The 2013-14 Hales Fund Faculty Study Group has been exploring the discourse and practice of interdependence in Japan. For over half a century, academic work on Japan has debated whether “Western” notions of self, individual, agency and autonomy have meaning in Japan. Though the most ardent promoters of a unique “group model” of Japanese society have, appropriately, come under attack in recent years, ethnographic studies continue to show that ideas of self in Japan are often inseparable from social relationships. But how exactly do Japanese think about themselves as members of groups? What are the historical and philosophical roots of cultural ideals such as harmony, empathy, and duty, and how have they been translated (or not) into actual practice? Our discussions have addressed how cognitive and cultural orientations towards interdependence find expression in a wide range of domains, including family and childrearing, education, scientific institutions, religion, literature, the arts, and interaction with the natural environment. We have addressed how Japan has achieved relatively high levels of social cohesion in some key areas and how Japan might serve as a mirror on American inclinations towards independence. At the same time, we have explored limitations of “collectivist” models and asked where sites of tension and conflict exist in Japan, as well as how recent changes within Japanese society, especially in the wake of the 3/11 nuclear disaster, are giving rise to new discourses about the relation between self, the state, and the scientific community. Our hope is that this study group will allow us to reflect upon broader issues of identity, culture, and community in a globalizing world through an in-depth examination of the historical and contemporary foundations of social order in Japan.
To explore these ideas further, the group departs on May 17th for travels to Tokyo, where we will be hosted by our GLCA Global Alliance partners at International Christian University, then proceed to Kyoto and Hiroshima.
We were very lucky at our last meeting to be treated to an impressive spread of Japanese food, prepared expertly by Kris D’Atri and Sayaka Yates. What a wonderful introduction to the culture and foods of Japan!