An overdose of anything can be dangerous. Moderation is the key. However, there is something we are unconsciously receiving or even supplying an overdose of.

For a year now, I have been working for an organization supporting Japanese high school students applying to U.S. and European universities. During my own application process, I had been supported by many, from schoolteachers to family to friends. I wanted to give back in some way. Fueled by such will, I joined as a mentor.

Working with my colleagues preparing and facilitating educational workshops, editing essays, supplying mentorship, and strengthening our foundation as an organization, the experience of running an organization was new and rewarding. My motivation was working together with students, the opportunity for my personal growth and the achievement of our students.

However, throughout my year of participation, my motivations were at times clouded with doubt. There were, in fact, times when I was motivated by the excitement of advancing my career. This made me wonder if I was being a mentor for the sake of being a mentor, merely pleased with the position I held. Am I being too calculating? Do I have the student’s best interests in my heart? The gnarly feeling inside questioned my personality and my fit for this organization.

In “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Time for Expansion and Clarification,” psychologist Edwin A. Locke and university professor Kaspar Schattke introduce three categories of motivation. First is intrinsic motivation, defined as “the pleasure gained from an activity, divorced from any further elements” (277). Putting it simply, “liking the doing” (277).

Second is achievement motivation, which points to “competition against some standard of excellence” (277), in other words, “wanting to do well” (277).

The third and final type is extrinsic motivation, which is “doing something (now) as a means to an end” (277) and “to get something later” (277).

Based on this theory, my inner discomfort as a mentor was my extrinsic motivation. It felt wrong and rude to use this position to an end. This was difficult for me to tolerate as I used to (and still do) find it difficult to tolerate such behavior in politicians. News reports about Japan’s National Diet (equivalent of the U.S. Congress) gathering were sources of frustration. The opposing party nitpicking at the scandals of the ruling party, I could not see a motivation to make the country better, but merely trying to deprive them of their political power. What a waste of time, a waste of tax money, engaging in endless accusations and excuses under the name of politics.

It turns out this notion of mine was akin to a misconception Locke and Schattke address. They claim that extrinsic motivation “has been tied into the demonization of money” (282). Whether it is political power or money, because extrinsic motivation pursues things that are prone to be taken as “greed,” we view it in a negative context.

However, as Locke and Schattke claim, money may be “seen as a means of gaining material goods, as a status symbol, as a means of supporting one’s loved ones, as providing security for the future, as allowing freedom of choice in one’s actions, as a backup in case of emergencies, as a way to relieve self-doubt” (282). Political standing, whether it is an occupation or an opportunity for making an impact on how a country works, is surely a necessity. More generally, greed is a natural human instinct that we all possess. For this reason, extrinsic motivation should not be considered as a wrongful branch of motivation.

However, we are receiving an overdose of extrinsic motivation in our everyday lives. As mentioned before, in Japan we often see news reports of members of the National Diet engaged in a relay of nitpicky criticism. The reason we perceive so may be due to the media selectively broadcasting these scenes. According to Andrew A. Painter, author of “Japanese Daytime Television, Popular Culture, and Ideology,” it is said that the “three pillars of audience interest in waidosho (infotainment shows) in Japan” are “voyeurism, gossip, and wife/mother-in-law relations” (307). The same article also claims that Japanese TV shows are based on uchi (297) (in-group) / soto (297) (outside) relations.

Described as “televisual quasi-intimacy” (295), the Japanese TV culture is fueled by a sense of belonging as well as exclusivity. This is understandable for our society, where “intimate, informal communication is usually restricted to clearly defined, in-group contexts” (296) and “interpersonal relationships are strongly shaped by notions of status, by the maintenance of group boundaries, and by extreme politeness and formality” (296). Given this, it may be reasonable to assume that media often cuts out the “entertaining” moments of the National Diet discussions, which would make for a better TV show, if not news report.

This is a perfect example of the uchi/soto relations where “we (uchi)” are the opposing party criticizing “them (soto),” which is the ruling party. Or in another perspective, “we (uchi)” could be the public standing on the “just” side taking a critical stab at “them (soto)” the government engaging in unproductive arguments.

The same could be said for when “we” are the general public and “they” are the media, deliberately cutting out certain aspects of politics. However, as we criticize such politicians or the media, what are our motivations? Is it to improve how the media and politics run? Or is it more of the reassuring sense that there is a “we” we can attribute ourselves to?

Viewing the world in this way, we are all fueled by extrinsic motivation. However, this may in fact be a natural phenomenon considering there is a hierarchical rank amongst these three types of motivation. Looking at the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, intrinsic and achievement motivation can be categorized as transcendence or self-actualization needs (the very top of the pyramid), while extrinsic motivation can be placed in the safety or belonging category (the second or third base from the bottom). Extrinsic motivation is a desire that is more fundamental to us and therefore something that comes to us more naturally. Still, drowning ourselves in it can have grave consequences.

What follows these extrinsic motivations mentioned above is criticism. Politicians criticizing their political opponents, media criticizing politics, and the public criticizing either one or both. While critical viewpoints are indeed necessary, if we keep criticism flowing, our society will be constantly flooded with negativity, constructing an intolerant society where one is criticized for every small “wrongful” action. Sadly, this is the reality with current Japanese society.

How to break out of such an intolerant society? I believe we can all start by reflecting on ourselves and seeing the extrinsic motivations we possess within us. What next? Accept it. While an overdose may be harmful, it is natural to have extrinsic motivations as human beings. The importance of this step cannot be overstated as this will lead to more room in one’s mind, a mental capacity to accept the extrinsic motivation of others. In this way, we can construct a more amiable social atmosphere that is more tolerant not only towards others but of ourselves as well.

Works Cited

Locke, Edwin A. & Schattke, Kaspar. “Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation: Time for Expansion and Clarification.” Motivation Science, Vol. 5, No. 4, 2019, pp. 277-290

Painter, Andrew A. “Japanese Daytime Television, Popular Culture, and Ideology.” The Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1993, pp. 295-325


Yuya Taniguchi is a first-year student at Columbia University, in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Considering a major in mechanical engineering and a minor in computer science, he hopes to study how to incorporate ocean energy as renewable energy sources and how to integrate them into the electrical grid. His hobbies include running, calligraphy, and listening to music. Opinions expressed in Vox Populi are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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