‘Cartels of the Mind: Japan’s Intellectual Closed Shop’ and ‘Jigyo Shiwake (sorting out operations)’ related to Science Research


‘Cartels of the Mind: Japan’s Intellectual Closed Shop’, 1997, provides critical insights into the insular mind-set of intellectual establishments of Japanese society. The book was written by Dr. Ivan Hall, an American scholar widely considered as one of the leading ‘expert on Japan’ who studied about Japan (B.A. and M.A. at Princeton University, and Ph.D. at Harvard University) and have stayed in Japan for more than 20 years under various titles, including Professor (as well as correspondent, cultural diplomat, professor at Gakusyuin University and a few other universities).  Its Japanese translation (1998) carries a short and straight title, ‘Chi No Sakoku’ or ‘Closed Mind of the Intellectuals’.

The content of this book is as follows:

Introduction: “NORMAL COUNTRY” –Foreign Intellectuals Need Not Apply
1. LEGAL LANDING –The Attorney’s Narrow Beachhead
2. SEGREGATED SCRIBES –The Foreign Correspondents
3. ACADEMIC APARTHEID –The Peripheral Professoriategr
4. PASSING PRESENCES –Scientific Researchers and Foreign Students
5. MANIPULATED DIALOGUE –Cowing the Critics
Conclusion: WAKE-UP CALL –Let the Daylight In

Each fact explained in this book is true, and I concur and support his sharp-eyed points.  Please refer to an article of interview with Dr. Hall, or book reviews (Ref.1(amazon.co.jp, in Japanese),  2 (Amazon.com)),    He also gave a lecture in Japan three yeas ago.(Ref.1 )

The opinion of Dr. Hall is essentially the same as what I have been pointing out repeatedly (Ref. 1, 2, 3 in Japanese) (Ref.4, 5 in English) in this blog posting and elsewhere for a long time. The people with ‘high intellectual levels’ in Japan, university professors are ‘Sakoku (‘closed shop’) (Ref.1 in Japanese, 2 in English ) So naturally universities become deprived of stimuli, thus drawing a wrong vision of future to the students in whose hands our future relies.  A society embracing so many graduates from such universities will suffer from the enhanced spread of ‘Sakoku mind’.  Is this what we want for the future of Japan?  I urge professors of the Japanese universities to be alert and do something about this.

The message of this book resonates with the analysis and opinion of Karel Von Wolfren, a journalist and another ‘expert on Japan’, as expressed in a series of his books such as ‘The Enigma of Japanese Power’ or ‘A False Realities of a Politicized Society (Japanese title: ‘Japan-a system that do not make people happy) ’.

DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) that took over the administration recently went through ‘Jigyo Shiwake (sorting out programs)’, a very open and simple process of cutting budget off from variety of projects and this became a hot topic.  Doesn’t this remind us of ‘Cultural Revolution’ of China sometime ago?  Nobel laureates, Presidents of the universities, etc. from academia expressed deep concern and criticism about it, but people at large seemed to have evaluated this process positively as providing transparency in understanding the process of policy decision process.  There are, on the other hand, criticisms such as objectives not being clear enough, or the decisions being made in too short a time.  Regarding science and technology programs, there were also discussions about how the large-scale research, the Supercomputer project being a typical example, should be conducted.  What do you think?

I think that in a large-scale research we should include foreign specialists in the discussion right from the start of planning and open our large scale facilities to scientists of the world as part of the strategic collaboration of nurturing human resource (Ref.1) (both in Japanese). In many cases, I hear shallow excuses of secondary importance such as large scale facility projects that affect Japanese industry foundation must be run by Japanese only, or including foreigners is a risk to patent safety.

We need to consider more seriously about how the ideas that change the world (Ref.1) emerge and come into shape or who comes up with those great ideas.  In other words, we should do better on the ways we use our policy planning and funding by the public money.  In this context it was good that the new government made policy making process more open to the public.

Again and as always, I must say that scientific community is as ‘Sakoku minded’ as any other Japanese professional community.