Chapter 15 – Into Japan 1967-68.
BETWEEN FOUR WORLDS: CHINA, RUSSIA, JAPAN AND AUSTRALIA.
BETWEEN FOUR CAREERS and FOUR LANGUAGES
The Early Years – Getting Organised
1. The Hitotsubashi Connection
2. The Ajiken Connection
3. Organising a life in Japan
4. The China Book emerges
I am already well into the second year of my ANU scholarship, having spent the best part of a year trying to finish my China book.
Time to get to Japan and start my PhD fieldwork.
First impressions linger.
As someone once put it, the planes coming to Tokyo’s Haneda airport in those days seemed to make an audible sigh as they sank into the city smog.
First night in Tokyo I set out to test my Japanese at a nearby noodle shop, only to be told that the shop was ‘yatte inai’, or not doing any business that evening.
My Canberra efforts to learn Japanese had not even progressed to the level of knowing the colloquial word for ‘to do’ – yaru.
I still had some way to go.
1. The Hitotsubashi connection
Heinz Arndt, the supervisor for my thesis work at the Australian National University (ANU), had organised for me to be attached to a Professor Kiyoshi Kojima at the well-known, economics/business-centered Hitotsubashi University in the Tokyo outskirts.
Kojima specialised in international economics and spoke good English. My father also had had some connection with Hitotsubashi in the past. I hoped I would be in good hands.
And to some extent I was, in very good hands.
Kojima introduced me to a young official in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry who out of the blue handed me a semi-confidential list (in Japanese) giving details of all Japanese direct
It would provide the basis for my PhD thesis.
Almost overnight a major Tokyo research objective had been achieved.
But I still had to find the details of those investments.
And I was still far from realising my other goal, which was to get to know Japan and its language.
Like all senior Japanese professors, Kojima ran what was called a zemi (seminar) – a collection of deshi (faithful students) who studied and researched under his supervision. I was put in their care.
They were typical university PhD research students – in other words, not a very exciting lot.
Worse, their main objective was to have me help them practice their faltering English.
Since my aim was to improve and practice my faltering Japanese, it was clear we were not going to get very far with each other.
Fortunately Heinz had also given me an introduction to the Institute for Research into the Asian Economies (the Ajia Keizai Kenkyusho, or Ajiken; now known in English as the Institute for Developing Economies).
Their library was well stocked. Their people were helpful and friendly.
My other problem was accommodation.
Eventually I found a room in the house of a faded middle class family in the Kakinoki-zaka (Persimmon Tree Slope) district of the Toritsu-dai suburb, about ten miles to the south of Tokyo.
But it was a long way from Hitotsubashi, on the other side of town, to the west.
Meanwhile I was beginning to realise I was also not going to get very far with Kojima himself.
Soon after my arrival I went to an evening dinner party with him and Peter Drysdale, the PhD scholar from the ANU who had preceded me to Hitotsubashi while I was working on the China desk and later spending two years in Moscow.
The pair of them teamed up to lecture me strongly on the folly of my anti-Vietnam War views.
At the time Kojima was busy dreaming up the concept of a Pacific Free Trade area (PAFTA) to serve as Japan’s main trade partner.
He saw me as continuing to play Drysdale’s former role, namely help his post-graduate seminar students improve their English and help correct the English of the many draft articles he was sending to foreign journals to publicise his PAFTA ideas.
Once again, I could see my determination to learn Japanese rather than help people with their English would be a problem.
Before long I decided I really did not need the Hitotsubashi connection Arndt had kindly arranged for me.
Instead I would do my research work in the well-stocked Ajiken library, much more conveniently located in central Tokyo.
2. The Ajiken Connection
The move to Ajiken was fateful, for several reasons.
As a MITI subsidiary, Ajiken had the budgets and contacts needed for serious work on the Asian, and quite a few other economies.
I would not have to waste any more time with Kojima and his deshi debating the theoretical merits of free trade (which in a world of volatile exchange rate movements and increasing returns to scale are much more complex than the theorists seem to realise).
But by moving to Ajiken I had broken the Kojima-ANU connection which Drysdale had been sent to establish before me at Hitotsubashi.
That would have disappointed Heinz Arndt, and maybe
the ANU itself.
Later Drysdale would be put in charge of ANU efforts to develop a Japan-Australia economic research center, with Kojima and Hitotsubashi as its spearhead into Japan.
Between them they would seek to dominate very large areas of the Japan-Australia academic relationship.
Meanwhile Kojima continued to press on with his unrealistic PAFTA project, and it’s subsequent mutations into what today is known as APEC.
It was originally intended as a Cold War device to draw Japan away from communist Asian attachments – China especially – and have it look towards the Pacific.
It has ended up as a meaningless talkfest with a cast of thousands still supposed to be debating Kojima’s out-dated free trade ideas.
Australia was supposed to go along with this, though reality was later to force its ANU co-founders to move away from anti-China.
It has been a classic example of how the ideas of unworldly but politically minded academics, fed into maws of mindless bureaucracies, can develop a momentum of their own.
3: Making a Life in Japan
Thanks to Ajiken, I was able finally to do some serious research at my own time and pace.
I was also able to begin to ‘discover Japan’ as the popular tourist promotion slogan put it at the time.
And the Toritsu-dai area in those days was the ideal place to start.
Tokyo is not really a city. It is a collection of ‘villages,’ each centered on one or other of the stations strung out like beads along one or other of the railway and subway lines radiating from the central district.
(Only on the outskirts do we run into those soulless Soviet-style New Towns thrown up in the immediate postwar years with their rows of identical houses or danchi condominiums.)
Each village has its separate existence and identity, complete with a full range of shops and other services, almost as if the next ‘village’ down or up the line did not exist.
Within its boundaries, residents can find a warmth and community, somewhat like what they would have had if they had stayed in their original farming villages.
I too was to enjoy the same feelings, in the infinity of tiny bars, eating places and shops surrounding the Toritsu-dai station near the room I was renting.
One little bar in particular was a mind-changer.
I would walk past it each evening on my way home from Ajiken. From inside I could hear the very particular rhythm of relaxed and slightly inebriated Japanese male conversation, and smell the sweet fumes of grilled chicken yakitori.
One night I decided nervously to open the door, even if only to see what went on inside.
Immediately I was called inside: ‘gaijin-san, haire nasai.’ (come on in, Mr Foreigner).
Someone moved up to give me a stool alongside the others, with the mama-san on the other side of the counter.
Someone else offered to help me order.
And one in particular – a salary-man he called himself – went out of his way to make me feel welcome and chat with me in the basic Japanese I could understand.
In just a few minutes I was made to feel part of this tiny community of locals – builders, writers, teachers etc – who lived nearby and relied on the mama-san each evening to feed and look after them.
I too became a regular client, with the salary-man continuing to give me special attention (later I found he was the boyfriend of the mama-san).
Early spring, 1968, they got me to join their hanami – cherry blossom viewing – with the mama-san on the banks of the nearby Tama river.
Soon after, when they knew I had to leave to go back to Australia, they organised a little farewell party for me.
And these were the same Japanese who in many foreigner imaginations and textbooks were supposed to be resolutely exclusivist and anti-foreign.
As I discovered many times later, in Japan you are either inside the group or outside.
From outside there is little you can do to get inside, whether you are Japanese or foreign, though sometimes the foreigner has the slight advantage of novelty value.
But if for some reason you have been placed inside the group you may be given full credentials as a member, even if you do look different and cannot speak the language well.
And sometimes getting inside the group involves little more than opening the door of a bar and walking in.
That said, making friends with educated Japanese was not easy in those early days.
The psychological and other gaps between Japan and the West were still wide.
Among Japanese women at least, we foreigners still carried some of the stigma from the Occupation days.
But a British Embassy contact introduced me to a professor of English at a local university. He was said to be an expert on Shakespeare but could hardly speak the language – a typical victim of the Japanese education system.
The professor then introduced me to his deshi and they tried to look after me. That gave me my first real break into ordinary Japanese society.
I will always be grateful.
I was not so fortunate with the Australian Embassy.
It had me black-listed as a dangerous anti-Vietnam war protestor.
Fortunately my one contact at the Embassy – a junior third secretary, Richard Broinowski, and his wife Alison – took me under their wings and invited me to the occasional party.
(Richard later went on to become an ambassador to various countries and head of the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Ali carved out her own equally active foreign affairs role.)
That gave me some more introductions into the world of Japan.
But by far my most important introduction to Japan was to come from within Ajiken itself.
Her name was Yasuko Tanno.
She came from Sendai to the north of Japan, and had studied English literature at Tohoku University.
She worked in the Ajiken library where I was trying to pore through difficult Japanese economic texts.
We would often lunch together in the Ajiken cafeteria.
Soon we were into swimming at the nearby public pool after work, evening meals at nearby yakitori shops and then on into the Tokyo night.
(Some years later we were to have two sons, Dan and Ron.)
With her I was to have many happy memories.
One was taking the train from Tokyo to the Boso Peninsula with her on a bitterly cold February evening, checking in at an inn at the tip of the peninsula only a two hours away to the south from Tokyo, and waking the next morning to a scene of greenery and flowers.
Spring had arrived already, only 100 kilometers to the south of Tokyo.
We also began to discover some of the great hiking country in the hills to the west of Tokyo.
A mere one hour by train from Tokyo brought one to a world of deep forests, unspoiled villages, winding valleys, temples and shrines hidden high on the ridges plus overnight stays in mountain huts and inns.
Those experiences would do much to bring me back to Japan a year or two later.
In between excursions I would work on my Japanese with Yasuko’s help. I would also try to keep up with my thesis work.
Heinz at the ANU was trying to encourage me as much as possible.
He even got me to write something for his Indonesian economic bulletin on Japan’s investment in Indonesian resource development.
That made some of my research efforts finally look worthwhile.
In short, life was beginning to look up.
But the news from Vietnam was a constant agony — daily gloating reports of bombing raids and body counts coming over FEN, the US military English-language radio station in Japan.
Unbelievably, one broadcast proudly compared the alleged ‘bravery’ of US troops in Vietnam with the exploits of Buffalo Bill against the native Indians in North America.
As others have pointed out, the US success in crushing the American Indians provided the US military with much of the rationale for its scorched earth policies used in the occupation of the Philippines a few decades later.
Clearly the tradition had carried over to Vietnam.
In the Tokyo bars and clubs one would come up against crass US military types on R and R leave from that atrocity.
Meanwhile, I had received the proofs of my China book from Lansdowne to correct, and written in the hope of ending that atrocity.
4. The China Book: The Proofs Emerge
The publisher had done his best. But neither he nor I had much experience with academic books.
I was forced to realise even more painfully than before the damage those nice people at the ANU and Melbourne University presses had caused me.
They had succeeded in at least one of their ambitions, namely to make sure that any serious critic of government policies would be denied whatever academic respectability they could provide.
But I am getting ahead of my story.