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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:32 03/09/2007
Debate: Commentary (January 30, 2003)

Response to Mr. Miyao's Commentary

James A. Lockhart (Hachioji, Tokyo, Japan)

This comment originally appeared in the "Japan-U.S. Discussion Fourm" ( on January 29, 2003: posted here with the author's permission.

Prof. Miyao wrote:
"I just would like to point out that there have recently been some serious attempts to encourage open debate in English (!) among Japanese on important issues relating to Japan, such as "Japan's place in the world," in order to correct the misconception that the Japanese would not like to discuss key questions about themselves openly, but rather be "silent, smiling and sleeping."

Hmmm. Misconception? Really?

I've seen all the books in the bookstores and watched some of the late-night TV programs that David Littleboy mentions, too. With all due respect to Dr. Miyao and GLOCOM notwithstanding, I would say that Dr. Lehmann's assessment--nay, Mr. Stonehill's "going around in circles with predrawn conclusions"--is still closer to the reality as far as _most_ Japanese are concerned.

Most of the books I notice in the stores are not really parts of a discussion on where Japan should be headed, but rather petulant rants--despite forward-looking titles--on why Japan isn't going anywhere and how Japan is broken because of a loss of traditional values and national/racial identity (ad nauseum), with about a third concluding that it's all America's fault.

I also never cease to be dumbfounded by the number of outmoded stereotypes and urban legends that are cited, taken for granted as correct, and used as the basis for potential far-reaching assertions in the arguments of Japanese on world affairs.

A recent sample:
In an interview in this week's _Nikkei Business_ (dated 27 Jan.), author Asada Jiro asserts that most of Japan's current problems can be traced to an over-Americanization of attitudes. He says that this is not the Americans' fault (a nice new twist), but the Japanese' for adopting "too many of the bad aspects of American ways but none of the good." And finally we learn the culprits: individualism and "competitive society" (KyouSou ShaKai).

He claims that individualism is fatal to a society like Japan's where the population density is so high and there is so little room, thus the tendency to negate social elements that call on people to "get along in harmony" (minna de naka yoku) is mistaken. And he attributes the recent high number of suicides among Japanese sarariman to the American concept of having "come up the loser in the competition" (KyouSou ni yabureta).

Nobody ever mentions that the Dutch get along fine with individualism despite a high(er) population denisty in just as little cramped space; and it's taken for granted that "individualism" means "people acting selfishly" and that there's no tradition of community spirit or mutual help in the US (talk about misconceptions!).

As far as suicides are concerned, I would rather think that the Japanese obsession with always winning or coming out on top (tallest buildings, longest bridges, deepest tunnels, oldest traditions....) and their own unwillingness to forgive failure, is the culprit here.

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