What it Means to Take Japan Seriously
I work nowadays in an Institute of Development Studies. Its business is to pursue knowledge which might be useful to the countries of the Third World which are trying to ‘develop’. It was once thought that someone like myself who had spent several years contemplating what has happened in Japan over the last century might have some novel perspectives on the matter. I am not sure that I do, but living among people who are constantly talking about ‘development’ does prompt certain thoughts about Shinohata which I might otherwise not have had. To start with, there is that strain in modern development thinking which grows out of a much older ‘where are the snows of yesteryear?’ kind of romanticism. See what a mess our crass materialism has made of our society: the pollution, the decline of the family, the drugs, the loss of purpose, the loss of simpler, purer pleasures. Let the poor countries learn from our horrible example and seek some alternative pattern of development. When Chou Enlai suggests that the Chinese would be happy to remain bicycle-riders for ever, many of our philosophers of ‘true development’ (car-owners to a man) heartily applaud the appearance of a man of vision. Such a view would be almost entirely incomprehensible in Shinohata. I say ‘almost’ because there are parents who worry slightly that their spoiled children are thriftless and wasteful, have lost a ‘sense of the preciousness of things’. But that is the last dying kick of the puritan ethic,...
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