Ivan Hall has spent nearly three decades in Japan as a correspondent, cultural diplomat, and academic. He was the first associate director of the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission and spent nine years teaching as a professor in Japanese universities. He lives in Tokyo.
Like Karel Van Wolferen's the Enigma of Japanese Power, and more recently Alex Kerr's brilliant Dogs and Demons, Cartels of the Mind should be viewed not only for lessons in how foreigners can or cannot relate to Japan, but to understand how the Japanese people are being damaged by the subtle, yet brutal systematic mind control of Japan's Ministry of Education. This is in response to the review that says:"Speaking of "closedness", there must be much more opportunities in Japan than now, only if any foreign people speak and write Japanese fluently. This must be a certain barrier, but it can be easily overcome if they are humble enough to learn Japanese language, the very essence of Japanese culture." I have lived in Japan for ten years, am fluent in the language and must state that learning Japanese may have gained me a few half-hearted compliments, but far from being a road in, most foreigners are even discouraged from displaying their abilities. It has helped me in social situations and with academic pursuits, but it has never helped make inroads towards career advancement, or helped penetrate the obstacles that Mr. Hall discusses in his book. He's right on target!
Probing epochal mysteries1999/12/3
I was one of the commentators who was approached by thepublisher in 1997 to write a pre-publication recommendation for thebook's jacket. I was a delighted to oblige and this is the unabridged version of what I wrote: "All talk of globalization to the contrary, the Japanese mind remains systematically closed to Western attempts at intellectual engagement. As Ivan Hall demonstrates over and over again in this important book, Japan's exquisitely aloof and unWestern intelligentsia is evidently more than happy to perpetuate this state of affairs." More than two years later, I would say that I am even more aware of the book's importance today than I was then. A Harvard-educated historian who boasts more than three decades' experience dealing with Japan as a cultural diplomat, as a correspondent, and, most recently, as a professor, Ivan Hall is unsurpassed among American scholars in his understanding of Japan's intellectual closed shop. Even more important, in a field where corporate funding has acted increasingly powerfully to frustrate the spirit of free inquiry that is the hallmark of all true Western scholarship, Hall is virtually alone in the courage and independence of mind he brings to the epochal mysteries of how the Japanese politico-economic system truly works. He thus stands in particularly piquant contrast to those among his American academic peers who would apologize for the aspects of Japan criticized in this book. If anything, Hall has erred on the side of gentleness in his criticisms. My own interpretation of the true rationale for Japan's highly exclusionary "press club" system, for instance, is considerably harsher than Hall's. One thing should be emphasized: for all the talk of Japan's economic "collapse" in recent years, in the ways that matter (or at least should matter) to American policy makers, Japan is stronger than ever these days. It has already surpassed the United States in net exports (that is exports netted for imported content), for instance, as well as in the absolute size of its manufacturing sector. Most important of all, by dint of its soaring current account surpluses, it now towers over the United States in its ability to project economic power abroad. It is a tribute to the profoundly unWestern way that information flows in Japan that Westerners ever believed that the perennially underestimated Japanese economy had collapsed in the 1990s. --Eamonn Fingleton, author of In Praise of Hard Industries: Why Manufacturing, Not the Information Economy, Is the Key to Future Prosperity
A detailed look at a side of Japan that few will deal with.1998/4/30
Basically, I see this work as trying to destroy the barrier that the academic world, both in the U.S. and Japan, has errected to shield many of the patterns of behavior within Japanese culture that are less than "fair." Moreover, it is at it's best an attempt to look into a subject that too few academics are willing to because of the sensitive nature of the issues involved. Hall is one of the few academics who does not equate being critical of Japan with racism, Japan bashing or political incorrectness. The book also has a great strength in that it covers areas that are often overlooked in the tradition of Japanology. Law and Journalism are seldom mentioned in surveys of the tensions between Japan and America and academics are almost ignored as a matter of course. Hall opens up the possibility that the U.S. is not simply pushing our values on other cultures and expecting them to do things the "American way." I think it is a very important book becasue it points out the desparity between the treatment of Japanese residing and working in professions here in the U.S. and Amercians in professional positions in Japan. This alone makes Hall's book very valuable because it is a truth that many ignore completely. I would highly recomend this book to anyone who is looking for a more accurate picture of the current situation facing Americans seeking a carrer in Japan. Thank you very much, Bryce King II
Hey, wake up and smell the coffee! Japan's academic establishment is indeed an insular and hostile environment. All foreign devils who intrude into this realm must be wary for even if they are invited (by contract) they are invading the inner sanctum of Nihonjinron nationalism and will be looked upon as suspect or treated with not so subtle mockery at every turn. In l994 the totalitarian bureaucrats in the Ministry of Education (indoctrination and mind control) fired all foreign professors, including those who presumed that they had lifetime tenure. Contracts are meaningless. Imagine the Federal government of the United States suddenly firing all foreign educators because of 'budget considerations'. There would be a firestorm of protest from the ACLU to the Young Republicans Club. But in Japan no one raised even a whimper of protest as the devil gaijin were shown the door! Even those gaijin who had shown a humble attempt at social harmony and had mastered the Japanese language were fired. Educators like Hall had a private audience with then US ambassador Walter Mondale. They voiced their grievances. He made a mild protest to the Japanese government and then the matter was quietly forgotten!! Don't waste your time trying to build an academic career in Japan. The educational authorities here will play you along but in the end they'll screw you while howling gleefully. I wish to God the American government had acted in a similar fashion in l994 and retaliated by firing most Japanese instructors in America, but such is not the American way. Hell, we even train terrorist pilots how to fly jumbo jets. In Japan, 'Uncle Sam' is often looked upon as 'Uncle Sap' and America's emphasis on academic freedom and individual rights are viewed with disgust or contempt. How do I know all of these things? I am a former university instructor at Japan's most elite private college, Waseda University. I well understand Hall's lament on closed minds and intellectual cartels. I was treated with only slightly veiled contempt by the 'honorable sensei' at Waseda. Sadly, one can only fear that Japan will slip into a nationalistic mood once more, akin to that of the l930's with dire results for all of Asia and the United States. No, not war. Just having to endure these bores. More enlightened Japanese academics are seeking teaching opportunities outside of Japan! Hall has done a favor to any younger academic contemplating a teaching career in Japan! Forget it! Stay home and go to work in a bank.
Wishing for a more subtle analysis...2011/11/1
Halfway through this book I was enjoying Hall's fists-flying attack on the insularity of Japanese organizations. By the end of the book, however, I found myself increasingly forced into the camp of cultural apologists he continually warns against throughout. While Hall is no doubt right to be righteously indignant about a lot of what he describes, his entirely unquestioned faith in American-style universalism as the only proper alternative ultimately comes across as arrogant and, um... all too American in its assumption that open access to other people's cultures is an absolute right. Even if you despise its effects, the 'particularity' espoused by certain mainstream strands of Japanese culture does represent a distinct alternative to American-style universalism, and one that has proven itself robust and alluring to large numbers of people. I would love to read a study that critiques this 'particularity' discourse more on its own terms, rather than attacking it from the outside with a different ideology - one in some ways equally dogmatic and difference-averse. Reading this as an American, in English, Hall's writing feels all too smug about the rightness of the American way of doing things, for all people everywhere.
All in all reading the book was like watching one of those polemical documentaries that exhaustively argue one side of an issue - at first you are wrapped up in the damning evidence and thrill of wrongs being exposed, but after the same point is made over and over and over in the same way, you gradually grow skeptical about whether the situation could really be so simple. It would have made a fine magazine feature, but at this length I was hoping for more.