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  • Holiday Tangent: Seidensticker in TIME/LIFE World Library book on Japan dated 1965. Compare and contrast with today’s assessments.

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on December 27th, 2011

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    Hi Blog.  Happy holidays.  Today I offer you some historical perspective regarding overseas dialog on Japan, in this case policy towards Japan by the United States.  The year is 1965 (first edition 1961), an excerpt from a book about my age offering Edward Seidensticker, famous translator and interpreter of things Japanese for the English-reading outsider.

    This is a “WORLD LIBRARY” monthly library book on Japan (published by Time Life Inc.).  As the book says about the author:

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

    In the text of this volume, Edward Seidensticker gives an interpretation of Japan based on more than 13 years of residence in the country, where he won a reputation as a sensitive intepreter of the Japanese people and as an incisive commentator on the contemporary scene.  His knowledge of the country dates from 1945, when he served for a time as a Marine officer with the U.S. Occupation Forces.  Mr. Seidensticker, who was born in Colorado, returned to Tokyo in 1948 for two years’ service with the Department of State and then did graduate work at the University of Tokyo.  A noted translator of Japanese literature, he contibutes to general and scholarly publications in the United States and Europe.  He is now a professor of Japanese literature at Stanford University.

    ============================
    Okay, time out.  After I read this, I blinked and said, “Only 13 years in Japan and he gets this much credibility?  What’s with that?”  The Table of Contents offered me little solace (The Crowded Country, The Heritage of a Long Isolation, Storm and Calm in Politics, A Resilient and Growing Economy, Upheavals in Family and Society, Traces of Spirit, Diversions Borrowed and Preserved, The Tolerant Believers, Powerful Molders of Young Minds, and A Nation in the Balance), all broad strokes all in a slim volume of only about 150 pages including voluminous photos.

    But let me type in the concluding chapter.  Let’s see what you think about Seidensticker’s insights then and consider how much has or has not changed, both on the ground and in overseas discourse on Japan, fifty years later.  My comments follow.

    ///////////////////////////////////////////

    Chapter 10, A Nation in the Balance, pp. 145-151
    By Edward Seidensticker

    There is an imaginary border line skirting the ridges of Tokyo, which thrust eastward towards the bay like fingers.  In the days when the city’s predecessor, Edo, was a fishing village, the ridges came down to the water’s edge.  The shogunate later filled in the shallow fringes of the bay to provide a mercantile center for the city and a place for the merchants to live.  The line between the eastern “downtown’” of the flats and the western “uptown” of the ridges therefore became the line between the easygoing, slangy, pleasure-loving townsmen and the austere members of the warrior class.  Today it may be taken to symbolize the political division of the country.  East of the line, in the flats, is the world of the Japanese who works hard, does not trouble himself much with transcendental thoughts and loves to have a festival now and then.  Although he may not be deliriously happy with things as they are, he generally accepts them.  In the hills to the west is the world of the professional and white-collar classes, of commuter trains, drab middle-class housing, the huge Iwanami Publishing Company and the influential and somewhat highbrow newspapers.  Suspicious of the West and wishful, if at the moment confused, about the Communist bloc, this is the articulate half of the country, and it can be generally relied on for opposition to suggestions for an expansion of the American alliance.  It is not from the poor low-lying districts east of the imaginary line but rather from the hilly white-collar districts to the west that Communists are elected to the Tokyo City Council.

    Badly divided, with one half willing to accept fundamental principles that the other half wants only to ignore, Japan as yet finds it difficult to come forward as a nation and answer the question that is put to it:  Which side is it on?

    The Japanese should not be pushed for an answer, but they may not be ignored. They have accomplished too much during the last century and particularly the last two decades, and their position in the world is too important   Until a few years ago, Japan’s economic stability was heavily dependent on the American economy.  Today the dependence has been so reduced that some economist think Japan could weather a fairly severe American recession, though not a full-scale depression.  If the resourcefulness of the Japanese stays with them, even the rising monster across the China Sea need not be as threatening a competitor as one might think it.

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

    The Japanese economy is one of the half dozen most powerful in the world.  Any transfer of such an economy to the other side in the cold war would be an event of tremendous moment.  By tipping a delicate balance in Asia, it could, indeed, be the jolt that would send the whole precarious complex of world politics crashing into disaster.

    Of all the great industrialized peoples of the world, the Japanese are the least committed, and so perhaps among those most strategically placed for administering that final push.  It could be argued that France, with its own kind of polarization and its disaffected intellectuals, in an equally good position; but when the French underwent a crisis in 1958, they turned to help not to a Marxist but to a conservative and a Roman Catholic, General de Gaulle, and so back to the very sources of the western tradition.  A shift to the other side would be for them a shattering revolution.

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

    In the middle years of the 1960s, the Japanese, industriously building, and even occasionally hinting that they might like to assist the U.S. foreign-aid program, gave a surface impression of having allowed old uncertainties to recede into the background.  Certainly the country leans to the West at present; yet only a relatively few observers would make the definite assertion that it would be impossible for Japan to shift to the other side.  A few more years of prosperity, of Red Chinese truculence and of freedom from rankling incidents in relations with the United States might see the old uncertainties buried forever.  The future, will tell, and it may be significant that the Left was unable in 1964 to make visits of American nuclear submarines to Japan into the issue that had been made over revising the Security Treaty with the United States in 1960.  For the present, the wise ally ought still to be aware of a certain suspicion of U.S. motives on the part of some Japanese.

    It is difficult to blame the Japanese for their lack of firmness.  They are part of the western alliance not because they are part of its tradition but because they lost a war with its strongest member  Material prosperity has not ended a feeling of restlessness.  No number of washing machines can really substitute for a sense of mission.  When Eisako [sic] Sato became Japan’s 10th postwar prime minister in 1964, almost his first words were:  “Japan’s international voice has been too small”.  What that voice will say is as yet unclear.  Obviously, dreams of empire are gone, but the Japanese government apparently does wish to take a more active role in the free world’s fight for peace.  The country is already giving $600 million in aid to underdeveloped nations.  It would like a seat on the United Nations Security Council, and there have been proposals in Japan that the country contribute a peace-keeping force to the U.N.  But Japan as a whole remains ambivalent about playing a strong international role.

    By and large, the Japanese still dread the prospect of rearmament.  Many Japanese — in a general way, those from east of the symbolic Tokyo line — are able to sink themselves into their work and so to accept the chiefly negative attractions of the American alliance.  Others look to the Chinese or the Russians or waver between them.

    United in fear of war and the atom bomb, to which they alone have offered victims, the Japanese are in a difficult position.  The observer pities a country that cannot make up its mind to defend itself but cannot really make up its mind to have others defend it; that cannot live with armaments (especially nuclear ones) but cannot live without them.  The observer can even understand, so emotion-ridden is the question, why those who resolve the dilemma by dismissing defenses and defenders show a strong tendency to try to eat their cake and have it too.

    It is the articulate intelligentsia that does so, and in a way this is a new twist to the venerable Japanese institution of blithely accepting contradictory beliefs.  The policy approved by the intelligentsia means, in effect, that a country can have security without paying for it.  The policy in question is disarmed neutralism, and it has the support of the second largest party in the country, the Socialist party.

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

    There are two cynical but logical ways of defending such a policy.  One is the position of the few who have followed their Marxist assumptions through to a conclusion:  that neutralism is a device for preparing to switch sides in the world conflict.  The other is the hardheaded position held by such operators as President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt:  that the two sides can be played off against each other.

    For most of its supporters, however, disarmed neutralism is simply a matter of wishfulness and self-deception.  Its advocates assume that an economically powerful country, situated far from the nearest help, would be safe if disarmed, because any invasion or fifth-column subversion would start a major war.  In other words, it assumes that the United States, even if it were restricted to its own side of the Pacific, would come to the aid of the Japanese in an attack.  Hence a self-deception arises that verges on willful duplicity:  the West is simultaneously condemned and looked to for protection.

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

    Yet intolerable though this attitude may seem to an American, it is after all one which might have been anticipated.  The stronger party must accept it in good humor and hope that there will one day be an awakening.

    The chances of an awakening certainly seem better than they were a few years ago. Although it is still far from victory, the Socialist party creeps a little closer to it with every election.  In its eagerness to make the last push, it may turn to wooing the essentially conservative voter east of that imaginary downtown-uptown line.  It cannot do so unless it stops talking revolution and tones down its hostility toward the United States, a country which continues to be popular east of the line.  So far the talk has been ambiguous, with one clause contradicting the next in the same sentence.  The whole argument apparently leads to the conclusion that there will be a revolution, but not quite yet, and a revolution that will not necessarily have to be achieved by forceful means.

    However domestic politics alone might have altered its position, the Socialist party has recently been exposed to winds from abroad.  The Chinese nuclear test and the belligerent position of Peking on revolution by force, as well as its attack on the nuclear-test treaty concluded between the Soviet Union and the United States early in 1964, have driven the Socialists into the arms of Moscow and to an acceptance of Moscow’s line of peaceful coexistence.  By backing the treaty, the Socialists, for the first time since the Occupation, have taken a position in international affairs that is openly at odds with that of the Japanese Communist party.  The Russians may move toward the West, and the Japanese Socialists may move with them, but on that possibility one can only speculate.

    If the Russians, the Chinese and the Japanese themselves can influence this left-wing Japanese pole, possible influence on it from the United States must be listed as a poor fourth.  Yes U.S. influence in Japan is not negligible, as witness the fact that the Security Treaty was, after all, accepted in 1960 despite all the fulmination from the the Left, and by the fact that successive postwar governments have affirmed their support for the U.S. alliance.  In 1965 Premier Sato, on a visit to the United States, declared that Japan and the U.S. were bound by ties of “mutual interdependence.”

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

    So many forces shaping the future of Japan are nevertheless out of Japanese hands, and therefore beyond the power of anyone to influence, that no country can afford to be unmindful of them.  This can be said of any country, but it is particularly true of a country that remains divided.

    For the West, and particularly its most powerful nation, a pair of injunctions would seem to be an apt conclusion to what has been said:  Be quiet, and be strong.

    Be quiet.  If the troubles the United States had with Japan in 1960 taught a lesson, it was that the Japanese must not be pushed to a decision about their responsibilities in the world.  They may eventually come to a decision by their own devices, but as things stand today, nothing should be done that might give the impression that the United States is applying pressure.

    Proposals which demand of the Japanese more positive cooperation than they are now offering are still more dangerous.  It may seem that every nation has an obligation to defend itself, particularly if on occasion its international monetary problems seem of less moment than those of its chief ally.  Yet the Japanese are too important to the western world and too vulnerable to be left wandering unprotected, and today there are elements in Japan itself which seem to have reached that conclusion.  There are even some important factions in Prime Minister Sato’s own conservative party that not ony recognize the necessity of U.S. nuclear defenses but also see a need for Japan to have nuclear weapons of its own.  That is not a widely shared view; any proposal for adequate defenses flies squarely in the face of the American-drafted Japanese Constitution, and any effort to alter the Constitution would provoke violent opposition.  So the disagreeable but undeniable fact, not likely to change for a long time, is that the United States must be responsible for the defense of Japan and expect considerable vituperation in return.

    And the United States and the West must be strong.  There is yet another important element in Japanese neutralism.  In addition to being in some measure cynical, in some measure pro-Communist and in some measure wishful, neutralism is based on fear and opportunism, in this case closely intertiwned. There are Japanese who simply want to be on the winning side, and they think they see which side it will be.  Hence, whether or not they have any convictions, they say favorable things about China.

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

    It is possible to understand and even to sympathize with such people.  The United States is across the Pacific, but the Soviet Union is within sight of the northernmost Japanese island, and across the China Seas lies the newest of the nuclear powers, larger in terms of manpower than all the others put together.

    On a practical level, the strength of the American economy is important.  Although Japan is not as dependent on the United States as it once was, it is nevertheless more dependent on the United States than on any other country.

    A serious recession in America is the thing most certain to disturb the solid voting habits of the Japanese.  To remain prosperous is perhaps the best thing the United States and the West can do for Japan.  Economic stability may not answer all the questions, but economic disaster would be quite certain to produce all the wrong answers.

    ENDS
    ///////////////////////////////////////////////

    COMMENT:  Seidensticker attempts what all good scholars try to do with the society they have devoted their lives to:  Convince everyone else that they should be paying attention to it as well.

    In this case, we have the classic Western assessments of a fragile Japan in balance, at the time teetering between the contemporary poles of Free World and Communist Bloc; an ignorant nudge from the United States just might send it crashing down on the wrong side and throw world politics into “disaster”. (Clearly the USG is the intended audience here, as it reads more like a policy prescription in Foreign Affairs than an exotic travelogue; I am reminded of George Kennan’s “X” Soviet containment article.)

    So Seidensticker’s advice?  Be quiet and strong.  Leave Japan alone to develop along its own ways, but be mindful of which direction it’s going.  Shouldn’t be too hard, he suggests — if the US just keeps its economy chugging along its merry way, dependent Japan’s will too. Thus the paternalism of the United States, in this article’s case towards Japan in its position as a Cold-War pawn, still in my view colors US-Japan Relations today.

    Don’t get “pushy” with this “badly divided” and society mired in its “confused” exoticism?  Clearly this is a much better route than getting involved in Japan’s minutia like the US was doing in Vietnam (later soon Cambodia and Laos), if this indeed is how dipolar the choices were seen back then.  But if so, is there any wonder why Japan’s intellectuals showed such mistrust of the US?

    In sum, this is a thoughtful article, and in 2000 words Seidensticker acquits himself well when it comes to knowledge and sensitivity towards Japan.  But it’s clearly dated (not just because of smug hindsight to see how many predictions he got wrong); it’s clearly in the Edwin Reischauer camp of “poor, poor, misunderstood Japan, let’s not be ignorant or mean towards it”, meaning protecting the status quo or else someday Japan will attack us.

    Yet now, fifty years later, Japan has essentially gotten everything it wanted from the West in order to develop and prosper.  Yet I believe it’s heading back towards insularity today due to structures and habits that were NOT removed from Japan’s postwar bureaucracy and education system.  Such as a weak investigative press, an economic system not geared beyond developmental capitalism, a lack of solid oversight systems that encourage rule of law rather than allow bureaucratic extralegal guidelines or political filibustering, a lackluster judiciary that cannot (or refuses to) hold powerful people and bureaucrats responsible, a public undereducated beyond a mythological and anti-scientific “uniqueness” mindset, able to understand equality and fairness towards people who are disenfranchised or who are not members of The Tribe, etc.

    These are all essential developments crucial to the development of an equitable society that were stalled or stymied (starting with the Reverse Course of 1947) under the very same name of maintaining the delicate balance of Japan’s anti-communist status quo.  Well, the Cold War is long over, folks, yet Japan still seems locked into unhealthy dependency relationships (unless it is able to lord it over poorer countries in cynical and venal attempts to influence world politics in its own petty directions; also unhealthy).  Only this time, for the past twenty years and counting, Japan simply isn’t getting rich from it any longer.

    Further thoughts, Debito.org Readers?  Arudou Debito

    21 Responses to “Holiday Tangent: Seidensticker in TIME/LIFE World Library book on Japan dated 1965. Compare and contrast with today’s assessments.”

    1. Jim Di Griz Says:

      Excellent find Debito!
      I think that your comments are all pretty much spot-on. It’s interesting to read the article. Every generation of American scholars of Japan have always said ‘Japan is changing- look at the young people’ (convergence theory), and yet, Japan never changes. After 60 years of claiming that Japan is becoming a modern, western nation, Japan remains essentially the same in its social structures of petty nationalistic exclusionism.
      There was a really good study of ‘maturation effect’ conducted in Nishinomiya. A group of young people were surveyed about their attitudes, and they were all outward looking, and positive. 20 years later, the same people sounded like their parents (japan is surrounded by enemies, Japan must maintain food independence, Japanese culture is unique and must be protected from outside influences, etc).

    2. Mike Gunn Says:

      Just me or has the overall situation seem to be moving in a negative direction the last several years?

      I have been living in Japan since 1998, so obviously I cannot speak for the bubble years, but I “felt” things were moving in a different direction for the better (until recently).

      For example, about 5 years ago everyone started talking how to buy a home in Japan, there was a certain atmosphere that there was future (if you wanted)in Japan to the extent that a number of folks were willing to buy a home in Japan.

      I don’t feel that anymore (even before 3/11).
      (How much of that involves the overall economic and social situation regardless…?)

    3. cstaylor Says:

      On food independence: even with all of the trade barriers in place, JA has failed to reach 100% self-sufficiency. Looking over the demographics, who will grow Japan’s food in 20 years? Consolidation and automation are the key, but since you control more votes with more small-plot farmers…

    4. Bucky Says:

      “They are part of the western alliance not because they are part of its tradition but because they lost a war with its strongest member Material prosperity has not ended a feeling of restlessness. No number of washing machines can really substitute for a sense of mission.”

      Brilliant!

      “The observer pities a country that cannot make up its mind to defend itself but cannot really make up its mind to have others defend it; that cannot live with armaments (especially nuclear ones) but cannot live without them. The observer can even understand, so emotion-ridden is the question, why those who resolve the dilemma by dismissing defenses and defenders show a strong tendency to try to eat their cake and have it too.”

      Bazinga.

      “Although it is still far from victory, the Socialist party creeps a little closer to it with every election.”

      Well, 46 year later, we all know where THIS ended up going…

      “In its eagerness to make the last push, it may turn to wooing the essentially conservative voter east of that imaginary downtown-uptown line.”

      This never happened, because the Socialist Party leadership realized too late that “da po’fokes loves dey Emperor (cosmologically eviscerated empty symbolic shell that he may be)

      “This can be said of any country, but it is particularly true of a country that remains divided.”

      At least in this respect (defense policy, perception of desirability for transdefeat cultural and institutional continuity), Japan still is divided. Although you’d be hard pressed to know it relying only on J-mass media content (which depicts the archipelago as being one big happy family)

      “Seidensticker attempts what all good scholars try to do with the society they have devoted their lives to: Convince everyone else that they should be paying attention to it as well.”

      Ouch! That hit home (see my book sales, for example)

      Nice Kennan reference, btw.

      “Thus the paternalism of the United States, in this article’s case towards Japan in its position as a Cold-War pawn, still in my view colors US-Japan Relations today.”

      Absolutely. And this became even easier and comfier after the collapse of the Bubble made J less “scary” again.

      “Yet I believe it’s heading back towards insularity today due to structures and habits that were NOT removed from Japan’s postwar bureaucracy and education system.”

      Yep. As I never tire of pointing out, Emperor Doug allowed too much transdefeat cultural and institutional continuity in postwar-J as a cynical policy to 1) make the Occupation an easier undertaking, and 2) leave in place a substantial reactionary Old Guard in politics, bureaucracy, and corporate sphere as a semi-permanent foil against any future “socialist” (even if only meant more aggressively “neutral”) Japan.

      “under the very same name of maintaining the delicate balance of Japan’s anti-communist status quo”

      Yep.

    5. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Mike Gunn,
      I get the feeling that since the economic crisis, Japan has generally become a less pleasant place to live on an everyday basis. I feel (purely anecdotal) that this society is becoming more openly rude (not just to NJ, but also between Japanese), and I think that bullying is becoming more common. Perhaps the stresses of the bad economy are strong enough to over-ride the tatamae of politeness, and are bringing out the ‘dog-eat-dog’ in the Japanese?

    6. Charuzu Says:

      Debito:

      You hit the mark exactly.

      A question that I would ask is why, at an individual level, do no Japanese raise the issue?

      I agree with your points, and the fact that such habits are deeply engrained.

      Yet, I remain mystified as to why there seem to be no individuals who speak out.

      I might expect, for example, elected members from this group [http://www.jcp.or.jp/english/] from the Miyagi prefectural assembly to attempt to rouse the masses.

      Or I might expect a reader of a book such as this [http://www.amazon.co.jp/s?url=search-alias=aps&field-keywords=4326101547] to devote himself to the issues.

      It puzzles me why Japanese are so tepid in their reactions to a system that is clearly failing them.

    7. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Charuzu

      I think your post is interesting. If I may, I think that there are several underlying social and cultural reasons for the malaise (I’ll make a quick list for the sake of brevity).

      1. Japanese democracy was not born from the worker/management disputes of the type seen in 17th/18th/19th/20th century Europe. There is no history in Japan of democratic politics serving to balance the rights of the people and the responsibilities of factory (company) owners. One symptom of this is that Japanese companies have cleverly invented the idea that unions should be internal to the company. Doesn’t really offer much industry wide support or protection for dissenting workers, does it?

      2. The Japanese are still infected by Imperialist ideology. As a result, they still believe that whatever the ills of their system, it’s better than the other Asian countries they see around them (for example, China, N. Korea, Thailand). Any attempt to compare the poor state in Japan with a western nation runs into the ‘self-fulfilling (and defeating) prophecy’ of ‘but this is Japan!’. There is no willingness to accept that the structures they identify with the ‘this is Japan!’ statement, are the very structures that are handicapping them.

      3. Fatalism. Japan changes PM’s more often than I change my socks, and there is no appreciable progress. Their is no desire for change towards a positive future, and no clear vision offered by politicians about what that future should be. Rather the opposite, in pandering to Japan’s growing demographic of aging voters, it is becoming clearer than ever that rather than look to what kind of future Japan should be aimed for, the goal is more than ever to fight to return to bubble era prosperity (even though 20 years of trying has failed). No-one is offering an alternative vision for a bright future (where is Japan’s JFK, for example?).

      4. Bullying. What’s the worst thing that can happen to a Japanese person? Being ostracized. If anyone speaks out too loudly, they will be accused of embarrassing Japan in the eyes of the international media, and therefore not being a team player. It’s the old, ‘Why can’t you accept life’s not fair and ganbare like the rest of us? Who do you think you are? We Japanese all have to do our bit together, you’re not special.’ (Debito has correctly identified a lack of fairness, the corrosive effect of the ‘ganbare’ mantra, and fatalism as the primary tools used to limit social discourse in Just Be Cause columns).

      Just my opinion.

    8. Debourca Says:

      @Jim De Griz & Martin Gunn:

      I came here in 2003, and since 2008, there has been a noticeable decline in the country, both socially and economically. In the mid 2000′s, as Martin pointed out, people were actually beginning to feel a bit more optimistic about the future of Japan. The birth rate was beginning to nudge up. About 2008-2009, this all changed. The worldwide slump had an effect, of course, but I think a fair share of the blame can be laid at the feet of Koizumi. He started talking about “winners” and “losers” in Japan, and basically, all pretence of egalitarianism went out the door.

      Since then, wages across all industries have plummeted. Unlike Europe and North America/The Antipodes (perhaps even South America?), workers rights in Japan are non-existent. There are some rights enshrined in law (in relation to overtime, holidays allowed, sick pay etc), but these are routinely ignored. If a company can argue that upholding these rights are “bad for business”, the legal establishment of Japan will allow them to ignore said rights.

      In addition, as Debito pointed out in a recent article for the Japan Times, these rights (especially relating to contract and full time workers) are also enforced more for Japanese than non Japanese. For his trouble, Debito was subjected to letters that expressed flat out denial (contrary to all evidence) and the hoary old cliche that “it’s worse in other places, so get over it.”

      As Jim explained, employers and companies have started to show that the piecemeal verbal agreements made with workers unions are not worth the paper they’re written on.

      Basically, this country is rapidly becoming a second world Asian country, with a very wealthy upper caste (Japan has the world’s largest amount of millionaire households after the US!) and a dirt-poor everyone else scrabbling to survive.

      Poverty in Japan is a massive problem and is rerely talked about or investigated in the national or international media.

      In addition, other Asian countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, etc at least have a generally pleasant and relaxed lifestyle: an attitude of enjoying today, that helps the citizenry cope with the serious material poverty of daily life. Japan doesn’t even have that anymore.(I think it did until around the time of the above article.)

      Japan is a ferociously materialist, consumer culture. The obscene work culture that continues in this country in the face of declining incomes, stems from the obsession with status that is only recognised by brand. If you cannot afford the correct brand references, you are nothing.

      Therefore, The Japanese will continue to work harder than ever for less and less.

      I can’t see any change is this country. It is going to continue this downward spiral, for reasons well expressed by Jim.

      There are many things I love and respect about the people of this country, but they are rapidly disappearing under stifling conformity, and I cannot in good conscience remain in Japan and raise a family here, so, after eight years, I am leaving.

    9. Charuzu Says:

      Jim Di Griz:

      Thank you, that is interesting and helpful.

      What do you think accounts for the fact that there really seem to be no individual Japanese who dissent from all that you describe?

      I would expect a distribution curve in which, even if the greater majority of all Japanese are influenced by the factors you identify, there would still be a few outliers at the very end of the distribution curve who would foment dissent.

      Yet, there seems to be really no one.

      Japanese are by no means monolithic in the bulk of their views (towards wine, favourite sports, fashion, etc).

      Yet their views towards public policy matters are unusually uniform, with no one demanding greater investigation.

      With blog sites being so easy to establish, I would have thought that there would be a few dissident Japanese fomenting a fundamental change.

      Yet I find no such sites, leave alone any journalists demanding more investigational journalism, or populist political leaders, even at the lowest levels of government.

      Or, perhaps, am I simply not locating them due to my weak Japanese language skills?

    10. Baudrillard Says:

      @ Charazu above, there are dissidents in the Democratic Republic, sorry, Empire of Japan- those 2 greenpeace activitists arrested for stealing whale meat spring to mind.

      @ Debourca re “Japan is a ferociously materialist, consumer culture. The obscene work culture that continues in this country in the face of declining incomes, stems from the obsession with status that is only recognised by brand. If you cannot afford the correct brand references, you are nothing.”

      Postmodernist Guy Debord talked of the ‘spectacle’ – “a social relation between people that is mediated by images” consisting of mass media, advertisement and popular culture. The spectacle is a self-fulfilling control mechanism for society. Debord’s analysis developed the notions of “reification” and “fetishism of the commodity” pioneered by Karl Marx and Lukas.

      In other words, people build their identities through buying brands, to become “somebody”.

      I ve noticed in Japan since about 1992, in the most annoying, banal ways- but these are everyday occurences and therefore meaningful examples:

      “My boyfriend is “sportsman” (it means he is not too skinny and wears a baseball cap, does a sport at weekends?).
      “DJ” type- he wears a REVERSED baseball cap and DJed at a party once.”Sa-faaa” (Surfer, including Oka Surfer, or fake surfer). He used to surf before salarymaning.

      Dont even get me started on hostesses and their prerequisite brands. Or the stereotypes women are pushed to follow (e.g. “Wife” changing to “mother” after marriage, as a non-sexual figure).

      I would argue that many Japanese define themselves more by their hobbies, brand acquisition, and fake fantasties. Americans are defined more by jobs. I am not sure which is sadder,(“Revolution Road” springs to mind here) and feel free to disagree.

      But Japan is a great place to come as a 20-something and live in a fantasy for a while, cosplaying etc. Thus the apathy of youth towards politics, or even to that nuclear disaster disturbing that otherwise dreamy day.

    11. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Baudrillard,
      You’re observations are so astutue. Your BF analysis reminds me of the Nori-pi scandal. She had always claimed in interviews that her husband was a ‘pro-surfer’, and yet when she ended up in court, it came out that her BF had a friend who owned a surf shop, and that was the limit of her BF’s connection to surfing. Pure self-delusion.

      @Charuzu,

      You are correct, the Japanese are by no means monolithic in opinion. They are monolithic in having a ‘not in front of the gaijin’ attitude, hence the ‘We Japanese (insert generalization)’. As Baudrillard points out, look at the trouble the two Green Peace supporters got into. The media practically accused them not of trying to uncover illegal practices in the whaling industry, but of attacking Japan’s unique traditional culture! Debito posted earlier this year (sorry Debito, can’t find the thread) about a Japanese (man?) who went to live abroad and blogged about how unfair and suffocating life and work was in Japan. Many Japanese who saw his blog got angry that he was going abroad and saying bad things about Japan. Eventually, they used the information ha gave about weather in his home town, and his update times to track him down in real life and physically threaten him and his family. This is what happens to the nail that stick out btw.

      – Sorry, I don’t think that was posted on Debito.org

    12. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Debito,

      All apologies, it wasn’t one of yours.
      here is the interesting story of what happens to a Japanese who dares to speak out against Japan.

      http://globalvoicesonline.org/2011/09/11/japan-a-case-of-an-exposed-online-pseudonym/

    13. Charuzu Says:

      Jim Di Griz:

      What do you think accounts for:

      “They are monolithic in having a ‘not in front of the gaijin’ attitude”??

      Japanese have not been victimised by others historically.

      I would expect a “‘not in front of the gaijin’ attitude” by a group that has been repeatedly victimised (like Armenians, or Jews or other victims of genocides).

      And, to that point, are Japanese burakumin, or gays or ethnic zainichi Koreans different regarding the “‘not in front of the gaijin’ attitude”?

      They have been victimised by Japanese society, and so might be expected to be more angry about its unfairnesses.

      Just as in America Dr. Martin Luther King came from a victimised group and so had a greater impetus to address social problems, is that true for marginalised groups in Japan?

      As a group

      – I doubt you’d get many Japanese saying that they haven’t been victimized by anyone historically. Victimization is a meme not only in Japan, but all around Asia. It’s one way people justify reverse discrimination against non-Asians to this day (see, for example, how a Chinese panelist was defending “Japanese Only” signs during the Otaru Onsens Case as a form of historical revenge back on this episode of Kokogahendayo Nihonjin back in 2001; page down to Mr. Shuu Raiyuu).

      As for whether victimized groups (e.g, Burakumin, Douseiaisha, Zainichi) will also do “NIFOTG”, my experience is, meeting plenty of them during my tours, that yes, while many are vocal with complaints about Japan, some will still dull them towards people perceived as outsiders and guests. It’s a cultural thing.

    14. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @Charuzu,

      But the Japanese do see themselves as perpetual victims of the ‘white man’, and the ‘western world’. In elementary and junior high school education they are continually taught aboy what a big step it was for Japan to become a modern nation in the Meiji period, and avoid being ripped apart by colonial powers, like China. This teaching reinforces the meme that imperialism was good for Japan, and just a way of Japan defending itself from evil western nations. At junior high school, the New Crown English textbook teaches the Hiroshima bombing with no context what-so-ever (It was a peaceful day in Hiroshima when suddenly the Americans dropped the first atom bomb). And now, of course, the Japanese are suffering because of the ‘global economic crisis’, which they see themselves as victims of, never mind the economic model they chose.
      It’s a kind of brain-washing and self delusion. It’s the national Napoleon syndrome. And if being Japanese isn’t enough of a basis for feeling victimized, then they will play the asian card and teach their children about the evils of the opium war. Of course, Japan’s imperial era atrocities are works of fiction, by racist anti-Japan haters. As we know, passive-aggression is something the Japanese are culturally very skilled at (even having what used to be called a ‘passive-aggressive tense’ in the language), and the victimization schtick is part of that (bundled together with arrogance and spite).
      As for the buraku, gays, or zainichi speaking out, why should they? What have they got to gain from that? Those people have spent their whole lives trying to cover up and fit in. If they stick their necks out they will face a lifetime of discrimination and ridicule. However Japanese law regards the buraku and zainichi, they are de facto Japanese, and have no reason to draw attention to themselves as otherwise, and why should they?

    15. Michael Says:

      @Baudrillard: “In other words, people build their identities through buying brands, to become “somebody”.”

      This isn’t unique to Japan: Near as I can tell, most of the clothing store chains in my local shopping mall exist to help American teenagers do the same thing. To whatever extent, though, that the Japanese are worse about that than other Western cultures, it is interesting to speculate on why. Could it be a legacy of the Meiji Era, when Japan was literally trying to buy its way into Westerner status?

      On weak investigative journalism, a non-rhetorical question: How hard would it be to publish a free alternative newspaper like the one many American communities have? Does Japan have restrictions on newspapers or the printing industry we do not?

    16. Baudrillard Says:

      @ Michael, of course buying identities (Guy Debord, Lukas, Marx) and commodity fetish is not unique to Japan.

      What IS unique to Japan is 1. they buy “western” identities and then 2. Claim that these are Japanese identities, when they are in fact fake simulacra, and recently invented fictions of what “Japan” is supposed to be.

      It is like if I was to start speaking in Jamaican patois, have dreadlocks, listen to reggae and say “this is British culture” (although one could at least make an argument for Jamaica being a British subculture, which is a tribute to Britain’s multicultural heritage).

      Thats the short version as I want to go and have a drink now!

    17. Charuzu Says:

      Jim DiGriz #14:

      I agree with the parts of what you say about which I have knowledge.

      You say:

      “It’s a kind of brain-washing and self delusion.”

      As a European, this reminds me too much of the types of delusions that infected Germans in the 1920s and 1930s — that they were victims.

      I wonder how hard it would be for a demagogue with charisma to capture the hearts of the Japanese and lay all the blame for their many problems on a conspiracy by some despised group?

    18. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Charuzu #17

      ‘I wonder how hard it would be for a demagogue with charisma to capture the hearts of the Japanese and lay all the blame for their many problems on a conspiracy by some despised group?’

      It hasn’t been very hard at all, by the looks of it. Ishihara and Hashimoto seem to be doing it just fine at the moment, don’t you think?

    19. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Charuzu #17

      I just would like to add to my above comment that I am fairly certain that not all Japanese (just as in 1920′s and 30′s Germany) not all will fall under the spell of charismatic demagogues. There will always be plenty in Japan (just as there was in inter-war Germany) who are not stupid enough to be won over by such simplistic arguments. Unfortunately, just as with Germany, I suspect that those who have the means will leave Japan (just as many have and are still doing), and that those without the means to leave will choose to ‘shou ga nai’ until it is too late; anything for a quiet life.

    20. Charuzu Says:

      Jim Di Griz #19:

      I agree that there would be and are J who emigrate to escape what they view as a stultifying culture.

      I have met many J artists who have permanently settled in France, Belgium and the Netherlands for just those reasons.

      As such, might it be that J is becoming more conservative, in part because more enlightened J are disproportionately likely to leave?

    21. Jim Di Griz Says:

      @ Charuzu #20

      It’s not just artists Charuzu. My experiences are with upper level J-managers and professionals who are taking off for the continental US, Hawaii, Singapore, London, Naples, and Taipei. Where essential, they are popping in and out of a third country on ‘visa-runs’. I am not attacking them for this (although given the whole ‘fly-jin’ thing, I am amazed to see that the J-media doesn’t cover the fact that high level managers in companies whose TV adverts were full of the ‘ganbare nippon’ message last year, at the same time sent their wives and children overseas where they remain to this day).
      This does, as you indicate, mean that the remaining Japanese include a small, but relatively higher proportion of the more…..narrow minded, shall we say?

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