In a nutshell
The Japanese Mind is a collection of 28 essays that offer readers an overview of contemporary Japanese culture. These essays were written over a period of several years by students a Ehime University in Matsyama Japan. They offer an informative, accessible look at the values, attitudes, behaviour patterns, and communication styles of modern Japan.
The book includes in-depth discussions of key concepts such as Bigaku (the Japanese sense of beauty), Bushido (the way of the warrior), Chinmoku (silence in Japanese communication) and Gambari (Japanese patience and determination). In each chapter, it contains a set of questions that would provide invaluable discussions among readers.
What I liked
My hubby bought this book for me when we were in Japan and I am truly happy he did because I thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂 One of the reasons is because ever since my visit to Tokyo, I’ve fallen in love with the place, its culture and people.
One of my favourite chapters in The Japanese Mind is Chinmoku: Silence in Japanese Communication. In Japan, silence is much more common and is of longer duration than in Western countries, because it is believed the truth lies only in the inner realm as symbolically located in the heart or belly. Thus a man of a few words is trusted more than a man of many words.
Someone who is vocal or insists on his/her opinion before a group has reached an agreement is seen as selfish, and to show off their ability or knowledge openly makes a bad impression on others in Japan, and such people are considered impolite and immature. (**gasp!!**)
What I found interesting was when I read this: “…in a train, if people recognize that someone is being molested, they may not say anything to help the victim, because they are afraid of disapproval for their forward behavior, or simply because they are apathetic. In short, silence also means defiance and indifference in Japanese life.”
And in Japan, couples often ‘communicate’ by nonverbal means, and silence is generally an accepted part of the relationship.
This is certainly complex and confusing to me, because personally, I don’t think ‘silence’ is an effective way to communicate. We are not individuals who can read people’s minds. Also, I don’t see how silence can strengthen a relationship between a couple. I can’t imagine trying to communicate with someone who’s silent most of the time and I’d have to guess if he/she is agreeing or disagreeing with me. Silence is golden yes, only when used appropriately. Not most of the time! I’d go maaad! AND keeping silent when you know/see something unlawful being done?
And this is just one of the concepts; there are many others which made me question its sensibility, which is what I liked about this book. And the discussion questions are really good too. For example, in this chapter, we have questions such as, “Do you think that the concept of chinmoku contributes to the rising number of cases of teenage and adult violence in Japan? Discuss this with reference to the case in Niigata of the nine-year-old-girl who was held captive in her kidnapper’s home for nine years.”
This book is exhaustive, yet simple to understand. You can read the chapters in any order, as each topic is discussed separately, although there are some issues that overlap among the selections, but many are dealt with from slightly different perspectives. There’s also a glossary to help you out if you get lost in all the Japanese terms and concepts.
Great for anyone who’s interested to know more about the Japanese mind. This will also be a more interesting read if you have a Japanese friend/colleague to discuss these topics with, because according to the editor, many of these concepts remain controversial within Japanese society and are debatable among the Japanese themselves. I can see why…
My verdict? 4/5