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  • Opening RemarkAgainst the Grain of Reductio ad Japonicum
  • Takada Yasunari

To say something proper and appropriate in celebration of the birth and successful launch of the Journal of Japanese Philosophy, it is perhaps pertinent to begin with an apology because in Japan the apology is one of the most popular modes of exordium. Where the British or the Americans might crack a joke or two to begin with, the Japanese make an apology just as a way of warming up. It goes without saying that apologies of this kind are neither serious nor sincere.

But on this present occasion my apology is both serious and sincere. For an occasion such as this demands that the opening remarks be delivered by some authority in the field concerned. But the unhappy truth is that I am neither a philosopher nor an authority in any field. For this my apologies. Having said that, however, this does not mean that my accepting the kindly invitation of Professors Ishii Tsuyoshi and Kevin Lam was entirely unmotivated. Friendship with them, of course, was one of the major factors that gave me confidence to accept; but at the same time there was another factor in my mind that persuaded me to assume this undeserved role.

And this other factor is a concern with the sorry predicament in which the Japanese, and particularly Japanese academics, have found themselves placed for some time under the seemingly irresistible influence of globalization. This predicament, which in fact is a topic often talked about these days, has two aspects: (1) pressure from the outside world to get attuned to globalizing developments on the one hand and (2) a deep-rooted domestic predilection for introversion, on the other. The latter element (the predilection for introversion) is often problematized these days as a particular instance of “introverted youth” (or “otaku”) but even a brief look at Japanese history will tell us that it is not simply a recent development but something of a deep-grained cultural and traditional nature. And I believe it [End Page 1] may well be one of the major tasks of Japanese philosophy to address this deep-rooted cultural and traditional problematic, because it is surely part of the essential business of philosophy to set one free from the contingent horizons of the given world in which one is culturally embedded. If there is any academic discipline that is capable of diagnosing the Japanese malaise of cultural introversion and offering some proper treatment, it is Japanese philosophy.

Now, to see in this connection the history of Japan in terms of its predilection for introversion, alias isolationism, is (I think) revealing. There are in fact two major periods of self-imposed isolation in Japanese history, the first from 894 to c. 1200, lasting about three hundred years, the second from 1635 to 1868, lasting about two hundred and fifty years. If we set the beginnings of the national establishment of a sort around the fifth century AD., 550 years out of 1,500 years, that is, no less than 37 percent of our entire national history, as it turns out, was spent in the isolationist mode. To quote from Kato Shuichi,

Between the first seclusion of three hundred years and the second one of two hundred and fifty years (Tokugawa Era), Japan saw a certain period of relative openness, with the visits of Zen monks from China and the activities of Jesuit missionaries from the Iberian Peninsula. There developed in this period the practices of commerce with Ming-dynasty China (conducted by the Muromachi government) and with the Korean Peninsula (conducted by Tsushima Island); there were also wide-ranging commercial transactions, legal and illegal, with not only Okinawa but also South-East Asia. In Siam [present Thailand] there are said to have been Japanese villages, and the famous Japanese pirates called “wako” pillaged the coasts of China and Korea. But domestically Japan in the period from the end of the 14th century to the beginning of the 16th century found itself in a process not of concentration of power but of its diffusion. … The culture of the first seclusion, although its general characteristics of refinement in sensitivity and...


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