This is a follow-up to an earlier social commentary post on the subject of Japanese stoicism in the face of the disaster.

In that post, I wrote that a key to understanding Japanese behaviour is their concern for others: what others think and the effect on others of one’s own personal behaviour.

Because of this set of values, the Japanese consider people who act on their own without consulting others as immature, childish, selfish. On the other hand, Westerners tend to see the Japanese as meek, docile, stupidly obedient to authority.  It is very difficult for Westerners and Japanese to find a middle ground on this subject.

The following opinion written by a Japanese is about those foreigners who fled Japan soon after the earthquake/tsunami/nuclear crisis:

“Japanese people are quite forgiving and many have a “foreigner complex” whereby we don’t expect the foreigners to do simple things like learn the Japanese language. We easily forgive them when they do not understand or fit in so well. It’s even because many Japanese people themselves think that Japan has so many customs and rules that it is difficult for even us to know what to do in many cases. But, in our case, when we don’t know, as japanese it is common sense that we consult each other and, in Japan, team work is what matters. A Japanese person would never flee when others in their family are in danger. Take, for example the Fukushima 50. That the foreigners fled instantly, before any consultations or warnings from the government, show us that they don’t care about the group so they do not intend to be a part of Japanese society…  That’s okay. Hence, all the people I talked to were of the opinion that foreigners are just that; We can’t expect them to be responsible to anyone except themselves. Most of them certainly do not understand what the responsibility to us (Japanese) means

via Marketing Japan.

Mutual understanding is difficult, perhaps an impossible dream. I am reminded of Kipling’s lines:

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;

(From “The Ballad of East and West”. Kipling spent his early childhood in India before moving to England to complete his schooling, and was intimate with both Indian and British culture.)

Rudyard Kipling, poet, author of "The Ballad of East and West"