Japan seen as tribal society

From DAVID THARP, in Tokyo

GREGORY Clark, a former diplomat, has caused a sensation in Japan with the publication of a book in Japanese entitled'The Japanese Tribe, Origins of a Nation's Uniqueness'. Revelations in the book dealing with ASIO's breaking of Japanese diplomatic codes during the Whitlam years is only a small part of the book's appeal. Mr Clark writes that the Japanese are unique because the country is a microcosm of 'tribalism'.

Attributes of the tribal society - elders, taboos, group consensus, and tight emotional ties- still dominate attitudes in modern Japan, says the author. In an interview with this correspondent Mr 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 fait in their search for a new social pattern, says Mr Clark, "because no pattern suits Japan but the Japanese pattern". The failure of progressives rebounds to the benefit of Japanism, argues Mr Clark, underscoring Japanists' claims that Japan is only a one ideology country.The only way out of this dilemma, says the writer, is for the progressives 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 Mr Clark's view, geographic isolation, and the policies of the former Tokugawa era (1603-1867) are not enough to explain why the Japaneseare 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 theJapanese 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 Japanwas reshaped with imported Chinese culture and values, Mr Clark, a specialist, on Chinese. affairs,* says there is an enormous cultural difference between China and Japan. The difference is characterised by China's long emphasis on ideas and ideological concerns, points out Mr. Clark, while Japan has concentrated on developing its tribal values to a high, sophisticated degree on the national level.


As an example, Mr Clark described the 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 tothe philosophies and ideas of their society".China, India and the West are classified among "ideological" societies by' Mr Clark while Japan and countries in SE Asia which emphasise 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 the writer. The Meiji Restoration (1568),elaborates the former Whitlam government adviser, 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 worshippers and groupists - who took Japan into militarism and the eventual disaster of World War II, he says. His greatest concern, warns 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 Westernisation, the Japanese are not really being influenced at all by Western ideas". This can be seen, says Mr Clark, in the way Japan absorbs vast amounts of foreign words and ideas white still remaining exclusive to foreigners.

To explain this feat Clark describes the Westerners as ideological persons who may be exclusive on the intellectual level, but willing to accept differences and different people on the emotional level.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, Mr Clark concludes, while Westerners may have difficulties in accepting superior systems or ideas because of the threat to their egos, the Japanese absorb technically superiors systems freely because there is no basic threat to the emotions - the vital centre of the Japanese ethos.

Drawbacks of exaggerated Japanese groupism are seen in vertical ideas about human relations, and foreign relations. Concretely, Mr 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 interest groups 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 Mr. Clark. Because of this tribal, family consensus style of Japanese society as opposed to ideological motives, Japanwas able to switch quickly from militarism to pacifism at the end of thewar, says the former diplomat. Mr Clark attributes Japanese economic growth 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.

Mr Clark criticises the assumption held in the West that ideological societies are superior to emotional one such as Japan. "The ideological approach has similar blend of primitive aspects, and is excessive as Japanese emotionalism he says. "We should get rid o fideological factors (such eve of superiority) and blend thetwo types. But before that it must be recognised that there are two entirely different societies".

In the English-language version of his book to be published by the University of Queensland Press this month Mr Clark will include special chapter on the dynamics of Japanese-Australian relations.Particularly revealing, says the author, will be a description of the attitude of some Canberra bureaucrats towards the signing of the Basic Treaty of Friendship and Co-operation with Japan. "Certain clauses in the treaty were made out to be a plot to take over Australia", says Mr Clark about this attempt to, by some people in this Whitlam Government, kill the treaty.

The final treaty signed by the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, in Tokyo last year is word for word" what had been presented but delayed under the Labor Government, elaborates Mr Clark. "Fraser looked at the treaty after becoming Prime Minister, told certain people to stop acting like idiots, and got the treaty signed", comments the author. Mr Clark describes the anti-Japanese mood of treaty obstructionists as a "racial thing" or motivated by fears of "Japanese monopolist imperialism". "If political people close to Whitlam and senior bureaucrats could think of Japan in these terms -then there was little hope of a viable relationship with Japan", concludes Mr Clark.

In defence of the Department of Foreign Affairs Mr Clark says, "FA was more pro-Japanese than the rest of the bureaucracy", at the time the treaty was drawn up.