chapter  12
13 Pages

Post-war political and politico-moral attitudes

Japanese political and social consciousness, it would appear, have come a long way since the regimented days of the militarist ascendancy that culminated in the crushing defeat of 1945. Preoccupations and concerns are now different, not least in relation to the question of war. Even the focus of concern over regimentation appears to have changed, with some anxiety now being exercised over the potentialities for excess that may arise out of the continuation of the nation's at present highly successful course of rapid advance into computerization. That attitudes should have changed so much is, of course, the result of the dramatic change in Japan's political directions following the defeat. That the change was largely imposed by circumstances and by the Allies makes it in no way any the less real. As Ruth Benedict remarks, I Japan has in the course of history shown itself capable of changing course with remarkable unanimity and resolve when once it has been clearly demonstrated that the old course no longer fits the bill. In August 1945 merely, one speech from the Emperor was sufficient to signify the change in direction. Of course, such a change - any major change - is not achieved without trauma, and the literature of Japan's postwar years is replete with instances both factual and fictitious, realistic and allegorical, of the confusion and shock resulting from the defeat, and the abandonment of previously stridently heralded values. It is out of that state of confusion and shock that the new values have arisen. Japan's present political and economic course appears to be successful. It has, after all, brought the nation unparalleled prosperity and industrial prominence. It is not, however, without its price in terms of the erosion of old cherished values such as frugality and austerity,

and even the single-minded pursuit of the national interest through commercialism and competition may have to be modified in the light of Japan's impact on the rest of the world and on the way she is herself perceived and accepted by it. New forms of regimentation and new forms of personal and social stress have moved into the forefront to take the place of the old. Most of them existed before; it is simply their intensity that has increased. The pressures of the educational treadmill and its associated 'examination hell', the formal routine of office life, the long-distance commuting, and the overcrowding are all problems with deep pre-war roots. In a society with greater affluence and higher expectations the pressures created by them simply loom all the larger, and should a change in the economic climate bring about a sudden diminution of prospects for those walking the tightrope to success or a serious reduction in the number of those whose tireless efforts are likely to be rewarded, the result may well be another era of trauma. The lid of the steam-kettle may blow, and political changes at present unthinkable to the current leadership may be on their way. Such notions are freely canvassed by Jon Woronoff in Japan: The Coming Social Crisis2 and Japan: The Coming Economic Crisis.3 Should either such crisis occur we need not be surprised if the Japanese nation once again changes course. In an apt metaphor taken from sailing it may be said that Japan at present is on a highly successful tack. But all tacks run out sooner or later either because of a change of wind or because the optimum mileage in anyone particular direction has already been gained and a change must be made if the ship is not to be blown hopelessly off course. Japan has demonstrated the capacity to make such tactical changes with relative smoothness and resolve, and thereafter to pursue the new tack with a remarkable degree of harmonious accord. This is not to say, however, that the moment of change is not a moment of trauma. Tensions arising, and especially tensions mounting, during one particular successful tack may well be indications of the nature of the trauma to come and indeed of the direction that may be followed after. It is in this sense that contemporary literature, and especially a forward-looking, speculative genre of literature such as science fiction may be particularly revealing and helpful in enabling the observer to discern those trends in popular discourse which may indicate the nation's points of mounting tension and concern. Of course, no claim can be made that science fiction will give us

the answers or even prophesy the eventual outcome among the many possible futures that it considers. It is, however, a significant barometer of human fears and concerns, and certainly right in its insistent assumption that the present will not stand still. As such it is an important source of ideas to be included in the general appreciation of human discourse by those whose wish it is to ponder the question of future directions.