Reading Synthesis: Japanese Spirit, Western Things

Sharon Cornet

Ashford University

Cross-Cultural Perspectives – SOC 315

Professor: Sharon Gerczyk

November 9, 2009

In The Economist (2003) was an article titled “Special Report: Japanese spirit, western things - 150 years after Commodore Perry.”  The reference to Commodore Perry in 1853, when he was sent to open Japan up to trade, likened the situation to modern times, especially after WWII and in regards to modernization.  Over 150 years ago, just like today, the Japanese way was closed to cultural change, but adopted outside materials and products through cultural sharing practices.  The saying attached to this phenomenon was, according to the Special Report, “encapsulated by the saying ‘Japanese spirit, western things’.”

Other ways, according to Roskin (2009), that Japan modernized without assimilating western culture was by Confucianism, Productivity, Education, Savings, and State Supervision

(p. 288).   Confucianism “stresses hard work, stability, and obedience,” while Productivity was high, but kept to low wages (promoting very quick growth), while Education provided “a highly skilled labor force” (especially in math); meanwhile, Savings were high for the Japanese since having debt was considered shameful, and State Supervision, while not proven a strong factor in modernization, seems to have had some merit according to some (Roskin, p. 288-89).

            These historical and more recent practices had together produced the Japan we know today, and once being open, then shut off as a society, “taught Japan how to control the aperture through which new ideas and practices streamed in” (Special Report, 2003).  This type of modernization has been successful except for in the political arena, where like in other nations, corruption and money (greed) have come into play (Roskin, p. 285).  Japan and America make up the two largest economies in the world.   America helped Japan rebuild after the last World War, and Japan focused on exports.  Japan helped the USA through their technology developments (Special Report, 2003).

            Regarding Japan’s future, there is a connection to the present in way of a problem that the country is running out of Japanese people (Roskin, p. 290).  Will the resource of Japan’s people keep up with the demands that modernization requires of them, or will this factor further harm their economy?   Also, with materialistic ventures comes production and use of natural resources, and the resulting pollution of the environment.   Although Japanese are currently among the healthiest and longest living people on the planet, the future may easily hold environmental policy issues at the forefront. 

Additionally, concerning the economy itself, the Special Report (2003) article brought to light the fact that Japan’s traditions are taking its toll; businesses that are not doing well are generally supported rather than allowed to fail, and it also occurs in areas of health care, farming, and education.  Japan is not growing and may fall behind even further if something does not change soon.   To quote the Special Report (2003) as a final addendum to this intrinsic problem of modernization, “Paradoxically, financial self-reliance has thus become Japan's curse.”  The real question, then, lies in whether Japan’s conservative political views will not only come to some kind of consensus on what to do for the economic future of Japan, but then move on it to bring the needed changes.



Roskin, M. (2009). Countries and Concepts: Politics, Geography, Culture, 10th Ed. NY: Pearson
            Education, Inc.

Special Report: Japanese spirit, western things - 150 years after Commodore Perry. (2003, July). The Economist, 368(8332), 20.  Retrieved November 9, 2009, from ABI/INFORM Global. (Document ID: 358300201).