LIving and working in Japan

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Sat, 4 Jun 1994 07:20:52 JST

Ray Sculpin writes,


Your note regarding how your Japanese colleagues work more
effectively in committees than we do reminds me of the ongoing debate
regarding "group harmony" or "wa" in Japanese society. Harumi Befu
believes that the concept of "wa" is highly over-rated by both Westerners
and the Japanese. He mentions something that has been dealt with in an
elegant way by James Carrier in his essay comparing Orientalism with
Occidentalism----that is, the Japanese have accepted the concept of "wa"
as a type of ethno-Orientalist perspective on their own societal
mechanics. Having accepted this essentialist notion of "wa," or group
harmony, and acting upon it, has probably influenced some group dynamics
in Japan. However, as Befu insists, this concept of "wa" is mostly a
cultural construction that hides much of the self-interested
individualistic behavior that is found in both the East and West.

Any thoughts on this John?


Japanese are people and, therefore, as individual and cantakerous as people
anywhere. Politics are Byzantine and competition is real and bloody. But,
as "What people take to be true is true in its consequences," the rules of
overt group behavior usually keep things under control. One useful consequence
is that people who may, in fact, hate each others' guts, can continue to
work productively together. Another is a generally high level of (admittedly
artificial) civility which makes living and working here a pleasant experience.;
One central and serious issue is that working smoothly together depends on
having work to do. In the current economic slump, I've seen groups falling
apart as individuals deprived of a common project cling to whatever tasks
they can find for themselves.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)