I have to say that I was disappointed by Kate Elwood's latest Cultural Conundrum's column for The Daily Yomiuri. She has this discussion of the concept of amae:
However, Elwood refuses to critically comment on this idea of Doi's that humans "enjoy vicariously the gratification of amae." It seems like a ridiculous statement and culturally specific since in most western traditions this "mardy" is seen negatively. Elwood refuses to take sides, why?
I can say that I was equally disappointed in Sawa Kurotani's most recent Behind The Paper Screen column for the same paper. that being said lately she has been addressing America-centric ideas that aren't particularly interesting or revelatory about Japanese culture in her analysis. Here she contemplates "personalism" in Japanese society and contrasts the concept with American individualism without drawing any real conclusions:
I wonder, however, what Japan's recent interest in home-improvement and its dissatisfaction with politics-as-usual may mean. Unlike the United States, Japan has very little historical background in rugged individualism--in fact, words such as shakai (society) and kojin (individual) had to be invented in the mid-19th century to translate the Western social philosophy--and social scientists have categorized the Japanese construction of selfhood as distinctly different than Western "individuals," emphasizing more overtly the social roles and relationships as essential constituents of a person.
Instead, I wonder if they are part of a larger trend that I may call "personalism." Many of Japan's recent fads have to do with a sort of cocooning into a personal world, as most dramatically exhibited in hikikomori (social withdrawals) and other asocial behavior, but also suggested in such ideas as iyashi (healing) and maibumu (my boom). The former focuses on personal healing and comfort in the midst of social upheaval and uncertainty, while the latter--an oxymoron in itself--suggests a solitary person buried in his or her own world of personal likes and dislikes. This indulgence in personal life also explains an increased attention to one's home and personal space. Similarly, the ever-shifting voter loyalty seems to be motivated not by political consciousness or social concerns, but by which party promises to satisfy one's own personal needs and tastes.
Both "rugged individualism" and "personalism" are what social scientists call "ideology": a system of ideas that guide people's thoughts and actions in a given social, historical moment, and as such, American individualism and Japanese personalism show us an intriguing trend that runs through two very different national societies. The return to the individual/personal signifies both Japanese and Americans are dissatisfied by their governments and societies, and, more fundamentally, disillusioned by the promise of modern society to provide happiness to all. This is a much bigger question than any one political candidate or political party can handle.
I would have liked to see Kurotani discuss the fedualistic attitudes that thwarted democratic thought and concept like individualism. I think saying that people feel governments are not serving the need of modern people is a pretty shallow conclusion-disappointing where she took this arguement.