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Cultural Anthropology Essay

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American Economics and Death in Japan Jacob K. Donlan
ANT 101: Cultural Anthropology
Instructor James Turner
September 7, 2015

Introduction
This paper will show an overview of the American economic system today from an etic (outsider’s) point of view as well as examine how the Japanese culture treats death from an introspective view to show readers how areas where they may already have an opinion on can be seen from other perspectives. In Part I, readers will be shown from an etic perspective how Americans have, over time, developed an addiction to indebtedness and live in abundance on credit, not caring of growing deficits and interest burdens. In his 2013 book, “Cultural Anthropology,” Crapo describes an etic analysis as “an outsider’s or observer’s allegedly “objective” account.” In Part II, the Japanese culture surrounding death will be described as how an insider would understand it. Crap described an emic analysis as “an insider’s or native’s meaningful account.” (Ch. 1.1). For various cultures around the world to truly understand and empathize with one another, it is important to be able to see things from each other’s perspective. Being able to understand an issue in America as an outsider would see it, and likewise to look at something that might seem strange to us as an insider would will help us grow beyond our preconceived notions and ignorance.
Part I
This section of the paper will detail an etic analysis of American economics, specifically revolving around debt. Americans do not see debt as an issue that threatens their existence but instead as a nuisance to be delayed as long as possible. This section will discuss how Americans used to strive to be one of the world’s greatest producers. It will also detail how America shifted into a culture of consumption over time during the 1900’s. America is now one of the largest consumers and produces a very limited amount of its own consumption in what is quite possibly unsustainable.
In his 2015 article, ““Deficits Don’t Matter”: Abundance, Indebtedness and American Culture,” Rob Kroes describes a time in the early 1900s when Americans were very focused on the “American Identity” and through the events of the Industrial Revolution through World War II, America became an industrial behemoth and one of the world’s biggest producers (pg. 174-175). This means that Americans were not always so interested in consuming and amassing debt to pay for it and instead produced the goods used by other countries. American purpose and pride drove them to great wonders and many world firsts in technology.
After the 1970’s, however, America changed from a nation of producers to a nation of consumers. Population booms left many without a sense of purpose or belief in achievement. Tight-knit communities evolved into chain stores, desk jobs, and bank tellers in what Karl Polanyi called the “Great Transformation.” (Kroes, 2015, pg 176-177). The change from production to consumption ate at American’s identities, and the desire to have the latest goods changed normal families from only purchasing what they needed to using credit to purchase what they wanted. American’s decided that their own identities that could no longer be defined by production could instead only be defined by what they had. American’s have chosen to have more today by risking their tomorrow.
Today, incredible amounts of debt hang over every level of American society. Unable to produce all it wants to consume, America has borrowed funds from the world’s producers to buy the producers products. America considers China its largest rival and opposing force, yet is almost cripplingly in debt to them (Kroes, 2015, pg 178-179). Americans stack more and more debt on themselves and feel that as long as the interest payments are made, that they can run bigger and bigger deficits. They hit their debt ceiling, or the maximum amount of money they allow themselves to borrow, and raise it arbitrarily again and again. If they didn’t, their government would literally run out of money and many processes would shut down. Instead of responsibly just balancing their budget, they continue to run huge deficits and stack on more to the bills to be left for their children without any regard to the consequences it will bring them.
Part 2
This section of the paper will detail the perception of death in Japanese culture from an emic point of view. Death is a natural process and does not need to be hidden from public view. It is also important to honor and remember one’s ancestors by maintaining their gravesites and their stories. Also, if one is separated from family, they should take steps to make sure they are properly cared for in death or otherwise return themselves to nature.
In her 2011 journal entry, “Rites of Passage to Death and Afterlife in Japan,” Yohko Tsuji describes a sharp contrast to America where estate planning and death are topics avoided with little cultural guidance to Japan where rites of passage such as mandatory retirement and multiple “milestone” ages help celebrate their old age and personal achievements throughout their golden years (pg. 27). Compared to America, where the only right of passage of old age that is celebrated specifically is retirement, which could happen at any age (and often happens later and later in life). These rights of passage lead elders to a celebrated and well-earned death.
This respect and appreciation of aging and death does not stop at death itself in Japan as it would with the funeral in America. The family on a daily basis honors and includes their ancestors in day to day life by providing them offerings and speaking to them. Children also report their grades to their ancestors! Wakes and feasts and rituals lead up to and follow the death of the family member for 50 years! The household cares for and honors the ancestors during this time period (Tsuji, 2011, pg 29-30). Japan cares for and honors their elders and their dead in a way that many cultures fail to do. Many of these reasons may be due to religious difference, but the rituals governing old age could teach lessons to almost any culture, even if there was disagreement after death.
However, times have changed and it is no longer always feasible to expect for a gravesite to stay in the family or for families to always be strongly connected. In this environment, services to individually make arrangements for death have become much more popular. It is common for individuals to pay to be honored following their death or to request to be buried in nature (Trsuji, 2011, pg 31-32). Japanese families have evolved with the times to make sure their spiritual needs are taken care of in a society and population that makes family gravesites very problematic.
The Japanese know it is important to make arrangements for and to accept their deaths instead of seeing it as a terrifying inevitability that should not be discussed unless it is imminent. Milestones help elders accept their death and their families to celebrate their life. Rituals and preparations help ease the anxiety and uncertainty of death and help the culture embrace it as a part of life that is to be celebrated instead of feared. The incorporation of ancestors into daily life and specific rituals after death keep members from being forgotton.

Conclusion
In conclusion, this paper has covered American economics from an etic perspective, highlighting its challenges instead of championing its “greatness” and also taken an emic look at Japanese culture and their handling of death. Part I analyzed how America was once a great producer and has become instead a great consumer, taking in more than it puts out in an unsustainable attempt to maintain superiority or perceived material wealth. Part II showed how Japan has approached death on all fronts. Milestones and celebrations help prepare elders and families for death, and traditions and rituals following death help those who passed on to be remembered. It is important to remember that while an outside culture may seem strange to you, your own culture may seem strange and foolish to others. By taking time to understand each culture and ideology form both etic and emic perspectives, a great understanding can be made and appreciation from both sides can be achieved.

References
Crapo, R. H. (2013). Cultural anthropology[Electronic version]. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu/
Kroes, R. (2015). 'Deficits Don't Matter': Abundance, Indebtedness and American Culture. Society, 52(2), 174-180. doi:10.1007/s12115-015-9879
Miner, H. (1956). Body ritual among the Nacirema. American Anthropologist, 58(3), 503–507. Retrieved from https://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/miner.html. Note: This source had no information carried over into this essay, but instead provided good examples of etic perspective that assisted this paper.
Tsuji, Y. (2011). Rites of passage to death and afterlife in Japan. Generations, 35(3), 28-33. Retrieved from the EBSCOhost database…...

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