Chapter 20

The Great Australian Tribe

1. Australian Embassy, Japan, 1960-70's

2. Exclusivist Australians

3. Australia's 'Tribal' Ethic

4. 'Tribal' Origins

5. Attitudes to Asia

6. Bureaucratisation

7. The Embassy Isolated

8. Final Notes

I had first visited the Australian Embassy in Tokyo back in 1963 en route to Moscow. My brother, Christopher, was working there.

A graduate in classical Chinese and Greek from Oxford, he later angered the Embassy by querying their phony accounting, left External Affairs to work in Treasury, was attached to the ADB in Manila and lost his balance when the pro-communist Huks shot up a farm he had established to wean the Filipino peasantry from Communism.

Another weird Clark, no doubt?

(I was to fall out with him, and his intelligent wife, some years later when their intense Catholic-based anti-communism led them to write to the Canberra Times denouncing my Vietnam views.)

1. Australian Embassy, Japan 1960-70s

The Embassy in those simple days was an attractive, unpretentious building staffed by attractive, unpretentious people, located in the pleasant hills above the then largely undeveloped Ninohashi area of downtown Tokyo.

It employed no more than a dozen of so locals and a handful of Australians, most with a genuine interest in Japan and some language ability, picked up mainly in wartime language training schools.

From the various diplomatic records it seems to have operated quite effectively in reporting Japan and transmitting Australian policies.

In this sense it resembled its parent organization, the Department of External Affairs in Canberra.

One could disagree with Canberra's policies at the time. But its small, unpretentious, clubby External Affairs Department was effective. The curse of size and bureaucracy had yet to fall.


I would go back again to the Embassy in the late 1960's when I was an ANU research student. And even though by then my anti-Vietnam War activities meant I was very much a black sheep, the reception was polite, even friendly at times.

When working as correspondent for The Australian in the early seventies I had good contacts, naturally. Embassies like to keep on side with journalists.

I only had problems when I wrote something critical.

(Australians, I find, do not try to meet criticisms with vigorous counter-arguments. They prefer to go off and sulk.

(I had, for example, written up the story about a young girl –Sano- who wanted to go to Australia to study English.

(She was refused a visa because her English was not up to the high standard being demanded for a visa!

(So in order to go to Australia to study English you had to know English first, and well. Brilliant!

(The English test was seen as necessary because Australia in those days was assuming that any single Japanese woman who wanted to go to Australia was probably wanting to work as a prostitute. Charming!!

(And Sano was a mere 16 years old and from a good family!

(Then ambassador Mick Shann refused to speak to me for some time after I ran that story in The Australian.

(I would get the same treatment whenever I wrote about the scandalous lack of Japanese speakers at top Embassy levels.)

Embassy Problems

It was only in the late seventies that the shutters began to come down.

It started with my Japan Tribe book in which I had mentioned casually the Toohey revelation about Australia's decoding of Japanese diplomatic and business correspondence.

Newsweek's subsequent story about it had made life very difficult for the Embassy people. But instead of taking it out on the people who had leaked the original story (the DSD outfit in Melbourne, trying to impress Whitlam and his aides), they took it out on me.

Embassy staff were ordered to report all and every contact with me (shades of Moscow!).

The big shutout has continued ever since, even though by now they must know how harmless I am.

Now I can go for years without any contact with any of the Embassy staffers, including those who are supposed to be involved with education, Japanese politics, the economy, the media – all areas where I am actively engaged.

Even when I was sitting on committees of direct economic and other importance to Australia – nuclear energy, trade policy etc – no one bothered to make contact.

I had to compare this with my own life as a diplomat in Moscow and Hong-kong in the sixties. In those days you took for granted that you had to go out and make maximum contact with resident Australians doing interesting things locally.

And in my early days in Tokyo it was the same. Embassy people would often want to meet up with resident Australians of various shapes and sizes to exchange ideas and get information.

2. Exclusivist Australians

As things began to change at first I thought the problem was with me. Gradually I realized it was with them. They began to have little interest in the world outside their Embassy.

And it was not just the Embassy people. Even the Australian businessmen in Japan – people you would think had a vested interest in getting close to Japan – began to resemble the Embassy people in wanting to stay cliquishly together and in refusing to learn Japanese.

Australian journalists were not much better. Most were run-of-the-mill journeymen, trying to cobble together the superficial stories needed to keep Australian readers and editors happy.

Only a few had good contacts into Japan.

Today the comparison with the quality people sent from the US and now increasingly from Europe is painful.

In the various Japanese discussion or opinion-making groups I have been invited to join over the years I have yet to come across a single Australian official, or academic, or anyone else said to be involved in relations with Japan.

I come across any number of Americans, Canadians, British and even the occasional European, all working away to make names for themselves, gain contacts or simply look into the inner workings of Japan Inc.

A glance at the name lists for IBM's annual Amagi opinion leaders' conferences over the years will tell you whom many of them are. But you will not find the name of a single Australian.

At the massive receptions, with casts of thousands, that Japanese and foreign outfits like to organize for themselves, foreign Embassy people, even obscure Latinos, come out in droves.

But you will be lucky if you meet more than one person from the Australia Embassy.

The rest are all safely at home looking after other things they see as more important.

Embassy Non-Linguists

The scandalous Japanese language situation at Austemba Tokyo (cable codename for the Embassy) is indicative.

Often there is not a single Japanese speaker to be found in any of the top three-four Embassy slots.

Little wonder they are reluctant to venture out into the Tokyo reception, think-tank, or discussion group scene where speaking Japanese is essential.

Apart from Ashton Calvert whom I mention later, the Embassy has never had a Japanese speaking ambassador.

Certainly it has never had a fluent Japanese speaker.

I compare this with the British.

Virtually all their Embassy top people, including ambassadors, have been good Japanese speakers for all the time I have been in Japan.

(One good result of Britain's long colonial history is realizing the need to speak the local languages).

Many have had at least two or three postings to Japan, some more.

For them Japan is a career, much more so than it is for most of the unlikely people Canberra sends to Japan as its representatives.

True, the Embassy does recruit some young Australians with good Japanese learned mainly from school exchange programs.

But in general they are seen simply as useful technicians for handling Embassy relations with the strange world outside.

(The Embassy official in charge of trade relations back in the seventies used to refer to them as his 'Jappies.')

Cultural Diplomacy

True, many of the European officials also do poorly in terms of Japanese speakers. For them, it is hard to make a commitment to learn the difficult language of a post to which they may only be sent once or twice.

But they do much better in their efforts to relate to Japanese society, with their receptions, exhibitions etc, often favored by their good Embassy locations near central Tokyo.

The Spaniards have a large six story cultural office in the exclusive Kojimachi area of central Tokyo.

The Germans and the French do equally well, with their Goethe Institute and Alliance Francaise.

The British Council in Iidabashi is a hive of activity.

Meanwhile Australia has little more than its ineffectual Japan-Australia Foundation office closeted away in its badly-located embassy.

And this is despite a genuine Japanese interest in Australia, among students especially.

3. Australia's 'Tribal' Ethic

Why the exclusivity, and the seeming fear of coming too closely involved with Japan?

Let me give my own ideas.

At base, Australians are tribalistic, like the Japanese.

I realize this is not the conventional view.

The conventional view says that Australians with their wide open spaces are rugged, can-do individualists, ready to break every law and convention.

The view says that if anything the Japanese personality is completely the opposite of the Australian.

Confined to their crowded islands, the Japanese are hopelessly groupist and anti-individualistic, whether in their thinking or their relationships.

But once again the conventional wisdom could be wrong.

The similarities are there, and need to be explained.

..... For example we all know how Japanese abroad generally want to stick together and mix only amongst themselves. This is supposed to be abnormal groupist behavior.

But are Australians much different? How else to explain the way Australian officials, journalists and businessmen in Japan want to cluster together? Even academics seem reluctant to become closely involved with Japan.

The Japanese can at least claim problems with the lingua franca of world communication - English. The Australians do not have that linguistic excuse.

Other Similarities with Japan

In Japan it is called shudan-shugi – groupism. The Australian equivalent would be mateship.

As with the Japanese group, mateship assumes that close personal ties should automatically exist between those with whom one deals with on a regular work, sporting or other direct contact basis.

Others are outsiders.

The similarity with Japan's soto-uchi, or insider-outsider, ethic is strong.

True, other Australians outside the immediate mateship group may also be addressed as 'mate.' There is an initial assumption that any Australian who shares your tastes and personality too may be drawn into the range of close personal contact.

But with foreigners there is no such assumption, unless they speak perfect Australian (Strine), eat meat pies and drink Australian beer (I am only partly joking).

Within the mateship group the demands for strong loyalties and intimacy match what we see in Japan.

To go against the group is to invite severe ostracism.

'He's not one of our mob' is the way the Australians might put it. (Mob is slang for the mateship group.) With the Japanese it is roughly the same - mura-hachibu (literally, expelled from most village functions).

Similarly for those who seem to go against the nation-tribe.

Ichiro Kawasaki, a former Japanese diplomat, was forced to leave Japan's Gaimusho after he wrote his 1960's 'Japan Unmasked' critique of Japan and its policies.

John Burton, the brilliant young head of External Affairs in the Evatt postwar years, self-exiled to the UK after conservative governments took control, found his later efforts to provide intelligent foreign policy commentary ignored, and not just by the establishment but also by those who should have been sympathetic.

He was, as the Japanese would put it, kaya no soto – outside the tent.


Other similarities?

Ideological identity is weak, unless we regard a liking for beer, meat pies, surf and sun to be an ideology.

But as with Japan, the weak ideological identity (as opposed to the strong instinctive identity) means there is great interest in knowing how the foreigner sees the nation. In effect the views of the foreigner provide the basis for identity.

Even criticisms are welcome – provided they are gentle and well-meant (the Japanese, like the Australians, do not like irony).

A wild Australian bestseller in the fifties was a slim book gently dissecting Australian foibles and entitled called 'They're a Weird Mob.'

Much of the book's popularity was because it claimed to have been written by an Italian immigrant long resident in Australia – Nino Culloti.

Only later, with sorrow, was it discovered that the book was in fact written by an Australian with the pedestrian name of John O'Grady.

He had used the pseudonym to guarantee sales.

The parallel here with the 1960's fuss in Japan over a book called the Japanese and the Jews, allegedly written by a longtime Jewish resident of Japan but in fact written by the hoary classical scholar called Yamamoto Shichihei, is almost perfect.

That book too enjoyed run-away sales.


Australians and Japanese share a strong egalitarianism. The surveys in Japan which show up to 90 percent considering themselves middle class (even when some of them are not) would, I suspect, show much the same result in Australia.

'Give the Ozzie battler a fair go' is how the Australian egalitarians would put. In Japan it is the current agonizing over the problem of income gaps (kakusa), with the Japanese 'battler' (freeter, is one name for them) denied stable employment.

Few other nations worry about the fate of their part-timers.

In both societies individualists are not welcomed.

In Japan it is called hammering down the nail that sticks out.

In Australia it is called 'cutting down the tall poppies' – reducing to size those who stand out above other Australians. .....

Australia's larrikin ethic has its parallel in Japan's amae-style tolerance for bad behavior in certain defined emotional circumstances.

Japan's strange tolerance for its yakuza gangsters is a form of amae, justified as sympathy for the difficult social background many of these thugs have to endure.

Japan by the way has its equivalent of Ned Kelly, the 19th century bandit-outlaw who shook up the Australian establishment before his capture and execution.

He was Kunisada Chuji, a 19th century mountain-based, gangster-bandit of folk hero fame. Like with Ned Kelly, many wanted to excuse his bandit activities on the grounds that he was a man of good heart, a victim of circumstances.

(Curiously, Japanese involved with Australia also take strong interest in Ned's bandit activities.)


Other points in common include:

. instinctive male-female differentiation, and the strong intimacy in male relationships.

. a reputation for practical inventiveness.

. inability or refusal to handle school-level foreign language education seriously. (In Japan it carries through to university level, as it used also in Australia).

. formally recognized political factions - an obvious feature of the Japanese political scene, they exist in Australia too, in the more tribalistic Labor Party especially.

And as in Japan it has its practical merits, even if it has ideological inconsistencies (when you belong to a party based on a particular ideology you should in logic all adhere to that ideology. There can be room for recognized factions).

It provides the checks and balances needed to prevent the semi-autocracies of the UK under Thatcher and Blair.

It allows for different views to prevail, and for a fair rotation of political posts.

It could also help explain the long-lived nature of both LDP rule in Japan, and of the ALP under the Hawke regime when the existence of three defined factions – left, right and midstream - was formally recognized.

(In the more conservative Liberal Party, the split was between drys and wets, but it never gained the Japanese-style functions found in the Labor Party.)

. universalistic (or as I call them 'rationalistic') ideologies are weak.

Until evangelistic groups got underway recently (and for the same reason in the US – the collapse of the social contract combined with a lack of alternative ideologies) most Australians were happy to admit to slight or no religious affiliation.

Moralites are highly particularistic. Like the Japanese, Australians have extreme difficulty realizing that going to other peoples' countries for spurious reasons and killing the inhabitants there violates seriously the principles of universal morality.

4. 'Tribal' Origins

Why the unexpected similarities with Japan? Why should two societies of completely different cultural and geographical background seem to share such a similar 'instinctive' ethic.

Point A is that under my approach we do not need to explain the existence of an instinctive ethic, as opposed to a rationalistic ethic. (See earlier chapters for an explanation of 'instinctive' as opposed to 'rationalistic' ethics.)

By definition an instinctive ethic is something natural to us all, regardless of whether we live in cramped cities, island isolation, jungle wilderness or vast continents.

Our societies are born with it. And unless something happens to them they stay with it.

So it is the more rationalistic ethics that need to be explained.

Australia would normally have been expected to have inherited the more rationalistic ethic of its Anglo-saxon origins. But various factors intervened to prevent that from happening fully with those other than the upper classes.

One was physical isolation from the Western cultural mainstream. Another, some say, has been the strong Irish Celtic, anti-UK component of its lower class population.

More important, however, was the close cooperative, person-to-person relations born from convict origins and harsh frontier bush-land development.

As mentioned earlier, during my anti-Vietnam War days I found Adelaide, the capital of South Australia, to be well ahead of the rest of Australia when it came to principled debate and attitudes.

Elsewhere anti-war views were often sloppy and personalized.

The difference was not an accident. South Australia was the only Australian state not populated by convicts. (It was populated solely by free settlers, mainly from Britain.) Its bush development and traditions were also more limited.

New Zealanders resemble South Australians, and for the same reasons.

The Feudal Factor

But while it is easy and natural to acquire the instinctive ethic, it needs to be refined if it is to be effective for organizing a large society.

Japan's long feudal experience performed that function well. It was able to add the strong sets of rules and conventions needed for society-building - the rules of hierarchy, consensus, discipline, obedience and so on.

Obviously we do not find a feudal ethic in Australia. Which is why few see any similarity between the cultures of the two nations.

But this is only a superficial difference.

The only real difference is that Australia's instinctive ethic has remained at a more immature level.

The rules and rituals for becoming 'one of the mob' are much cruder and simpler than those for joining and retaining membership in the Japanese group.

Indeed, lacking both rules and principles the immature instinctive ethic can easily degenerate into viciously self-centered thinking – 'screw-you Jack, I'm OK', or 'looking after Number One.'

Meanwhile Japan was able to expand the small group morality of honesty, cooperation etc. so it came to cover the entire society, though here too the lack of a backup universalistic principles means it too is vulnerable to collapse.


However, and as with Japan, the imported rationalistic ethic (from the UK and Europe in the case of Australia and from China in the case of Japan) played an important role in the upper classes.

Values, morality etc operated at two levels throughout the society.

Just as in Meiji Japan, the upper classes adhered to the more universalistic principles imported from China, in Australia the upper classes operated largely on the basis of imported, traditional British rules and principles –obligations to society, noblesse oblige, doing the right thing, etc.

Leftwing and communist ideologies also helped create concepts of social responsibility.

But while these values may have existed among the educated classes, they found it hard to penetrate the more populist and instinctive values at the grassroots.

In the case of Australia the 'looking after Number One' morality gradually began to replace concepts of social obligations (It was my personal misfortune to be caught in the middle of this shift, and not to realize the change was underway.)

Japan too is seeing a similar transition.

Individuals see less merit in company loyalty and dedication. 'Me first' attitudes are emerging.

When the old-time politician Fukuda Takeo was ousted in 1972 by the rough-and-tumble tactics of the populist Tanaka Kakuei, for example, the distress was palpable

Tribal Foreign policies

Foreign policy has seen a similar shift.

Still influenced by Chinese civilization, the Meiji era produced a range of skillful diplomats able to negotiate with the West with confidence.

It is hard to imagine the crude, childish deadlocks in Japan's current foreign policies developing under these people, with media encouragement – the Northern Territories dispute, relations with China, the phony abductee dispute with North Korea etc.

Nor can one imagine the Meiji diplomats who renegotiated skillfully the Unequal Treaties of the 19th century tolerating today's very unequal Japan-US base agreements.

The Meiji diplomats understood the need for flexibility and strategy.

Today it is a childish preoccupation with tactics, and when that does not work Tokyo thinks that simply pushing a hardline position without any hint of compromise (nebarizuyokute kosho shimsho) will somehow force the other side to realize the correctness ('sincerity') of Japan's position and begin making concessions.

Even some Japanese wonder how the strategically intelligent, and very successful, policies of Meiji could have been replaced by raucous populist support for crude Showa aggression.

Japanese with conscience still look back with pride on the gentlemanly way they treated German prisoners in the first World War, and compare it with the brutal attitudes later.

The contrast between Japan's Pacific War Navy with its lingering British-influenced shinshi-teki (gentlemanly) traditions and the brutality of the Army, recruiting from the lower levels of society, is often made.*

... Australia made the same transition, from the principled values of the earlier elite classes to the cruder, 'instinctive' values at the grassroots level.

Compare, for example, the careful and intelligent calculation in Australia's Pacific War policies with the raucous, media-led 'kill the commies,' and now 'kill the terrorists' of recent years.

The eastern half of the former Australian colony was occupied by the Army. For decades since anti-Japanese attitudes have remained strong there, the result of wartime massacres by the Army and its Kempeitai allies.

But in the western half pro-Japan attitudes have been dominant. It was occupied by the Navy

The Navy people behaved with some humanity. They built the famous Wewak primary school which educated a generation of future PNG leaders, Michael Somare especially, who later as prime minister was to visit Japan often (to Canberra's great annoyance).

During Australia's long colonial period schools were not supposed to be needed.

Other Similarities

As in Japan, we also find growing obsessions with the trivial in domestic affairs.

The food and fashion habits of the stars get headline or primetime treatment.

Serious scandals also get the trivia treatment.

Like a bright meteorite headed for obscurity, each manages to flash across the TV screens and newspaper headlines for just the few weeks needed to tickle the emotions, and then be thoroughly forgotten.

Consideration of the implications for the health and organization of the society is weak.

Some of Japan's corruption scandals are truly horrifying in their implications.

At times, they reveal a society corrupt to its very foundations.

But few care to probe too deeply and reach full conclusions.

Australia is similar.

Obviously I am biased, but in the case of Australia there was probably no better example than the Vietnam Cables affair of 1975, which I related earlier (Life Story, Chapter Nine, and Quadrant article 1975).

That the media which had been calling raucously for the resignation of the prime minister could overnight want to forget about it all once the all-important cable to Hanoi was revealed was, for me at least, amazing.

Nor was it just the fate of the prime minister. Important foreign policy principles were involved.

Yet there was no attempt to go back and reflect on where everyone had gone wrong in the first place, and what were the implications of going so far wrong, and for so long.

On the contrary, and as often happens in Japan, it was the messenger seeking to right an obviously wrong situation who ended up taking the blame.

While I was foolishly assuming that some sense of rational integrity would prevail, for the rest of Australia the affair was simply an emotional bubble to be inflated and deflated at ease. I was left badly stranded in between.

The tribally instinctive mind finds it hard to realize that something involving the principles of statehood and diplomacy is not just some ephemeral matter.

You can call for the resignation of the prime minister one day. You can forget about it all the next.

In the Vietnam Cables affair important principles were involved. Or at least so I thought.

But others did not, as I was to discover painfully.

5. Attitudes to Asia

This Australian tribalism explains much about attitudes to Asia and Japan.

For all their talk about wanting to be close to Asia, Australians deep down are like the Japanese. They prefer to keep Asia and its peoples at a distance.

The language problem is one example, and not just with Japan.

Canberra was able to go to war with a nation called Vietnam without a single Vietnamese speaker at any of its official levels.

But it was quite sure that the war was the result of Chinese aggression. (At the time it did have two Chinese speakers, but they had both resigned in protest.)

The Paul Keating quip about Asia being the place you fly over en route to Europe and America had more truth than he would later confess to.

Australian official interest in Asia for the most part seems confined to grubby expediency.

When the distant Norwegians were trying to broker a solution to the horrible situation in Sri Lanka what was allegedly pro-Asia, near-by Australia doing?

Precisely nothing.

When Finland was solving the equally dreadful Aceh problem in Indonesia?

Again, precisely nothing.

When Amnesty was calling for action against Indonesian military killings in western, New Guinea?

Again nothing.

Canberra was too busy trying to be friends with the brutal Indonesian military and its boss, the corrupt Suharto.

It even managed to embrace the US and UK view that sees the Tamils fighting for more freedom in Sri Lanka as 'terrorists'.

The only result I can see from Australian boasting about its being closer to Asia than other Western nations has been a greater propensity for killing rather than kindness – the intervention in Vietnam, help for the cruel suppression of the leftwing uprisings in Malaya, Brunei and Sarawak, the partial responsibility for the massacre of half a million Indonesians in 1965, toleration for the dreadful killing of the East Timorese after 1975, and so on.

For Australians the universalistic 'thou shalt not kill' was easily replaced by the highly pragmatic 'kill the commie bastards before they kill us.'

The Australians who had once suffered the threat of Japanese invasion were quite able to use Asian threat fears to justify opposing or killing the only Asians to resist the Japanese – the procommunist forces in Malaya, Vietnam and China especially.

No one realized the contradiction involved.

In Europe some at least realized the contradiction in using a rearmed Germany to confront postwar Moscow.


Japan has been equally guilty.

It too likes to talk about its Asian role and understanding. Yet over East Timor, Tokyo did nothing, even though had even more influence than Australia with Jakarta and had had dreadful responsibility for wartime killings there.

It was left to the distant Portuguese and Latin Americans to show principled concern.

For a nation that had itself suffered wartime bombing, Japan's tacit cooperation with and approval for the US vicious bombing operation in Indochina was close to criminal – particularly since Vietnam had also experienced Japan's wartime atrocities.

Japan's inability to feel for the suffering it once inflicted on millions of other Asians is extraordinary.

But Australia's inability to feel any guilt for the suffering it imposed both directly and indirectly on the Vietnamese, and ultimately all the Indochinese people, is almost as bad.

Gut Instincts in Asia

When the Asians are poor and supplicant, Australians find it easy to be friendly – the little brown brother, or white man paternalism, syndrome.

Japan too has had a good record of aid and education in some of its former backward Asian territories, in prewar Taiwan or Micronesia for example.

But as the Asians become richer and more independent, Australians, official Australians especially, begin instinctively to turn inward.

They find it hard to relate to Asians who are equally or more intelligent or powerful than themselves, just as the prewar Japanese could not handle the Koreans.

(They still harbor anti-Korean prejudice. Koreans know more about the Japanese than the rest of us and their criticisms of Japanese faults come too close to the bone.)

For a while when Japan was still struggling to get ahead in the post-occupation years, there were flickers of genuine Australian grassroots interest in that nation and its people.

Canberra even sent one of its better-known authors, Hal Porter, to write a book explaining the Japanese people to Australians.

Unfortunately he ended up writing a racist tract saying that the Japanese were nothing but 'actors.

(He also wrote a famous short story, Mr Butterfry, ridiculing a non-Japanese speaking Australian ex-sergeant who had married a non-English speaking Japanese woman and raised two child pinup beauties.

(He saw this as the typical price to be paid for going native, with the man reduced to Sunday morning pub sessions with fellow Australians in a bid to keep some kind of identity.

(He also saw it as a typically hopeless East meets West cultural impasse, with the children having no future but to exploit their half-caste looks.

(Sadly today Porter is not around to see what happened to the family.

(One daughter married the heir to the Bridgestone Tire fortunes. The other married an up-and-coming politician, Hatoyama Kunio, grandson for a former prime minister.

(The ex-sergeant was cared for lovingly by his Japanese family during a long illness.

Australians find it hard to relate to Asians who are independent, who make it clear they do not need Australia.

This underlay the various disputes with Lee Kwan Yew's Singapore and Mahatir's Malaysia.

Canberra's scandalous attempt to prevent Lee Kwan Yew's election in 1959, and its refusal even to talk to him after, would get the full attention of Australian academia, if the academics too did not find it easier to run away from anything involving Lee.

(I once wrote how Lee got his revenge on Australia by sending the pro-British incompetent Canberra had funded in the election, Lim Yew Hock, as ambassador to Australia.

(This man, whom Canberra had seen as the needed barrier to the feared communist takeover in Singapore, could not even handle his Canberra post. He disappeared and after much searching was found shacked up with a Sydney stripper.

(To me this decision to back Lim rather than Lee was the ultimate indictment of Canberra's Asian ignorance. I wrote about it several times.

(But the only response I have ever got from Australian academia was a complaint that I was being cruel to Lim.)


The strange reluctance of most Australian officials and businessmen in Japan to learn the language, or to at least make the effort, is bad enough.

Worse is the lack of respect, or even dislike, for those who do learn the language. It is as if they have gone over to the other side. They are no longer true Australians.

Those like myself who go even further with their Japanese involvements find themselves even more on the outer.

We are seen almost by definition are absconders from the tribe. Maybe we have even a slightly traitorous smell about us.

This is especially so if we achieve our position in Japan through independent effort.

If we are dependent on official Australia in some way to make our way in Japan the attitude changes somewhat.

We can remain one of them, on the inside rather than outside, even if we do seem to have aberrant wishes to be involved with things Japanese.

(Japan used to have a very similar attitude to those who learned and spoke English well. They were sometimes described disparagingly as 'eigo-ya' – people who had to rely on their English ability to survive.

(The parallel with the Australian embassy officials talking about their Jappies is strong.)

Japanese officialdom is similar.

Japanese abroad who go on to integrate into foreign societies are soon forgotten.

Unlike Beijing, Tokyo makes only weak efforts to sustain links with these people.

And yet popular legend has it that the Japanese are even more racially conscious than the Chinese.

Racial consciousness and exclusivity is more complicated than many realize.

'Good' Asianism

But as mentioned earlier, the instinctive, emotional/practical ethic can work in one of two very different directions where attitudes to foreigners are involved.

In general it is instinctively exclusivist to outsiders.

But if for some reason the individual is brought or forced into a close, grass-roots relationship with the foreigners, things can change, dramatically.

He or she can integrate much more closely than 'rationalistic' others.

This is because the basis for a cultural identity is instinctive rather than rationalistic. One simply 'feels' Australian, or Japanese, as the case may be. Identity is collapsible.

Exclusivist instincts can easily be replaced by a desire or a need to merge into the surrounding foreign society.

The extraordinary ability of the allegedly exclusivist Japanese to integrate into the Latin American societies is a good example.

As mentioned earlier, the Japanese businessmen I met during my 1960's research studies working in the capital cities were notorious for their aloofness from the local society.

Meanwhile the same Japanese, isolated and working in remote areas of Southeast Asia, had integrated well into the local society.

People with a stronger cultural identity – the Chinese or French, for example – may have less trouble relating to foreigners.

But they have more trouble abandoning that identity when it comes to trying to integrate into the foreign society around them.

(Since Japanese ability to assimilate cannot be explained by any of the usual theories about Japan it seems largely ignored by the scholars.

(In fact, it should force a complete reappraisal of theories not just about Japan but also about the nature of race and culture overall.

(Some might then begin to realize the need for the 'instinctive' versus 'rationalistic' approach to social studies.)

Integrating Australians

One does not find quite the same integration abilities with Australians.

But there are places where the highly personalist approach of some Australians can work well, provided the opposite party also takes the same approach which is very much the case in many Southeast Asian societies (which share the 'instinctive' ethic to some extent).

(Most of Australia's person-to-person diplomatic successes have been in Southeast Asia.)

Australian students abroad also do very well.

The young Australians graduates who used to work in Indonesia on the ground as part of a volunteer aid scheme in the immediate postwar years were good examples.

True, the Indonesian venture soon lost official support. The graduates were seen as becoming too pro-Indonesia. But while it lasted it did much to produce the group of academic experts on Indonesia for which Australia was rightly famous.

Young Australians in Japanese schools on the several student exchange programs integrate very well, better than US or European students I have been told repeatedly.

Similarly with the very successful working holiday visa scheme for young Australians to live and work freely in Japan for up to a year.

Many stay on in Japan, firmly integrated into the society.

(As mentioned earlier, I was closely involved with the introduction of this scheme.

(I had urged it on John Menadue while he was ambassador to Japan, and he had then urged it on then prime minister, Ohira Masayoshi.

(Menadue went on to clear any bottlenecks at the Australian end, where it is now equally successful in introducing young Japanese to Australia.

(The scheme was later expanded by Japan to include several other countries, mainly Western, where it has been less successful.)

Sadly the graduates from these schemes have little encouragement to go on much further afterwards. Official Australia does little to help them follow-up.

Australian exclusivism – standoffishness is a better word for it - takes over.

As mentioned earlier, when US universities were setting up special programs to help push graduate students into Japan for training and further study, Australian universities were doing nothing.

Australia has done nothing to match the very successful EU program to send each year several dozen young businessmen into Japan for two years of language and internship-style experience.

Even distant Ireland could leave Australia standing on the sidelines, with its 1990's program to send dozens of science graduates to live, work and study in Japan in what turned out to be a very successful bid to attract Japanese high-tech investment.

(Meanwhile Canberra can was sending expensive delegations is a futile bid to attract the same investment.)

Using my Boso property I once set up a program called Japan Experience to give young Australian businessmen the same kind of experience I had had many years earlier - to travel around Japan with a smattering of the language and get to know some of its realities and attractions.

But only Rio Tinto took advantage of it, and they were a British company anyway.

Conferences and Committees

This gut reluctance to be involved directly with Japan and Japanese could explain the strange preference for endless conferences and useless committees in relations with Japan.

There the other side can more easily be kept at a distance while you pretend to be friendly.

APEC was godsend for these people. They could go through the motions of taking Japan and the rest of Asia seriously without having to get down to the nuts and bolts of actually having to relate personally and directly.

It could all be handled in committees.

(There was even an attempt at one stage to set up a Japan-Australia 'wisemans committee' of notables from both sides to discuss matters of importance.

(I was not invited to join, but as far as I know neither side had much to say to the other and it soon ran out of steam.)

That the Europeans and even the Irish should be trying harder than Australia in dealing directly, face to face, with Japan should be a source of major shame.

9. Bureaucratisation

Another problem could be bureaucracy.

When organizations become too large and relationships too distant the groupist ethic cannot operate properly.

Bureaucracy is needed to hold the group together.

Part of the problem in Tokyo is the extreme bureaucratization of the Australian foreign service in recent years.

Many mid-level and top Embassy officials seem chosen to fit the needs of Canberra rather than the needs of an overseas Embassy.

Not only do few have the language. Many have little Japan background or even interest.

When they arrive they seem to want to spend much of their time organizing themselves (One I recall was at the end of a Canberra career that had had nothing to do with Japan. He showed up in Tokyo bringing his five children and by the end of his tour had done little more than get them organized with their schools and nannies.)

Once organized they seem to spend most of their time trying to earn brownie points with Canberra, with endless reports on the topics that match Canberra's petty interests.

There seem to be few prizes for going out and reporting on what is actually happening in Japan. They rely on the newspapers and what everyone else is saying.

During the Koizumi years, and even after, they repeated uncritically the structural reform manta as if this was the entire key to Japan's economy and society.

Their obsession with spy and military contacts is another result.

Here is one area where Australians can get a Japanese response without much effort, or even the need to learn Japanese (yes, even our spies often cannot speak Japanese).

One runs into quite a few of these unpleasant types, from both sides, at most Embassy functions.

The false information from Embassy spy contacts which almost managed to wreck the 1975 attempt to have a friendship treaty with Japan, was one result.

The meaningless, anti-China, so-called 'security' pact with Japan in 2007 was another.

Hopefully it will soon be ignored by a regime in Canberra that realizes the importance of China.


In the early seventies the Embassy seemed to depend heavily on a character of reportedly Korean origin who could speak English with a fluent Australian accent.

He was the ultimate fixer – everything from golf outings to parties and accommodation. His uneducated pervasive presence at all and every Embassy function was an embarrassment for most outsiders.

Even the usually timid Japanese Foreign Ministry voiced doubts about allowing this person have such influence in Embassy affairs.

But in addition to being a fixer and being able to talk Strine to our Japanese-illiterate officials, he was valued because he had some alleged contact with the extreme gangsterish rightwing of Japanese politics.

That was seen as very important at the time.

So much so that even Menadue once warned me about making a media fuss over his presence.

7. Embassy Isolation

The poor Embassy location compounds the problem, keeping alien Japan at a safe distance.

The fuss over its rebuilding was part of the picture.

It goes back in the late 1980's when Canberra needed money to balance its budget and decided to sell off half of the valuable Tokyo Embassy site it had gained fortuitously after the war.

Canberra did well, selling the half that had little building value for a very large sum from C.Itoh which in those days was keen to have good relations with resource-rich Australia.

But Australia did badly overall.

The sloping land it had sold had spiritual value, as the site of some wells with alleged supernatural power.

As well, rebuilding on the remaining site meant largely destroying the culturally valuable home of the former Tokushima daimyo and Hachizuka clan residence..

The Tokyo cultural and historical authorities were not impressed.

Nor was the Japanese Foreign Ministry impressed, since there is a rule that says Embassies should not engage in commercial activities.

Canberra could have avoided all these problems by simply telling the Tokyo authorities that to preserve the historic site it wanted an exchange for a smaller plot in central Tokyo.

My own contacts said that was very possible. (Via Menadue I was indirectly involved in the re-siting issue).

There it could have built itself a high-rise Australia House to serve as a focus for all Australian government, commercial, tourist and publicity activity in Japan, similar to the Australia House in London or the prime-sited Australian Embassy in Paris.

But for Canberra, no doubt, all this was much too daring for Australia to be doing in a non-Western nation.

Instead it used much of the money it had received from C.Itoh to build a massive concrete fortress on the existing site – a site well removed from the centers of business and diplomatic activity.

Worse, it has made its staff relocate their living quarters to within the concrete fortress.

There they have become even more cut off from the outside world than before.

Today they cluster together in a little Australia, complete with club rooms, sports facilities and a community store. I have met housewives there who have never even used the local subway.

The costs for maintaining this mini-Canberra in its Oriental setting must be enormous. The costs in isolating the Australian staff from the Japan outside could be even greater.

I can even understand now how just possibly in the Keating scholarship affair (see previous chapter) deliberate Embassy malice may not have been the main factor.

Pure ignorance of how to deal with the outside world could also have been a cause.

But malice was also certainly a contributing factor.

(My involvement in the original planning led to me getting to know a strange Austrian Jew based in Melbourne and who had been able to get a slice of the Embassy re-building contract without actually having to do anything serious.

(It was he who opened my eyes to Bob Hawke's very deep involvement with the Melbourne Jewish community, leading to Canberra's extraordinarily pro-Israel policies during the Hawke regime.)

9. Final Note

In year 2005 two of my Australian 'mates' in Tokyo decided to nominate me for an Australian government award, recognising my efforts in Japan extending over 30 years, and my past efforts in Australia.

One of my sponsors was a rare individual - an intellectually-minded State representative who knew about my past efforts to promote economic relations with his State.

The other had more personal reasons.

During the Vietnam War years he had accepted without question the Australian military propaganda that this was a war to stop Chinese aggression. He had volunteered readily to go to Vietnam to help stop those Chinese in their tracks.

But when he got to Vietnam his gung-ho enthusiasm turned to disgust as he discovered there were no Chinese there and his job was to go out and kill ordinary Vietnamese.

He too was a State representative.

But nomination by two senior Australians in Tokyo clearly was not enough to overcome Canberra's continuing suspicions of my existence.

(Someone once told me that my ASIO file in Melbourne was too big even to jump over.)

The nomination was rejected.


But all was not bleak.

The one of the nicer things to happen to me out of Australia was in 1990, when Peter Beattie was Queensland Premier.

He said I should be Honorary Ambassador for Queensland in Japan – a position with no salary and no official status but which let me keep one leg into the Japan-Australian scene.

Beattie said he had greatly appreciated my anti-Vietnam War activities back in the days when he had been a university student.

He also knew about my Queensland background.

Thank you, Beattie-san.

It is nice to know someone in the home country remembers you.

True, for all the time I have been in Japan no Australian university or any other Japan-related outfit - academic, business or cultural - has ever felt the need to recognize my existence.

But here I have to assume these worthy people would not be acting out of bitchiness or ignorance.

Rather, that it proves how these Australian outfits have their own reserves of people with such excellent Japanese expertise that there is no need for anything someone like myself with long involvement in Japan can produce!


Postscript: For a time I seemed to be doing better being recognized by Japan rather than by Australia, despite a lack of effort on my part to gain such recognition.

Tokyo had given me one of its rare cultural awards back in 1990.

At official dinners for visiting Australian Prime Ministers, the Japanese side would invite me even if the Australians would not.

I was even recommended by my former university, Tama, for an official Japanese Imperial award of some kind in 2005.

But by this time official Japan was unhappy about my criticisms of its foreign policies.

So that too was rejected.


But there was one consolation.

In 1986 I had been asked by the Belgian government to tour the major cities explaining how to do business in Japan.

For that effort I received, with some pomp and ceremony, the award of the Officer de l'Ordre de Leopold II.

At least the Europeans had remembered me.

*A compelling example of this Navy-Army contrast came during the Japanese wartime occupation of Papua New Guinea.