The Japanese sense of information privacy
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We analyse the contention that privacy is an alien concept within Japanese society, put forward in various presentations of Japanese cultural norms at least as far back as Benedict in The chrysanthemum and the sword: patterns of Japanese culture. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1946. In this paper we distinguish between information privacy and physical privacy. As we show, there is good evidence for social norms of limits on the sharing and use of personal information (i.e. information privacy) from traditional interactions in Japanese society, as well as constitutional evidence from the late 19th century (in the Meiji Constitution of 1889). In this context the growing awareness of the Japanese public about problems with networked information processing by public sector and commercial organisations from the 1980s (when a law governing public sector use of personal information was first passed) to recent years (when that law was updated and a first law governing commercial use of personal information was adopted) are not the imposition or adoption of foreign practices nor solely an attempt to lead Japanese society into coherence with the rest of the OECD. Instead they are drawing on the experience of the rest of the developed world in developing legal responses to the breakdown of social norms governing interchange and use of personal information, stressed by the architectural changes wrought by networked information processing capabilities. This claim is supported by consideration of standard models of Japanese social interactions as well as of Supreme Court judgements declaring reasonable expectations of protection of privacy to hold in Japan.
KeywordsSocial Norm Information Privacy Japanese Culture Physical Privacy Informational Privacy
Supported by a Global Research Award from the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering. Supported by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology within the open research centre project ‘Quality-oriented Human Resource Development and Smart Business Collaboration: Quality Management Science,’ (2007–2012).
Glossary of Japanese: The Japanese words used in the text are given more formal definition here. Note that the definitions here are limited to their use in the paper, while their full linguistic usage may be broader. Order is alphabetic by phonetic spelling in roman letters.
Person; another person; someone else. Generalized reference others per Kuwayama (1992)
True feelings; real motivation. Opposite to Open image in new window /tatemae q.v.
Self; oneself. The individual
Abbreviation for jumin kihon daichō q.v.
The Basic Residents’ Registration Network. The network of databases supporting the Japanese ID Card, National ID Database and e-government system
Surroundings; vicinity. Immediate reference others per Kuwayama (1992)
Family or close social grouping
Front; face; outdoors. External (figuratively). Opposite to Open image in new window /ura q.v.
A ‘loan word’ from the English ‘privacy’
The world; society; the way the world is. Reference society per Kuwayama (1992)
The outside, literally and figuratively. Opposite to Open image in new window /uchi q.v.
The other. Outsider. People with whom one has no direct contact, or at least no recurring direct contact. ‘Passing strangers.’ Equivalent to Open image in new window /muen no hito
The inside, literally and figuratively. Opposite to Open image in new window /soto q.v.
Private discussion; insider’s discussion
Back; rear. Internal (figuratively). Opposite to Open image in new window /omote q.v.
Lie; falsehood. In Japanese, this is not as insulting as the English word ‘lie’
(Also, and more formally, watakushi). One of multiple Japanese words/characters for ‘I’. Used by both men and women in formal but not humble circumstances. May also be used as an implicit plural ‘we’, also referring to the speaker’s family or close social group, but only where this is unambiguous.
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