Japanese Privacy

August 13th, 2008

Japanese have an odd sense of privacy.

Basically, from what I can tell, it’s that any unauthorized reproduction of any information that concerns a person is, in itself, an invasion of privacy.  That seems reasonable, at first glance.  But I’m talking ANY reproduction of information concerning someone.  Google recently released Street View (which shows actual photographs of streets) for a few Japanese cities, and complaints are already going up.  The contention seems to be that people’s houses are shown, and also people in the streets are shown.

My understanding of “privacy” is that, by its very nature, it is something that does not happen in “public”.  If you’re doing something out in the middle of the street, it isn’t private.  If you can see your house by walking down a public street, your house isn’t private.  But that doesn’t seem to be the prevailing approach in Japan.

The arguments I’ve heard against Google Streetview are that “Japan is small, and people live close together, and therefore it’s a long-standing aspect of Japanese culture that things which normally wouldn’t be private in other countries are considered private”.  But, honestly, that sounds like an ad hoc hypothesis.  Everything I’ve learned about the Japan of 30, 40, 50 years ago indicates that this type of thing wouldn’t have been a problem back then, despite the fact that Japan was small back then, too, and people lived close together, then, too.

It’s weird.  There are things (in any country) which stay the same yet which everyone is convinced are changing (you hear ALL THE TIME about how Japan has become so unsafe, and getting worse every year, when in reality crime has been dropping for several years now), and there are things which are changing which everyone maintains have always been that way (“We have always thought that even looking at a person’s house is an invasion of privacy.  And we’ve always been at war with Eurasia”).

2 Responses to “Japanese Privacy”

  1. Perry BEard Says:

    You probably don’t remember me, but we were fellow anime geeks in junior high but at different schools in different school districts. We met at a comic convention in the 6th grade. Both big into the Robotech thing and all. I bought the DVDs of that show last month and have been sharing them with my 8 year old daughter. It got me to thinking about all the friends I found that were fellow otaku when I was 12. Anyway, I decided to wander the internet the past few days trying to track down as many childhood pals as possible and touch base with them. That’s how I found you. Write me back if you have a clue who I am.

    Perry Beard
    Debate Coach
    Seven Lakes HS – Katy, TX

  2. bugbread Says:

    Hey, Perry,

    Yeah, I totally remember you. In the “I saw the name and immediately knew who you were, before I even read any of your comment” sense of totally remember. Though the one thing I couldn’t remember is why we knew eachother. I thought maybe it was from those anime clubs at that pizza place.

    So, you’re a teacher of some sort? Cool. What happened to your anime thing? Dunno if you’ve read my archives (in fact, I don’t know if I even mentioned it), but my interest in anime turned into an interest in Japan, and then, oddly, the anime otaku part completely disappeared, and I was just left with the interest in Japan part. Can’t even remember the last anime I saw. Er, ok, Howl’s Moving Castle, but other than Miyazaki stuff, I haven’t seen anything in years.

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