Blueprint For A New Nation; The Rethinking of a Nation
This book is by Ichiro Ozawa, who was the Secretary-General of the Liberal Democratic Party. He later co-founded the Japan Renewal Party. The inside flap notes that Ozawa wants Japan to be "...a responsible member of the international community, bearing the costs of peace and freedom, and limiting the power of the central government."
The book is divided into sections: Section 1 is the urgency of political reform; Section 2 is becoming a "normal" nation, and Section 3 is the five freedoms. What I will do here is point out some of the most interesting things I found in the book, rather than do a chapter-by-chapter review.
He starts off by saying that Japanese democracy in one in which people get a secure life, but at the cost of burying themselves in the group. In Japan, there is a saying that "the nail that sticks up will be hammered down." Much of Japanese societal structure is dedicated to producing a nation of people who are group-oriented, rather than individualistic in their behavior.
He notes that one problem the Japanese have is that they want to avoid troublesome "foreign relations." In effect, he's saying that the Japanese would like to be somewhat isolationistic in their approach to the world, looking inward rather than looking outward. This comes, of course, from the isolation of the country by the Tokogawa regime which separated Japan from the rest of the world for hundreds of years.
He then talks about "the politics of indecision." The first problem he says exists is that the Japanese government does not really lead the nation; rather, it protects and preserves private interests. The second problem is the operation of the democracy in Japan only becomes intense during crises.
He says that the third problem is the Diet, the Japanese version of our House of Representatives and Senate. He notes that the decision-making process, which requires almost unanimous agreement on something, makes taking action on something extremely difficult. He says their fourth problem is in the nature of the Prime Minister, and their fifth problem is that the various levels of government operate without coordination with other levels of the government.
He does present specific proposals for addressing these concerns, especially in re-organizing the political structure of the country.
Late in the book he writes about "...our inferior housing, impoverished social capital, high prices, long working hours, severe exam competition, and many other things." He writes that there is something wrong in a society where people cannot buy their own homes (a problem growing larger and larger in the U.S. itself).
In relation to income, he compares the relative hours that Japanese work compared to people in Germany and the U.S., and says that taking that into consideration that, in effect, the Japanese earn only 70% of what the people in the other two countries do, and yet they also face very high prices for goods.
He says that Japan "...has become a society dedicated solely to its corporations. the people have become mere cogs in the Japanese corporate wheel." (Again, this is becoming a growing problem in the U.S. where massive corporations continue to buy each other up like sharks in a feeding frenzy, yet care little or nothing about the people actually working for them.)
He then says that he wants the Japanese people to become more individualistic. To this effect, he wants the Japanese to have five basic freedoms:
1. Freedom from Tokyo. He writes that Tokyo is a truly massive city and far too much of Japanese power and wealth is centralized there. Basically, he wants to see the power base de-centralized and spread more evenly throughout the country.
He notes that the average commute to and from Tokyo is about ninety minutes, meaning a person spends some three hours in commute time not counting the actual hours they work at their job. He also notes that the non-urban areas of Japan are losing population to Tokyo, and this threatens the types of localized cultural diversity.
2. Freedom from companies. He wants the society changed from one which is company-oriented to one which is oriented towards the needs of the individual person. In relation to this, he wants...
3. Freedom from overwork. The salaryman of Japan is noted for the very, very long hours he spends at work, commuting from home to work and back, and even spending time after work at what in effect is required socializing. Thus, many male workers spend very little time with their families. He also wants less emphasis on the competitive exam system in the schools.
In Japan, students take exams to determine the school they will get into. There can even be exams to determine what elementary school a student will go to. This goes on up through high school where the pressure builds even more, the exam resulting in what college a student can go to, if any. That to some degree determines what types of companies the student will be hired by.
He also writes about the tax system which he says is a higher proportion of income in Japan compared to Europe, in particular the inheritance tax which is extremely severe.
He also says, in relation to the work done during working hours, that the Japanese don't work with the focus and concentration that Americans do, meaning that they don't get done as much in the regular hours as Americans would, necessitating the extra long hours that they end up working to get the same amount of work done.
4. Freedom from ageism and sexism. Japanese society is aging and with that will come the need for some way to make seniors more active in their society. Japanese women face tremendous prejudice in the types of work they are allowed to do, such as the typical "office ladies" who are secretaries, but who also fetch things for their bosses and have many similar duties, yet will be promoted rarely and have almost no chance of becoming the boss themselves.
5. Freedom from regulation. He wants "meaningless rules" to be done away with to allow more freedom to individuals and companies.
The book itself is interesting, but does require some knowledge of how Japanese society actually works. I find it interesting that he writes about ageism and sexism, yet Japan still has a lot of prejudice against foreigners, even including families opposing a son or daughter marrying a non-Japanese individual.
The book does examine a lot of problems that are not normally brought up about Japanese culture and he does present specific suggestions to remedy those problems, which is a good thing rather than just saying such-and-such is wrong and leaving it at that.
Japan main page
Japanese-American Internment Camps index page
Japan and World War II index page