Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Alienization of the Japanese people

I can fully understand how Japan is perceived as an exotic country, especially from the viewpoint of a non-Asian country, and it's of course true that there are some interesting peculiarities in Japanese customs and culture. However, if given some thought, I'm sure that this is true for most cultures, although the international exposure of local oddities is probably much lower than for the Japanese.

But at the heart of it all, Japanese are people like any other once you get through the cultural barriers. This might be easier said than done since it is difficult without strong knowledge of the Japanese language. Something that I do find extremely annoying though is when people, either knowingly or due to ignorance, throws gasoline onto the fire to reinforce how alien and different the Japanese are from everyone else in the world...
Of course, in the world of business and corporate stupidity, due to trying to compress everything into an executive summary that ends up saying nothing at all, this can take pretty interesting forms.

In a recent Japanese healthcare market report from a US company I looked through in work, I found the below description on Japanese patients and their views versus physicians:

"The situation is sustained by the Japanese beliefs in conforming and an unwillingness to question seniority and/or implied authority. The honorific term for a medical doctor, “sensei”, is the same as that used for a teacher, and presumes that as the trained expert, the doctor knows best. Patients are extremely unlikely to dare to question the treatment their physician has decided upon. In many cases, similarly, the doctor feels under no obligation to explain even the basics of the treatment or regime they are prescribing, and may not discuss possible side effects." .
Like most things like this, the text takes a basis from reality, although an outdated one (not taking into account that Japan, Japanese people and the culture has changed in the last ~15 years), a misunderstanding of the word "sensei" (very common and it's not as fantastic to be called a "sensei" as some people might think, you could be the expert in building Gundam models and be sure to find someone that is impressed enough that they label you a sensei) and simplifies thing into pure stupidity.

My favorite part is how the text boldly states that “(The Japanese patients) presumes that as the trained expert, the doctor knows best”. I wonder how society works outside Japan if people do not presume that a trained expert knows best? In the West, when riding an airplane, does this mean that all the passengers question that the pilot knows best? Just because he/she is a trained expert it doesn’t mean that that persons judgement should be trusted?

Don't get me wrong, I don't have any problems with people poking fun at some of the more interesting oddities of Japanese culture (or Swedish for that matter, plenty of material there too), but these broad generalizations based on outdated stereotypes that I sometimes come across in business oriented material really annoys me.


Anonymous said...

Doctors in America get sued a lot, so I guess it's not so common to completely trust them anymore... always get a second opinion!

William said...

As Anonymous said, trusting your doctor is getting to be a lot less common in America. I, personally, don't trust them at all. I've been to too many quacks that gave me back info. Just getting through med school isn't a guarantee that they know what they're doing any more.

My father also questions his doctors. He's been through about 1 a year lately because they just don't -care- any more. They all try to give him a pill and get him to go away, instead of actually treating him. Anytime he asks questions they act like he's grown a second head.

And any half-way intelligent person (in America, at least) who is given advice by their doctor that seems stupid would question it, probably by getting a second opinion. That report is saying that the Japanese have an innate trust of experts and don't do that questioning. They should.

Mr. Salaryman said...

Well to begin with, going to get a second opinion is not at all unusual in Japan at this day and age. This is what I meant saying that the article is based on outdated information to begin with.

But to whom do you go for a second opinion? I would assume that you go see ... ... ... a medical doctor, because you want another trained expert to look at it (because I assume that you put some level of faith in someone being a trained expert). If you would go to a pilot to get advice on that bladder infection I rest my case.

Japan has a huge market of private clinics; dependant on patients coming in to keep the business going. If you are not satisfied with the treatment or reception, it's extremely easy to just go to another clinic until you find a trained expert you trust, and as a patient, you might even read up on the subject to have a discussion with the doctor on the treatment regime.

Mind you, I've been working in the Japanese healthcare market profesisonaly for 10 years, talked to hundreds of doctors in work and gone to a clinic privately for a bunch of reasons many times and the times that I have not been happy with the reception and or treatment, I make sure to never go back. This is not only me who thinks this way, I would say most Japanese under the age of 60 does.

Also, you get quite detailed information on the treatment regiment and drugs that you are given, like I said, the information is outdated.

If you have any questions, just call me "sensei" and I'll be happy to give you my trained expert opinion in further detail ;)

Andy said...

I really dislike sweeping statements suggesting that Japanese - or any people for that matter - are predisposed to do this, that or the other. The phrase "cultural difference" is another pet hate of mine: a lot of people in my company use it as a knee-jerk defence against any kind of criticism (constructive criticism at that!).

Really like your blog, by the way. The experiences you describe in your posts often sound eerily similar to ones that I've had!

RMilner said...

US citizens are used to questioning their doctors because of paying such large bills.

Mr. Salaryman said...

Andy - Yep, I agree completely and then put in an "executive summary" context it just ups the stupididity, glad to hear you like the blog!

Rmnilner - That does make sense, can't say that I'm an expert in how the US system works though...

nevil said...

Speaking of reports, here's a Swedish one: "eHealth and Patient-Centered Care
Processes in Japan: Pre-Study"

nevil said...

A shorter link seems to be better:

Related Posts with Thumbnails