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Thursday, 14 June 2012

An Introduction to Japanese Society (Third Edition) by Yoshio Sugimoto

I don't actually have a reason why I'm reading this book. I picked it up in the school library because it looked interesting, not because of lessons or anything (although I suppose it has some application w.r.t PEST analysis). But apart from my suspicions that Rena and I are secretly nerds (well, one of us is from ACS(I) and the other from Hwa Chong), it's probably because we want to learn more about the country we're living in (If you're curious, Rena borrowed a book on the Ainu and one of the religious practices of Japan).

Anyway, this book really is a brief introduction to Japanese society. So here, in brief, are the names 10 chapters and what I think of them.

1. The Japan Phenomenon and the Social Sciences -  Basically, the introduction where it tells you what the author doesn't like about how most people view Japan and how he intends to find a middle ground.

2. Class and Stratification: An Overview - Japan likes to think it's egalitarian, but it's not.

3. Geographical and Generational Variations - A quick look at how different parts of Japan differ from each other in terms of culture, language, business, etc as well as how each generation (post-war, global generation, etc) differ and it's implications.

4. Forms of Work in Cultural Capitalism - probably the second most interesting chapter and the most relevant one for me. But I think that the look into Japanese Business Management wasn't deep enough, but then again, this isn't a Business Administration textbook.

5. Diversity and Unity in Education - So apparently, the "exam hell" we hear about isn't that bad. But university as a four-year-break? Um... well, I see a lot of my friends/senpai's working really hard here. So maybe it's no longer the case?

6. Gender Stratification and the Family System - It's very unfair to the ladies. Although I'm not sure what to make of the point about the women taking the guy's family name after marraige. I thought that was normal....

7. 'Japanese', Ethnicity, and Minority Groups - in a very ToK fashion, the author first askes the question "who are the Japanese" and kinda proves that this question cannot be answered. And then, we go on to look at the different minority groups like Rena's favourite Ainu, the Koreans and the Burakumin.

8. Collusion and Competition in the Establishment - Politics in Japan. It's a nice introduction, but if you want an in depth look, you should go and read Japanese Politics Today (from Karaoke to Kabuki Democracy).

9. Popular Culture and Everyday Life - Quite naturally, my favourite chapter, especially as it covers things like popular culture, folk culture and alternative culture.

10. Civil Society and Friendly Authoritarianism - Trying to make the case that life in Japan is 'authoritarian', Although I think that if you compare it to Singapore, Singapore might be considered stricter (at least, that's what a lot of Japanese say, especially when they hear about the stance towards gum and littering). But I wonder, is it wrong for everyone to act in a way that promotes harmony? And when does harmony lead to conformity?

All in all, an interesting book, especially if you're looking to a brief introduction. You won't become and expert on Japanese society after reading this book, but you'll definitely have learnt something. It's a bit dry at times though, so be warned!

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