ENCOUNTERING THE EAST. CULTURAL DISTANCE, CLASHES OF PERCEPTIONS AND CONVERSATIONS ABOUT RELIGIONS IN JAPAN
Diana P. Petkova
ABSTRACT - This paper studies cultural distance and the ways, in which it can influence perceptions of cultures, people, social and psychological phenomena. There are two main foci in the present research. The first is the significant differences between the Japanese and Western conceptions of religion. And the second is the methodological challenges that can be experienced by non-Japanese researchers when they are confronted with the specific Japanese worldview. The study is based on the findings of 27 ethnographical interviews conducted in the Kansai region of Japan and registered on tapes. Although there is a common belief that Japanese are “non-religious”, “non-spiritual”, and “non-metaphysical”, on the basis of the interviews conducted this paper claims that Japanese religious identity exists and that it can be defined as a conscious or subconscious drive to the supra-natural. It can also be expressed in many different forms, such as bowing down, praying, meditating, chanting, contemplating, etc. However, the Japanese conceptions of religiousness have very little in common with the European or American concepts of religion. The Japanese worldview is based on synthesis, while the Western worldview is grounded on differentiation. In the clash of the two diametrically opposite perceptions misunderstandings and miscommunication can occur. Thus, for a long time researchers have read Japanese meanings through Western codes. In learning how to decipher local codes, new meanings start to emerge. In such a way, the reconciliation of the two conflicting perspectives brings higher level of knowledge and understanding of culture.
Keywords: Japan, Japanese culture, Japanese religions, cultural distance, perception, cross-cultural study, ethnographical interview