Reading the Japanese Mind: The Realities Behind Their Thoughts and Actions

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9784770020444: Reading the Japanese Mind: The Realities Behind Their Thoughts and Actions

Who are the Japanese? This question has tantalized and bewildered the West ever since Japan opened its borders to the world in the last century. Are the Japanese really the guileless, polite, and hardworking people that they appear to be? Or do appearances mask a calculating, secretive interior? Can we ever understand their ways of thinking? Robert March - psychologist, management consultant, and long-term professor at a major Tokyo university - spent nearly twenty years living in Japan and, as the ultimate insider, offers fresh insights into these and other questions.
Deploying a wealth of sources, March delves behind the social mask that the Japanese present to the outside world to reveal their "inner culture." He highlights their modes of thinking and communication, the originality of their culture, the central role of social status, their ways of making friends and influencing others, and their addiction to perfection.
March also addresses two topics of prime significance to all students of modern Japan. He reflects on the "goodness" of the Japanese people and the ethical quality of their society and business practices. And in the final chapter, he discusses the social and political significance of Aum Shinrikyo, the bizarre cult responsible for the indiscriminate gas attacks that terrorized Tokyo in 1995.

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From the Publisher:

ON-LINE INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR

Could you tell us a little about your background?

"Prior to 1973, I spent a total of two years in Japan, first in the Armed Services, then as a researcher and consultant. In 1973, I accepted an invitation as visiting professor at the Institute of International Studies and Training (IIST) in Shizuoka Prefecture, working there, and at Sophia University, until 1981. I then took up a full-time, tenured position as professor of international business at Aoyama Gakuin University until 1988 when I returned to Australia.

While I taught business, I had professional qualifications as a psychologist and sociologist, and studying and understanding a culture as alien as Japan was inevitable."

What motivated you to do this book? What got you started?

"I married into a professional Japanese family in the Kansai region in 1971, and what I learnt about their kafu--ways of operating as a family--demanded explanation. Nothing in my background prepared me for the ways Japanese behaved or thought."

Could you tell us a little about the contents of the book?

"The book's subtitle is 'The realities behind their thoughts and actions.' The book covers very wide areas of Japanese thought and action, and by 'realities' I mean their basic human emotions and motivations--which anyone can understand. This enables anyone to put themselves empathetically into the shoes of the Japanese.

I look at their ways of thinking and feeling, the originality and aesthetics of their culture, the central role of social status in molding social behavior, how they make friends and influence others. I think my chapter, 'Evaluating Japan and the Japanese,' which reaches conclusions about the 'goodness' and morality of Japan, is both highly important and original--given the suspicion with which Japan is so often viewed."

Why is the book important?

"It is an 'insider's' book, and the insider is an experienced, bilingual, qualified behavioral scientist. It is a book addressing today's Japan. It has great breadth. It is highly insightful."

What did you yourself learn while working on the book?

"Although I have long regarded Japan as my 'second home,' writing this book gave me a richer perspective, and enabled me to discard the many stereotypes I had used in the past. Those stereotypes were just crutches for lack of thought.

And I also learnt how shallow and superficial my views on Japan had been, prior to beginning to think and research the many topics I considered."

What would you like readers to take away with them after reading this book?

"Probably this: Japan is complex, sophisticated, and artistic, beyond everyday thought. Before you draw conclusions about Japan (and this is surely true of every country), first look carefully and long."

What people or books were influential in the creation of your book?

"The most significant influence on me was the many Japanese friends with whom, over the years, I discussed the question, 'What is Japan? Who are the Japanese?' It was their enthusiasm, thoughtfulness, knowledge, and originality that most sparked me. I remember NHK radio running a series on 'Utopian Japan' years ago, which we talked about often long into the night. The themes we touched on--Do the Japanese have a utopia; if so, where is it? What are the greatest dreams for Japanese?--were the most exciting in my life."

What are your plans for the future, in terms of new books or other projects?

"I am writing poetry to accompany Japanese woodblock prints, both traditional 'ukiyo-e,' and some contemporary work, notably those of Makino Munenori, sometimes called today's Hokusai."

Is there anything else the reader should know?

"Please visit my website."

About the Author:

Robert M. March, Ph.D. was a visiting professor of Japanese studies at the Copenhagen Business School in 1996.

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March, Robert
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