OLLI lecture examines negativity and the cultural divide between Japan and America

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(Gabe Gandara / Daily Titan)

Patti Chikahisa, a third-generation Japanese-American, grew up conflicted between two cultures.

Her Japanese culture focused on interconnectedness, but also gave rise to difficulty as she attended school in an American environment that emphasized individualism.

Chikahisa said integrating the two cultures, while challenging, was not impossible. Although she knew about the difficulties surrounding the “culture of silence,” she said she learned about its repercussions during a talk given by Cal State Fullerton psychology professor Jack Mearns on Tuesday.

“It’s very difficult to get mental health assistance in Japan because if it’s seen as shameful. It’s not just shameful to you, it’s shameful to your family,” Chikahisa said.

The talk, which explored negative mood regulation and the psychology of Japan, was part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) Eclectics Lecture Series. Chikahisa is an OLLI coordinator.

The lecture series features campus and community experts presenting their research to OLLI members and the public.

(Gabe Gandara / Daily Titan)

Mearns’ research focuses on negative mood regulation, which is the idea that individuals who believe they are able to alleviate their discontent can cope more adaptively with stress.

Additionally, he said they experience fewer negative effects and health problems.

In fall 2016, Mearns was able to travel to Japan as a Fulbright scholar and teach at the University of Tokyo.

During his OLLI lecture, Mearns said his time in Japan added an interesting aspect to his research.

Mearns found that Japanese culture focuses on relationships and interdependence while western cultures focus more on individual success.

The tradition of putting relationships or family first often lead to suppression of negative and stressful emotions, Mearns said. If an individual feels upset or worried, they don’t express those emotions out of fear that it would humiliate the family and cause a chasm among its members.

Mearns said that in the last 20 years, rates of depression and child abuse have increased in Japan.

Additionally, he talked about a group called the “Hikikomori,” which consists of mostly male high schoolers who withdraw from society for at least six months.

“These people just drop out — they stay in their rooms. They just don’t leave,” Mearns said.

Thone Ritch, a retired teacher, said she was not surprised to hear about the culture’s shame surrounding mental health.

Ritch said when she taught Japanese and Korean students, she noticed how highly they valued silence in the classroom and worked to break through that culture by getting them to speak up and ask questions.

“You could just see the freedom and the joy (in them) that they could ask somebody questions,” Ritch said.

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