Power to the People

Opinions - September 2nd, 1988

From ‘stubbornness’ stance to ‘seminar’ roundtable

by Tian Jing

A cursory browse through the major Japanese dailies recently revealed this fact to me: about one-fifth of the lower part of the front pages is almost invariably taken up by the advertisements for books or magazines. Asahi Shimbun, Mainichi Shimbun, Yomiuri Shimbun, Nihon Keizai Shimbun — there are no exceptions in all these famous newspapers. And the content of these books or magazines so advertised are mainly “academic” or “journalistic” in nature, rather than entertainment or sensational stuff.

It is also my observation that this “one-fifth page holy territory” has never been intruded upon by any other outsiders, particularly ads for com­modities. This somehow makes me sense a “stubbornness.”

Some of these books, in my eyes, cannot possi­bly sell well. But both the editors and the ad­vertisers persist in using the most eye-catching spots to publicize them. This seems to go against the principles of advertising, per se: to make money by publicizing goods through the mass media.

There may be some persons who refer to this as something decorative — or maybe just for show. However, in my opinion, these advertisements have gone beyond their own boundaries and are telling readers something, because in Chinese, the original meaning of “advertisement (kohkoku) is “to let things be known to the public.”

Japan has so far developed into one of the world’s economic super-powers that can no long­er be neglected. It has become the biggest credi­tor nation in recent years. Yet, it seems to me that the more Japan develops, the spirit of “stubbornness” — as demonstrated by the editors and book publishers — should be investigated.

For some unknown reasons, Japan has been battered around by some countries in the inter­national arena of late. In some cases, things became so unfair that even a third partner or onlooker could not help crying out in defense of Japan.

Curious, I asked dozens of Japanese what they thought the reason for this “Japan bashing” might be. To my great surprise, most of them had come to the conclusion that Japan’s plight had been brought upon itself.

Many have suggested that Japan cast away its particular way of thinking of itself; to quicken its steps toward internationalization and adjust to the commonly accepted values of the rest of the world — which is to say, the values of westerners, actually. They seem to feel that otherwise, Japan will become more isolated from interna­tional society, which would surely bode nothing good either for Japan or the rest of the world which has come to depend upon its “industrial miracle.”

But can this really solve the problem?

Japan has drawn much attention from around the world to its brilliant manufacturing, research-and-development skills and industrial craftsman­ship. Yet, people with a strong natural curiosity cannot and will not cast their eyes solely on the commodities that a country produces. Fascinated by the excellence of the commodities themselves, people surely will attempt to seek to look into the people behind the commodities; in other words, to try to learn how such excellence has come to be.

Looking back in history, one could easily notice that all the countries which have enjoyed long periods of prosperity are not those which con­tinue to exist simply by experiencing one-dimensional, one-stage upsurges in production, but rather those that altruistically contribute something unique to the development for the overall good of mankind.

What puzzles me most is the fact that the very “miracle” which has expanded Japan’s industrial and manufacturing success to such an unprecedented scale has not been generally ap­preciated; on the contrary, there is the danger of the “miracle” and the “miraclemakers” being scolded in their own homeland.

Economically, Japan has surely taken bold strides into the circle of developed Western na­tions; it has for years been the sole Oriental country which boasts “membership” in the eco­nomic summit meetings of the giants of the west­ern world. One needs no further proof of its emergence.

But culturally speaking, to be frank, Japan has not taken corresponding strides in light of its economic power in the world. To phrase it another way, Japan remains a mystery to the outside world.

Perhaps some Japanese might say, “Ours is only imitation; there is nothing special to see behind the scenes.”

Just as many Japanese seem to be digging deep within to find fault in themselves, a wave of studies on Japan is in full swing throughout the western world. Doesn’t this phenomenon tell the Japanese something about their own nation? Doesn’t the fact that Japan — surely beginning long ago with imitation — has caught up with and surpassed their “teachers” in a relatively short period of time impress them? Might this not prove that the imitator somehow emerges with something unique unto itself?

In this author’s view, the present plight of Japan rather than being caused by its peculiar acting role, could be better traced to the fact that Japan has not boldly set its own culture in a correct possition in an honest and forthright way. It seems to have vacillated in failing to let its true self — its culture, not just its commodities — be known to the outside world.

Therefore, even today, she is regarded as some kind of heretic in the western world and continues to be treated as a junior partner when full status.

I think this set of circumstances does no good for Japan or, indeed, the rest of the world.

International exchanges should be conducted in the future in a two-way exchange; both directions, not just one way. The internationalization of Japan cannot be completed by the old formula of seeing itself remain in the role of “imitator.”

To avoid this, I feel now is really the time for Japan to resign its self-assigned job as “assistant” and independently begin to conduct its own seminars, placing itself in the role of professor.

And that same spirit of stubbornness embodied in the precious space of front-page advertisements for books is at once the very quality — and the best forum — from which to conduct this seminar.