The Situationist

The Loss of Empathy in Japan?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 21, 2007

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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 offeTokyo Rush Hourred 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.

* * *

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.

Japanese Children Playing GameReviewing 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.

* * *

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.”

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3 Responses to “The Loss of Empathy in Japan?”

  1. jill said

    I googled loss of empathy and found your site. I’ve been feeling very sad in America for the loss of empathy and diminishing of soul. I can see from this article that it may be a global problem. I’ve noticed in my own children who I loved and nurtured unconditionally, whom are now in their 30’s that there seems to be little empathy shown by them. It has been rather frightening to see them display so little interest in others problems.
    I had been wondering if this were a problem unique to my family and maybe some others, or if it was a cultural problem.
    This was a nice article. I was saddened that nobody offered to help the man who had had a stroke. I do understand more now, why older people lose interest in life. I think people close to them lose interest in them and the lack of community and support destines them to isolation and depression.

  2. Jude Moriarty said

    Once upon a time, when Westerners gave a thought about Japan, it was admiration of their family units, and their reverence for seniors, appreciated for their wisdom. No more! Japan regretfully has gone the way of global society. The only places you see empathy/ community – caring about one’s neighbor are the isolated tribal people.

    Life in these lands is simple, technology, cold and heartless, hasn’t hardened their hearts. Living in a world of perpetual war; where men use their genius, creativity, and vast sums of money to annihilate one another – is it any wonder that empathy was destroyed by napalm – cluster bombs – mines – etc.

    We are told that we are now “Global Citizens”; meaning that loyalty to ones community – or nation is now lost in a toxic stew of babel. The individual is merely a cog in the machine. He/She are nameless, faceless, and voiceless. These multi national corporations prove my point. These soulless creatures/ money changers claim no land – no loyalty or allegiance. MONEY – millions, billions, trillions is their holy grail.

    That and POWER – the one who dies with the most toys wins! War calls us ‘Collateral Damage’ – industry polluting entire towns calls us (dying of cancer etc) ‘Acceptable Risks’. We are non-combatants – consumers – victims – statistics – occupants – patients -gladiators – super stars – students – congregations – worker bees – voters – serial killers – gangs – traders – factory/ mill workers – travelers – pilgrims – ministers – dictators – clapping seals (State of the Union politicians) —-The Herd – Useless eaters – Immigrants – Insurgents – Warlords – Towel Heads – Sand N—–s – Vermin – Unemployed:

    A sea of nameless-faceless – powerless persons blowing each other up for Empire/ or robbing them blind and calling it global finance. Is it any wonder EMPATHY no longer exists. When you lose your reverence (abortion- partial birth infanticide – war -lack of medical care) for one part of life you lose it for all.

  3. [...] The Loss of Empathy in Japan? [...]

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