BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA;
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS: DIPLOMAT, ECONOMIST, JOURNALIST AND JAPANOLOGIST;
BETWEEN FOUR LANGUAGES: ENGLISH, CHINESE, RUSSIAN AND JAPANESE
Re-involved with Japan
1. Flirting with the Media
2. My Nikkei Disaster
3. Stumbling with Education Reform
4. Breaking with the Sophia Alma Mata
5. A Day (or more) in Court
6. The Tama Connection
Meanwhile back in Japan things were happening which every day made me realize I did not need to be chasing after vague Australian possibilities.
1. Flirting with the Media
I had become a regular voice on the late night NHK (national television) education channel program, shiten ronten. The program gave you 15 minutes (now reduced to 10) to voice your ideas about any topic of choice.
And since I had a lot of topics I ended up with a lot of voice.
Trade and economic frictions were one favorite topic. Another was urging the Japanese to get out and discover their beautiful countryside.
Program ratings were low (around two percent), but the audience was quality. And even two percent in a nation of 120 million is a lot.
The main NHK channel also had me on some of their round table ‘think talks.’ Japanese-style management was a popular topic.
There the ratings were much higher.
In Japan’s dominant rightwing, conservative and business circles I gained traction by appearing often on the rightwing Fuji TV’s Channel Eight regular Sunday AM discussion program.
Host for the program was the conservative commentator, Takemura Kenichi, with whom I had done that very successful taidan book – Yuunikuu na Nihonjin back in 1970.
In the early eighties he had also used me a lot on his Channel Four current affairs morning program – Seso Kodan.
(As mentioned earlier, the MC for the program was demure young lady called Koike Yuriko.
(She lived near our Sugamachi apartment in the Yotsuya area and we would meet occasionally for meals or drinks.
(At the time she showed little interest in politics. I for one would never have predicted she would end up as a hard, infighting, hawkish politician who would eventually become Japan’s Minister of Defense, and even possible candidate for the prime ministership.)
Other TV Channels would also use me from time to time.
One way or another I was getting a lot of exposure.
The print media were also looking after me, Nikkei especially, mainly because of my long-standing relationship with them going back to the late 1960’s.
They had me as a regular columnist in their newly-launched Nikkei Business magazine.
There I could sound off regularly on the weakness of Japan’s service sector, and the emotionalism of its share and land booms.
Nikkei would also use me often for interview comments on budgets and other economic developments.
For one year in the early eighties they gave me a free-wheeling weekly column for the front page of their evening edition.
Surprisingly I got more reaction from that rather casual effort than I did from many other more serious media activities.
Even the evening editions of Japan’s main newspapers are quality enough to attract serious readers. Besides, even educated Japanese prefer light but insightful material to serious head-on discussions.
(Years later I was to get a similar response from a rather light-hearted series of articles I did for the JAL Agora magazine.)
On the other side of the media spectrum, Tokyo Shimbun gave me a regular 600 word column for a while. I ran alternatively with Ronald Dore, the progressive UK economist.
But that ended when I upset them with my views about the killing of the MRTA hostage takers at Japan’s embassy in Peru1.
Dore, incidentally, continues to this day.
Bungei Shunju, the journal of archly conservative opinion in Japan, ran me at length on the Northern Territories question, which surprised me greatly.
Shokun, Bungei’s belligerently rightwing offshoot, followed up with a taidan interview.
I discovered that the Right in Japan are secretly delighted if you place much of the blame for the dispute on the US, for having forced Japan to renounce the islands at San Francisco in 1951, even if in public they liked to denounce Moscow for ‘illegally’ taking the islands.
Even the ultra-right were happy to run me. Sankei Shimbun’s Seiron magazine had me for interviews on education problems.
The only print medium I had problems with, ironically, was the progressive Asahi stable. For most of my Japan existence they had ignored or avoided me.
Then as the debate over organ transplants heated up in the late nineties, I felt they would be the ideal outlet for a piece pointing out how Tokyo’s refusal to allow transplants was forcing young Japanese children to go to Australia to receive organs that young Australian children needed.
In other words as a result of Japan’s inward-looking conservatism, Australian children might die in order to save Japanese children who should have been treated at home. What kind of ‘internationalism’ was this?
Asahi rejected the piece outright.
(Later I was told that Asahi, like many on the left, opposed transplant legalization for fear it would lead to a revival of Unit 731 and other wartime vivisection horrors – a strange way of thinking.)
I then gave the piece to the conservative Yomiuri, who ran it in full, and happily. It produced a strongly approving reaction from a progressive doctors’ group which even asked me to give a speech (I declined, citing clinical ignorance.)
2. My Nikkei Disaster
Despite these occasional setbacks, my love affair with the media seemed to be going well.
Whenever I had some idea I wanted to get out I seemed to be able to find a slot somewhere.
But as they say, confidence can only take you so far. Eventually you hit a roadblock and mine was to be a bad one.
For reasons I outline in the next chapter I was becoming agitated about Japan’s mistaken economic policies.
In a situation where it was clear that the government should be spending, even if only to overcome the post-Bubble fall in domestic demand, it had become dogma that the government should cut spending.
The media – Nikkei especially – were heavily influenced by the supply-side economic theories coming out of the US that said cuts in government spending combined with reforms (privatization, liberalization etc) would rescue economies in trouble.
But supply side theories only made sense in economies suffering excessive demand and inadequate supply.
Japan’s problem was precisely the opposite – excessive supply and inadequate demand.
The highly predictable result was a strong downward shock to an economy still recovering from Bubble excesses, with many fine people and companies dragged down with it.
In my Boso countryside I could see well and close-up the damage being caused. Company A would collapse with debts, causing its partner company B to collapse which would then imperil C, D and E – a typical chain reaction.
My instincts from Vietnam and East Timor days said that you do not wait till disaster hits before voicing criticism.
You try to get in early and ward off the disaster.
Nikkei ran a regular daily page called keizai kyoshitsu (economic classroom) where economists and commentators had free voice to sound off their ideas and theories.
I had run one or two articles there before. Why not again?
As well, I had some good economic data to back me up in explaining Japan’s problems – something the keizai kyoshitsu page liked.
In particular I had discovered the close reverse connection between household savings rates and economic progress in the main advanced economies, with the still iconoclastic implication that high savings levels were harmful to progress.
They were harmful because they reflected low consumption desires – a dangerous situation in advanced economies.
Cuts in government consumption would do even more harm.
The conclusions: that the Japanese government had an obligation to get hold of some of those excessive savings and spend them, or at least find ways to push them back into the economy.
Combined with my sociological explanation for why savings were so high (or rather consumption was so low) in Japan – an explanation flattering to Japan and critical of us Westerners - it made for a neat and powerful piece of argumentation.
(For details, see following chapter on the state of the Japanese economy.)
Or so I thought.
But Nikkei rejected the piece outright, and rudely.
When I pressed for an explanation I was given some mealy-mouthed talk about how it conflicted with a series it was running on the same page (which only lasted a week and had zero impact).
The far more likely explanation was much more distressing – Nikkei’s strong move to the Right, and not just in politics.
Its editorials were demanding stringent fiscal policies. They were showing open contempt for Keynesian approaches, saying they were outdated.
Even the supposedly neutral pages of keizai kyoshitsu had been contaminated, it seemed, by the new ideology.
And this was the newspaper that when I first knew it had been the voice of both political and economic moderation.2
I was both disappointed, and angry.
What to do?
The fairly rightwing magazine ‘Voice’ had asked me to write for them at various times.
I approached them and they agreed readily to run the gist of my original Nikkei piece.
But I also decided, perhaps foolishly, to include in the article a strong criticism of the Nikkei ideological bias that I saw as having led to rejection of the original article.
I felt it was important for readers to realize the biases that were doing such harm to the economy.
The Nikkei people exploded in anger, particularly after my Voice article was picked up favorably by other media.
They sent one of their top editorial people to complain. They also sent me an official protest in writing – something unusual for any newspaper to do.
I was put firmly on Nikkei blacklist. Invitations for interviews and comments ceased abruptly.
Even the regular annual invitation to their year-end economists’ reception was stopped.
When a Japanese organization sees itself under direct attack it will pull out all stops to defend itself. I should have realized that.
My only excuse is that I was very angry. I had taken on the self-appointed task of trying to rescue the Japanese economy from itself.
But I was fighting the impossible. Once Japan decides on a course objections are not just over-ruled.
Objectors are seen as beyond the pale of the comfortable consensus. They are irritants, to be ignored, or even better, suppressed.
We saw this well in the prewar militarism era.
We saw it during the worst years of the Koizumi deflation where economic reflation advice from some top US economists, including two Nobel Prize winners – Lawrence Klein and Joseph Stiglitz – who came to Japan to give the advice, was completely ignored, even by Nikkei.
The conventional wisdom takes control.
I am certain I lost a good relation with Asahi Television as a result. On both their Sunday AM and Friday all-night programs I had tried hard to argue for the very unpopular view that government spending on public works could actually be good for the economy.
(With typical baby and the bathwater logic, they and many others saw severe cuts to public woks as the only way to answer the problem of public works corruption.
(So if you said the economy needed public works you were seen as favoring public works corruption.)
Nikkei’s Channel 12 dropped me with even greater speed. Its late-night business program had become completely infatuated with ‘structural reform’ slogans.
My long-standing relation with NHK began to fade.
And sure enough, the ‘structural reforms’ of subsequent years were to see Japan locked into a perpetual cycle of weak demand, inadequate tax revenues, increased debt encouraging further cuts in government spending, more weak demand….
Eventually a few people were to begin to say that maybe more government spending on things like public works was a good idea.
But by that time the damage had been done.
Western media were equally blind-folded. Worse, their mistaken views did much to reinforce the mistaken views in Japan.
The Economist had become boringly insistent in its demands that Japan continue to follow supply-side, structural reform policies.
Its persistent praise for the wretched Koizumi was sickening.
(Here was a man who at the insistence of his elder sister had walked away from his wife when she was six months pregnant and has refused to see the son she produced. His populist claims that only he and his ‘structural reforms’ could rescue Japan from its economic and public debt problems had led to dangerous deflation and a 200 trillion yen increase in public debt.
(And yet the world, including the Economist, saw him as the great reformer.
(Koizumi knew little about economics. He handed everything over to the immature and heavily US-influenced Keio University economist, Heizo Takenaka.
(At the height of the Dotcom boom I had shared a platform with Takenaka in Nagoya where he waxed exultant about how that obviously-soon-to-burst boom would push the Japanese economy to even greater heights.)
The Financial Times, equally attentive to the Japanese economy and equally rightwing, rejected without even the courtesy of a reply a careful piece I gave them at the suggestion of their Tokyo office, in which I concentrated on the cultural reasons for lack of domestic demand.
Meanwhile the Nikkei editorials were to continue even more stridently to demand fiscal stringency and anti-Keynesian policies, even when it was clear that the Koizumi/Takenaka policies were getting nowhere.
It reminded me of the hardline communists I knew in Moscow. If communism was failing to deliver the goods that was not because of failings in the doctrine.
Rather it was because the doctrine was not being implemented fully enough.
Economic science is not a Japanese strong point.
3. Stumbling with Education Reform
Nor, I was to discover, was education reform.
In the late nineties reform of the education system suddenly emerged as a popular national issue.
Global comparisons showed standards were slipping. Firms were unhappy with the quality of new entrants.
Not just the Education Ministry but the entire business world seemed also anxious to claim education reform as their own.
And for some reason I had come to be seen as an expert on the topic.
At one stage or another I was to find myself involved simultaneously with committees set up by Keidanren, Doyukai and Nikkeiren (Keidanren was by far the most detailed).
The Education Ministry had me on several of its reform committees, including one Shingikai (i.e. a policy recommendation committee).
Even MITI, determined to be part of the action, set up a committee, with me as the titular chairman.
But none of them could come up with anything useful (Keidanren had the bright idea of asking companies to let employees go home early at least once or twice a week so fathers could have dinner with their children).
None seemed to realize the key issue – the need to provide clear study motives and challenges for students, university students especially.
I had always been impressed by the zeal young educated Japanese could show when facing a challenge – mountain climbing, devising better machines, organizing annual school festivals.
It was the group ethic at its best. If only it could be transferred to the classroom….
But there the group ethic worked in reverse.
Those who tried to excel found themselves pushed outside the egalitarian group.
The aim for most –for the male students at least; female students were less groupist and therefore less de-motivated - was to do the minimum needed to graduate.
And many of the teachers were willing to cooperate with this fraud. The alternative – to fail the entire group of slackers – was impossible.
In communist societies it was joked that the workers pretended to work and the system pretended to pay them.
In Japan the students pretended to study. And the teachers pretended to teach them.
But it was not until I got onto the Education Ministry committees that I realized fully the impossibility of serious reform.
Even more than other ministries, the Education Ministry liked to pretend to rely on the advice of ‘experts’ – a motley collection of academics with the occasional businessmen or commentator inserted – to tell it what to do.
In fact it had little or no interest whatsoever in what we were saying about what it should do.
Its bureaucrats would sit, bored and half asleep, at the end of our discussion tables, knowing that they had already prepared a final report reflecting the ministry’s views, not ours.
A favorite theme of our committees was urging stricter regular testing of students as the solution to all problems.
But given the lack of rewards for good study (employers were only interested in seeing what university you graduated from, not the quality of your degree) and the virtual impossibility of dismissing bad students, what, I asked, could the universities do with those who were happy to simply scrape through tests or repeat failed years?
Here the only answers I could get were silence, or garbled remarks about relying on the good conscience of students and teachers.
I was witness to a curious Japanese phenomenon – the belief that if you set out beautifully-worded idealistic goals, that was enough to realize those goals.
Eventually I was to get the chance to be involved in at least the attempt to realize a few reform goals.
I had met him Prime Minister Obuchi once or twice before, and liked him.
He seemed to remember me, and when he set up his 1999 ‘National Peoples Commission on Education Reform’ I was made one of the 26 members (even though I was clearly not one of the ‘national people.’ The fact that by then I had become president of a small Tokyo university, Tama, may also have helped.)
We would usually meet in the prime minister’s residence - me driving up in my battered Boso vehicle while the others arrived in expensive hirecars or company cars.
Plenary discussions were fairly platitudinous. 26 people facing the prime minister and a bevy of bureaucrats and politicians around a very long table and looking out into the residence gardens is distracting enough.
With each member determined to put forward his or her own strong ideas about how to reform things, constructive discussion becomes even more difficult.
I had my day in court with the story of how my son had spent two years at a top high-school studying chemistry without any use being made of the school science laboratory.
But few other than the sensitive and intelligent Obuchi seemed impressed. They were too full of their own ideas and complaints.
There were many agitated calls for more volunteer and outdoor activities by students. But few practical suggestions.
My own recommendation – much greater support for Japan’s weak Boy Scout movement – had few listeners (though it did result in my being made a director of the Boy Scout national organization, where I found it was being choked by old-men bureaucracy – the fate of many similar youth and sports groups in Japan).
Fortunately I was also to go into the much smaller and more compact university education sub-committee, with the bright, up-and-coming Machimura Nobutaka as our political minder.
There discussions were much more serious and to the point. I could put forward several ideas for university education reform I had long felt were important.
These included opening up the admissions system with a category called ‘provisional entry’ (zantei nyugaku – my one contribution to the Japanese language incidentally), pre-18 year old entry for bright students, September entry with encouragement for gap years and volunteer activity, double major systems to allow for intensive language study, etc.
A special joy was the fact that since we were a Cabinet committee we were superior to the bureaucrats.
They had to sit clustered together at the end of the room, listening to what we had to say, in terror that we would want to do something to upset their bureaucratic equanimity or control.
As I pushed hard for a relaxation of the extraordinary rule preventing any student, no matter how brilliant in math or science, from entering university before age 18, the bureaucrats, terrified by the confusion this might cause in the school convoy system where everyone moved up together in strict age order, piped up to say that age 18 entry was dictated by law.
For one glorious moment Machimura leaned across the table, looking down on them with contempt. ‘Well, change the law,’ he barked.
And in fact that was done. A year later a law was passed allowing people to enter university at age 17.
That, and all my other recommendations, got into the final report – an amazing contrast with the fate of ideas I put forward in Education Ministry committees.
September university entry was eventually to become popular, making it easier for international exchanges and for students to do things between school leaving in March and university entry.
And one or two universities were to try out my provisional entry idea (zantei nyugaku) to loosen up the rigid entry exam system i.e. with students just below the entry exam pass mark allowed to enter provisionally and stay on if their first year results were good.
But most of our ideas were to be emasculated by the bureaucrats, or ignored by the universities.
(The law allowing entry at age 17 was filled with obscure, hard-to-meet conditions. No one, as far as I know, has followed up on it.)
(I should add that a few years earlier the president of Chiba University had put me on a committee handling his demand that bright math or science 17 year olds be allowed early entry.
(The bureaucrats had reluctantly approved the demand, but only as a short-term experiment, with strict conditions calling for close screening and special care for those allegedly weak, immature 17 year olds.
(Dozens of us worked almost a year on various committees, finally to get only 11 applicants nation-wide, of which only three were selected.
(A year later the university dropped the experiment. But five years later I was to come across a Nikkei article about a 23 year old genius taking a MIT doctorate course in physics.
(He was one of the three we had selected.
(He said that but for the early entry it was very likely he would have ended up as a Tokyo University graduate aiming for a bureaucratic career.)
Soon after I was to be put on another Education Ministry committee, this time to consider high-school English language teaching.
I and some others argued that the three years of compulsory study and bad teaching in the high schools did more harm than good.
I argued that the three years of basic study in middle schools was sufficient for most.
Those who wanted could continue at special high school classes with qualified teachers.
The rest could spend more time studying math and science, areas where Japan was admittedly weak and declining.
And universities would cooperate by making English elective, not compulsory, in their entrance exams.
But I went out of my way to say I was not arguing that study of English was not important. On the contrary.
English and other language teaching should be concentrated at the universities, I said, using the double major or major-minor system that worked so well at US and Australian universities.
Students choosing business and Japanese, or Chinese and law, for example, could easily end up with excellent careers.
And four years of concentrated study beginning age 18 with good teachers and equipment could work wonders.
(My own education in Chinese did not begin till age 22 and it worked fine. The idea that only small children can learn languages properly is exaggerated.)
More importantly students would have motivation, having voluntarily selected English or some other language for their future careers.
But none of this wisdom made it into the final report.
Indeed, the final report said we agreed that language study at high school should be compulsory (previously it had nominally been elective).
When I challenged the ministry officials in charge they admitted that since the final report had been prepared in advance it could not be changed to reflect mine or any other contrary opinions.
So why had we been asked to waste a year of committee attendances?
Finally I began to realize the impossibility of serious reform in Japan. Language study was an area where I had some expertise, but my views counted for nothing.
And this really was an education area where Japan was lagging, losing out internationally as a result, and badly needing some fresh ideas.
Eventually I was to write a book about my various education reform experiences – Naze Nihon no Kyoiku Kawarani no desuka? - Why Japan’s Education will not Change.
But I chose a bad publisher – Toyo Keizai. The book too had little impact.
Meanwhile, trouble was developing on my home front, Sophia University.
4. Breaking with the Sophia Alma Mater
By 1996 my relationship with the International Department (later Faculty of Comparative Culture) at Sophia University was becoming strained.
True, it had given me a visa, an income and a nameplate for almost twenty years. But I could not feel it had given me much academic stimulus.
Some of the classes came close to Mickey Mouse standards. Lecturers sometimes seemed chosen for political or church connections.
My plans for have a separate Japanese studies unit, with teaching in the language for foreigners coming to Japan and wanting not just to learn Japanese but also to learn in Japanese, had largely failed.
I had tried to set up ‘work-in-progress’ seminars for the teaching staff – something that any self-respecting university takes for granted since it allows teachers not just to get to know what each is doing but also to bounce ideas of each other.
But that project did not get very far either. At the first seminar I tried to float my idea that Japan’s growth, and its management systems, owed much to the feudal heritage.
I had thought that if people were genuine academics they would welcome some new and provocative idea to get their teeth into.
But all I managed to do was provoke a contemptuous outburst one of our faculty, the long-standing Japanese management guru, James Abbeglen. (His ‘Japan As a Model for All of Us’ theories were to go into some decline later, but only after the Bubble economy collapse.)
No one else showed any interest in debating the point. The seminar project was never revived
Nor was the teaching side of things very exciting.
Students varied from the very weak to the very good, with standards seeking mainly to please the very weak.
I was regarded as strict and unbending, I am told, simply because I had demanded the amount of study and attention that any normal Western university would want.
But I did have one very successful course, and I pass on the technique now to help other teachers working in the same area.
The course was called readings in Japanese economics. The aim was to bring students with some Japanese language ability to the point where they could read Japanese economic texts with some fluency.
Anyone who has studied Japanese will realize that this is not easy.
Far more than with other languages, even with Chinese, when you read Japanese, formal Japanese especially, you feel you are fighting a fog of long, convoluted, back-to-front sentences. Making sense can be mind-breaking.
Worse, the sentences are written in a mixture of kana script and kanji (Chinese ideographs), with no gaps to show where words begin or end.
As mentioned earlier, the only way to decypher this jumble is to turn written script into sounds so that the meaning emerges in the same natural way as it would emerge if you were hearing the same thing being spoken to you.
Our instinctive ability to unravel the meaning of spoken sound is far stronger than our conscious ability to unravel the meaning of written script.
But for that to happen, of course, you need to be familiar with the spoken language.
Each week I would set for homework several pages of text from some standard document – a economic magazine article or a White Paper on the economy.
I would also provide a recording of that text on tape.
At the class the next week the students would have to read in turn random sentences from the text. We would also discuss the economics involved in the text.
As anyone who knows Japanese will realize, there was no way students could fake reading ability. Unlike with English or any other purely phonetic script, you cannot just look at the script and hope to be able to read it.
You have to prepare. And by far the easiest way to prepare is to listen to a tape-recording and check the meanings of the words you do not understand.
(Using a Japanese dictionary is also much easier if you know the pronunciation of the word you are seeking.)
If students did not prepare well in advance they would be left sitting tongue-tied in front of me and the other students.
To avoid that disgrace some of the weaker students would spend up to 10 hours a week listening to the tape repeatedly while checking the meaning of each word.
It was the ideal way to provide students with a study incentive. Usually that is not easy in Japan.
But I had also found the ideal way to handle students with different standards of ability.
Those who started out with weak ability could catch up simply by spending a lot more hours each week in preparation than the stronger students.
I had one course with a French student who started out with less even than the very bare minimum of 600 kanji needed to join the course. She begged admission and we accepted her as an exception.
(To read Japanese well you need at least 1,500, or even better, 2,000 kanji – a severe burden for most foreigners coming to Japan to study.)
To catch up she was spending much more than 10 hours a week in preparation.
But it worked. On the very last day of the course she was able finally to stand up in front of the class and read her sentences well.
We all burst into spontaneous applause.
It was a very satisfying moment in a less than very satisfying teaching career at Sophia.
Graduates from that course still come back to me saying how the reading ability breakthrough had been crucial to their later careers, many in the finance industry.
I did not tell them that it had been easiest of all my courses to prepare since the students did all the work. All I had to do was select the text and listen to their reading efforts in class.
I would have been very happy to expand that kind of reading course to cover other topics.
But as mentioned earlier the department/faculty was not very interested in my ideas for expanding Japanese-language based teaching.
Maybe they thought that windy lectures in English on the excellence of Japanese management were more important than giving students the ability actually to read what the Japanese themselves were saying on the subject.
So I continued to concentrate on the many other distractions in my life.
Gradually I began to sense a certain lack of camaraderie from my Sophia colleagues.
The faculty was becoming very ideological, with a dominant rightwing faction very hostile to my criticisms of Japan’s foreign policy.
And some were just jealous, as only academics can be when one of their number seems to be getting undue public attention, and seems able to survive without having to swim in their tepid intellectual waters.
As well, the Jesuit establishment running the university had turned very hard-line conservative, away from the intelligent liberalism of Pittau, the president who had given me my start back in 1976.
True, I was running around the country saying things that might not have made them very happy. One of the key Nihonjin-ron points was that Japan had been fortunate to avoid getting caught up with dogmatic Western religions.
Some of that must have reached their ears.
Eventually one thing was to lead to another and I was to find myself embroiled in one of the most squalid and more debilitating events I have had to suffer in a life that had never been short of squalor and debilitation.
Briefly, it was like this.
5. A Day (or more) in Court
I had long felt an obligation to show students more of Japan than the inside of a classroom.
I would invite them to enjoy my Chiba development, and even do some work there if they wanted (paid, of course).
But I seems that the idea of a professor having the energy to develop land and invite students there was alarming to my conservative, lethargic, stuck-in-the-Tokyo-mud colleagues.
That I could live with. But I was quite unprepared for the backlash about to descend.
Among my students was an older graduate student, S. He was doing courses in business and had a part-time job in sales of imported building materials.
He came up to me one day saying he wanted to get involved with the Lockwood franchise for Japan after graduation. Could I help him in that direction?
I told him that it was my New Zealand based brother, not I, who sought the Lockwood franchise.
But since he could speak some Japanese, I suggested as a start that he should offer to look after two New Zealand carpenters working on two Lockwood houses my brother had contracted to build near Tokyo.
Teachers and universities do, after all, have some obligation to help students choose careers after graduation. Internship or on-the-job experience is very much approved.
In the event S. did almost nothing, apart from collect a large advance payment from myself.
With the second project he did worse than nothing. He set out deliberately to persuade the two carpenters to sabotage the project in the hope that he could try to get the Lockwood franchise for himself.
He succeeded very well in the sabotage department; the project ended up six months overdue, one third incomplete and many thousands of dollars over budget.
My brother and I decided we did not need his services any more.
But that was not to be the end of things.
As I was to discover later, S. had been confiding with my various ideological enemies in the department, including the department head, a Jesuit appointee.
It seems they had urged him to take legal action over the termination of his services.
What’s more they seemed to have been able to arrange for him to have gratis the services of a high-profile lawyer.
(As chance would have it, the lawyer was also active in the small ultra-rightwing group already making waves by seeking to have admissions of war guilt deleted from Japan’s school history textbooks – a crucial fact I only discovered much later.)
What happened next is long and ugly. Suffice it to say that the lawyer used his legal tricks to elevate the initial small claim to a multi-million yen Tokyo district court claim for the ‘psychological damage’ inflicted by a powerful professor on a young innocent student.
I could see what he hoped for – that I would cringe in the face of Tokyo district court exposure and high legal costs usually involved, and would try to settle for the original small claim –with an admission of guilt which could then be used to cripple my reputation in the university.
Fortunately the Japanese legal system makes it possible to conduct one’s own legal defense, even in higher courts. It is also easy to counter-sue, which I did.
I was able eventually to outlast S and his expensive lawyer. Then ended up having to beg me to settle for mutual withdrawal of suits, which I did.
(I strongly recommend counter-suing to anyone under similar false charges. Judges often do not decide on the rights of a case. They prefer 50-50 settlements, which leave you disadvantaged. Counter suits mean the 50-50 settlement will not be to your disadvantage.)
But while all was well that ended well, what happened in between was brutal.
Foolishly I had accepted the expensive lawyer’s false claim to the court that he was a volunteer lawyer who liked to act free of charge on behalf of distressed, exploited foreigners in Japan.
(It was clear later that he had been recruited, and had accepted, for the chance to do damage to an ideological enemy of the extreme rightwing.)
So I wasted much time and money having all documents translated into Japanese in a bid to make him realize that S. was no distressed, exploited student – that he was a mature individual involved in various money-making activities, some illegal . (Later I heard from S. that he and the lawyer had chuckled greatly as they dumped these materials in their garbage.)
My next mistake was to appeal to the department head to intervene and mediate, little realizing he had been in cahoots with S. from the beginning.
I tried to convince him that it was hardly appropriate for a university to allow a situation where a student, any student, could drag a professor he did not like before the courts on a blatantly trumped up charge.
Nor was it very edifying for the professor to have to confront a student in a courtroom.
At the very least the university should try to mediate, and back away only if it was clear that there was a genuine case to answer.
Worse, S. was threatening to use the case to create a student campus campaign against me. Was that also something a student should be doing?
On top of all this were his various off-campus activities - brokering illegal Iranian workers not to mention the term-time trips to Germany and Columbia, both well-known drug centers.
The department head claimed sympathy. But, he said, he had no choice but to be completely hands off in the affair.
Soon after I discovered the reason for his feigned neutrality.
In his voluminous court papers, all translated at great expense by someone, S. was boasting how not only did he have the support of department professors but of the department head also, who, he claimed, had even given him extra material about Clark’s nefarious land development activities in Chiba.
I went back to the department head with copies of the material. Embarrassed, he could only stammer out a few weak excuses about how he had been misquoted, misunderstood or what have you.
My attempts to appeal to the top university authorities were equally useless. Indeed they were later to have the department head promoted to university president.
The whole affair had strung out over more than two years, with numerous court appearances.
True, towards the end I was beginning to live with it. I learned a lot about the legal system. And I was able to move the case to chambers where I discovered we had a judge who had read and enjoyed my books.
We had some interesting chats during the several sessions which had to be aborted because S. was busy overseas with his Germany and Columbia businesses, and his lawyer too was too busy with his other businesses.
But the shock and psychological damage at the beginning – having to stand up alone in the very unfamiliar court atmosphere trying to compete with a lawyer experienced in the tricks and jargon of the profession - was great.
The damage to time and commitments was even greater.
On top of this was the ugliness involved in discovering that the university you were working for had in effect sided with a derelict student against you.
Needless to say, I was beginning to be keen to cut ties with Sophia.
Fortunately I had convenient way out.
And the timing was perfect.
6. The Tama Connection
Many years earlier an activist academic called Noda Kazuo had befriended me, as he did to several other foreign academics in Japan.
He liked to have us appear occasionally before one or other of his clubby groups (Japanese activists, whether in business, research, academia, or any other profession, all like to feel they have a group of colleagues, admirers and hangers-on around them and supporting their activities).
His activism focused on the alleged need for more internationalism and more venture spirit in Japanese business. I was able to chime in with my spiel about the opportunities in Japan’s neglected service sector.
He also liked my talk about Japan having more than enough unused land to burst any number of speculative bubbles.
Noda had managed to find a wealthy backer for a new private university he want to create out of bare fields at Tama, an upper middle class suburb on the Tokyo outskirts.
It would develop a new generation of US-style venture businessmen, he said.
As first president, his gift for publicity helped get things moving. But soon it was clear that the university he had taken such pains to establish would end up as yet another very ordinary private university competing to attract very ordinary students.
US-style, venture-seeking individualistic students are very few in Japan.
So Noda decided to move on; he had plenty of other things he wanted to do. And he had chosen a successor – an elderly professor of management science called Nakamura.
But the elderly professor collapsed with a stroke immediately on appointment. Noda and the university owner had to get a replacement quickly.
How about me (Clark)? seems to have been their reaction.
And ‘why me?’ was my reaction.
I had had no connection with the new university. Besides, how could a foreigner like myself hope to run an all-Japanese university, even if it was still quite small, with some 1400 students.
But they were very insistent, and offered every incentive.
I would have a nice salary. I would not have to be actively involved in day-to-day administration. I would not have to teach students.
If I decided I wanted to do no more than show up for functions, campus meetings and consultations, that would be fine.
I had simply to act as a figure-head.
It was an attractive offer, even if I still had my doubts.
And so, without tears or regrets I said goodbye to the university where I had worked for almost two decades.
I was happy to try out fresher, even if very different, pastures.
1 (The MRTA were a basically non-violent revolutionary group deemed illegal by the Peruvian government because of communist leanings. Their main demands in the Embassy crisis were the release of their comrades, including their leader’s wife, from Peru’s notoriously cruel prison system, and for improvements in that system.
(My advice in the article, and earlier to a call from the prime minister’s office seeking advice, was that if Lima did not want to seem to bow to ‘terrorist’ demands, no matter how reasonable, then Japan could at least pressure Lima to offer legalization for MRTA in exchange for freeing the embassy hostages. As a legal opposition party they could then work to realise their demands.
(I was to be sickened soon after by the bloodlust with which Japan welcomed the news that the embassy had been stormed, with all the hostage takers, including some young women, killed, many in cold blood – despite the fact that the MRTA people had treated the hostages well.)
(Even the progressive Tokyo Shimbun seemed to share the bloodlust. Like the rest of Japan they could not understand the arguments that compromise deals were the only just answer to guerrilla situations, though eventually such deals were to be seen as the only solution in El Salvador and Guatemala, and Northern Ireland for that matter.
(The Japanese could only think obsessively about the insult to their embassy, and the distress imposed on their precious citizens being held there.
(Later they were to go overboard in their gratitude to Fujimori, the rather corrupt and at times murderously evil Peruvian leader at the time.)
2 (Later I was to discover a strange anomaly in Japan’s economic politics.
(Postwar academic economists had been heavily Marxist. Keynesian economics had originally been seen as a rightwing alternative.
(Only much later, in the eighties and nineties did Keynesian economics come to be seen as leftwing.
(But even today, it is in the extreme rightwing publications that one finds the best analyses of the need for the Keynesian approach – a very curious anomaly when compared with the West)
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