May 28, 2011

Why has Japan Succeeded? Western Technology and the Japanese Ethos

Original Title in English by Author Prof. Michio MorishimaPublisher: Cambridge University Press, 1st Edition in 1982, reprinted 1985, 1988, ISBN 0521 269032
Backcover by Jeremy Hardie, The Times Literary Supplement
This book, by a distinguished Japanese economist now resident in the West, offers a new interpretation of the current success of the Japanese economy. By placing the rise of Japan in the context of its historical development, Michio Morishima shows how a strongly-held national ethos has interacted with religious, social and technological ideas imported from elsewhere to produce highly distinctive cultural traits.
While Professor Morishima traces the roots of modern Japan back as far as the introduction of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism from China in the sixth Century, he concentrates his observations on the last 120 years during which Japan has had extensive contracts in the West. He describes the swift rise of Japan to the status of a first-rate power following the Meiji Revolutin after 1867, in which Japan broke with a long history of isolationism, and which paved the way for the adoption of Western technology and the creation of a modern Western-style nation state; and a similarly meteoric rise from the devastation of the Second World War to Japan's present position. A range of factors in Japan's economic success are analysed: her characteristic dualistic social structure - corresponding to the divide between large and medium/small enterprises - the relations of government and big business, the poor reception of liberalism and individualism, and the strength of Japanese nationalism. Throughout, Professor Morishima emphasises the importance of the role played in the creation of Japanese capitalism by ethical doctrines as transformed under Japanese conditions, especially the Japanese Confucian tradition of complete loyalty to the firm and to the state.
This account, which makes clear the extent to which the economic rise of Japan is due to factors unique to its historical traditions, will be of interest to a wide general readership as well as to students of Japan and its history.
... stands out from the rest not only because of Professor Morishima's exceptional ability as an economist and his intimate native knowledge of Japan; but for the remarkable ambition to do for Japanese economic history what R.H.Tawney did for England in Religion and the Rise of Capitalism. He aims first to show how the distinctive version of Confucianism which took root in Japan helped to create totally different economic conditions from those in China; just as differing interpretations of the same Bible created quite different economic results in Protestant, as compared with Catholic, Europe. But the major part of the book is devoted to showing how Japanese Confucianism provided such as extraordinarily fertile ground for the adaptation and development of Western scientific ideas despite centuries of isolationism and technological neglect.
"His analysis is admirable for the range for the range of its insights and the modesty of its conclusions. It confirms again the necessity for, and the richess of, explanations of economic behaviour in terms of political theory and social change."

About the Author
1. The Taika Reform and after
2. The Meiji Revolution
3. The Japanese Empire (I)
4. The Japanese Empire (II)
5. The San Francisco Regime
"There are basically two kinds of religion; firstly, a religion which unites with the governing power in a state, acts as guardian of its legitimacy and whole role is to sanctify the lineage of the ruling tribe or tribes. There is secondly the kind of religion which turns its back on the ruling elements, which permeates those tribes and classes which are ruled, rather than ruling, and those who do not possess superior status, i.e. the religion which tries to bring help to people such as these. The former kind is in many cases the servant of politics; the latter, if not actually critical of the existing system, is at least apolitical. Provided that a religion whose objective is to help the ruled is rational it will be strongly critical of the existing regime, and such religions will deny the deities espoused by the ruling groups. At the same time they will also try to bring together all the non-ruling groups and form either some new, opposing political grouping, or some new spiritual movement. This kind of political or religious cohesion is securely founded on rational principles which transcend any idea of tribe - general, universal principles to which any individual must submit, whatever his tribe; the supreme duty of religions of this kind is help to the individual, not the legitimation of power. However there are also some religions which, while their objective remains the succour of the ruled, are nevertheless irrational and strongly magical and in cases such as these the subject classes are taught to turn their back on politics, to live the life of a mystical recluse, seeking only eternal youth, longevity and other items of physical well-being."
[.... In short
Type I (religion that serves to justify the ruling forces)>>>Confucianism
Type II (rational religion whose objective is to either the ruled or the individual)>>>Puritanism
Type III (the mystical religion whose objective is to assist the individual)>>>Taoism...]
In Japan, which imported both Confucianism and Taoism in China, not only Confucianism but Taoism as well was modified to become a religion of first, pro-government, type. Japanese Confucianism was a far more enthusiastic upholder of the existing regime than was Chinese Confucianism; its role in the Tokugawa period was that of an ideology legitimating the Bakufu regime as one approved by the Emperor; in the Meiji period its role was the justification of the so-called "Emperor regime" (Tennosei).
Shinto, the Japanese version of Taoism, could no longer be called a religion of the third type but was the religion of the imperial family in their role as the ruling clan. Such a transformation must really be regarded as quite natural in view of the fact that the religion had been brought into Japan by members of the ruling tribe or ruling class. Moreover, Japan was inevitably in a position where she was perpetually aware of the overwhelming cultural of technological gap which existed between her and other foreign countries (the Chinese Empire and the countries of the West). This kind of awareness of weakness rendered Japan's ruling classes at the same time both defensive and aggressive, and all the elements which were imported into Japan from elsewhere were modified so that they could be of use in Japan's own protection and development. Even Buddhism in Japan was not exception to this pattern. As far as doctrine was concerned, Buddhism was really split between the second and third types, although it varied depending on the sect. When Buddhism had been introduced into Japan, it has been used as far as possible to demonstrate the glory of the state. Since Buddhism was at the time disseminated throughout Eastern societies an international comparison of the cultural level of each country could be made by comparing the degree to which Buddhism flourished in each country. Behind Shotoku Taishi's attempts to promote Buddhism there lay an attempt to reconcile by means of Buddhism the sharp conflicts which existed within the ruling class at the time, but it cannot be denied that there was also a strong desire to try and raise Japan's cultural position vis-à-vis other countries.
A different reinterpretation of the same sacred texts can lead to the developement of a totally different life among the people at large, as has been made abundantly clear by Max Weber in the case of Western Europe, and the same phenomenon can be clearly perceived in the case of the East as well. In China, which possessed religions of the first and third type, the debauched lifestyle of the upper classes and the poverty and inertia of the lower classes seemed permanent fixtures (until the rise of hte Chinese Communist Party). Society was being stifled, and even when a dynasty changed the change brought no transformation with it. Japan, however, which had modified those same religions possessed by regime, could, after the Meiji Revolution, easily and rapidly put herself in a position where she could manipulate Western technology for the development of the Japanese state.
Japan, however, possessed only this first kind of religion (an ideology providing religious justification for the position of those in power and upholding the status quo) and lacked any religion of the second type (a religion founded on the basis of individuals with the aim of helping humanity). As a result, neither individualism nor internationalism developed and the people had no religion of their own, having become completely non-religious. (Shinshu, the largest sect in Japanese Budhism, must doctrinally be included in our second category of religions, but after the defeat of the Ikko uprising by Nobunaga its adherents did not fight against those in power.) Since this areligiousness of the Japanese people led them to be materialistic, and since they were at the same time on the other hand also nationalistic, they had no hesitation in working together for the material prosperity of Japan as a nation.
Such inclinations meant that the economy in Japan could easily tend towards the right. Since each individual member of the Japanese population was deeply permeated with a nationalist awareness the force of public opinion could (quite democratically) lead to the suppression of all liberalistic economic activity, even without the appearence of a strong leader or autocrat. During the period of the quasi-war regime after 1932 the people desired the appearance of a strong right government. The newspapers and other information media divined this national will, played to public opinion and incited it still further, so much so that the prevailing atmosphere was one desirous of the emergence of fascism. Once the wheels of this process had started there was no way of stopping them, and the economy as well was completely subjected to state control. Even when the liberal economy was, to all appearances, restored after the awr, it was not difficult to secure unity among public opinion. As long as the intentions of those in power were communicated to the people agreement was, in most cases, easily obtained, since the people had been educated in a way which deprived them of the heart to resist. As a result, although the "economic plans" championed by cabinets in the postwar years have had no legal force they have been acknowledged without any problem and people have cooperated in their realisation. If one terms Japan's prewar regime as a democratic fascist regime, then the postwar economy can perhaps be regarded as a kind of 'democratic "planned" economy'. Whatever the case, the modern economy which prospered in Western Europe under religion of the second type - an economy with an industry founded on the techniques of modern science - was in Japan successfully grafted onto a religion of the first type.