Saturday, September 26, 2009

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.


Overthinker said...

"The architecture of Chronos, the Klingon homeworld, bears a strong resemblance to traditional Japanese homes and castles"

It does? Can't say I've noticed. What are the similarities? If it looks like anything, I'd say Mayan with the vaguely pyramidal shape of the Great hHall.

"Klingons' hair styles are identical to those of the samurai (if you ignore the ridges)"

Klingons wear theirs long and loose. The samurai used topknots. TOS Klingons had short-cropped hair. The only similarity is a bare forehead area and general length. Also, Klingon hair is almost always wavy--they like their perms on Qonos.

Klingons in general, while they have some 'bushi' qualities, are actually thinly-disguised Russians.

While I agree the Cardies are interestingly like the former Japanese Empire (not so much with modern Japan), I'm surprised you left out the obvious symbolism of Bajor=Korea. Mixed with Tibet (ie Chinese imperialism) of course--can't miss those robes. (Actually if these are just the ideas of the geeks you stayed with, then perhaps they simply don't know enough about Japan.) The idea about destined to control is also in the past tense for the Cardies after the Dominion War, btw. Although Cardassia Prime after the war is also another possible parallel with Japan after WW2.

Learn Japanese said...

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Thanks again.

Tornadoes28 said...

For me Star Wars is the closest to the samurai. The jedi were zen-like samurai warriors.

Osaka Insider said...

I never thought of it, but you're right, Klingons are totally similar to Japanese in a lot of ways :D

Today, Japan said...

I believe the Vulcans were originally meant to be modeled after the Chinese! Mostly based on the rather offensive assumption that all Chinese people are completely devoid of emotion, but still, it's interesting to think about. And I once heard that the Klingons were meant to be modeled off Russians, but I'm not sure where.

Great post, though, I can definitely see your reasoning in all of these!

Tran Parx said...

A lot of Klingon traditions also parallel Viking/Saxon culture, particularly hierarchy and rank (i.e. your rank is held by might, or at least your perceived might/prowess), though that could also no doubt be traced to ancient Russian traditions as they share history with the rest of northern Europe.

Learn japanese said...

Hi Turner ,great are right ,the Klingons are very much similar like Japanese.

Learn to speak japanese online said...

a very great comparison between Klingons and japanese samurai. after reading your post i realise they does have the common. personally, i like the Kligons more now i know why i want learn japanese language.