Class Stratification

The remarkable thing about the United States is that the top 1% earns a huge share of the national income and also an even higher amount of the nation’s wealth. There is a statistical ratio called the Gini Coefficient, which allows a country to be placed somewhere between 0 and 100 according to income inequality. A ranking of 0 would mean that everyone in the country had the same amount of income, while a ranking of 100 would mean that one person earns all the income. The table I found used household income, not individual income, and used data from the CIA in 2010. Sweden was at the lowest number, with a Gini of 23. The United States was ranked at #93 out of 133, at 45.0.  South Africa was the highest at 63.0. There is a hugely disproportionate distribution of wealth in our country, and although it might not be the worst, it’s close to it. The top ten percent of people own up to 94% of stocks, and 80% of non-home real estate. The financial wealth in figure 1 of the UCSC website shows that effectively, ten percent of people own the financial sector of the United States. This is a startling figure, and should be taken with a grain of salt, but the point is that very few control so much of the economy. With wealth comes power, and the super-rich can use their influence to buy politicians, influencing politics, deciding who runs the country and how they do it. People always talk about the 1% as a cutoff for the super rich, but the top .1 percent also has an even more concentrated amount of wealth, and could be in their own category concerning wealth and income.

Japanese Culture

I wanted to choose a culture that was very different from ours in the United States, because learning about vastly different cultures can often be thought provoking, and can give people a sense of the bigger picture.  One big component of Japanese society is saving “face.” Face can be considered honor or prestige, but is much broader than the way we use it here. It’s crucial to their society and is affected mostly by denying a request or being criticized or embarrassed. So when someone denies a request, it can be polite to say something like “it’s inconvenient” or “under consideration.” This might have a relation to the idea of harmony.

“Harmony is the guiding philosophy for the Japanese in family and business settings and in society as a whole.” Children in school learn how we are all dependent on one another, and are urged to try and act for the greater good, while trying to offer opposing facts in a polite manner. Working productively means working together, something that is reflected in personal and formal settings. I think they have a good point, although I have to stay objective when studying different cultures. Japan also has a hierarchy, and the oldest person in the group is always respected while the students refer to their peers as senior (senpai) or junior (kohai). When you are sitting down to eat, the elders and honorable guests are the first to start eating.

Japanese language is very different from English, and is spoken by 99% of the country! It’s the sixth most popular language in the world despite being scarce outside of the country. In the United States, almost 18% of people spoke another language in the year 2000. This number has probably grown since then, too.  Japanese puts more emphasis towards the pitch of words, unlike English which gives more emphasis to different syllables. A person also uses the family name first when being introduced, and their personal name second – another custom that might be tied to the stress on the universal matters rather than the individual ones.

Non verbal communication also varies, and staring someone in the eye is actually considered disrespectful, especially if they are your senior. There is even a book to help foreigners understand non verbal signs like scratching eyebrows or the back of heads. Greetings also vary, but foreigners are expected to shake hands because they probably don’t understand the subtleties involved with bowing, the traditional greeting. Bowing when you are being greeted shows respect, and the deeper the bow, the more respect is shown. In the movie, The Last Emperor, one scene depicts a crowd of people bowing with their heads to the floor as the little emperor walks among them (although this movie was about the last Chinese emperor, the meaning of the bow is similar). When you walk into a house, you are also expected to take off your shoes and leave them pointing away from the doorway. There are sometimes even bathroom slippers for guests.

Japanese culture is interesting because it varies so much from our own. It seems like there are a lot of crazy traditions and art forms (especially with a huge list of table manners in the sources), but we can only look at their culture through our own cultural lens. I’m positive that when someone who has lived in Japan their entire life comes to America, they are just as astonished at our own lifestyles and silly traditions