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- Veröffentlicht auf Amazon.com
This interesting little book manages to pack insightful observations about the history and permutations of traditional Japanese "kata," or form in 168 pages. The easiest way to understand kata is that it's the Japanese people's idea of the "correct" way of doing something, which in Western equivalent, is etiquette. The Japanese, having derived its culture from a military heritage, infuses "form" into every aspect of their lives: everything from the correct form of humility, to bowing, exchanging name cards, ambiguity in giving answers, making an apology, dealing with foreigners, traveling in groups, and running an office. While this book seems to be geared more towards businessmen and women attempting or considering doing business with the Japanese, it also briefly looks at the cult of cuteness, infantilism, copying, and the Japanese approach to baseball. There's even a quick observation of the importance of role-playing (which some of us may know as cos-play) and that those we now see at the Hajaruku district, while appearing outlandish, will return to their staid office clothing come Monday morning.
I read in other Amazon reviews that De Mente exhibits a certain ethnocentric arrogance in his look at Japanese culture (the author worked in Japan as a member of the U.S. Military Intelligence Agency in 1949), so I paid additional attention for that monster to rear its ugly head. But I found that that's precisely where the strength of some of De Mente's observations lie. No one ever learns anything when everyone is at their best behavior. The protection of etiquette is that it veils what we really want to say. Unfortunately, the quoted praises in the bookcover are from people in similar positions, meaning non-Japanese. I'd be interested to hear what the ethnic Japanese practicing Kata really think about De Mente's observations, because an analysis of behavior is sometimes akin to conspiracy theories: easy to point out, difficult to disprove. You have a list of evidence and that list traps you into what you "see" in order to support of your evidence.
De Mente states at one point that the Japanese are eager to promote their kata mentality and "continue to emphasize its strong points as the ultimate social formula which the rest of the world should adopt." I tend to think this is not accurate, as all the Japanese I have come across are insular, keep to themselves, and have no interest in proselytizing their "way" to outsiders. De Mente continually brings up the notion that the Japanese use language, kata, and Japanese-ness as barriers to outsiders (foreigners) from penetrating their culture. That, to me, doesn't seem as if the Japanese are all that interested in getting the world to adopt their social formula at all. By contrast, when comparing the Japanese to progressive Western culture, De Mente observes that "their society is ruled by form and formulas and in a sense, in many areas, is empty of the individual human content that makes up a much more complete and satisfying emotional and spiritual life." It seems instead, the writer feels that Western culture is the ultimate social formula that the Japanese should adopt.
There's also mention of how the Japanese tend to be unfair ("in the Western sense") and consider anyone who they have not developed good working relationships with to be "fair game." But then he advises that to get the upper hand - when dealing with the Japanese - one should draw them away from their base, use English as a barrier when one wants to be demanding and get things accomplished, and exploit the tendency of the Japanese to treat any transactions made in a language other than their own as an event that exists in the "other" realm from their reality.
The author often portrays the Japanese as tit-for-tat businessmen who trade favors, lunches, and parties for business deals. He talks about "Machiavellian political intrigue" where office workers block and sabotage each other's projects for personal promotion. The truth is, this has nothing to do with Japanese kata. It's capitalism at it's best, as a global Western culture is quickly replacing anachronistic societies. Working at many different offices in New York City and New Jersey , I have seen these same white collar dramas play out time and again, without a single Japanese person in sight.
I don't want to give the impression that this is a negative book about the Japanese. It does laud many of the great qualities of a disappearing culture. After all, this is the very same author who wrote "Why the Japanese Are a Superior People!" I love the spot-on sections on the Japanese being "modernized, but not Westernized," the superficial acquisition of Western "product" as identity, and silence utilized as a weapon to expose the Americans, who fear pauses and combat that fear by talking non-stop. That had me rolling on the floor.