Interview - Mainichi Daily News Feb. 26, 1977

Japan As A Tribe

By David Tharp Contributing Editor

Gregory Clark a former Australian diplomat, says in a book to be published in March "The Japanese Tribe...Origins of Japanese Uniqueness" that the Japanese are unique because Japan is a microcosm of tribalism. Attributes of the tribal society - elders, taboos, group consensus, and tight emotional ties -still dominate attitudes in modern Japan, writes Clark.

In an interview Clark said the Japanese react to their uniqueness in two ways. "Japanists" turn instinctively to unique aspects of their society such as emperor worship, primitive nationalism, respect for power, and groups.


"Progressive" Japanese rebel against the primitive aspects of "Japanism' and look towards the "superior" West. The progressives, however, are destined to fail in their search for a new social pattern, says Clark, "because no pattern suits Japan but the Japanese pattern."

The failure of progressives rebounds to the benefit of Japanism, Clark argues, underscoring Japanists' claims that Japan is only a one ideology country.

Yoshio Kodama, the political fixer in the Lockheed scandal, is representative of a "very real aspect of Japanese society" the underlying strong trend of Japanism, Clark commented.

The only way out of the progressive dilemma, says the writer, is for them to accept their Japanese uniqueness rather than reject it. And by accepting the radical difference between the Japanese and the West, "they can then shed themselves of primitive aspects of Japanism to concentrate on development of progressive aspects of that uniqueness."

In Clark's view, geographic isolation, and the policies of the Tokugawa era are not enough to explain why the Japanese are unique.

"Too many people approach the problem of Japanese uniqueness by looking for what went wrong to make the Japanese the way they are. The answer is that nothing made the Japanese different. They are basically the norm. It is other societies which underwent change to make them different. What is unique about Japan is that it didn't change."

Contrary to the opinion that Japan was reshaped with imported Chinese culture and values, Clark, a specialist on Chinese affairs, says there is an enormous cultural difference between China and Japan.

The difference is characterized by China's long emphasis on ideas and ideological concerns, points out Clark, while Japan has concentrated on developing its tribal values to a high, sophisticated degree on the national level.

As an example, Clark described the difference in Chinese and Japanese concepts of nationality. "You are Japanese because you live on these islands, but if you go abroad you lose that identity. The Chinese assimilate overseas much more slowly because they remain attached to the philosophies and ideas of their society."

China, India, and the West are classified among "ideological" societies by Clark while Japan and countries in S.E. Asia which emphasize emotional tribal values fall into the opposite category.

Throughout history Japan has, always responded to foreign threats and influences with a rise of nationalism of the Japanist model, says Clark.

The Meiji Restoration, elaborated the ex-diplomat, was a triumph of the Japanists over progressives seeking genuine democratic freedoms, and moderate conservatives who were willing to blend selected foreign ideas with Chinese culture.

It was the Japanists-emperor worshipers and groupists - who took Japan into militarism and the eventual disaster of World War II, Clark points out.

His greatest concern, says the author, is the social result of Japan's defeat in the war. "The war shock has sent the Japanese back to a clan oriented groupism. Thus, despite the claims of Japan's Westernization, the Japanese are not really being influenced at all by Western ideas."

This can be seen, says Clark, in the way Japan absorbs vast amounts of foreign words and ideas while still remaining exclusive to foreigners. To explain this feat Clark describes the Westerners as an ideological person who maybe exclusive on the intellectual level, but willing to accept differences and different people on the emotional level.

Emotional Make-Up

The Japanese, on the other hand, rely for their identity on their emotional make-up, i.e., their Japanism. This excludes non-Japanese on the emotional level but makes for exchanges of ideas and information intellectually.

Therefore, Clark concludes, while Westerners may have difficulties in accepting superior systems or ideas because of the threat to their egos, the Japanese absorb technically superior systems freely because there is no basic threat to the emotions - the vital center of Japanese existence.

Drawbacks of exaggerated Japanese groupism are seen in vertical ideas about human relations, and foreign relations.

Concretely, Clark points to the strength of local groups which direct their energy towards specific problems (such as Minamata victims), whereas national movements (consumer groups) fail to forge strong links.

"Local interests produce incredible power, but the Japanese find it very difficult to relate with strangers, even in their own society."

When Japanese energies are directed outside the country, however, "the Japanese can expand their awareness to involve the whole nation. It's the concept of the extended clan. Emperor worship appealed to this idea of involving everyone in a parent-child relationship. This family approach works much better with the Japanese than acceptance of superior legal authority as in the West," suggests Clark.

Because of this tribal, family consensus style of Japanese society as opposed to ideological motives, Japan was able to switch quickly from militarism to pacifism at the end of the war,' says the exdiplomat.

Clark attributes Japanese economic growth in his book to many of the tribal features of primitive societies, and adds, that an "intense awareness for information" also underlies Japanese success in adjusting to latest Western methods without hesitation.

Clark criticizes the assumption held in the West that ideological societies are superior to emotional ones such as Japan.

"The ideological approach has a similar blend of primitive aspects, and is as excessive as Japanese emotionalism," he concludes. "We should get rid of primitive ideological factors (such as attitudes of superiority) and blend the two types. But before that it must be recognized that there are two entirely different societies."