Cultural ticks and lice
Japanese want to relinquish control of opinion to ‘experts’ because it frees them to believe with impunity that everything is all right or at least under control.
I have written about this before. Every country has fantasies about itself that bury themselves into the public consciousness like ticks or lice and you just can’t get rid of them. Or, rather, every country has a mythology about itself - its self-narrative - made to service a self-image which is necessary for making sense of the world and defining one’s place in it. Individuals do it on a personal level within society and in relations with our fellows. Nation states do it on a global level within international society. But upon close examination many national myths are revealed to be empty fantasies, lines in the national story. So there is a difference between a myth and a fantasy. A myth can be true without being factual, while a fantasy - which can appear to be factual, although remember that it only appears that way - is never “true.” There, try bending your mind around that.
America fantasizes itself as the “leader of the free world” with a moral mission to raise the world to its level. Please. Chinafantasizes itself a great civilization. Gag. Australia fantasizes itself a fair opportunity place where everyone are buddies. I feel like vomiting. Japan commonly (and incorrectly) imagines itself a homogenous society. Canada! Well, don’t get me started on Canada! One of the things that irks me about Japan is the number of unchallenged myths it harbors in its national narrative. Others countries have no fewer self-image myths, but they do not rest as complacently as they do here. In places like Canada and America I feel there is more public debate about social issues and identity and through constant re-examination of ourselves we don’t much hesitate to mock and topple blatantly bizarre ideas.
In Japan the population more or less complacently believes ideas like:
1) the Japanese people have longer intestines than Caucasian people, making them more adapted to digesting rice instead of meat; and
2) Japanese have a lower average body temperature, adapted for life in a ‘warm’ or ‘humid’climate.
Both of these ideas have long since been discredited, but I still hear them - as recently as this past summer - from Japanese speaking in all sincerity. If you tried spouting such pseudo-science in North America you would be laughed into humility. But they are such common beliefs here that even professionals, doctors, experts, politicians, researchers, television presenters repeat them publicly, which only gives them credence in the popular imag
ination. On a matter like average body temperature, once a doctor pronounces on it that’s that, for most people.
But about this business of people here having lower average body temperature I point out - to no effect - that everyone’s body temperature fluctuates not only congruent with physical activity, but naturally throughout the day, as well. (That is why we speak of “average”body temperature, rather than “absolute” body temperature.) So, for example, at night, whether we are sleeping or not, our bodies are apt to be slightly cooler. And conversely, slightly warmer at mid-day or afternoon. In addition, the evolution of the eyelid’s epicanthic fold as an insulating device for the eyeball among Mongoloid peoples might be called evidenced against an habitually lower body temperature.
I think this fantasy plays
to the official government summertime energy-saving policy known as “Cool Biz,” introduced by former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the man with the Elvis coif. It’s really quite a stupid load of malarkey, but if I say aloud that it is malarkey I am told, “You don’t understand Japan,”or “You don’t know.” The Japanese government has declared 28º C to be “room temperature” and discourages the use of air conditioning in this hot and humid summer climate unless the ambient temperature exceeds that mark. (Personally, I am sweating like a pig at 25º C.) It counsels disposing with neckties during the hot months and wearing short-sleeve shirts instead of long-sleeve business shirts. Yeah, like that is going to work. So I think this fantasy of the lower body temperature becomes a plank in the Cool Biz rationale, that since Japanese are naturally cooler anyway, enduring higher temperatures without air conditioning is not just normal, but best.
Japanese love to follow rules and adhere to form and so with my own eyes I have seen school teachers turn the heateron in the staff room in July at 8:00 a.m. in order to raise the room temperature to 28º in order to match the government’s description of what “room temperature.” July days are not so warm as that at eight in the morning, so I always thought it not just unnatural, but perverse. In their pubic consciousness Japanese want to relinquish control of opinion to ‘experts’ because it frees them to believe with impunity that everything is all right or at least under control. Therefore they are apt to absorb any stupid thing repeated by a recognized authority, like a doctor.