Harvard law and economics scholar J. Mark Ramseyer on researching Japan, from his book Odd Markets in Japanese History (Cambridge University Press, 1996):
After decades of dissertations on the subject, few self-respecting scholars any more start their analysis of Japanese behavior with an analysis of Japanese culture. They do not avoid the subject because they find no cultural differences between Japan and North America. Obviously, they do. Neither do they avoid it because they find the differences unimportant. Obviously, many find them vital.
Instead, modern scholars avoid the culturalist approach because starting with culture too often stops the analysis. Once we look for cultural differences, we can too readily take surface variations as fundamental, and explain artifacts of institutional differences as cultural. As those of us in Japanese studies know but seldom admit, it is precisely because of this easy reference to culture that we are now saddled with so much of what is so bad in Western accounts of Japan — that Japanese never sue because they value harmony, for example, or that there are no takeovers because Japanese see the corporation as a family, and that bureaucrats are powerful because Japanese defer to authority. One can use culture to explain almost anything about Japan, and at one time or another we in the West have done just that (7).