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    The small town writ large

    Bruce Bawer posts (27 June entry) about what looks like the Norwegian version of the Japanese proverb 出る釘は打たれる (deru kugi ha utareru: “The nail that sticks out gets pounded down”):

    Norwegians are brought up on the so-called “Jante Law” — the belief that there’s something morally suspect about excellence, achievement, superior knowledge or skills.

    The response? Sheer outrage. Parents and students walked out in protest at this appalling display of forskjellsbehandling (“differential treatment”). “It was unfair,” one mother thundered. Yes, she admitted, the students with good grades had worked hard — but many of the others had “also worked hard without achieving such good results.”

    Of course, it’s handled a little differently in Japan. Excellent grades in school are generally achieved through rigorous adherence to expectations, so being at the top of one’s class is itself a badge of conformity. Mediocrity in Japan is attained through lots of stressing out and exertion.

    4 Responses to “The small town writ large”

    1. Zak says:

      I find both the Japanese pounding down of nails that stick out and things like Jane’s Law pretty loathesome.

      So much so that I am going to go to great expense and effort to keep my kids out of the Japanese school system.

      Upon reading that article, though, I too couldn’t help but think that singling out kids with good grades at a graduation ceremony (with roses!) is also totally inappropriate.

      There are right and proper ways of drawing attention to those of us who are better than everyone else [:)], but the Norwegian ceremony sounded pretty over the top to me.

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      It’s a school, after all; I don’t know that singling out high academic performers is inappropriate. Doing it with roses strikes me as possibly not the best way, though. I agree with that. Maybe just a round of applause or something?

    3. JJM says:

      I have heard that in Japan you can be bullied for being too smart – much like in the US. But, also for being too athletic – is that true?

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      The general idea is that you’re allowed to excel if the group you belong to gets the glory. If it’s field day and you win the 880, the win goes to your school. If you make a discovery about blue lasers, the discovery is supposed to belong to your company, and it reaps the rewards. If you help the Japan team win a title in soccer, Japan looks good.

      If you want personal credit for your achievements (or even to achieve in your own way–Hidetoshi Nakata and Ichiro Suzuki have both remarked about the pressure in Japan to practice exactly as your coach says), then it’s an affront of sorts.

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