'Kizuna' takes many forms in post-disaster Japan, including marriage and infidelity

TOKYO —

“Kizuna.” To understand Japan’s post-quake/tsunami/meltdown, you need that word in your vocabulary. It’s probably there already because it’s become ubiquitous. It means human ties, especially the kind nurtured by Japanese society and culture.

Kizuna was credited with holding the nation together in its severest trial since World War Two. Now the ordeal itself, and its aftermath, are deepening and strengthening those same kizuna, says Josei Seven (Jan 19-26). People are marrying, raising children, caring for parents, buying gifts, savoring the pleasures of the domestic hearth, with more enthusiasm than ever before. Why? Because March 11, among many, many other consequences, has reminded people in a way difficult to ignore how vulnerable and therefore precious life is.

An upsurge of marriage was one of the first noted indications. Marriage agencies are doing a flourishing business lately. One, Onet, with 34,000 clients nationwide, found its membership dipping some 20% last March and April as people flung aside their doubts and plunged into marriage. Then marriage numbers flattened for a few months only to rise again during the Obon holiday in August. That’s a traditional time for hometown visits. Onet figures singles were in more of a mood to yield to family pressure to marry, which in previous years they resisted or brushed off. Wedding ring sales also soared – up 24% over the previous year.

Dining out is out, dining in is in. Rising sales of such appliances as espresso machines and home bakeries highlight a new feeling that there’s no place like home, and no companionship like that of one’s own family.

Kizuna is not confined to the family – it embraces the nation as a whole. Consider the Fukushima Market in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward, where shoppers can, and increasingly do, show support for the stricken region by buying its produce, from apples to pickled hakusai cabbage.

Reaching out to others need not dampen self-indulgence. It may even stimulate it. People who in the early stages of the tragedy felt guilty about anything that smacked of extravagance – and cut purchases to the point of weakening the economy – are now packing the shops buying luxury brand-name goods as they haven’t in quite a while. Life is short, as we’ve been so forcefully reminded. If not now, the thinking seems to go, when?

That mood shows up in other ways too. Not only is marriage up, so are divorce and infidelity, says Josei Seven. The Miyagi Divorce Consultation Center in Sendai reports a doubling of its workload from April through October. Many of the couples it counseled had been on the rocks before March 11. The strains of the subsequent dislocation shattered their grim endurance.

As for infidelity, “Males in a life crisis,” the magazine says, “seek to breed.” That’s how it is on the instinctive level. On the social, “You send an ex-girlfriend an email to make sure she came through okay, only to find old feelings rekindling.” That too is kizuna.

  • -1

    tmarie

    I think it is pretty sad that the some are trying to use this disasters as a way to "okay" the mass purchasing of meaningless brand name goods. Also not a fan of the comparison to WWII where the whole entire country suffered. As a whole, Japan isn't suffered from 3/11. We are suffering from poor government.

    Also, why the dig at the men for infidelity? Takes two so why not also blame the women for their part in it? I highly doubt the women here are innocent little beings not stepping out on their spouses as well.

  • 1

    JeffLee

    Fukushima represents isolation more than togetherness. Tourists are avoiding the region, and other prefectures are refusing to cooperate in the disposal of its debris, etc. etc. Japan is a faction-ridden society, marked by tribalism not unity.

  • 0

    Onniyama

    Are we post meltdown?? Seems like there was a recriticality in early January.

  • 1

    sourpuss

    I read a recent survey by Nikkei that said, actually there was no marriage surge.

    JeffLee, don't take the behavior of politicians as indicative of the whole makeup of society. Surely Japan has it's tribal side, but it also has its together side.

  • -3

    tkoind2

    This is sadly one more example where Japan's trends fling it in some direction with reckless abandon and no more foresight than sneezing.

    I agree with TMarie. Japan is not suffering as a whole here. At least not from 311. The people in the north are suffering and largel on their own. Meanwhile the rest of the nation, lacking any real direction at present, is looking for some sense of meaning and have found it in this latest craze.

    What Japan really needs to be doing, to really take care of family and home, is to gain an interest in the greater political and economic well being of the nation. The government is doing nothing and people sit silently by. New taxes proposed seriously threaten already poor families and those struggling with no promise that the new money will be spent in any useful manner. And yet silence prevails.

    I wish Japan would remember her recent history when family was core to people working to overcome the post WWII challenges, but at the same time, people had the vision and insight to demand changes to better care for the nation and their communities. This is what Japan really needs today, not some catch phrase and trend.

  • -1

    NetNinja

    @tamie Absolutely correct. The women here are NOT innocent little beings.

  • 1

    tmarie

    I don't actually think family ever was core - the job has always, always come first - be it samurai, ninjas, farmers, fishermen... Marriages were arranged, husbands often gone for long periods of time, sleeping with others was common... There is no history of family "values" here at all. There is a history of carrying on a family name but that isn't anything the same has putting family first.

    I agree that they need to get their heads out of the sand and look at what is going on but no one is teaching them to do that in the present education system. Much easier to control large groups of people when they are uneducated and unknowing. The government here gets hand down to family generations. They don't care about the public, they only care about keeping their name and family name in power. It is sad and pathetic. Sadly, those of us that live here are paying the price - and know better. Which is probably why they won't give us the vote.

    Everyday I speak to my students about current events. Very few have any idea about what is going on. Thankfully I am able to get through to some of them - and there are a few in every class that "get it" . Sadly though, I have to wonder if those who get it do anything about it.

    This whole "we suffer as one nation" is a joke. People can say that but it isn't true. I wasn't here for 3/11 but when I came back, I would never have known anything happened if I didn't watch the news. My city and family and friends have had ZERO effects from 3/11 except for the issues with food. Again, that is poor government, not the tsunami nor the earthquake. The nuclear issue is because of the government, not mother nature.

  • 1

    JapanGal

    As for infidelity, “Males in a life crisis,” the magazine says, “seek to breed.” That’s how it is on the instinctive level. On the social, “You send an ex-girlfriend an email to make sure she came through okay, only to find old feelings rekindling.” That too is kizuna.

    Who keeps old girl friends email addresses, or for that matter old boy friend's?

  • 5

    Laguna

    Who keeps old girl friends email addresses...

    I stay in touch with many of my exes via Facebook, mostly as a humanitarian gesture: the can delight in the fact that they escaped the fate of marrying me.

  • 6

    tkoind2

    tmarie. Good point, I stand corrected on family.

    I am convinced that there is this "Gambarro Culture" that is deeply rooted in Japan. A culture that almost worships and longs for hardship and adversity. A culture where he/she who suffers is good. And where collective suffering is almost desirable and admirable.

    It is almost as if suffering is so socially and culturally desirable that everyone is eager to suffer and to be seen as suffering. In doing so they are validating their selfworth and social standing.

    Because of this thinking, I believe that people fail to work harder than they do for positive change, choosing instead to endure hardship and reap the social acceptance that "Gambarro Culture" promises.

    Perhaps that is why political, social, labor and economic problems are not prioritized and addressed to the degree they could be. And why Japan consistently wants to be seen as both victim and victim in the midst of hardship and endurance.

  • -4

    AmericanForeigner

    I agree with tmarie. There is no such thing as family values here. There is so little love in their family lives, it's not surprising they have no empathy for the tsunami victims! In no other country in the world is shopping more important than volunteer work.

  • 0

    tmarie

    The Japanese are one of the only "people" I know who seem to enjoy wallowing in self pity and cling to their pride rather than address the issues.

  • -1

    GW

    tkoind2,

    I have often said that most people around me in Japan are NOT happy unless those they & those around them are sufficiently miserable.

    Misery loves company as the saying goes, perfected pretty well in Japan. That & throw in an often fatalistic attitude many have & here we are.

    but I dont play that %$#@!

  • 3

    JapanGal

    Most people around me here seem very happy. Maybe some of you should get out on the water and surf. Very different breed than your typical Japanese that love to go into cement caves, and shop.

  • 1

    gaijinfo

    Kizuna.

    Another word with an extremely vague meaning that can be used in almost any situation to excuse/rationalize/justify any behavior you want, as well as highlight Japan's special "uniqueness."

    All of the so called "evidence" of kizuna in this wandering article are anecdotal at best, and imaginary at worst. They certainly aren't measurable with any degree of certainty.

    You can look into the vast, seemingly chaotic behavior of society and find anything you want to see.

  • 6

    Nicky Washida

    It means human ties, especially the kind nurtured by Japanese society and culture.

    Stop right there. i have never in the 10 years I have been here ever seen human ties nurtured by Japanese society or culture.

    As for infidelity, “Males in a life crisis,” the magazine says, “seek to breed.” That’s how it is on the instinctive level. On the social, “You send an ex-girlfriend an email to make sure she came through okay, only to find old feelings rekindling.” That too is kizuna.

    Er...no....Japanese men just cant keep it in their pants, and Japanese women have the morals of alley cats when it comes to married men. It is not "Kizuna" - its just shagging around. And it was going on way way way before March 11th ever happened.

  • 3

    smithinjapan

    Nicky: "Stop right there. i have never in the 10 years I have been here ever seen human ties nurtured by Japanese society or culture."

    BINGO!

    "Er...no....Japanese men just cant keep it in their pants, and Japanese women have the morals of alley cats when it comes to married men."

    Ah, come on... infidelity is not limited to Japanese. It's just that there's less of an attitude of "just don't bring it home" in other cultures. We have our trashy but somewhat discreet motels, and here they have love hotels next door to their apartment complexes. Still, again, no one can say infidelity is limited to any culture -- I'm only surprised they tie they word into 'Kizuna' while at the same time saying 'Kizuna' is a special term for the Japanese after the disasters of 3.11.

  • 2

    smithinjapan

    I question the 'human ties especially nurtured by japanese society and culture' when they seem to mean ANY tie, from infidelity to the ties established from the 3.11 disaster. Or is it related to the newly formed 'Kizuna' party from the DPJ and former LDP dropouts?

    "Rising sales of such appliances as espresso machines and home bakeries highlight a new feeling that there’s no place like home, and no companionship like that of one’s own family."

    That or it's a cheaper and easier way to make bread and rice cakes instead of shelling out 200 yen for 5 slices or pulling out the giant mortar to pound freshly made rice into rice cakes. I seriously don't understand what the feature is trying to say Kizuna means, unless they're advertising home bakery machines here. I would think that being part of a community sponsored Omochi-tsuki event is more about bonding than turning on a machine, with others or alone, in your home.

    gaijinfo: "Another word with an extremely vague meaning that can be used in almost any situation to excuse/rationalize/justify any behavior you want, as well as highlight Japan's special "uniqueness." All of the so called "evidence" of kizuna in this wandering article are anecdotal at best, and imaginary at worst. They certainly aren't measurable with any degree of certainty."

    Exactly! It's like the article is saying, "Being with your family is Kizuna. Being away from your family is Kizuna. A marriage is Kizuna. Infidelity is also Kizuna". EVERYTHING is Kizuna! The only thing 'uniquely' Japanese about it seems to be the vaguery of how it's used.

  • 1

    Nicky Washida

    infidelity is not limited to Japanese. It's just that there's less of an attitude of "just don't bring it home" in other cultures. We have our trashy but somewhat discreet motels, and here they have love hotels next door to their apartment complexes. Still, again, no one can say infidelity is limited to any culture

    Not saying it is limited to the Japanese, but this article is about Japanese, hence my comment!!!!

  • 1

    dolphingirl

    Exactly! It's like the article is saying, "Being with your family is Kizuna. Being away from your family is Kizuna. A marriage is Kizuna. Infidelity is also Kizuna". EVERYTHING is Kizuna! The only thing 'uniquely' Japanese about it seems to be the vaguery of how it's used.

    Well summed up!! How can both marriage AND divorce both be kizuna? And cheating on your spouse surely has nothing to do with 'family ties'. What is the real meaning of kizuna anyway?

  • -1

    tmarie

    It is another vague word that can be used to describe pretty much anything they want to when it suits them. Let's all gather around and use this word as if it has some string meaning so we can hold our head up high and pretend we are superior to other cultures and countries... Silly foreigners, you don't understand the wonders of the Japanese language...

  • -9

    j4p4nFTW

    I don't think it's possible for non Japanese to truly understand KIZUNA (a special bond shared between Japanese people), but the article is a helpful introduction to the concept. tmarie, what you say is correct, but that does not make foreigners "silly" at all. They simply grew up in different conditions with different social values. While we Japanese can understand their cultures, the opposite is impossible. we do not make our own available to be understood by outsiders. It is like a precious secret one holds jealously and never shows the neighbor.What happened with sushi is a good example. Japan shows sushi to the rest of the world, and in a few years it has become so popular that foreign countries are overfishing and threatening our food. So now we keep a Japanese thing secret.

  • -1

    Johannes Weber

    @tmarie:

    Wonderful comment! I guess KIZUNA brings out very clearly why foreigners will never be accepted in Japan as equivalent members of society. The entire definition of being part of Japan or Japanese is based on extremely vague conceptions, which are open to include or exclude anything the Japanese in question wants. This is the perfect tool to draw a line between "us" and "them" because the definition and interpretation is always adapted to get the proper separation.

    If there really were something like KIZUNA, then why in the name of all gods and the like is there no collective feeling of SHAME for the Japanese crimes in WWII (as is one of the bonding constituents of German identity)? Why is there still any discussion about Yasukuni Shrine if there is a collective Japanese bond (or is that KIZUNA with class A war criminals)? Why is there IJIME among Japanese kids and so many suicides if they are all bonded and protected by KIZUNA?

    Not only is marriage up, so are divorce and infidelity, says Josei Seven. [...] As for infidelity, "Males in a life crisis," the magazine says, "seek to breed."

    This is sexist. As if we (males in general) were monkeys hopping from tree to tree. Even though I can't speak out for the Japanese males, others probably can. In a crisis we seek out friends and family, a safe place and steady patterns. Japan doesn't offer very much in these respects to many foreigners.

    Japanese society has a hierarchichal structure. Loyalty is an upward-downward issue. In most western societies, loyalty is a bond between equals. But since Japan never, ever had any real "people's movement" like the French revolution, there is no such notion of equality in the Japanese cultural self-image. Thus the word KIZUNA cloaks a lack of dignity as a Japanese virtue.

  • 2

    ambrosia

    j4p4nFTWJAN: I don't think it's possible for non Japanese to truly understand KIZUNA (a special bond shared between Japanese people), but the article is a helpful introduction to the concept.....

    Is that meant to be a joke? And if not, what in the world are you talking about?

  • 1

    marcelito

    J4p4 your comments never cease to amaze - thanks for giving us all such a wonderful explanation of the all mighty Kizuna concept...now we foreigners indeed realize the unquestionable superiority of all things Japanese.......geez

  • -1

    scooternak

    Enjoyed reading this article. Let's hope that the rebuilding continues and that family ties continue to be that which holds the country together.

  • 5

    tkoind2

    Jp4 "I don't think it's possible for non Japanese to truly understand KIZUNA (a special bond shared between Japanese people),"

    With going on 7bil people on earth in countless nations, tribes, religions, cultures, age groups, demographics etc... why the hell do Japanese insist on thinking that they are the only mysterious impossible to understand race on earth? I mean what arrogance and self-delusion is required to arrive at such a conclusion.

    Well shocking news Jp4. Japanese are no more mysterious than Americans, Uzbeks, Iranians, Turks, Chinese or any other group of people.

    I mean the only things that really mystify me about Japan and the culture here are why you think SMAP is talented, how can there be so many drunk people on the trains every day and no national recognition of the alcoholism problem here and why you have lost the political will power that the post war generation had to do something about your government.

    But even these points are not grand "Stonehenge" level mysteries.

    Get over yourselves, you are just as brainwashed by media, self centered, isolated, neurotic and crazy as the rest of the world and no more special than any other place or people on earth.

  • 1

    GW

    Kizuna the word the mean everything & nothing, anything goes, can be used for any situation you want, it all can be "explained" with the mighty kizuna.

    Actually I feel sorry for the word kizuna, it has been seriously abused the past year or so, give it a holiday!

  • -5

    AmericanForeigner

    Tmarie, please don't worry about being excluded by this so-called "kizona", as westerners we are looked up to by the Japanese and occupy a leading position therefore there is no need to be accepted just as a manager doesn't need to be "accepted" by the staff.

  • 2

    smithinjapan

    I'm curious if 'kizuna' were not chosen as the kanji to represent 2011, would this article exist?

  • -3

    tmarie

    **I was being sarcastic for god's sake. There isn't anything non-Japanese can't understand. If anything, "we" get the family bond and social bond more than the Japanese. Which is my whole point. There is little to no social bond or family bond in this country. I have already pointed this out so perhaps you could go up the tread and reread what I've said about their lack of family values.

    I just find this whole "word" thing laughable. Always needs a label and some vague description that people think they can apply to their lives. And of course, it is always the "wabi/sabi, Japan is so hard to understand" crap...

  • 4

    oginome

    Tmarie, please don't worry about being excluded by this so-called "kizona", as westerners we are looked up to by the Japanese and occupy a leading position therefore there is no need to be accepted just as a manager doesn't need to be "accepted" by the staff.

    Keep telling yourself that.

  • -8

    AmericanForeigner

    I agree with tmarie that there are little to no social bonds or family bonds in this country.

    • Moderator

      Readers, please refrain from making inflammatory and incorrect statements like this.

  • 5

    bicultural

    I respectfully disagree, AmericanForeigner. When I was still dating my Japanese wife, I had a conflict with my father and we were on non-speaking terms. She pleaded with me to try and reconcile. When I asked her why she was so concerned, she said to me through tear-filled eyes "your family is my family." For my wife, her "kizuna" with family is very important and very real.

  • -1

    Johannes Weber

    While we Japanese can understand their cultures, the opposite is impossible. [...] Japan shows sushi to the rest of the world, and in a few years it has become so popular that foreign countries are overfishing and threatening our food.

    I must say that the only (purely) Japanese family I am somewhat closer with are actually very nice people, who seem to have rather close bonds amongst each other and to some of their relatives back in Hokkaido, but nothing that I could perceive as closer bonds (besides the workplace and children's schools) in their current town in Shizuoka. Which is something that I perceive as unnaturally little social bonds if I compare with the environments that I know from other countries. Furthermore, rural Hokkaido is not typical Japanese culture.

    By the way, as a matter of fact, rising sales numbers of household appliances is a natural consequence of the devastation of large numbers of households. And coffee machines - might be a consequence of setsuden activities of vending machines in summer. Nothing typical Japanese I can perceive here...

    I do not think that the bonds or the degree of bonds are specific to any culture. Their weakening is typical to a certain lifestyle with broken work-life balance, which is closely associated with modern urban Japan (but not exclusively). In any other culture, life under similar conditions faces the same deterioriation of social bonds.

    However, as far as I perceive it, many people fight against the degradation of their social lives to a vague, undefined phrase KIZUNA. They actively work for a slow-down (actually called it deceleration) of life's pace. Realising the true value of things and relations. No "KIZUNA" word needed. No "we are special and distinct". Just "we are human". For me, being human without artificial barriers is enough.

  • 4

    Himajin

    tmarie-"There is little to no social bond or family bond in this country. "

    AmericanForeigner-"I agree with tmarie that there are little to no social bonds or family bonds in this country."

    Really? Hatsumode, Hinamatsuri, hanami, Kodomo no Hi, golden week, Obon, Ohigan, aki-matsuri, shichi-go-san, roujinkai, jichi-kai, odd for a country with 'no social or family bond'...

    JohannesWeber-Everything here is opinion. And it seems that a very common perception is that social bonds in Japan** do not meet the standards many immigrants are used to.**

    And there, I think, we have it. True, Japanese families don't hug and kiss on leaving and coming home, don't say 'I love you' 100 times a day, but that doesn't mean that families don't love each other, just because they don't demonstrate it in the ways you do.

  • -4

    tmarie

    When I was still dating my Japanese wife, I had a conflict with my father and we were on non-speaking terms. She pleaded with me to try and reconcile. When I asked her why she was so concerned, she said to me through tear-filled eyes "your family is my family." For my wife, her "kizuna" with family is very important and very real.

    And I could give you the example of my j-family where the two brothers haven't been on speaking terms for years. I could give you examples of numerous families I know that have kids that aren't on speaking terms.

    Hima, those I'll give you hinamatusri, kodomonohi, obon, 7,5,3 but the others? All "get drunk with work or friends" days. Even Hina and kodomo hi aren't celebrated that much in the media. Hina isn't a holiday and the others were in general created by the government because they lacked days off. Not really anything to do with family bonds at all. More so when you look at how they are celebrated. 7,5,3 is about the only one I can really agree with. Obon? Travel time. Plenty flee the country and those who go home, often go home to see friends, not family.

    We could easily counter your argument with questions about how weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, births... are celebrated. In many cases, they aren't. If they are, companies and friends are called into the equation along with obligatory money which is all kept track off because heaven forbid, someone doesn't pay the right amount.

    Japan likes to tell us how important family is to them but seeing is believing. I've been here for years and see very little in terms of family bonds and bonding. Sitting in a room over the holidays and all staring at the TV is not family bonding. Nor is dad working 12-14 hours a day, not seeing his kid and being stuck in a loveless marriage. Neither are the custody laws on one parent getting the kid. Neither is the once a year greeting card that family sends to each other. Certainly not all of Japan is like this but a good chunk are. Which is why I scoff at the idea of "kizuna" and all the other crap they feed off of to feel better about their deteriorating society.

  • -6

    AmericanForeigner

    I agree with tmarie about the deteriorating society in Japan. Tmarie why do you think this is so? I like your points and I've seen these things myself but I wonder what the root causes are?

  • 7

    Himajin

    And I could give you the example of my j-family where the two brothers haven't been on speaking terms for years.

    And that only happens in Japan......please......

    Ohina-san is celebrated within the family, if it were dying out those doll sets still wouldn't be selling like hotcakes every January to February? Those without space buy even just the main two dolls in order to celebrate. Kodomo no Hi as well... go out into the countryside and look at all the carp streamers. I'll admit that they're nearly impossible to have in a city, though. Our son has a set, the largest carp is 5 or 6 m, can't exactly fly them from a mansion balcony :-D Because Ohina-san and Kodomo no Hi 'arent covered in the media' means they are no longer celebrated? I don't quite follow the logic on that one. Would you be willing to place a bet that the majority of those traveling on Obon are jinan, sannan etc? And that they went to the cemetery before they left? DH is chonan so traveling during Obon is not an option for us, but anyone else not in charge of the butsudan or ohaka is welcome to, as far as I'm concerned.

    often go home to see friends, not family.

    One can't see both? I do....... The cemeteries in your J-family's home town are barren at Obon? I don't think so.

    If they are, companies and friends are called into the equation along with obligatory money which is all kept track off because heaven forbid, someone doesn't pay the right amount.

    It's a gesture of respect to invite one's superiors from work to a wedding, again, pointing to the significance of the ceremony from a societal standpoint. The wedding money tradition (and funeral money tradition for that matter) come from a time when this country was much poorer and no one could afford to put on a wedding or funeral by themselves, so the money rotated around within the village. It's common courtesy to give what you've been given, the Japanese are more official about it by keeping a record. You do realize that most likely people in your country also reciprocate wedding gifts of similar value? People DO think about that when giving a gift. Surely you've seen advice columns in newspapers with indignant letters about 'cheap wedding gift after we spent a fortune'? You're used to it, it's internalized, where Japanese customs are not, and seem alien to you.

    Once I became an adult, I felt that birthday parties were kind of moot. Talk about 'get drunk with work or friends' excuses! From my standpoint, grown adults getting miffed at not having a birthday party is weird. The Japanese aren't very into 'Look at me,me,me!' If there isn't dancing and a band at weddings, it isn't a celebrations? Tell that to the Mormons, I'm sure they'll be surprised....in short, because things aren't celebrated in the way you think they should be/the way you remember doesn't invalidate people's feelings about those milestones.

    "Sitting in a room over the holidays and all staring at the TV is not family bonding. Nor is dad working 12-14 hours a day, not seeing his kid and being stuck in a loveless marriage. Neither are the custody laws on one parent getting the kid. Neither is the once a year greeting card that family sends to each other. "

    Are you talking about the US, or Japan here? At any rate, it's not up to you to decide that how your family interacts is how all families interact. Student accounts don't count either, they won't come out and say 'I love my parents ...you can't try and push your cultural norms on people, and then declare those people's lives lacking when they don't adopt them.

    I find it ironic that people coming from countries were drunken teenagers, crime, vicious custody battles, unwed birth rates at an all-time high at 40% and divorce rates of up to 50% are declaring Japanese society 'deteriorating'. Where's my box of Bufferin?

  • 6

    cleo

    Good post, Hima.

  • -5

    tmarie

    And that only happens in Japan......please......

    No one is saying it only happens in Japan. Though I don't know of any other country that tries to push the "family is the most important thing" line like Japan does. That is my issue. People don't need to say that if it is true - it is apparent by the way people behave towards one another. The way I see families interact, not all in well in the land of the rising sun.

    You are using the carp as an example? The carp that companies fly - regards of if they have kids or not? It's like comments on Muslims who have Xmas trees and how Christian they are. You're confusing tradition with values. Heck, I know foreigners with no kids and no j-spouse who fly them.

    You think people visiting cemeteries during obon? Ha! Indeed some do but a survey this year of my students had about 20% visiting. Oh right, they must be lying about that... And actually, yes, the cemeteries are pretty barren when I have been to them. And when I have gone, I get told over and over again about how important family is to Japanese and questioned if we foreigners look after cemeteries of the dead. There are indeed people who care about family. I am not saying there isn't. However, the picture this country tries to paint in terms of how important it is, is a myth.

    Respect to invite coworkers? Nope. You have to. It is protocol. Don't invite them and see how far up the company ladder you get. You seem to be missing the idea of this. Next you'll be telling me the OLs love to give cranky bosses chocolate on V-day. Giri choco. Heck, even the locals are open to it being an obligation - like inviting your boss to the wedding. You can continue to give examples of families caring, and I can give you examples of people following protocol or just ignoring the whole thing.

    Japan isn't one big happy family. There families aren't all happy. There are families that have huge issues with abuse, drugs, depression, petty like family spats... That's my point. You can use the snide comments about the US (not American) but the US doesn't go on and on about how important family is. In fact, the US is well aware that there are problems with society and family values. They are trying to do something about the problem. Japan, as usual, ignores the issue and comes up with some snazzy word for the year. The new "slogan" means very little and will be forgotten next year when a new word is given. So will the sentiments.

  • -7

    tmarie

    Tmarie why do you think this is so? I like your points and I've seen these things myself but I wonder what the root causes are?

    I think this is a problem all developed societies have right now. Too much technology that leads to little social interaction, parents are too busy working to help foster their children into being caring and giving people, teachers are being trying to parent rather than teach, companies dropping tons of cash on tech development instead of human resources... people have huge expectations and self entitlement is shocking. Perhaps we've all become a little too rich and have forgotten what is important?

  • 4

    Himajin

    No one is saying it only happens in Japan.

    You used it as an example, in fact the first example of those you listed, of how bad or non-existent family ties are here, it only follows that one would wonder 'only here?'

    "And I could give you the example of my j-family where the two brothers haven't been on speaking terms for years. I could give you examples of numerous families I know that have kids that aren't on speaking terms. "

    is not indicative of the majority of familial relationships in Japan, or anywhere else.

    "Though I don't know of any other country that tries to push the "family is the most important thing" line like Japan does"

    Really? On one hand you say that the Japanese have poor family ties, and now you say that they push family more than anywhere else? 'Family is the most important thing' is endemic to American advertising, organized religion, holidays (to be spent with family only!), holiday TV programming, and Hallmark Cards, and the Republican party :-D

    "The carp that companies fly - regards of if they have kids or not? It's like comments on Muslims who have Xmas trees and how Christian they are. You're confusing tradition with values. Heck, I know foreigners with no kids and no j-spouse who fly them. "

    That somehow takes away from it? Au contraire, it demonstrates the sense of community you think doesn't exist here. A company flying the carp is a public wish for the health of the children in their community. Your childless friends can't fly them? It's hollow somehow? Perhaps it's memories of happy childhoods that makes them want carp. Perhaps they wish for children. What I wonder, is why does it eat at you so?

    "You think people visiting cemeteries during obon? Ha! Indeed some do but a survey this year of my students had about 20% visiting. Oh right, they must be lying about that... "

    It's the grandparents' job while they're alive, the sons' after they're gone, and then it comes to kids like your students. I can see you're not going to the cemetery, at any rate......August 12th, 13th, 14th, no one's there and the cemeteries are barren? I call bullshit, loudly.

    "Respect to invite coworkers? Nope. You have to. It is protocol. "

    Good God, woman, what is "protocol" based on BUT respect?

    "Japan isn't one big happy family. There families aren't all happy. There are families that have huge issues with abuse, drugs, depression, petty like family spats... That's my point. You can use the snide comments about the US (not American) but the US doesn't go on and on about how important family is."

    Oh yes they do go on about family! I now see why you don't know that, if you're not American. No one ever said that all Japanese families are happy. I just don't see how a ritual of a 'word of the year' and the word "Kizuna" being chosen because of 20,000 people's lives being destroyed can SO get your panties in a twist.

    It's too bad you hate it here so much. If you examined your own culture you as critically you'd see equal examples of things done 'just because'.....how many Christmas cards are sent as the only contact with old friends and family in other countries?

    As for my remarks about the US , they are actual statistics, and so I think you and some other posters need to get the beams out of your own eyes as far as the disintegration of Japanese society is concerned. You don't think anything is skewed about a 40% unwed birth rate, and a 50% divorce rate? Nothing?

  • 5

    Himajin

    I misread one line , Tmarie......."foreigners with no kids and no j-spouse that fly them."

    It makes even less sense now that I've read it correctly . How does THAT take away from the tradition? I knew a foreigner who used old red and white 'yasu uri' store banners for curtains for her kids' room. Does that somehow detract from Japan as well, and show it to be hollow?

    Perhaps sales of carp to foreigners should be banned, as well as that of Christmas trees to the Japanese .

    forehead slap

    And no, the OLs may not like the giri-choco bit, but they DO IT because it's part of the SOCIAL fabric.

  • -5

    tmarie

    Himajin, you've certainly gone on a tangent. I have not stated that Japan only suffers from these problems - heck do you even bother reading my last post? What my issue is, again, is that this country seems to think they are the superior beings when it comes to family bonds and ties. They aren't. Because they go on and on about how important family is, I roll my eyes at them because clearly, for everyone, it is not. If it was, we wouldn't be living in a society with ohigh rates of suicide, depression, DV... There would be no divorce, loveless marriages... This country isn't any different than any other when it comes to family aspects and thought towards it all. Thing is, other nations don't come up with catchy little words than will be rolled out, have political groups adopt it and be smug towards others regarding it all.

    Well said Patrick, well said.

  • 4

    Ian Duncan

    It seems to me that a lot of the "evidence" of a deep-rooted commitment to family originates from a compulsion to be seen to be performing the expected rituals.

    When I take my daughter to the park, the kids are playing with each other, but the parents all stand around awkwardly, as far from each other as geometrically possible, avoiding any form of social interaction. On New Year's Day I had to grab somebody else's toddler, who'd run into the road. His mother was too busy playing with her telephone to take the time to watch her child.

    Similarly, I didn't notice an awful lot of unifying bonds last Autumn when a man on my train started having an epileptic fit. As he lay on the floor of the train, banging his head with each convulsion, his fellow Japanese passengers went to extraordinary lengths to avoid looking at him. It was down to the barbarian to assist him. They wouldn't even get out of the courtesy seat for me to put him into the recovery position there until I started bellowing orders at them.

    It seems to me that this Kizuna is just another vacant totem which Japanese people will all nod sagely about, without it having the slightest connection to reality, and indulge their delusion that basic civility is uniquely Japanese.

  • 0

    Ivan Coughanoffalot

    These bonds are entirely fictional. There are people in my office working less than ten yards apart who have never spoken to each other, though they've worked there for years. They walk down narrow corridors and pretend not to have seen each other.

    How many times, immediately after 3/11, did we receive the AC indoctrination commercials, indicating that it might be nice if we show basic courtesy to each other? Yet I spend three hours a day, every day, on various trains, and have seen maybe one other person stand to allow an elderly passenger to sit down. Even moving along the seat slightly to allow one's fellow passengers to use one of the two seats they're sprawled over seems too much to ask. How can anyone pretend that Kizuna is a driving force?

    And to pretend that people are being unfaithful to their partners out of a deep-rooted dedication to one's fellows is nonsense of the first water. Did the writer really expect anyone to swallow that?

    Essentially, unless the interaction is a form of social or company obligation, far too many Japanese will try their damnedest to avoid it.

  • -4

    AmericanForeigner

    Certainly in America we put family first but we never brag about it, it's more an expression of our humanity. In Japan they talk constantly about family and then do nothing to support it or worse. Tmarie is right, this Kazuna is a blind pulled over the eyes of a society that has lost its humanity.

  • 2

    Himajin

    I simply referred to the construction of your initial post, regarding lack of family ties in japan which said in effect 'Yes that is the case in Japan, look at my J-family. The two brothers haven't spoken in years'. Which I said was a false parallel, as it isn't common to just Japan.

    Your second post was 'p'shawing' at carp banners, ohaka maeri, and the idea that Obon and all other Japanese holidays are a farce, and a front, ("Ha!") and so I answered that one too.

    No tangents. Just reacting to what you yourself wrote and implied.

  • -6

    tmarie

    Hima, perhaos read the above posts as I am certainly not the only one not falling for this crap. By all means, feel free to but don't expect the rest of us to think carp, bosses at weddings and matsuris are all bonding and respect. Thinking that must make your life way easier. I prefer to look a little deeper - at what I see daily - and then laugh at all the crap the locals go on about with kizuna and the like.

  • 6

    Himajin

    Laugh all you want, because thinking that must make your life way easier.

    Deeper? I am married 32 years this June, have a 29 year old son, and a grand baby here. Not exactly just off the boat. If anyone is trying to make themselves feel better it's you. It's so much easier to hate and ridicule than to understand. 'Everything they do is so dumb' is the easiest route, and you and many here are taking it.

    but don't expect the rest of us to think carp, bosses at weddings and matsuris are all bonding and respect.

    I am beginning to feel sorry for you and others on this thread; it sounds as if you know some really shallow people.

  • 0

    Johannes Weber

    Himajin,

    the article's seems to try to convince the reader that Japan has especially deep family ties. It conveys the impression that everything that happens in Japan - marriage and divorce, infidelity, shopping - is due to some superior property of the Japanese, as it is written here:

    It means human ties, especially the kind nurtured by Japanese society and culture.

    Nobody says that Japanese people are incapable of close bonds. Nobody claims that there is nothing good in Japan. And that Japan has been always like that. Nobody claims that other cultures should be considered superior.

    But there is good reason that many foreigners living in Japan consider the face that modern Japan presents as an unfriendly face. They live in environments that are disruptive towards social ties. Because of stress. Because of dysfunctional work-life balance. Because of wrong media-driven expectation. Because of SABETSU, which you can never fully escape.

    Nothing among these is particularly Japanese. But the Japanese mainstream is in denial of this. Whereas most countries accept the existence of social problems and try to heal these wounds - Japanese mainstream claims that they do not exist. If anything goes wrong, blame the foreigners. This must give us the impression that Japan is in a state of denial about itself.

    Nothing of this is true for all Japanese. Or for the Japanese in general, since they are just human beings like us. I have a few Japanese friends whom I'll treasure still once I've returned home. But I do not feel that there are and particular bonds which would not be possible, if they weren't Japanese.

    A lot of us feel offended, if a Japanese newspaper claims that the superiority of Japan reveals itself in their infidelity and their shopping habits. And assign the vague expression KIZUNA as the reason, which is said to be impossible for foreigners to understand:

    While we Japanese can understand their cultures, the opposite is impossible.

    J4p4nFTW perfectly summarizes what we perceive as rude and antisocial. He considers himself superior to all others. Track back a few of his posts a few months ago and you will see that there are Japaenese, who are incapable of true social bonds. Because true human ties are among all humans - strangers included - instead of just inside of a social group.

  • -5

    tmarie

    Who said anything about FOB? Indeed, I do know some shallow people. I live in Japan after all. If creating a catch word for the year and ignoring the actual concept of it isn't shallow, what is?

    Well said JW!

  • 5

    Himajin

    Who said anything about FOB?

    You said--

    "Thinking that must make your life way easier. I prefer to look a little deeper - at what I see daily - and then laugh at all the crap the locals go on about with kizuna and the like."

    Your tone implies superior knowledge, a superior ability to observe, just smacks of 'I know better than you. My point being that you aren't the only one with understanding of the culture. But you knew that, you're just being argumentative because I don't automatically agree with you.

    Laughing at people has never been nice, you attitude is extremely condescending.

  • -6

    tmarie

    My tone has nothing to do with FOB or being here for years. I think perhaps you're looking for things to argue about now.

    My attitude is condescending? You don't think the whole thing with 'kizuna" and how it is Japanese isn't??

  • 0

    Blair Herron

    If there were always a strong Kizuna in every Japanese family, the word Kizuna would never be chosen as the word of the year. Year 2011 was a rough year for Japan. We tend to have forgotten Kizuna among family, but realized how important it is to go through this rough time. We also appreciate great Kizuna messages, assistance, and donations from all over the world.

    UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: The world is shocked and saddened by the images coming from Japan this morning. On behalf of the United Nations, I want to express my deepest sympathies and heartfelt condolences to the Japanese people and Government, most especially those who lost family and friends in the earthquake and subsequent tsunamis. Japan is one of the most generous and strongest benefactors, coming to the assistance of those in need the world over. In that spirit, the United Nations stands by the people of Japan and we will do anything and everything we can at this very difficult time. To the Japanese people, I offer my sympathy and heartfelt condolences. With greatest respect and my best wishes, I know that they will overcome this terrible tragedy.

    This is one of the Kizuna messages from the world.

  • 4

    Himajin

    You're quite literal, aren't you, tmarie? I answered your posts point by point.

    I was addressing this quote--

    ""Thinking that must make your life way easier. I prefer to look a little deeper - at what I see daily - and then laugh at all the crap the locals go on about with kizuna and the like."

  • 4

    Himajin

    Let me make it simpler.

    You state that there are no family ties in Japan. You claim it's all a sham. I counter with info about my family and you say

    "Thinking that way must make your life easier"

    So, you're either saying I'm deluding myself , or I am misrepresenting my family.

    Do you get it now?

  • -6

    AmericanForeigner

    A good idea would be for the United Nations to take over management of the disaster. They would be able to provide real world solutions rather than waffle about vague words alluding to family ties that have no practical value.

  • 3

    Himajin

    You may not be aware of the fact that the Kanji Kentei association in Kyoto presents the kanji every year that citizens choose by ballot to symbolize overall what transpired that year. It has nothing to do with relief efforts, it's not the government, it's become a tradition in Kyoto, and it is featured on the news at the end of the year. So picking a kanji that symbolizes what many, many people lost this year in the Tohoku region in no way detracts from, nor is it meant to substitute for, any kind of aid. It's a reflection at year's end of the year in total.

    "The Kanji of the year (今年の漢字 Kotoshi no Kanji) is a kanji chosen by the Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society (財団法人日本漢字能力検定協会 Zaidan hōjin Nihon Kanji Nōryoku kentei kyōkai) through a national ballot in Japan. It began in 1995. The character with the most votes is selected to represent the events of that year, and is announced in a ceremony on December 12 (Kanji Day) at Kiyomizu Temple."

    Here's a link to the full list of kanji from 1995-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanjiofthe_year

  • -3

    tmarie

    You state that there are no family ties in Japan. You claim it's all a sham. I counter with info about my family and you say

    Care to point out where I said "no"? I think you go back and read my threads you'll clearly see I have said that in some family the ties are strong.

    Like I said, you're just looking to argue.

  • 2

    Himajin

    You keep posting...........

  • 1

    Himajin

    and I keep explaining........

  • -1

    Johannes Weber

    The question is why Japanese people became so aware of KIZUNA last year. The answer might be because the former prime minister used KIZUNA to thank the world for their aid in time of Japan's need. Before that no one bothered to make a big fuzz about KIZUNA. Kan started to connect KIZUNA with the disaster. And he directed it towards the outside world: http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/kan/statement/201104/11kizuna_e.html. This is probably the major reason why the Kanji came to be associated with 2011.

    Even though KIZUNA is not a word explicitly reserved to such a situation, the connection was used by Kan towards the foreign helpers. Thus, he obviously perceived the KIZUNA as something which came from outsisde. It is not something particular to the Japanese. But since most people in this country hate Kan (as well as the foreigners are disliked), the positive message of the former prime minister is corrupted for the old "us" and "them" story.

    At this point, the article fails completely.

  • 1

    Blair Herron

    he obviously perceived the KIZUNA as something which came from outsisde. It is not something particular to the Japanese.

    I agree. Again, there have been thousands of messages from the world, including "Kizuna 311" and of course from JT posters.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kp3jWV4allE&feature=bf_next&list=UUYNJTBBrdeZtpEVnmVlah-g&lf=plcp

    http://www.japantoday.com/category/picture-of-the-day/view/quake-damage#comment_897411

  • -2

    tmarie

    Well said JW and Blair. Shame others don't get it.

  • 0

    Blair Herron

    Well said JW and Blair. Shame others don't get it.

    I don't know which "others" you mean, but I also agree with the things that Himajin says

    things aren't celebrated in the way you think they should be/the way you remember doesn't invalidate people's feelings about those milestones. At any rate, it's not up to you to decide that how your family interacts is how all families interact. You can't try and push your cultural norms on people, and then declare those people's lives lacking when they don't adopt them.

    I interpret "you" as all people with different cultural background; Japanese, American, Bhutan...

  • 0

    Columhcille

    @tkoind2 "...And where collective suffering is almost desirable and admirable"

    Eh I can see that, but geez, in Japan, any 'collective', suffering or not is desirable. They can't even do school work solo...critical thinking activities without groups you say? Individualism does not exist in Japan. That's why all the ones who don't want to be part of the social hive leave the country for someplace that being an individual is socially acceptable.

  • 0

    tmarie

    Blair, I certainly am not disagreeing with that. What I disagree with is how this article paints Japan as a country with stronger family bonds than other nations - and making it appear as if it is something we foreigners just can't understand.

  • 0

    Blair Herron

    What I disagree with is how this article paints Japan as a country with stronger family bonds than other nations - and making it appear as if it is something we foreigners just can't understand.

    I agree with you that you disagree with the article.

    "Kizuna." To understand Japan's post-quake/tsunami/meltdown, you need that word in your vocabulary.

    Does this word need to be added in your English/Spanish/Chinese... dictionary just like "sushi" "sumo" "futon" which originate from Japan??? NO. It's already there!

    Bond/lien/legame/Bande/lazo/узы/nodus/δεσμος/联系/ Պարտատոմսեր/ Skuldabréf/ Bannaí/ Dlhopisy/ Bonds/ Obligasjoner/ Tahviller/ Bono/ Bondiau/ Więzy/ Obligacijos/ Võlakirjad/ Saites/ Kötvények/ Облигации/ Аблігацыі/ Облігації/ Обвезнице/ Обврзници/ Trái phiếu/ Bon/ Bonu

  • 3

    Himajin

    are to point out where I said "no"? I think you go back and read my threads you'll clearly see I have said that in some family the ties are strong.Like I said, you're just looking to argue.

    As requested......

    "Jan. 18, 2012 - 06:20PM JST

    There isn't anything non-Japanese can't understand. If anything, "we" get the family bond and social bond more than the Japanese. Which is my whole point. There is little to no social bond or family bond in this country. "

  • 0

    Thomas Smith

    Awesome point gaiinfo

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