What is it with Japanese and “feelings”? Many years ago I endured a Japanese high school English teacher and doctoral candidate’s presentation on the Japanese approach to English language education by listening to her speak for two hours about what she “felt.” “I feel that...” etc. What she meant, of course, was what she thought, without realizing that thoughts and feelings are not the same thing. At the end of it I felt great resentment towards her. I thought she was full of feelings but completely empty of any ideas, boding ill for Japanese education. But I also thought that Japanese were, in fact, very emotional people. And, I still feel great resentment towards that stupid woman.
I think Japanese are more disposed to talk of“feelings” as a strategy for avoiding or at least softening the social confrontation that grows from the friction of conflicting ideas. It is also a strategy for avoiding debate of conflicting ideas or contentious issues because, if there’s one thing Japanese dislike it’s confrontation. But feelings are neither a substitute nor a synonym for ideas, and I suggest that the clash of ideas is largely a good thing for society.
Now, in the summer time here, the Academy Award winning documentary The Cove opened at a small number of Japanese cinemas to fierce objections, protests and even boycotts from nationalist rightists who claimed that it’s depiction of the infamous dolphin cull in the village of Taiji was anti-Japan and invalid because it doesn’t represent Japanese fishermen’s “feelings.” Therefore it was more propaganda than documentary and I had to wonder, “Does it need to represent fishermen’s feelings?” Wouldn’t it be better, if the producers were so inclined, to present their ideas? People’s actions are what reveal their ideas and beliefs and The Cove is a documentary, not therapy. People who are committed to dolphin welfare may or may not object to killing animals for food, but they are clearly more concerned with the matter of cruelty to sentient animals than with the emotional disposition of their hunters. It is easily arguable that Japanese culture bears a stark streak of cruelty that is on display in daily occurrences like serving up living fish as sushi, eating mollusks live, hazing young sumo wrestlers to death, forcing young school boys to wear shorts pants to school in the winter, putting those idiots Akiko Wada and Takeshi Kitano on television, torturing trees into miniature size and calling it art, plus harboring a cultural disposition towards sloppy knives or poisons as instruments of murder, and then hanging convicted murderers by their necks until they are dead, etc. I don’t mean to say that Japanese culture has a stark streak of cruelty, only that the argument can easily be made. But I could be wrong.