Hi Blog. At the start of this decade, I republished an article in the JALT PALE Journal (Spring 2001) regarding Gregory Clark, his business acumen regarding language teaching in Japan, and his motivations for being who he is in Japan.
Gregory Clark has recently called attention to himself with a bigoted Japan Times column, questioning our legitimacy to have or even demand equal rights in Japan. As people debate his qualifications and motives all over again, I think it would be helpful to reproduce the following article in a more searchable and public venue. Like here.
I have heard claims that this article in The Australian was met with threat of lawsuit. Obviously that came to naught. Since The Australian has given me direct permission to reproduce this article in full, let me do so once again here. Still more on his disregard for facts of cases here. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
“OUR OTHER MAN IN JAPAN”
Courtesy of The Australian Magazine
16th October 1993, Edition 1. pp 26-41
(used with permission of The Australian Magazine)
He isn’t our ambassador, but he’d like to be. Invariably, Gregory Clark is the Australian the Japanese turn to for advice about themselves and other issues.
What riles him is that Australians don’t.
BY RICHARD McGREGOR
FULL PAGE PHOTO shows Clark smiling and standing in a park, with a young Japanese girl in full Seijinshiki-style kimono in the background taking a photo of something off-camera.
Caption: “Embittered expatriate Gregory Clark: ‘Even allowing for the vast amounts of ego, it’s just absurd that an Australian who has made it in Japan, and who sits on government committees, gets ignored.'”
Gregory Clark beams: “Just pulled in a biggie!” he tells me as he puts down the phone. We are at Tokyo Airport about to jump on a plane for Osaka where Clark is giving a lecture to a group of Japanese executives. The “biggie” is an invitation to give another talk–to one of Japan’s big business bodies. It’s nice to see him smiling, because he can be fearsome when he’s not.
Once, in the middle of a cordial argument while having a drink, I suggested he stop complaining about one of the many decades-old issues that still obsess him. That evening, it was the way he was run out of the Australian Foreign Affairs department for opposing the Vietnam war. It was as though someone had just shot puce-colored dye into his veins. His neck bulged, and he slammed the table. But a few mintues later, he was his charming self. Clark can be like that–especially when you get him on the subject of Australia.
Ex-Canberra bureaucrat, ex-journalist and ex-diplomat, Clark, 57, has lived in Japan in a sort of self-imposed exile from Australia since the late seventies. He teaches advanced Japanese to foreigners at a university in Tokyo, which is nice because it allows him to put the title of Professor in front of his name. It helps that he speaks advanced Japanese, too. He writes for up-scale newspapers and magazines in Japan and around the world, including an occasional column for The Australian; is setting up a management centre on 12 hectares of land he owns on the edge of Tokyo; and, a few times a week, gives lectures telling the Japanese in their own language about their unique “tribal” or “village-like” culture, at anything from $2500 to $6500 a time.
Clark has still had time over the years to pen the odd short book on different topics, sit on a range of Japanese government committees, and collect the rent on a residential property he owns in the heart of Tokyo, where even in the middle of a calamitous collapse, prices are embarassingly high by world standards. Prices are relative, of course, depending on when you get into the market and when you get out, but Clark got in early–well before the boom.
Add that to the proceeds from the occasional tickle on the Tokyo stockmarket — “the best way is to watch it, and short it,” he confides, referring to the practice of selling stock in anticipation of a price fall before buying again. And you can see that Japan has been good to him.
So Gregory Clark is rich and successful, and by a long-shot the most famous Australian in Japan. But is he happy? Not really, which is where Australia comes in.
Greg Clark is the first of nine children sired by Sir Colin Clark, a famous economist and statistician who is credited with measuring and describing concepts in the thirties that are part of everyday economic jargon these days. While working with one of the centuries most influential economists, John Maynard Keynes, at Cambridge University, Colin Clark coined and refined such terms as gross national product, and primary, secondary, and tertiary industry.
He came to Australia in 1937 and worked in a variety of government jobs, most priminently as head of the Treasury in the Queensland Government. He had stints back at Oxford and at Chicago University before returning to Australia where he died in 1989. “He became a Santamaria fanatic–you know, 25 acres and a pig and that sort of thing,” says his son. “Except he had 10 acres and nine children.”
Colin Clark was also the subject of a thesis just after the war by a young Japanese economist called Kiichi Miyazawa, who then rose through the bureaucratic and political ranks to become prime minister, a connection that hasn’t hurt his son since he arrived in Tokyo. Japan’s leading conservative daily, The Yomiuri Shimbun, also listed Clark as an academic contact of the country’s new Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa.
Greg Clark joined the department of Foreign Affairs in 1956, studied Mandarin Chinese as part of language training in Hong Kong, and was later posted to the then Soviet Union where he remembers Canberra “made me go to explain to them all the time what terrible atrocities the Vietcong were committing”. This period, plus later study in Japan, has given him three foreign languages–Russian, Mandarin, and Japanese–which he speaks and reads in varying degrees of skill. In Japanese, he is virtually fluent.
These days, Australia is a subject you ohnly have to prod Clark with very lightly to get him going. He has a list of grievances which goes on and on: starting with victimisation when he opposed the Vietnam war and China policy, to the mistreatment he says he recevied while working as a bureaucrat in the Whitlam government, and finally, worst of all in his eyes, the way he claims he has been ignored by the academics and sometimes blackballed by diplomats in charge of the Japan industry in Australia.
“I just think it’s a tragedy–it’s a tragedy for me, and a tragedy for Australia,” he says. “Even allowing for the vast amounts of [his own] ego, it’s just absurd that an Australian, who has made it in Japan, and who sits on Government committees, and who would be known by every second person, gets ignored. It’s just totally ratshit.”
Clark’s big falling out with those around him was over his opposition to the Vietnam war. “The establishment turned the big guns on me,” he says, including, he claims, the pioneer of post-war Australia-Japan trade, Sir John Crawford. That was followed by a stint at the Australian National University in Canberra, where he aborted his Ph.D with only a few months to go to take up a job as this newspaper’s correspondent in Tokyo in 1969. Clark’s patron at this time was John Menadue, then general manager of News Limited, who got him the job in Tokyo, and then brought him home to work with him when Menadue became head of the Prime Minister’s department in the Whitlam government.
The Canberra experience ended badly. Clark felt he was sidelined by Menadue and let down by Whitlam. After the government fell, he burnt his bridges by penning an article for the National Times savagely critical of the Whitlam government, and returned to Japan to join his long-time partner, Yasuko Tano, and their two chldren and to rebuild his career as a writer and teacher.
Two years later, Menadue was back in Tokyo as Australian Ambassador, and according to his friends, was shocked at Clark’s reaction. “When John became ambassador, that sent Greg into a real frenzy whenever you’d mention him, and he wrote several articles disparaging the embassy because nobody in the diplomatic part of it could speak Japanese,” says one man who knows both Clark and Menadue. Clark maintains he never attacked Menadue personally. Menadue declined to comment for this article.
Clark’s relationship with the Foreign Affairs establishment was soured even further by an episode that occurred when he launched his book about Japan’s “tribal” society in the late seventies. As an example of Japan’s “tribalism” and “groupism”, he recounted how Japanese journalists based in Australia had collectively ignored a report published in local newspapers in the mid-seventies about how our intelligence agencies were eavesdropping on Japanese diplomatic traffic out of Canberra.
“By the way,” Clark recalls telling a Newsweek reporter in Tokyo when he was promoting the book, “you might want to look at the bottom of page 138” –where the incident was briefly mentioned. The result was a large story in the international news magazine, with a headline about an “ex-diplomat” revealing that Australia spied on its largest trading partner. Canberra was not amused, and Clark was put on the Australian Embassy’s black list in Tokyo.
“It was humiliating and degrading to have these ASIO types sitting in the embassy–these are uneducated people who don’t speak Japanese–deciding that I was a threat to Australian security,” he says. A former intelligence officer who served in the embassy in Japan confirmed that Clark had been put on a loose sort of “black list” restricting formal contacts because, the officer says, “of the narrowmindedness and sheer bastardry of senior officers in Canberra.”
At the same time, Clark was steaming over getting what he says was the cold shoulder from an organisation he says he helped set up in the early seventies, the Australia-Japan Research Centre at the ANU. The centre, which is important and influential in Japan studies and policy in Australia, was just beginning to flourish under its founder, Professor Peter Drysdale, who still heads it today. “I have never had any disagreement with Drysdale,” says Clark, “but I was completely excluded, and at the time, it hurt. Universities are not set up to do this sort of thing. Drysdale is not known in Japan, but I have sat on all these committees. I mean, what the hell is going on!”
Drysdale and Clark are a study in contrasts. The former, a low-profile mainstream academic who speaks only a little Japanese but has good contacts in the country, has been crucial in formulating Australia’s regional trade and Japan policies. Clark, an outspoken maverick with few self-censoring mechanisms, has been eagerly, but not always easily, ignored by Canberra’s policymakers.
Professor Drysdale, contacted in Canberra, declined to respond to Clark’s comments, but the Emeritus Professor of Economics at the ANU, Heinz Arndt, who supervised Clark’s Ph.D at the ANU until his student quit “to my utter disgust” just before he finished, remembers the problem this way. “Drysdale and the whole group were not happy about bringing him into the project, partly because he was in Tokyo, and partly because of differences in approaches and temperament. In other words, he is an extremely difficult person who thinks that anybody who disagrees with him is a complete idiot.”
Professor Arndt is not the only one who puts Clark’s problems down to his temperament. “Greg is a peculiar bloke–he has a knack of rubbing people up the wrong way,” says one person who knows him well. “That’s not something that just blossomed when he went back to Japan, and it’s always made it difficult to make people feel loyal to him. Greg does not have many loyal friends because he does not earn them. His assessment of himself is not a universally accepted one either. It would be difficult to mention any job from prime minister of the world down that Greg does not feel he could admirably fill.”
“Anyone who competes on the same turf is a bit of a hate figure,” says another friend of Clark’s.
But just as a chill set in for Clark in Australia, a new day dawned in Japan. Clark’s theories about Japan’s “village-like” society proved to be a big hit when delivered in Japanese by a foreigner. The lucrative speaking circuit opened up, and for the past 15-odd years he has toured the country giving different and updated versions of a similar lecture to business, industry and community associations. In a society with the depth, organisation and thirst for information of Japan, there is a rich vein to be mined–he has been to the city of Nagasaki, for example, about 16 times to talk to different groups.
Give up to 150 to 200 lectures a year, as he does, and it becomes a rewarding occupation. The fee depends on whom he is addressing, he tells me as we get on the plane to take us to Osaka where he is going to speak to executives from the iron and steel industries. Today rates as a middle-ranking engagement–an afternoon’s work for Y400,000 plus expenses, or about $5,500. “The people you screw are the companies, who are putting it on for the benefit of their customers,” he says. “the whole thing is purely commerical, so there is no hesitation in insisting on the full fee.”
The speech I hear him deliver to the steel executives group in Osaka is witty, fluid and delivered with a practiced panache and a stream of punch lines. The audience loves it. His host, Shizuka Hayashi of Daido Steel, tells me later that Clark’s “tribal” theories make lots of sense. “Professor Clark said the Japanese tend to cooperate when they are working in small groups. This was particularly good to hear because this is exactly what we are trying to do in our companies and workplaces,” he says. And what did he think of the Y400,000 price tag? “Well, to tell the truth,” he sayss, “it was more than we expected, but it was worth it.”
As any foreigner who comes to Japan realises, there is a fortune to be made in telling the Japanese about themselves. “I should have got in on this racket before,” Clark remembers thinking when he first realised what he had tapped into. “I would get up in the morning and pinch myself about what was happening. Suddenly, I was in a situation where nobody can touch me. It was night turned into day.”
Clark says later: “For a nation not to have any fundamental guiding principle–that’s what a tribe is. I am telling them you have to get rid of the kabuki and ikebana shit. You have to get people involved in this society, and people will get to appreciate Japan for what it is.” He continues: “The gaijin [foreigner] who comes here, and can speak with authority, gets far more attention than he deserves–because in this society, people can’t get up and say all sorts of things.”
Clark can get violently indignant about how people in Australia don’t recognise his achievements in Japan, including sitting on numerous special government advisory committees–the so-called shinigikai [sic]. Last year, for example, he was nominated by then prime minister Miyazawa to sit on a shinigikai on the future of the Japanese economy, but complains that nobody in the embassy ever contacted him to tap into what he had learnt. But in the next breath, he can drip with cynicism about the same same system, and the opportunities it offers people like him. “They are not inviting you [onto these committees] for your wisdom, you know,” he tells me at one stage. “They are asking you because of your celebrity status, so you have to keep it up.”
Clark’s message is especially value-added for a Japanese audience because his message is that Japan is unique is what many Japanese love to hear. “Unique?” he says. “I happen to agree with them. It does not do any harm [to be invited to speak], but I happen to believe it.”
Other see Clark’s proselytising of his “tribal” theories in a much more insidious light. One sharp critic is Dutch journalist Karel van Wolferen, the author of the iconoclastic 1989 best-seller The Enigma of Japanese Power. Van Wolferen’s book says ordinary Japanese are rendered powerless by something he calls “The System”, which consists of a raft of unofficial social controls not regulated by law, or subject to genuine political discussion. When the book came out, Clark said it was full of errors, and denounced it in a magazine as being venomously anti-Japanese and Eurocentric to the point of almost being racist.
Clark, van Wolferen responded, is a “foreign servant of The System” and the committees he serves on are there just to give an “illusion of democracy”. “Whether intentionally or not,” he wrote in the Gekkan Asahi magazine, “Mr Clark reassures Japanese readers all the time that it is true what they have always been told; that they are unique in a special way because of having constructed an advanced civilisation on ‘primary group’ values. This is certainly the kind of thing that Japanese occupying high positions in the institutions that share power want everybody to hear. I write many Japnese do not like to hear because it is the opposite: that consensus is, in fact, rare and difficult to achieve, that there is much intimidation in Japanese society, that it is much less cosy than the village-type society imagined and idealised by Mr Clark. So he reassures Japanese people that a Westerner like me who says such things is Western-centric and hates Japan… Another reason why I say that Mr Clark serves The System is that what he writes is only for Japanese consumption.
“No-one among those many foreigners who are interested in Japan, but who cannot read Japanese, has been able to consider his ideas in detail, because the book that has made him famous in Japan has never come out in any other language.” Ouch! Being a Japanese specialist is a bruising business. But if Clark is a “foreign servant of The System”, then not all of the bureaucrats realize it. Clark has enraged the Japanese Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, for example, by pursuing a campaign critical of its claim against Russia for the return of the four small islands to the north of Japan seized by Stalin at the end of the war. Clark’s assertion in numerous articles in the Japanese and international media that Tokyo gave up its claim years ago has been highly effective, something that can be gauged from how apoplectic some Japanese diplomats go at the mention of his name.
These battles get Clark attention in Japan, but they are not the ones closest to his heart. They remain at home. The mismanagement of the Australian economy and industry policy is one recurring theme. Canaberra’s fatal attraction to free trade is another. Both, of course, allow him to target the hated Canberra bureaucrats who he says forced him out. But many of his pet issues are still the same bureaucratic battles he fought in the sixties and seventies.
Going home is the only way to exorcise these bitter demons. Clark says he tried to return to the Australian mainstream by taking up an offer to become scholar-in-residence at the Foreign Affairs department in the mid-eighties, but claims the then minister, Bill Hayden, vetoed it. A spokeswoman for the now Governor-Genneral confirms he rejected, in April 1986, a suggestion that Mr Clark should get the position.
He also applied for the job of trade commissioner to China in the mid-eighties. “That would have been quite a comedown for me,” he says. “My idea was to take a loss of income for three to four years, and ideally use the job to get back into the bureaucracy.” He didn’t get the job. John Menadue, then head of the deapartment, is understood to have made his opposition clear. One member of the selection committee was Stephen Fitzgerald, Australia’s first ambassador to Beijing in 1972, and an old colleague of Clark’s from university in Canberra in the sixties, when both were studying Mandarin. Fitzgerald said he didn’t oppose Clark, but when Fitzgerald’s name comes up, Clark splutters: “He owes his position to me–the little bastard.”
It turns out that his complaint is nothing to do with the trade job, but goes all the way back to the sixties. Clark claims credit for getting Fitzgerald started in Chinese studies, but feels the favour was never returned. It is another demon.
“Ah, Greg, he’s a funny guy,” says Fitzgerald when I relay this comment. “I have a great respect for Greg — it was only a couple of years ago when we were talking about doing something between Japan and Australia. But he’s a kind of captive almost to this day of reliving the fights of the sixties as though he can’t escape them. It’s weird. When I was strting the Journal of Australian Chinese Studies, I wrote to him suggesting he write an article about Japan-China relations. He wrote back that it would be much more interesting to write about what happened in Foreign Affairs in 1965-66.” Clark’s obsession with the past makes it difficult to contribute in the present, even when he knows as much as any Australian about Japan and China, and much of Asia, and their languages.
“To be an oracle,” says Fitzgerald, “you must have an element of the protean. It’s all very well to be messianistic, but even messianics have to be manipulative. You have to adapt to people’s personalities. It requires a lot of crafting. You must suppress ego, and also your sponteneous tendency to be contemptuous of other people.” Clark gramaces when I tell him what Fitzgerald has said. Fitzgerald is right in a way, he admits. He should leave these things behind, but he still wants to stress that these are important issues. We have a beer and I leave. Wating for me when I come into my office early next morning is a three-page, densely typed fax. It contains a detailed account of what Clark calls the “main event” straining his ties with the Labor Party–a debate in the bureaucracy about the need for a treaty between Australia and Japan. It was a debate Clark lost. “I was left swinging in the wind, again,” he says. It is a remarkable document–full of fascinating insight, personalities, bitchiness and self-pity. It could be part of a great book about Clark’s life and times. He should write it himself. Put it all on the record. Let it all hang out.
Then, perhaps, he can get on with the rest of his life.
SUPPLIMENTARY NOTE FROM ARUDOU DEBITO:
I received a photocopy of this article from a person who has had professional contact with Clark. The sender enclosed a short memo saying the following:
“Dave, I have the dubious distinction of inviting him to lecture. A Y600,000 fee & airfares for a two-hour, not a second more, dated speech. I know, because we had a taped one from 8 years given previously. And he had the nerve to ask us to sell his books at the door. No question time, either.”
HELP JOURNAL FEATURE ON GREGORY CLARK ENDS
MORE ON HIS LIFE AND LINGUISTICS HERE