The `Keep Out' Signs On Japan's Professions


Japan's Intellectual Closed Shop

By Ivan P. Hall

Norton 208pp $25

Practically everyone knows how hard it is to win access to the Japanese market. But few grasp the pervasive cultural nationalism that keeps Japan's legal, journalistic, academic, and research professions so closed to outsiders. Fewer still understand the connection between such exclusionism and the country's better-known market barriers. In Cartels of the Mind: Japan's Intellectual Closed Shop, Ivan Hall illuminates all these matters.

Hall, a leading authority on Japanese intellectual history with a PhD from Harvard University, demonstrates passionately and persuasively that cartels aren't only economic. In painstaking but highly readable detail, he exposes the cultural and structural barriers Japan has erected to preserve its traditional insularity.

Hall devotes a chapter to each of several professions, beginning with the law. Japan's deliberately restricted ranks of litigators and judges are so thin that the process of winning a legal remedy can take decades. Worse yet, the practices of foreign lawyers operating in Japan are severely circumscribed by bar association rules. They can't hire Japanese lawyers, can't form true partnerships with Japanese law firms, can't litigate Japanese law, and stand a much lower chance of passing bar exams than do Japanese lawyers in the U.S.: A quota allows only 700 out of about 25,000 applicants each year to pass. One result, Hall argues, is that foreign companies lack adequate legal representation in Japan.

Then there are the kisha kurabu, or press clubs. These elite reporters' groups enjoy privileged relationships with most of Japan's major institutions, including government ministries, corporations, and labor unions. Nonmembers are excluded from many important press conferences and briefings. And the kisha clubs are generally closed to anyone who is not employed by a major Japanese news outlet. So this leaves out foreign correspondents. The implications of this practice are growing: Only after a bitter battle was Blooomberg Business News, upon which many in journalism and the financial markets depend, able to win membership in the club attached to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Prior to October, 1993, the service could merely watch as its Japanese competitors received breaking business news first.

Hall goes on to describe the "academic apartheid" that afflicts Japanese universities. Himself a victim of such discrimination, having been terminated by at least two Japanese universities that had promised him tenure, he is not an impartial observer. But he nonetheless documents a compelling case of universities' mistreatment of foreign professors. Most foreigners who have been promised eventual tenure, he shows, have been fired. This derives at least partially from a 1992 Education Ministry directive that threatened to cut the budgets of universities that had foreign instructors in the top two pay grades.

"It is as though the U.S. Department of Education had ordered the leading U.S. universities to ease out all non-Americans in their forties and fifties," Hall writes. Yet non-American senior professors abound in the U.S., as he demonstrates.

Moreover, the number of exchange students and foreign researchers in Japan is smaller than the number of Japanese studying or performing research overseas, Hall shows. He attributes this mainly to cultural bias and argues persuasively that the result serves Japan's interests.

Nearly all of the barriers Hall addresses are cultural, which makes them more difficult to dismantle than if they were a matter of law. The restrictions on lawyers and the press, for example, are enforced by the Japanese legal and journalistic professions, albeit with government acquiescence. It's much the same in academia and R&D, although the Ministry of Education's effort to eliminate older foreign teachers shows a visible government hand.

What does this "intellectual closed shop" mean in a larger context? For one thing, Japan is not living up to its international responsibilities and obligations. "Intellectual parsimony on such a grand scale," Hall writes, "is simply not worthy of the world's second economic power as it seeks a permanent seat on the [U.N.] Security Council and aspires to political leadership at the regional and global levels."

Moreover, Japan's cartels of the mind also work against Japan's interests, Hall maintains, in that they limit intellectual understanding and public dialogue. Opening the kisha clubs, for example, "would force Japanese leaders (and journalists) to hear, and respond to, the questions that are most on the minds of the outside world," Hall argues, "creating for the first time a genuinely open and nonmanipulated dialogue between Japan and its partners." Among Hall's suggestions for breaking down the walls: reciprocity for foreign law firms in Japan, giving them the same scope of activity that Japanese lawyers have in other lands, and similar treatment for foreign teachers in Japan, something the Ministry of Education could easily promote.

Japan's cartels of the mind lie at the junction of mercantilist institutional barriers and attitudinal xenophobia, says the author. By helping to clarify this, Hall sheds new light on Japanese exclusiveness. Anyone seeking to fathom the country's behavior toward the outside world should read his book.

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