That is a question examined in “It’s All About Me: Have Today’s Japanese Lost Their Empathy?,” an article published in Sunday’s Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan’s largest circulating newspaper. We have excerpted portions of the article below.
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There is widespread concern today that traditional Japanese modes of behavior and thought are breaking down.
The government’s Education Rebuilding Council considers the collapse of ethical standards among students to be one of the biggest problems facing the country. In response, it is likely to propose that ethics be taught as a regular subject at school.
However, traditional mores are faltering in other ways, too, and the public has various opinions on how to rebuild them. In this article we look at some examples of moral decline, as well as people’s efforts to rebuild the high ethical standards that they feel have been lost.
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Pianist Izumi Tateno, 70, had lived in Finland for years. But he returned to Japan for the first time in 40 years after suffering a stroke in 2002. He came back to Tokyo for rehabilitation, but was shocked by the changes to the megalopolis.
When he walks along a crowded Tokyo street, the pianist finds that he is never offered help, despite his obvious difficulty moving his right leg, which was partially paralyzed due to the stroke.
Most Tokyoites have headphones clamped over their ears, he notices, as if trying to build barriers around themselves as they listen to their favorite music.
“Tokyo has become a society where emotional ties between people are very weak,” Tateno said.
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The Japanese once were said to hold altruism in high regard, but that may no longer be the case.
Yoshimasa Nakazato, professor emeritus at Toyo University, has been researching altruism among the Japanese.
In one of his experiments, Nakazato, a social psychologist, has measured the degree of compassion for others by getting primary school students to play a game, then studying how winners used the game chips they gained.
Reviewing the records of such experiments going back to the mid-1980s, he says 80 percent of winning students used to give some of the chips that they won to the losers. However, after the late 1980s, the percentage suddenly dropped to the 40 percent level.
“My concern in those days was that our society would become a very brutal place in the future if we left such problems unattended–and I see signs that this is coming true,” Nakazato warns.
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To read the rest of the article, click here. For other writings on The Situationist that examine empathy, see “March Madness” and “The Young and the Lucky. And, for a sample of postings looking at situational influences on empathy or compassion, see “Too Many To Care,” or “Situational Sources of Evil, Part III.” And, for a sample of posts discussing how situation influences ethics, see “Industry-Funded Research,” “On the Ethical Obligations of Lawyers” and “Why Do Lawyers Acquiesce in Their Clients’ Misconduct, Part I and Part II.”