Cultures of complaint in Japan and the United States
North, Scott. “Cultures of complaint in Japan and the United States”. Berkeley Center for Working Families Working Paper, No. 17, 2000.
Complaints are a ubiquitous but understudied feature of life in modern societies. This paper discusses the consequentiality of culture for complaining. It is a first step in generating a theory of why and how people complain that aims to serve as both a tool for cross-cultural analysis and an index of power within social relations. Data for this study are contrasted examples of complaints in Japan and the United States. At the level of national culture, there are obvious, stereotypical differences: the U.S. is a culture of complaint; Japan is a culture of restraint. Analysis of interview data collected from comparable subcultural groups (dual-income, middle-class parents of young children) finds, however, that expected cross-cultural differences in complaint are less significant than the observed similarities. Japanese female respondents in particular initiated complaints more often and complained more aggressively than hypothesized, suggesting that the salience of emic cultural categories, such as yome (bride) and shujin (master) is diminishing. I theorize that this emergent gender equality of complaints is a manifestation of the global, postindustrial, gender culture that is gradually trumping national and local cultures as the primary determinant of the "what," "why," and "how" of complaint. This theory suggests that genderbased power differences will continue to decline in Japan.