Three key words to understand the Japanese.
May 31 2002 at 2:42 PM

Three key words to understand the Japanese.

1) "wa": cooperation, avoiding arguments and conflicts.
2) "kegare": obsession for cleanliness. fear for blood, deaths, diseases, handicapped people.
3) "kotodama": belief that words have supernatural power.
belief that if you utter negative words(for example, there might be an earthquake soon), then it will happen.

These concepts dominated and still dominate Japanese people for more than 1000 years.
If you observe Japanese people with those concepts in mind, you can understand what I'm talking about.
But they are not necessarily concious about those concepts.
So if you ask them, they may deny those concepts except "wa".

1) "wa" is famous, so I think there's not much need to explain.
One note. This has something to do with "onryou".
"onryou" is curse of a man who died with very strong anger.
In the old days, people were very afraid of "onryou".
So if a noble man died with very strong anger, they built a shrine to ease his "onryou".

2) "kegare"
This has something to do with the fact that Japanese people didn't eat animals before Western culture came to Japan.
Some say it has something to do with Buddhism.
I think there is another reason.
Anyway it is a fact that Japanese people have obssesion for cleanliness.
Some examples:
Each member of a family has his own chopsticks and rice bowl. It is very unusual that a person uses the other person's chopsticks and rice bowl. The same is true on tea cups.
When a person came home from a funeral service, he asks his family member to bring salt to clean his kegare obtained by attending the service.
In the old days, people who killed animals and made products from animal skins are discriminated.
This discrimination is still alive in a way.

3) "kotodama"
This is, I think, the biggest shortcoming of the Japanese.
It is very difficult for them to think about negative forecast.
This explains Japanese government's poor risk management.
It is often pointed out that Japanese government can't change systems in their society without a foreign pressure.


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