The Choice: Harmonious Economy or Apocalyptic Disaster

In terms of efforts for long-awaited reform in Japan, the general view seems – the government already waisted three decades, i.e. the entire 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. Although those who lived during this period are fully aware of its long-overdue necessity, quasi-unknown to the Western journalism, at least three ex-prime ministers, namely, Kiichi Miyazawa, Ryutaro Hashimoto and Junichiro Koizumi had spoken out about their serious concerns on the subject of Japan’s unavoidable administrative shake-up. In the end, it seems that they tried to do something in vain, by bluntly taking their own political risks in an increasingly ‘ancient’ environment of Japanese politics. Despite the havoc, however, all these people’s representatives must be remembered in Japan.

On this essential issue, Taichi Sakaiya, a respected writer, former politician and bureaucrat, and Ryuichiro Matsubara, a pre-eminent university researcher of Capitalism, discussed about the existence of an insurmountable barriers in Japan for the November 2005 issue of Chuo Koron, one of the most prestigious monthly magazines based in Tokyo. In the special article titled: ‘Unless We Break The Spell of Company-Man Practice, Japan Must Sink with It’, Mr Sakaiya argued about the approaching downfall of the elitist Lump Generation (coined word by him) – born from 1947 to 1949 – baby boomers who contributed most in establishing Japan’s modernised economy during 70s and 80s. And those who had studied in Japan’s post-war free educational system in full advantages, as the generation were then getting leading positions in the society. He warned them with his unusually serious tone, and perhaps, as for his last hope; ‘their fate will be completely reversed in the future, when they suffer in old age, if Japan cannot launch a prerequisite reform now.’

Professor Matsubara agreed on his point: ‘so-called lifetime employment system, which is much admired and successfully kept in Japan, in fact, is also a cruel system from different perspective. In this kind of organisation, an employee has to care bosses or colleagues inside one’s own company more than anybody or anything else, such as clients, ordinary people and different opinions, all only available outside of the company. This attitude actually means to ignore much bigger opportunities in the society, since the day of one’s graduation from university.’ And he predicted: ‘Worse, the long-term relationship constantly treasured, in a manner like this, would most-likely be shattered at the time of retirement. On the other hand, they must accept a crude reality that many other existing ordinary relationships available in society become hardly recoverable for them in this accumulated pattern of isolationism’. 

The two leading intellectuals further emphasised Japan’s urgent requirements for a modern financial-investment market and for the necessary investment products to cope with the rapidly growing demand of its pension fund sector. But nobody listened to their serious warnings and most preferred to continue the old practice. Actually, Mr Miyazawa, who also served as Japan’s most credible economist, advocated the indispensable needs of such asset management policy in the late 80s, before he was appallingly attacked by a thug in public place. Mr Hashimoto thought about a deeper political issue and fully meditated in his articulate remark: ‘Japan now must launch a more radical reform than the Meiji Restoration’. And in Japanese term, Mr Koizumi represented Satsuma clan’s tradition that successfully led the Restoration. Why then nobody in the Japanese politics took any further actions on this vital issue for their unique motherland or just to follow these inspired leaders? We must perhaps think about this answer belatedly.

Few people in Europe may refute to such specific Japanese problems vis-à-vis the current smashed-status of world economy under an unprecedented pandemic by saying; every country is struggling today. Absolutely agreed. Nonetheless, the tackling problem and its acuteness are fundamentally different in Japan, compared to the West. Unknown to most people in the world, the post-war Japanese politics is still failing to establish a modern financial system, in particular, its basic legal structure. Of course, few experts may still insist somewhere in EU – we are also endeavouring to achieve it…Right.

Say, for instance, does Portugal have it? Yes, they have as a shrewd survivor but the Portuguese have to improve it all the time, like anybody else. However, Japan cannot routinely work it out with their own ambition as a modern nation, unless its essential modernisation efforts since 19th century has been duly carried out and completed. Some people may absent-mindedly believe that it was done with atom bombs long time ago. But as the Western professionals dealing with Japan on the front line of business could detect and sense it every day, the current realities are totally different from such an assertion. In this situation, we all perhaps must recollect the phrase of Yukichi Fukuzawa, a great leader for Japanese modernisation, in his master piece, The Summary of Civilised Spirit, – the society must always progress further. Indeed. But Japan is backtracking.

In looking back all the past in history since Japan’s birth as a state, the similar grave political crisis actually experienced in the 15th century. After the horrible wars and atrocities in the capital Kyoto (from 1467 to 1477), Japan was experiencing the long-term economic downturn for the first time in its history, and further declining on the way to a divided state, as the central government became quasi-nonexistence. In this critical period, thanks to the technologies and advices provided by then-rising-star Portugal, Japan was again reunited by the 16th century, and somehow saved. 

This encounter with a modern leading nation was so precious for Japan. As a proof, even the most accurate history of this revolutionary era in Japan was written by a Portuguese. He, the author of History of Japan, Luis Frois, was unknown in the world and his book was lost even in Europe. More than 400 years, his most magnificent works had been completely banished from the history. But two Japanese scholars were determined to salvage it and bring back to Japan, to complete the essential but forgotten part of Japanese history. Stunningly, the team was successful in this most challenging mission to translate the copy of his manuscripts (found by them in the Macao archives) into Japanese. And the solution for today’s crisis in Japan seems to be also written in his book as the accumulation of facts and events happened during this period. In the end, it was not a difficult issue to understand, as everybody is talking in Japan today that Japan is now going to bankrupt with this old politics. It was, and still is, simply about the matters of common sense.

A serious question must be asked also from the Asian viewpoint. In the ancient period, Japan was deemed as one of peaceful countries governed by the common religion of Buddhism spread all over China (Kara) and India (Tenjiku). Today, two counties already deserted Buddhism, while Confucianism and Hinduism are still in rife in China and in India respectively. Only Japan still uphold this so-called new India-originated religion among three nations. Despite the fact, it was all interlocked in a rather isolated religious environment in Japan, such as Shinto-Buddhist complex, which neither Indians nor Chinese can understand, or rather, are interested. Are the Japanese only the remaining extremists in today’s world? Despite no one has ever expressed such a fear, we must realise that this possibility cannot be entirely eliminated. 

Many Japanese politicians, bureaucrats and historians are still using these ancient controversial practices for the governmental function, such as the Gengo year-counting system, which was abolished in China, the original inventor, once and for all, by the early 20th century. Thinking of a possible islanders’ insularity under the misguided politics, Japan should be perhaps seriously avoiding an intellectual stalemate, and the ultimate severance from the world. For instance, can a Japanese prime minister change it to the modern calendar, just like Mao Zedong made it successfully, supported by the intellectuals such as Lu Xun, in China? Nobody ever discussed its political implications to Japan as if it was cursed even to raise a subject like this. So, we need to assume that there will be no argument even at intellectuals’ level. The politics of isolationism is almost a religion in Japan and it is all hidden impeccably far away from the modern progress.

To comprehend this fundamental theoretic issue, however, Japan fortunately have Hajime Nakamura, an incredible specialist who studied both Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism and India itself, its culture, art and history. The conclusion deduced from his arduous research was broadly to confirm and reiterate the ancient historical development in the world that religious organisations cannot be financed by state, no matter how powerful they are. Therefore, religion must be supported by the rational people as individual who have equipped with common sense, which can only be obtained by the combination of physics and metaphysics as once argued by Aristotle (Yes, his precious books were once lost but then recovered in Syria only by the Islamist movement.), and all the modern nations had to follow him subsequently. 

People intuitively understood this problem in the West, as all of their ancient powerful empires had disappeared, with unstoppable corruptions, lawlessness and shameful behaviours, in the fierce competitions at early days in their own history. The West simply could not hide their inefficiency to survive. What’s the point for hiding it before the total disappearance? Almost unnoticed in the West, this inefficiency syndrome is what exactly happening in the East today. What we should be cautious about the East is, however, there is still living ‘ancient’ empire of China in full swing., which was regarded as a communist dictatorship even by the leading Western intellectuals. 

One more critical situation to be realised in the West would be, in fact, Confucius had completely disregarded Metaphysics, and so did the Chinese Buddhism and Taoism. So how could we explain even the existence of problems to people without common sense? We can only show an example for their visible impact, in believing that as a human, they will also understand it. Although you may agree or disagree, to perform this mission better, the world economy should be also reinvigorated from the current rock-bottom. How can we do that? Well, that is the question.

However, it is still important to realise that such modern principles could be possibly established in Japan. To break this enigma code, or rather, to crack this no-need-to-argue mentality hidden deep inside Japan, we need a miracle. And this revolutionary measure could be launched, only if, the Japanese are willing to act for a real change abandoning the old practices and its existing way of thinking in business, as Messrs Sakaiya and Matsubara made their profound statements 15 years ago. 

Only such revolutionary shift can save all Japanese, including every sector of business and every sect of religion, under Japan’s precious freedom of speech and religion, of course. Do nothing and simply relying on a sinking traditional politics or ancient magical power, certainly cannot be a solution for ending the current politico-economic crisis evolving from Japan to all over the world, or rather, curing from ‘Japan disease’ as World’s major financial institutions have now started calling this global phenomenon.

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