A Sociological Analysis of Vietnamese Society

In the Palace of the Dragon King

Scientific Study, 2015

42 Pages, Grade: B



1. Introduction

2. A Sociological Insight into Vietnam

3. Japan in Vietnam: A Case Study of Japanese Globalization Introduction

4. Social Class Composition in Contemporary Vietnam



Almost all chapters of this book are collected articles that were published on different occasions: Chapter 2 was first published as “A Journey to the Palace of the Dragon King with Professor William I. Elliott: A Sociological Insight into Vietnam,” Bulletin of Kanto Gakuin, No. 92, 2001.

Chapter 3 was published in Asian Profile, Vol. 33, No. 4, 2005.

Chapter 4 was published in Higashi Ajia ni okeru Anzen Hosho ni kansuru Kenkyu Project Hokokusho (A Report on Security Guarantees in East Asia), Kanto Gakuin University, Yokohama, 2013.

I thank William I. Elliott for revising my manuscript and for publishing the paper “A Journey to the Palace of the Dragon King with Professor William I. Elliott: A Sociological Insight into Vietnam”. Also, I thank Joseph T. McKim for refreshing my manuscripts the introduction of this book and “Social Class Composition in Contemporary Vietnam”.

Japanese names in this book are shown in the correct order of surname and first name.

Hashimoto Kazutaka

1. Introduction

I have been to Vietnam over 30 times. I wrote the following essay in 1998:

For Japanese of the campus dispute's age of the late 1960s, Vietnam was a country of special meaning. In the spring of 1969, the youth of Beheiren (the Citizens’ Union of Peace for Vietnam) and many young people sang antiwar folksongs every weekend in an underground square on the west side of Shinjuku station. The square was changed to a passageway by the bureau of public peace. I could not agree with the fact that the Vietnam War was carried out by the US, and that Japan lent its bases. In April 1975 I was very impressed by Vietnam's winning of the war. When I visited Ho Chi Minh Museum in Hanoi in January 1997, I was again reminded of that memory.

Many Japanese including myself forgot Vietnam immediately after the end of the war, and then 20 years passed by. There are a lot of Japanese sociologists including myself who are concerned with Asian societies. So my friends and I visited Vietnam in January 1997. Although I had thought that only special people could get into Vietnam, the fact was that everybody was allowed to enter relatively easily for sightseeing.

I doubted whether this nation truly has a socialist system. Many street children gathered in Hanoi Noi Bai Airport and central districts in Ho Chi Minh City. (In fact they might not have been street children but might have been part-time salespersons.) Many motorbikes, called “Honda,” ran on streets, and the active power of the people was very evident. So, I thought this country was not a socialist state but a developing country. I was surprised by the statistics that showed a 15 percent economic growth rate for Ho Chi Minh City in 1995 under the Doi Moi. However, are the economic and social developments proceeding well during the current economic crisis in Asia? I would like to know more precisely.

Japan is seen as a very successful country in Asia. Is it true? I think that Japan is being idealized. Agriculture and the rural society in Japan are declining more and more, though Tokyo and Yokohama may continue to develop. Sixty seven point five percent of Vietnamese employment is in the farming population, and rural residents make up about 80 percent, but the employment of Japanese in farming was only 5.5 percent in 1996, and the percentage of rural residents is about 22.

Though Japan is rich economically and is a consumption society, individualism does not spread. Especially young people have a tendency to become selfish egoists who are enveloped with “groupism." This is a society which sets a greater value on the academic career of an individual than on one's real ability,so the percentage of students advancing to junior colleges and universities was 47.3 in 1997. However, the number of young people involved in simple labor and skilled jobs has decreased.

I hope that the Vietnamese not only focus on the economic accomplishments achieved in Japan, but also see Japan as an example of how not to behave. In addition, I think that we can advise Vietnam from our experience in administrative organizations (or management) (Hashimoto, 1999: 282-283).

And now 17 years have passed since that writing. Over the years, I experienced being a visiting professor at the Center for Japan Studies, the National Center for Social Sciences and Humanities in 1999, and a visiting scholar at the Institute of Sociology, the National Center for Social Sciences and Humanities in 2002. Based on these experiences teaching and studying, I wrote an English book titled Understanding Japan, Singapore and Vietnam (Hokuseido, Tokyo, 2004).

When this book was written, the road traffic in big cities was confused in Vietnam. Now, the confusion has become more serious, because a large number of motorbikes as well as many cars run on the roads. The living standards have improved around the country. Skyscrapers have been constructed in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. Hanoi has a modernized shopping mall looks like Singapore. However, the income disparities between the urban areas and the rural areas are still remarkable, though reduced. I saw squatters in Hanoi some years ago. Heavy inflation is ongoing: though the price of pho ga (chicken rice noodle soup) was 5 thousand dong in 1999, it is about 50 thousand dong in 2014 in Hanoi (and 70 thousand dong in Ho Chi Minh City).

This book consists of three chapters. The first chapter describes the experience of visiting Vietnam as a tourist in the late of 1990s. Ho Chi Minh City, with its many pickpockets, motorbike robbers and street girls, was thrilling then.

The second chapter is on the “Vietnam boom” amongst Japanese people (and Japanese businesses) of the early 2000s. What effects will this boom have on the Vietnamese economy, society and culture?

The third chapter aims to apply the Japanese study of social class composition to Vietnamese society. Social scientists state that a so-called new middle class is emerging in Vietnamese society, and the social class composition at the end of the 2000s is shown.

2. A Sociological Insight into Vietnam

The Start of a Journey to Vietnam

The following is a poem by professor William I. Elliott:



Love, be the bitterness.

Love, be the rough backhanded flickaway of a spiderweb;

be sand in the mouth;

blackberry thorn drawn down the forearm;

be hair in hamburger.

Love, be the bit tongue.

Love, be the succulence.

Love, be the spit that spiders spit to fix them fast;

be the good suck of mud;

weeds tasted tall up the legs;

be the handful of hair.

Love, be tips of tongues, touching.

Love, be Bob and Patrick.

Be love, love--be love.

Elliott is a poet who likes beer, people, and Asia. Although he likes Asia, he cannot eat salmon, because he has an allergy. He is warm and humorous. Although the expression of the poem is difficult for me to understand, I think however, that his ideas on love are well-represented in the poem (Elliott, W. I., 1996: 14). I had the chance to travel to Vietnam with Elliott, Professor Kobayashi Teruo, Professor Yoshise Yuichi, and Professor Yamaguchi Minoru in June 1998. I will discuss my connection with them through remembering the journey. The aim of the journey was to conduct an inspection of Vietnamese society to be discussed at a symposium for the 30th Anniversary of the College of Humanities, Kanto Gakuin University.

We met early in the morning of June 18 1998, at Haneda Airport. I was sure that Elliott thought the journey would be a hard schedule. JL113 took off at 7.45a.m. and arrived at 9.00a.m. at Kansai Airport. Kansai Airport resembles Kuala Lumpur International Airport in design. Professor Kobayashi pointed out that, "Haneda via Kansai is more convenient than Narita. Narita is very far." We waited at a cafeteria after we had passed through Immigration. Of course, Elliott drank a pint of beer, and I think I may have had one too. We then took-off on VN941 and the flight time was 6 hours (the departure time was 11.30a.m. and the arrival time was 3p.m. [local time]). I have thought every time that I have flown to Vietnam that Vietnamese stewardesses are beautiful. They wear ao dai (traditional Vietnamese long dress) that are very impressive. The color of the dresses that the stewardesses wore was pink and the pants were white.1

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten.

One feels hot whenever one walks down the ramp in Tan Son Nhat Airport. Also, many foreigners may feel strain and pressure when they pass through Immigration and Customs in Vietnam. The taxi's fare is US$6~7 from the airport to the city center in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). US dollars can be used almost anywhere in Vietnam, because the Vietnamese dong is unreliable and the printing of dong is expensive. Ho Chi Minh City is the largest city in Vietnam with a population of 5.03 million people (1999). However, many people believed the population had already reached around 7 million in 1999 (Toyama, K., 2001: 3).

Many foreigners must feel excited on seeing the street scenes. There is an energetic hustle and bustle. People ride on motorbikes (called Honda). There is a torrent of motorbikes and bicycles. One bike may be ridden with a couple or a family (a father, a mother, and two children). Also, Cyclo run on the streets. One can see girls dressed in ao dai riding on bicycles and the streets are lined with shops.

We rode on for about 20 minutes in two taxis and arrived at a hotel named Oscar Saigon Hotel. This is a high class hotel along Nguyen Hue Street near the Citizen Theater. Nearby there is a state-owned department store and offices of multi national corporations (for example: Citibank) are located in Nguyen Hue Street. Foreign direct investment projects that are licensed total 104 in Ho Chi Minh City and 32 in Hanoi, versus the 309 total of the nation recorded in 1999. The number of trade businesses, hotels, restaurants, tourism, and services, by foreign investment business was 25 in Ho Chi Minh City and 42 in Hanoi, versus 98 in the total of the nation in 1998.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten.

We went to a Vietnamese restaurant named VY in Pasteur Street in the evening. I found out about it in Seo Satoe's book. Satoe stated that "'VY''s cuisine is cheap and the atmosphere is very good. There is a house secluded from the street, with a fountain in the garden. Guests who are seated at a night window can eat at ease on the outside terrace, as well as in the house. Some dark illumination and tables are arranged with fine sense" (Seo, S., 1996: 79). Satoe has recently been enthusiastic about Nepal. We ate kang kong (fried greens). We ate many Vietnamese dishes such as spring rolls and snakehead, and drank beer a called 333 (ba ba ba).

The heat was extraordinary until night. We went to a hair salon at the back of Rex Hotel (a traditional 4 star hotel). The barber was named Cat Toc or Hot Toc in Vietnamese. As Vietnamese like cleanliness and beauty, they go frequently to the beauty salon or barber. The charge is usually 50,000~70,000 dong (US$3.5~5), but that is increased to about US$10 for foreigners or Chinese. Professor Yoshise has not had his hair cut by a hairdresser for a long time. A hair cut, shave, face, shoulder, and back massage, and shampoo were comfortable and he enjoyed them greatly. He especially enjoyed having the face wash after a shampoo and then the salt face massage. Professor Elliott handed a large tip to a female hairdresser, who was a student and this surprised me. I thought about how different this custom of giving a tip is for American and Japanese. Many motorbikes run along the roundabout between the Citizen Theater and Rex Hotel even through the night. Many people enjoy the cool of night with their lovers. If a couple rides on a motorbike together, it means that they are lovers.

From Ho Chi Minh City to Hue

The next morning we walked around the Public House of the United Meeting Hall and Saigon Church, and then rode in two taxis to Cholon. "The suburb Cholon, lying west of downtown, is home to most of the city's ethnic Chinese population and has the flavor of a typical Chinatown. Narrow streets are lined with shops selling everything from textile goods to tourist items, furniture, and modern appliances. Cholon also has many of the city's commercial and industrial businesses." (Microsoft, 1998) There were many people and there was high activity in the market called Cho Binh Tay of Cholon even though it was morning. We were surprised to see the variety and number of commodities being sold (e.g., cloth; the sedge hat called Non; live chickens and ducks) in the market. Cholon was the scene of l'amant, a novel by Marguerite Duras about love story between an overseas Chinese man and a French girl.

As the two taxis were unable to be bound in Cholon, our members returned separately to the hotel. We next went to Tan Son Nhat Airport to visit Hue. We had a long wait for the plane. VN254 took off at 2.30p.m.. The stewardesses also wore ao dai and we drank 333. It was a comfortable time until we landed at 4.00p.m.. From Hue airport to the city center of Hue was about a 20 minute ride by taxi. The route was a rural road along fields, rice fields, forests, houses, and sometimes shops. Children played and students returning from schools rode bicycles.

Hue somewhat resembles Kyoto or Nara. There are a lot of historical buildings, for it was the capital during the Nguyen dynasty (1802-1945). The population was 274 thousand in 1994. President Ho Chi Minh studied at Quoc Hoc (a high school) in Hue. The landscape by the Huong River (Perfume River) from the hotel where we stayed -- the Century Riverside Inn -- was most beautiful. We went to eat court food at a restaurant in Huong Giang Hotel which was near our hotel. Although the Vietnamese cuisine we ate was not in fact court food, we still enjoyed various foods, and drank wine and 333. One waitress was angry with us when we paid. She might have wanted us to eat more foods so that the bill would be higher.

We went back to our hotel and then went to a cocktail lounge. The outside area was very comfortable, with a cool wind blowing. We met a beautiful hostess who wore a white ao dai named Ms. Mai. We discovered that she had an unemployed husband and a child (She had given birth to her next child when I met her later in 1999). We drank and drank. She favored Professor Elliott. He later sent her some handsome stationery from Japan, but did not expect a reply, since she could not write English.

Her father was a doctor, and she wanted to learn Japanese. Nangaku Japanese Class existed in Hue University. 2 The class was established in September, 1993. There were 4 teachers (3 Japanese teachers) and 15 students in 1999. The class was originally to be a 2-year class but lasted only 1 year, because the fund of the Japan-Vietnam Cultural Association decreased. Ms. Mai would have been able to enter the class if the entrance examination were easy.

In Hue

The morning of 20 June, 1998, was clear. The Huong River reflected the bright sunlight. We went to a temple named Chua Thien Mu (Pagoda of the Heavenly Lady) that was some 6 kilometers from the city center. The temple was built on the left side of the Huong River. "According to legend, one night, an old lady in a red and green dress sitting on a hillock announced that the spot deserved a temple. She then disappeared into the clouds" (The Gioi Publishers, 1995: 270). We met a group of high-school teachers and students and took photographs with them. The moment before we boarded a micro-bus we were surrounded by many child street-vendors. The children in Vietnam were not street children in the way in which they are defined as such in the Philippines. Street-children number about 150 thousand in the Philippines and many of them live with their families. Although street children number about 50 thousand in Vietnam, child street-vendors who live with their parents are not categorized as street children. People who live on ships due to poverty also exist in Hue.

Thereafter we visited the Royal Palace. The entrance fee for foreigners was more expensive than for the local people, as was the case with other sights. The inside was beautiful. Much lotus grew in colonies in a lake. It was called the "Heaven of Buddhism". Lotus is an ingredient for tea and sweets in Vietnam. Lotus tea (Che sen) is delicious. We met street vendors outside of the place and we were met by them just as we had experienced them in Ho Chi Minh City.

We visited the Japanese Association for the Support of Vietnam Streetchildren. This was founded by Koyama Michio, whom we could not meet due to his absence from the city. He had been a primary school teacher in Japan. He came to Vietnam to become a Japanese language teacher and later opened the Vietnam Streetchildren's Home. There were 65 children (4~16 years old) and 9 staff in 1998. The children were learning how to use the sewing machine, embroidery, computer, etc. A girl was concentrating single-mindedly on her study when we visited the home. The excellent and high skill of embroidery in Vietnam is famous in Japan.

Visiting Hanoi

We headed for Hue Airport in the late afternoon. We took off at 4.50p.m. on VN248. I think the plane was a propeller powered, which is rare in Japan. We also drank 333 and landed at 6.25p.m. at Hanoi Noi Bai Airport, which is about 40 kilometers from the central district in Hanoi and is very remote. The taxi fare that had been US$30 in the past must have been about US$20 on that day. It is now US$10 by Airport Taxi. Taxis traveled at high speeds on the highway. We were afraid as our taxi passed cars and trucks moving more slowly with the continued honking of the taxis. We had to cross the Hong (Red) River to enter the central district in Hanoi. Hanoi means Ha (river) and Noi (in, on this side) (The Gioi Publishers, 1995: 247). The population was 2.67 million in 1999.

We arrived at the Thuy Tien Hotel, in the Hoan Kiem Dist. at night. Just at that time the World Cup soccer game between Japan and Croatia was being broadcast on television. Professor Yamaguchi and I watched it for a short time. We then went to an upstairs restaurant for dinner in the hotel. We drank 333 and ate Vietnamese steam-pot that included pho (rice noodle) and prawn. Vietnamese steam-pot was not very delicious and the fare was expensive.

We went sightseeing on 21 June, 1998, in Hanoi, to Hoan Kiem Lake and the temple of Den Ngoc Son. Hoan Kiem Lake is a popular sightseeing point, and is a place for people's recreation and relaxation in Hanoi. There are many street vendor women and shoeshine boys. I met a street vendor girl in 1999 who was 18 years old and sold Non. She came to Hoan Kiem Lake 3 times a week and earned US$15 a week. A month is income totaled US$60. It was about equal to the pay of a bureaucrat.

There is a mausoleum of a tortoise in Hoan Kiem Lake. And Hanoi was called Thang Long (Rising Dragon City) in the feudal era. There are also ao dai girls, and Vietnam is called the Palace of the Dragon King (Minagawa, K., 1997: 19). The east side of Hoan Kiem Lake is a business and cultural district. There are Hanoi city's people's committee (city hall), the central post office, the international post office, a branch of Vietcom Bank, book shops, a theater, the historical museum, the revolution museum, the Vietnam National Theatre of Water Puppetry, etc. There is the Thirty-Six Ancient Streets quarter to the north of Hoan Kiem Lake. It is known as the most vibrant business district in Hanoi (Trinh Duy Luan, 1997: 170). "The Thirty-Six Ancient Streets quarter was first so named in 1464 when Hanoi was divided into thirty-six administrative units or guilds. The quarter was formed as early as the eleventh century and in time attracted craftsman from nearby rural regions." Trinh Duy Luan states that UNESCO recognized it as a precious cultural heritage site deserving preservation (Trinh Duy Luan, 1997: 170, 180).


1. Now the tunic of ao dai that the cabin attendant wears is dark red and pants are cream

2. Nangaku Japanese Class in Hue University was established by the Japan-Vietnam Cultural Association. The founders of the Association were members who studied at the Institute Nanyo Gakuin (run by the Japanese Foreign Ministry) during 1942-1945 in Saigon. The Association established a 2-year course of Japanese language classes at the Ho Chi Minh City University Foreign Language Centre in October of 1991. Thereafter Nangaku Japanese Class in Hue University was established. The students were not asked to contribute any funds or to pay fees (The Japan-Vietnam Cultural Association, 1991).

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A Sociological Analysis of Vietnamese Society
In the Palace of the Dragon King
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Ph.D Kazutaka Hashimoto (Author), 2015, A Sociological Analysis of Vietnamese Society, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/286481


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