Courtesy Reuters

Japan in Neutral

An American traveling in Japan is likely to feel that he has passed through the looking glass. For millions of Japanese-conceivably a majority-the United States' presence in their islands is not a protection, but a provocation. China is seen not as a menace, but as a growling giant caught in a web of problems. The aggressive speeches of Lin Piao and Chen Yi do not mean what they say, but are merely traditional Chinese exaggeration and bluster. The American effort in Viet Nam may be in the national interest of the United States, the Japanese say, but of no one else.

The visitor's somewhat eerie feeling is enhanced by innumerable paradoxes: Japan is governed by a conservative coalition with an ample majority, but is dominated politically and intellectually by the left; the much abused Americans are, according to public-opinion polls, by far the best liked foreigners; the United Nations is overwhelmingly popular, yet no politician dare suggest that Japan contribute to its peacekeeping forces, as allowed by the Constitution; a nation which probably translates more foreign writing for home consumption than any other seems isolated intellectually; a society reputed to be the most avid for what is au courant appears strangely behind the times, whether it be in its Marxism or its business practices; and, finally, in a country inundated by political verbiage and deeply divided on basic issues, there is almost no serious debate.

It is not hard to trace the causes of these and many other inconsistencies. It is more difficult to see how Japan will find her way out of them so that she can achieve greater purpose and clearer policy. Twenty years is a long time, as Japanese are fond of reminding Americans on Okinawa, but Japan continues to drift. Weak leadership and a limited view of what is politically feasible leaves the initiative to the leftists, who seek to accomplish in the streets what they cannot achieve in the Diet. Democracy survives but does not grow.

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