Sunday, April 04, 2010

The enigma of Japanese intellectuals.

Although it is sometimes a dirty word, I consider myself as "a kind of" intellectual. (Meaning I am prepared to be "dirty" in disturbing the well-meaning implicit assumptions in society from time to time.)

One of the enigmas of Japan is the silence of its intellectuals in the global domain. I feel personally responsible for it by the portion of "one over one hundred twenty-seven million" (which is the current population of Japan, roughly speaking).
Japan has been exporting automobiles and electronics in the peace of the postwar era. Recently, Japan has been the source of influential popular culture waves led by manga and anime. In terms of serious world view issues, however, it has been more or less silent, becoming effectively a "black hole" in this regard.

It is not that Japan does not have its share of intellectuals ("dirty" people). I know many of them in person. They write books (in Japanese), teach at universities, and conduct interesting research, think original thoughts. It is not that there are no unique or original ideas being generated here. Every country has its own traditions, and the explicit and implicit enrichments brought about by the long history of Japan should surely be a basis for adding something valuable to the world heritage of intellectual endeavors.

There are many missing pieces. For example, the Japanese concept of nature is very different from one in the West. While the western protection of nature tends to be a total withdrawal of human activities from a certain area, the Japanese tend to aim at a harmonious co-existence, as exhibited in the beautiful "satoyama" areas all over the country. It would constitute a great service to the human race to express and explain the Japanese philosophy of nature in the modern context.

There are many areas where a contemporary treatment would greatly improve the situation. Areas covered by three great books written in English originating from modern Japan ("Book of Tea", "Bushido: The Soul of Japan", and "An Introduction to Zen Buddhism") badly need a contemporary update, although these classics certainly continue to provide valuable readings today.

This particular blog is a humble test-bed to try out what I could possible say in the global context being a person based in Tokyo. I know sometimes I am clumsy, but I have to do this all the same. It is the duty of my own choice.

Japan has a relatively large economy (2nd in the world, to be overtaken and surpassed by China this year), and many intellectuals are likely to feel, although I have not interviewed them personally, that they can lead a more or less comfortable life focused on the Japanese "market" only. (I would feel the same had I been more settling.) Hence the presence of many university professors who (especially in the humanities) remain essentially domestic. I find myself increasingly uncomfortable being in this situation, both as an individual and as a member of a nation.

Thus, the (perhaps foolish) activity of writing this Englush blog persists as a practice in prose and a demonstration of spirit, although sadly at present its readership is much smaller compared to my Japanese blog. Let's see if there comes a day when the Qualia Journal would attract more readers than its Japanese brother.

While doing this, I must confess, I sometimes feel very lonely, as not many people consider the expression of their ideas in the lingua franca as a necessity of life in this country. That is actually fine with me. Ever since my childhood, I always felt lonely, when confronting essential issues.

The presence of the readers of this blog continues to be a solace for my soul. I thank you all for your kindness, from my heart.


Anonymous said...

i agree with what you said in this blog. i am not a intellectual, but feel frustrated that ppl in japan are so content with thier small world. they arguee and they discuss things, but would not let it out towrds world. i dont know what world means when i use the word, but feel so frustrated about it. i earned MFA from UCL in london and havent worked as an artist, but feel really sad that ppl are not looking at outside of japan. it is the fact that japanese artists who get thier recognision widly are found ppl who are not japanese. in my opinion, ppl just ignore that there is the world outside of japan.

r_yuzurin said...


I really appreciate you giving us your intellect and should be the one thanking you.
Your entries always inspire me.
Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

It is about time for Japanese people to be more confident and show off their great talents to the out side of Japan.

We need more people like Ichiro!

Please don't apologize.

Anonymous said...

Dr mogi, I also agree with what you said although I am not a intellectual (as well) and cannot understand the whole thing fully in this blog. I like your writings but prefer your English blog rather than the Japanese. Do not be being lonely.

kirai said...

And not only intellectuals, I have the feeling that Japan is a country that tends to close to himself. Sony, Toyota and Nintendo conquered the world, but lately, most of the Japanese companies just concentrate on controlling the local market, and that is enough.

When a new Internet business starts in the US they are thinking about world wide launch from day 1. Many US companies control most of the Japanese consumer Internet market without even having offices en Japan. On the other side, new Japanese Internet businesses usually start thinking only about the local market, and only in the very long run they will maybe starting thinking to go global. Do you know any Japanese Internet company successful all around the world?

Sometimes I have the feeling that the problem is "ambition" and "need". Japanese thinking and people do not seem to me very ambitious (compared for example with USA people), they are happy with something rather comfortable. The other problem is "need", after the war Japan was in need, Japan was hungry, and Japanese technology went global. But nowadays Japanese society has a rather comfortable life, the next generations are growing in an ideal world and they do not have worries. They will just live a peaceful life with no worries, there is no need to worry about the whole world when you are comfortable in Japan. For example, many people from the last generations felt the hurry to learn English in many developed countries, but I have the feeling that that hurry is not as strong as before. People do not think English is THAT important, they can live without it, and only highly educated people really learn it (I'm seeing this in South European countries and also in Japan). On the other side, in China, where they are HUNGRY, where they are in NEED, there is now a huge movement of English learning, and the new generations are hugely motivated to learn it.

How do we motivated people, intellectuals, universities, companies to be GLOBAL? to think about the world as a WHOLE and not as a sum of many pieces? how do we improve communication and cultural exchange? I think one of the keys is MOTIVATION. As long as you have a motivation it will work, like your English blog, that it is working :)

Wander14 said...

I・・・I was VERY moved by your "PASSION".

Your words are so attractable
as much as Obama.

I feel like expressing my mind
in this place more and more
although my English skill is
still weak.
And I would like to improve it.

I appreciate you for giving us
the golden oppotunities!


Anonymous said...

Dr. Mogi;

I am an avid reader of your English blog. Being a Japanese-English technical translator, I have lots to learn from your writing. I admire your ability to express your ideas in a foreign language. It's not an easy task at all.
But I also learn a lot from your original thoughts.

Please do continue this great exploration into the world outside.

Johan Nystrom said...

Dr. Mogi,

Do you have any suggestion as to the reasons why Japanese intellectuals tend not to express themselves on the world stage? Is it related to the historical role of universities in Japan as importers of foreign thought, rather than exporters?

Thank you for your ongoing efforts in writing an excellent blog.

Johan Nystrom

Manisha Kundu-Nagata said...

Mogi-san, I agree with this post. While working for more than a decade as a researcher in institutes in Tsukuba, I realized similar thing. Most of the scientists tended to first look into whether USA is doing similar research or not, and then only they step into similar work. And believe me, some of them are actually real intellectuals but somehow avoid taking an initiative/risk for original work. I guess funding is one important criteria that scientists may not be taking much risk in going for very original research. This is just my observation/opinion.

And hearing at ministry level 'why always to be number one; and what is wrong being second' was a little shocking to hear even after staying in Japan for all these years.

But I feel there are several scientists doing extremely good work with international recognition, and I personally feel very positive...

Kanata said...

Nice to meet you, Dr.Mogi.
I'm a new preparatory school student in Japan. I wanted to enter my first-choice university in Tokyo, but he said last March to me,"Sorry, please wait at least until next entrance exam, because we haven't prepared and can't accept you yet. " So, I took the offer with an open heart...

Main subject.
When I saw you on TV first, during my high school days, I felt like finding something important in my life. Then I thought, "I will manage to understand this man, that must be my essential step to develop. " It's just an intuition, but I think it'll be true. I have ever wrote a composition about you(and won the first prize in a contest). I would watch "The Professionals".(and I loved it. I'm looking forward to watching it again.) I am reading some of your books.(and afflicting the depth of the words). I am just a failure,after all. But I was given a dream and a passion by you.

So, what I want to say is that, there are unknown populations who are moved by your depiction, are inspired by your activity, and are driven to imitate your action. And maybe they are reading this blog regardless of their English skills. I think you are now the leader of the young. They are somewhere in the world and have the chance to cooperate you, although you can't see them for now.

I'd like to meet you in Tokyo someday, somehow.I'm sorry for my poor English.

Yuzu said...

I am sure you are a marvelous presence for Japan.
Please don't feel any lonely feeling,please.
Many people love you so much,you know.
We just don't know how to take care of you because you are so great! I am sorry that have no any good words for you...
I will think of this essay more.

砂山鉄夫(Tetsu Sunayama) said...

Thanks to your blog in English, I have come to think about things from various perspevtive.

I appreciate your entries. I'll be rooting for your experimentation in this journal.

(Reading your twitter in Japanese now)
Wow, Welcome to this region. Please take much time to relax.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this in English!

I'm fascinated by Japan, it's culture, history and people. It is however rather difficult to follow what is going on (not just events, but what people think about them) without knowing the language. So thanks for sharing your thoughts and ideas in English! I hope that us readers can be helpful to you, as well!

(ma)gog said...

Dear Mogi sensei,

I just wanted you to know that I have been following your qualia journal since last June "everyday".

It is truly reassuring for me to know that you are "always" here to give us chances to contemplate over various topics each day. I am very much grateful to you for that.

Yuko Kawasaki said...

Dr. Mogi

In this year, I read ‘THE QUALIA JOURNAL’ most every day.
It took considerable time for me to read English, because I am not good at English,
Recently, it has come to be able to read one essay in a short time than before.
However, I wonder I might be misreading some essay.
Thank you for giving me many stimulating essay and the chance to train English every morning.

Nobu said...

Your essay touched on a serious theme--an intellectual's role in society. I have held a negative view of intellectuals ever since I read the British journalist Paul Johnson's book "Intellectuals," which came out in 1990. It gives an unsavory account of such historical figures as Rousseau, Tolstoy, Satre and Hemingway. I can tell they are reduced to being flawed and predatory. But, I get a sense that these thinkers, who had seismic influence on society, are far from self-complacent.

TED said...

I want to express my opinion regarding your comment and Johan Nystrom concerning the many university professors working for the private universities in the field of social sciencies. They often say many young students do not read classical great books, study hard and concentrate on their lectures. In my opinion students should not be blamed. Rather ture cause lies in the lectures dilivered by many professors. In general their lectures are not interresting and do not inspire their students to explore new frontier of knowledge. Professors employed by the large private universities can teach until their retirement age comes. Stiff competition among professors are not exsistent in Japan as we can see it in the United States. They do not spend much time to explore and delve into the research of their field of interests. Therefore they always lead a comfortable and static life forcused on the domestic stage not on the global one. I think their way of life contribute to producing the younger generation who are not studying hard and not having their own opinions based on the wider and global perspective.

Anonymous said...

I am an American and I'll be interested in what you have to write. I am a heavy consumer of concepts and it did occur to me that all my concepts come from Russian/German/English/French/American thinkers. I'm not interested in Buddhism but I do want to see if there's any interesting concepts from The East.