Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

"A Stone Of Another Mountain"
KATO Jumpei / Lecturer at Tokiwa University

April 9, 2004
An old Chinese proverb says "Even a humble stone of another mountain may help polish your jade." It means that you may draw a lesson from inferior people's behavior. Hence the phrase "a stone of another mountain" has been used to denote an unexemplary but instructive behavior of other people.

To this writer the recent two incidents, which respectively happened in the Republic of Korea and Taiwan, namely, the adoption by the South Korean Parliament of the resolution impeaching their President and the turmoil surrounding the Presidential election in Taiwan, seem to be "stones of other mountains" for the Japanese.

Japan has many features in common with these two East Asian neighbors in terms of its attitudes and ways of thinking, as Japan shares common history and culture with them and has ruled them for a given period of time in history.

In our region, that is, East Asia centering on China, the basic political ideal is the politics led by a man of virtue and assisting bureaucrats. It may be described as Platonic "philosopher's rule." In ancient China the Son of Heaven was supposed to oversee domestic politics under the mandate from the Heaven, while assisted by able and knowledgeable bureaucrats selected by rigorous examinations.

In Japan under strong influences of the West, however, since the Meiji period East Asian-style politics has been considered outmoded. After World War II, in particular, democratic principles predominated under strong American influences. Although in actual Japanese politics leaderships by bureaucrats, a tradition of East Asian politics, still lingered on, that was considered as a bad custom to be rectified.

A fair balance has at least been maintained in Japan between Japanese political reality and Western democratic ideals, as Japan experienced parliamentary democracy before the War. Mainstream Japanese are still lukewarm towards the furtherance of direct democratic representation, such as the choice of the Prime Minister by popular vote, as advocated by some political ideologues.

Whereas, in South Korea and Taiwan, enthusiasm with democratization has all of sudden heightened as a reaction against dictatorships. In both South Korea and Taiwan the system of electing the President by popular vote has solidly been installed. The voters grow wilder at each election. This writer wonders if peoples of the two East Asian neighbors have been excessively enthused with democratic fever and have departed too much from their traditional political wisdom.

The politics, the slogan aside, are by nature conservative. The ordinary people are not eager for drastic changes because they are content with the peaceful life of the status quo. Drastic changes may invite backlashes. Is it not a kind of backlash that is happening at present in South Korea and Taiwan?

Even in Japan currently many call for the political reform. For them the desired reform is too slow in coming. I am of the view, however, that the slow reform is better than extremism or turmoil. If the political power had been in the hands of the Parliament in either South Korea or Taiwan, democratic progress might have been slower but immune from the turmoil of today.

The situation in South Korea and Taiwan is "a stone of another mountain" that cautions us not to move too fast for political reforms, tossed about by fickle public sentiment.

The writer is a lecturer of international relations at Tokiwa University. He is a former Ambassador to Belgium and a former Vice-President of the Japan Foundation.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

加藤 淳平 / 常磐大学講師

2004年 4月 9日










一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟