The Financial Times’ David Pilling interviewed Dignity of a Nation author Masahiko Fujiwara (see Marxy’s epic summary of (battle with?) the book here) back in March of last year. I realize this is old but there were some juicy elements that are worth repeating, particularly on the topic of foreign correspondents.
The article, part of an FT series in which reporters have a casual conversation with opinion-makers over a gourmet lunch (here‘s what I wrote about another entry), begins with Fujiwara laying out his thesis more or less by rote as various course arrive. Here are his main comments with the food talk edited out (emphasis mine):
The “notorious” Masahiko Fujiwara – his word not mine – is the talk of Tokyo. His slim volume has sold more than 2 million copies in Japan, trumped only by the latest Harry Potter. That is not bad for a book – written by a mathematician-turned-social commentator – whose themes are rather more heavygoing than Hogwarts: the limits of western logic, why Japan should return to samurai values, and the unique sensitivity of Japanese to nature.
“Japan used to despise money, just like English gentlemen,” he says. “But after the war, under American influence, we concentrated on prosperity.”
[Soon,] Fujiwara is talking about bushido, the chivalrous samurai code whose essence, he says, is being lost. “When bushido started in the 12th century it was swordsmanship. Since there were no wars in the 260 years of the Edo era, that swordsmanship became a kind of value system: sensitivity to the poor and to the weak, benevolence, sincerity, diligence, patience, courage, justice.”
The model of liberal democracy that Japan inherited is flawed, Fujiwara says. As well as putting faith in unreliable masses – he prefers a cool-headed elite – it overemphasises rationality. “You really need something more. You might say that Christianity is one such thing. But for us Japanese, we don’t have a religion such as Christianity or Islam, so we need to have something else: deep emotion.”
… Fujiwara continues. “I am against market fundamentalism. It might be a very fair contest. But being fair is just a logical concept. It doesn’t mean much. It means being against weaker people, against less talented people. This gets on my nerves,” he concludes, the final flourish presumably emotional rejection rather than logical refutation.
“Take hostile takeovers. That might be very logical and legal but it’s not a very honourable thing for us Japanese.”
Japan’s slide into militarism can be traced to its abandonment of an honour code. “We became very arrogant. We wanted to become president of Asia, so we invaded one country after another. We lost our senses.
“I always say Japan should be extraordinary; it should not be an ordinary country. We became a normal country, just like other big nations. That’s all right for them. But we have to be isolated, especially mentally.”
Despite Pilling’s claim at the end, “Our conversation has been robust, but entirely friendly,” hints of a somewhat heated exchange emerge toward the final third of the article, as the two apparently ignore their lunches:
“I always say Japan should be extraordinary; it should not be an ordinary country. We became a normal country, just like other big nations. That’s all right for them. But we have to be isolated, especially mentally.”
Indeed, the social stability of Edo Japan, so admired by Fujiwara, came at the price of almost total isolation from the outside world. The downside was that, rather than adapting to the threat of the west, it imploded, ditching feudalism overnight and embracing an approximation of western parliamentary democracy. Besides, is his version of the samurai system credible? Wasn’t the reality a stratified society, with downtrodden peasants and a sword-wielding aristocracy exerting arbitrary power?
“There were very poor peasants and feudalism, but there were many good points too. We should look at both sides. In some senses it was horrible, but in many senses it was much nicer than now,” he says, taking a middle path rarely trodden in his inflammatory book.
The Japanese do indeed have a genius for making things beautiful, though they have done less well with nature, which they ransacked in the second half of the 20th century. His section on Japan’s unique sensitivity to nature provoked particularly heavy scribbling in the margins of my copy of his book.
“When we listen to that music we hear the sorrow of autumn because winter is coming,” he tells me. “The summer is gone. Every Japanese feels that. And, at the same time, we feel the sorrow of our life, our very temporary short life.”
The “music” Japanese people hear is surely a cultural construct, I counter. It has come to represent mononoaware, the pathos of a fleeting life epitomised by the short-lived cherry blossom, which Fujiwara contrasts with westerners’ preference for the thick-petalled rose. But don’t Japanese people make these connections because their poets and philosophers have told them to, just as the English hear summer and the village green in what to the average Japanese might sound like the mere knocking of a ball against a cricket bat?
Fujiwara cedes some ground, but is ultimately unrepentant. “One professor of a Tokyo university, using some electronic apparatus, concluded that all Japanese listen to insects as music because we listen with the right hemisphere of our brain and westerners listen with the left hemisphere.”
We are deep in nihonjinron territory here. Yet in spite of his pride in things Japanese, some of his warmest words are reserved for Britain. Does he have a sneaking regard for the place, despite its penchant for roses, logic and outsize tea cups?
After Marxy went through the entire book and summarized it almost page by page, I believe his conclusion was “these arguments are kinda retarded.” And of course they are, but they are the sort of feelgood tropes, typical of anywhere in the world, that might not make much sense but nonetheless offer a soothing tribalistic pride.
And while you can tell that Pilling looks down on arguments that reach “nihonjinron territory” I remain impressed by his approach if saddened that he chose such an unworthy subject. He took the time to sit down with one of the most impactful thinkers of the Abe era (it was short-lived, but there was a time when this was the unofficial intellectual force behind the “beautiful Japan” movement, such as it was) and did not merely act as a stenographer but engaged the subject and tried to put his words in context. Not a lot of questions were answered, and Pilling doesn’t exactly exude an air of expertise or that all-important journalistic trait of “savviness,” but the readers certainly benefitted from the exchange.
34 thoughts on “Interviewing Masahiko Fujiwara – FT from March 2007”
The “Lunch with the FT” feature isn’t a conversation over a gourmet meal, rather it is conducted over a lunch of the interviewee’s choosing. That’s become an important difference. Initially, many people did indeed choose a swanky restaurant, knowing the FT was picking up the tab, and a typical menu would usually include jugs of G&T, a white and a red wine followed up by a full range of stickies. And then the the public relations people stepped in. They told their clients that it wasn’t such a good idea to appear too extravagant – unless you happen to be running a luxury goods company – and definitely inadvisable to be profiled as a boozer. Alcohol is now rarely chosen and interviews are just as likely to be conducted over a sandwich as in restaurant. One US businessman chose only a diet coke.
It’s a difference worth noting because it has changed the nature of the feature. The original concept was something like “You choose the territory, I’ll buy you a big lunch and we can both relax and see where the conversation takes us”. Now, it is difficult to see how the format differs from an ordinary interview. However, the Japanese subjects do tend to choose a formal lunch and are often less practised in interview technique in such a setting which can work well for the interviewer.
Excellent stuff. I’m afraid that if an academic had been in Pilling’s shoes, the conversation would have stalled on some little picky point about the feudal system (probably the first “myth” that Fujiwara brings up). Pilling shows what journalists can do best – good flow, with enough context.
“Pilling doesn’t exactly exude an air of expertise”
No, but the really important thing here for me is that he demonstrates a well-rounded understanding of many different things – samurai violence, environment, etc. without bringing in any mythologies of his own (some reporters bring in the same type of Nihonjinron that Fujiwara does). Maybe it is easier to do this for pre-modern Japan, but for me, this is something to point to as successful Japan reporting.
I also like one thing about the choice of subject – we are used to seeing Japanese conservatives presented as militarists (NYT several times lately) but Fujiwara is an example of a garden variety “ain’t Japan great” conservative that, as Adam points out, is easily understood by readers because people use the same sort of rhetoric in virtually every country so it is something to relate to.
This is an excellent post, and deserves some comments. Alas, the first one seems to consist of two paragraphs of rather Byzantine hair-splitting peripheral to the topic:
“The ‘Lunch with the FT’ feature isn’t a conversation over a gourmet meal, rather it is conducted over a lunch of the interviewee’s choosing. That’s become an important difference.”
So…if the interviewee chooses to have the lunch at a gourmet restaurant, is it not a gourmet “meal”? This is Seinfeld-ian territory (“Is a bowl of soup a ‘meal’? What if it has crackers in it?”)
Fujiwara is truly a crank, regardless of whether he drinks chu-hai or midori-cha (one would like to think he chooses specifically Japanese tipples). When he made the remark about the Japanese brain possibly having a novel method of gathering auditory stimuli, he referenced a Tokyo Univ. professor. Ex cathedra! (If I’d been Pilling, I would’ve followed up with, “Fascinating! Homo japonensis! How far back in the fossil record does it extend?)
Spengler over at the ATimes website wrote one of his intermittently stimulating essays about Fujiwara when the FT interview (conducted at First Kitchen or Sukiyabashi Jiro? You decide!) was first printed:
“It probably is true that the Japanese have a unique sensitivity to nature, as Professor Masahiko Fujiwara claims. Fujiwara is the author of a nationalist tract, The Dignity of a State, now a best-seller in Japan. Viewing cherry blossoms, he remarked to a Financial Times interviewer on March 9, expresses something essential to the Japanese character, which prefers the fleeting sakura to the more durable rose beloved of the English. It is the same as hearing the music of crickets: “When we listen to that music we hear the sorrow of autumn because winter is coming,” he said. “The summer is gone. Every Japanese feels that. And, at the same time, we feel the sorrow of our life, our very temporary short life.”
Japanese culture, Fujiwara added, makes everything into art. In that respect Japan is unique, seeking to incorporate the fleeting beauty of the moment into the most commonplace features of life. Faust bet his soul that Mephistopheles could not tempt him to try to grasp the passing moment. The art that is Japanese life only knows the passing moment. It is an attempt to immortalize the moment; that is why the Japanese are always taking pictures.
From the Japanese viewpoint, life should be beautiful. But it is not necessarily good, a circumstance of which Fukiwara himself is a horrible example. His nostalgia for bushido and samurai values repels Japan’s neighbors, who suffered unspeakably the last time Japan turned in that direction. It is quite possible for evil men to appreciate beauty, and not just the beauty of nature. Adolf Hitler loved not only Wagner, but also Beethoven, and the great Wilhelm Furtwaengler stood under a giant swastika to conduct Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for the Nazi leader’s birthday in 1943.
It is a common observation that a sense of the natural, or the spontaneous, uniquely characterizes Japanese art: the unpredictable patterns of ash glaze in ceramics, the freedom of calligraphy, the impressionistic representation in painting, the allusiveness of poetry. Nature is cruel as well as generous, but always beautiful, and this balance and tension pervades the Japanese esthetics that Professor Fujiwara associates with samurai ethics. If nature is as cruel as it is spontaneous, then men also may be spontaneously cruel.”
A Japanese essentialist helps a foreign essentialist. That’s a boring pattern.
>His nostalgia for bushido and samurai values repels Japan’s neighbors, who suffered unspeakably the last time Japan turned in that direction.
You seem to know nothing about the WWII. Samurai, kamikaze? Wow.
How does”It probably is true that the Japanese have a unique sensitivity to nature, as Professor Masahiko Fujiwara claims. ” leaps to conclusion like”and thinking about Professor Fujiwara makes me wish that the Japanese were better than they are, for example, in acknowledging various outrages during World War II. “?
Not exactly sure this “Spengler” dude is in any position to criticize Fujiwara,if you ask me.
I’m not exactly a big fan of Fujiwara myself,having met him personally twice had strengthend this opinion.Having say that,I’m beginning to feel like staying in his camp instead of throwing stones from outside among “the international crowd”.
I’m always angry about this gaijin tendency of always choosing easy target to generalize “Japanese minds” and criticize it from high places.
Fujiwara is a nationalist and essentialist.No question about that.
But let’s look at this from different perspective.He is basically a pacifistic and politically harmless nationalist and what more can you ask from a bigot type?Do foreign folks want to stick a barrel of a gun in his mouth and force him to convert to PC obsessed liberal or something?
Criticism on Fujiwara by foreigners always extended to criticism on what they think as the Japanese in general.And like Fujiwara,Japanese public is easy target because they never hit back at you.While you could always mobilize moralistic anger on your side by bringing up the war memory against Japanese.
If either Pilling or Spengler really wants to know what Japanese think about ethno-centrism or popular memory on war crime,they should go straight to the author who writes about these themes,instead of knocking on Fujiwara’s door only to get the answer they expect in advance.
Yes, I agree that my comment doesn’t touch on how Pilling handles Fujiwara at all. Perhaps I can make up for that by drawing your attention to how Pilling dealt with another rightist in the same format a few years ago:
If you don’t have an FT registration, you can read the whole piece by searching for “Tojo” and “lunch” on the FG forums.
I brought up the original point, however, because the topic is partly about how journalists do their job. Many interviews are conducted over lunch anyway so it’s fair to ask what purpose the FT had in mind in drawing attention to it when they started the “Lunch with the FT” feature. (Incidentally, the online versions don’t always include the sidebar which appears alongside the piece in the print edition. It is a list of what was ordered and the total bill.) On one level, this is perhaps just food porn for the Saturday supplement. On another level, though, it suggests that some off-the-record topics will become on-the-record and, indeed, that was how the feature started out. Instead of a forty-minute audience in some great man’s office, the FT journalist got a chance to have a two-hour sit-down in a restaurant. As I mentioned, however, more interviewees are choosing to turn it back into a normal interview. Basically, a lot of subjects have now developed a strategy for dealing with the “Lunch with the FT” format in a way they couldn’t if the paper insisted that the interview take place over a gourmet meal.
This isn’t much of an issue in Japan. The earlier post on Mutant Frog about the BBC interview with former Prime Minister Fukuda touched on whether it was right for a reporter to accept such a stage-managed set-up. In truth, foreign journalists often find there are no real rules for what is on or off the record. In that sense, the “Lunch with the FT” format has never played the same role with Japanese interviewers because the journalist already has considerable leeway. However, I’m sure the format does create some expectations. The FT has some status and many Japanese will mentally equate the paper with the Nikkei. A lunch sounds convivial so it is likely that subjects expect generally sympathetic treatment. You do get a sense with the Tojo interview that it dawns on her that Pilling might not portray her as she would wish and so she says “Please make it clear in your article that we have very different standpoints”.
Japanese subjects don’t appear that frequently in the lunch feature. The first might have been Sony’s Ohga. As well as Tojo, I can recall seeing Nakasone, Akie Abe, Haruki Murakami, Manabu Miyazaki, former hostage Noriaki Imai, Docomo’s Masao Nakamura, Alberto Fujimori and Mineko Iwasaki (Arthur Golden’s geisha source).
In all honesty, most of the reason I posted this was because I found it lying around my gmail drafts and thought it connected to what we have been talking about.
Ace, a running theme in your comments seems to be that (a) foreigners tend to come here with a preformed narrative about Japan, and whatever information they gather has to be adjusted to fit that narrative before it hits the printed page; and (b) writers will home in on a particular example and try to use it to make a sweeping point about Japanese Society as a whole. And inasmuch as Pilling resorts to rhetorical questions and remarks disdainfully of the dreaded nihonjinron, you are right about him. But at least with Mistake (b), wasn’t Pilling at least a little bit justified to respond to Fujiwara’s own sweeping claims about Japanese culture?
But I do want to give Pilling some credit for at least giving what appears to be a full account of their conversation. So much of the worst reporting (in any issue, not just on Japan) comes from reporters straining to sound intelligent even when they have no idea what they are talking about. Here his biases and prejudices are more or less laid open for the world to see. It is as instructive as it is rare (though considering all the examples that have been mentioned over the past few posts, maybe it isnt that rare after all…).
You have to wonder — is it ever possible to put in even a satisfactory performance as a foreign correspondent? You come in with only the slightest knowledge of the country you are supposed to be reporting on, and from there you have to meet almost daily deadlines to put in stories that get both the news across and give some idea of what it means for the audience. So for anyone who is not prepared to give themselves a full education in matters such as “what Japanese think about ethno-centrism or popular memory on war crime” they are set up to fail right from the outset. Even with such an education or fluency in the language, there is no guarantee that your reports wont still be crammed with received platitudes and otherwise biased or ignorant coverage.
My commet seems to be a bit too sarcastic. The following is quoted from an article treating Ruth Benedict’s interpretation of the war commited by the Other.
“Among her papers in the Vassar College Library is a study of Germany which she submitted to the Office of War Information in 1943, just at the time she was doing her research on Japan. The contrast could not be more striking. Basing her analysis of the state of German “morale” on British surveys of prisoners of war, Benedict argued that only the generation of men (presumably not women) in their late twenties was solidly Nazi. “The Nazi regime . . . has . . . failed to Nazify the age group now under 25 as it did the one now 25-30. . . . ” As for the older generation, “There is no need to discuss the relative non-Nazification of the generation over 30 since the grounds for this are well understood. The fact that Hitler Regime [sic] has been of such short duration that there remains a whole older generation who grew up under a different social order, is of great importance in estimating Germany’s future.” In Benedict’s discussion of Japan there is no notion of a “failure of indoctrination” nor for that matter of a successful one, no term equivalent to “Nazify”, no suggestion that “a different social order” may have existed in the recent past; even the word “regime” does not appear. While Germany’s Nazism was a fleeting phenomenon that managed to attach itself to German culture only temporarily and precariously Japanese militarism was Japanese culture itself: It had existed essentially unchanged from ancient times, and far from being imposed through indoctrination, had been “voluntarily embraced”.”
As for FT piece, I don’t think this one is so bad. I think Mr. Pilling does by far better job than other correspondents, although my taste seems to be a bit paralysed by so many bad reports. At that time I read a few horrifying pieces about Mr. Fujiwara and Japanese militarism like the above commentator. I am not a fan of this chonmageshugisya, but I think he could be popular because he is a mediocre pacifistic traditionalist with good writing skill and his discourse is intended not to break but to maintain the status-quo.
”But at least with Mistake (b), wasn’t Pilling at least a little bit justified to respond to Fujiwara’s own sweeping claims about Japanese culture?”
Although my anger was mostly targeted at Asia Times article,FT piece is also in the range.OK,so where is the distinction between Pilling’s thought on Fujiwara and “Japanese culture”?
I don’t want use “You don’t care because you ain’t Japanese”card.But why does Pilling always picks likes of Fujiwara as the catalyst of his narrative? It matters greatly to those who belong to the subordinative class in the narrative,but not to those who belong to the nominative class.
Neither correspondents in New Delhi nor Cairo would do such thing (or handle these matters more carefully)since there are many English speaking intellectuals in those regions(and immigrants from these countries in UK)who could criticize the quality and reliability of the article.
“You have to wonder—is it ever possible to put in even a satisfactory performance as a foreign correspondent?”
Yeah,Stay within “correspond”ing.Instead of obeying the demand from head office to bring them more “Japan news” like this.
(HT to MOZU)
“So for anyone who is not prepared to give themselves a full education in matters such as “what Japanese think about ethno-centrism or popular memory on war crime” they are set up to fail right from the outset. Even with such an education or fluency in the language,”
Somehow I have a feeling thar it’s neither the language nor the cultural barriers that matters here.
You don’t need to be a cultural anthropologist to determine that Fujiwara’s thesis is a bogus.Ofcourse it’s not just a bogus but a bogus that sold two-million copies and you might think two-million Japanese can’t be all that wrong and that could be a source of any journalistic interest.But why not seek for the second opinion from the locals before you make your won judgement?
I’m sure all the foreign correspondent in Washington write more than just that Sarah Palin has never owned a passport in her life,thus choosing her as a nominee for the republican vice-presidential candidate proves American insularity on global affairs.but also that Palin has some political asset useful to Mccain camp(ig,May steal Clinton vote from the Dems,For Media-blitz etc)thus politically rational judgement.And with that,you have more balanced picture of what’s going on in the U.S presidential election.
But can you expect half of this sanity from Tokyo correspondets?
Fujiwara was a celebrated essayist Ｆｏｒ him being son of famous writer Nitta Jiro新田次郎 and Fujiwara Tei藤原てい and also Mathematician who taught in the U.S.But he got instantly popular for his essay that refuted Asahi Shimbun’s Funabashi Youichi “英語第二公用語論English as official second language”campaign during Obuchi administration (Funabashi was a panelist in Obuchi’s counsultation committee on “Grand Design for 21st Century Japan” )by preaching “Japanese First”英語より国語”.
Fujiwara was an ideal critic for Monthly Bungei Shunju magazine which is known as the nemesis to Asahi Shimbun,because
a)Fujiwara was born in Manchuria and his whole family nearly strved to death when they escaped from Soviet occupation and this is well known among Japanese public of some age via his mother’s nation wide best seller”流れる星は生きている”and his exile background had earn his love for things Japanese some reliability to reading public.
And .b)Fujiwara not only studied in the U.S,but TAUGHT Ameriican
in University.Which gave him some additional weight in his words.Those who lost their faith on Japanese economy in the lost decade was afraid of thing to come along with the globalization symbolized by English language.And it has been the grief of the old generation that youth are lacking even the basics of Japanese grammer.It’s not difficult to assume why background like Fujiwara appeals to the wide range of the readership.
This is behind scene of the two-million copies of “The Dignity of Nation” and it takes no journalistic craft to find out about this.
Either Pillings is not doing his basics or he’s just not interested in these “minor” details that no foreign readership would bother to care.
”OK,so where is the distinction between Pilling’s thought on Fujiwara and “Japanese culture”?”
Ｉ ｔａｋｅ ｔｈｉｓ ｂａｃｋ．Ｉ ｗａｓ ｒｅａｄｉｎｇ Ａｓｉａ Ｔｉｍｅｓ ａｒｔｉｃｌｅ．
“Oswald Spengler” is the pseudonym used by that Asia Times columnist. His writing style and arguments are very similar to those of the man who uses the pseudonym “Takuan Seiyo” in articles for the Brussels Journal so they may well be the same person. If you haven’t already, you ought to read how the latter portrays Japan:
“More Lessons from the East” specifically addresses Fujiwara but you’ll also get a good idea of his thinking by reading his two-part piece “Astarte and Amaterasu – The Diverging Destinies of Europe and Japan” and “The Last Samurai and Europe’s First Suicide”.
Here’s a taste:
“We started this thread with the observation that Japan has peculiar diseases of its own. Among them are parochialism, ignorance of the world at large, a cavalier approach to truth and rationality, a bizarre obsession with its own uniqueness, and more. Fujiwara’s book could be mined for various related absurdities – but this is not our purpose here. Our aim is to sketch such features of the Japanese culture and society as may be adapted by the West as an antidote to its own critical illness. We will therefore sieve only Fujiwara’s useful ideas, leaving the dross, however fascinating, at the bottom.”
“Ｉ ｔａｋｅ ｔｈｉｓ ｂａｃｋ”
Yeah, I still think that Pilling does a good job of presenting a Japanese conservative who is, um, maybe a bit over the top in his essentialism. I’ll take that over a neo-nationalist nutcase any day. Let’s face it, the NYT did, what, 3 articles about manga up to 1999 and one of them was about Sensoron…. The Asia Times bit seems quite a bit worse.
People like Fujiwara and Ishihara remind me precisely of Karl Luger (1845-1910), the popular mayor of Vienna who sensed the ennui and anomie of fin-de-siecle Vienna – the Church was dead, and the Austro-Hungarian empire was well on the way – and invoked fascism and anti-semitism to whip up popular support.
Mulboyne does Spengler (his real name is well-known) a disservice by comparing his writings to those of the “Brussels Journal,” a European site that exudes the neofacism of a Luger, Fujiwara, or Unity Mitford – precisely the type of toxic bilge that Spengler critiques. As I suggested earlier, Spengler’s writing is a bit hit-or-miss, however.
Fujiwara’s discourse has more in common with Japanese liberal meme such as
1)revival of sophisticated reading class.
2)Possess critical view on capitalism.
3)Has second thought on top down westernization.
Yesterday,I’ve attended a symposium held at University of Nagoya and panelsits were all Nobel laureate.(Two from Japan and One from Germany)One of the panelist,Leo Esaki had talked about importance of learning English,but he and other Japanese panelist ,Ryouji Noyoiri had also talked about recovery of 教養（the direct translation is “culture”,but it usually means classical liberal arts)is necessary in the Japanese intellectual world.
During the short break in the symposium,I’ve checked the bazzare of second hand books donated by the University of Nagoya professors for the charity and I was surpirsed finding so many copies of ｌｅｆｔｉｓｔ classics sold in the wagon.Collected works of Marx and Engels and V.I Lenin.Bakunin,Hagel,KOutoku Syusui etc…
Observing these books,it’s no surprise that if you are in the generation of these professors,which I believe in the same generation with Fujiwara,you would naturally become critical of laissez-faire capitalism ruining the world.
I don’t buy the comparison between Fujiwara and Lugar.For so far Fujiwara shows little hostility to any ethnic nor national groups.Fujiwara is actually an Anglophile just like othere Japanese conservatives and not exactly anti-American like many of them for he has first hand experience of living there.And unlike Ishihara,no Asian press is covering negative report on him,simply because such discourse is pretty ubiquitous in East Asia.It’s the side of westerners showing strong hostility toward Fujiwara.
I think Spengler article is bad imitation of Ian Buruma’s “Occidentalism” and other works like this article back in 1987.
Refute from Japanese government official
I’m not going to point the multiple error in the article including Korean victim monument in Hiroshima which has now become conventional wisdom in English speaking world.Ｂｕｔ ｔhere has been a huge fuss over this article,since NYT photographer had taken Umehara Takeshi,the then director of International Research Center of Japanese Studies which is a brain child of Nakasone in the mid 80’s,and took some smiling photo of Umehara right infront of the gigantic iron Torii of Yasukuni Shrine.Umehara and Buruma（And later,Ivan P.Hall wedged in） had made debate on this incident and the content of NYT article over Ｍｏｎｔｈｌｙ Chuo-Koron in that year.
“But why does Pilling always picks likes of Fujiwara as the catalyst of his narrative?”
Yeah, there is certainly one question on my mind – why not Oe? Or Oda Hikari?
Adamu made a very good point that nobody picked up, however – can foreign correspondents do a good job? I think that Pilling outlines one way that they can – choice of subject. While Fujiwara would not be my choice, I think that Pilling clearly picked someone that he could deal with. When I got pissed at Hogg, it was because he was rehashing Wolferen – who has long been considered silly by academics and Japan-watchers. In my opinion, Pilling’s criticisms of Fujiwara’s ideas are rooted in the conclusions of far better people. Conrad Totman in “The Green Archipelago” writes at length about how ordinary Japanese never had a “love of nature” – this was something rooted in elite culture and ordinary peasants saw nature as a form of opponent (this is one of the major themes of Japanese masterworks like “Kamui-den” as well, so it is also an idea rooted firmly in the Japanese leftwing critique that Fujiwara was trying to pit himself against). Totman also penned one of the leading “History of Japan” texts and it is not hard to imagine Pilling giving this sort of thing a good read to help him do his job. Pilling picked something that was easy enough to research – clear consensus in the literature (in Japanese and English). In other areas – militarism, hikikomori, etc. – it is a lot harder.
In addition, the idea that the samurai were an exploiter class and that the Edo order was based on violence or threat of violence really synchs with 90% of the Japanese historiography and is dominant in the English as well. Pilling could have gotten that from Totman or any number of other sources (Gluck, Beasley… the classics). It is not only scholars who favor this idea – the idea that most samurai were exploitative scumbags runs deep in Japanese popular culture as well – everything from Mito Komon’s corrupt bureaucrats to Kurosawa’s samurai put forward this theme. In short, in Pilling’s questions, I see the mark of 40 years of transnational historical writing and themes that are entrenched in Japan as well.
How could Pilling have done better? Possibly by more clearly positioning Fujiwara. As Aceface mentioned, he’s more of a half-baked “traditionalist” (which includes some rightwing tropes but treasured leftist ones like “anti-war” and environmental protection as well – things that the LDP eventually surrendered to because of mass opinion) rather than a rightwinger. Some mention of how prolific the criticism of Fujiwara has been in Japan would also have been nice. In addition, the way that the book (like other Nihonjinron) just become “a thing to read” – not necessarily something that readers agree with or even get all of the way through – just a slick commercial product.
Personally I think the whole “Nihonjin-ron”genre is the sustitute of homage like Americana in the states but somehow miscarried since present J-society neither run by the rule and moral of the feudal times nor militarism years of Showa.That’s why pseudo-cultural theory is used as the behicle of discourse for it can avoid the debate over historiography.
Talk about Americana, I found this far more reactionary and anti-intellectual than “Dignity of the Nation”,yet nobody seems to be worriying over fascism in America.
What I do give Fujiwara credit for is inventing (or at least confirming) an ideology that is completely and utterly self-serving. He’s a Japanese elite who is saying, Japan should be run by elites.
I feel like Aso and Abe’s nationalism basically comes back to this idea too: we are all the most amazingly privileged members of Japanese society, and from where we are looking, Japan is amazing. It’s almost adorably naive and myopic. But at the same time, it probably has nothing to do with the much more complicated ultra-right wing ideology that is an offshoot of the yakuza (who are mostly “ethnic” outcasts from Japanese society).
You could make the point though that the elite nationalism enabled the rash lower class nationalism that led to the Pacific War, although maybe I am too much simplifying things.
My main issue with Fujiwara after all these years is that he is writing a book to prove how smart he is and it’s filled with the most inane, sub-freshman philosophy class arguments. If that’s the best the elite can provide, me no want.
“I feel like Aso and Abe’s nationalism basically comes back to this idea too: we are all the most amazingly privileged members of Japanese society, and from where we are looking, Japan is amazing. ”
I disagree.First and foremost.Aso and Abe has different vision in their nationalism.Abe is more ne0-con style and Aso,a simple bigotry.
Secondly,elitism won’t explain why both appealed so many not-so-well-to-do Japanese public such as Aso’s fan base among Akihabara/2ch crowd and rural small business owners.Same goes to Abe,when he talked about “post-war regime”,that is the regime built by “conservative main stream保守本流”which were basically the LDP politicians hand picked by Yoshida Shigeru(who happens to be Aso’s grand pa).And Abe’s dream project was to dismantle the ancient regime,not to inherit it.
“Japan is amazing”isn’t particulary surprising slogan compared to say, “Japan sucks”.After all,they are Japanese politician and not a JET teacher.
“it probably has nothing to do with the much more complicated ultra-right wing ideology that is an offshoot of the yakuza ”
The off-shoot Yakuza rightist are all in it for the money,thus possesses no “complicated ideology”,I think.
“What I do give Fujiwara credit for is inventing (or at least confirming) an ideology that is completely and utterly self-serving.”
Watanabe Shoichi has to get that nod. He’s been doing it for what seems like decades now. He sorta co-opted the “Japanese education needs to breed more individuality” argument to mean “Japanese should listen to the elites and do a better job of giving rise to great guys like me”.
Marxy is correct in that Fujiwara is all about gaze. For me, Fujiwara is using (and abusing) a type of original conservativism (do people even talk about Edmund Burke these days?) that also runs through some progressive European philosophy (Bertrand Russell and Ortega Gasset) and one of the visions of the past that is most prevalent internationally – the rosy glasses view. Japan’s is the greatest culture that the world has ever known if you take cuisine, poetry, literature, aesthetics, co-existing religious traditions, the philosophy of the martial arts, artistic and literary representations of nature, statuary, etc. and throw out famine, authoritarianism, exploitation, some viciously exclusive nationalism (mostly prewar), etc. It is a lot easier to like classical Athens if you shelve intolerance and slavery too. The challenge, I guess, is to find a way to acknowledge all of that and still find a way to be proud. Japanese conservatives have not been very good at this but many, many ordinary people do okay.
“yet nobody seems to be worrying over fascism in America.”
Except every American humanities academic, half of Canada, and 2/3 of Europe. People come down hard on America too – they just do a better job of separating elite thugs from Joe the Plumber than in the Japanese case where the population gets lumped in with the LDP. I’m always mesmerized by how some people can make “all Japanese subscribe to Nihonjinron” arguments that, of course, are Nihonjinron arguments themselves (I don’t think that anyone here is doing this, nor is Pilling).
“The off-shoot Yakuza rightist are all in it for the money,thus possesses no “complicated ideology”,I think.”
Have to agree here. Those guys come closer to a form of Mishima-esque performance art than anything. There are dozens of varieties of ultra-rightwing thought in Japan and this is probably a good indication of why they have not been able to see through many of their pet projects (constitutional revision) in the postwar period. Japan even has pacifist fascists (pacifascits) come to think of it. It is also worth noting that popular culture that lionizes Yakuza (think “Shura no Michi”, “Hakuryu”, “Jingi”, “Rekka”, “Minami no Teio”, “Shizukanaru Don”, etc.) stays the HELL away from anything remotely political unless they are showing the LDP to be corrupt. Its not what people like about the yakuza and its not how they chose to brand themselves.
>I’m always mesmerized by how some people can make “all Japanese subscribe to Nihonjinron” arguments
As you know, It’s just cultural conservatives, leftist critics and foreign critics who seem to take nihonjinron so seriously. Ironically anti-nihonjinron and meta-nihonjinron literature also seems to fall into another nihonjinron.
I am not an expert of this genre, but today’s one seems to me a kind of uplifting genre. Certainely this annoys me, but doesn’t fear me at all because I understand its limited influence on public and I am the man who tolerate mild and harmless forms of nationalism within the framework of liberal democracy. I wouldn’t care if the renewed kendo boom arrived.
Abe, Aso, Nakagawa, Mori, Ishihara, Koizumi, Nakasone… are different. I am not an expert of USA at all(I’ve never been there except Hawaii), but I don’t dare to treat or even conceive the American conservatives and liberals as homogenous entities. I think even the ordinary Japanese bloggers research and gather information on difference between Maccain and Huckabee before writing about republican candidates, though their descriptions may be more or less inaccurate. I don’t know why not only foreign correspondents but also even some Japan experts cannot do this kind of elementary task. Yes, I know this is not intellectual problem, but the problem of the attitude.
The off-shoot Yakuza rightist are all in it for the money,thus possesses no “complicated ideology”,I think.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s not an ideological agenda, but I think they think nationalism etc. is way more “manly” than wimpy idealistic socialism. I do agree that a lot of the uyoku is simply a means of extortion, but I don’t think they’d be willing to be pro-JCP if Yoyogi paid the right price.
I’m always mesmerized by how some people can make “all Japanese subscribe to Nihonjinron” arguments
It doesn’t help when Fujiwara sells 2 million copies of his dumb book. Ann Coulter sells well too, of course, but I think it’s also obvious that the rest of the country hates her guts. I don’t think there is a huge anti-Fujiwara strain in Japan whether people disagree or not. It’s hard for most everything to see “antagonism” in Japan. It’s mostly muted and hidden, whether that is Jpop bands or politics.
On the issue of sales – people were using Nihonjinron to understand the Japanese mind way before Fujiwara hit it big. A book like Fujiwara’s that sells 2,000,000 copies is worth talking about, but as Mulboyne pointed out one time, that “Japanese snow is different thing” (bull by a few people who knew just what they were doing) is also used to read “the Japanese character”.
I don’t think that it is helpful to compare Fujiwara and Coulter. Does Fujiwara say anything blatantly denigrating in “Hinkaku”? You’ve read “Muslim Bites Dog”, right? In a way, Fujiwara sounds a lot like mainstream American politicians who preface everything with references to the “greatest country in the world”, “the leader of the free world”, and it must be great to live in “the greatest society in history”. The other day I heard a CNN reporter ask “who is going to become the leader of the greatest country in the world?” Coulter appeals to a nutjob fringe but Fujiwara seems to be selling the same type of “let’s feel good about the country today” rhetoric that American politicians make an art of. If you look, even Obama does this ALL the time. The funny thing is that in that one case where his wife said great with another word (“great again”) there was criticism all over the media (even from the centrists), not just from the Coulters.
I think that a certain amount of rhetorical national celebration is fine for the masses anywhere, but Japanese don’t tolerate that kind of stuff from their politicians – Abe’s “beautiful country” was mocked mercilessly (TV comedians even started poking fun at it, which is fairly rare) – so maybe this births hits like Fujiwara’s – he fills a gap, especially after the end of economic nationalism.
In any case, what can we make about the sales drop of Watanabe and Kobunyu and Kobayashi and others? Did Fujiwara eat all of that up? If he did, that is an indication that a sort of candy-ass feel good Nihonjinron is WAY more popular than the super aggressive neo-nationalist stuff that enjoyed a few hits in the late 1990s.
In addition, there is the old point that you and I and Aceface and half of the people posting here (and every Japanese academic that I know) bought “Hinkaku” to see what all of the fuss is about. I don’t know anybody who liked it. We can also make the point that people buy the thing before they read it – was it 2,000,000 true believers or 2,000,000 curious people who were duped? There have been another half dozen hinkaku books by various people but none have become real hits – an indication that Fujiwara may have actually spoiled the “hinkaku” brand instead of building it. Was there a critic that came out big for the book?
I think that the “antagonism” toward Fujiwara takes the form of honest to goodness history books and other forms of presentation – many of which sell well and make far better points than Hinkaku. There are also, far, far, far more of them. One of the reasons why Hinkaku hit it so big is that in the shinsho publishing format that it was marketed in, there really was nothing (notable) similar on the market at the time. If you want to learn about dirty deeds, however, you can turn on a Taiga Drama, Sono toki rekishi ga ugoita, and dozens of titles published every month. The three big hit samurai manga that have run lately – Vagabond, Sengoku, and Hyoge Mono are all deconstructions of national myths that academics could be proud of. The question is, does anyone notice when an issue of Vagabond does 2,000,000 copies? In 2007-2008 there have also been a string of history books about the “Japanese lifestyle” in history. What they do is highlight actual examples of good stuff in the past (such as Edo recycling) and use it to suggest new directions for Japan at present. This contextualized (and arguably progressive) stuff is out there as well and it does sell. While I don’t have the title handy, one of them did over 400,000 copies. Just to reiterate, there are dozens like this for every “Hinkaku”.
Or what about a novel like “Tegami” that castigates Japanese society for its hiearchies and discrimination and “group responsibility” and sold hand over fist (the movie sucked, BTW, so don’t use it to compare)? Why not use those reflective, critical examples to understand “the Japanese mind”?
“It’s mostly muted and hidden, whether that is Jpop bands or politics.”
Mostly…. there were dozens of anti-revisionist textbook publications and editorials, 2000+ rallies nationwide in 2001 when the first was approved, etc. The criticisms do come flowing when something that actually matters comes along (and they utterly smashed those books). Not that the revisionist books were even that far out there…. We lack evidence that Fujiwara was even taken seriously in the first place on any level above pulpy read of the week.
Um, “Hinkaku” was almost the official word of 2006 and it spawned a (perhaps even MORE popular) Dignity of Women and a hit drama Dignity of a Temp Worker. If I am not mistaken Hinkaku became a buzzword in Japanese spam emails as well. It was a phenomenon.
A lot of people have expressed some dissatisfaction at the idea that lots and lots of people “believe” in the book’s outlook because of its popularity. Let me share an anecdote to show you why I agree with that dissatisfaction and find such conclusions misguided.
I was on a flight from Tokyo to Bangkok right around the time the book broke (and Marxy was writing his summary). I had bought a copy of Hinkaku at Narita airport and was reading it on the flight.
Two Honda employees (engineers) sitting next to me, and one chatted me up when he saw me reading a Japanese book. He was a little boozed by then so the conversation eventually turned to why Japan’s economy was in the dumps… The engineer saw the book I was reading, appeared to have either read the book or at least be familiar with the content, and began lamenting that because Japan had lost the war they were more or less doomed to suffer from a lack of confidence as a nation. For whatever reason seeing a white man reading a Japanese book made him despair. It was as if he wanted to ask Professor Fujiwara, “How can our nation have dignity when our culture has been so thoroughly violated!” Eventually he kind of nodded off, but his softspoken ranting still echoes in my head.
Someone like that is neither a true believer nor someone who was duped. He is what they call in Japanese ミーハー, which you could translate as “easily influenced.” To varying degrees, a lot of people buy into new philosophies with the ease of changing brands of toothpaste, or perhaps more accurately, they will repeat ideas that appear plausible to them at the time and jive with their own value systems (example — when Obama gave his speech at the 2004 Dem convention, who could imagine people would start thinking he was an “Arab”?). You give people too much credit for being consistent.
There was an interesting “nihonjinron through the ages” (actually starts with the J-translation of the Chrysanthemum and the Sword) piece in Chuo Koron or one of those monthlies that I read when I was in Thailand. One point the author made was that these books were usually hits because they so artfully gave a cultural explanation for the state of the world and were the perfect fit for their times (Japan that can say no was another good example).
And as for this book’s impact, Fujiwara seems more Stephen King than Ann Coulter. For one, it is clearly FAR less effective, at least in terms of mobilization effect, as political propaganda than an Ann Coulter book (I would draw more parallels between Coulter and Kobayashi Yoshinori…) Like so many other 話題作 — trendy books — the ideas are of dimestore value and its staying power will probably be similar.
Perhaps rather than taking one example of a hit book and assuming that whatever it says is on the top of a large segment of “the Japanese mind” perhaps it would be more interesting to start by looking at works that have obviously had a huge impact on Japanese society and trying to find out how they have worked their magic.
The point that you make about the Honda guys is very interesting. I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that Japanese political parties are not aggressively shaping one vision of national identity, leaving people to drift from one pop trope to another. This may not be such a bad thing, come to think of it. Right now, there is a lot of momentum behind funding better public welfare and a higher minimum wage because of all of this pop “working poor” stuff that is circulating. It can go right or it can go left.
“Dignity of Women and a hit drama Dignity of a Temp Worker.”
I have 7 dignity books (I also follow ryukogo religiously). I’m pretty sure that none of them enjoyed more than a fraction of the popularity of the original, just like none of the followup “kabe” books did either. Interestingly, Watanabe Shoichi has his own dignity book…. and it tanked. But you are correct – “dignity” is in. It has become one of these “searching for a new identity” words.
“There was an interesting “nihonjinron through the ages””
There is a recent Japanese book that takes a fascinating look at Nihonjinron from the point of view of business – who bought what when and how much any of it matters, what readers though, etc. I’m away from my collection now, but can get a ref if anyone wants it.
“the ideas are of dimestore value and its staying power will probably be similar.”
Yeah, I needed Fujiwara’s book for an article that I am writing (my other copy is tens of thousands of miles away). I had 100% confidence that I would be able to find it in the 100en section at my local inaka Bookoff. There were 17. I remember Aceface describing it as something like “the most `left on trains` book in postwar Japanese history”.
“perhaps it would be more interesting to start by looking at works that have obviously had a huge impact on Japanese society and trying to find out how they have worked their magic.”
I really like this idea (and try to do it professionally). One of the problems, however, is measuring impact – you need crazy resources (fund your own phone survey, etc.). Publishers, unfortunately (but understandably) don’t often make returned reader comments available to researchers (and in those cases you are only getting access to the views of someone who obviously felt very, very passionately about the book). Amazon reviews and the like are, again, the views of people who feel passionately about a work one way or another. I mentioned Vagabond above as a layered, progressive interpretation of the past in manga and it is easy to find out what creator Inoue tried to do with the series – just read interviews and essays by him – but for all we know, there could be more fans who just think that Musashi is really, really cute.
There is also the matter of “Japanese society” being a concept better off subdivided. Some works may galvanize otaku society but have zero impact elsewhere. Some works are only read by salarymen, housewives, teens, etc. Just look what happened when they tried to use “Yon-sama” to make it look like all Japanese are in love with Korea….
To do this, one also needs to take into account the dramatic change in the reading audience over the postwar period. Nihonjinron (as a genre) really appears at the time in Japanese history when more “average people” started reading books (1965-1975).
““How can our nation have dignity when our culture has been so thoroughly violated!” Eventually he kind of nodded off, but his softspoken ranting still echoes in my head.”
For those who own a copy of “Dogs and Demons”,Be sure you check the final page of the book,and you’ll find almost the exact thing written by Alex Kerr.
>I do agree that a lot of the uyoku is simply a means of extortion, but I don’t think they’d be willing to be pro-JCP if Yoyogi paid the right price.
As a guy who is born and grown up in the leftist milieu, I know well extreme right and extreme left share a lot despite of their apparent antagonism. I wouldn’t be surprised if uyoku guys voted for JCP individually.
>To do this, one also needs to take into account the dramatic change in the reading audience over the postwar period. Nihonjinron (as a genre) really appears at the time in Japanese history when more “average people” started reading books (1965-1975).
Yes, discourse analysis without the audience is meaningless and the social function of nihonjinron has been changing, I believe. Today’s one seems to say one thing “genki wo dase!” Though miserable, I don’t want to blame and mock its readership community because I want its readers to genki up. What annoys me is not the fact the dangerous nationalism will come in this archipelago, but the fact that this genre tends to involve us into an unfruitful controversy and prevent cross-cultural understanding except some good dechiphers.
Ouch, I knew I was going out on a limb on that one. But this was basically what the guy was saying to me, whether it sounds like trash or not… I know I am reading way to much into a chance encounter, but this 40-something guy was all hung up on how Japan lost the war, and kept looking at me as if I were the product of 60 years of humiliation.
Last paragraph of D and D:
“The result of Japan’s war with jitsu [his word for “reality”] has been to tear apart and ravage most of what Japan holds most dear in its own culture, and this lies at the root of the nation’s modern cultural malaise: people are sick at heart because Japan has strayed so far from its true self. The challenge for the Japanese in the past two centuries was how to come out of isolation and assert themselves in the world, and in this they succeeded brilliantly, to the extent that Japan is now one of the world’s most powerful nations. Success came, however, at tremendous internal cost. The challenge of this century will be how to find a way home.”
By the way I wasn’t comparing Coulter to Fujiwara as much as saying you could use Coulter to say that “Americans are all crazy Joe McCarthy worshipers.”
“By the way I wasn’t comparing Coulter to Fujiwara as much as saying you could use Coulter to say that “Americans are all crazy Joe McCarthy worshipers.””
But not even Michael Moore would do that!
Incidentally, did anyone notice that some prominent Republicans are beginning to compare Obama’s visions of healthcare and more developed social spending to Communism? I guess the far right of Canada’s Conservative Party are Commies.
With major elections going on (or maybe going on) in the USA, Canada, and Japan, it sure is interesting to compare the differences in fundamental assumptions about politics.
Here’s another observation about how journalists do their job. Susan Carpenter has a new book coming out called “Why Japan Can’t Reform: Inside the System”. There’s a sample chapter in PDF format here:
There are 49 pages in the file. If you go to page 35 (which is page 32 of the book) you’ll see a section entitled “Accessing the real story: research methodology”.
“NHK,like BBC,is government funded and all viewers are required to pay an annual fee”
And loved how this NHK dude responded the question of author on barriers to foreign journalist in the United States like;
“There are two big forces in the Wall Street.One is Jewish and the other is WASP.I struggle to enter their circle.I can catch some information but it is extremely difficult to enter their silent circle because they are closed”
I’m going to show this to my boss today,telling him that I have friends with names like Jones and Berman,thus shall face no difficulty infiltrating into “the closed circle”.All he needs now is to post me to Big Apple!
“It should be noted that NHKcorrespondents posted abroad will correct data for Japanese government agencies.”
I trust anything written by foreigner who has quote Adam Gamble’s “A Public Betrayed”.
Haven’t been able to read through this yet, but I will say this — if you are worried about that sort of thing, I would operate under the assumption that ALL foreign correspondents are providing info to intel agencies, specifically the CIA. Don’t talk to reporters unless you’ve got something to sell, end of story!
Fujiwara is still widely respected in Japan and it’s a shame the only English articles about him are this leftist rubbish by Marxy.
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