In his JDate profile, right-wing math professor Fujiwara Masahiko would list “Japan, Japanese, bushido, moral education, lifetime employment, decision-making by feeling” in his Likes column and “capitalism, democracy, the United States, stockholders, decision-making by logic, globalization” in his Dislikes column. Thanks to the book’s banner, we know all this before even diving into the text. I am assuming we actually go and read the book to find out why these subjective views are not just opinions, but well-argued political positions. 「国家の品格」(Kokka no Hinkaku) is a polemical work, attempting to provide arguments for a return to a more “Japanese style” of social organization, and thus we should take the time to consider not only his opinions, but the evidence he uses in support.
Chapter One — 近代的合理精神の限界 — opens things up by looking at the West’s world conquest in the Modern Era. And to warm us up for where the argument is going, Fujiwara writes on the third page:
“England — the head of the Industrial Revolution — ruled the seven seas through military force, and as a result of America inheriting this afterwards, all the world’s children are now crying as they learn English. You cannot live without learning the invaders’ language.
If the Japan that I love had taken over the world, the world’s children would be crying as they learned Japanese. Such a shame.”
Before we get confused on the matter, this statement pretty clearly demonstrates that Fujiwara is not against forced cultural imperialism as much as he is upset at who succeeded at world conquest. If only the Japanese had been the ones to take over the world! Also, note his opinion that everyone around the world hates learning English, which I am not sure is the case. I remember Bavarian fifth-graders being extremely enthusiastic about English during my home stay, although their tears may have been saved for our absence. Nevertheless, his association with “study” and “crying” seems to suggest a certain hostility towards foreign language learning in general.
In the next section — entitled “The West Were Savages” — Fujiwara explains that Japan was much more “refined” (洗練された) in olden days than Europe was. Take the year 1500, for example. He stacks up multiple Japanese literary classics against the “only example of literature I can think of” from the West: The Cantebury Tales. And Europe didn’t even have unified countries, my friends — compared to Japan, which had been unified since antiquity.
1500 is an interesting time to pick for this comparison, especially seeing that Japan experienced massive and devastating civil war for two hundred years between the mid 15th century to the early 17th century. He also lists England as a “non-unified country” which is only correct if he is using “イギリス” to mean “the United Kingdom.”
This somehow segues into a rant against nuclear proliferation, and then into an anecdote about gun-wielding Belgians who are afraid of Eastern Europeans rolling into town and jetting off with their expensive cars. All advanced countries are facing increases in crime and breakdowns in education and family. What is the cause of this? In Fujiwara’s opinion, it is the modern spirit of rationality — the very same one that led to 19th century imperialism. He then directs his ire against the 1919 Paris Peace Conference, which preached “self-determination” for Europe, but not Asia. Fair enough. I know Ho Chi Minh was bummed about that too. But too bad for Ho, communism is also a failure, along with “Competitive Society” and “Meritocratic Society.”
Most of this is just exposition without much explanation, so on page 25, I am psyched to hear why exactly “thorough meritocracy is flawed.” Here Fujiwara presents the nightmare situation of promotion based on ability: A company where all employees are rivals, senior employees refusing to let younger employees in on know-how, total instability by employees convinced they are surrounded by “enemies.” (This explains, I guess, why Western firms with meritocratic hiring practices do so incredibly poorly in the global market.) Fujiwara proudly states, “I am against a thorough meritocracy. I am for a social system based on lifetime employment and aged-based promotion.” I guess he doesn’t mind that the traditional Japanese stable employment system never applied to 90% of Japan’s workers. He does admit, however, that being against meritocracy is seen as “uncool” (かっこ悪い) around the world. And then ends the chapter with, “Extreme competitive society and meritocracy is beastly society.” QED, brother.
To end things out with a kick, Fujiwara literally spends the last four pages explaining why stock derivatives are the “time bomb” that will destroy capitalist society. (Update 2010: Wait, he may have been right about this!)
Overall, Fujiwara makes a lot of points common to liberal positions in the United States: the market cannot solve all social problems, the state should provide a safety net, imperialism is bad, management practices solely considering stockholders are bad. But through associating the entire West with its most extreme political and economic forms — which will be a running theme of the book — he assumes that we need no extra rhetorical step to elucidate why and how the traditional Japanese system — and not a Galbraith-esque state-moderated capitalism, for example — can remedy these problems. We will have to wait until the next chapter for persuasive arguments.