Repression and Fragmentation of the Japanese Culture

The Japanese culture is known for politeness, as exemplified by bowing, lowered tones, and respect for personal space. There are strict guidelines regarding appropriate behavior. Laughter is buffered by a hand over the mouth. In the workplace, communication is formalized, and employees speak considerably less than their superiors. One is forced to don a cheery mask to preserve order. However, negative emotions that are kept at bay only intensify the urge to purge, and this demand manifests itself in the booming market of fantasy worlds.

Japanese men not only have to deal with the fragmentation of their identity but a clash in the Western work environment where individuality is encouraged. Office meetings are oftentimes held at a roundtable where employees freely contribute ideas. This difference in approach causes confusion, as illustrated by Jiromaru, a businessman who declined coffee during an informal meeting with an American client. He later revealed that he could not accept the coffee because he did not want to impose his needs to a business senior. For Westerners, being too polite can be misconstrued as insincerity. Tannen notes that “many Americans find it self-evident that directness is logical and aligned with power whereas indirectness is akin to dishonesty and reflects subservience.” Self-restraint is valued in this high-context culture where “good communication is believed to [have taken] place when meaning is gleaned without being stated directly,” according to socio-linguist Deborah Tannen. Western cultures favor a direct approach where employees are expected to voice concerns. For many Japanese people, this would be considered adversarial because they are accustomed to promoting group harmony by ceding to those higher in rank. Despite being efficient workers, they find themselves emasculated in Western societies where the inability to assert oneself is seen as a lack of character.

The Japanese man’s corporate persona has its evil twin which rears its head in an equally structured environment. Formalities are all but abandoned during a traditional celebration known as fureigi, which translates as “forgetting decorum.” A second outlet for pent up frustrations are “relief rooms.” For a nominal fee of $50, guests are allowed to destroy everything within the rented walls. A third arena for deviant behavior lies in the adult industry, or mizushobai, where outlaw behavior is allowed and expected. There are many levels of decadence in mizushobai. Soaplands bathe and feed patrons as if they were infants. This appeals to those who wish to reenact a time in their lives where social ties were as simple as the mother-son bond. Some businesses merely brush upon men’s desires, but others are direct – some being bold enough to display explicit menus.

Here, his identity shifts from one that was subordinate and cooperative to one that is cold and demanding. Anne Allison writes in her book on night work in Tokyo: “Men have two sides: a human side that is expressed when they go out work and maintain their responsibilities to home and family; and an animalistic side that comes out when they drink, exchange lewd jokes, and carouse with women.” Their animalistic side is fostered by creating an imaginary world where women are sex-starved and faceless. Anonymity is instrumental in letting out the monster within. According to Allison, women who work in this industry “tend to keep their private lives secret from customers [because] the appeal of a paid-for woman is her willingness to do what the male customer wants while telling nothing about herself.”

The prostitute voids herself of needs so that her customer can shed his role of provider. One such customer was interviewed in Allison’s book: “I have a mistress because I can cry in front of her. To my wife, I cannot show weakness because she depends on me. It cannot be the other way around.” His response illustrates the rigidly defined role of “husband” in Japanese society. He obsesses with familial duties at the expense of having a real bond. It is no surprise then that many Japanese men suffer from primary impotency at home but are able to copulate with prostitutes.

In Japan’s collectivist society, duty toward others overrides personal goals. This curtails personal development and cripples relationships. Self-expression should replace self-sacrifice as a social norm. The selfless model citizen is pure fantasy and only serves to create demons in these men who are left yearning for self-discovery.

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