The Book of the Week is “Confucius Lives Next Door, What Living in the East Teaches Us About Living in the West” by T.R. Reid, published in 1999.
In the mid-1990’s, the author’s American family moved from Colorado to Japan for a few years. The author described the cultural differences between his native country and East Asia, and provided extensive details on Confucius’ teachings.
In August 1994, the author’s ten-year old daughter, with her fairly new Japanese friend, took a day-trip un-chaperoned to Tokyo Disneyland. It was an hour and a half each way during which they encountered approximately 27 million strangers, and arrived home after dark. They had to change trains at three different crowded stations. On a daily basis, the author’s daughter had a long commute to elementary school five and a half days a week: a bus, a train, then another bus. Japanese parents had few worries about their children’s safety when they were out and about, even in urban areas.
The Japanese education system up until high school treated kids like little adults in giving them chores. They were expected to achieve group-oriented goals or else endure public shaming. The teachers did, on occasion, allow the classroom to erupt in total chaos. But just for several minutes. Then it was back to serious brainwork during the entire calendar year, except for three weeks of vacation in August.
The author sat in on Japan’s cultural ceremonies that were celebrated uniformly nationwide. One of them was on April 1. That was the day new graduates began work at big-name employers, where they lived in corporate villages. They were required to deposit their paychecks in their employer’s bank. Their lives were obviously highly structured and group-oriented. This kept them off the streets and out of trouble, unlike in the United States.
“But it is inevitable that some whose careers are creatively destroyed will stumble into marital discord, poverty, crime, drug abuse, and other social ills…
[Joseph] Schumpeter himself wrote that capitalism will eventually disintegrate because societies will no longer be willing to pay the social price.”
Along these lines, the author kept commenting on Americans’ cultural reputation as seen through the eyes of East Asians. Malaysia suggested establishing a “reverse Peace Corps” whereby Malaysians could volunteer to “… show Americans how to get along without murdering each other.”
Samuel Huntington’s 1996 book “The Clash of Civilizations” turned out to be correct. Huntington theorized that nations would have more tribal warfare rather than less, in the years after the Cold War. In recent decades, the United States has had more and more difficulty in distinguishing between
tourists and terrorists.
The author pondered whether Americans had too much freedom. He observed that the law-and-order East Asians lived squeaky-clean, straight-and-narrow lives through adhering to Confucius’ code of behavior; the trade-off was that they might have too little freedom. Some of the usual elements of democracy were lacking in their lives, BUT– they felt safe in their homes and on their persons, everywhere in their countries, any time of the day or night.
Read the book to learn about the additional aspects of the Japanese lifestyle from which– the author felt– Americans could take a lesson.