Locals Give Their Thoughts on Japan: “East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet…”


“My contact with Japan has helped me escape from some inherent biases that are easy to adopt if Japan is perceived as an outsider only in terms of ‘anime’, ‘Pokemon’, ‘samurai’, ‘ninja cool’, etc. Japan is living proof that there is always a different point of view, a different world that operates by its own principles, and that what we’re used to is not necessarily a universal norm.

It’s quite common for travelers from the West to have a totally different perspective of the country. Whether we admit it or not, the Western culture (here I include most of Europe, North America and Australia) is predominantly ‘westocentric’. Due to the historical expansion and the media commercialization, people from the above regions have been raised with the mentality that their surrounding world is a norm and everything deviating from it is either inferior or too confusing to deal with. Many travelers arrive to Japan expecting that it will be a slightly Asian version of their world, which inevitably produces cultural shocks often resulting in denial. It takes conscious efforts of understanding and devotion to be able to perceive Japan in its realistic picture without the need to constantly compare.

‘Resolving’ some of the challenges Japan faces is a typical example of the ‘westocentric’ approach. Why do we need to resolve anything? Who are we to do it? Is there really a need for that in the first place? Here I’m not saying that Japan doesn’t face challenges, but that we must not act as the outside saviors who know best and will lead the Asian country to the correct way of life.

Japan’s peculiar insularity is both its main challenge and its biggest advantage. Cosmetic changes are welcome, but in the long run this singular characteristic will prove more stable and secure than some expect. I believe that the changes come from within the society than from outside. Japan’s society is not really the same as it was 20 years ago. Japan can probably learn as much from other countries as the other countries can learn from Japan. We can, of course, list the usual critical points such as too high level of conformism, unhealthy work-life balance, superficial relationships, low self-esteem, suppressed sexuality, and many others that would be likely true, but what would be the point of doing that? Instead, we can see what works in Japan and consider how to improve our own societies before changing theirs.

Probably my most valuable observation is from the famous words of Rudyard Kipling ‘East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet’ are completely true, and that applies not only to the East and West. Societies and people are too different and on a global level it’s not a type of variety that’s ‘exciting’, but one that causes problems and conflicts.”