Sunday, 7 September 2008


** Note: this post started off as a rant, and then changed as I did a little web surfing. Turns out that maybe I should have humble pie for dinner tonight! But it still seemed kind of interesting...

Nihonjinron (日本人論), literally "theory on the Japanese," is a wide-ranging theory of Japanese uniqueness. Wikipedia gives a detailed explanation and history, and states that the theory has
four premises:

  1. Uniqueness: Japan, its people, culture, ways of thinking, social behaviour, language etc. are unique
  2. This uniqueness of the Japanese is rooted in the distinctive characteristics of the Japanese race or ethnos
  3. Ahistorical essentialism: The peculiarities of the Japanese remain unaltered essentially throughout history, and indeed, it is often asserted, are derived from a prehistorical world
  4. Homogeneity: The Japanese are homogeneous as a people/a race/ or ethnic community

(stolen shamelessly from Wikipedia)

Specific claims include the assertion that the Japanese have longer intestines (repeated to me recently by a professor at my university); that Japanese eyes less sensitive to light, thereby explaining very few Japanese wear sunglasses and why there are more complaints about low light levels in museum exhibits, (explained to me by a US-educated Japanese museum professional); and a range of other cultural and physiological differences.

My initial response to claims such as these is bemused laughter. Longer intestines?! Really?! So I did a little search (Hello Mr. Google!) and, while you can't always believe everything you read online, maybe, just maybe, there is some truth.

For example, this guy certainly appears to have done his homework and can't definitively say that Japanese intestines are or aren't longer. And there is at least anecdotal evidence suggesting blue eyes are more sensitive to light than are brown eyes.


But I still take issue with two concepts - those of an unaltered "Japanese-ness" constant throughout the ages, and the homogeneity of Japan!

No comments:

Post a Comment