Thursday, October 25, 2007

Nihonjinron and the baka gaijin

I suppose one can understand the belief in nihonjinron---the myths of Japanese unique uniqueness--among many Japanese. After all, it is nearly a religious belief, and religious beliefs tend not to be strongly supported by science or evidence which would hold much water among non-believers. (I know, I grew up a believer---though not much of a follower---in a very religious area of the US. Then I done screwed up and got an education which helped me turn agnostic.) However, I have a special problem with non-Japanese followers of nihonjinron. You would assume they might be naive waifs just off the boat, perhaps with a special interest in becoming another Karate Kid, or some other Zen-seeking ninja-type.

But occasionally, you can find them among long-term residents. Rare, but they're around. I found one this evening. I overheard a conversation between an American guy from a mid-Rocky Mountain state in the US discussing weather in his home state. He has been in Japan for a decade or so, and he started going on about how he especially liked "Japan's four clearly distinct seasons." I damned near puked. I could hardly resist saying something like "Is that unusual? Is it unique?" But since I was not a part of the conversation, I figured I'd better keep out. He might have called me a rude baka gaijin had I said something. Perhaps the seasons are only clearly distinct compared to his hometown in which they all blend into one (?) I still have trouble understanding how it could even be possible for Japan, at its latitude, to have such unusually distinct seasons, but that is part of the "science" of nihonjinron. Like religion, a non-believer/non-member, can't understand until he/she is washed in the blood. Or sesame oil or whatever.

It ain't the first time either. I found an essay on the internet written for some Japanese competition in which the author----a Finn---wrote about Japan's four most clearly distinct seasons.

Anyway, I have to enjoy the world's most uniquely distinct autumn in Tokyo. I will look out my window tomorrow morning at the colorful green trees after a crisp 62 degree night and thank the gods Izanagi and Izanami for creating such a magical place. The fact that the Japanese have a special connection with nature will allow me to see this change in all the vast, unspoiled parks and natural areas in Tokyo.

Fortunately, I am not back home where I could barely tell the season except for the big change in temperature, the increasing differences in day/night temperature, the colorful leaves in the many forests, the first frost on the grass in the morning, and other such barely noticeable indistinct things.


  1. Anonymous4:28 PM

    Great Article!
    I am a recent arrival in Japan and just the other day encountered the myth of the four seasons. Someone said to me, 'In Japan, we have four seasons. How many seasons do you have in your country?' I wanted to say 'twenty seven' but I didn't.

  2. I have considered responding by including hunting seasons, harvest "seasons" and things like Indian summer. Would do no good of course.

    If you told people that you had 27 seasons, then they'd start believing that Japan was the only country with so few (4) seasons.