On Japanese Social Imaginary

E-book Cover

In the Japanese social imaginary, abstention of behaviors based on one’s own feelings and ideas (enryo) and conjecture about what the interlocutor expects (sasshi) play a central role in everyday interactions. These attitudes are internalized during the early years of primary education. Empathy is privileged and particular important is given to avoiding conflict. This type of behavior is also part of a disciplinary process in which vertical relationships prevail and dissent acquires a negative connotation.

Since premodernity and even in the industrial society of the twentieth century, people have accepted relations of domination in exchange for protection. The emperor is part of a family whose lineage is thought to reach the realm of the mythical, with a supposed divine origin. He is the protector par excellence in a society in which throughout history various institutions have been directed to protect their subjects in exchange for obedience and hard work.

Over the past forty years, the introduction of neoliberalism as a policy that favors social Darwinism has weakened the social security mechanisms that protect the population. This has led to a cracking of the social fabric and has given rise to new social phenomena such as hikikomori, otaku, kawaii culture, bullying in schools known as ijime, black companies and karoshi, death for overwork, among others.

Here I analyze the basic characteristics of the Japanese social imaginary, how they have manifested themselves on a psychological, psychosocial and social level, and the changes caused by the spread of a risky society which collides with an imaginary based on a conception of society as a large family with the emperor at its apex.

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