Asia Dialogue Narratives

Japan, Reapproached

Story by Demi Pirrone, Dialogue of Civilizations | Photo by Andrew Small

Adopted from Vietnam, I grew up in the sundown town of Westchester, New York, anxious to learn more about the diversity of norms that existed past what I always knew and assumed. As I graduate from Northeastern with a Bachelor of Science in political science and a minor in psychology, I refined this focus on examining the relationship between heuristics and decision making in public policy. My Summer I Dialogue, The Twenty-First Century City: Tokyo and Kyoto, reminded me that these heuristics and problem-solving tools are historically contextual, globally diffused and, most importantly, should always aim to help others. 

Learning about Tokyo’s history as a globalized city was incredibly interesting and relevant. COVID-19, ironically, represented the duality of globalization; the interconnectedness of the international political economy has certainly led to the city’s prominent and consistent growth, but also creates vulnerabilities that require resilience, shown by the cancellation of the Olympics after several years of infrastructural planning. Regardless, the Machiavellian intrigue of the changing affinities of the Daimyo up to the Pax Tokugawa showed the social and historical contexts that saturated the relationship between Japan and its concept of modernity and globalization for centuries to come. According to Christopher Goto-Jones, author of one of the primary textbooks utilized in the dialogue, many classical characteristics of modernity are associated with 18th century European Enlightenment, but there is a difference between a cluster of ideas found in Europe versus European ideals. Japan’s socio-cultural anxiety, influenced by Western interventions and increased globalization, showed how potentially irrational ways of organizing life transformed into gaining a sense of national identity while also evolving social norms into traditions rather than truth. 

This cultural evolution is also shown in the way that Japan approaches human services through a collectivist society. A “general tendency within Japanese society to have a strong sense of shame in front of others” may induce or compound the issues of Hikikomori (chronic loneliness), Kodoku-Shi (the secluded death of the elderly), Amae culture (adolescent identity and dependence crises), sex trafficking and homelessness. Many non-governmental organizations (commonly called “NPOs” in Japan)  work to not only decrease the stigma associated with these issues but also scaffold their responses with local organizations to appropriately understand these intimate and capricious issues. Analyzing how NPOs collaborate with local government municipalities was eye-opening in the context of comparison to the American NPO sector. 

The actual structure of the course could not be applauded enough. It involved a wide, but intense, perspective on Japanese economics, history, urban development and the future in an asynchronous format. In addition to engaging group projects with other students, several guest speakers from Meiji University spoke as leaders in the nonprofit sector, showing how they adapted their inherently intimate acts of human service into online formats. One guest speaker,

Mr. Kenneth Nakagawa, is a coordinator for Tango Therapy, which uses Argentine music to connect generations and allows the elderly to meet, touch and hug younger volunteers in a healthy and beautiful way. With a new online virtual format, this program speaks to the soul of Japanese collectivism and resilience. 

The entirety of the program really made me think about how I want to help others in the future and how these public policy laws and norms precipitate into individual acts of kindness. Besides this in general, awesome experience, I appreciated the cultural sensitivity not only towards the country we were studying but also the treatment we as students experienced ourselves. Professors Vicino and Gardinier’s accommodations, compassion and transparency shown during the Black Lives Matter movement felt truly genuine and sincere. Not only did the innovative and globalized substance of the course show Northeastern’s grit, the professors and students did too. Whether in Japan or Boston – in an international environment strife with anxiety, political discord, and a new sense of isolation – everyone should remember we are never alone.

Photo by Andrew Small
Photo by Andrew Small

The story is featured in VOL 5 ISSUE 2 Fall 2020 (Print Edition)

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