Eternal value taker - Why do the Japanese always apply foreign value measures?

Japan falls into a triviality?

Since the end of the bubble economy fever in the early 1990s, the Japanese people have been trying to pull their economy out of depression. However, the more they struggle and try to find the way out, the worse their situation seems to develop. And now after the Lehman shock many of us find ourselves in a dead end situation and more frustrated than ever. While we are experiencing the worst economic situation in the post WWII period, the political leadership seems incapable in addressing the crisis and indulges in populism instead.

Politicians are desperately trying to attract voters' supports by pumping money into their would-be-supporters and paying little or no attention to the long-run sustainability of populist policy measures. I wonder whether such policy measures as "individual household income support for agriculture", "elimination of highway tolls" and "abolition or reducing provisional tax rates on gasoline" would help us solving any of the real problems in our society.

What is worse, no leader can point out the way the Japanese people should follow to create a promising future for the next generation. If we look at intellectual leaders, they become absent-minded and look on Japan as if they are third parties. I was very surprised or even felt offended, when an esteemed professor from the conservative camp told me that the decline of Japan was inevitable and there was no way-out.
Japan would be subordinate to China in the near future. He said this with a sense of firm conviction and in his usual authoritative tone and added that Japan as a small country would be discarded by the world and have to come to terms with its trivial existence like such and such country.

I do not dare to refer to the country names he mentioned, because I believe that they are highly respected countries and their peoples enjoy highest living standard though their military glory might belong to the past. Should we really deplor, if we are destined to follow their trace?

Does it affect the happiness of individual Japanese that the size of the Japanese economy becomes smaller than that of China? It is an enormous obsession for many Japanese people that Japan must keep its position as the second-largest (*) economy in the world next to the US. However, I strongly doubt it. China has a population more than ten times bigger than that of Japan. Therefore, even when the Chinese national economy becomes as large as the Japanese economy, its living standard still remains less than one tenth of that of Japan. Due to the absence of effective management of its society, the gap between the rich and poor is widening in China and it is natural that some people enjoy enormous wealth in such a society. However, I see no reason for being envious about them. On the contrary, it gives us a chance, if many more Chinese people have happy and wealthy lives.

It is interesting that they are happy with "second".

Value measure exists outside

At least for our new PM Hatoyama being the second largest economy seemed to be an extremely important factor and this was the first thing he brought up, when he made his comment to the inauguration speech by President Barak Obama. "it is important that the world largest and second largest economies will work together", he said. I understood that our PM did not intend to request the US to do something, but expressed his wish that the US would treat Japan worthy of its status as “the second largest economy”. I wonder whether the value of Japan only depends upon the size of its economy. However, most Japanese believe that Japan enjoys the respect of the world because of its world's second largest economy and high-tech capability, and maybe because it keeps its pacifist policy embodied in the Article 9 of the Constitution for more than 60 years since the WWII.

It is true that the Japanese people are extremely sensitive about its status in the world measured by GDP or GNP. It is also true that not only nationalists but also ordinary and intellectual Japanese people felt proud when Japan took over Germany and became the second largest economy in the free world in 1968. They might have felt elated and exhilarated when Ezra Vogel wrote "Japan as NO 1". Their happiness certainly came from the material accomplishment, but the more important factor was the evaluation by the Western people. Japan made efforts in line with the value set by the West and its efforts were rewarded with an acknowledgement by the West. This is akin to the relationship between a pupil and his great master in the martial art.

The difficulties of Japan started when Japan caught up the Western countries towards the end of the 1980s and came to enjoy high living standard comparable with that of the most developed countries. This was possible because Japan successively carried out its task set by the Western norm. But, when it caught up the West, it suddenly realized that now it had to set a target by itself as a leader of the world, which eventually should be followed by the rest of the world. There were certainly some arguments around 1990, but this theme was forgotten in the turmoil of the Gulf War where the role of Japan was critically discussed.
After all Japan could not create a value system of their own. In Japan people are happy and comfortable if value measures come from somewhere outside of its country.

Japan was a part of the Chinese civilization for millennia and it became a nature of the Japanese people to judge themselves with the value standard created by China, the center of the civilization. Japan existed on the outskirts of the Chinese civilization and could enjoy certain liberty thanks to the geographical remoteness from the continent. Therefore, Japan had certain liberty to select elements of the Chinese civilization and introduced them into its country, but never created a value which should be applied to other nations. There was a one-way transaction of the value for centuries and the character of the Japanese people was created according to this reality.

When the West reached the Far East in the mid-19th century, Japan followed the method it was accustomed to. The source of the valid value system simply moved from China to Europe and the US. Even when Japan successfully realized the economic prosperity of the Western standard, the Japanese people could not change their habit, as I mentioned before. They never imagined becoming a world leader which ought to invite other nations to behave according to their idea. They continued to want the Western value measure and acknowledgement.

During the Gulf War Japan was spotted on its "check book diplomacy". Japan then started to try to participate in the peace keeping operations, because it felt that it did not fulfill the world standard yet in this area. After "an economic giant" Japan's next target was to become "an ordinary country", i.e. a country which is able to send armed forces to the disputed places to join the international efforts. The new target is not easy to meet, but at least we do not need a new paradigm for our behavior. The efforts are still continuing. While Japan has not firmed its position in the security field, its economic status has come to rattle. So we are happy to remain as value taker also in the economic field! We are so happy to imitate the welfare system of the Nordic countries, the solar energy policy of Germany and so on.

Value taking also in culture

Anyhow, it is a common sense of the Japanese people that the ultimate authority exists somewhere out of the country. Such institutions as Olympics, Major League Baseball, Nobel Prize, Cannes Film Festival and Academy Awards are decisive, if Japanese people want to be respected by their fellow nationals.

I wonder why the Olympic gold medals are so important for judo artists. Martial artists say that they attach more importance to the spiritual side than to victory or defeat. If they really believe this, why don’t they oppose to the deterioration of spiritual side in the Olympic and other international judo matches? I am not happy to see judokas in colorful wears clinching each other with their hips drawing back. This is contradictory to the judo spirit to which the Japanese judokas insist to pay the utmost respect. A few years ago Japan lost its seat in the International Judo Federation which decides on the rules of the Olympic Games. The international judo is not anymore the judo which Master Jigoro Kano created and other legendry masters developed in the past decades.

Recently baseball was ousted from the official events of the Olympics. Japanese people were much disappointed to hear the news, while Americans remained indifferent to the decision, so far as I know. I well understand the feelings of the Americans. They have the Major League Baseball and best players from all over the world want to play there, because the Major League is the most prestigious place for baseball players. So long as the Major League belongs to the US, Americans have the ultimate say on its rules and conditions. They have no reason to give baseball to the Olympics where America has much smaller influence as one of some 200 members of the IOC.
But, the Japanese love the Olympics and some Japanese people even want to make "sumo" as a game of the Olympics. I cannot believe the mentality of those promoters. We already have the International Sumo Federation and there again victory or defeat is everything. Is that not what Japanese people really hate? We have Oozumo with long and respective tradition and it attracts many strong guys from the world. I am very happy that they try to speak Japanese and adapt to the very traditional life style of sumo stalls. However, some people, in particular conservative people, are not happy to see foreign wrestlers. When foreign sumo wrestlers deviate slightly from the rigid tradition, for example express their happiness with a victory pose, they fiercely condemn them for violating Japanese moral code. I really hate the narrow mindedness of those people. I would like to hear their opinions about taking up sumo as one of the Olympic events. Once sumo becomes an Olympic event, it will surely follow the destiny judo has followed.

Therefore, I was much surprised when Tokyo expressed its wish to invite the 2016 Olympic Games despite that the initiator, Governor of Tokyo, was famous as conservative opinion leader and a co-author of a notorious book "The Japan That Can Say No".

As all Japanese people only look to the West as source of value measure, it is understandable that they only grin to hear that Japanese anime and manga are popular in foreign countries and young girls and boys enjoy cosplays in Paris, Los Angels and Rom. We have a good chance to make international standers in the contemporary pop-culture. But, no responsible Japanese sees a chance there and they keep looking down on manga and anime, as you see in a scandal of the previous Aso administration related to "Anime Palace". This disease of the Japanese people is incurable.