JPRI Critique Vol. VII No. 3 (March 2000)
Hatchets of the Mind
by Ivan P. Hall

In that old stage favorite "Arsenic and Old Lace," the curtain opens on the wacky elderly sisters Abby and Martha Brewster tittering over their poisonous elderberry wine. Like them, the Journal of Japanese Studies and the Harvard Law School--those two straight-laced old ladies of American academe--seem to have taken leave of their scholarly senses in conspiring to publish J. Mark Ramseyer's glib, uninformative, hatchet-job review (see the Summer issue, 1999) of my recent book, Cartels of the Mind: Japan's Intellectual Closed Shop (W.W. Norton, 1997).

Ramseyer's central argument is hung on a single peg, which he takes to discredit the book as a whole--namely, that I have not given evidence that the foreign scholars fired by Japanese universities were as good as or better than their Japanese colleagues. Therefore, argues Ramseyer, it cannot be concluded that they were discharged--or, by extension, that foreign professionals in other fields like law or journalism face barriers--simply because they are foreigners. That is a massive distortion of the facts as well as obscuring the fundamental nature of the situations I have presented--yet another drawing of the drapes to reassure those embarrassed by unflattering analyses that there really are no problems along these lines in Japan.

Ramseyer's surmise that these academic terminations might, under certain hypothetical qualitative criteria, have been prompted by "prudent personnel management" was greeted with raucous guffaws here in Japan by those defenestrated and others well informed of their predicament. As I made clear in my book, the Monbusho-prompted firings of 1992 that ran up to several dozen, as well as others I describe, were conducted without any reference to academic criteria whatsoever--the central complaint, precisely, of those affected. And at Tsukuba in 1985, where the foreigners fired had indeed been professionally vetted and recommended for continuing service as a highly touted sign of "kokusaika," that decision was promptly overturned by petty intra-Japanese campus-political intrigue. The utterly non-scholarly, irrational-choice, forces driving that particular debacle of Japan's academic "personnel management" were richly laid out by Tsukuba's own campus paper, several of the Asahi publications, and Nature Magazine.

A more careful reviewer would have mentioned some of that. He also would have taken into account my report that the percentage of Ph.D. holders was higher among foreign than Japanese staff at this new, "model," "internationalized," university and that the dismissed foreigners all held their doctorates, as in a number of the later cases I detailed. (In a reverse instance not in my book, I still chuckle over the solemnity with which one Japanese department I belonged to debated and then bestowed meiyo kyoju [professor emeritus] status on a retiring Todai-graduated colleague whose lifelong list of publications included not one single book.)

Ramseyer grandly allows that, "many of us may find the use of a crude proxy such as citizenship an offensive way to sort teachers." He might have added that it's an equally crude way to sort correspondents, lawyers, students, and science and technology researchers. However, it's a nice concession, since that is the whole point of my chapter on "Academic Apartheid"--and indeed of my entire book. He faults me for proffering merely anecdotal evidence, although I make it abundantly clear that the sidelining of foreign professionals is systematic and categorical: ergo discriminatory. Alas, Ramseyer's review gives no inkling of the detailed accounts I have given of the deeply rooted, politically motivated, and historically developed structures in Japan that support anti-foreign discrimination in the fields of law, journalism and higher education.

Repeating the Obvious

Sometimes the obvious needs belaboring. The "kisha club" (journalists' cartels), "gaikokujin kyoshi" (foreign professors), and "gaiben" (foreign lawyers) systems draw institutional boundaries between Japanese and foreign participants in what Ramseyer loftily dismisses as "a few relatively high-IQ service industries" (not a bad definition, come to think of it, of a nation's intellectual life). And that is precisely why Japanese behavior here is not randomly "harsh" or incidentally "cruel" (the "tough luck!" bromide) but programmatically discriminatory. What opportunity for qualitative vetting on an even playing field (or even for the "comparing" incessantly demanded by Ramseyer) can a foreign scholar hope for, when for years he or she has been segregated into a system restricting professional duties, collegial contacts, and faculty-political clout? And what can we do but giggle when Ramseyer intones that, "the tenured professors in Japan are the stars," when the system ensures that all (and only) the Japanese are tenured from the moment they are appointed to the regular full-time staff?

The failure even of the new national-university hiring law of 1982 to bring foreigners in on an equal basis (ending up as it did simply creating another, parallel, exclusionary category) proclaims the tenacity of Japan's strictly ethnic criterion. Nothing is more startling (or more "comparative" for Ramseyer's purposes) than the Monbusho's own figures that I presented, showing that the percentage of foreign staff actually awarded tenure under the new, supposedly equalizing, gaikokujin kyoin system barely climbed to 15 percent during its first 13 years (1982-95), the remaining 85% still being retained, as before, on short-term contracts. Indeed, the very nomenclature relentlessly applied here should be clue enough to demolish Ramseyer's central contention. Can one imagine even the most haplessly unassimilated foreign scholar at a western university categorically and permanently tagged as "Foreign Lecturer"--or, to savor the full demeaning nuance of gaikokujin as "Alien Professor?"

Ramseyer has also muddled categories in his eagerness to deride the quest for equal treatment now underway among foreign scholars in Japan. The qualified group here includes: (1) a growing number with doctorates and research in substantive (non-language) disciplines; (2) others, including Ph.D.s, in language-and-literature with 10-15 years continuous single-campus service, just short of the 17 years required for their pensions; and (3) resident Japan-born Korean (and other Asian) scholars with the same academic training and qualifications as the Japanese. Ramseyer has bowdlerized and demeaned their struggles by conflating them: (1) with Japanese adjunct teachers, many of whom are securely tenured academic cronies from different universities helping to augment each others' curricula through reciprocated part-time teaching; (2) with entry-level U.S. lecturers teaching American undergraduates; and (3) with the swirl of minimally qualified, easy-come-quickly-go, English language teachers happy to be in Japan for a brief time on subsistence wages.

The Other Professions

Ramseyer focuses on my chapter about Japanese universities and devotes but a few lines apiece to my discussion of the media and legal profession. He finesses them both with the odd logic that the excluding of fellow Japanese journalists and legal professionals by the "kisha clubs" and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations somehow makes it non-discriminatory when they slam the door on non-Japanese. He seems to have missed the delicious irony with which I quoted certain Japanese newsmen and their foreign apologists in Tokyo who insist that the kisha club barriers are not "intentionally" anti-foreign. This is a bit like arguing that the bar against Jewish members in New York's prewar social clubs was "not deliberately anti-Semitic" because they also excluded Catholics, Afro-Americans, and women--i.e., all who were not of the designated in-group.

Methodologically speaking, Ramseyer seems to dismiss Cartels of the Mind as personalized anecdotalism. One would never guess how much the book gives voice to major American and international institutions across the board that for decades have sought in vain to lower Japan's intellectual barriers. These include the American Bar Association, the U.S. Trade Representative, the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, the International Press Institute, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan, the National Science Foundation, and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as a variety of Tokyo-based embassies. He makes no reference, either, to the long struggle of the Japan-born Korean scholars, or to the fact that other non-Americans--German and British academics, for example--are also part of the tale.

Ramseyer also fails to note Japan's own persistent chorus of promises for

kokusaika or "internationalization" in these very fields, which surely places its subsequent and unabated nonperformance in a problematical light. As recently as November 15, 1999, the New York Times reported on the long-drawn-out campaign for equal treatment by American lawyer Cynthia Worthington and her foreign colleagues at Kumamoto Prefectural University. Similarly, in denying in February 2000 that Gwendolyn Gallagher (a non-Japanese married to a Japanese who has successfully taught English at Asahikawa University in Hokkaido for twelve years) was unfairly and unlawfully dismissed, the Japanese judge stated that Gallagher's long tenure gave rise to her being "over-Japanized" (nipponaizu) and that the school therefore needed "fresh foreigners" (furesshu na gaikokujin).

Why would a Harvard law professor be so dismissive of these issues and why in the Journal of Japanese Studies? Is it too crude of me to ask whether it might, just possibly, have something to do with money or the earning of brownie points with influential Japanese? Ramseyer holds the million-dollar Mitsubishi Chair at the Harvard Law School, and the Journal of Japanese Studies receives support from the Japan Foundation and the Kyocera Corporation. I took my own Ph.D. in Japanese history at Harvard in 1969 and subsequently served as the university's Tokyo representative for its successful $8.5 million dollar fund drive in Japan in 1973-76 to bolster Japanese Studies. I did not then imagine that such largesse could also be used at a great institution to undermine critical thinking on Japan.

As he prepares the future leadership of America for dealing with Japan, I hope Prof. Ramseyer will manage to distinguish the actualities of the Japanese legal system from its normative and propagandistic self-descriptions. Alas, his own work on the Meiji oligarchs, J. Mark Ramseyer and Frances M. Rosenbluth, The Politics of Oligarchy: Institutional Choice in Imperial Japan, Cambridge University Press, 1995, does little to illuminate the full panoply of non-utilitarian factors behind, say, that fateful ouster of Okuma by Ito in the so-called Crisis of 1881. Indeed, the whole thrust of his self-proclaimed mission to apply rational choice theory to things Japanese undermines the central methodological premise on which the great body of Japanology at Harvard from Edwin Reischauer on has been built--namely, that history, language and culture are indispensable keys to our understanding of that country.

In a moving appeal to Japanese intellectuals, Harvard historian Akira Iriye, wrote as a postscript to the Japanese translation of Cartels of the Mind (Chi no sakoku, Mainichi Shimbunsha, 1998), "(We Japanese) need to cultivate a posture of looking at Japan from a global perspective and appraising it by a global standard. To that end, we need to hold our Japanese culture in common with the peoples of the world, to throw open our educational and research institutions to the outside world, and to get in the habit of thinking of peoples from other countries not as foreigners but as fellow globals, that is to say as terrestrials living together on the same planet. . . . No one confronted with the amount of data and concrete examples presented in this book can ignore the points at issue." IVAN HALL teaches Japanese history at Temple University, Tokyo. He is the author of the Meiji education classic Mori Arinori (Harvard University Press, 1973) and is a member of the Advisory Board of JPRI.


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