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Session 14: Asian Values Study: A Preliminary Report

Organizer and Chair: Robert Kisala, Nanzan University

Discussant: Loek Halman, Tilburg University

Despite a great deal of discussion on "Asian values," little comparative research has been done to identify these values qualitatively. To fill this gap, an international group of five researchers working in Japan has undertaken to adapt the European Values Study for use in Japan and other Asian countries. This panel will discuss preliminary results of a survey taken to test the instrument and evaluate its usefulness.

The European Values Study is a comprehensive survey with over 400 items on religious, work, political, and family values first conducted in Western Europe in 1981, since repeated every nine years to provide longitudinal data. The quality of the results of the survey has been universally recognized, and the survey instrument has been adapted for use in several other studies. In 1996 a working group of young researchers from Japan, the Philippines, and the United States was formed to develop a survey instrument comparable to the European study for use in Asia. While preserving many of the same items as the European study, new questions were added to test for Asia-specific values. The survey instrument was tested on a random sample of 300 respondents in Tokyo and Osaka in April 1998. The results of this survey will be presented by the members of the Japan working group, and a member of the European Values Group has been invited as discussant, to aid in the evaluation of the results and provide a comparative perspective.

Japanese Values Reexamined

Mamoru Yamada, Tokyo Foreign Language University

Volumes have been written concerning the values that underpin Japanese society. In pointing out characteristic Japanese values, such traits as authoritarianism, ‘on’ and ‘giri’ (obligation), particularism, group orientation, or relationship orientation have been suggested. Many of these have been identified as traditional values that will inevitably decline as a result of the process of rationalization, and, indeed, they are often not held in high regard in contemporary Western societies. However, the common supposition is that these values retain their respect in Japan and other Asian societies.

The question needs to be raised as to whether these values do, in fact, remain strong and widely shared in contemporary Japanese society. Based on results gathered from a survey conducted in Japan in April 1998 as a pre-test of the Asian Values Study, the presence of these values will be reexamined. Specifically we will query the extent to which values identified as characteristic of Japanese society maintain their currency in contemporary society; the relationship between traditional values and rational values; and whether traditional values are merely premodern, or to what extent they exhibit modern and postmodern characteristics. In short, we will be asking just how "Japanese" are the Japanese, both in terms of maintaining what have been identified as traditional values as well as in terms of preserving a unique cultural identity in the face of the modernization process.

Post-Bubble Work Values in Japan

Felipe Muncada, Nanzan University

Japan has been much admired for the work ethic that transformed a war-devastated country into the second biggest economy in the world. Numerous studies have been made on the Japanese values that produced this success. However, in recent years the situation has changed drastically; the economic bubble has burst, and the Japanese economy—as is true of many other Asian economies—is in serious trouble.

Previous studies on Japanese work values reflected favorable economic conditions. How and to what extent will these values change in more troubled times? A survey conducted in April 1998 by an international group of researchers studying Asian values offers a unique opportunity to look at changes in work values in unstable economic situations. Furthermore, the Asian Values Study has adapted some items from the European Values Study, allowing for cross-cultural comparison of work values.

The April 1998 survey explored attitudes regarding decision-making, fairness, responsibility, obedience to rules, independence at work, and job fulfillment. Preliminary analysis of these indicators reveals less change in work values than might be expected in the present uncertain economic environment. Through an examination of these finding and a comparison with previous results obtained from the European study, an attempt will be made to explain the apparent persistence of values in times of change.

Secularization and Religious Values in Japan

Mikiko Nagai, Kokugakuin University

Postwar surveys on religious consciousness in Japan have consistently indicated a low level of religious affiliation combined with a high level of participation in religious practices. This provides a stark contrast with the situation in Europe, with its comparatively high membership numbers but low rate of participation, indicating that patterns of secularization are significantly different in the two regions.

Previous Japanese surveys have been country-specific and little attempt has been made to use items that could yield directly comparable results with surveys outside of Japan. In close cooperation with the European Values Group—now preparing the instrument for the third European Values Study to be conducted in 1999—an international group of researchers working in Japan has adapted the items in the European survey in order to test religious consciousness in Japan. The results of a test survey conducted in Japan in April 1998 indicate a high level of distrust for religion as an institution, which could be the key to understanding patterns of religious affiliation and participation in that country. This thesis will be tested and its implications for evaluating secularization theory will be explored. In addition, comparison with the results of the previous European surveys (1981, 1990) regarding public and private morality and other religious scales will be introduced.

Contemporary Japanese Values on Marriage and Family

Tetsushi Fujimoto, Nanzan University

The institutions of marriage and family in Japan continue to be influenced by traditional values as well as being shaped by the demands of employment in corporate society. On the one hand, the family is one of the domains of social life on which Japanese people have longed placed importance, and family values have been generally slow to change despite the dramatic postwar transformation of family structures in Japan. On the other hand, economic obligations and the everyday pressures of work-life have prevented a number of Japanese people from establishing meaningful family relationships. These disparities between people’s values and the reality in their life may yet cause problems among Japanese families.

In this paper, I summarize some of the results of our test survey items on family values in Japan, focusing on respondents’ attitudes towards marital relationships, parenthood, and women’s social roles. The results show that although the vast majority of respondents agree that it is important that a husband and wife are mutually faithful, respect each other, and spend time together, more than 60% of the respondents disagree with the proposition that a husband and wife should share similar religious and political values to sustain a happy marriage. Results also suggest that the value placed on having children is gradually changing among the Japanese. More than 45% of respondents disagreed with the statement that children are necessary for women and men to lead a happy life. In these and other areas, continuity and change in Japanese family values will be discussed.