Culture is an immensely complex concept, which has been discussed by numerous philosophers, thinkers, and social activists throughout the history of the human race. Despite the fact that there are various interpretations of this phenomenon, it could be stated with certainty that culture largely influences the social, political, and economic life of a particular country to a significantly broad extent. Moreover, it is also evident that different countries have different cultural values.
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Historically, the difference between Western and Eastern cultural rites and customs has been widely recognized. It could be observed that in the majority of cases these two ways of organizing and maintaining a particular culture are considered in opposition to one another. However, another opinion is utterly expressed by various thinkers: Western countries can learn from the experience of Eastern cultures.
One of the proponents of this opinion is T. R. Reid, a well-known journalist, who wrote a book that captures his experience of living in Japan. The author focuses primarily on the role of Confucianism as the primary foundation on which social, economic, and political relationships in the country are built. The purpose of this paper is to give an overview of the most important concepts discussed in the book and then to elaborate on possible ways of applying these ideas to American society as a means of ameliorating it. As the book certainly provokes various problematic and controversial questions, a personal perspective on such matters will be provided as well in order to develop a meaningful conclusion.
General Overview of the Concepts Discussed in the Book
First of all, it is essential to summarize the principal ideas that are expressed by Reid. It is important to notice that the author writes from a highly personal perspective. His observations of the Japanese societal mechanism, which is largely driven by the principles and tenets of Confucianism, are based primarily on his experience of living in Japan in the 90s. Therefore, personal bias, which has both positive and negative impacts on the objectivity and credibility of the author’s observations, is evidently present in the book. However, the role of the personal bias will be discussed later, as it is essential to give an overview of the book’s contents first.
In the first chapter of the book, Reid gives basic premises on which the rest of his reasoning will be based. Before he and his family moved to Japan, Reid, as numerous other people in the same position, did not have the full idea of how different this country is from the United States (12). As the author describes his first impressions of the country, he mentions such aspects as uniformly dressed airport workers in Tokyo (as in opposition to casually dressed workers in America), Asian bazaars, which were colorful and fun, and where people sold exotic foods and other goods (13).
However, the most important discovery which was made by the author is that Japan, as well as other countries in the Asian region to which Reid traveled a lot during his stay, was on the verge of a global change in the world’s economy and political situation (13). The author argues that the Confucian principles, which largely impact the everyday lives of millions of Japanese citizens as well as citizens of China, Korea, and other Asian countries, is one of the most important factors that determine that global economic and political change.
It is proposed by Reid that there four principal areas, in which the application of Confucian tenets and principles is highly evident and impactful: criminality (including drug abuse), education, family (including marriage and children nurture), and the distribution of wealth. It is stated by the author that the rates of murder, rape, kidnapping, and other serious crimes are vastly lower in the Asian region than the comparable rates in the rest of the world despite the fact that the level of police presence is much lower than in the United States (Reid 16).
Considering the problem of drug abuse, it is possible to mention that the rates of drug-related crimes are also considerably lower in the Asian region. For example, in Singapore and China, such results are achieved by promoting a very strict, if not severe anti-drug policy (a person could be sentenced to death if he or she brings drugs to Singapore).
However, another approach is used in Japan. Instead of implementing strict policies, Japanese society decided to consider illegal drug abusers as people who should not be a part of society. The most famous example of such an approach is the 1998 soccer World Cup finals, in which Japan and Argentina should have played. However, when the Japanese government learned that Diego Maradona has a record of drug abuse, it was decided that the Argentinian team will not enter the country. Despite the disappointment about the cancellation of the game that numerous people awaited, the population of Japan generally supported the decision of their government.
The aspect of familial relationships is also highly important for Japanese people. It is widely accepted that divorce is a public humiliation for both people, and therefore the divorce rates are lower compared to European countries as well as the United States. Reid observes that the role of social attitudes based on the Confucian principles plays an immensely important role in regulating this sphere of life (arguably, it has more impact than legislative acts) (20).
Considering the aspect of parenthood and children nurture, it is possible to cite the statistics which are striking: in the United States, 30-35 percent of the total numbers of newborns are born to single mothers, while in East Asia such babies contribute to only one percent of the total numbers of newborns (Reid 21). Thus, it is apparent that the family is an immensely strong and significant concept in Japan and other Asian countries. It could also be added that the performance of Japanese school students in math and science tests is better than in the rest of the world.
Finally, it is essential to touch upon the aspect of the distribution of wealth. As it is pointed out by Reid numerous times throughout the book, the equality of opportunities creates the environment in which nearly every person could achieve success if he or she puts in enough effort. By the way, tables with the word “effort” are common in Japanese schools. This fact exemplifies the importance of this idea for Japanese society.
Also, the Confucian cosmology refuses the concept of original sin, implying that every person is initially good, and thus could be an efficient member of society. In particular, the Five Basic Loyalties of Confucianism is the foundation of which Japanese society is built. These Loyalties include hierarchical relationships between the ruler and citizens, husband and wife, parent and child, older and younger siblings, and older and younger groups of society in general (Reid 153). Thus, society is built on the basis of mutual respect, which is an immensely important concept for the Japanese.
How Could the Ideas from the Book Be Applied to the Contemporary Personal and Social Lives
It is difficult to get a profound grasp of all the ideas that were expressed in the books as they are numerous. However, the previous section proposed an overview of the most important ideas that were discussed by Reid. I decided to categorize the author’s observations into four spheres of interest intentionally. The reason is that I consider that the application of Japanese cultural values, which are based on the tenets of Confucianism, could significantly improve the life of American society.
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Perhaps, one of the most important lessons that could be learned from the Japanese experience is that the societal structure should possess a strong sense of unity as well as mutual respect. It could be observed that American society could be vastly described as individualistic, which is arguably one of the underlying reasons for the current problems in the country. On the contrary, Eastern societies are considered to be collectivistic, and this aspect might be an important factor for the quality of the societal structure.
In general, it is possible to state that Reid made an immensely important difference with his book. Despite the fact that he writes from a solely personal perspective, which makes some of his observations biased or not objective enough, the general idea that is expressed in the book is highly engaging. In conclusion, it should be mentioned that the book by Reid had a vast positive impact on my understanding of the contemporary multicultural world.
Reid, Thomas Roy. Confucius Lives Next Door: What Living in the East Teaches Us about Living in the West. Vintage Books, 2000.