Japanese Traditional values behind political interests in the Information Era

Makoto Nakada


What I’d like to discuss in this paper submitted for ETHICOM 2007 is about something behind Japanese attitudes towards politics as well as interests in other dominant social problems in Japan. I want to call this something ‘Seken’. Seken is a Japanese term and refers to traditional, old, and indigenous aspects of Japanese culture and society. ‘Se’ means ‘this world’ and ‘ken’ means ‘between’, therefore ‘Seken’ means the ‘Between World’, i.e. this world between heaven and the vulgar earth or the world between gods and people or the world between me and the others.

In a different way, Seken is a shared imaginative world of meanings that consists of morals, social ethics, criteria of value judgements, common senses, aims of life, desirable behaviours, shared illusions, shared myths and the like. One of the most remarkable characteristics of Seken is that Seken has its long history in Japanese culture and that parts of Seken-related meanings derive from Buddhism, Confucianism, Shinto, Bushido (moral and ethics of Samurai), traditional views on nature, orientation to solidarity and so on.

I believe that the important points of my discussions on ‘Seken’ mainly lie in the ways of grasping or understanding Seken as a set of meanings and also in the empirical methods used to examine the concrete contents of Seken as a set of meanings.

In fact, through a set of our empirical researches continuously conducted for more than a decade in Japan, I or we, my colleagues in the research groups could find many interesting facts regarding Seken .

First, we found that Seken or Seken-related meanings still remain actively within the minds of Japanese people living in the so-called ‘Information Era’(Table 1).

Second, people’s attitudes towards dominant social problems including political problems are closely related with Seken-related meanings which include old or somewhat irrational values or ethics (Table 2).

Third, while Seken-related meanings are tightly associated with people’s attitudes towards political problems, people’s ways of life or ways of views mainly related with the Internet such as ‘length of usage of the Internet per week’, ‘evaluation of the Internet as sources of information in general’, ‘interests in diffusion of the Internet and information technology’ turned out to have no (statistical) relations with people’s attitudes political problems (Table 2).

Table1. Sympathy with Seken-related meanings

1995G 2000G 2002G 2003G 2005G 2005S 2006G
Distance from Nature 73.6% 82.6 79.0 82.2 74.5 78.2
Honest poverty 83.7 81.5 84.4 80.3 82.6 80.8 83.2
Destiny 84.4 79.0 77.9 76.0 80.8 75.2 81.6
Denial of natural science 88.5 88.3 90.7 88.7 89.8 90.5 89.6
Criticism of selfishness 85.5 88.3 90.0 90.3 84.8 86.5 84.2
Powerlessness 71.9 64.8 69.2 62.0 62.4 52.3 60.8
Superficial cheerfulness 73.3 65.6 70.8 62.7 60.4 57.0 60.4
Belief in kindness 68.1 73.1 71.5 73.8 73.7 76.4
Scourge of heaven 62.7 49.5 55.0

1) Table 1 shows the percentages of the respondents who said “agree or somewhat agree” to Seken -related statements. These statements are such as: “Within our modern lifestyles, people have become too distant from nature”(Distance from nature); “People will become corrupt if they become too rich”(Honest poverty); “People have a certain destiny, no matter what form it takes”(Destiny); “In our world, there are a number of things that cannot be explained by science”(Denial of natural science); “There are too many people in developed countries (or Japan) today who are concerned only with themselves” (Criticism of selfishness ); “In today’s world, people are helpless if they are (individually) themselves” (Powerlessness); “In today’s world, what seems cheerful and enjoyable is really only superficial” (Superficial cheerfulness); “Doing your best for other people is good for you” (Belief in kindness); “The frequent occurrence of natural disasters is due to scourge of heaven” (Scourge of heaven).

2) ‘1995G’, ‘2000G’, ‘2002G’, ‘2003G’,’2005G’, ‘2005S’ and ‘2006G’are the researches conducted by the author and his colleagues.

Table 2. Relations between ‘political attitudes’ and ‘ways of life concerning usage of the Internet or ways of views on the Internet’ as well as ‘Seken-related meanings’ (2005G research)

Negative political attitudes Positive political attitudes
length of usage of the Internet per week ns ns
Evaluation of the Internet as sources of information in general ns ns
Interests in diffusion of the Internet and information technology ns ns
Experiences of reading matters of personal life shown on the Internet ns ns
Sympathy with ‘Distance from nature’ ns ns
Sympathy with ‘Honest poverty’ ns .229**
Sympathy with ‘Denial of natural science’ ns .189**
Sympathy with ‘Virtue fulfilled by accomplishment of one’s task or calling’ ns .196**
Sympathy with ‘Destiny’ ns .103*

1) The figures in this table show correlation coefficients between ‘political

attitudes’ and ‘ways of life concerning usage of the Internet or ways of views on the Internet’ as well as ‘Seken-related meanings.’

2) **=p<0.01, *=p<0.05, ns= non (statistically) significant. If we combine these different but at the same time inner-related findings gained through our researches, we can probably surface some crucial conclusions or assumptions which we should depend upon when we try to understand the meanings of the Internet or other major information technologies in our life; The meanings of the Internet, or those of other information technologies as well as those of technologies in general (at least technologies closely related to our daily life, food, energy, environment and so on)can not be separated from a set of meanings called ‘Seken.’(In fact, we could find that the meanings of technologies related with atomic energy plants, safety of food are part of Seken-related meanings.) In spite of the expectancy of the majority of scholars in the modernized minds, the meanings of technologies as well as natural science can’t be divided from our ‘Lebenswelt( life world)’ or ontological ways of our life. ; This is the central point of the presuppositions of discussions by Husserl, Heidegger and Gadamer as well. In my( the author’s ) own interpretation, Seken means a sort of ‘Lebenswelt’ for Japanese people in several crucial ways.