What Prime Minister Nakasone
really said about intelligence

By William Wetherall

Two versions of this article appeared in The Japan Times.

The Japan Times, 26 November 1986, page 11 (Topics in Focus)

The Japan Times Weekly, 13 December 1986, page 8 (Issues)
(International airmail edition of The Japan Times)

The blue phrases appeared in only The Japan Times version.
The purple paragraph appeared in only The Japan Times Weekly version.


An Intelligent Society
Political Mission
Know Thyselves [Identity]
Miraculously Literate
Compassionate Climate

What Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone really said about ethnic "intelligence" and literacy in his speech at the annual Liberal-Democratic Party National Seminar in Shizuoka on the evening of October September 22 quickly became overshadowed by foreign and domestic reactions to the first reports of what he had said, and then by reactions to his explanations and apologies. Some of the many editorials and commentaries might have concluded differently had their writers considered the context of his now infamous remarks.

This report is half a summary and half a translation of the parts of the speech which have a bearing on what Nakasone implied or left to inference. It is based on the full transcript which appeared in the November issue of Chuo Koron. Grammatical and semantic interpolations in directly quoted lines are shown in parentheses.

The transcript fills about 16 magazine pages, and at 25,000 characters it is roughly quadruple the policy speech which Nakasone delivered on September 12 before the 107th session of the National Diet. The Shizuoka speech repeats and expands upon much of what was said in the Diet speech, which was partly rehearsed at a late-August LDP seminar in Karuizawa and in even earlier speeches.

An Intelligent Society

About one-third of the way through the Shizuoka speech, Nakasone warned party supporters that the rhythm and tempo of Japanese society had greatly accelerated, and that the people (kokumin) would no longer follow the inefficient and poky politics of the past. Japan, he claimed, is now a "high-level-information society" (kodo joho shakai) and a "close, vibrant society" (nomitsu gekido shakai). In other words, he explained, Japan is an archipelago the size of California, crammed with 120 million people who, at half the population of the United States, produce half the goods and national income of the entire U.S. (and can therefore boast an equivalent productivity and national income).

In a world where technology an and the mass media are so highly developed, Nakasone continued, the people of Japan are daily exposed to all kinds of television news and commentary programs. "And there is no society in which, to the extent of Japanese society, that information is so abundant, and comes so naturally into (one's head) if (one) sees it."

"And there is no country which puts such diverse information so accurately (seikaku ni) into the ears (of its people). It has become a very intelligent society (interijento-na sosaetii). Against the likes of America it is by far so (Amerika nanka yori haruka ni so), when seen from averages."

"In America there are many blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans, and seen on an average, (America's per capita level of intelligence, as gained through education and the mass media) is still extremely low. Because (Japan) is such a dense (komitsu), vibrant society, a high-level-information society, a highly educated society, a society in which people are so vibrant, unless (our party's) politics continually progress to suit the people's appetite for knowledge/information/intelligence (kokumin no chishikiyoku), (our party) will falter."

Political Mission

Nakasone's trinity is a spiritual union of "the people" (kokumin), "our state" (waga kokka), and "our party" (waga to). In his view, the party exists to serve both the state and the people, by democratically providing the people with the state which the party thinks the people want or need.

But Nakasone also believes that the state has weakened because the people have been losing their ethnic identity. So one of the party's greatest missions is to educate the people to have ethnic pride. And a major part of his Shizuoka speech was a plea for a view of history which reflects honor on the "Japanese race" (Nippon minzoku).

Nakasone devoted the final third of his speech to the three great turning points which he foresees in world affairs. The first concerns the impact of U.S.-Soviet relations, and the second involves the effects of future technology developments. He hopes for a successful Moscow-Washington summit, and he looks forward to a translation machine that will enable his compatriots to speak English with foreigners by speaking Japanese (which is what many try to do anyway).

The third major anticipated reform is the transformation of Japan into an "international state" (kokusai kokka). Though Nakasone touched upon this topic at the end of his recent Diet speech, he gave it much more attention in the Shizuoka speech.

Know Thyselves

In his September 12 policy speech, Nakasone said:

"The true meaning of 'the realization of the international state Japan' (kokusai kokka Nippon no jitsugen--alluding to the phrase he used at the outset of the speech) is to build a Japan which assumes responsibility in the peace and prosperity of the world, from a 'Japan in the world' to a 'Japan which is together with the world' and a 'Japan which contributes to the world.' In order to do this, it is necessary that we first accurately (seikaku ni) know 'Japan' itself, and then inform foreign countries of this accurate 'Japan' (seikaku na 'Nippon')."

In the Shizuoka speech he said:

"In order to advance along the course of an international state (kokusai kokka no michi e zenshin suru), what is most important as one aspect (hanmen) of this transformation into an international state), is that (we Japanese) must know Japan itself. In other words, (this) is often called identity, (and this) is the identity argument (giron). Know not thyselves, and comparisons and contrasts (taihi) (of Japan) with other countries cannot be made. Accordingly one aspect of this concept (hasso) of progressing toward an international state, to know ourselves means (hazu) that (Japan) must be studied with the same energy (that we expend on becoming an international state in the sense of contributing to world peace and prosperity)."

Whence comes such self-understanding and identity? "To some extent it will usher from cultural theories about Japan, the geopolitical character of Japan, or its spiritual history, or its relations with the continent, all aspects of cultural influences and relations from and with India, China, and Korea, the spiritual anatomy that our ancestors have had since the Jomon period of Japan, even from Ainu studies."

Nakasone observed that the world's oldest pottery has been found in Japan. It was made 12,000 years ago, which predates the earliest evidence of pottery in Mesopotamia by 4,000 years. Since documents before the Kojiki and Nihon shoki no longer exist, Japan's prehistory is not well understood. So one pursues the past in mystery novels, or through cultural anthropology, comparative culture, and archaeology.

By thus knowing Japan itself, one can know Japan's strengths and weaknesses, and can improve Japanese culture, and can contribute to the world. In this sense, knowing one's own identity is essential to Japan's becoming an international state.

Though Nakasone had run out of time, he outlined a version of Japanese history which emphasizes Japan's world-class achievements. He credited the overview to a book on the formation and development of early-modern Japanese civilization, by National Ethnology Museum (Osaka) Director Umesao Tadao. He had read a copy of the book this summer, sent him by the author himself, with whom he is on good terms.

Miraculously Literate

Umesao subscribes to the theory of simultaneous invention, which holds that cultural development is synchronous and parallel (doji heiko hassei ron). Nakasone said that, miraculously, East and West have been progressing with the same forms of civilization.

Innovations did not emerge in Japan after first coming from Europe. Feudalism appeared in Europe and Japan at about the same time. There were castles in both Europe and Japan, and the relationship between lord and knight was the same as that between lord and samurai.

Next came the period of absolute monarchy. Just as France had its Louis XIV before the French Revolution, and in Germany there was the unification of the German empire, in Japan there was the Tokugawa period, according to Umesao as reported by Nakasone.

Commercial capital considerably expanded during the Tokugawa period, and a bourgeoisie emerged. Japan came to have a very close, idiosyncratic culture (kiwamete nomitsu-na dokutoku no bunka).

"But what is surprising is that, during the Tokugawa period, the literacy rate (shikijiritsu), or the illiteracy rate (monmoritsu) was about 50 percent. Even in the world (at that time) education in Japan was advanced, (they) knew how to read and write (ji o shitte iru). At that time, the countries of Europe (could boast literacy rates of) no more than (seizei) 20 or 30 percent. In America even now among blacks there are many (zuibun) who don't know how to read or write (ji o shiranai).


Nakasone talked for the equivalent Of another page about the achievements of Japanese culture during the Tokugawa period, and about Japanese history in the context of the history of all civilization, as revealed to him by Umesao.

He said that he had talked with Umesao about the African Australopithecus, which some anthropologists believe to have been the earliest human being, and also about Neanderthal man and Peking man, and that he had asked Umesao whether he thought that such sub-species stemmed from an original species somewhere. Umesao reportedly said that their development was "synchronous and poly-occurrent" (doji tahatsu).

"I don't know if he is right," Nakasone admitted, "but I very strongly feel that humankind has, (down to) now, existed synchronously and poly-occurrently (jinrui ga imaya doji-tahatsu-teki ni sonzai shita)" (which all but endorses a polygenic theory of racial origins).

Even in Africa, Nakasone continued, various animals thrive in segregated habitats, despite what is said about the law of the jungle in Darwin's theory of evolution. Thus "lions live in a world of lions, zebras live in a world of zebras, and rhinoceroses live in a world of rhinoceroses." Some are attacked and eaten by others, but ordinarily they survive apart.

So the strong do not necessarily eat the meat of the weak (jakuniku kyoshoku). Nakasone attributed this theory of habitat segregation (sumiwake no riron) to Gifu University Emeritus Professor of Anthropology Imanishi Kinji, and said that a variety of such (original) arguments are emerging from Japan.

Compassionate Climate

Nakasone then reiterated the Buddhist philosophy he extolled in his speech before the 104th session of the Diet on Jan. 27 this year, and also before the United Nations in 1985 in commemoration of its 40th anniversary. Japanese, he said, think that "In heaven and on earth, only I alone am worthy" (tenjo tenge yuiga dokuson), and "The mountains and rivers, and the plants and trees, one and all become Buddhas" (sansen somoku shikkai jobutsu)--or, variously, "The plants and trees, and the land of the country, one and all become Buddhas" (somoku kokudo shikkai jobutsu).

Nakasone argued that such great thoughts developed in Asia, and consequently Japanese believe in the dignity of human beings and other animals, and value all life and seek to coexist with other people and nature, because Asia has monsoons.

Christianity must have gotten its doctrine of love from Asia, perhaps through the fusion of Buddhist and Greek philosophy at the time of Alexander the Great. The Ten Commandments are a product of desert life, where "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" principles prevail. How could Christian love have been born in a world which depends on contracts (keiyaku)?

The world today so badly needs a philosophy of coexistence and symbiosis with humankind and nature that Japan should share its fundamental Asian philosophy of love and respect with other countries. "In this sense, fathoming Japan's identity will become still more important the more scientific civilization develops."

"(Fathoming Japan's identity) is also important from aspects like the honor of the Japanese race (Nihon minzoku no meiyo), the height of (our racial?) spirituality (seishinsei no takasa), and academic interest in knowing our (racial?) origins (wareware no kongen)."

The Liberal-Democratic Party does not seek only votes or material gain. Its ultimate goal, Nakasone concluded, is to "maintain this state, make this world prosper, and protect peace."