I'm at a mountain retreat with a 40 or so "leaders" of Japan. I blogged about my first trip and the discussion we had two years ago. It's a cross-sector group of people that get together every year to discuss some big topic. The topic this year is the future of Japan. This is one of the few Japanese meetings of this sort that I continue to attend because of the diversity of the group and the frankness of the discussion. It always feels like I'm peering into the heart and soul of Japan.
We covered a number of issues including Japan's relationship with Asia and the US, the aging population and the decreasing population and the economy. As usual the opinions were all over the spectrum and the debate heated and emotional. As most of you already know, the Japanese economy is recovering, but mostly because of the increase in the Chinese market. Interestingly, it's things like cement and construction in China that is helping to revive the Japanese economy fueling the dying public works industry in Japan. Most people agreed that Japan needed to work with China, but HOW to interact with China and the rest of Asia was a point of considerable debate. I am happy to report that most people thought that we needed to deal with the war history and that it was a bad idea for Koizumi to be going to Yasukuni Shrine. However, many Japanese thought it wasn't the business of China or any other country to tell Japan what to do. In fact, it was the opinion of several experts that Koizumi was going in part to spite China as evidenced by his going to the Shrine right after meeting with the Chinese delegates, etc.
One issue I brought up was how unhappy I was about Tokyo Governor Ishihara's anti-Chinese comments. (I blogged about this before.) One surprising response I got was that at least one person in the group thought he should be allowed to say what he wanted and that they didn't find such comments particularly annoying. I was pretty flabbergasted. Even some of the rather moderate people shrugged and pointed out that he was a net positive because of some of the fiscal policies he has pursued. After my rant at Davos I heard a rumor that he told at least one industry head that I was a "public enemy". I think it's something like pointing to the crazy uncle, and it is clearly unpopular to point out our Governor's faults. I did make the point that we can act as friendly as we want but as long as the two most powerful politicians of Japan were making clearly anti-Chinese gestures, whatever the reason, we would never have harmony with China.
We tried to get down to the reasons. One reason people gave for Koizumi's shrine visits was that the percentage of the population whose family have died in war feel strongly that the government should acknowledge them. There were two people who has ancestors in Yasukuni, but both of them felt the visits were inappropriate and felt that they should remove the war criminals. Various people gave Shinto practices and other things as reasons, but I didn't feel they were very strong arguments.
Then we talked about Ishihara and plain old-fashioned racism. A university professor pointed out that it was a problem, and described his theory on what may be one of the causes. Japan imported single-race nationalism as a unifying concept from Germany during the Meiji period. The Japanese word, minzoku, which refers to its people comes from das volk. Japan forced a national dialect and basically centralized control and stamped out a great deal of diversity in order to empower the central government under this process. Before this, Japan was more diverse and more tolerant. Later, this would blow up as a working philosophy in Nazi Germany and Japan. However, as a strategy of combating the threat of communism in Japan, the US occupation and the Japanese government allowed these nationalists and the sense of racial purity to remain and fester in modern Japan in order to fight the more liberal emerging left-wing of Japan. Most people agreed that Japanese needed to increase immigration to deal with the population and aging problem, but that with this latent racism and intolerance for diversity immigration would not work well.
I realize this post is getting a bit long and I have one more day at this retreat. I'll try to post anything else that comes up in the discussions.