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

Japan's Role in Civil Society and its Symbiotic Capacity
SHIBUSAWA Ken / Chief Executive Officer, Shibusawa and Company, Inc.

April 28, 2008
Japan often tends to measure itself against the United States, but the United States has a fundamentally different social basis from that of Japan. Deeply rooted in the American national character is the strong pride of its people that they have built a new society on a barren soil by their own hands. They are often suspicious of government and those in positions of power. Above all, they firmly believe that "We the People" play the leading role in building the American society, as enunciated clearly in the Preamble of the United States Constitution.

In contrast, for the Japanese people, their society is a given that has existed from ancient times. Thus, there is little conscious sense on the part of most Japanese that they have built their society by their own hands. Throughout its long feudal history, the Japanese felt that it was the officials representing the "state" (okuni) who were in charge of governing the society and not "We the People". The prevalent attitude can be summed up as "It isn't my job. I'd rather leave it in the hands of someone else." Such being the national character, no matter how you may try to advocate to them the concept of civil society, wherein the ideas and actions of each individual citizen collectively constitute the social system, they most likely turn a deaf ear.

At the same time, Japan is a society of "eight million" (yaoyorozu) gods and deities. Unlike the absolutism of Western monotheism, there is respect and affection for these numerous gods and deities, who play their part in the civic life. Thus there seems to be an inherent streak in Japanese thought that is conducive to an open and diverse civil society.

Western religions are predicated on the notion of a "contract" whereby those who do good in this world will ascend to heaven in the afterlife, and those who do evil are doomed to go to hell. The Japanese view of religion tends to leave things deliberately ambiguous, without setting them out in clear-cut contractual terms. An individual may be faced with contradictions at times and, as he tries to find his way, it seems to be his own good will at any given moment that guides his actions.

The real world is fraught with contradictions. Setting numerical targets alone often fails to motivate people and move things forward. In a military or profit-seeking organization, the exercise of power under numerical targets may advance things, but this is often not the case in a free society. This is because even though bodies may move physically, hearts are not inspired to move. The real leaders in civil society are those who can naturally inspire and instill a sense of shared purpose in the minds of people without forcing it.

Organizations in the future are likely to move increasingly toward a "symbiotic" model consisting of networks linking a diverse range of actors, rather than a "coercive" model that imposes internal discipline. What distinguishes the symbiotic organizations is that, as is the case with internet societies, people are free to opt in and out. This means that, in the absence of binding rules, it is essential to have the glue of empathy and trust among the members.

"Competitiveness" is one of the most important factors for the sustainability and prosperity of a nation. Japan's shortcomings in this regard have often been talked about. There is another equally important factor for a nation's sustainability and prosperity, and that is its "symbiotic capacity". How does Japan fare in this regard?

Symbiosis does not simply mean "being nice to everybody". It is important to be able to communicate clearly one's own ideas and thoughts on the international arena. I do feel that Japan ranks high in the world in terms of its symbiotic capacity, especially in "innovations through the fusion of diverse cultures". I cannot think of many other countries in the world where a recipe fusing diverse culinary cultures such as "karei udon" (Japanese white noodle with curry-flavoured soup) is invented and becomes a part of the daily life of its citizens. I do hope that there will be active and constructive discussions on Japan's symbiotic capacity.

The writer is Chief Executive Officer, Shibusawa and Company, Inc.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渋澤 健 / シブサワ・アンド・カンパニー株式会社 代表取締役

2008年 4月 28日
日本は米国とよく背比べをするが、米国には根本的に異なる社会基盤がある。荒地から新しい社会を自ら築き上げたという強烈な意識が根付いた国民性を基に、政府など権力に不信感を抱く場合が多く、何より、We The Peopleが社会を築く主役であるという思想が米国憲法の前文において明白に記載されている。








(筆者はシブサワ・アンド・カンパニー株式会社 代表取締役。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Japan's Role in Civil Society and its Symbiotic Capacity