Amish in Japan? Well, almost.

Amish Japan
Pastry samples at a Flavor retail store

Donald Kraybill shares some photos and comments from a recent lecture trip to Japan.  Professor Kraybill recently spent a week at universities in Tokyo and Gifu and at the Shibunkaku Art Museum in Kyoto, speaking on the Amish.

The Amish are quite well-known in Japan, with perhaps more books on the Amish having been translated into Japanese than into any other language.  David Luthy notes that over two dozen books have been written on the Amish in Japanese or translated from English, including a cookbook from Montana Amish as well as Japanese- and American-authored sociological studies.  In an article in Family Life from 1997, Luthy describes the “Anna Miller’s Pie Shop” chain in Tokyo, selling Dutch apple, coconut and pecan pies at its thirteen locations.  Another Japanese chain, Flavor, also supplies Dutch-style treats in its 25 stores.

In the preface for Japanese readers in the Japanese version of his book The Amish of Lancaster County, Kraybill writes that “Japanese interest in the Amish began about 1972 with the Japan Times covering the United States Supreme Court decision (Wisconsin v. Yoder) that permitted the Amish to stop formal education at the end of 8th grade.  The first book published about the Amish in Japanese was likely Professor Nobuo Sakai’s The Culture and Society of the Amish in 1973.  The American film Witness that featured the Amish stirred public curiosity in the Amish in Japan and around the world.”

Donald Kraybill Amish Japan Front, L to R Prof. Chiho Oyabu (Gifu University) who developed the Amish exhibit at the Art Museum and arranged Prof. Kraybill’s trip; Prof. Kraybill; Back L to R:  Yachiho Shiba, director of the Shibunkaku Art Museum in Kyoto; Yuji Iwata, owner of Flavor, a Japanese bakery that features Amish pastries.

Why are the Amish big in Japan?  David Luthy writes that “they admire the Amish for living apart frommainstream society and refusing to jump into the American cultural melting pot.  They could imagine the Amish existing in some less developed country in South America, but they are intrigued that it is possible in the United States.”

At first glance, the two societies, hemispheres apart, seem anything but alike.  Though deep cultural differences exist, numerous parallels may be drawn between Japanese society and that of the Amish.  Luthy notes, for instance, the low crime rate of the Japanese, seeing parallels to Amish peacefulness.

Tokyo amish

Tokyo photo: seedforum.org

Retired Elizabethtown College history professor Richard Mumford, in an unpublished 1993 paper entitled “The Japanese and the Amish:  Opposite Roots, Similar Values”, delves deeper into the numerous similarities between the two tradition-reverent cultures.

Mumford explains that

the Japanese consider themselves a unique nation with habits and traditions different from those of other people.  They are reluctant to accept blood from non Japanese; because Japanese blood might not be compatible.  The Japanese have a unique language only distantly relatedto any other.  The Amish have their “Dutch.”  The Japanese have aunique faith–Shintoism–one that is open only to those who choose to be “part of the community.”  The Japanese in many ways are “in the world but not of the world” as the Amish would say.  Note the difficulties the Japanese experience in understanding and cooperating in areas of diplomacy and trade.  To the Japanese, foreigners,including Americans who visit Japan to study or work, are called Gaijin, “outsiders or aliens,” those not part of the group.11 The Amish of course, have their “English.”13  Yet both groups treat outsiders with courtesy, respect, and hospitality.  When the Japanese travel they seek out other Japanese.  In New York City there are dozens of Japanese restaurants, several Japanese golf courses, night clubs,schools, a Japanese hotel and a Japanese television station.  The Amish travel primarily to visit other Amish, those of the faith community.

Orange County Indiana Amish Cindy Seigle
Indiana Amish photo: Cindy Seigle

Japanese emphasize community, submission to authority, and order, as do the Amish.  Crime is nearly foreign to Japanese streets, as it is to Amish society.  Though mainly living in cities, Mumford describes Tokyo as “a city of villages”, noting the predominance of cohesive local units that cooperate on community projects, festivals, and ceremonies.  Japanese retain ties to ancestral fishing villages and city dwellers “can name the village in which their ancestors farmed,” with many often still having relatives in that place.  Amish, with Martyrs Mirrors and family genealogies resting on living-room bookshelves, are conscious of history and ancestry, often able to trace bloodlines back to 18th-century immigrant forefathers or beyond.

All hail the ‘Arumaiti’

Mumford makes another interesting comparison on the role of women:

As has been pointed out before, women must keep their place in both societies.  Women have much power in Japanese society despite the popular image of the humble, subservient Japanese wife.  They care for the home, see to the children’s education, and take charge of finances.  The Japanese man, borrowing and then adding their own pronunciation of an English word, call[s] the lady of the house, arumaiti, that is the “almighty.”  The woman is a force of great energy in the Japanese system, especially as she enables the man to concentrate completely on his work.21

The Amish woman also functions as a stable, reliable backbone of the family.22  Housework, children, and probably a significant portion of finances are in her hands.  As “one husband said, ‘A wife is not a servant;  she is the queen and the husband is the king.”  Feminism has had little impact on either culture.

Mumford points out numerous other cultural similarities–in approach to nature, modes of expressing emotion, and work ethic, for example.  In closing, however, Mumford warns of “tak[ing] these observations too far,” though noting that despite the ten thousand miles separating them, “these two peoples arrange many of their attitudes, their social interaction, and their values in a similar fashion.”

Amish Japan Kraybill lecture

On a humorous note, professor Kraybill mentions that during his visit

public health officials were concerned about a possible outbreak of the Swine Flu in urban areas and encouraged people to wear masks when they were in public gatherings and in highly congested areas such as airplanes, buses, trains, malls etc.  Thus in my lectures many people were wearing white masks.  About 90% of those who attended my lecture in the art museum were wearing masks.  I told them that I had never lectured to so many doctors in an audience before. It looked like an operating room!

Another of Kraybill’s books translated into Japanese is Amish Grace.  “The Nickel Mines Amish forgiveness story continues to make an impact in Japan,” he observes, mentioning an interview with Asahi Shimbun, a national newspaper with a circulation eight times that of The New York Times.  The interviewer was particularly interested in the story of Amish forgiveness, as well as “capital punishment and punitive responses to crime,” says Kraybill, “both of which are lively topics of debate in Japan.”  A column on the discussion is due to appear in the paper later this month.

Click for more Amish (and ‘Amish’) in odd places:

Amish and Europe’s Roma: a comparison

‘Amish’ in Poland

Amish in South America

(Sources:  David Luthy, Family Life, “Japanese Interest in the Amish,” December 1997;  Richard Mumford, “The Japanese and the Amish:Opposite Roots, Similar Values” 1993 unpublished paper)

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    1. Mr. X (AAP)

      as an amish person myself, this is a very interesting post. Similarities abound including a similar work ethic. And i would venture to guess if the amish had cameras they would rival the japanese in taking photos

    2. Mr. X (AAP)


      another thought though is this. the japanese and the amish have two very different culinary traditions.

    3. VT dairyman

      Very interesting
      We now have two churchs in Japan,since the1980s. Our church stems from the anabaptist movement but much later, 1830s. We were called by others “New Amish” until we took on the name Apostolic Christian Church.

    4. Mr. X the Japanese-Amish camera comparison would be an interesting one to test, what do you think are the odds of pulling that one off?

      And on culinary matters, maybe you could check if Mrs. X would be keen on learning sushi-making? That could be a nice addition to the local menu. PA Dutch fusion sushi?

      VTd thanks for checking in, hadn’t heard from your end for awhile. Hope you’ve been having a good spring.

    5. Richard

      Very interesting article. As someone who has both lived with the Amish, and married to a japanese woman, this post takes on a subject that is quite familiar to me. I have tried to explain to many people the remarkable similarities I have experienced between the two, but it has proved quite difficult. A couple good points have been raised here that make for an easily understandable to someone who has not experienced it firsthand. Good post…really resonated with me.

    6. Richard, thanks for the comment! The Mumford paper is full of very interesting comparisons, more than I had the chance to mention here.

    7. Kristen Flood

      Makes me smile to see this X3 I live in Lancaster County , and now I want to go to one of these places and see how authentic the food is heheh

    8. Sean.

      Amish interest.

      This is a very interesting article. I live in Japan, and I have for 12 years. I’ve recently started moving away from the Internet, and have become wanting to take less of a pace in life. A recent trip to a bookshop found me The Amish Cookbook. I have since been cooking and researching being Amish. (Which is what brought me here). Having read the post, I was pleased at the comparisons between Amishness and Japanese.

      Nice article. It only took me 3 years to see it 🙂

      1. Thanks Sean! Glad you found it, at any time 🙂 Just curious if you’ve ever seen any of the Amish-theme bakery shops like Flavor or Anna Miller’s. I’d be tickled to visit one of these, though I don’t know that I’ll ever make it to Japan.

        1. Sean.

          And thankyou, Erik. Well it’s funny, but I do believe I’ve seen these shops, never realizing the Amish link. I am going to have a check. If you ever get a chance, come. It’s not as expensive as people think. The land is, but daily life is a bargain, and trouble free. I once left an ATM card in the machine. When I got home from holiday, it was still there, and left on top of the machine. That’d not happen in my hometown in England !

          1. I heard the same about the law-abiding populace in Japan. I know there are criminal elements but it seems the vast majority of the people are decent and respectful of others’ property.

            Hope you’ll let us know if you do sample any Japanese Amish treats!

    9. Sean.

      Already made bean burgers and aylmer bread. So far, so tasty !

    10. Lee Ann

      Interesting to read about the comparison between the Japanese and the Amish. I thought the Japanese were alot like the Amish in how they treat family. Lately I am seeing the Japanese Americans are not so Japanese. They are more american and so much in american culture. They do not treat the elderly like they did in days past with respect and taking into their homes as the parents get older.

      I was married to a Japanese man and read as much as I could on the culture and I went so far as to feel like I was one of them. I sure enjoy all I have learned of the Amish and hearing things from Donald Kraybill and Soloma, and others.

      If anyone out there that is Amish would like to learn how to make Sushi, or other Japanese dishes, I would be happy to teach. I still enjoy making many Japanese dishes Amish, and other country dishes.