For this travel log conversation, I asked the Program Coordinator, Darren Biggs, of CIEE, to sit down and discuss some of the values in place within the culture of Japan. This was a very insightful conversation, as I learned many things about different thoughts and sets of ideals here in my host-country. I decided to talk with Darren because I feel he’s had a lot of experience living in Japan and understands many of the values discussed. It was important to take the time to have this discussion, because I feel there are vast differences between US culture and Japanese culture.
We began by talking about some of the questions posed in chapter 5’s reading. One such question, “How does their view of nature affect what they hold in high regard and how they behave toward those things? More specifically, do they see nature as something to be controlled, and used for their benefit, as something to be feared, or as something to be revered and accommodated?” (In regards to Japan). This provided in interesting discussion, as Darren noted that there’s what seems like a contrast of ideals in Japanese culture relating to nature. Japan certainly has a reverence for nature. Nature to the Japanese people and in the country itself is beautiful, although there are examples of it being controlled in certain ways. Darren described this by saying he thinks most Japanese people have a love for nature, and some may also try to control and enhance the qualities of nature through various forms of art. Bonsai and ikebana are good examples. Bonsai is a kind of small tree, which practitioners manipulate so that it grows into aesthetically pleasing shapes. Ikebana is a style of flower arrangement that seeks beauty by emphasizing line, shape, and simplicity. Darren suggests I read a book called “Dogs and Demons” by author Alex Kerr, that deals with the financial and government culture within Japan. We discussed that Japan generally has a love for nature and deeply values it. However in Japan, technology and industry are also highly valued, which of course can clash with the idea of loving nature.
We then talked about the following question, about the understanding of the nature of human beings. Japan, as I’ve more or less talked about in previous blog posts, cares a great deal more about its community and collective group, rather than that of the individual. Darren described a Japanese term, “meiwaku o kakeru,” or one who is troublesome toward others. One generally doesn’t want to be “that guy” who causes trouble. Being this way is unnecessary both globally and in Japan, where the majority of people care about what’s best for the community and as Darren eloquently puts it, to live in peace.
We then looked at the three major questions in accordance to cultural values, as stated in the chapter 5 reading. Darren and I discussed that these questions seemed to pose more in the realm of a global approach. The first one for instance, asks if one should forsake the values of one’s home culture when aspiring to be multicultural. Darren responded that being multicultural in essence doesn’t mean that you’re getting rid of values from home, rather it means you are better understanding them. In a different country, the traveler acquires new values in order to compare and adapt to his or her new environment and culture.
The next question asked if one is “entitled” to judge the host culture’s value system. We both agreed that due to the specific language in the question, no, no one is entitled to judge a culture by their values, although it is natural for someone to make judgments or interpretations. We discussed that it’s important recognize, reflect and learn from a multicultural experience.
The last question asks if cultural relativity leads to a deterioration of values leading to moral chaos. This was another question that posed interesting vocabulary. Darren’s response was that no, it doesn’t lead to deterioration, but instead leads to more awareness of the host culture’s values. It’s important to approach these values in an understandable way and to be open-minded to various situations. It’s also important, as Darren put it, to understand the logic and reasoning behind certain traditional and cultural norms even if you disagree with them. Darren discussed with me that this doesn’t at all mean that one should be giving up his or her moral standards for the sake of completely adapting to a different culture, it really depends on a case-to-case basis.
Although most of Darren’s answers were spoken of in general, I though this was an incredibly influential and important conversation to have while studying abroad. Darren concluded our conversation by saying that, to him, open-mindedness means allowing yourself to change through new experiences and insights, to have empathy, and to be respectful of everyone you encounter.
The prompt for this travel log requires me to close by reflecting on a part of home campus life that I do not participate in and the values I feel are associated with that. I honestly don’t feel uncomfortable or negative toward any certain group at Quinnipiac. Outside of my social friend group, I’m really only apart of the Film Society. For the sake of the prompt, I’ll just say a group I don’t necessarily associate myself with is that of fraternities. It’s not like I don’t like them or feel any sort of negativity toward them (my brother is a member of one at UTampa), it’s just that it’s not my cup of tea. Because of that, and the fact that I have very close friends in frats, I don’t think there would be any value to directly discuss with a representative about their community values.