Readers in Council,
The Japan Times,
5-4, Shibaura 4-chome,
Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0023
I hope people, Japanese and Japan watchers alike, are paying attention to the current imbroglio involving Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker Junichiro Koga, because it seems that here is a neat and compact cross-cultural misperception slapstick case study playing out right before our eyes - again.
When the news broke that Pepperdine University in California was denying that Mr. Koga had ever graduated from there, despite his resume's claim to the contrary, it seemed to me that he could have proven his claim in less than a minute by taking down his framed degree from his office wall and showing it to the press. I guess Japanese are just not in the habit of framing and hanging on their walls their hard-earned and valuable university credentials. Instead, he had to travel to America to "consult" with the university and clear up "misunderstanding." In other words, he had to fulfill the Japanese cultural expectation of appearing to work hard and sincerely at something while in fact doing little at all. The fact that he had to travel to America rather than just show us his degree is enough to cripple his claims to credibility, and by itself practically proves him a liar.
Is Mr. Koga an exception? Not at all. This kind of resume waffling has happened before (remember Sachiyo Nomura's run for public office just a couple of years ago), and will certainly happen again because of the Japanese cultural predilection for considering appearance and fiction, tatemai, above real substance and verifiable fact, honne. So, for Japan watchers this whole farce demonstrates once more the disturbing, chronic inability of Japanese to distinguish the real from the false on the one hand, the natural criminality of Japanese politicians on the other hand (the crime of fraud), as well as the cultural divide on matters of education between the East and the West - different perceptions about the function and role of universities as well as the meaning of graduating from such institutions - on yet another hand.
Maybe Mr. Koga's thinking about university was that it was just a place to spend time - four years in this case - in order to add the institution's name to his resume, rather than (or more than) it being a place actually to study and work hard. In other words - as is so often the case for Japanese - where one studied is more important that what one studied (or how well one performed while studying it). So the man is confused, claiming "I was convinced that I graduated, and I am very surprised about these results" ("Cal State fuels Koga's misery," January 25).
It seems that we might say that he is confused about a lot more than just that.
Published on Sunday, February 1, 2004 as “Appearance of working hard.”
Mr. Koga’s attitude and behavior in this episode are SO typically Japanese. I mean, really! I am constantly reminded of how appearance is more important than substance, or reality in this culture. Or, at least, appearance is more important than the latter. So the currency invested in appearance contributes to the remarkably high number of rank lies, fictions and myths that Japanese have about themselves. The value placed on education is a myth. Only the appearance of studying, hard work and accomplishment are what counts. The same is true of professional resumes, amply demonstrated by in when she briefly played at becoming a political candidate.