A view of American politics from post-World War II Japan

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By Tom Holmes

Contributing Reporter / Religion Blogger

A view of American politics from post-World War II Japan


I just finished a book written right after World War II called Mount Fuji and Mount Sinai, by Kosuke Koyama in which he criticizes Japanese culture from the perspective of American culture.

It dawned on me that we can use Koyama's book to think about how we do presidential elections from the point of view of Japanese who lived through the fire bombing of Tokyo in the 1940s.


There is, he said, a part of Japanese culture that doesn't insist on one's own way.  "It struck me at that time," he wrote, "as I read the story[Abraham and Lot, Gen 13:1ff] that not to insist upon having the first choice is a mark of being 'religious'.  Such non-insistence suggests a life style expectant of an open-future.  There is a hint of spiritual beauty in non-insistence.(p.5)

I thought about the negative campaign advertising, the battle between Mayor Immanuel and the CTU and the gridlock in Congress.  What if we had some of that Japanese non-insistense in our culture?


Koyama compares the Buddhist outlook on history with that of Christians.  He wrote, "The Sinai tradition is, in essence, that tradition which is to do with this God who keeps communication with us from God's own side.  God refuses to be frustrated by our faithlessness.  The Christian God does not give up our world.  God comes back to our history and to our world again and again. The Prajna-paramita of Mahayana Buddhism teaches us to become detached from this world and to go to "the beyond' this world.  The Christian God is agitated."(p. 11)

 Some detachment is necessary for survival, of course, but has the pendulum swung to the side of non-engagement on the part of many of us?


Koyama argues that pre-World War II Japan got into the thinking that they and their culture were number one.  He wrote, "It requires, almost always, some religious rhetoric in order to mobilize a nations to war.  Self-righteousness is the source of parochialism.  All nations are self-righteous. The identification of one's own country as a righteous nation is idolatry. The devastating effect of the edging out of reason by political mythology is that soon ethics will be ousted."(pp. 23,34,35)


Gov. Romney and Pres. Obama have been debating about how free free trade should be and how much it should be regulated.  Following is a word from a guy from the Japan which bought into capitalism big time after the war:  "Greed plays a dominating motif for capitalism, also that greed is by definition irresponsible. . . .Traditional cultures are acquainted with the paradoxical image of an "inefficient posture" that makes space meaningful. . . .Cosmos-oriented, traditional cultures are enchantment-cultures. . . .This is the point at which technology and the holy conflict.  That which is controlled cannot be holy. . . .Technology, by its very function, seems to foster secularization. . . .The increase of self is the most fascinating of all human experience.  'My' increase makes me feel more secure, more righteous, more authentic, more religious, more divine. . . .The God of the Bible does not condemn increase as such.  Increase becomes idolatrous when it is achieved by the suppression or oppression of parts of the community."(pp. 108,132,133,135,216)

My concluding thought is, "Those who don't read history are bound to repeat it."

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