Japanese Culture in Star Trek
Ok, so maybe I’m pandering to the Trekkie crowd or just secretly hoping this will be Twittered and Stumbled Upon by the sci-fi groupies in a matter of minutes, but I’m still surprised no one, Japan expat or otherwise, has written up an entry like this.
Many months ago, as I was Couchsurfing my way across Austin, Texas, I happened to stay with four self-declared geeks. Beyond geeks; they actually made a profession of attending sci-fi conventions and reselling merchandise as commodities. Regardless, once I told them I had lived in Japan and began describing some of the finer points of the culture, they brought to my attention some interesting similarities to the alien races in Star Trek…
This race of warriors would seem to be the most obvious comparison. Without a doubt, the Klingons represent the samurai caste in Japanese society, those who prefer to die at the hands of another rather than peacefully of old age, know their attacker’s face as opposed to being shot from a distance… Some aspects Gene Roddenberry didn’t even bother to change:
– Klingons’ hair styles are identical to those of the samurai (if you ignore the ridges)
– Eyebrows are dark and pronounced, like those of the Japanese
– “way of the warrior” = bushido
– The architecture of Chronos, the Klingon homeworld, bears a strong resemblance to traditional Japanese homes and castles
Granted, the warriors in Star Trek seem to embody more animalistic qualities (drinking, fighting, hunting, cursing), a sharp contrast to the calm controlled behavior of the samurai, but the comparisons cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Cardassians are well known for their xenophobic tendencies and a criminal justice system that results in a 100% conviction rate; once you are arrested, you are already found guilty and your fate is sealed – the trial is performed purely as a public spectacle. Sound familiar? Thank god the Japanese system doesn’t always have a penalty of death, and you at least have a 1% chance of being found not-guilty.
The xenophobia is a little harder to ignore. Like Japanese, Cardassians have a strong belief in “racial purity” (though I guess it would be purity of the species) and driving others out of their territory. Japan makes no secret of its “one race, one people” policies and its lack of enthusiasm for immigration.
By another token, both peoples believe they are (were in Japan’s case) destined to control the world (or Alpha Quadrant) by divine right.
The Vulcans embody the mysterious and religious aspects of Japan: meditation practices; calm, controlled behavior in the face of unrestrained Western emotions. There may not be a higher power at work (i.e. Buddhist practices), but that’s no reason to not sit in temples and develop some truly amazing existential ideas.