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Elsewhere in the Japan Times

So while I was recently checking a few random stories on The Japan Times, I also spied the following:

How do you feel about the Narita incident and "guinea pig" foreigners?

This is one of those "ask people in the street" polls; the topic refers to instances of police unfairly targeting foreigners as targets for random security checks, placement of drugs in passengers' luggage for airport security tests, etc.

Among the responses are normal, intelligent thoughts like:

Obviously it's not acceptable to make people guinea pigs, especially if its an illegal act. You start wondering after you are targeted, "Why me? Why was I chosen?"

Then again, there's the young fellow from the UK who says:

There's a tendency for the Japanese to not communicate what they're doing. When I have to give a presentation, I'm not told what to do until the last minute. It doesn't help with confidence.

I do hope this fellow isn't taking his own little work experience and projecting it onto "the Japanese". That would be really dumb. But with only one sentence from him, we have to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that his lone quote may be far out of context.

Then there's another UK respondent:

Planting evidence is wrong, but I agree with the Japanese being strict on foreigners. They want to keep the country fairly homogeneous and I agree with it, even though I'm a foreigner.

Huh? That's just wacked. "Keep the country fairly homogenous" – whatever the hell that means – doesn't even fit the topic.

Most problematic of all, a 20-year old French respondent:

Gaijin are the only ones who sometimes try to not pay, or don't respect the system like Japanese do. So the Japanese might have reason to believe foreigners could be more suspicious.

Let's hope something was seriously lost in the translation of a French comment to English. The only other explanation would be stupidity off the Richter scale.   

Society's role in Kato's crime

This article purports to look into the mind of the killer behind the recent rampage in Akihabara.  

The incident, in many ways, highlights the extent to which the notion of "seken" (the society, the people one deals with) continues to govern peoples' lives in Japan.

Okay... but here's the problem. The article goes on in a similar vein, about the nature of "Japanese society" and how that may have contributed to the killer's madness – but is it all actually different from the world elsewhere – say, yet another nutcase "going postal" in the US? If so, how do we know it's different?

To address the core issues, a mental health expert

feels that Japan will eventually need to undergo an "individualist revolution," where people will assert themselves instead of looking to others to validate their existence. "Up to now, everyone in Japan could be interdependent — you could count on your parents and your superiors. These days, nobody will take care of you, so you have to be independent." 

Japan needs more "individualism"? That's the core value of the US, or so the culturologists are always telling us – and yet, the US is notorious for murder rampages like Kato's. (What's more, it's not at all uncommon for culturologists to blame such tragedies on "Western individualism"). How exactly is this supposed to help Japan?

I'm not setting out to say the experts quoted in the article, or the writer, are wrong. What I want to point out is that culturology, as exemplified by this article, so often assumes "cultural differences" with nothing to back their existence beyond assertion. And as in the above example, in the attempt to explain what isn't necessarily explainable, culturology freely dispenses mutually contradictory assertions. 

It would be nice for articles like the above to admit that, while it may be useful to sort through the hypotheses, the most certain knowledge we have about Kato's intentions is that we don't know why he did it

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