Monday, January 16, 2012

Cultural Decoding and the Japanese

Cultural misunderstandings between the Japanese and us led to a war in which Japan was flattened and eventually nuked.  They clearly misunderstood us.   Yet, within ten years, Japan was on it’s way to the short list of major economic powers of the world, sans sword.  Working with the Japanese is a challenge one in which the aversion of the Japanese to confrontation is often mistaken for acquiescence.   Japan is much more of an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in another enigma than is Russia.

Warrior’s Guide to the Other Guys Culture aka “F4F+4” is a warrior’s tool consisting of nine variables in two groups: one related to human relations, and the other of temporal relations:

F4F (Face, Fate,Fame,Fortune).  表面、運命、名声および幸運.  Basic cultural competence for Warrior and Statesman is focused on the values, behavior, beliefs and norms (VBBN) related to decision making.  It goes hand in hand with the factors of METT-TC of which three relate to people: enemy, forces available and civilians.  It does not supplant anthropology, but rather depends on it such as terrain and weather analysis bound in COCOA (Critical Terrain, Observation, Cover and Concealment, Obstacles and Avenues of Approach) does not replace density altitude or vehicle cone indices.

It means the ability to determine what ticks them off, and what turns them on (Face issues).  To what or whom they consider the consequences or underlying authority (Fate issues) and what gives them recognition and power within their community (Fame), and to what or to who controls the purse strings (Fortune).

In addition, how does geography affect them and what is their impact of geography? And what is their sense of time, and sense of distance, and how do they use their body in addition to body language. That is Time, Distance, Ground and Body.( 時間、間隔、地面, )

Geography and History. The key to understanding the Japanese is the impact of a land which is more vertical than horizontal.  Not only is Japan an island nation, the islands are full of mountains comprising three quarters of the land, leaving very little in the way of arable land in between. 

The Mountain Folk, the Bushi.  The fight for and the control of the bits and pieces of flat land is a central facet of Japanese culture.   While Japan was, in theory, an empire with an emperor at the top, the real power was held by competing factions of warlords, called Daimyo (big name) whose elite Samurai soldiers did the fighting. 
Takeda Shingen, Battles of Kawanakajima 1561

While Samurai were considered nobles, a common person could work his way up through the ranks to the very top.  That coupled with strategic marriage and adoption could create or maintain high social and political standing.  The last of this kind was Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who started out as a sandal carrier for a samurai lord who prohibited private ownership of arms in 1588.  .

The introduction of guns into Japan in 1542 had the same military and political effects experienced in Europe at the same time.  .  The castle and mounted charge faded in importance resulting in tipping the balance of power to the national authority.  Like in Russia and France of the time, the nobles were required to spend all or part of their time in the national capitol under the eyes of the national authority.  Edo had the same significance as did St Petersburg and Versailles.

“Tokugawa Ieyasu (徳川 家康?, January 31, 1543 – June 1, 1616) was the founder and first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate of Japan which ruled from the Battle of Sekigahara  in 1600 until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Ieyasu seized power in 1600, received appointment as shogun in 1603, abdicated from office in 1605, but remained in power until his death in 1616.”  Wikipedia

Tokugawa ended vertical mobility and froze the ranks in place with detailed instructions with penalties for violations.  He issued an edict expelling Christians and the sealing of Japan from outside influence tightened the controls the Samurai had. 

But since the peasantry had been disarmed and foreign adventures prohibited, the Samurai did have much to do except eat and train for duels, or beat up on the peasantry.  It was customary for a village to suffer the consequences of the actions of an individual.  Collective responsibility, therefore,  is at the core of the Japanese social culture.  This included punishment for missteps by the Samurai in the presence of superiors in which a Samurai would be ordered to commit suicide, also called Hara Kiri (belly cut) or Seppuku.  

() Harmony through Regulations, Conformity, Ways, and Kata: Mountain people are renowned for being contentious and Japanese history is full of contention, rivalry and duplicity between those who controlled the valleys.  The antidote for contention is regulation, and Japanese culture is famous for regulation.  There is a “way” to do things just right.  Battle drill is regulation, and Japanese martial arts have specific ways to move, strike, and evade which in English are called “forms” or the Japanese word “kata”.  The ultimate result and the highest virtue in Japan is harmony between mind, body, and one’s opponent.

The Prime Directive – Harmony ()

The Sino-Japanese Character for harmony is and is pronounced “wa” when used with other characters, and when alone is pronounced “Yamato” which is also the older name for Japan, and of the second of two super battleships in WW 2.   Harmony doesn’t mean peace, except as the quiet mind necessary to fight efficiently.

The tea ceremony is a coffee break that takes hours of precise movements.  A tea master illustrates precision and timing in the same way a Black Belt in Karate does in the specified kata for his or her style.

As a matter of necessary regulation of the peasantry upon whose rice planting was the principal source of wealth for the aristocracy, collective responsibility for the misdeeds or deeds of the village and family was the order of the day.  If one family member offended a samurai of standing, the whole family or village could be punished as in put to death.  This collective responsibility had an effect still very much in evidence today. 

No one does anything until everyone has agreed to it. In business this is called “nemawashi” in which proposals are passed through all affected departments until unanimity is reached.  This takes a long time, and multiple iterations are necessary.  This was frustrating to the US State, Navy and War Departments in 1941.  This round of question asking and repeated deliberations were taken by us as stalling.

 Once reached, the Japanese move like lightning and in concert. There are no foot draggers in the group.   The Pentagon likely picked this up from Japan during the Occupation as “Staff Coordination” is defined as running the decision papers around until everyone has put his or her “chop” on it.  A chop in Japan and China is a personal seal used to stamp official and binding documents in civil life.

Unlike other countries, the concept of collective decision making and collective responsibility of family and village was effectively transferred to the public and economic sectors.  During industrialization, the youth of an entire rural area would be brought to the industrial centers and put in company housing and cared for by the company staff.  This effectively transferred much of what is normally considered family values to the companies.  

In terms of the Warrior’s Guide to the Other Guy’s Culture, Face and Fate issues are tied to the collective, to the primary group based on the company.  If an employee goofs up, he has let his company down and is required to apologize.  Harakiri (Seppuku) suicide has become symbolic.  For the pride of the Nation, the apology is considered the ultimate sacrifice, is intended to end further humiliation or harassment of the group. 

Fame.  Given collective values and the restrictions that “the way” of doing things, heroes are admired, but it is a tragic affair as the Japanese say “That nail that stands out, must be hammered flat”.  The happy ending isn’t always at the end of Japanese movies, sometimes it’s an unhappy or tragic ending”.  The movie “Ran” by Akira Kurusawa ends with everyone dead or nuts.  Fame is considered double edged.   

Fortune:  Making a fortune is an acceptable course of action.  Flaunting it, however, has it limits. Given the lack of flat land to build on, the land one builds on is expensive.  This has restricted modern residential construction to the very small, so small that is not for show and tell. That’s what restaurants are for.  Japanese have to be told that inviting them to an American’s home is not because they can’t afford a restaurant. 

Given collective responsibility for the actions of one on all, the Japanese divide their actions into two worlds, one they show to the outer world which is regulated by the proper “form” or “way” of doing things and that which will not detract from the prmary group.  The other is what is allowed within the primary group, and is unstructured and free.    The first is called “tatamae” and the inside view is “honne”.  In the first years of Japanese commercial expansion after WW2, Japanese men behaved like GI’s on leave, horny and foul mouthed.  This got some bad press, and the behavior was modified.

“The Devil’s Language” St Francis Xavier.:

More than any other custom, the Japanese language was designed not to offend the Samurai with an itchy sword hand and the right to use it.  The language was developed to avoid offending the offensive.   The art of avoiding conflict within is the central value of the Japanese, and to a large extent other Far Eastern nations. As noted before, the character for Harmony pronounced “Wa” and permeates all manner of social interaction.  Personal Fame is admired from afar, but is something the Japanese find uncomfortable in themselves.   The have learned the hard way that Fame is followed by a Fate involving daggers in amongst the kudos.       

The Japanese martial arts of Aikido and Judo are based on using the opponents energy against them, and the martial art of Iaido (居合道?)  is based on defeating an attack at the dinner table.  A form of quick draw with razor sharp swords. 

The Japanese language uses indirect ways of saying things, instead of the Western way of short sharp declarative statements.  Brevity is abusive, and when the Japanese use brevity, they are on the edge of battle.   What can be said in one page is better said in three or four.

Likewise the vocabulary of the most common verbs changes according to the social status of who is being spoken to. There are six different vocabularies, three most popular, for the most common verbs such as to be, to go, to come, and to do.  The three most popular levels of politeness include abrupt, polite, and honorific.  All design to avoid disturbing harmony and to avoid offending.

Likewise, the language favors a complex way to say simple things leaving the verb at the end of the sentence to allow for wiggle room   And is more passive than active. American business to taught to make it brief, no more than a page and a half.  For Japanese to sent such a short letter is insulting.

Japanese belief systems are not hide bound to follow the dictates of any one religion or philosophy.  In part, this is an Oriental concept of yin and yang each of which cannot exist without a bit of the other.  Japanese families follow Shinto customs when young, Christian weddings and Christmas, and Buddhist funerals. 

Cartesian logic is fine for chemistry or mathematics, but not for life.  Arguing is disharmony.   In a business meeting, they will no more about your enterprise than you do.

Temporal Relations

Distance間隔: Interpersonal distance depends on whether one is on a train or bus or is in open terrain.  In open terrain, interpersonal distances are like Americans.  On a train, one is a standing sardine.  The Japanese queue up at bus and train stops like in England, sometimes in the US, and never in Holland.
Ginza Line in Tokyo

Time. .( 時間)  As it might be expected, Japanese reverence for time as a resource and a standard that prescribes correct behavior.  Being late is a serious offense, while timeliness is a virtue.  0900 is the most common starting time for work in Tokyo.  Ten minutes before nine is a mad rush, ten minutes after is virtually empty.
Ticket machines with map, times, and amounts - Tokyo

The Ground (地面)The effect of limited land not only underlies the Japanese character, it has in modern times altered the use of floor space, from spacious to cramped.   It is not unusual for an entire family to live in one room, in which the bed is folded away, and the all purpose table takes the space.  Japanese are astounded at the huge houses we have, that we consider average.

The Body: () Japanese body language and the use of the body in social circumstances are prescribed in precise manner such as in how deep one bows to another depending on status.  Removing the shoes is required in a Japanese home and many traditional restaurants.  Hiding the emotions is a universal defense mechanism.

The concept of Harmony extends to the Japanese sense of beauty in the arts, and in ordinary crafts.  The Japanese spend a lot of effort and creativity in the wrapping of a gift, and the wrapping says as much or more than the gift itself. Their sense of living space, before population explosions made space a premium that impressed Frank Lloyd Wright, and the GI’s who were stationed with the Occupation Forces in Japan.  They brought back a sense of more open interior space and more opened to the outside.  This style, for some odd reason, became known as a “ranch” style.
Ginkakuji (Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto

Japanese views on sex are not matters of shame and guilt as they are in the US.  Prostitution in Japan is in accordance with specific forms, also very much like the moves in a martial art.  Posted prominently in public places are advertisements which delineate the hourly rate and the particular set and sequence of sex acts.  Most Americans see this as perversity personified.

Some Comparisons between Americans and the Japanese

The Japanese consider American insistence on individual achievement at the expense of family or corporate welfare as barbaric, as to most other cultures that place family values over individual success.  We see family values and individual responsibility as co-existing, while most of the world sees them as a range of choices.

Most Americans see the Japanese as up tight and polite, which invites a corresponding assessment of us a loud and abrasive.  Their excuse is that we are powerful and dangerous barbarians.  Barbarians that can’t speak Japanese or use pork chops (hashi).

The prime determinant in a culture is often Fate, that which we are answerable to and that which represents consequence.  In the United States, it is individual responsibility and freedom.  If Fate pulls the rug out from under, it is an individual’s problem.  In Japan it is collective responsibility and consequence.   If Fate pulls the rug out from under, it is a collective responsibility to inspect, repair, or replace as necessary.

Both the Japanese and Americans compartmentalize friendships, but the Japanese have one they can fall back on, while in American that can fall on them.

 One thing for sure, the Japanese never let the rain on their parade slow them down:

Japan Festival in Houston, 2000