Embodying Japan: Cultures of Sport, Beauty, and Medicine 2017

Contrast of ideals: Dezomeshiki Pride and Hikkikomori

      It isn’t a surprise that the contrast of such a cohesive and extremely adept unit as firefighters in comparison with Hikkikomori or shut in persons draws attention to the attitude of loyalty in Japan. Above I have a video of the 2014 Dezomeshiki or New Years’ Fire Review, which firefighters have been performing since the Edo period (Wong 1). These reviews are put on by the local fire departments, and apart from the public spectacle of seeing the fireman’s dress uniforms and acrobatics, the focus of the review is to draw attention to fire safety each year (Wong 1). This function appeals to the Nation State ideal of keeping the population informed so that they can regulate their own communities by maintaining fire prevention standards, to a degree. The firemen of Edo idolized loyalty in practice for personal reasons of reputation, group honor and economic benefits but also as a function of their profession (Wills 150). In this video you will see modern firefighters assist the single fireman performing acrobatics on a nearly barren ladder. I haven’t come across an account of female firefighters performing this act, nor any account that they were denied the opportunity to do so. However, the firefighter culture accounts of bravado and masculine narratives in tattooing, fighting, and constant competition leads me to believe this is one of the ideals that sets the bar slightly higher in terms of masculine gender roles. The salaryman ideal is not the exact same as the fireman’s ideal to be sure, but demonstrations like this one represent pressures on those who are fixated on that aspect of spectacle or appearance of masculinity, and react to it adversely.
      In the situation of Hikkikomori, there is an extreme response to the overbearing nature of cohesiveness in societal groups in which individuals feel pressure to perform beyond their comfortable or possible skill set. Loyalty is prized very highly, but is also closely contingent on the value that an actor has on the guild or group. If the person in question is unable to perform in the job, skill set, or role, they get disheartened and shut themselves in their immediate living areas, coming out only for the essentials. Whereas in a guild like the firefighters’, training, ladder drill, and all manner of classes and meetings are necessary to have the job alone. Also, there are social obligations for being inducted into the culture that represent hierarchy and brotherhood such as drinking culture, management culture and mentoring relationships to negotiate. In response to this, an average person will have to weigh the pros and cons of getting fully involved in a guild or community and develop their own niche of selfhood and retreat within that niche. The average person also recognizes that in order to accomplish this personal niche, they will have to deny parts of the collective that will not make their bond as strong or that they risk alienating themselves or disappointing their peers. This concept is a measured risk and the spectacle  becomes a motivational factor that is more of an ideal instead of a cogent force, brow-beating them to be superhuman.
       I surmise that Hikkikomori have little to no context of the unifying element in the collectivist concept in terms of empowerment; they witness the spectacle and have little to no mental presence as to the failure, revision and human characteristics behind making the spectacle. Not that they don’t know or couldn’t understand the process of achieving the collective ideals of strength or unity; their presence of mind is saturated in the end state of success, without as much recourse of failure as their peers. Collectivism dilutes individual success but also allows the individual to take part in greater successes; this concept can also divide the impact of a failure considerably when a functional guild takes the necessary measures to strengthen its weak points. That a guild would strengthen the weakened element and not cut it off completely is also, unfortunately, an ideal situation that could have contributed to Hikkikomori culture. In terms of the Nation State, the immediate results or success of the collectivist organizations drowns out the past revisions they have had to make to be a strong organization. For example, Edo’s officials had to have a reform of the firefighting guilds in 1730 because of the concerns over leadership and arson on the fringes of the guilds (Wills 153). The idolization of the masculine identity in Japan is still overdone in present times as well, however there is an overwhelming emphasis on the process of actualizing these ideals for the nation, or any number of reasons, which is why failure becomes such a big deal, and why the reaction to this thought process is so extreme in both directions.

Works Cited

Wills, S. (2010). Fires and fight: Urban conflagration, governance, and society in edo-tokyo, 1657–1890 (Order No. 3448003). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (858611493). Retrieved fromhttp://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.libproxy.lib.unc.edu/docview/858611493?accountid=14244

Wong, Henry. " Firefighters to do acrobatics as part of safety awareness campaign." The Japan Times [Tokyo] January 6, 2012.

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