Japan from the inside out

Nakada Hiroshi on equality

Posted by ampontan on Thursday, March 18, 2010

SIR ISAAC NEWTON’S Third Law of Motion states: “To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.”

Newton’s law applies as equally to political trends as it does to physics; nothing sharpens political minds and messages as much as being forced into the opposition. During the latter part of the Koizumi administration and the start of the Abe administration, those in Japan who fancy social democracy used income differentials between individuals and national regions to frame their opposition. The national news media abetted them in the promotion of that narrative.

Nakada Hiroshi

Mr. Koizumi dismissed the argument by pointing out that such differences are to be expected as a natural consequence of life itself, but he was one of the few politicians anywhere with both the self-assurance and the political skills to deflect such criticism so easily. He voluntarily stepped down as the head of government after more than five years in office with an approval rating of 70%.

The current Hatoyama administration is often described in the English-language news media as “center-left”, but their centrism is of the European statist variety. That has generated a Newtonian reaction in the opposite direction. Masuzoe Yoichi, who currently leads opinion polls as the man Japanese would like to see as their next prime minister, is presenting himself as a small-government Koizumian favoring individual responsibility and regional devolution.

Another politician with national ambitions who is honing the same message is Nakada Hiroshi from Yokohama. Mr. Nakada served in the lower house of the Diet for nine years and then as mayor of Yokohama for seven. He began his career as a member of the New Party. That was a strange duck of a group that included Hosokawa Morihiro, the first non-LDP prime minister of Japan after 1955, small government/strong defense supporter Koike Yuriko, and former socialist and DPJ member Eda Satsuki. He later helped form the New Frontier Party, which was an early vehicle for Ozawa Ichiro after he left the LDP.

Mr. Nakada received the support of the DPJ in his election campaigns, and was loosely affiliated with them as a Diet member. That ended when he cast his vote for Koizumi Jun’ichiro as prime minister in 2001.

His philosophy remains unchanged. He recently published a short article on his website that could have been written by any small government/big liberty advocate in the United States or Great Britain. What sets this article apart, however, is his reference of a Japanese historical figure as inspiration. Here it is in English.


Toward a Japan that Seeks Equality of Opportunity, not Equality of Results

The opening passage of Gakumon no Susume (An Encouragement of Learning, by Fukuzawa Yukichi) that “Heaven does not create one man above or below another man” is often cited by those who preach that all people are equal.

But that passage is qualified by the phrase, “It is said that”. In other words, the statement is connected to a phrase that contains the opposite meaning.

Fukuzawa follows that by saying, “Any existing distinction between the wise and the stupid…comes down to a matter of education.” In short, all people are not the same. He is explaining that one’s life changes depending on whether one studies.

After the war, Japan became permeated with the thinking that everybody and everything was equal. But equality of opportunity and equality of result are completely different.

One of the premises of the debates over differences (in income, etc.) that are frequently heard today is that we must have equality in opportunity for the education that children receive, even if their parents have different incomes. But their results in school and the results of their efforts in society will not be equal. That leads to a tendency to pursue equality of results after the initial effort, and, going further back, to a debate that calls into question the parents’ differences in income itself.

The backdrop to An Encouragement of Learning was the ardent sentiment that unless the people united to raise their level of education, they would not be able to catch up to the Western powers. In accord with Fukuzawa Yukichi’s message, the people as a group improved their level of education, and Japan established a strong foundation as a modern nation.

A society in which people who work hard are rewarded…Unless we return to a society based on those conditions, which is the natural order of things, the vitality of our country will continue to wane.


The likeness of Fukuzawa Yukichi is on the 10,000 yen note, so everyone has an idea of what he looked like as an older man. Here is a photograph of him as a younger man in 1862. His intelligence is palpable.

2 Responses to “Nakada Hiroshi on equality”

  1. I recently wrote a paper to be presented next month at NISS2010 on restructuring the allocation of resources for EFL/ESL in East Asia, which argues something similar. Apportioning equal resources to each and every student irrespective of their English ability, aptitude and motivation (AAM) is inefficient, and the educational value of resources could be improved significantly by affording preferential treatment to those who have higher AAM. Those with low AAM could either be given the choice whether to study English (many don’t wish to), or alternatively simply be excluded. The net use of English teaching resources would remain about constant, but would be better utilized, and the overall level of English in a society would increase. So the pursuit of an equality of results is inherently inefficient, and a hierarchical proportioning of resources is to be preferred.
    RM: Thanks for that. Your paper sounds interesting.

    When would you start the preferential treatment? Junior high school?
    If so–and this is not to disagree with your premise–do you think there is no value in exposing a junior high school student to some foreign language (not necessarily English) for general educational purposes? Students by that time also study geometry, for example (in Japan, anyway). I’ve never had occasion to use geometry after my final exam in the course, and I probably would never have taken it if given the choice, but exposure to it was not without peripheral benefit, if only to exercise my mind in an unaccustomed way.

    It’s a different story with high school and university, of course.

    – A.

  2. σ1 said

    I think you both make good points and it has something I have often thought would be useful in Japan’s case. Exposure to learning a foreign language in itself is important – often the process is more valuable to the child’s educational development than the outcome. Nevertheless, its obvious to anyone who has taught at a JHS or above that there is a massive waste of resources devoted to teaching to the middle in class – at least the ones I have experience of. Furthermore, I believe is not just motivation and ability, but due to language teaching pedagogy. As if to add insult to injury those who are interested and want to get good at English often use eikaiwa, costing the parents more.

    Given that Japan is prosperous country and not likely to lose its Japanese identity anytime soon, I think accepting that not everyone needs to know English is perfectly reasonable. Unlike some countries, it is not a guaranteed ticket out of poverty. Focusing current resources at a later stage on those who are interested in learning, English, Korean, and Chinese, maybe even Vietnamese or something would I think create a lot of value (along with a more truly communicative approach than is now “used”) – maybe aim for 50% coverage of students would be fine – from this I think you would capture those that are interested – and interest is an important component for students getting something out of it, and I think some added relevancy and variety would come with its own dividends.

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