Ivan Hall's latest book should prove to be controversial for a number of important reasons, chief of which is his contention that Japan continues to outwit and outflank the United States on trade and other important economic matters. He further contends that Japanese society is constructed in such a manner that voices of dissent are stifled, that a large number of American academics, journalists and diplomats have been either bought, bought, beguiled or bamboozled by their Japanese counterparts into being proponents of Japanese neo-mercantilist policies. Hall is clearly not among that number.
Instead of accepting the prevailing orthodoxy that Japan is suffering from a prolonged recession, Hall believes that the Japanese economy is as buoyant as it ever was. Although he cites countless examples to show where Japanese industry continues to outpace her rivals, his main points are that a large coterie of journalists, academics and other commentators are deceived by Japanese spin doctors into believing that Japan is economically weak and that those deceived commentators assist Japan in continuing to accumulate vast trade surpluses with almost every other country in the world.
Although he is right to dismiss those who are beguiled by tea ceremonies, geisha girls and the other accoutrements of Japan's "soft diplomacy", he appears not to give some underlying socioeconomic imperatives their due weight. Prior to Perry's Black Ships, Japan was not invaded, solely because she was too strong to be invaded. When Perry forced the Japanese to engage with the world, the Japanese proved to be excellent students. When Japan's armies marched in to Korea, China and other countries to build, at bayonet point, markets for Japanese goods, the Japanese were merely copying the prevailing imperialist orthodoxies of the Dutch, British and Americans. Hall's book would have been considerably enhanced by acknowledging that Japanese imperialism was, in essence, no different from the prevailing European or American varieties.
When Japanese mercantilism ended in 1945, the Americans forged Japanese economic policies to serve America's own ends. The emergence of Communist China and the Korean war reinforced Japan's new, American inspired neo-mercantilist role: sheltering under the Pax Americana, Japan now exported its transistor radios and Honda motor bikes to the four corners of the globe. Japan is still doing that. Because the United States is the world's most important market, much of Japan's exports go to the United States and Japan, quite naturally, expends quite a lot of resources in "soft diplomacy" guaranteeing and solidifying those markets. The Japanese endow American universities and wine and dine journalists so that they will not bite the Japanese hand that gives them succor. Although Hall makes the important point that no other country does this to the same degree, Japan is the world's second largest economy: no other country could, in other words, afford to do so. And, of course, no other major country is as dependent
on export markets as Japan is.
If the old Japanese cliche that the nail that sticks up gets hammered down has any validity, Japanese society must be structured to marginalize dissent. This must prove particularly irksome for people like Ivan Hall, who so passionately espouse the key American principle of unfettered free speech. Hall is to be applauded for pointing out where Westerners have belittled, if not betrayed, that principle when dealing with Japan. He is also to be applauded for bringing attention to some of the less savory players in modern Japanese political life.
In showing how some key American commentators have sold their souls for a mess of Japanese pottage, Hall's book is to be welcomed as, in the long run, such invidious intellectual prostitution does not serve the interests of either country.
Postscript: When I invited Hall to speak to my students on this subject, a small coterie of my colleagues conspired to stop him speaking and branded him an anti American racist. An odd occurrence as The Tokyo American Chamber of Commerce threw their doors open to Hall, an American veteran. Hall's persecution merely proved his point: that a small band of pampered American under achievers do not want open or informed debate on Japan or anything else for that matter. I explore this issue in chapter 6 of my new book and tie it into the nutty censorship that is prevalent in America where academics like Ward Churchill can say the oddest, the most uninformed and the most needlessly hurtful of things. Hall's earlier book, Cartels of the Mind, also came in for intense criticism by the "usual suspects". But a moment's thought would show his basic hypothesis has substance: Japan, the land of cartels, should obviously be partial to cartels of the mind. Or cartels of the mindless if we include Hall's cowardly critics. When I invited Hall to speak, I remarked to an "old friend of Hall's" (very much a fairweather one as it happened), that I was in the spirit of Voltaire: not necessarily agreeing with Hall but defending his right to speak (just as the American Chamber of Commerce did). Others take a different tack and they oppose freedon of speech or informed debate because it threatens their pampered existence. Bamboozled is worth reading as, like Cartels, it extends the "Closing of the Mind" thesis done by these intellectual harlots from the US to Japan. Hall did a PhD on Japan at Harvard and those who sat in the same class as him do not want his voice heard or his points raised. That should be reason enough to see for yourself what it is they are so afraid of.