Japanese Response

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Linda Lowen, an award-winning Japanese American journalist who heads the Women's Issues guide at, talks about how the Japanese are responding to the triple disasters - and why those responses can be hard for Americans to understand.  Read her recent post, "Understanding Japanese Stoicism in the Face of Japan's Devastating Earthquake and Tsunami."

Are you Japanese or following Japanese media coverage? Let us know about the cultural differences you see.


Linda Lowen

Comments [16]

Linda Lowen is one of the best guests on WNYC as far as I know, who gave an accurate observation and description about Japanese culture. I really appreciated and thought that this discussion was very valuable.
One of the Japanese characters Ms. Lowen pointed out, which was about “individuality” being discouraged in their society definitely an essential key to help understand Japanese way in general and to acknowledge some of the misunderstandings about Japanese culture that exist in the US. Her comment on Japanese resilience and survival skills during a crisis such as the WW II and their strength to become from nothing to one of the top strongest economic nations, “that does not come from individual effort as a I, ME, MINE, it comes form collaborative effort”; this also shall not be forgotten when trying to understand how Japanese people are.

I, someone who grew up in Japan and has lived in the US a little more than half of her life, can even share the feeling of strangeness about Japanese reactions to their historical devastated events. For instance, when I saw a news clip on internet, a tsunami-survivor lying in bed at a hospital saying to an American news reporter, “thank you, thank you for coming,” this did struck me odd. The tsunami had engulfed him while he was driving his truck and he was fortunately being rescued yet he was unconscious when that happened.
The reporter was not there to offer him any help; he was there to only interview him about his life and death experience. The survivor’s response first struck me odd but quickly changed to a frustration.
This may not be the best example to draw my point, but I understand American’s perspective on Japanese reactions to their disasters. I could not agree more on Ms Lowen’s following comment, “if they (Japanese) sacrifice a little bit (of the group oriented attitude) at least in terms of the way Americans do, then, and that’s what they need to do to survive.”
However, meanwhile I also would like to say that American media focus a little too much on the Japanese reactions as something negative. I think that the less of passing judgment on their reactions and the more of trying to understand Japanese way of responding to a situation as a very different thing from American’s way would be more supportive and compassionate especially at a time of crisis like this.

Mar. 17 2011 05:13 PM
Midori from Jersey City

I feel media outside of Japan have focused too much on the nuclear problems and neglected to give proper updates on those evacuees who are on the verge of starvation, freezing to death - I'm not exaggerating. Many shelters have still been isolated to this day, not accessed by rescue team. I would like to hear why Japan hasn't been able to mobilize the maximum amount of aircrafts to drop foods etc.

Mar. 17 2011 01:14 PM
L. J. Burr from brooklyn, NY 11201

T.R. Reid has a book called Confucious Lives Next Door : What Living in the East Teaches Us about Living in the West. Written when he was Tokyo bureau chief for The Washington Post and living in Japan with his family, my husband and I thought it was a very interesting look at some of the cultural differences between the US and Japan.

Mar. 17 2011 11:00 AM
Adrian Bennett from Brooklyn, NY

Linda Lowen's examples of japanese culture rely heavily on two factors: (1) her mother's generation and their behavior and beliefs; (2) geographical explanations for specific aspects of culture. This is a limited view. As an anthropologist and someone writing essays on Japanese gardens for Ja apanese newspaper, I was struck by a comment from one of my young, intelligent Japanese friends. She suggested that young people in Japan have become individualistic, to some extent like Americans, but that the disaster may teach them the need to rely on others, to reinforce their identity as a member of a society. Your guest seemed to me to have an idea of culture as a fixed, unchanging set of values and beliefs, whereas it is a normal process that cultures change and evolve in response to changing conditions. Japan today is in many ways a very different place than it was during Lowen's mother's days. I wish you had been able to ask questions about the diversity that definitely does exist in the culture of that country. You might pursue this issue further, I hope, and operhaps you could find more knowledgeable experts on Japanese culture. I suggest you contact Columbia Univ.'s Donald Keene in the Dept. of East Asian Languages and Cultures for suggestions of people to interview.

Mar. 17 2011 10:55 AM
Mr. Bad from NYC

In praise of what? Seriously, must we really admire the Japanese focus on conformism, cruelty and social order above all else? Japanese industry may produce some of the most technologically advanced products for the market but it is basically a medieval culture. There is NO more deeply bigoted, ignorant and xenophobic culture in the world - with a special interests in racial "purity" that would make Himmler blush. The average Japanese citizen is not just "politically incorrect" but completely unreconciled to the morality of collective responsibility. Deep shame in defeat is not necessarily a virtue you want to cultivate.

Mar. 17 2011 10:53 AM
Daniel Steinberg from Brooklyn

Gosh sometimes I feel this is not an anchor I listen to everyday. If you don't want to take calls that is fine but justifying your absurd prejudices on public radio you can do better than that. We will not going to take calls from non Japanese because anchor is psychic and believes whatever listeners have to say is irrelevant, I woul call it Crowd Sourcing Fail, Yeah take that.

Mar. 17 2011 10:51 AM
Alexis L. from Brooklyn, NY

There is something really uncomfortably "Othering" about this discourse. There is nothing culturally distinct about politicians who aren't forthcoming, executives who aren't forthcoming about disasters they caused (see Massey, BP) or people working collectively for their collective and individual good. Yes, the media portrayal of the anonymous workers at the nuclear plant is a bit different from the typical American portrayal but given that the trajectory of the story seems headed more in the direction of debacle and tragedy than success and triumph, that's not surprising either.

Mar. 17 2011 10:44 AM

My 70+ mother is getting very upset at the discussion of Hiroshima/Nagasaki and its privations and hardships. She wants to point out that the Japanese were the aggressors in WW II, and that they committed many atrocities on the Chinese and other conquered nations, and on their prisoners of war.

Mar. 17 2011 10:44 AM
Stuart Servetar from Manhattan

The reason the world is criticizing Japan for not putting out more info about the extent of the fallout from the meltdowns is not because we are insensitive to Japanese cultural reticence, but because downplaying the negative in this instance is EXTREMELY dangerous to all.

Mar. 17 2011 10:43 AM

Is WNYC coverage similar to Japanese press coverage?
Japanese are complaining their news is not as open as the news overseas.

Mar. 17 2011 10:42 AM
Rebecca from New Haven

Let's also not forget that Japan is not the only country in the world that does not value individuality as much as the United States. In Russian, when you say "Masha and I went to the movies," you actually grammatically say, "we and Masha went to the movies." The idea is that YOU didn't do anything. You both did it together. Just because individuality is valued over the group in the US doesn't mean it's like that anywhere else...

Mar. 17 2011 10:42 AM

I've always appreciated how the Japanese response to a crisis: They address the problem first and determine lay blame only after the crisis ends.

Here, a response starts with wall-to-wall coverage, a myriad of "sympathy" pieces would hit the airwares, loudmouthed politicians would finger-point the opposition, even louder-mouthed religious figures would use the "God's Punishment For" argument, everyone would go for one another's throats (if they're not otherwise occupied with panic shopping), misinformation would explode, and all the while the problem remains ignored and festers into an even bigger problem.

Mar. 17 2011 10:42 AM
john from office

Lets compare Hati to Japan.

Hati: Rape and violence

Japan: Organized response, no violence no rape.

Do a show on that

Mar. 17 2011 10:40 AM

Would an aggressive Japanese press helped uncover the inadequacy of these nuclear safety systems and thereby help prevent the current disaster?

Mar. 17 2011 10:39 AM

Japan is a homogeneous nation. One big tribe, so to speak. And so the tribe comes first over the desires and complaints of the individual.

Mar. 17 2011 10:38 AM
Juli from Skillman, NJ

It's collectivism versus individualism. They work as a group unit whereas we act as individuals.

Mar. 17 2011 10:32 AM

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