Part 15. Looking into the Crystal Ball of Japan's Future

Looking into the Crystal Ball of Japan's Future

We are living in a time of rapid change, and Japan's culture and society are evolving at an alarming pace.
Values once held dear are weakening : Workers no longer hesitate to quit their job or change companies, while employers no longer offer the same job security as before.
Young people feel less of a duty to take care of their elderly parents than before.
The Japanese people's craving for convenience and efficiency has caused convenience stores to replace mom-and-pop stores, and people to communicate by electronic means instead of face to face.
Many age-old traditions such as calligraphy or using the abacus are fading away as a result of computerization.
Skilled workers such as plasterers, tatami mat makers, and roof thatchers are becoming increasingly rare.
Japan, it seems, is slowly losing many of the distinctive features that make it Japan.
In addition to changes brought about by modernization, Japan's low birth rate is causing a rapid aging of the society.
People of the older generation require ever-increasing care as they retire form an ever-shrinking workforce.
It ia said that in order to maintain its current standard of living Japan will sooner or later have to rely more heavily on foreign workers, include more women in the workforce, and allow the elderly to work longer years.
Japan also seems to be losing ground in areas of the commercial world where it once enjoyed kingpin status.
The country that invented the epoch-making WalkMan has been left in the dust with regard to advances in smartphones, electronic devices, and other digital technology.
Moreover, the younger generation of Japanese are said to excel more at doing things are fixed and decide-i.e.,following a manual-than at coming up with innovative new ideas.
Also worrying is Japan's political relations with its immediate neighbors.
Its recent departure form a policy of relative withdrawal is a stance which may not always lead to peaceful or mutually beneficial outcomes.
Looking into the crystal ball of Japan's future, it is hard to get a clear vision of where Japan is heading.
There are many more questions than answers.
How will Japan adjust to a large influx of foreign workers within its borders ?
What role will Japan play in the region both as an economic powerhouse and a political force ?
Will Japan confront problems that arise with its neighbors by withdrawing, behaving aggressively, or by making efforts to forge win-win situations ?
Will Japan be able to come out on top when it comes to innovation ?
Hopefully, Japan will be able to capitalize on its unique cultural heritage and set of values to make a valuable contribution on the world stage.
To do so it will need people not only with a global outlook but with a clear understanding of Japan's strongest assets and how they can be utilized.
Moreover, it will need people with the communication skills to make a successful appeal of its culture to the world.
May you be one of those people !
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Part 14.The Japanese and American Work Ethics

The Japanese and American Work Ethics

The reason Americans work hard (when they do) is usually attributed to the Protestant work ethic-a system of values followed by the first immigrants who sailed to America to start a new life.
Hard work and purposeful activity were believed to promote certain qualities of character and keep people on the path of virtue.
The Protestant work ethic also espoused the values of thrift and self-discipline.
These values were surely reinforced by the difficulties that early settlers faced in establishing homes and communities in the New World.
This work ethic quickly become part of the fabric of society and has remained an outstanding feature of the American character to this very day.
The reason Japanese work hard (when they do) is from quite different motivations.
Much of it has to do with group consciousness and wanting to see the group succeed.
The group may be large or small, taking the form of a family, a team, a company, or just a group of friends.
The strong Japanese sense of commitment to a group is part of a traditional sense of indebtedness (on) and obligation (giri) that make up the fabric of Japanese society.
This sense of duty originated in the feudal era when feudal lords depended on peasants, who worked hard for them in exchange for protection and a secure life.
Of course, it was a hierarchical relationship but also one of mutual dependence.
In Japan, much depends therefore upon overall group effort and group harmony.
And while self-sacrifice is demanded for the sake of the group, everybody shares in its successes and failures.
That means every member of the group is not only equally responsible but also culpable for whatever happens.
So in such a system, shame often becomes the driving force behind hard work.
People may work hard not so much from some internal motivation but to avoid appearing as a slacker.
And if you shirk, this brings shame not only on yourself but on the entire group.
(Consequently, some Japanese shirk when others are not looking.)
Of course, the motivation for working hard is instilled and fostered at a young age.
In America, a child's allowance is invariably connected to the completion of certain daily chores, like housecleaning, feeding a pet, or practicing a musical instrument.
American children often get a job delivering newspapers or participate in volunteer activities where they learn personal responsibility.
At school, they are encouraged to display their individual ability by joining the "Talent Show," a public event where students get on stage to dance, sing a song , play the violin, or perform some martial arts routine.
This stands in contrast to plays put on during the arts festival in a Japanese school, where all the students in the class perform together and everyone gets an equal role.
Similarly, Japanese sports festivals place greater emphasis on overall group performance compared to American track and field meets, which stress individual performance.
These cultural differences between Japan and America continue throughout life and have a strong impact on why people in each country work hard.
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part 13.Learning to Learn from Each Other

Learning to Learn from Each Other

If you wish to understand the difference between the education systems of Japan and America, much can be learned from the layout of a typical primary and secondary school classroom.
The arrangement of desks and chairs suggests the type of education that is taking place.
A traditional Japanese classroom usually has rows of desks facing the blackboard and a raised platform where the teacher stands.
Although the platform is there primarily for practical reasons, since a classroom may have from 30 to 40 students who must all be able to see the teacher, the arrangement reflects an education that is knowledge-based, and implies a hierarchy where information is passed from the teacher above to the students below.
American teachers, on the other hand, like to see themselves more as facilitators in a student-centered learning process where pupils are enabled to make discoveries for themselves.
Averaging 20 to 25 students in a class, desks are more often arranged in a circle or in islands, with students given group tasks to solve while the teacher moves freely from group to group to offer assistance.
One activity that can be found in classrooms of the youngest Americans is "Show'n'Tell." This is a time given to a single student to talk about an object he or she has brought from home in front of the entire class.
Learning how to speak in front of a large group about a personal interest exemplifies the strong emphasis American schools place on appreciating individual differences and developing self-expression.
There is really no equivalent in Japan.
On the other hand, in American schools there is nothing like the class in "Morals" that is an essential part of Japanese compulsory education.
This class is used to prepare students to function in Japanese society by instilling a moral sense and a set of values.
In recent years the class sometimes takes the from of a debate, where the teacher puts a moral dilemma to the students and asks them to respond.
While this shows a shift in Japanese education towards fostering independent thinking, still the emphasis is placed on the group more than on the individual.
Ways of evaluating achievement also differ greatly between the two countries.
From a young age right up through university, American students are required to write essays and papers that assess individual ways of thinking.
In contrast, in Japan one finds a prevalence of multiple-choice tests, which are seen as the most objective and fair way to judge students in a highly competitive system.
Not surprisingly, many in Japan criticize their education system for placing too much emphasis on rote learning at the expression of critical thinking, creativity, and individual expression.
Conversely, detractors of the American education system admire Japan ( and other Asian countries) for their success in teaching basic cognitive skills such as math and science.
In the effort to strike a good balance, surely there is much the two countries can learn from each other!
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