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Japan: A Consideration of Philosophy
with insights into the History and Character of Japan

by   Richard   Rieben
Written – 24 May 1976
 
The purpose of this paper is to provide a conceptual basis for historical investigation. The primary means by which this is to be achieved is the formulation of Japan's fundamental philosophical premises. I will be presenting the philosophy in conjunction with Japan not as a means of demonstrating the value of such a philosophy, but in order to provide a basis for understanding Japan's character and history. The importance of defining a philosophy is that it affords one a greater understanding of the 'whys' of Japanese history: why did it respond to the West and things Western such as it did; why did it seek to mobilize nationalism; why were social relations such as they were; why did it go to war; why did it accept occupation so compliantly; why did it industrialize so easily? Of course there were physical factors and external influences involved in channeling the forces, but the fundamental motivation for these forces should been seen as providing over-all direction and guidance for Japan's course of events. The value in formulating a philosophy is in providing a broad, consistent, conceptual perspective on history.

It is the premise of this paper that there are only two fundamental systems of philosophical thought extant. Of these two, the West has had and has a combination of both, whereas the East has only had one. The two are, a primacy-of-consciousness and a primacy-of-existence. The importance of this East-West distinction is that the East provides a historic example of the consequences of pure primacy-of-consciousness, unmitigated by the influence of primacy-of-existence. Its further importance arises from the fact that most Westerners studying the East are likely to miss the fundamental distinction between East and West by noting that much of Eastern philosophy has Western counterparts. The point to be made is that Plato, Kant, Christ, Hegal, Spencer, Marx, et. al. are no more distinctively Western than Confucius. The single, qualifying philosophical influence in the Western world is that of primacy-of-existence, contributed by Aristotle. (That this is seldom recognized even in the West, contributes to a certain blurring of Japan's history.) A primacy-of-existence premise holds that reality exists, that A is A, and that it is comprehensible by man through reason. A primacy-of-consciousness premise holds that metaphysically there are two worlds: the one that is the real world, which is unknowable, and the one that is known through man's senses, which is unreal. On this metaphysical base, a dual epistemology is developed. Because the world is unknowable, there is no point in, or way of, developing a means of apprehending it. The epistemological foundations of such a philosophy, to the extent that they pertain to survival and ergo reality, are range-of-the-moment and sensory perception: pragmatism and empiricism.

Pragmatism and empiricism are both attempts to approach reality without using the conceptual faculty (which is barred from dealing with reality by virtue of the fact that reality is unknowable - still, to survive, reality must be dealt with in some fashion, ergo, pragmatism and empiricism). Empiricism holds that there are no principles applicable to understanding reality, that knowledge about reality can only be gained from sensory experience, and that truth is to be established on the basis of a manipulation of statistical data - reasoning and hypothesizing are strictly Aristotlean contributions which have no intentional bearing upon empirical formulations. Pragmatism holds that there are no principles applicable to dealing with reality, that truth is to be established by what works, and that what works in one case may not work in another; there are no guidelines which can be followed - common sense is not inherent to this system of thought, but is a distinctively Aristotlean influence and functions as an influence only in the West. Without any way to use his mind to deal with reality, man has good cause to fear reality: he is essentially ineffectual and unfit to live. The greatest fear arising from this philosophical base is fear of having to deal with reality alone - fear of being responsible for an existence with which one knows one is not, and cannot be, equipped to cope. These two factors, a fear of reality and a resulting fear of personal responsibility, lead to a social system devised to put a barrier between the individual and reality and to relieve the individual of personal responsibility. It is important to note that the greatest deterrent to standing alone against the group is not the immediate wrath of the group, but the consequent withdrawal of group support and the prospect of having to face reality alone, without any epistemological preparation or training.

In normal philosophical formulation, epistemology and metaphysics are the inter-dependent corner-stones of any philosophical system. The branch of philosophy which is dependent upon this base is ethics. The purpose of ethics is to provide a guide for behavior for the individual which is consonant with the nature of reality and his own nature as defined by metaphysics and epistemology, respectively. In a primacy-of-consciousness system of philosophy, there is no ethical system forthcoming at this point. Ethics applies to a code of behavior; that is, to action; that is, to dealing with reality. But reality is unknowable and, at any rate, man is incapable of knowing it. At this point, the primacy-of-consciousness system of philosophy leaps forward and then backs-up again: it evolves a social system consonant with the metaphysical and epistemological foundation and establishes a social-metaphysics as the base for defining an ethical system. Social-epistemology is the equivalent of an ethical system constructed upon such a base. One no longer deals with reality (or has to), one deals with other people. The ethical/epistemological code of behavior is defined in terms of one's relationships to other people. There is no moral system for the individual, because outside the group the individual is not defined except in respect to his inherent inability to deal with reality (which provides a basis, or rationale, for forming a group in the first place). One might think that this is a lot of fancy foot-work to arrive at something as common and well-known as the communal or tribal premise of society, but it is crucial to understand the philosophical premises of such a social system in order to make sense of a history concerning it. It is a task on which most historians and social philosophers default due to a strong vested interest in the philosophy itself (whether they are Christian (social) or Marxist (political) - to mention only two - the philosophical roots are the same). The general idea is to factor-out the Aristotlean, primacy-of-existence, philosophical influences and consider the consequences of what is left: most Westerners are loathe to admit that the natural consequences of their cherished beliefs is Asia, or even Japan. Given these philosophical premises, without any mitigating Aristotlean influence (which has generally managed to save Western civilization from the consequences of its more destructive philosophies), the history of Japan is simple in the extreme. Japan's response to the West is a response to the primacy-of-consciousness philosophies of the West and to the effectiveness of Aristotlean technology ... an assimilation that was nothing more than a ritualization of technique; an adaptation of Aristotlean technology to serve the ends of strengthening the barrier between the individual and reality, and to systematize and strengthen the bonds of social relationships. One might postulate that traditional relationships have given way to more 'modern' social relationships, but this is just a particular shift in technique: in kind the relationships have not changed an iota.

The historic difficulty involved in refusing to take cognizance of philosophical premises is that the historians will stretch their statistical data to provide a rationale for the 'warring Japan' and then, seeing that it is no longer warring, but somewhat subservient, will paint a rosy picture of present-day Japan and of its future ... ignoring the fact that the forces which made Japan a warring nation in the first place are still very much apparent and have gained considerable strength in the West. Whether they will lead to massive war, or to internal breakdown of some kind, are speculative and essentially irrelevant considerations. The fact remains that these forces are unhealthy and their future consequences will be unhealthy whatever their form and wherever they occur in Japan or in the West.

Rather than deal predominantly with the more obvious historical issues and events, I am going to consider certain facets of Japanese character and culture in light of the foregoing philosophical formulation. Certainly the whole of Japan's history could benefit by such an approach. It is not, however, my purpose to write a new history of Japan, but simply to provide a base for so doing and give some examples ... such examples being selected at random, with an eye toward providing added insight into both the character and the history of Japan.

Altruism is a set of social ethics exclusive of individual ethics. It advocates that men do things for the good of others without regard for their own personal interests. It advises them that their personal interest will or should be served by self-sacrifice for the good of others - this is an ethical system of social relationships which is based upon the survival concept of a primacy-of-consciousness philosophy. People learn in such a system that their moral character and that of others is not to be determined by personal success and pride, but by the affect which the result of any activity they pursue has on others. This teaches men not to look to reality or personal motivation, but to seek ulterior motives and effects as a means by which an activity can be morally justified and by which one can gain a sense of esteem for one's moral character. With the only moral criterion being that of evaluating the worth of an action on the basis of its affect upon other people, this becomes the prime means of determining the moral, right and proper motivation for all action - it is even considered that practicality is based upon such a moral code: those who want to find pleasure in the world and their lives, and seek to do so not through the satisfactions of other people or through the efforts of other people, but for their own satisfaction and by their own efforts, are considered impractical - they are flying in the face of traditional reality; not defying reality itself, nor going against reality, but defying and going against the conventional conception of reality (as constituted by society; i.e., social-metaphysics). It is through learning this process of moral validation based upon the affect upon others, that one arrives at the process of determining the value of any undertaking by means of the results. This moral validation process is but one application of pragmatism: the end justifies the means. In the moral context, however, the application is removed one step farther from reality: the objective worth of the results is not the binding criterion, instead the results are evaluated by their affect upon certain 'social' goals. As pragmatism serves to define the predominant moral-social code of behavior, so does the resulting code serve to define and guide all further human behavior.

The mainstay of altruism as a code of social behavior is the Kantian concept of duty. Moral justification is not related to joy or pleasure but to doing a thing because it is one's duty to do it. As Kant has formulated it: we should not take pleasure in doing our duty, because then we would be doing it because we took pride in doing it, ergo, it would no longer be duty, but self-seeking and pleasure-giving activity. (Kant was very careful in these matters.) The practitioners of duty have a certain 'knowing' look in their eyes which does not quite pertain to reality - their knowledge is a knowledge that it is written and we must abide by its word; we have no choice ... the work ethic, et. al. Those who reject duty are often put-off by the inhumane perspective (joylessness) of the mechanical dealings with reality by those who invoke duty as their raison d'etre. Those bound by duty are often, while implimenting the work ethic in either modern Japan or in the West, accruing a great sense of self-esteem by the cleanliness of their inter-action with reality (which is based upon Aristotlean technological processes), but this is not realized, recognized or acknowledged. And it would be devastating if it were: the base of their entire motivation rests upon the loyalty of their committment to the truth and validity of duty. This is their moral justification for living - they are not living for the pleasure accrued thereby, but because it is a 'sin' not to live, to give up, to commit suicide ... their morality is based upon 'oughts' instead of 'shoulds.' Their primacy-of-consciousness perspective on physical reality envisions reality as a sort of necessary evil with which they deal superlatively (thanks to Aristotle) forlorn of the irrationality it will not permit them. They meet reality with a will to conquer; to subdue it: not with a specific will to employ it to their personal advantage; joy (as a state of personal pleasure qua living being) is not consciously a part of the endeavor, not in motivation, pursuit or achievement. Likewise, exhilaration is mechanical; like speed for speed's sake: a defiance of time and space, not a use of it.

To state that the Japanese are characterized by tradition and duty, is to misunderstand a fundamental point: it is not tradition and duty, but a tradition of duty ... a duty which is still based upon social obligations, but has evolved into a fundamental moral criterion.

Religions are all, to some degree, divorced from reality, but they are also primitive forms of philosophy and, as such, act to unify or consolidate an individual's personal perspective of reality in terms that most people do not have an ability to formulate on their own. The particular form of religion that any person may choose (of varying degrees of realisticity) will generally correspond to the degree of one's abilities to deal with reality conceptually and, thereby, with the individual's ability and personal needs in dealing directly with reality - that is, inversely stated, the degree to which a person can flout reality with the least tribulation to his conscience. In Japan the social system itself has been (and to a large degree still is) so insulating that the need for religion has never been great and such religion as has existed has always been subordinated to the social system, or distinct from it but related to it. In the Western world, the Aristotlean pressure to deal with reality bears more directly upon individuals, and the epistemological training to deal with reality is not much better than in the East. The need, in the West, for a protective buffer against reality is greater and, since most social systems recognize, at least implicitly, the Aristotlean rights of the individual, the most viable buffer available is religion.

Concepts or abstractions are based, ultimately, on reality and the skill of conceptual organization, and reasoning is an act of exercising one's will, of using one's mind in one's self interest. Esoteric thought is fantasy-play; it does not pertain to reality, concepts are used as pieces of a game of organization and manipulation without regard for their referents in reality - this game is the case with many primacy-of-consciousness intellectualizers who have never grasped that words have real and exact meanings, that concepts are built on reality, and that reality is an immutable fact. They do not deal with reality, however, they deal only with other people and with symbols (the manipulation of which they use to deal 'effectively' - or possibly affectively - with other people). The process thus employed by intellectualizers does not pertain to reality but to other people.

The Japanese have historically sought to be left alone - this is an integral part of their primacy-of-consciousness perspective. They enjoy privacy as a kind of 'divine right of stagnation.' Their idea of privacy is not having to deal with reality or with other people. Survival, however, makes them dependent upon one or the other ... and, of the two, dealing with other people as a means of ensuring survival still permits them to ignore the absolutes of reality. Prior to the Meiji era, the outer- (and specifically Western) world was a world which apparently did not have much appreciation for Japan's subtle balance of interests. By giving way to the forces of Western civilization, the Japanese were afraid that they would lose their option of ignoring reality. It was only when they saw that the products of Western civilization might possibly be used to serve their own social ends that some were willing to open their country to the progress of the West. The superior military force of Western powers settled the question and the immediate problem. In a very real sense, however, August 15, 1863 at Kagoshima set a precedent for Hiroshima of WWII. In both cases Japan was involved in trying to ignore or destroy the infringing influences of Aristotlean thought which refused to let the Japanese have their cake and eat it too. To date, the contradiction has not changed and neither has the definite and very fundamental desire to maintain that contradiction, which is implicit in Japan's primacy-of-consciousness premises.

Feudal societies are a group or collection of dictatorships or despotic governments. Japan's Meiji Constitution did not change the essential nature of feudal government, it only served to consolidate it. The constitution was a realistic and brilliant means of implimenting feudal values over a large nation and population. Japan, by the imposition of the West, came to see itself as no longer being a number of inclusive despotic governments, but a feudal regime among other 'feudal' regimes of the West. Their own feudal society had prepared them, in part, for being a nation among nations ... they consolidated and made, of their 265 regimes, one regime to take its place in the world of regimes. (The League of Nations, later the United Nations, concretized this approach.)

The Japanese world, at the time preceding the Meiji Restoration, was essentially closed in the Confucian sense: it was closed to knowledge, to reality; to knowledge pertaining to reality. Its very language was and is anti-conceptual, providing no basis upon which to build new concepts. The oriental languages are piecemeal, concrete representations of things and relationships - they are symbols and pictographs designed to serve an ordered and stagnant body of knowledge. This is why, during the Meiji Restoration and thereafter, the coining of new words was so difficult - there was no precedence inherent to the language itself for concept-building or conceptual derivation.

To the extent that Japanese come in contact with reality, they seek control over reality. They are not out to deal with reality, but to subjugate it. Japan's borrowings from the West are seen in the light of achieving the impossible, of gaining control over reality without the necessity of having to understand it. The technological advances of Japan are to be seen as extensions and applications of fundamental processes and techniques innovated by and adopted from the West. There is no break with Confucian philosophy, but, rather, a realization of the impossible: they have managed to gain control over reality without the need of formulating or implementing a philosophy which takes cognizance of reality. Their dealings with reality are the same as the form of their language: they deal with concretes, processes, techniques, symbolically and pictographicany; there is a poverty of conceptualization. They treat Western knowledge the same way that their language is designed to serve reality: as a closed body of knowledge ... constant Western innovations are distracting to such isolated bodies of knowledge as they have managed to codify.

The idea of Japanese subjugation of reality in respect to their acquiring knowledge of surgery and medicine is of note in reference to the movie Harvey's Circulation of the Blood. (A film which is an explicit and often unnerving study of the circulation of the blood, and which I saw in conjunction with another history course - I refer to it in the present study to make a point in respect to manifestations of primacy-of-consciousness philosophy; a philosophy which is not unique to Japan, but through this study we may yet learn something about Japan itself.) Many Western people respond to such explicit demonstrations as those presented in the film with a feeling which is at once queasy and respectful: we respect the accumulation of knowledge, but we do not concede the method (it is well to note that the film was of British manufacture). Furthermore, we respond to such demonstrations on a personal level: we have an integrated, personal sense of our own physical being. The Japanese (and, of course, to a somewhat lesser extent, the British), with their primacy-of-consciousness approach to reality, have no inherent sense of their own physical reality - they view such a demonstration passively because it has no personal pertinence to them; it is strictly a 'scientific' issue. Which is to say, a problem in the subjugation of reality as opposed to an understanding of reality.

A question arises, how can Japanese individuals maintain physical fitness if they have no inherent sense of the reality of their physical being - and the answer is that physical fitness is maintained by exercise, not because it is enjoyable, but because it is an effective means of conquering reality by obeying it. It is an approach which takes cognizance of reality in order to effectively subdue it so that one will not have to subsequently take cognizance thereof. (This was essentially what the willing compliance of the Occupation signified.) There is a sense of doing things so that one will not have to be subsequently concerned with them - a sense of 'getting things out of the way;' of clearing the ground, not in order to deal with reality as a part of a process of personal metaphysical extension into reality, but in order to ignore reality and to revert to a protected realm of fantasy. It is the philosophy based upon the primacy-of-consciousness which leads to the concept of the 'divine right of stagnation.'

The elimination of body waste is healthy, but ... well, in respect to the early Japanese practice of some of the inhabitants urinating in the streets while others did not seem to mind, there is inherent a decided lack of respect of and for reality ... a defilement of reality which is not objectionable to the Japanese mind because reality has little importance to them. Furthermore, morality is defined in terms of man's social behavior, not in terms of his relation to reality ... morally, there are no grounds for condemning such practices. To the mind based on a primacy-of-existence premise, however, there is a decided respect for reality, particularly in response to a recognition that it is the means by which personal happiness is to be achieved (and therefore of great personal importance and value). To the Western mind, therefore, reality is not to be defiled ... and such a perspective as is manifested by the Japanese (whether they actually practiced urinating in the streets or merely saw nothing wrong in such an occurance, is a question of degree, not of fundamental difference) is truly offensive to Western values. Elimination is inherently respectful to reality ... as it pertains to the reality of one's own body. The problem is that human excretions, once eliminated, then become a part of reality which not only must be dealt with, but must be viewed in some especial manner consonant with reality ... I mean, flushing the toilet is a sort of 'out of sight, out of mind' idea, which is very convenient, but is it not, perhaps, merely an effective means of avoiding the whole idea of a somehow disdainful aspect of reality? I have given this subject a more speculative consideration because the West, for all its disdain, has yet to have conceptually solved this problem any better than the East. Perhaps the former Japanese practice of fertilizing crops with human waste is a more valid solution than simply burying it or polluting rivers and whatnot. But the West has not, in this particular issue, come up against reality quite so instructively as Japan. Our sanitation standards are much higher than in the East, but this is simply a case of putting-off dealing with the matter conceptually. Another hypothesis might be raised to the effect that the Japanese do not regard urinating in the streets as an act of defilement because they do not have the Westerner's disdain for human excretions. But this is the case of necessity, because they have had no knowledge of any means by which it could be otherwise; i.e., technology.

A related issue is the low priority for improved sanitation. Most Japanese would like to have the sanitary conditions such as Westerners enjoy, but there are two reasons why it does not play a major role in technological change. First, there is simply the idea that they have been without highly sanitary conditions (not having had the technology, or a body of thought capable of evolving technology) for so long that they regard it as commonplace (as most Westerners did in earlier days) and, additionally, they regarded it much as they regard the rest of reality: there is nothing to be done about it (reality is unknowable). A second reason, with which I will deal in greater depth later, is that, with a primacy-of-consciousness perspective, the Japanese, characteristically, do things for affect ... their kitchens are out-of-bounds to outsiders because this is where people do ignoble work which deals with unmentionable realities. If I were to seek a parallel in the West it would be the aristocratic concept of the ignobility of manual labor, which has similar philosophical roots. For the Japanese, the mechanical vagaries behind any affectation (even such as a dish of food) are unthinkable, unmentionable, and, hopefully, invisible ... the strings of the marionettes are not to be seen or thought about; it is a fantasy world insofar as it can be and, insofar as it can't, it is ignored. So much for sanitation.

The Japanese approach to the concept of primacy-of-consciousness does not entirely disregard reality (survival itself makes some consideration of reality unavoidable). Rather, the idea is that they maintain a primacy of consciousness over existence. Their concept of volitionality is crucial in respect to their being able to deal with reality at all: they believe that they are free to deal with reality or to ignore it without compunction. If they do something which they do not consciously control, then they consider that they are absolved from all responsibility because what they are doing is not such as they would do if they were in control - ergo they are at the mercy of outside forces. (Tamura's justification of his murder of the Filipino woman in Shohei Ooka's novel Fires on the Plain is illustrative.) From this perspective, reality is an option. They may deal with reality if it strikes their fancy, but they have no responsibility to it and are under no compulsion to take cognizance of it. If they are forced against their 'will' to do anything, they do not take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. They seem willing enough to admit they are in the wrong when such is the unavoidable case, but such mistakes only drive them further from reality as they tend to withdraw into the recesses of their minds, where they will not have to deal with reality and will be thus protected from making further mistakes. They do not see mistakes as correctable because they do not comprehend that reality is knowable - they see mistakes as fundamental and lasting wrongs in their characters. Instead of focusing upon the process of learning new knowledge, they damn themselves for completely innocent states of ignorance, complaining that they should have known somehow; despite the fact that their epistemological processes are all but atrophied. (Empiricism allows for this kind of self-blame because of its view of knowledge as gained through sensory experience and its arbitrary basis for selecting 'relevant' data.) The reason that Japanese are able to deal with reality at all, from a primacy-of-consciousness perspective, is that they approach reality as an optional commodity which they deal with insofar as it furthers their interests. Their ability to disassociate themselves from responsibility for the consequences of certain acts bespeaks a mind to which reality is, at best, secondary.

The issue of the optionality of dealing with reality has a corollary consideration: that of control. The issue of sex is a fundamental case in point. Rather than come to terms with their sexuality, they attempt either to conquer the force or submit to it ... witness the place of whore-houses as a prominent and respectable 'solution' to this problem. Inability to control one's sexuality proceeds from and reinforces a primacy-of-consciousness perspective. But even when control is attained, it is not based upon an understanding of the forces involved, but upon the Confucian principle of repression. Fukuzawa, "one day while reading a Chinese book ... came upon these ancient words: 'Never show joy or anger in the face.' These words brought a thrill of relief as if I had learned a new philosophy of life." (1) (Emphasis added.) It was the principle of repression as a means of coping with reality and is possibly closer to 'a philosophy of death.' Poet Ishikawa Takuboku echoed this sentiment when he commented, "Always wear a mask." (2) But this is not dealing with reality, but ignoring it; even (in cases where they do not manage to successfully repress it) as they abandon themselves to its forces.

In Japanese literature one finds many examples of passages and themes designed to evoke feelings of being at the mercy of the forces of nature. It is because of the primacy-of-consciousness philosophy that the people cannot deal effectively with reality. Their inter-action with reality has disproved, in experience, the Confucian idea of superiority to reality. With the institutionalization of new political structures to meet their social ends and the consequent fear of being abandoned to the forces of reality (should the political system somehow miscarry and not achieve traditional protection against reality), there is a realization that they are ineffectual and, bowing submissively, are at the mercy of the uncontrollable forces of nature - earthquakes have little to do with this; philosophy has. Lots.

This control by repression over reality is wholly demonstrable by Japanese social conventions. In the Tokugawa period, the social order was a clear manifestation of this particular modus operandi: they submitted to those 'above' them and directed repressive control over those 'below' them. In addition to having a 'place' in the metaphysics ordered by the social structure, they were afforded the means of having a sense of absolute control within their 'social universe.' They were not generally cruel in the subjugation of their social inferiors ... what they sought, through other people, was a sense of control over reality. But even control attained through repression has had its limits of responsibility: they absolved themselves of responsibility because they were not in control; when they were in control they accepted responsibility up to the point that they lost control, after which they no longer held themselves accountable.

The Japanese idea of repression and that of wearing masks generally seems to be based upon the idea of protecting one's self from the realities and from other people. The poet Ishikawa Takuboku summed up a general motivation for repression as follows: "Do not be loved by others, do not accept their charity, do not promise anything. Do nothing which entails asking forgiveness. Never talk to anyone about yourself. Always wear a mask. Always be ready for a fight - be able to hit the next man on the head at any time. Don't forget that when you make friends with someone you are sooner or later certain to break with him." (3) This was written after the turn of the century and shows a shift away from dependence upon the social order to dependence upon one's self in order to achieve isolation and protection from reality (including, in this case, protection from the reality of other people). But this represents no fundamental change in philosophies, only in techniques. The idea is simply protection at any cost ... protection as a means of making life bearable by avoiding contact with reality. At some point, however, one's actions become disassociated from one's self and the mask is no longer designed, primarily, to protect one from external threats, but from the knowledge that one is, not only not the person one would like one's self to be, but, further, that one has betrayed one's self in the process of fashioning a functional and pleasing mask. The main problem with a mask is that it necessarily entails stage props: the whole of one's environment is not utilized to express one's unique and distinct personality, but to institute a representation which one knows to be false (and which others know to be false), but the very deception of which is the measure of its beauty. This is, in part, why the Japanese have had so much difficulty in approaching the solid or quality workmanship of the West: the products which they fashion are only meant to be seen from one side - they are designed for affect ... and for deception. It is not the case that protection is devised as a means of protecting personally valuable souls, but that, once the game of deception has been begun, it acquires a personal vested interest for the players: their souls are no longer real to them and the reality of their actual natures and personalities is kept submerged at all costs. This explains why Japanese people are sometimes thought to be very emotional, but lacking in depth (the parallel to popular notions about Western women is far from accidental). With primacy-of-consciousness, the Japanese people impose upon themselves cultural concepts of personality ... afraid of the solitude of their own souls.

I mentioned in the last paragraph that once the game of deception is begun the players acquire a vested interest; the question arises, why, or how, does the game begin at all? Because of social pressure? Partly, but if social pressure is understood in the context of a primacy-of- consciousness perspective, the issue becomes clearer. For the most part, deception commences because it is presented as the only viable option in the course of making life a personally successful venture. The apprehension of reality is a natural, but difficult process. As a child, one learns, largely by means of the examples of others, what is possible and what is not; what is going to pay-off and what will not. In many cases, dealing directly with reality is frowned upon and actively discouraged; children are often threatened with abandonment (in a world with which they, as children, cannot possibly cope) as a means of fostering anxiety about that world (destroying the natural curiosity about reality which children have) and creating a stronger bond of social dependence. (4) Being successfully dissuaded from approaching reality directly and independently, a child will seek options: there is a natural drive to be personally successful in dealing with reality in some fashion (a need to find value in the process of living ... in order to go through the motions, at least, of continuing it). At a very early age the Japanese become adept at faking reality.

Japan's entire present establishment is arbitrary and artificial. Even the natural elements of it which have a foundation in reality, such as guarantees of individual liberties, are applied and followed as alien formulas ... formulas instituted in the belief that they would 'solve the problem of life.' The economic system is based explicitly upon this concept ... which is the operation concept of the 'divine right of stagnation' which reflects the aspirations to a cloistered life on the premise of the primacy of consciousness. The salary man works to pass examinations and get admitted to a company, after which he win no longer have to worry about life; the 'problem of life' will be solved; he will be 'taken care of.' The external forms of society have changed over the years through the adaptation of Western technology, but the fundamental philosophic base which determines the goals of society has not changed since before the Meiji Restoration: they are still seeking through binding economic and social realtionships to insulate themselves against reality. It is noteworthy that the present examinations for admission to schools have a totally empirical cast and that educational training does not develop the conceptual faculty; which is Aristotlean, primacy-of-existence, and based solidly upon reality. (Though this last is presently as true of most of the West as it is of Japan.) In a comparison between modern Japan and the modern Western world, it is not the case that Japan has become in any fundamental way more Western; but that Aristotlean influence has provided the world with technological benefits; has 'solved the problem of living' for most of the civilized world; and has, thereby, brought about its own decline throughout the civilized world.


(1) Yukichi Fukuzawa, The Autobiography of Yukich Fukmwa (New York: Schocken Books, 1972), p. 19.
(2) John K. Fairbank, Edwin 0. Reischauer and Alber M. Craig, East Asia: The Modern Transformation (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), p. 529.
(3) Ibid., p. 529.
(4) Ezra F. Vogel, Japan's New Middle Class, 2d ed, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), pp. 234-5.

 

copyright © 2005 by Richard G. Rieben