Wednesday, October 17, 2007

五人組制度(The 5 person group system)- Japan, 1600-1860

When I first started dating Maki one big cross-cultural problem that we ran into (we had several!) was how we treated "insiders" and "outsiders". I naturally treated her and my family generally better than others. She naturally treated acquaintances and unknown people better than me or her family. This was the cause of more than one "enlivened" conversation!

Coming from America I had the idea that my first allegiance and investment was to my close friends and family. Maki thought that since her family and close friends were always there for her, she could be real around her close friends and family, but around others she needed to be extra nice and polite. Usually people in Japan don't tell outsiders what they are really thinking, so she wanted to be extra sensitive to avoid problems with those on the outside. This idea always frustrated me until we slowly began to meet somewhere in the middle and realized that both cultures had good and bad points in this area. - We should love and respect all people all of the time!

Then I learned more about why this culture developed in Japan.

When Christianity first came into Japan it was adopted by many top leaders. Kyoto, for example was a hot-bed of Christian activity and the church experienced great growth. Then, very quickly, Japan began to see Christianity as an imperialistic threat, just as it had been in the Philippines. For the next 300 years or so, Christianity was brutally and completely eradicated from Japan. A more closed country the world has never known!

In addition to other very shrewd ways of finding Christians (like the "fumie" - a picture of Jesus that EVERYONE had to step on and renounce Christ as they did), for over 260 years, EVERY family was put into groups of 5 families to monitor Christians. If in one family there was found to be a Christian without the others snitching, then all 5 families would be killed! This was called: 連帯責任(rentai sekinin) meaning, "united responsibility." (If there is one person who gets in trouble, the whole group is responsible because they didn't help fix it.)

During this "Go-nin-gumi-seido" (5 person group system) Sometimes problems arose and one family or person began to not like another family. Sometimes people would falsely report a family in their group as being Christians. Therefore, it was very important to treat outside people very politely and nicely, even better than members of your own family.

People are still pressured today to be a part of the neighborhood group that cleans the neighborhood area (for example) and demands a fee to be a member. Instead of death, the fear of being gossiped about or being regarded as a "breaker of harmony" still looms large! People are shamed therefore into making a good face to outsiders. Outsiders, at least as an outward show, receive better treatment than insiders.

Please pray for Maki and I to do more than show a good face! Pray that we have God's true love for outsiders.


Jamie said...

久しぶり!Hey brother, enjoy your blog and thought I would touch base with you. My wife Jamie and I and our son Jones are moving to Japan in January so we'll have to hook up!

I was wondering where did you learn about this "Go-nin-gumi-seido?" It was really interesting. Just wondering about your resources, I'd like to hear or read more about it.

Press on! We appreciate your life in Japan!

bryan o'donnell
(oh, and Noah is CUTE!)

Mark and Maki said...

Hey Brian,
久しぶりindeed! Great to hear that you will be coming back to Japan!! Where will you be at? I'd love to hook up with you if possible.

I learned about the "Go-nin-gumi-seido" through some friends who had been learning about it in their college class. I guess most Japanese are fairly familiar with the history on it. Here is one web-page that I found that talks about it:

If you just type in "goningumi" and "Christian" into google, you should get several pages to choose from. Sorry I can't give you a book or anything on it!
I'd like to learn more about it myself.

By the way, please e-mail me if you can!