The nail that stands out will quickly be hammered down.” As journalist Catherine Bergman notes in her introduction to From the Japanese, “This saying is one of the first things that one discovers upon arriving in Japan. Everyone makes a point of telling you this, as if to suggest that, if you want to survive in this society, you will have to bow your head, accept the rules, and try, above all, not to stand out.”
Yet during the five years that she lived in the Land of the Rising Sun as the wife of a Canadian diplomat, Bergman also encountered individuals who did not conform to the complex codes and laws governing Japanese society – those “nails” that do stick out. In this, her first book, Bergman records her observations of Japan and writes passionately about her interviews with intellectual gurus, rebels, politicians, artists, adolescents, and even about an audience with the Emperor. In doing so she hopes to challenge many of the common misconceptions and preconceived ideas held in the Western world about Japan and Japanese society – and, in fact, to reveal Japanese society by examining those who do not fit in.
From the world of the geishas to the national soccer league, from sexual harassment suits to the politics of arranged marriages, from the collective memory of the war to the world of high fashion, modern journalism, and the Shinto religion, from an examination of the justice system to an evening spent watching fireflies – Bergman sees evidence of a haunting quest for a true national identity.