May 8, 2014

The Cultural Trade Deficit: Japanese Intellectuals, Let’s Speak Out in English

It’s often said that the Japanese cultural trade deficit is very large.

Japanese intellectuals who can speak foreign languages have been earning money by bringing foreign knowledge and information into Japan. Most of them haven’t been interested in expressing their thoughts to the world, because it is much easier for them to import foreign knowledge and sell it in Japan.

It’s might not be bad that there are rich collections of Japanese translations of foreign books, but there are much fewer translations of Japanese books. Haruki Murakami is a complete exception.

Through the experience of keeping a blog in English I have realized that Japanese intellectuals should speak out in English to the world much more.

Firstly, remarks by Japanese intellectuals in English have value because of their scarcity at this time. When I write in English on my blog, I found that my opinion was unique because of my Japanese origin, even if I don’t try intentionally insisting on a Japanese point of views. We, as Japanese intellectuals, have a duty to provide our unique point of views to the world.

Now, many non-Western countries fail to build democratic governments. Japan, as a non-Western country, has the experiences of importing the concept of democracy from the West and developing our own democratic government; Japanese intellectuals could point out factors which make non-Western countries fail in building democratic governments that Western intellectuals can't see.

Secondly, we could make our opinions more sophisticated by expressing them in English. When we speak in English to the world, we have to explain things that are obvious for Japanese people. This forces us to think about our fundamental assumptions.

In my blog, I wrote the entry "Is Japan Really a Democratic Country?" Certainly I could think much more deeply about Japanese government by that than writing it in Japanese.

Japanese intellectuals, let’s speak out in English!

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