the best clothes, then some people wont want to talk to you, or fear loosing their own social standing. If someone was to get in trouble with the law, the family may throw them out, because they have tarnished the family name, and unless the family is strict, they will look bad in the neighbors eyes. Jobs and colleges will call your friends/relative/neighbors in order to make sure that you are an "upstanding citizen" to make sure that they are hiring a "normal person". This is a problem with people who don't want to be "normal", or are a bit "different" than the clones of society.

Japan is a very hard place to live in if you are different in any way. This problem has recently blossomed into a growing population of disenfranchised youth called the Hikikomori. These kids don't have the need/want/ or energy to become another "ant" in the colony. They withdraw from society, and create their own world amongst television, video games, books, and the internet. It is a safe and easy place for them to live.

Finally

The United States and Japan are both growing economically, and as japanese culture continues to spread to the US, the US will spread to Japan just as much. These two cultures will grow together eventually after many years, and although maybe never completly together, they will one day be very close.


This node is conceptually complete. I am now accepting thoughts/ideas, and criticisms on it. I want it to be purely journalistic, so if it comes off to opinionated, please tell me where.

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