Situated at the extreme eastern end of the known world, an isolated island with her back to the Pacific, Japan has never achieved a position, culturally speaking, as a cooperating member of the international community. It is true that Buddhist and Confucian culture were introduced by way of Korea and imported directly from China; and that four hundred years ago Catholicism was introduced and showed signs of spreading with striking rapidity before being suppressed for political reasons. But in return for what Japan received from other cultures, what had she to offer other peoples?
Since 1868 European and American culture and institutions have been introduced to Japan, but whereas the assimilation of Buddhism and Confucianism had extended even to their underlying ways of thought, the transplanting of Western culture and institutions was done in such a way that they could send down no deep roots here. Our society has been culturally no more than a colony of Europe. Faced by the urgent need to fashion a centralized state, to develop the material prosperity of the nation, to revise the unequal treaties which had humiliated us internationally, Japan could not help but take a superficial and imitative approach to the adoption of Western culture. What we imported was, in a word, the individualism of the Enlightenment and the material technology--the natural science--of the West. Such tendencies were quite characteristic of the exponents of Europeanization in the Meiji Era, who believed that this type of culture actually represented Western Civilization. Therefore it was not at all surprising that in reaction to this there should have appeared the exponents of Japan's "national polity." They mistook individualism and materialism for Western culture, and opposed to it a Japanese culture stressing collectivism and the national spirit. The surprising thing is that the exponents of the latter should have become in practical politics the spokesmen for militarism and state power.
At the beginning of her history Japan kept her doors completely open to the world. Today Japan finds herself thrown completely into the maelstrom of world politics and world culture. Because of this, we should remember, we have acquired new responsibilities to the peoples of the world and to our times. To fulfill these responsibilities is the highest destiny of the Japanese people. Japan must not only fulfill her own peculiarly creative mission among the peoples of the world, but realize her universal mission. Japan possesses her own characteristic moral convictions and fine social traditions which are a legacy from Buddhism and Confucianism. Of these she must preserve all that is good. The Oriental peoples, including the Japanese, have always recognized the natural law. This natural law is the common spiritual basis uniting the cultures of East and West. Faith in her own national moral values could be for a reborn Japan her qualification as a member of the world community of peoples, giving us for the first time in our history a sense of Japan's place and mission in the world, and providing a spiritual bond between East and West, as well as a firm basis for world peace.
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© Paul Halsall, July 1998