My Japan Times JBC Column 86 April 6, 2015: “Japan makes more sense through a religious lens”

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JAPAN MAKES MORE SENSE THROUGH A RELIGIOUS LENS
By Dr. ARUDOU, Debito
Column 86 for the Japan Times JUST BE CAUSE Community Page
April 6, 2015
http://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2015/04/05/issues/viewed-religious-lens-japan-makes-sense/

Ever noticed how Japan — and in particular, its ruling elite — keeps getting away with astonishing bigotry?

Recently Ayako Sono, a former adviser of the current Shinzo Abe government, sang the praises of a segregated South Africa, effectively advocating a system where people would live separately by race in Japan (a “Japartheid,” if you will). But that’s just the latest stitch in a rich tapestry of offensive remarks.

Remember former Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara’s claim that “old women who live after losing their reproductive function are useless and committing a sin,” or his attribution of Chinese criminality to “ethnic DNA” (both 2001)? Or former Prime Minister Taro Aso admiring Nazi subterfuge in changing Germany’s prewar constitution (2013), and arguing that Western diplomats cannot solve problems in the Middle East because of their “blue eyes and blond hair” — not to mention advocating policies to attract “rich Jews” to Japan (both 2001)? Or then-Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone declaring Japan to be “an intelligent society” because it was “monoracial,” without the “blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans” that dragged down America’s average level of education (1986)?

Although their statements invited international and domestic protest, none of these people were drummed out of office or even exiled to the political wilderness. Why? Because people keep passing off such behavior as symptomatic of “weird, quirky Japan,” i.e., “They say these things because they are Japanese — trapped in uniquely insular mentalities after a long self-imposed isolation.”

Such excuses sound lame and belittling when you consider that it’s been 160 years since Japan ended its isolation, during which time it has successfully copied contemporary methods of getting rich, waging war and integrating into the global market.

This treatment also goes beyond the blind-eyeing usually accorded to allies due to geopolitical realpolitik. In the past, analysts have gone so gaga over the country’s putative uniqueness that they have claimed Japan is an exception from worldwide socioeconomic factors including racism, postcolonial critique and (until the bubble era ended) even basic economic theory!

So why does Japan keep getting a free pass? Perhaps it’s time to start looking at “Japaneseness” through a different lens: as a religion. It’s more insightful.

A comprehensive but concise definition of “religion” is “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Japaneseness qualifies. A set of beliefs ordering the “Japanese universe” is available at your nearest big bookstore, where shelves groan under the wiki-composite pseudoscience of Nihonjinron (the “Theory of The Japanese”), a lucrative market for navel-gazing about what Japanese allegedly think or do uniquely and collectively.

Japan also has its own creation myth grounded in mystical immortals (the goddess Amaterasu et al), with enough currency that a sitting prime minister, Yoshiro Mori, once publicly claimed Japan was “a nation of deities (kami no kuni) with the Emperor at its center,” in which Japanese have seen “beings above and beyond humankind” (2000). Seen in this way, Japan transcends the mere nation-state to become something akin to a holy land.

Devotional and ritual observances involve not only an imported and adapted foreign religion (Buddhism) hybridized with an established state religion (Shinto), but also elements of animism and ancestor worship whose observances regularly reach down to the level of the neighborhood (o-mikoshi festival portable shrines) and even the household (butsudan shrines).

As for a moral code governing conduct, Japanese media offer plenty of ascriptive programming (e.g., NHK’s popular quiz show “Nihonjin no Shitsumon” or “Questions The Japanese Ask” — as if that’s a discernible genre). They broadcast an unproblematized uniformity of “Japanese” thought, belief and morality generally offset from the remainder of the heterodox world.

Thus this religion-like phenomenon, because of the knock-on effects of vague mysticism and faith, goes beyond regular nationalism.

For one thing, unlike nationalism, religion doesn’t necessarily need another country to contrast and compete with — Japanese are sui generis special because they are a family descended from gods. For another, nationality can be obtained through law, but bloodline descent cannot — and blood is what makes someone a “real” Japanese. Further, how can you ever offer a counter-narrative to a myth? (For a national narrative, you can offer a different historical interpretation of mortals and events; it’s far tougher to argue different gods.)


These dynamics have been covered in much literature elsewhere — in fact, they are depicted positively by the Nihonjinron high priests themselves — but few people consider three other effects of religiosity.

First, there’s religion’s enhanced political power in prescribing and enforcing conformity. If media uncritically establish how “normal Japanese” act, then deviant thoughts and behaviors not only become “unusual” but also “un-Japanese.” It’s not a big leap from the “science” of what people naturally do as Japanese to the science of what to do in order to be Japanese. There is an orthodoxy to be followed, or else.

This dynamic also robs dissidents of the power to use reason to adjust society’s course. Instead of social mores being codified in the rule of law or grounded in terms of concrete “rights, privileges and duties” of a nation-state, they are molded case by case to suit an alleged “consensus feeling” of an abstract group, sending signals through the media or just through “the air” (which people are supposed to “read”: kūki o yomu).

How can one reason with or argue against an amorphous “understanding” of things, or summon enough energy to push against an invisible enfranchised opponent? Easier all around to fall back on the default shikata ga nai (“There’s nothing I can do”) attitude, meaning Japanese will police each other into acceptance of the status quo.

The second effect of this phenomenon is the corruption of social science. The broad-stroke categorization inherent to “groupism” normalizes the pigeonholing of peoples. In Japan, this has reached the point where influential people openly espouse fallacious theories, such as that eye color affects vision qualityblood type affectspersonality and race/country of origin/gender influence intellectual ability or talent (e.g., “Indians are good programmers,” “Jews are rich,” “Chinese have criminal DNA”).

Although stereotypes exist in every society, in Japan they underpin and blinker most social science. In fact, learning the stereotypes is the science.

The third effect is religion’s enhanced rhetorical power, and this projects influence beyond Japan’s borders.

If Japan’s behavior was merely seen as a matter of nationalism, then things could be explained away in terms of furthering national interests under rational-actor theory. But they’re not. Again, “quirky” Japanese get away with weird stuff like bigotry because they are treated with the deference traditionally accorded to a religion.

Scholar Richard Dawkins put it best: “A widespread assumption . . . is that religious faith is especially vulnerable to offence and should be protected by an abnormally thick wall of respect.”

Author Douglas Adams expounds on this idea: “Religion . . . has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion you’re not allowed to say anything bad about. You’re just not.’

“If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like. . . . But on the other hand if somebody says, ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday,’ you say, ‘I respect that.’ ”

Likewise, you must respect Japan, and woe betide you if you criticize it. Decry even the most egregious bad behavior, such as the whitewashing of an exploitative empire’s history into an exculpated victimhood, and you will be branded “anti-Japan,” a “Japan-hater” or “Japan-basher” by the reactionary cloud of anonyms that so dominate Japan’s Internet.

This trolling wouldn’t matter if that cloud was ignored for what it is — a bunch of anonymous craven cranks — but otherwise sensible people steeped (or academically trained) in Japan’s mysticism tend to take these disembodied opinions from the air seriously. Instead, the critic loses credibility and, in extreme cases, even their livelihood for not toeing the line. Japan is sensitive, and you’re not allowed to say anything bad about it. You’re just not.

This is one reason why even the most scientifically trained among us is ready, for example, to take seriously the comment of a single native-born Japanese (rather than trust qualified Japan experts who unfortunately lack the mystical bloodline) as some kind of evidence in any discussion on Japan. Every Japanese by blood and dint of being raised in the temple of Japanese society is reflexively accorded the right to represent all Japan. It’s respectful, but it also blunts analysis by keeping discussion of Japan within temple control.

So, whenever Japan makes mystical arguments — about, say, longer intestines, special soil and snow or the country’s unique climate — for political ends (to justify banning imports of beef, construction equipment, skis, rice, etc.), skittish outsiders tend to be deferential to the nonsense because of Japan’s “uniqueness” and respectfully ease off the pressure.

Or when Japan’s rulers coddle war-mongering rightists (who also advocate Japan’s mysticism) and sanction pacifist leftists (who more likely see religion as a mass opiate), relax — that’s just how Japan maintains its unique social order.

And if that social order is ever questioned, especially by any Japanese, that is treated as heresy or apostasy, drawing the threat of reprisal — if not violence — from zealots. After all, you do not question faith — or it would no longer be faith. You just don’t.

In sum, seeing Japaneseness through the prism of religion helps explain better why the world accommodates Japan egregiously excepting and offsetting itself. It may be time to abandon simple political theory (seeing Japan’s polity in terms of rational actors with occasional inexplicable irrationalities) in favor of the sociology of religious cults.

Specifically, this would mean studying Japan’s cult of personalities, i.e., the way a ruling elite is resurrecting mysticism and exploiting the reflexive deference usually reserved for religion to game the system. This is especially important now, as Japan’s rulers indulge in belligerent behavior — historical revisionism, remilitarization and so on — that’s helping destabilize the region.

This column was a seminal attempt to make that case. Discuss, if you dare.

===========================

Twitter @arudoudebito. Just Be Cause appears in print on the first Monday of the month. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

ENDS

26 comments on “My Japan Times JBC Column 86 April 6, 2015: “Japan makes more sense through a religious lens”

  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Dr., just read the article over at JT. It’s a masterpiece. Also, I notice that you wrote it before I posted this;

    http://www.debito.org/?p=13134#comment-878985

    What can I say- great minds think alike.

    — I wrote the column about two weeks ago, so I was agog when your comments came out so much along the same lines of my article, in complete parallel. Anyway, I’m quite happy with this one — it ties together so many thoughts I’ve been having over the decades. May it be insightful to others too.

    Reply
  • Hi Debito:

    In viewing “Japaneseness” as a religion, there’s one area in particular where I would like to see you expand this idea: proselytizing.

    As we know, Japan desires to be seen in a positive light thus garnering the world’s admiration, and as a result, there is no shortage of individuals enamored with Japan (i.e. Japanophiles).

    But we also know that no matter how far one goes down the garden path (e.g. marriage, naturalization), it is impossible to completely convert; one can never hope to become nihonjin.

    For a religion desperately in need of new converts, this nothing short of apocalyptic.

    Regards,

    -JK

    Reply
  • Freeatlast says:

    As with JDG I agree this article is shows a masterful understanding of the condition in Japan. The political elite in this country are out of touch with the rest of the world and it seems the average citizens are following their “leaders” down the path to becoming insignificant.

    After living in Japan for a decade I have finally decided to return home, sometime later in this year. The human condition for the foreigner in Japan has become unbearable and there seems to be no sign of an improvement. I hope the other posters on this board also will have the ability and foresight to make the same move. For those of you that must continue to endure I can only wish you the best of luck. I believe there has been quite an exodus of foreigners and I am surprised more on this board have not followed Dr. Debito’s lead in moving on.

    — I would say that saying that I have moved on is premature. Do it because it makes sense to you and your individual situation, not because The Debito apparently did it.

    Reply
  • You may well be right about the idea of Japan as religion, and you’re certainly not the first to suggest it. See the interesting Yoshino quote in http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/features/this-may-make-you-choke-on-your-sushi/169438.article , from 2002. And didn’t “Ben-Dasan” suggest something similar in The Japanese and the Jews back in 1970?

    This is a reasonable idea, with some precedent (of course, much brand loyalty has some religious element, but.). It could explain a lot…

    Reply
  • j_jobseeker says:

    Nice right up Debito. Looking at this from the religious standpoint is an interesting twist on not so much making sense of the nonsense, but rather how to make the proper arguments when talking to friends or family who often, ultimately, just let out a sigh and give a resigned: “but that’s how we Japanese are.” Now armed with this viewpoint, I think I can combat that resignation with a new tactic. So thank you.

    Just out of curiosity, I was surprised you didn’t mention anything about Koike Yuriko’s recent statements employing just this sort of mysticism when addressing inequality in Japan. Will that be another column?

    — No. I just thought I had enough examples. I only have 1500 words tops if I write a substantial piece.

    Reply
  • Whether as a religion or a cult, I think is the question.
    Like Scientology, there is an air of mystery in Japan,
    or at least, people want there to be, since it fuels the uniqueness ideology.

    Maybe Japaneseness is closer as a cult since there is a hierarchy.
    Like the Saudis, there are rules that must be followed, and if you dare question them, well, prepare for some criticism.

    The “devoted” get a free pass to denigrate the secular.

    I have seen similarities since I lived in a muslim country.
    There I did notice fundamentalists getting away with bullying people
    since they could quote the Koran.

    Muslims have a sense of fatalism as well, although it is just God’s will.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    @ JK #2

    ‘For a religion desperately in need of new converts, this nothing short of apocalyptic.’

    I agree, but I believe that this is a core concept (although rarely verbalized) of the ‘religion of Japaneseness’. I believe that it is a cult, separated from it’s Godhead, the Emperor, by GHQ’s re-writing of the constitution. But there has always been a belief amongst the LDP that an overt return to that system would be desirable (see Abe’s proposed draft of the ‘new’ constitution that re-instates the Emperor in an official and political head of state position) and Shinto has been constantly working from the end of the occupation to reinsert itself into political life;

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/11/23/national/politics-diplomacy/back-to-the-future-shintos-growing-influence-in-politics/

    This system has been tried before to it’s ultimate extreme. We call that experiment the Second World War in the Pacific. It failed. But even the failure of the ideology to deliver a world where everything was ordered under Japanese racial ‘superiority’ did not lead to that ideology being discredited- see how Abe et al refuse to accept the truth of that era’s events.

    This is a kind of denial of reality and fact that you see with proponents of ‘intelligent design’- the more facts and evidence you give them, the more they dig their heels in, cover their metaphorical ears, and scream ‘La! La! La!’ at you, or accuse you of discriminating against them. And this is what we see in Japan- any discussion that does not conform to the narrative of the nationalist elite is attacked as ‘Japan-bashing’.

    Having been all geared up to sacrifice every Japanese life in the event of a US invasion in 1945. But what chilling memory of that cultish brain-washing do the Japanese have? Almost nothing. Everything is ‘victim’ Japan- Hiroshima being the ‘trump’ card that covers all Japanese war-crimes.

    And the situation now? The lessons of the past failure of this ideology that almost lead to the extermination of the Japanese have not been understood, and the wartime slogans of re-ordering the world under Japanese rule are uttered again without apology by Japanese politicians;

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2015/03/24/editorials/wartime-slogan-should-stay-buried/

    I honestly believe that the ultimate goal of the cult of ‘Japaneseness’ is the ‘pure’ end of the Japanese ‘race’ as a logical conclusion of the cults philosophy. It’s a death cult (after all, look how the cult conducted itself in occupied territory- genocide without even the Nazi’s need for an institutional management of the process. For believers in Japaneseness, it’s a logical extension of the belief).

    Since any immigration with equal rights and status would be counter to the core tenets of ‘The Cult of Japaneseness’, I believe that it is also a logical step for them to rush toward their own decline rather than modify their beliefs. It’s a function of the kind of fatalism (that DR. Debito has seen in the Japanese). And I believe that we can see the signs of this is the way that the ‘elite’ are robbing the country blind so that they can temporarily live the good life, whilst failing to address any of the issues that influence Japanese quality of life in the long-term (decrease peoples spending power, and then expect them that they have to support more children?).

    And the populace accept it by saying ‘shouganai’ because ‘this is Japan’ when in reality, they, as citizens, have all the tools they need to take power back and reshape the nation. But they don’t, because reshaping the nation would mean challenging their belief in ‘Japaneseness’.

    Reply
  • Jim Di Griz says:

    Dr. Debito,

    Re-reading your article again, I was thinking about this;

    ‘Likewise, you must respect Japan, and woe betide you if you criticize it. Decry even the most egregious bad behavior, such as the whitewashing of an exploitative empire’s history into an exculpated victimhood, and you will be branded “anti-Japan,” a “Japan-hater” or “Japan-basher” by the reactionary cloud of anonyms that so dominate Japan’s Internet.

    This trolling wouldn’t matter if that cloud was ignored for what it is — a bunch of anonymous craven cranks — but otherwise sensible people steeped (or academically trained) in Japan’s mysticism tend to take these disembodied opinions from the air seriously. Instead, the critic loses credibility and, in extreme cases, even their livelihood for not toeing the line. Japan is sensitive, and you’re not allowed to say anything bad about it. You’re just not.’

    And I was thinking that perhaps you’re letting these people off a little softly?
    For sure, there is an army of self-appointed Japan guardians who will apologize for Japan’s ills and slam anyone who tries to open a debate, indeed even going to far as to trash their livelihood, but I also think that Japan has more than it’s far share of ‘devout’ cult members who send bullets in the post to journalists who don’t toe the line, and bomb threats to universities that employ ex-journalists. In some cases (like the former Mayor of Nagasaki), they try to kill people.

    These people are the self-appointed ‘jihadi’ of the cult of ‘Japaneseness’, and that makes sense when you see how they are connected to politicians, whose ideas they are in effect ‘enforcing’. We’ve discussed these relationships before on Debito.org, but Jake explained some of these relationships quite clearly recently;

    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2015/04/04/national/media-national/learning-valuable-lessons-yakuza/

    Reply
  • Here, convicted war criminals are praised by Japan’s former former Chief-of-Staff of the Self-Defence-Force in a public setting, then has his nippon-cult-followers physically grab and hold and prevent the free movement of a person who simply committed the “sin” of asking afterwards in this public setting “Do you know that speech would be illegal in Germany?” This real life victim (higaisha) is suddenly physically grabbed by the Nippon-cult-following violence perpetrators (kagaisha), that’s illegality number one: the grabbing of a human being, that’s the the moment the victim is physically being held against his will, no longer having freedom of movement, and this happens repeatedly in this video. And then the second kind of illegality is when the police officer is filmed seeing the illegal grabbing yet refuses to arrest to offenders, due to being in the same cult, instead choosing to call a bunch of same-cult officers in to physically force the victim into thinking he has some legal obligation to agree to being prevented from leaving, by foot or taxi or however he chooses to move, and this police-law-violating-detainment causes to victim to be in duress and to then choose to do something he never should have done (namely, under duress, agreed to be physically forced into “voluntarily” walking into their lair which they call a koban and signing a “contract of understanding” which then becomes the only evidence needed since the police officers (also hardcore members of the same group of the battery-kagaisha they refused to arrest earlier) now successfully pressured the victim in this case to claim the battery was all the victim’s own fault, haha, for having had the audacity to ask a question in a public setting, “I’m sorry for having disrupted the harmony of the question time after your speech…” (a speech which praised convicted war criminals who committed atrocious murderous order-giving and partaking-in with more than enough evidence presented to the court ans yet STILL respected by the nippon-cult-followers though proven murderous.) “Sorry I asked if you knew the modern Germany law about praising war criminal murderers in public. So sorry…” you honorable proud shameless murderer-war-criminal-praising nippon-cult-followers.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/z3m9c2dsguan8m2/Be%20nice%20to%20visitor%2C%20Japanese.mp4

    2014 – Japanese police give a public escort to,
    and refuse to arrest, a Japanese girl with a microphone
    who announces in the town of Tsuruhashi, Osaka:
    “I want to kill you Koreans!”
    “Nevermind the Nanking Massacre, we will start a Tsuruhashi Massacre here!”
    “If the Japanese are angry we can do that!”
    “We will start a huge Massacre right here!”
    “Go back to your country before we start a Massacre!”
    https://www.youtube.com/v/2pE2ms1P56I&rel=0&autoplay=0
    Actually, such a Massacre of Koreans living in Japan has already occurred here in Japan:
    http://www.en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1923_Great_Kantō_earthquake#Postquake_violence

    So yes, the Nippon-cult-followers have killed many, both inside and outside Japan, legislation is needed with severe penalties to force police officers into actually arresting those nippon-cult-followers who commit physical violence, as lacking in the first video in this post, and with severe penalties to force police officers into actually arresting those nippon-cult-followers who commit public death threats, as lacking in the second video in this post.

    Reply
  • Baudrillard says:

    Komeito is an elephant in the room- it actually IS a cult of Soka Gakkai, although with slightly different an agenda from its LDP ally. This is actually a big taboo, once I was hushed from asking about their connections whilst within walking distance of TBS (come on, how paranoid is that…is it?) but even though Komeito is arguably a moderating force on Abe and Co (any info on this?) you must admit it is quite a creepy org that basically gets its religious followers to turn out and vote en masse.
    I had an ex who was a member of Soka, and the family was very, very odd. The father was in fact a convicted chikan, but I digress. I asked her what they believed in, and she said, “Everybody, so happy…” in a kind of “Invasion of the Bodysnatchers” type glaze.

    Of course, overseas Soka are a “lay Buddhist” org which sounds so respectable a lot of Hollywood A listers are apparently members. Of course, I doubt these people ever get spoiled meat shoved thru their letterboxes if they try to leave, which apparently was the tactics that some ordinary Japanese have been subjected to.

    BTW, Jim. Great comment above.

    Though I tend to think that in true Japan style, only the little guys get bullied, because the Japanese so love and respect “famous” names. Complete victims of Marxist commodity fetishism, and yet ironically the elite are so vehemently anti marxist, go figure. Oh well, thats postmodernism (^^)- they do not know who they really are.

    Reply
  • Loverilakkuma says:

    @Marnen Laibow-Koser, #4

    Ah, that self-proclaimed Jewish author! That man used it as a penname to conceal his real name Shichihei Yamamoto. I did research on this charlatan back while ago. His work is one of those exclusive fabrications(netsuzou). He had a debate with left journalist Katsuichi Honda over Nanjing Massacre in conservative magazine Shokun!
    He got beat up so bad–despite a strong support from the magazine editor. His hilariously stupid and dumb arguments are representing those of current conservative folks.

    It’s been a while and I didn’t know his “Japanese and the Jews” was translated in English. That book is full of BS. It was debunked by Japanese scholar named Sadao Asami who wrote a book titled “Fake Jew and Japanese”(nise-yudayajin-to-nihonjin).

    http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/%E3%82%A4%E3%82%B6%E3%83%A4%E3%83%BB%E3%83%99%E3%83%B3%E3%83%80%E3%82%B5%E3%83%B3

    Reply
  • I just read the article at Japan Times. I have been thinking that Japan’s religion is Japan itself for awhile now… in the same way that Muslims pray on prayer mats while facing Mecca, many Japanese people tune into the news multiple times a day and bow towards the News Anchor or the Politician on TV. This correlation is only meant as means to say that repetition of ritual is key to religious behaviour; the news is a kind of sermon — followed by most; questioned by few. Many Japanese people will say that there is no religion in Japan, but there are tightly managed rituals.
    If I sound Islaphobic, this is only a correlation. Muslims are pretty much a-ok in my books, as are most Japanese people. I think almost every Muslim would say that they are religious, while there are a lot of Japanese who defy being religious, as Being Japanese is not an official religion, but it is relegated as such.

    Slight criticism about the article — the Japan Times is a newspaper, and I thought that the word choices of the document, while appreciated, were rather weighted in the abstract. I respect the writing however buffering the sentences with too many abstract word choices may lead to a lack of concrete understanding amongst the readers of a newspaper.

    On the other hand, I thought the article was balanced, and that I wish more normal people would just stop repeating what their officials tell them is acceptable and punishing those with the “you ain’t reading the air” treatment amongst those who do not accept the Official Story.

    Reply
  • @Matty-b What kind of misunderstanding? I also wonder what you mean by “balanced”. The article is talking about real things and depicting them accurately. It’s not like there are two sides to balance here — what we’re after, generally speaking, are facts and a reasonable way of interpreting them, and this article did a reasonable job of that.

    Reply
  • Debito, this was a a great column and the idea deserves more exploration. It is also a sad realisation, because there is ample proof that religious cults are immune to logic and work by giving the weak and despaired a reason to live. Take it away, and they “die”, so they will fight whoever they deem to be anti them like it’s a life-or-death situation. Sounds familiar?

    At this point, I’d like to restate my belief that the country most similar to Japan in the world is North Korea. I’ve recently read the interesting book “The Cleanest Race” by B.R. Myers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cleanest_Race) who argues that North Korean ideology isn’t based on “Marxism–Leninism or Neo-Confucianism” but Japanese fascism. It’s not a stretch, imho, to imagine a North Korea-like Japan if the US’s intervention had not happened. The Japanese right-wing (which arguably holds all real power in the country) seems to follow a very similar ideology in its attempts to “take back Japan” and “restore the pride” of the Japanese.

    This review (of above book) http://www.newrepublic.com/book/review/maternalism contains some of the key elements of North Korean ideology and the similarities, easily spottable for anyone who has lived in Japan should be chilling to the bone. It doesn’t stop at the title “The cleanest race”.

    Reply
  • @Baudrillad (#10) Interesting to hear about you being hushed – I have experienced it numerous times in Japan, my Japanese acquaintances telling me to stop talking and hurry up when passing a building belonging to the Soka Gakkai in my neighborhood, and only been given the explanation that there are “dangerous people” in that building. Quite eerie, isn’t it? Guess how surprised I was when I found out that these “dangerous people” have a political party which is in charge of running the country, even if they are just the minor coalition partner.

    Soka Gakkai has spread beyond Japan. In the German city of Duesseldorf, which is home to one of the biggest Japanese communities in Europe (around 7000-10000 Japanese are living there), there’s a “Japantown”-like area near the central station with quite authentic Japanese restaurants, and apparently one particular chain of these restaurants is run by members of the Soka Gakkai. There was some outrage among German patrons over these restaurants because they often turned away guests saying that they were “full” even when it was clearly visible through the windows that most tables were unoccupied, and Japanese guests were let in immediately. There was some speculation, but not proof, that there was a “Japanese only” policy in place at least on some days.

    Also, the website of these restaurants showed a creepy (my opinion) “mission statement” of the Soka Gakkai (in Japanese), which after some people pointed that out on Yelp, first was taken down completely but later on reappeared in toned-down form, yet it still contains their trademark “Everybody…so happy” ideology: “Be Happy – Be Together – Be to be Happy”

    http://brickny.com/ (in the “About” section)

    Reply
  • Andrew in Saitama says:

    Yep, the holy trinity of nationality=race=language, the mantras (“We are uniquely unique”, “___ is Japanese territory”, “___, ___ and ___ are only jealous of our success”, “____ never happened”), and unshakable belief in their correctness when the evidence suggests otherwise.
    Japanese is a religion.

    I can’t see the situation improving for the non-believer for some time. Turn on the TV in evening on any day of the week and there will be at least one program proselytizing Japanese faith. That doesn’t include the reminders of the sacred relics (read: washoku).
    Listen in to any conversation, and pretty soon the topic will turn to the condemnation of the faithless (particularly the Chinese).

    Debito, your JBC was right on the money.

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  • Many of these post here are surely to offend, but its interesting because Ive pondered over the same thoughts. In many ways, Japan does seem to be a relegion with exclusive membership and there are parallels to many of the more extremist beliefs in other relegions.

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  • I’m sure if i knew how I could find it, I would. But after being in Japan a short time..i noticed this “religious” behaviour and made a note about on here. Nice to see it becoming a more mainstream/wide spread comment/opinion.

    Just wish the G8 countries would treat Japan for what it is. Even saw on the Beeb news this morning the rewriting of Japanese text history books to pander to Abe’s ideology of what is and is not acceptable. More religious doctrine being forced on to others!!

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  • @Douglas #13

    1) Douglas said, “@Matty-b What kind of misunderstanding?”

    What I believe you are referring to is, “…too many abstract word choices may lead to a lack of concrete understanding…”

    Too many abstract word choices can lead to confusion as to how the reader should connect the dots of a paragraph, especially in a newspaper, which is a medium that does not specificaly target the highly educated, that is, those most likely to have a keen understanding of abstract words and how they relate to each other. That is not to say that all newspaper readers will be lost, but many will and as a result those readers will not walk away with the beneficial knowledge that the article is spreading.

    2) Douglas said, “What you mean by balanced.”

    I meant that the article was well researched and had links to sources and quotes from people and it was not a rant. As I had criticized the article, I also wanted to remain positive regarding the article’s results and not only point a finger at someone who is working hard at writing and say, “You missed a spot!” Making negative statements was not my intention so I tried to offer some positive as well.

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  • Loverilakkuma says:

    Hi all,

    I just found a slum-dunk comment made by one poster critical of JBC article appeared in the facebook. Speaking of ideological/delusional fallacy in the name of critical thinking:

    “There is no better evidence of the idiocy of the Japan Times than the fact that propagate the notion that Ayako Sono, Shintaro Ishihara, Taro Aso and the like are representative of all Japanese. By the same token, Sarah Palin, Dick Cheney and Chris Christie must be the only kind of Americans in existence. America looks very much like a religion too if your only input is from Jerry Falwell and Rush Limbaugh. But then again, that’s Japan Times. People like Kenzaburo Oe, Ryokichi Minobe, Inazo Nitobe or even Hayao Miyazaki never existed. All Japanese are just as evil as its most insane elements. Seeing that JT staff are predominantly American, and JT makes skewed generalizations about all Japanese, it is only fair to conclude in kind that the opinions of JT reflects the general view of all Americans.”

    — Well, the author might be being ironic. But it still does not reflect a careful reading of the column.

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  • Baudrillard says:

    But yes, “Shintaro Ishihara, Taro Aso and the like are representative of all Japanese. ” They are indeed elected representatives of the people. So was Hitler. And Ishihara was elected mayor of Tokyo again and again. Who elected them? The Japanese electorate. Even if turn out was low, then that just shows a passive acceptance.Or a fatalistic “shoganai” attitute.

    Only the people can change the people.

    And the poster seems to think Hayao Miyazaki is some kind of counter culture hero of the left. Hardly. I am sure Abe enjoyed 風立ちぬ- not a mention of China or Japanese war atrocities mentioned, it was all the work of those damn German Nazi’s, and the hero is portrayed as being on the anti Nazi side while still building the Zero.

    Riiiight. Denial time again.

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  • WanderingDave says:

    I see the parallels, but I’d like to suggest a different socio-cultural analogy as more apt: The Japanese are, at heart, an itinerant people. Their view of themselves and their place in the world is pretty much in line with that of the Roma, Irish Travellers, and many other traditionally itinerant ethnic groups past and presnt. This mindset can be summed up thusly: Family ties and bloodlines are the only constant; all else is ephemeral. Loyalty is not the most important thing. It’s THE ONLY thing.

    This is a fascinating worldview, with some great strengths. Most importantly, it allows tribal members in good standing, both on an individual and group level, an unparalleled resilience in the face of the sudden and unpredictable change. New city? New language? New modes of dress? New religion? No problem. So long as those making these sudden unforseen changes alongside you are the same beloved people who’ve accompanied you on the road all the way. It’s a simple and ancient worldview that cuts through all the sticky issues of personal responsibility raised by being a voluntary citizen of a republic, or an adherent to an ideology of universal morality.

    It’s also a worldview that’s inherently problematic for those who’ve never held it. In all settings besides strict business and trade, settled and itinerant peoples have always repelled and mistrusted each other, and really can’t not. When the going gets tough, to the itinerant, outsiders are expendable and exploitable, because one owes no allegiance to them and probably won’t ever see them again. This earns the itinerants a reputation, in the eyes of settled people, of being opportunistic. But in the itinerants’ eyes, it’s the settled populations they travel amongst who are misguided: they wouldn’t have the problems they have if they formed tighter, more exclusive families and social units like itinerants, and wouldn’t have to whine about being exploited if they took a page from itinerants about being keenly socially observant.

    — I don’t get it. Especially given the (turning the sarcasm on: ) long history of Japanese itinerant overseas explorers and their transient and ephemeral domestic fiefdoms and kuni regions…

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  • WanderingDave says:

    “Treating people outside your ethnic group as expendable and exploitable is: a fascinating worldview, with great strengths.”

    “Treating people outside your ethnic group as expendable and exploitable is: a useful technique, one which should be practiced more.”

    “Treating people outside your ethnic group as expendable and exploitable is: merely problematic for those don’t practice this worldview enough themselves.”

    “If the misguided Non-Ethnically-Japanese would practice this Fascinating-Japanese-Worldview of Ethnicity-Based-Exploitation MORE themselves: they would benefit.”

    “If the misguided Non-Ethnically-Japanese would practice this Fascinating-Japanese-Worldview of Ethnicity-Based-Exploitation MORE themselves: they would have less problems.”

    “If the misguided Non-Ethnically-Japanese would practice this Fascinating-Japanese-Worldview of Ethnicity-Based-Exploitation MORE themselves: they wouldn’t have to whine about being exploited.”

    Wandering Dave is hereby recorded for posterity as praising and encouraging the practice of ethnicity based exploitation.

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  • WanderingDave says:

    Not quite, anonymous. I lament all instances of anyone benefitting themselves by treating others badly. But I also recognize the appeal and feasibility of living one’s life that way. If one lives in a cocoon, it’s easy to go through life never caring or thinking about those outside the cocoon, that you and your people have hurt. And it pains me, on a philosophical level, to think how many people there are out there who probably live subectively very happy, peaceful lives, without even a hint of realization, let alone empathy for, the needless pain that living their lives the way they did has caused for other people. I’d like to think that their lives are somehow impoverished compared to those who are more open, more aware, and more globally compassionate, but I’m not sure that this can be logically defended.

    I’m no fan of othering people, period. But I’m vexed to no end how much cozier and simplier, and arguably less subjectively painful, life gets when you divide the world steadfastly into “people that matter” and “everybody else”. Hence my perverse fascination with tight, insular groups of people. Somewhat relatedly, I’m a terrible liar and unpretentious to a fault, but have a perverse fascination with stories about con artists. I think many folks are drawn in a weird way to those who are their polar opposites.

    Debito, you’re right that the Japanese aren’t an itinerant people, which makes it all the more interesting to me how similar their ways of dealing with the world are with itinerant peoples. I think the Japanese have been temporally itinerant, if you will, on the world scene throughout history. They have come and gone at will, and all the encounters with outside peoples have been entirely on their own terms. It’s hard to see things other people’s way, when you’ve never had to do things other people’s way.

    — Then I think you need a different term than “itinerant”. You are using it to describe a people who in your view have moved in and out of world society without moving much from their geographical space. It invites misunderstandings because most people will think you are referring to people moving in geographical space, and you’ll have to reorient your listener every time you want to discuss this theory.

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  • @Markus

    to the outsider, the japanese only policy at the sokka resturant would seem to be in direct conflict with their “everybody peace” inclusion core beliefs. This does, however, reinforce the concept that no matter the “relegion” in Japan, the ulitmate relegion is to be Japanese, so we come full circle, in any case. Another well known group with a bizarre leader who claims to be in contact with all the dieties, has some very ultra nationalistic views. No matter how extreme, as long as they are all anchored to japan, they become legit.

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