Friday, April 23, 2004

Too interesting from an anthropological perspective to pass up: Friday's New York Times notes how the reaction of the Japanese public to the homecoming of recently-released hostages from Fallujah markedly differs from the American reaction in similar circumstances.

"You got what you deserve!" read one hand-written sign at the airport where they landed. "You are Japan's shame," another wrote on the Web site of one of the former hostages. They had "caused trouble" for everybody. The government, not to be outdone, announced it would bill the former hostages $6,000 for air fare.

Beneath the surface of Japan's ultra-sophisticated cities lie the hierarchical ties that have governed this island nation for centuries and that, at moments of crises, invariably reassert themselves. The former hostages' transgression was to ignore a government advisory against traveling to Iraq. But their sin, in a vertical society that likes to think of itself as classless, was to defy what people call here "okami," or, literally, "what is higher."

Treated like criminals, the three former hostages have gone into hiding, effectively becoming prisoners inside their own homes...

The Foreign Ministry, held both in awe and resentment by many Japanese, was the okami defied in this case...Defying the okami are young Japanese people like the freed hostages, freelancers and members of nonprofit organizations, who are traditionally held in low esteem in a country where the bigger one's company, the bigger one's social rank. They also belong to a generation in which many have rejected traditional Japanese life. Many have gravitated instead to places like the East Village in Manhattan, looking for something undefined.


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