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The Japanese Wa

There is a very unusual concept in Japan that those who are not Japanese will have a little bit of trouble grasping, but I am going to try to describe it for you.  The name of this concept is the “Wa.”  If you are Japanese, you are accepted by the Japanese Wa, but if you are not Japanese, only special people get accepted by the Wa, and they will never be part of the Wa, only accepted.  Many people feel like it is strange that if you were not born in Japan of Japanese parents, then you can never get Japanese citizenship, but understanding the Wa may help you understand why the Japanese have a law like that.  The Wa is the oneness of the Japanese people.

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If you are Japanese, you have been born into a very long line of tradition.  You have black hair. You have dark almond shaped eyes that some people call slanted.  You have white, almost yellow skin.  You look like everyone else in Japan, and that gives the Japanese a kind of secure feeling.  They are very comfortable being part of the Japanese people because they understand who the others are and know where they fit, very unlike the American society where everyone wants to be different. In Japan, they like being the same.

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Just because you are oriental doesn’t mean that you are accepted into the Wa. The Koreans, the Chinese, the Cambodians, the Vietnamese, etc. all have a different history and traditions than the Japanese people and all think differently than the Japanese, so are not part of the Wa.  Only Japanese can be part of the Japanese Wa.

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The Wa keeps the Japanese in check.  It causes a lower crime rate because no one would go against the way things are supposed to be done in the Wa because it is a shame if they do.  However, a usually very normal, peaceful guy in Japan may leave Japan and become someone completely different outside of Japan because the other Japanese are not there to keep in in check.  Many Japanese businessmen have a reputation outside of Japan for raising cane, getting drunk, and causing trouble because they are away from Japan. In Japan, they would be embarrassed to ever to do the things they do outside of Japan, but there is no one there to shame them into doing the right thing when they are outside of Japan.  Within this Wa in Japan, the Japanese keep one another in check with shame.

If you go to Japan, in order to make friends, you must be accepted by the Wa.  You must be accepted by Japanese people. If your looks or your conduct is such that the Japanese would never approve of you, then you are an outsider no matter how hard you try.  However, if you have the right personality and the right looks that they are comfortable with, and someone accepts you, then the others will also accept you.  When you are in Japan, you need to do everything you can to learn the Japanese customs and try to follow them if you want Japanese friends.  However, the Japanese are forgiving of foreigners because they know that their rules are new to the foreigners, but they expect you to try to fit in.  If you mess up too badly, though, a Japanese will never talk to you again. It is a normal Japanese way to give people a cold shoulder the rest of their lives who mess up. The Japanese can be very strict, so listen to their rules and try to follow them if you want to be friends with them.

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Within the larger Wa in Japan, there are several smaller Wa groups.  Within these groups, the people have even more in common.  They feel comfortable in this group because they know these people think the way they do.  Most Japanese have a real longing to be the same as the others just as the Americans have a real longing to stand out from the crowd.  This Wa concept is not something that Americans easily understand because Americans are all so different, but the sameness in Japan gives the Japanese people a feeling of comfort.

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The unusual thing in the past several years is the amount of Japanese who have opted to marry foreigners.  In Korea, the Korean government has encouraged the relationship with the English speaking countries of the west, and some Koreans are marrying non Koreans, but some of the other Koreans just absolutely can’t accept all the foreigners in Korea.  When my daughter and her Korean husband were dating, there were people who gave them a lot of trouble because they didn’t think a Korean should date a foreigner.  I actually would have expected that attitude more from Japanese because of their Wa attitude, but it hasn’t worked that way. Many Japanese are marrying foreigners.  My Japanese son in law basically said he felt free to marry my daughter even though she wasn’t Japanese because the Japanese people accepted me.  I have thought a lot about that, and what it is about me that the Japanese accepted because I know not everyone is as accepted as I was in Japan.

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I have studied in Japan. I have worked in Japan. I  have Japanese in my family. I love Japan, but I know I am not Japanese, and I am not part of the Wa, but the Wa accepted me, not as part of the Wa, but as a friend of the Wa.  I think back to a Cross Cultural Communications class I took in college when I was in a discussion group with a group of Japanese students.  They were telling me how glad they were that I was in their group and not one of the other Americans in the class.  I was surprised. They told me that the students with blue eyes, red hair, blond hair, etc., the ones who didn’t have dark hair and dark eyes gave them the feeling that they were from outer space, like they were aliens from another planet. Their pink skin bothered the Japanese.  However, I was there with dark brown hair, brown eyes, and white almost yellowish looking skin, and they felt comfortable looking at me.  I know what I look like has a lot to do with the Japanese attitude toward me, and I was also very shy back then just like many of the young Japanese girls.  It made the Japanese comfortable because they were used to personalities like mine.

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This doesn’t mean that the Japanese won’t love you if you don’t have the same coloring, but it does mean that even though around the world, people with blond hair and blue eyes always seem to be the ultimate, they aren’t in Japan.  The Japanese could accept them if they behave themselves and follow the Japanese rules.  However, get ready for it, if you weren’t born a Japanese, you will never be a Japanese even if you look like one. If you aren’t Japanese, you will never be part of the Japanese Wa even if the Wa accepts you as a friend.  If you are not Japanese, you will never have Japanese citizenship no matter how much Japanese you study, no matter how long you live in Japan, no matter what you look like or act like. It just doesn’t happen. There is a border between the Japanese people and the rest of the world that none of us will cross, and we will never truly understand the security the Japanese people feel of being part of the Japanese Wa.

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