ANYONE who has spent time in Japan starts to notice something strange about the country. After a while, the strangeness becomes apparent — there is a great deal of conformity. Children wear uniforms to school. Tradesmen wear uniforms to identify their line of work. In fact, a uniform is a sign of status, which is a very important part of Japanese culture.
Even today’s rebellious youth, who feign nonconformity, really do conform. Look at their fashions — they’re all designed to be outrageous! Even so, everyone looks the same.
This reminds me of a story. Several years ago on a bright and sunny Sunday morning, I was riding a train toward Shibuya. There were a number of teenagers aboard, dressed in “normal” clothing, busily chatting with each other.
When the train arrived at Harajuku Station, the young men headed to the men’s room, something I did as well. Once inside, I saw a rapid disrobing take place. The young men began changing their clothing so that soon they looked to me like cartoon characters, or in Japan, manga characters. They huddled around the bathroom sinks and mirrors, busily grooming themselves, hiding their faces behind lipstick, white powder and other forms of cosmetics. They then joined their friends and disappeared into the crowds.
I have also seen the reverse take place, where, prior to heading home, people would head to the men’s and ladies’ rooms and change back into normal “clothing.”
So, where is the nonconformity? Is it in the normal clothing or the costumes? My conclusion is that the younger generation dares to be different, but not by too much!
Here’s another example: One afternoon I was walking on Meiji Dori between Ueno and the Senju’s when I noticed two drunken men staggering along in front of me. It seemed like they were oblivious to the world around them. In fact, some other pedestrians moved out of their way to avoid contact with them. They soon reached a major intersection, stopped and came to immediate attention and waited for the stoplight to change in their favor. When the light changed, they resumed their staggered walk across the street. Where is the conformity? To me, it was the unconscious behavior of the two drunks to conform to street safety at the intersection.
I think if we look at the behavioral patterns of people in Japan, we see that no matter how nonconformist they may appear to be, the power of conformity in Japanese culture is always prominent. tj
The complete article can be found in Issue #278 of the Tokyo Journal. Click here to order from Amazon.