|The dictionary definition of the intransitive verb "progress" normally goes like this: "To advance toward a higher or better stage, as in technologies." This is too ambiguous to answer the question about how exactly mankind evolves - or devolves for that matter.|
|1853||Centralized feudal system collapses||Triggered by Commodore Perry's surprise visit|
|1868||Meiji Restoration - 1st year of Reinvention 1||--|
|1945||Imperial Japan collapses||Emperor survives the collapse|
|1952||Japan regains its nominal sovereignty - 1st year of Reinvention 2||Through the San Francisco Treaty of 1951|
|1968||Japan becomes world's 2nd largest economy||--|
|1990||Bubble economy collapses||--|
|2010||China overtakes Japan as No. 2||--|
|2013||Japan to overtake China once again - 1st year of Reinvention 3||Predictions by Gordon G. Chang, et al.|
NOTE: The word "Reinvention" is Nye's, not mine.
What do you make of this?
The fatal outcome of the first Reinvention
Nye's first Reinvention started with Japan's aspiration for 富国強兵 (Wealthy Nation and Strong Army.) To that end the Meiji Emperor and his government instilled in their subjects an idea that this goal could only be achieved by the 和魂洋才 (Japanese Spirit and Western Learning) mindset.
Toward the early-1940s, these slogans were supplanted by a more belligerent one that went: 一億火の玉となって ([Let's beat America and Britain with] one hundred million hearts beating as one.) This way the grandson of the Meiji Emperor drove tens of millions of his subjects into the unwinnable war - until it proved the spectacular headway attained that way wouldn't last long.
For an obvious reason, however, nobody has ever asked why the recipe for modernization since the Meiji Restoration could not secure an sustainable progress. Actually the reason is quite simple.
As I have said many times before, technological development follows a linear path whereas nontechnological aspects of life advance along nonlinear paths. But to be more precise, the human element of technologies, which I call humanware, does not always go in tandem with the other two elements of technologies - hardware and software. And that is precisely why the "Japanese spirit and Western learning" mentality eventually aborted Japan's progress.
For one thing, user feedback is something technologists can't live without for long. My father, for one, found himself totally useless in the last days of the Pacific War. In those days, aeronautical engineers were told to concentrate on the suicide machines which did not have to fly high, fast or long.
So the bottomline of the first round of the Reinvention of Japan is that the purpose of life and the tools to pursue it were fatally cut off from each other.
Double-edged sword reinvented in the postwar period
From 1945 through 1951, Douglas MacArthur reigned as the "Second Emperor" although he looked more like the first Emperor himself. At the same time he also played the role of the Second Perry. As a result, we saw the country being rebuilt essentially on the same concept of the Meiji Restoration. Although the old prescription had already been tested unworkable, the Japanese made believe it would succeed this time around because the new Constitution categorically renounces war as means of settling international disputes, and the Emperor had been demoted to a mere symbol of national unity.
Against this backdrop, you can easily imagine what happened to Japan's value-creating chain when the country was granted a nominal sovereign power by the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951.
The ends and the means still remained cut off from each other. But now in the absence of the purpose of life, the Japanese have started substituting growth-enabling technologies for the values which they should be living for. It is none other than this inversion of the ends and the means that made this country the world's second largest economy in a matter of 23 years after the war defeat.
But exactly for the same reason, Japan failed once again in a matter of two decades since the American idiot named Herman Kahn announced the opening of the Japanese Century.
Yet, nobody has learned the lesson that the progress made by thinking-disabled people such as the Japanese can never be sustainable. At the height of the bubble economy of the '80s, Japan's media kept saying 一億総白痴化 ([the country can keep growing only when] one hundred million are ready to become idiots.) The new slogan tells all the truth about the second round of Japan's Reinvention.
Now the cute robot developed by Toyota can play the violin for you and tens of millions of Japanese from 2 to 92 are burogu-ing and tsuittar-ing on the Web, but nobody can tell what for. Japan's Self-Defense Forces are equipped with pricey, state-of-the-art weapons made in the U.S.A, but nobody can tell where to use them without killing their enemy, either.
Third Time Lucky?
With an eye clouded with an obsolete ideology and vested interests he has in Japan, Nye keeps disseminating the funny idea that the country has magical power with which to defy the Newton Dynamics. According to the dementia-suffering Harvard professor, the unique way the Japanese progress is to take two steps forward, then one step backward, and repeat this spasm-like pattern over and over. Fortunately for Tsutagawa and his fellow editors, Nye is not alone. He is a mainstreamer; there are quite a few like-minded scholars and pundits on both sides of the Pacific.
To me it's a matter of commonsense that you can't do the same thing for the third time and expect a different outcome. The fact of the matter remains that Japan has sunk and will never come back to the surface to stay there for years.
On September 9 last year, Mr. Gordon G. Chang, influential China expert, wrote on Forbes.com that China's will be the shortest-ever century because Japan will overtake China by 2013. When Nikkei.com published the Japanese translation of Chang's post, his prophecy really ecstasized the Japanese.
They must have thought, "In Japan the one hundred million hearts of the world's most docile people can beat as one when it is necessary, whereas in China the 1.3 billion hearts of these unruly people can never." This unrealistic way of thinking is exactly what made their parents and grandparents underestimate American power in 1942. They thought that the nation of individualism was a sitting duck and it would be a surefire to win the war against it.
I remain very skeptical about Chang's rosy picture of Japan's future.
I was in business in Japan from 1959 until after the bubble burst, without knowing I was taking part in Nye's second Reinvention. From my empirical point of view, it's very unlikely that the Japanese have enough resilience to make a sustainable comeback in the foreseeable future.
I think Isaac Newton would agree with me because the country that had advanced by leaps and bounds twice in the past can't have avoided nosediving into the ground every time it failed.
To put it bluntly, the behavior of the Nikkei 225 issues is all that Japan experts in America knew about this country in 1990. Actually my firsthand experience with the burst of the bubble and its aftereffects was something that must have by far gone off the Nikkei scale.
The same is true with the nuclear devises used in 1945 over the skies of the two Japanese cities. They say "Little Boy" and "Fat Man" released an energy equivalent to that of 20-kt TNT each. But I think the real magnitude of the explosions was even bigger than "the nuclear yield" expected from today's multi-megaton nukes. I hope you see what I mean by this statement.
I know, inside out, the country where I have lived during these turbulent 75 years. So I am sure that whether or not this country has a future all hinges on whether or not the driving forces of man's economic activity, sense of values and tools with which to pursue it, can someday converge into each other. My way of thinking is that the two elements of our life were cut off so decisively in the Meiji Era, that the gap between the two will never be narrowed.
Perspective of Japanese Renaissance
In her The Fountain of Age, Women's Lib advocate-turned-anti-ageism activist Betty Friedan observed
that the ability of abstract thinking, which she called "fluid intelligence,"
shows a steady decrement as we grow old, while the ability of contextual
thinking, or "crystallized intelligence," does not always decline,
or sometimes even improves as the biological aging progresses.
Friedan based all this argument strictly on the latest findings by contemporary neurologists and gerontologists.
In my opinion, crystallized intelligence is mainly at work when we address value issues while fluid intelligence mainly takes care of technological issues entailed there. And most importantly, the only way to ensure a sustainable progress is to make the two types of man's intelligence interact with each other, basically through words. For a thinking-disabled nation, this is not an easy thing because as I have always said, words and thoughts are inseparable twins. Once separated the way they were in the Meiji Era, abstract thinking will never converge with contextual thinking.
If God gives me some more time, I'll elaborate on my firsthand experience with the unbridgeable division between the two elements of our real life. But for now, let's see what happens in 2013.
In the meantime you can indulge in your wishful thinking that Japan's Renaissance is on its way.