Journal of Intercultural Communication, issue 4, 2000

Steven L. Rosen

Japan as Other: Orientalism and Cultural Conflict


This paper tries to show how cross-cultural conflict often occurs between Japan and Westerners as the result of imposing one's own cultural meanings onto another culture. Interpretations of Japan, as well as other Asian cultures, often carries an implicit assumption that the West is rational (and superior) whereas the East is bound by ancient traditions (and is inferior). "Orientalism" has been identified as the particular form that Western stereotypical understandings of Asian cultures has taken. Intercultural communication becomes highly problematic as long as stereotypes are held and as long as the other culture is seen as foreign and wholly other. By transcending this "Orientalism" we will be in a better position to understand and communicate with those from another culture without having to set up a dichotomous boundary between "us" and "them."
Conflict with Japan is focused on 1) because there seems to be a lot of it, and 2) because Japan represents a unique culture field which is, in some ways, both modern and familiar, yet in other ways seemingly foreign to Western interpretive structures. This paper will call into question some of the stereotypes that Westerners often project onto Japan as being a monolithic culture which is excessively authoritarian, hierarchical, and patriarchal. We will try to offer some other interpretive options for understanding a culture which has suffered from intercultural communication problems for so long.

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