Japanese Society by Chie Nakane

Subject: ⛩️ Culture
Type: Descriptive Essay
Pages: 10
Word count: 2726
Topics: Japanese Culture, Biography, Community, 📗 Book
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Background Information on Nakane

Chie Nakane is a renowned anthropologist of Japanese origin. She was born on November 30, 1926, in Tokyo. However, most of her teenage years were spent in Beijing where she attended her basic education and later graduated in 1947 from the Tsuda College. In 1952, she accomplished her graduate work at the University of Tokyo as a student of Oriental History where she specialized in Tibet and China (Hendry, 1989). Between 1953 and 1957, Nakane was a student at the London School of Economics furthering her social anthropology studies and was able to conduct fieldwork in India. Between 1959 and 1960, Nakane honored Sol Tax’s invitation at the University of Chicago where she served in the Anthropology Department as a visiting professor (Hendry, 1989). Afterwards, and with Christoph Von’s invitation, she joined the University of London in the School of African and Oriental Studies as a visiting professor between 1960 and 1961. 

At the School of Oriental Culture, which is in the University of Tokyo, Chie served as the institution’s first female professor after joining it in 1970. She later served as the institute’s director for two years starting from 1980. Between 1975 and 1980, Nakane also served in various capacities at Cornell University as a visiting professor and National Museum of Ethnology and Osaka University as a professor (Hendry, 1989). She later retired in 1987 when serving in the capacity of a professor at the University of Tokyo. She also joined the Japan Academy as the only and first female in 1995. Chie Nakane is also an Ireland and Great Britain’s Royal Anthropological Institute honorary member.

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 Her interest in anthropology has been a great motivator in her career in anthropology and her early work, The Uncivilized, The Civilized which was motivated by her interest to understand various cultures was published in 1959 (Hendry, 1989). Most of her works of anthropology are based on enthusiastic experiments which are supported by research. This has been a significant element of the success of Nakane in her work which has also been replicated in her work Japanese Society under which she introduces the social structure of the Japanese society which she explains through her theory of vertical society. 

Japanese Society

In her book Japanese Society, Chie Nakane elaborates the social structure of the Asian communities by adopting cross-cultural comparison approach. By focusing on Japan, Nakane posits that the Japanese society is a vertical society. In this characteristic structure of the society, human relations are not defined by qualification and attributes but are mostly based on shared space and place (Nakane, 1970). The vertical principle used by Nakane to characterize the Japanese society defines the general arrangement of the Japanese social structure. While the term vertical society may be interpreted to mean a hierarchical structural arrangement, the “vertical society” principle underlines the social relations between senior and junior individuals within a group. 

By comparing Japanese society’s social structure with other nations, Nakane illuminates the formation of social groups in Japan thus formulating the concept of frame and attribute. From her perspective, the concept of the frame defines the particular relationship, an institution, a locality, and a circumstantial binding of a group of people into a particular group. The shared space or place thus becomes the ‘frame’ through which the formation of social relationships becomes more important and fundamental than attributes (Nakane, 1970). Nakare thus uses her book Japanese Society to show the structural arrangement of Japan regarding frames in which individuals identify themselves based on their association with the established frames instead of their attributes. These frames include nation, company, village, or even household which represent social groups or institutions.

  These institutions act as frameworks which determine the primary identification where an individual belongs to the Japanese society. According to Nakane, the Japanese try to identify themselves socially regarding their connections to their frames as opposed to their attributes. For instance, it is common for a Japanese to prioritize the name of the institution they work for which represent the frame more as opposed to their position or kind of work they do at the company which represents the attribute (Nakane, 1970). As such, the company becomes the most important frame of identification irrespective of whether one holds a genitive or an executive position in the company. This shows that the attribute of their job is not important in their social identification as their connection to the company (Nakane, 1970). It is from this social structure of Japan as explained by Nakane that we can identify the contrast between Japanese society and other countries which have a horizontal social structure.

  A horizontal society denotes that individuals identify socially by their social classes. These classes are established by their common attributes which may include vocation, academic career, gender, family, or name. This social arrangement is called horizontal since individuals irrespective of their location can identify as a group provided they have and share common attributes which are characteristic of that group. The Indian caste is hence an example of a horizontal society in which attributes are used to categorize the social structure. This is contrary to the structure of a frame society or a vertical society which uses frames instead of attributes to identify social structure and connection to social groups or institutions. 

Contrary to the horizontal, attribute-based society, the frame society has no common attribute to automatically unify it. Members are, therefore, not unified by common bond but have diverse attributes within the group. As such, the frame-society depends on external forces to act as the unifying factor within the frame (Nakane, 1970). From this hypothetical view, Nakane identifies that Japan being a vertical society based on frames relies on their sense of oneness as the force that unites it. The conformity and uniformity of members to that sense of oneness hence act as the effort and force that brings individuals closer together as an expression of a common purpose. Other than having relationships in specific aspects of life, the frame-society connect members by holistic relationship. 

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Nakane also considers that members of a frame-society have human relationships that affect different aspects of their personal life. According to what Nakane notes in her book, the nature of human relationships which are characteristics of the frame, Japanese society is highly tangible and emotional (Nakane, 1970). She continues to recognize that the holistic relationship established in the frame society is greatly tangible and emotional since members can hardly maintain they privacy. It is from this perspective that the Japanese society seems to be highly controlling and patronizing individual lives (Nakane, 1970). This vertical principle creates a group orientation in the society which is quite tyrannical since it denies the members the chance to exercise their freedom and individuality. 

According to Nakane, the tangible and emotional relationship which characterizes the frame society like in Japan is dependent on the relationship’s intensity, length, and the time of involvement. Also, the group ties are more enhanced by the group’s homogeneity. In this regard, maintaining the bond of the frame depends greatly on the conformity and uniformity as well as the harmony of the group (Nakane, 1970). Nakane further points out that the members of the frame tend to adopt emotional tendency due to their preventive control mechanism and behavior against diversity. This illustrates that members of a frame fear diversity and, therefore, show loyalty and long-term commitment to their groups to avoid giving up their established relationships (Nakane, 1970). Similarly, this is due to the difficulty of acquiring better relationships at a short time and in new settings. Nakane, therefore, shows the significance of the intimacy and length of a relationship when developing a social position in the Japanese society. 

Due to the establishment of frames in the vertical Japanese society, there is the development of exclusive attitudes towards the outsiders that characterize the frame society. This exclusiveness of the frame society acts as an indispensable guard that is adopted by members of the group to maintain unity amongst themselves (Smith, 2009). Due to this exclusivity of the Japanese frame society, Japanese tend to show extreme coldness towards outsiders, marginalized classes, strangers, illegal immigrants, and illegal Asian workers. By applying the comparative analysis between Japanese and other Asian communities, Nakare points out that the exclusive attitudes of the Japanese towards the outside are different from the Indians (Smith, 2009). According to her, Indians shows a lot of indifference to other castes or untouchables, but the feelings of the Japanese towards outsiders portray a lot of antagonisms. In this regard, the frame society of Japan social structure acts under the principle of “we” against “them.”

In Japanese Society, Chie Nakane also shows the group orientation of the Japanese frame society due to its high demand for the holistic involvement of the individuals in the frame in the group. According to Nakane, the intimacy required in the establishment of a group makes it hard for the Japanese to be members of different groups with the same level of commitment and intimacy (Nakane, 1970). For the Japanese, their social relations in a group is not only determined by the sense of belonging but by the devotion and commitment of the members of the group. As such, the members derive their identity from their social groups or frames, and as they continue to show devotion and commitment to the group, the group becomes significantly important to them thus eroding the identity of the individual to the extent of the identity becoming blurred. 

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Nakane uses this hypothetical analysis to support the principle of the vertical society in the Japanese context. Due to the importance derived from the group by the individual member, Nakane compares the Japanese to ants whose identity is more dependent upon their membership to the colony (Smith, 2009). By comparing the relationship between the colony of ants and the individual ant, Nakane states that despite every ant living independently as an individual organism, the colony is important to it as it cannot live in separation from the colony (Smith, 2009). In this regard, the vertical society in Japan establishes a sense of group which does not merely run parallel to individualism that characterizes the Western culture. Instead, it establishes a system where the group acts as a social unit which is indivisible hence acting as a person. 

In this sense, the group in the Japanese society acts as the individual’s frame of identity and plays a critical role in creating norms, making decisions, and moving according to the inner driving force. The frame, therefore, acts as a natural entity from which the group members derive value and a sense of identity (Nakane, 1970). It is also from the group that the members become integrated and unified since the groups are seen to have an endowment of a sacred quality and a structure of reality. On the other hand, the frame society is believed to have a high sense of divine-human continuity with its leaders having a sacred quality and, therefore, endowed with the privilege of occupying an important place of influence among members (Nakane, 1970). The leaders are, therefore, endowed with the responsibility of relating the group to divinity and protective deities.  

  Nakane shows that the sense of self of the Japanese is completely merged in the identity and life of the group, the independence of an individual is only in the realms of an individual expressiveness such as skill, recreation, mysticism, and art. However, the independence of practicing relativism in these spheres does not justify the person’s inability to maintain devotion and commitment to the group expectations (Smith, 2009). Instead, it helps in creating a deeper reconciliation of the members to the demands of the group. Nakane thus hence to elaborate the structural features of the vertical society which characterizes the Japanese society. Her analysis underpins the Japanese society through the social-structural realism. 

The book identifies that the social structure of the Japanese society reduces an individual’s sense of self by getting the identity of the group. Although the group has no specific identity, members give their identity to it hence obtaining the self of the group. When the “non-self” of the group encounters the “self” of the members, a kind of energy and identity to the group is created (Nakane, 1970). In the Japanese society, this energy does not only act as a group identity through which individuals identify themselves but also acts as an internal force that affects and controls the society as well as the lives of the individuals. Due to this connection, Nakane states that Japanese show a lot of loyalty to their groups and are affected by a high sense of guilt and shame when they fail to meet the expectations and demands of other group members. 

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In this sense, Nakane portrays Japanese society as a community held by a strong bond of togetherness, harmony, conformity, and uniformity. The social structural arrangement of the society through the spheres of a frame society connotes there does not exist the separation of objects and subjects. This implies that the Japanese do not recognize the existence of transcendent and absolute being among them which then eliminates the perception of individualism (Smith, 2009). The Japanese frame society, therefore, does not establish centers of human cognition such as ego and individuality with its social structure. This further helps to solidify the value placed by the Japanese people on uniformity and harmony which then promote the strong sense of cohesiveness among them. 

Personal Position

Japanese Society depicts a configuration of the contemporary social life in Japan as presented by Nakare. This goes a long way in illuminating the social spheres of the Japanese society. Being a social anthropologist, Nakane applied the methods used to study society to examine her society thus achieving the goal of developing a clear structural image of the contemporary social life in Japan. Most importantly, her book synthesizes the main distinguishing feature in Japanese social life (Nakane, 1970). To substantiate her categorization of the Japanese society as a vertical society based on the formation and identification of individuals regarding frames, she draws random evidence from different communities in Japan. 

These social-based communities found in the contemporary Japanese society include individual households, village communities, political parties, religious communities, intellectual groups, education institutions, government organizations, and industrial enterprises. Despite the broad scope and the varied fields which these groups belong to, Nakane narrows her analysis down by concentrating on interpersonal relations and individual behavior. This helps her to identify the structural tendencies and the group organization which forms the base and dominates the important aspect of the group development. 

Nakane succeeds is demonstrating the social-structural arrangement of the Japanese society by drawing on a comparative analysis with other different Asian communities such as the Indian castes. This shows the difference between the attribute-based horizontal societies and the frame based vertical societies such as the Japanese society. Being a social anthropologist, trying to examine her society through the facets used in studying other communities gives her a deeper understanding of the Japanese through a social-structural perspective (Smith, 2009). She identifies that the group identity established in Japan as a vertical society is characteristic of a frame society which practices a lot of antagonism against outsiders. This can explain why Japanese express a great sense of coldness towards strangers and outsiders.

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Similarly, her principle of vertical society which forms the basis of the book supports why Japanese depends on intuitions which include favor, personal preferences, and impression to get participation. It also depicts that the Japanese society depends on a one-to-one social mechanism to develop vertical human relationships as it is characteristic of the frame society (Smith, 2009). In this sense, the vertical nature of human relationships is carried within the Japanese society ranging from the microstructures in the social frames to the macrostructures. Collectively, Nakane sheds enough light on showing how Japanese behave and why they behave so. This provides a deeper understanding of the Japanese society which is important in appreciating the unique features of the society.

Conclusively, Chie Nakane’s Japanese Society is a fascinating book that provides great insight into the development of the Japanese social structure. Anyone with interest in the understanding of the Japanese society and how it is different from the Western culture can gain substantially from the book. Ranging from the social rigidity, company loyalty, to hardworking are some of the perceptions enshrined in the Western thinking of the Japanese. However, Japanese Society provides an interesting background that explains the behavior of the Japanese as compared to other societies from a social structural perspective of a renowned Japanese social anthropologist. 

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  1. Hendry, J. (1989). An interview with Chie Nakane, Current Anthropology, 30(5), 643-649.
  2. Nakane, C. (1970). Japanese society. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. 
  3. Smith, R. J. (2009). Ethnology: Japanese Society. American Anthropologist, 73(6), 1318-1319. 
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