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Japanese Society: Factors Affecting the Cultural Development Essay

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Updated: Jun 9th, 2021

Being geographically isolated from other states, Japan represents a unique scenario of cultural development, in which most of the local traditions and values remain intact throughout centuries. Among the key changes that have affected the Japanese culture, one should mention political tensions, economic growth caused by globalization, technological development, and other issues that have geared the Japanese cultural environment toward diversity.

Nonetheless, Japanese people have managed to retain the authenticity of their culture and keep its legacy intact, at the same time encouraging further growth. When considering the factors that have had the greatest impact on the recent changes in the Japanese culture, one should mention the technological breakthrough that has produced a counter effect on the geographical factors.

The influence of political factors should be seen as one of the key contributors to change in Japanese values, philosophies, and traditions. Despite impressive success in maintaining the culture of the Japanese community intact, the influences of other cultures have had their toll, affecting Ancient Japan significantly. The shift in values is, perhaps, the most noticeable one of the range of changes that Japan had to undergo to build a rapport with the rest of the states (Statler 201).

Although Japanese people retained the essential principles of their philosophy, including Shinto concepts and Buddhist ideas, the notions of vendetta and the associated practices were quickly vanquished (Statler 202). The specified changes were crucial to Japan’s successful dialogue with the rest of the states and its adjustment to the norms of what would, later on, become the global community.

However, the changes in the economic relationships between Japan and other states should also be acknowledged as an important factor in shaping the current traditions and values of Japanese people. To evaluate the extent to which the Japanese society has been changed as a result of alterations in the economic relationships, one should consider the earliest stages of the Japanese culture evolution (Taeuber 13). As Harris explains, Japan used to represent the “band and village society” (The Origin 67).

The specified economic structure defined the relationships between the members of Japanese society, distributing roles and responsibilities among them. However, with the emphasis on the evolution of the Japanese empire and the unlimited power of the ruling class, the principles of subjugation were introduced: “In many ways the rise of the state was the descent of the world from freedom to slavery” (Harris The Origin 67). Therefore, the shift in the political and economic principles by which the Japanese empire was guided determined its culture, values, and traditions.

Nonetheless, even with the advent of economic changes and the merging of the Japanese cultural elements with those of a large number of European states, the office culture of Japanese people remained slightly different from the one of the cultures that were affecting it. For instance, the concept of social hierarchy, which was less evident in the western corporate culture, became one of the most prominent aspects of the Japanese one.

As Smith explains, “Another link between rank and office was the system by which many subordinate offices, in the bakulu at least, were filled” (77). Therefore, it could be argued that a combination of external and internal factors defined the development of the Japanese culture, encouraging the development of new ideas.

The economic innovation brought to Japan due to the rise in the levels of international interactions can be regarded as a significant impetus for change to the local culture and traditions. The alterations to the economy, however, were integrated into the Japanese society after being adjusted to the local culture and hierarchy. The example of subordinate offices mentioned above was coupled with the phenomena such as koku, or the people that were to “serve in high offices” due to their5 social rank (Smith 85). The observed phenomenon could be explained by the integration of innovative technology that could allow for closer communication between Japan and other countries, simultaneously allowing Japanese people to keep their values and traditions intact.

Political changes have also taken their toll on the culture of Japan, shaping it and introducing influences of western cultures into it. For example, the fact that the regimes of European empires foisted the Christian religion on Japanese people, forcing them to abandon their traditional beliefs, needs to be recognized as an important issue (Harris Our Kind 451). According to Harris (Our Kind), the integration of other religions into the Japanese society played a crucial role in cementing the significance of the preservation of local traditions in the eastern culture (452).

The specified phenomenon became especially prominent in the Japanese culture, where the principles of Shinto and Buddhist religions have prevailed (Harris Our Kind 453). Thus, the ancient philosophy and traditions have merged with innovative concepts, including technological, economic, and political ones. As a result, modern Japanese society represents a combination of Shintoism and Buddhism as the cornerstone philosophies of the Japanese traditional culture (Harris Our Kind 454). Therefore, external cultural influences have only reinforced the strength of Japanese traditions. Arguably, the persistence of external impacts was the key factor that made the Japanese culture so resistant to outside influences that affected its propensity toward resisting change.

Among the aspects of the pre-Meiji Japanese history that seem to be the most appealing, one may consider exploring the concept of family ties and relationships between family members, in general. In Akiutagawa’s stories, the love and care with which one of the main characters talks about her daughter are both endearing and menacing given the context of the narrative. Specifically, the old woman testifies during the identification of a corpse: “Yes, sir, that corpse is the man who married my daughter” (Akiutagawa 22). Therefore, the family institution has also played a significant role in shaping the current set of values by which modern Japanese society is guided.

In addition, the general values and ethics of the Japanese culture, as well as the large change that they have experienced, deserve especially scrutiny. For instance, the transfer from the concept of a vendetta to the traditional idea of justice is worth studying as an interesting and rather unexpected alteration. While being slightly less significant than technological and especially agricultural changes that swept Ancient China, encouraging massive change within it, social relationships represent a peculiar phenomenon worth researching. It was the exposure to foreign cultures that made the specified shift and the following growth possible.

Due to the introduction of innovative technology that has enhanced the connection between Japan and other continents of Europe, the culture of the former has been shaped significantly under the continuous and persistent influence of new ideas and concepts. Although the Japanese culture has become more open toward external influences and the acceptance of foreign ideas, Japanese people have managed to sustain their unique culture and values. Thus, on the surface, great changes were made to Ancient China, yet a closer analysis shows that many of its inherent values remained the same.

Works Cited

Akiutagawa, Ryunosuke. “In a Grove.” Rashomon and Other Stories. Translated by Takashi Kojima, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1952.

Harris, Marvin. Our Kind: Who We Are, Where We Came from, Where We Are Going. Harper & Row, 1989.

—. “The Origin of Pristine States.” Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures, Random House, 1978, pp, 67-68.

Smith, Thomas S. “Chapter II. ‘Merit’ as the Ideology in the Tokugawa Period.” Social Change in the Modern Japan, edited by Ronald P. Dore, Princeton University Press, 1967, pp, 71-90.

Statler, Oliver. “Chapter Ten, in Which the Master of Minaguchi-Ya Observes the Course of Vendetta That Stirs All Japan.” Japanese Inn, Random House, 1961, pp. 184-208.

Taeuber, Irene B. “The Increase of the Population and Growth.” The Population of Japan, Princeton University Press, 1958, p. 13.

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