A failure to investigate the essence of things is a characteristic of the Japanese people.
If a problem arises, the Japanese are not inclined to get to the bottom of things. That is because it would disturb social harmony. They have no desire to think too deeply about things. That is the reason the natural sciences did not develop in Japan prior to the Meiji Restoration.
A comparison with literature and art makes that clear. For example, during the millennium from 500 to 1500 A.D., the literature produced in Japan alone surpassed in quality and volume everything coming out of the West. However, up until the Meiji Restoration, in the realm of philosophy, Japan’s output was markedly inferior to the West. In the natural sciences, it did not produce any real physics or chemistry either.
The Japanese aversion to investigating the essence of problems has not disappeared since the Meiji Restoration.
During the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 to 1895, many officers and men in the Imperial Army died not from combat causes, but rather from the disease of beriberi, which is caused by a lack of the vitamin B1.
Due to Japan’s negligence in investigating the cause of this condition, many Japanese soldiers again perished for the same reason during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 to 1905. At that time, the Army establishment considered polished white rice the ideal staple to feed the troops. Since the polishing process removed almost all the Vitamin B in the rice, the upshot was that beriberi became rife among the ranks and ended up costing more lives than enemy fire.
Meanwhile, under the direction of senior medical officer Kanehiro Takaki, who had studied in Great Britain, the Imperial Navy added barley and wheat to the diet of its sailors. Therefore , it experienced almost no cases of beriberi.
Nevertheless, the Navy too failed miserably during the Pacific War. During the Battle of Midway in 1942, it lost to the inferior United States fleet because the Americans had cracked the codes of the Imperial Navy and knew its intentions. Even so, naval leaders did not make sufficient effort to discover the reasons for the defeat, and the Americans went on reading their coded messages without interference.
That failure led to the ability of the Americans in April 1943 to shoot down the plane carrying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, while their submarines were able to ambush and send many Japanese transports and military warships to the bottom of the sea.
In other words, both the Imperial Army and Imperial Navy were loath to delve deeply into the causes of things out of fear that, by pursuing the grave responsibility of their friends and superiors who were in charge, they would upset the “harmony” within the military.
The same thing holds true for the war between Japan and the United States in the Pacific, which was brought on by the conspiracies and provocations of the COMINTERN in Moscow and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Washington D.C.
Any objective evaluation of the national power of Japan versus the United States prior to the outbreak of hostilities would have led to the conclusion that Japan would inevitably suffer defeat. Nonetheless, with the belief in “mind over matter” in the form of Yamato damashii or the indomitable spirit of Japan holding sway, everyone refused to look at reality out of fear that, if they raised objections, they would be tarred as “cowards” and upset harmony. The results were tragic.
Still Clinging to Belief in Globalism
Turning to how things stand today, we have to ask, “Whatever happened to the Japan that was a ‘science and technology powerhouse’?” Whereas, only 20 or 30 years ago, home electrical appliances and electronics from Japanese companies such as Sony, Panasonic, Sharp and Toshiba had conquered the world, nowadays they are hardly to be seen anywhere.
Or take the current COVID-19 situation. Even now, there is no sign of a Japanese vaccine. And where are the voices in the government and the ruling parties, or even the opposition parties, calling for investigations into the reasons for the decline of the Japanese manufacturing sector? No doubt it is because such investigations would call into question the political responsibility of their colleagues and senior associates.
Changes for National Universities
There are two major reasons for the decline of Japan as a “science and technology power.” First was the change in legal status for the nation’s public universities in 2003 from national universities to “national university corporations,” and the subsequent year-on-year decline in financial support which the central government provides to the universities. The result was a sharp drop in the number of research posts and a shift to hiring young researchers solely on a contract basis.
The fact that researchers can no longer be sure of employment stability has led to a drop in the quality and quantity of research coming out of Japan that has even drawn attention internationally.
Concern about stability for their futures has convinced many students not to become researchers, and this has resulted in a precipitous drop in the number of students doing doctorates. If our capabilities in basic science decline, it is only natural that progress in practical scientific and technological application of such knowledge should also falter.
When Masatoshi Koshiba, the experimental particle physicist who won the 2002 Nobel Prize for physics, was asked what practical applications his results would have, he replied, “Even after 500 years they will be of no use.” That was a brilliant answer.
It is our fixation on the immediate payoff that has led to the overall decline in our capabilities in science and technology. Japan’s loss of a long-term perspective results from our commitment over the last two to three decades to “globalism”— in other words, money-centrism.
Shareholders’ Fixation on Globalism’s Dollars
The second major factor is shareholder-centrism. Shareholders are seeking immediate profit and only care if the value of their shares is going up. It is therefore only natural that development of technologies that might take 10 or 20 years is neglected.
In other words, shareholder-centrism translates into decline in technological power, and is the perfect way to destroy the industrial base.
The COVID-19 pandemic the world is now suffering is sounding the death knell for globalism. Even U.S. President Joe Biden has called for the United States to turn its back on budgetary austerity. And in the United Kingdom, as early as April 2020, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, insightfully sensing a future rise in nationalism, announced the British government would be making huge investments in vaccine manufacturers and other domestic industries so that the U.K. would no longer have to be dependent on other countries. As a result, the U.K. has proved able to develop a vaccine domestically and secure 500 million doses of vaccine.
In the meantime, not only has Japan failed to reflect on the root causes of its failures, the government has been issuing and retracting declarations of emergency at a dizzying pace as the number of COVID-19 cases rise or fall. As a result, it is the biggest laggard for vaccinating its population among all the developed countries, and a sharp rise in the number of infected patients is straining the medical system, while the Tokyo 2020 Olympics idiotically ended up taking place without spectators.
The Japanese Have Lost Their Pride
August 15 marked the anniversary of the end of World War II. During the entire 76 years of the postwar period, Japan has remained under the thumb of the United States.
Just look at how, following the end of the Cold War, Japan quite willingly acquiesced in the globalism pushed by the United States. Looking back at history, it seems fair to say that the ruling class was the most affluent class in every society. Nevertheless, in premodern Japan, things were a little bit different. This is indicated by the common saying of the time, Bushi wa kuwanedo takayoji, which literally means something like, “Though his belly is empty, the proud samurai keeps a toothpick in his mouth so as not to betray his situation.”
In other words, Japan’s samurai gloried in honorable poverty and disdained money-grubbing. In many cases, the samurai were the poorest of the four classes (samurai, peasant, artisan, merchant) during the Edo period (1603 to 1868). Even though in Japan the values of giri (moral duty) and ninjo (personal feelings) were traditionally more honored than money, and money-centrism and cutthroat competition ran completely contrary to the Japanese national character, we did not protest in the least when the United States pressed these alien values upon us.
Even when it comes to education, it’s all about mimicking the West. After primary school students make it through a day of “pressure-free education,” they move on to English and computers. Japanese language instruction is about the only time where they develop a foundation for logical thinking. If primary students spend all their time enjoying English and computers, then we will soon no longer be able to send out into the world true internationalists or personal computers from Japan.
Why has Japan become this kind of country? Shortly after the Pacific War ended, the Occupation instituted what it termed the “War Guilt Information Program.” This program sought to repudiate Japanese history, culture, and traditions, and spread propaganda about how evil Japan had acted during the war. It thereby planted in the minds of the Japanese people a consciousness of shameful Japan. For some reason, the effects of this brainwashing have continued until today and the Japanese people have lost their sense of pride.
For that reason, Japan has been unable to get rid of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement and other humiliating treaties. Nor do we feel ashamed when people around the world regard Japan as a “dependency” of the United States.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and other state ministers went hat in hand as supplicants to foreign countries in order to receive supplies of COVID vaccine. But neither they, of course, nor the Japanese people consider this a national humiliation.
The Postwar Period Has Never Ended
In his 1871 book Character, the Scottish author Samuel Smiles wrote, “Nations, like individuals, derive support and strength from the feeling that they belong to an illustrious race.”
Being a “vassal of the United States” is simply unacceptable. Japan and the United States are military allies, and need to remain true sworn friends. In fact, faced as we are with a hegemonistic China, we need to even more closely bind ourselves together. That is all the more reason why we need to tell the United States, “Don’t take us for fools!”
I taught at a university in the United States for three years, and I always talked bluntly with my friends and colleagues over there. If you get along well with someone, then you can speak frankly. So, needless to say, I let my friends know what I really thought. I even had girlfriends and others who would look at me and say, “Are you crazy?”
If we have to shut up because we are receiving protection from the United States, then it would be better for us to strive for self-defense.
It has now been 76 years since the end of the war. It is high time for Japan to change.
Masahiko Fujiwara is a noted mathematician who was born in 1943 in Hsinking, in former Manchuria (now Changchun in the Chinese province of Jilin). He earned a master’s degree and a Doctor of Science (D.Sc.) degree from the University of Tokyo. He was an assistant professor at the University of Colorado and also did work at Cambridge University. Fujiwara is now professor emeritus at Ochanomizu University. His books include Wakaki Sugakusha no Amerika (“America as Seen by a Young Mathematician,” 1981, by Shinchosha), which won the Nihon Essayist Club Award, and Kokka no Hinkaku (“The Dignity of the Nation,” 2005, by Shinchosha), a bestseller that sold more than 2.7 million copies. His distinctive writing style combines wit with sharp intelligence.
(Read the special Sankei Shimbun column in Japanese at this link.)
Author: Masahiko FUJIWARA