If you’ve been in Japan for a while, you know that this place is unlike any other in the World. The term Planet Japan, although seemingly condescending, is not entirely without merit. Things are done juuuuust a bit differently here than anywhere else on this Planet.
I firmly stand by my sentiments that Japan is a special kind of unique – There have been many instances over the years that had me wondering and asking the now (in)famous question: “Why, Japanese people?”. although this might be a bit controversial, but I will theorize that being Japanese is almost like a religion. Now, hold on to your Pitchforks – let me explain:
Since a Religion is a particular system of faith and worship, and a pursuit of interest followed with great devotion, ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs”, could it be argued that being Japanese, with all its various rituals, unwritten societal rules, code of conduct, expected monetary contributions, ritualized behaviours, and oftentimes inflexibility of these aforementioned facets, is the same as a religion?
If you add to that the fact that Japan also has its own creation myth grounded in mystical immortal deities, I think you can see why the at first seemingly absurd idea is not so far-fetched after all.
Ok, now that I’ve got your full, undivided attention, let’s delve deeper into this Theory.
There is a Nationalist Pseudoscience in Japan called Nihonjinron, which is a genre of (mostly Japanese) texts that focus on what it means to be Japanese. These texts and ideas come from the fields of Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, History, Linguistics, and Philosophy.
The concept of Nihonjinron became popular after WWII, initially including books and articles aiming to analyze, explain, or explore peculiarities of Japanese Culture and Mentality, usually by comparison with those of Europe and the United States.
These texts usually serve as a display for Cultural Nationalism, consciously distinguishing the Japanese ‘Self’ and the foreign ‘Others’ by the collective view of the Japanese public. A pervasive underlying subtext is the notion that the ‘Uniqueness’ of the Japanese is often emphasized and acknowledged as a virtue.
Furthermore, it is often argued that Japanese Society developed differently (some would argue ‘independently’ )from the rest of the World’s Nations to set itself apart from the rest of the world. This Japanese defensive behavior has mystified its own National Identity through the construction of a unique self-image.
Sounds like a religion, right? But wait, I’m not done yet… There exists a unique “Us and them” mentality in many people’s minds. For example, how many times have you heard that Japan has 4 Seasons, and then the people are surprised that this is not unique to only Japan. Or perhaps you’ve been told that Japanese people have a group mentality because they were farmers, while those barbaric Europeans were still hunting and gathering. To the Japanese mind, the sophisticated “us” is different from the non-sophisticated “them” when it comes to cultural knowledge and interactions.
Former Prime Minister, Yasuhiro Nakasone, once declaring Japan to be “an intelligent society” because it was “monoracial,” without the “blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans” that dragged down America’s average level of education (1986) is even more evidence of the deep-rooted (cultural) “us” vs “them” mentality that is also often so pervasive throughout religious beliefs.
I know many of you might be writhing in your chairs now, ready to scream at the screen. Before you unleash your barrage of dissent, let me just add that there is a difference between Nationalism and Religion. There are many beliefs in Japanese Society, that would align more with a Religious belief system, than with Nationalistic beliefs. For example, while Nationality can be obtained through Law, many Japanese believe in order to be a true Japanese, one has to have a genuine Japanese Bloodline. In other words, Blood is what makes someone a “Real Japanese”. Sound familiar?
In addition, unlike nationalism, religion doesn’t necessarily need another country to contrast and compete with — People in Japan are sui generis special because according to their beliefs, they are a family descended from gods.
So you see, viewed through a Religious lens, Japan makes a lot more sense. So, what do you think, is Japanism the same as a religion, or do you have a different opinion. Let us know in the comments below.