A candid conversation with the controversial co-author of "The Japan That Can Say No" about racism, Lee Iacocca, the bomb and whether east will ever meet west
"The circulation of the pirated book was an insult to freedom of speech. What happened to me was a kind of lynching. It is a shameful thing for America to have done. I plan to sue the Pentagon over the illegal translation."
"Nothing can be sweeter revenge for us than this: The one country that has been bombed by nuclear weapons can have a great effect on the reduction of their availability. Isn't that the most sophisticated kind of revenge?"
"The U.S. is such a major power that the global economy is affected by anything it does. Protectionism would harm the entire world economy. The U.S. can revive itself. It must learn to produce good products again."
In the political thriller Three Days of the Condor, Robert Redford plays a CIA operative whose job is to read everything. He reads books from around the world in virtually every language. He is nearly killed because his reading leads him to a CIA within the CIA that is planning an invasion of the Middle East.
In the real-life Pentagon, there is a division called DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. In 1958, after the U.S. was caught off guard by the Soviets' launch of Sputnik, DARPA was founded to make sure there were no more technological surprises. The think tank is concerned with world-wide high-tech development as it may relate to the military. DARPA voraciously searches out material on technological progress, from semiconductor and superconductor research to radar.
DARPA is in contact with readers around the world perusing everything. One of them discovered a book that the agency believed was relevant to national security. DARPA had it translated from Japanese into English. Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams says that the translation was made "for internal purposes only." However, "copies for distribution" ended up in the office of Congressman Mel Levine, whose aide says only that "it was leaked by sources we have inside the Pentagon." No one from DARPA will comment.
No to ieru Nihon, translated as The Japan That Can Say No, was written by the cofounder and chairman of Sony Corporation, Akio Morita, and a Japanese politician named Shintaro Ishihara, who may become Japan's next prime minister. The book, which at presstime had sold 1,100,000 copies in Japan, is essentially a collection of speeches by the two authors. In his sections, Morita (who was the subject of the August 1982 Playboy Interview) chastises the U.S. for its shortsightedness, for becoming "an economy without substance" and for making inferior products yet complaining when the Japanese don't buy them.
It was Ishihara's sections of the book that concerned the Pentagon. "The book had deleterious implications not only for our economic but for our military future," according to a Pentagon source. From DARPA's unauthorized translation, these are some of Ishihara's points the Pentagon considered relevant to national security:
• "Whether it be midrange nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles, what ensures the accuracy of weapons is none other than compact, high-precision computers [that rely on computer chips].... If Japan stopped selling chips. [to the U.S.], there would be nothing more [the U.S.] could do. If...Japan sold chips to the Soviet Union and stopped selling them to the U.S., this would upset the entire military balance."
• "The American nuclear umbrella is just an illusion as far as the Japanese people are concerned. The time has come for Japan to tell the U.S. that we do not need American [military] protection. Japan will protect itself with its own power and wisdom."
• "America wants to steal Japanese know-how."
• "Japanese technology has advanced so much that America gets hysterical, an indication of the tremendous value of that card--perhaps our ace."
• "When the time comes that Japan does say no decisively on a particular issue, there may be a dramatic reaction.... Should America behave unreasonably toward Japan, Japan must open channels to deal with the rest of the world from a different standpoint."
The translation hit at a time when, fueled by the 50-billion-dollar trade deficit, U.S.-Japanese relations were at their stormiest since wartime. In November 1989, Representative Sander M. Levin entered the unauthorized translation into the Congressional Record. Levin is a Representative for Michigan's 17th District, Detroit, where the book was read by Lee Iacocca, who wrote an editorial that appeared in The Detroit Free Press. "Morita's and Ishihara's arrogance pours salt into an already open wound," wrote Iacocca. "We don't need their conceited harangues right now."
Iacocca used the book to fire his speeches. As to Ishihara's contention that Americans are racially prejudiced toward the Japanese, he retorted, "This from a Japanese?" He added, "I hope the Morita/Ishihara book somehow gets published in English--the unabridged version. It'll tell America what our competitors think of us. And what they're going to do to us."
Morita distanced himself from the book, saying he "regretted" his involvement and that he had not been "fully aware" of Ishihara's opinions when he agreed to contribute to the book.
Ishihara, meanwhile, came to Washington, ostensibly to mend fences. The U.S. was not entirely hospitable. Senator Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee's Sub-committee on International Trade, refused to see him. Through an aide, Senator Baucus said, "United States-bashing at Mr. Ishihara's volume level is a little beyond the pale." Ishihara did meet with Representatives Levin and Richard Gephardt, Senator Richard Lugar and Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher.
The Americans were surprised by the man they met. Ishihara, at 57, is strikingly handsome, with thick black hair streaked with silver. He is partial to well-tailored, expensive Western suits (by Savile Row) and ties (by Armani). He is not the Japanese politician Washington is used to--indirect, restrained, humble.
His background is eclectic. Ishihara grew up in Zushi, south of Tokyo, where his father was in the shipping business. He is well educated (a graduate of Hitotsubashi University), and although he was groomed to be a diplomat and a certified public accountant, he preferred the arts. He made a name for himself not as a politician but as a film maker and then a successful writer of more than 50 novels and essays. In 1956, his Season of the Sun became a best seller. He won many literary awards, including the 1956 Akutagawa Prize, a prestigious award for young Japanese writers.
Elected to the Diet, or parliament, in 1968, he has served as transport minister and head of Japan's environmental agency. He has long been involved in Japan's foreign affairs and counts among his friends Presidents Corazon Aquino of the Philippines and Oscar Arias of Costa Rica and former President Ronald Reagan.
In his most recent bid for re-election, Ishihara received more votes than any other Diet candidate, and there is more and more talk that he could become Japan's next prime minister.
When we caught up with Ishihara in Tokyo, Playboy was just one of hundreds of American and international publications trying to interview him. Contributing Editor David Sheff persuaded him to sit down for the most in-depth series of interviews he has given. Here is Sheff's report:
"Expecting a veritable Attila the Hun (even he has said that Americans expect 'the Devil incarnate'), I was caught off guard by Ishihara's frequent laughter and boyishness. I asked him how he felt about being called the Japanese Jesse Helms. He lit up. He thought I'd said the Japanese Jesse James.
"Japanese businessmen often spend their evenings in karaoke bars, drinking and talking and singing into a microphone to the accompaniment of prerecorded music. Trying to keep up one night, fueled by sake, I found myself singing I Left My Heart in San Francisco in front of a projected image of the Golden Gate Bridge.
"Soon it became known that I was in Japan interviewing Ishihara, and excited voices in the bar began to drown out the singing. He is at once Japan's most respected and most loathed politician. One young businessman said, 'He is a very bad man.' But far more people in the bar--and others with whom I talked in several Japanese cities--feel that his is the voice they have been waiting for.
"As one of my drinking companions said, 'He is the only Japanese who bravely speaks out to the world for us. And what he speaks is the truth.'
"Later, in the ancient capital city of Kyoto, over a traditional Japanese dinner at a 300-year-old ryokan, Kyoto University professor Ernest Satow told me, 'Ishihara will be prime minister because he has stirred something in the Japanese people. He is what they want to be but have not been able to be: candid, volatile, powerful.'
"For each session at his Tokyo office, I sat on a big leather couch catty-corner from him. On one wall hung a painting of Mount Fuji (painted by one of his four sons, Nobuhiro, now in New York studying art).
"During the interviews, a secretary brought in cups of twig tea or juice and then bowed before leaving. A translator scribbled shorthand notes as Ishihara spoke in Japanese--slowly and cautiously at first but with increasing agitation. Occasionally, to emphasize a point, he would answer in English. He peppered his conversation with digressions and jokes. When I was leaving one session, he said, 'We haven't touched on the most important trade issue. I think the Government of the United States should pressure the Japanese government not to have nudes scratched out on imported Playboy magazines.'
"But most of the time, he was deadly serious and no matter how I pressed, did not back down."
Playboy: You've caused quite a controversy across the Pacific with No to ieru Nihon. Were you trying to stir things up?
Ishihara: The book was never intended to be released in America in its current form. Against my will, a pirated version was circulated in the United States. The first I heard of the illegal translation was that it was being read in, of all places, the U.S. Congress. It was entered into the Congressional Record. When I finally got a copy, I realized that it was filed with mistranslations; some essential parts were purposely omitted. It is very disturbing. The circulation of the pirated book of mine was an insult to freedom of speech. What happened to me was a kind of lynching. It is a shameful thing for America to have done. I plan to publish an accurate, formal version, which is now being prepared. At that time, I plan to sue the Pentagon over the illegal translation.
Playboy: One of the most controversial pronouncements in the book is that most of the tensions between America and Japan are not due to trade issues but to American racial prejudice against the Japanese. Is that an accurate restatement of how you feel?
Ishihara: I think it is true without a doubt. Anti-Japanese racism on the part of Americans is deeply rooted.
Playboy: Is it racism or fear?
Ishihara: [Slowly, in English] Fear based on racism.
Playboy: How about fear of economic domination?
Ishihara: The New York Times reported two mergers, one between Sony and Paramount and the other between an Australian company and Twentieth Century Fox. If you compare the way the two mergers were described, you see the racial prejudice against the Japanese. There was so much controversy about that Sony/Paramount merger, about Japanese investments in America, in Rockefeller Center, and about Sony's acquisition of Columbia Pictures, but no one talks about the other foreign investors in American business and real estate. Britain, Canada and the Netherlands all have extensive investments in the U.S., as does Japan. No one's talking about the Dutch or British invasion. It's not just my opinion. Mr. Peter Peterson, the former head of the Commerce Department of the United States, said that American racial prejudice against the Japanese people has made trade problems much worse.
Playboy: But Japan's emergence as an economic force is relatively new. Can it be as simple as that?
Ishihara: In the history of the human race, many countries have won wars and many have lost them. Victor countries tend to develop superiority complexes. It is very human, very natural. It has happened over and over again. It is that--the legacy from the war--and something else that Europeans feel toward people of color. Most of modernism was created by Europeans. Races of colored people who were not part of the modernism became the objects of a European superiority complex. In some cases, Europeans colonized the people they considered backward. When the modernism period came to an end, the descendants of those Europeans, white Americans, retained a superiority complex toward races of color.
As it happens, Japan was an advanced country in terms of its culture in premodern times and was quick to grasp the importance of modernism when the Western powers came into Asia in the Nineteenth Century. The Meiji leaders pushed Japan, out of all the colored people, to adapt to modernism very quickly. In some cases, Japan surpassed Europe and the United States. And that fact, and the fact that a nonwhite race is catching up with the Americans and taking over the lead in advanced technology, is intolerable to Americans.
Playboy: Are the Japanese any less prejudiced against Americans, against gaijin?
Ishihara: Of course, the Japanese people are conscious of non-Japanese, in that white people are white, black people are black and Southeastern Asian people are, like us, a yellow race, though a bit darker than we are. And although a part of the Japanese superiority complex has remained, most of it has disappeared.
Playboy: Ask Vietnamese, Koreans and other minorities living in Japan. They may have another opinion.
Ishihara: It is true that prejudices existed, but we have less prejudice now toward these people. For one thing, there is a general view that Vietnamese refugees should not be accepted in Japan, which I don't agree with. Still, the people who do not want to accept Vietnamese refugees into Japan--people representing the interests of the labor and justice ministries--do not feel that way out of prejudice. I say their reasons are unreasonable but not racist; they cite security and expenses as problems. I believe we should accept the Vietnamese refugees. We have a labor shortage. There is no reason not to allow them in.
Playboy: To prove that the U.S. is racist toward Japan, you cite the fact that America dropped the atomic bomb on Japan and not on Germany. But America didn't have the bomb when Germany surrendered. An inflammatory and inaccurate point such as that makes it seem you were intentionally trying to incite Japanese people against Americans.
Ishihara: I just said out loud the feelings that are harbored by almost all of the Japanese people. Most of us feel this in our hearts. It may be an uncomfortable message for Americans to hear.
Playboy: But it's not true.
Ishihara: In general, people in the United States do not know how many people died when that A-bomb was dropped and how many people have died as a result of the diseases caused by it. Mention that and Americans always say, "Japan attacked Pearl Harbor."
Playboy: Is Japan's history any less brutal? How do you justify the incredible genocide during the Sino-Japanese War?
Ishihara: Pistols and machine guns are not the same as atomic weapons. You cannot equate them. And what did we do? Where did Japanese people massacre?
Playboy: For one example, in the rape of Nanking in 1937, more than a hundred thousand civilians were massacred.
Ishihara: People say that the Japanese made a holocaust there, but that is not true. It is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan, but it is a lie.
Playboy: Most historians disagree.
Ishihara: But that is not the issue. Of course wars are brutal. I don't deny even traditional weapons cause extensive casualties. But you dropped the atomic bombs on Japan and killed two hundred thousand to three hundred thousand people. Because of the aftereffects of the bombs, more people are dying still. In my view, they are completely different categories in terms of massacre. Only twice in the history of mankind have atomic bombs been used. Both times, they were dropped by the same country on the same country. Never before had that kind of holocaust been perpetrated. That fact remains in the minds of the Japanese people.
Playboy: Regardless of the history of racism in both countries, part of the current anti-Japanese sentiment in America is based on some hard realities: In Detroit, people are out of jobs--at least as they view it--because of Japanese cars.
Ishihara: They are blaming the wrong people for losing their jobs. What American workers should fear is not the Japanese; it is American politicians and industrial leaders.
A few years ago, in California, Toyota and General Motors got together and formed a new company. In one large plant, they were producing G.M. cars and Toyota cars. What happened was that the General Motors cars didn't sell very well; the Toyota cars sold extremely well. Since they were producing cars that were evidently so different, wouldn't you think top management would put attention into design or other factors behind the difference in sales? No, American managers blame workers, blame Japan--everything except themselves.
Playboy: Nonetheless, as you saw when you went there, in Detroit, many people blame the Japanese.
Ishihara: Well, maybe half the people in Detroit were against me, but the other half were for me. When Mr. Sander Levin, the Representative from Detroit, said I should go to his constituency, somebody said that I would be in even far more danger in Detroit than on Capitol Hill. I said, they may want to throw stones at me, but they should throw them at their American managers and politicians. So I told them and they listened hard, I think. Some of them applauded.
Playboy: Were you affected by the workers you met in Detroit?
Ishihara: I was encouraged by the dialog. I do not disagree with their point that the Japanese market is closed, but that does not account for the fact that American managers are the real problem in America's industry. American management is irresponsible. Look at Mr. Iacocca.
Playboy: What has he done that is irresponsible?
Ishihara: Here is an example: When Japan was forced to raise the value of the yen, Japanese trade competitiveness should have automatically gone down, because Japanese car prices went up. Under those circumstances, Mr. Iacocca could have sold cars at a much better price compared with Japanese cars, so that the U.S. automobile manufacturers could gain more of the market share. But instead, he raised the prices of his cars in proportion to the higher prices of the Japanese-made cars. The idea was to improve his profit for each car sold, not to give customers a better value, not to gain more customers, not to sell more cars and keep people working. If he hadn't raised the prices, the difference between Chrysler cars and the Japanese cars would have been substantial--it probably would have meant more people buying his cars. That is something that ordinary high school students can conceive of.
Mr. Iacocca may be treated as a national hero in the United States, but he is not evaluated highly in Japan at all. No one in Japan respects that kind of manager.
Playboy: It is because Iacocca essentially says that America should say no?
Ishihara: It is because Mr. Iacocca is irresponsible, incompetent, dirty dealing, and he says different things at different times.
Playboy: Regardless of how you feel about him, he represents the sentiment of many Americans.
Ishihara: There is an important difference between Japan and the United States in the way both countries view the responsibility of a leader to his corporation and, even more, to society. The man who founded National Panasonic, Konoskuke Matsushita, is known as the god of management in Japan. The reason for his and for National's success is his allegiance to his people.
During a recession, Mr. Matsushita simply would not lay people off. It brings great loyalty to a company when the employees are treated with loyalty and respect. He would not last as a manager of a company in the United States very long. In the United States, managers must report to their shareholders at quarterly meetings what they are doing to trim costs. A manager like Mr. Matsushita, who wouldn't lay off employees, would be criticized by the stockholders. Instead of laying off workers, Mr. Matsushita might diversify or transfer workers to another division. It might take a longer time for a profit to show to the shareholders, but the long term is more important--and the workers are more important.
Despite the fact that Mr. Iacocca buys parts from Japan--some of the most essential parts for his automobiles--and buys automobiles made in Japan and sells them under the name of Chrysler, he complains that Americans buy Japanese products. He, not the Japanese, is his own worst enemy.
Playboy: You said that the American translation of your book is missing some important points and that some material was taken out of context. Are there examples?
Ishihara: I wrote that there are issues to which Japan should say no, but on the other hand, there are certain issues to which Japan clearly has to say yes. Not only have I said this in the book, but since then, I have repeatedly said it and it is omitted, deleted.
Playboy: What should Japan say yes to?
Ishihara: I feel that the Japanese domestic market should be completely opened. Up to now, our extreme protectionism is what has given us full competitive power in the business world. But now there are many items Japan should import. Japan should say yes to America and open our market, but--and this is important--not only to say yes to America but for the good of the Japanese consumer.
Playboy: So you admit that Japan's trade barriers have hurt the U.S. and Japan and that restrictions should be relaxed?
Ishihara: Definitely. Last November, the Economic Planning Department published some extremely important figures that showed that the cost of necessities are, on the average, forty percent higher in Tokyo than in New York. Some things are twice as high. Most of those products could be cheaper and their quality better if they were imported freely in an open market.
Playboy: Would you agree to abolish the protectionist policies responsible for Motorola's difficulty in selling car phones in Japan? Motorola was finally allowed to sell them, but not in Tokyo, which is like saying that Japan can sell fax machines in America, but not in New York and Los Angeles.
Ishihara: This is a most shameful example of deceitful dealing by the Japanese ministry of posts and telecommunications and I agree that it must not be tolerated. I myself use an NTT-made car phone in Tokyo and the quality is very poor. Lines are often crossed and the system is very susceptible to being tapped. Recently, there was a rumor that one politician was telephoning his mistress from his car and the conversation was tapped by a yakuza [Japanese mafioso], who blackmailed him. People have stopped making important calls from their cars.
Playboy: So is your position an open market, with no exceptions, to help correct the trade imbalance?
Ishihara: Well, by now, Japanese industries have gained much competitiveness. As a result of that, no matter how liberalized the Japanese market becomes, the U.S. might have less, not more, of a market in Japan. I've been told it's not good for me to make that kind of statement, but opening up the market does not mean we will be overrun by foreign products. Other countries might increase their exports to Japan for a short time, but they might eventually lose out in a freely competitive Japanese market. The point is that the United States is looking for a solution to the trade imbalance through liberalization of the Japanese market, and they might find that that is not much of a solution.
Playboy: Because of Japanese dominance in the semiconductor and automobile industries, to name but two examples, there have been calls for embargoes and punitive tariffs. What effect would they have?
Ishihara: Not only would they hurt our situation but the free-trade system worldwide would collapse.
Playboy: Should we say yes just to make you happy? You admit that the Japanese protected their markets to overcome their weaknesses and built the economy to compete with the West. If that kind of protectionism worked for Japan, why not for America?
Ishihara: The United States is such a major power that the global economy is affected by anything it does. Protectionism would turn the entire world economy backward. The U.S. is not only a major outlet but a super industrial power. With its open environment, the U.S. can make efforts to revive itself. It must learn to produce good products again.
Playboy: But America may need some time to catch up. Isn't it our politicians' responsibility to figure out some sort of protectionism, at least in the interim?
Ishihara: Of course, that's your own choice, but if you try to remedy things that way, it's not going to be just America in decline but the whole world. American companies such as Cummins [Engine], Xerox, Levi's, Caterpillar and Florida Power & Light have turned themselves around very quickly by adopting new strategies. On the other hand, protectionism is an easy excuse not to strengthen yourself.
Playboy: If not by addressing the impediments to trade and protectionism, how would you suggest America address the imbalance?
Ishihara: Mr. John A. Young, the president of Hewlett-Packard, was asked to write a paper on how the U.S. economy and manufacturing can be revived, how the U.S. can regain its competitiveness. It is an extremely accurate report, very edifying for Japan but moreover for the United States. Also, MIT published a voluminous report called Made in America that is very useful. In Japan, these have been analyzed and discussed in detail. Too few American politicians have even read them. So my prescription would be to implement or even legislate what was said in Young's and MIT's reports.
Playboy: What in those reports would you want to see done?
Ishihara: For example, in Japan, in order to suppress excesses in money games--paper shuffling to create profits based on nothing--we made it law to impose a high tax on capital gains. Why is there nothing like that in America to discourage companies' being bought and sold and destroyed--with no attention to whether or not they make a good product? How come the United States does not introduce a similar system in order to stop all these excessive mergers and acquisitions conducted on a tactical level by corporations--that have nothing to do with making the corporations stronger over the long term for the employees and for the economy as a whole? I think if you introduced that, American management would conduct its business with a foothold on the ground. Maybe then Rockefeller Center would not have to be sold. Companies' executives, instead of making mergers and acquisitions, must make their companies thrive. Management must be revived if the dynamism of American industry is to be revived. It means changing their philosophy of how to manage.
Playboy: Essentially, does that mean emulating Japanese management styles?
Ishihara: Xerox emulated Xerox of Japan. Florida Power & Light was coached by Kansai Electric Power, which operates in the western part of Japan. Caterpillar and Cummins did it on their own. There are many ways.
Playboy: In your book, you threaten that Japan could forsake America and work with the Soviet Union--supplying the U.S.S.R. with advanced microcomputer-chip technology to alter the balance of world power. How ought America respond to that threat?
Ishihara: What I said about the computer chips is provocative, but the point was missed, as it was sensationalized. Three years ago, when I was in Washington, there was a harsh exchange of views between some politicians and me. This was immediately after America had passed resolutions concerning sanctions on the sale of semiconductors. Washington was in a state of hysteria. A man I talked to said that a power shift is taking place in the world and that the United States is rapidly growing closer to the Soviet Union. If, he said, Japan keeps up its current attitude, the U.S. might abandon Japan. I responded by saying that the U.S.-Japan relationship is not only important for Japan and the United States but important for the rest of the world--its importance is stronger than ever. If the United States forsakes Japan, then Japan will have a free hand. If Japan were to sell fifth-generation computer chips to the Soviet Union, perhaps the United States would be in a difficult position. When I said that, the cold air blew in. Everybody stopped talking.
Playboy: It still sounds like a threat.
Ishihara: It is a statement of fact. Japan is no longer subservient, having to say yes to appease the Americans, even when it is against our interest. Japan cannot be tossed aside.
Playboy: Your point is based on an erroneous assumption: America can and does make those chips.
Ishihara: The U.S. can make all the 256K chips it wants to, but the chips that will determine the future--essentially the ones required for fifth-generation computers with a capacity of one and two megabits, which are key to targeting ICBMs--are not made in America, at least not with consistent quality. Japan is five years ahead of America in semiconductor technology and the gap is widening. The gap is even wider for four- and five-megabit chips and larger memory chips. The more sophisticated the chips, the greater Japan's dominance. It is a fact: The U.S. is dependent on the Japanese chips.
Playboy: Will Japan----
Ishihara: [Interrupts] You know, it is quite odd that Japanese semiconductor technology is the basis for the nuclear strategies pursued by the super nuclear powers--Japan, the country that has three nonnuclear principles. I believe that this fact helped promote the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Playboy: How so?
Ishihara: There was more motivation to come to agreement when these countries were no longer capable of making advances without the help of a third country. And nothing can be sweeter revenge for us than this: The one country that has been bombed by nuclear weapons is in a position of having a great effect on the reduction of their availability and maybe their use. Isn't that the most sophisticated kind of revenge?
Playboy: You've said that Japan should play a large role in developing Asia. With markets in China, the rest of Asia and Europe, will Japan become less dependent on America as a market, and therefore, whatever happens to America will become less significant to Japan?
Ishihara: I don't think so. It is not merely a question of economics. Japan cannot independently develop new markets.
Playboy: Yet it is independently developing markets and increasing investments almost everywhere.
Ishihara: But America has ten times more kinds of basic research in state-of-the-art technology than Japan does. That's not going to change. What Japan has is the industrial dynamism it takes to make useful, quality products. That ability has disappeared from American industry. So think about what each of us does best: America and Japan could, working together, make a new civilization for the entire world--we are a very strong tractor-and-engine combination.
Playboy: With who pulling whom?
Ishihara: There is no need for Japan to overtake the United States as number one; it is better to be a powerful number two--not to try to gain hegemony through economics. When I was talking to Bill Emmott, who wrote The Sun Also Sets, he made the same point. I really think that now, more than ever before, the relationship between Japan and the United States has great significance in the history of civilization. When I recently met with Congressman Richard Gephardt, he compared U.S.-Japan relations to a marriage. I asked him, "Does that mean that America is the husband and Japan is the wife? That's fine, because a wife can clearly say no when she wants to, unlike a mistress, who can be discarded if she says no."
Playboy: Yet some economists predict that Japan will have the number-one economy in the world by the year 2000.
Ishihara: Measured by what? It so happens that in the present day, Japan has the largest financing capability, but that's all. As far as the potential for new technologies is concerned, the U.S. by far surpasses the capabilities of Japan. The Japanese people excel in developing products--making them commercially viable. In my view, Japan is the second-strongest nation. And this fact should be acknowledged by the United States.
Ishihara: By respecting our independence and respecting us as a partner. The U.S. does not acknowledge that the friction that exists now is not due to only one party. And it's not that the mistress is asking her master to have her registered officially so that she can formally become his wife. It's that if we are the wife, we must be recognized as such. But the United States now does not want to acknowledge Japan's power in the world.
Playboy: In the case of the airline industry, you're not suggesting joint ventures--you want Japan to take over yet another industry America has dominated?
Ishihara: Japan experienced one of the world's worst air accidents. It was due to improper repair work done on a Boeing aircraft. A Japanese journalist went to Seattle to visit with a vice-president of Boeing. The executive acknowledged that his employees' education was poor, and the company was implementing a re-education and retraining program. However, he said that the retraining period will take several years. That means that for the coming several years, even brand-new Boeing jets may be too dangerous for us to board without feeling some sense of anxiety. Rather than having such anxiety, it's better for Japan to make its own aircraft.
Playboy: You're presuming that the Japanese can make better aircraft.
Ishihara: We have already manufactured American fighters with fewer defects than the same fighters made by Americans. We could make civilian-use aircraft. I think we could save many lives. So if the United States would tell us to wait seven or eight years, then perhaps we would be better off making our own aircraft. But if I say this, it might produce more misunderstanding.
Playboy: There is nothing stopping Japan from manufacturing its own jets for nonmilitary use, is there?
Ishihara: The U.S. has very monopolistic aviation treaties with many countries. We cannot sell our aircraft even if we have superior performance. We are developing the STOL, which can take off and land on a limited runway. The U.K. has a great interest in it. But, in general, Japan has not been strong enough to say we are going to do something if the United States says do not do it.
Playboy: In what other cases should Japan have said no to America?
Ishihara: The United States essentially squelched Japan's plan for a domestic fighter plane and we agreed to a joint venture with the United States to make an inferior plane. In dealing with the United States, former prime minister Nakasone, whom I introduced to President Reagan, said only, "Yes, sir," as if he were a Marine Corps sergeant talking to a general. There were many times he should have said, "No, sir." He promised America many things, including strategic technology, without realizing their significance. He gave away strong cards because he could not say no.
Playboy: You believe that Japan should have said no to America and gone ahead and built the FS-X? Why?
Ishihara: Japan said yes, we will not build the FS-X, because the U.S. asks or tells us not to; instead, we would make a modified F-16. It is as if since the United States cannot restrain Japan economically, it is determined to keep Japan under its control in the area of national security. Japan could have made a much higher-performance fighter.
Playboy: Do you feel that the ultimate reason that Japan was asked, or pressured, not to build the FS-X on its own is that America is deeply afraid of Japan's becoming a military force in its own right?
Ishihara: There is no way that Japan will become a military power. There is no need for that. The FS-X would allow us to have our own strength, that's all--to do what Americans want us to do, share the burden of our own defense. But the United States found it intolerable that Japan might build a better plane. Japan gave in on every demand made by the United States.
Playboy: You have said that Japan no longer needs America's military umbrella, and that our bases in Japan are not there for Japan's security but for America's--and so we should pay you rent. Is that accurate?
Ishihara: The U.S. strategic bases located in Japan are larger and more functional and more important than any other U.S. bases in the region as far as global U.S. strategy. The bases in Japan cover from one hundred and sixty degrees to the east, in Hawaii, to Capetown in Africa: One half of the Southern Hemisphere is being covered from Japan. The importance of these bases, established under the Japanese-American security treaty, is quite great in terms of the over-all security of America. But the ability to cover Capetown from bases located in Japan has no direct relationship with Japan. It is part of your strategy.
Playboy: But, in fact, America's military agreement with Japan combines the two countries' defense strategies.
Ishihara: If the hydrogen bomb is dropped on Japan, the U.S. will use the bomb to take revenge for Japan. However, three H-bombs would destroy Japan. The United States could retaliate, but it would be too late for Japan. The early-warning system in existence covers the North American continent only. When it comes to U.S. allies and friendly nations in Europe and Asia, the warning system doesn't work--and these are the countries that are closer to the Soviet Union than to the United States. There is no system that will warn of an attack on Japan so that an enemy would be deterred from a first strike. If the strike were on the U.S. itself, the warning system would allow a retaliatory strike; therefore, the deterrence strategy is far stronger. The Japanese people should know that the United States cannot, in fact, provide for the protection or defense of Japan. I think that was precisely the reason why Mr. De Gaulle chose to have France have its own nuclear weapons.
Playboy: Do you propose that Japan develop its own early-warning system and nuclear deterrent force?
Ishihara: No, but this is why I do not agree with Japan's three nonnuclear principles: I do not agree that nuclear weapons should not be brought into our country.
Playboy: Under what circumstances would you have them brought into Japan?
Ishihara: There are occasions when the nuclear deterrent power could be exercised by having the presence of nuclear weapons within Japan--circumstances under the Japan-U.S. security treaty, which states that nuclear weapons may in some instances be brought into the country, as a deterrent. I think it would be effective.
Playboy: Do you still feel that deterrence is important, in spite of all the changes in the Soviet Union?
Ishihara: I think deterrence's cost and importance will be reduced gradually.
Playboy: Do you want Japan eventually to have its own bomb so it does not have to rely on the United States?
Ishihara: There are other ways to provide for our own security. Perhaps Japan can control the Soviets' nuclear policy by constraining supply of the mass-produced one- and up to four- or five-megabit chips. Without these chips, the nuclear strategy of the world would not be maintained.
Playboy: The U.S. and Soviets will develop the technology or find alternative ways to build the weapons.
Ishihara: Or they will be more inclined to find other solutions. The Soviet Union will in no way have the capability to continue the nuclear race. If Japan chose to supply chips only to the United States, there would be no way at all the Soviet Union could compete. The Soviet Union's nuclear strategy could be constrained. It could end that head-to-head race forever.
Playboy: Or, conversely, as you have implied, if Japan decided to tip the balance to the Soviet Union, you could supply chips only to the Soviets.
Ishihara: That's impossible. The reality is that the U.S. is a partner and not independent of Japan. It is only that the U.S. should not abandon Japan. [In English] We are not your mistress.
Playboy: In the introduction to Daniel Burstein's book, Yen!, a bleak picture of the future is painted, in which Japan keeps getting stronger and America more dependent, to the point that California would be turned into a joint U.S.-Japan economic community. It may be an exaggeration, but it reflects a fear.
Ishihara: But what is the real problem? Is it Japan? Other countries have substantial investments in America. Americans now need a scapegoat and Japan is it, partly because we are of a race Americans consider inferior.
Playboy: Many Americans resent Japan's success because much of it was financed by America. Do you agree with that?
Ishihara: I think so and we owe a lot to America. But America has to take some responsibility for what Japan is today--a country without mental independence, able to think only of economic prosperity. Japan ultimately became exactly what America wanted it to be after the war.
Playboy: Were your parents anti-American?
Ishihara: Perhaps all the Japanese people were in the prewar days.
Playboy: What was your first exposure to anything American?
Ishihara: American films that came here after the war. And songs on the radio--[in English] "Kiss me once and kiss me twice and kiss me once again/It's been a long, long time." This was a song in the United States that depicted the soldier returning to his girlfriend. It was so different from the Japanese war song that I couldn't help but think that was the reason Japan had to be defeated.
Ishihara: Because Japan was so filled with sorrow and desperateness that there was no room left for such an emotion.
Playboy: Was your father involved in the war?
Ishihara: My father was drafted. However, an executive of a shipping company was valued, so he did not fight. I was mobilized in a work force to make a shelter around the Japanese base area--until one day, when we heard that a very new, powerful bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima. We were instructed to go home. It was quite eerie. I remember the feeling.
Playboy: How did Japan's defeat affect you?
Ishihara: [In English] I couldn't imagine what it meant. I was scared.
Playboy: What happened next?
Ishihara: I had been planning to go to the naval academy, but of course, after the war, there was no navy. I wanted to paint or write. I left school for about a year and lived in Tokyo, where I painted and attended plays and operas. Then my father died, so I returned to school. After that, I attended the university. At the time, I was told to become a certified public accountant, because that was a business thought to be lucrative. I studied hard for that, but I found it quite boring and difficult. I decided to be a film director. I took the examination and joined a film company called Toho.
Playboy: What films did you make?
Ishihara: I directed two movies. I don't like to sound as if I am boasting, but my younger brother was a movie star and the first movie that he starred in was based on my novel; I wrote the script. The movie was so good that François Truffaut later said that he got some hints for his segment in the movie Love at Twenty from my film. I also directed a segment of Love at Twenty; it was highly evaluated and is still shown. But I wrote another novel that did very well, and I stopped making films. If I had remained a movie director, I can assure you that I would have at least become a better one than Akira Kurosawa.
Playboy: You don't like Kurosawa?
Ishihara: He is not considered so highbrow in Japan as he is in Europe and America. I could make a better film.
Playboy: How did you get into politics?
Ishihara: As a special correspondent for a Japanese newspaper, I went to cover the war in Vietnam. If I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have become a politician. I felt quite a bit of stimulus upon coming home to go into politics. I ran for the seat in the house of--upper house--how to translate? The national constituency.
Playboy: Some of the shock over your most recent book is that few Japanese people have spoken out as you have. Why has it taken until now for a Japanese leader to speak out in this way?
Ishihara: [In English] Because I'm alien in Japan. [Laughs] See, to talk straight in Japan is a vice, not a virtue. If you have too much heated discussion, a friendship might collapse.
In Japan, individualism is an undesirable characteristic, a vice. However, I think recently, finally, the values are beginning to change. I think that Japanese people feel it's time to say what they think.
Playboy: In America, you've been called the Japanese Jesse Helms.
Ishihara: The Japanese Jesse James? Hmmmm.
Playboy: Sorry, no. Jesse Helms.
Ishihara: I've never met him. I've met Mr. Gephardt. Somebody said that I'm a Japanese Gephardt.
Playboy: You prefer that?
Ishihara: I don't mind that. Mr. Gephardt looks like Steve McQueen.
Playboy: The point about Helms is that he's right wing and an extremist.
Ishihara: I believe I am a rational politician.
Playboy: Some Japanese people are embarrassed by your strong stands.
Ishihara: Well, obviously, someone wants to hear what I'm saying. We just sold our millionth copy of the book. I think that most of the Japanese people feel uneasy about U.S.-Japan relations. Japan's geography gave us the view that there was one world called Japan and another world outside it. The concept was of parallel worlds rather than one shared globe. My family was brought up very traditionally Japanese. We were taught that the emperor was a god. I thought it was quite foolish, but, because my father would scold me if I didn't, when the train that I was riding would pass the Imperial Palace grounds, I bowed. Most of Japan still lived in another time. But the world is changing. It is becoming smaller and the outside world is influencing Japan in so many ways. Japan must change its world view. As the influential power of Japan is rising, it is quite important that the Japanese people have a broader view.
Playboy: There are many reports that Japanese people, especially young people, are dissatisfied with the new way, as well. Lee Iacocca says the Japanese people work like dogs.
Ishihara: Nonsense. It is quite the opposite of that. The American workers may feel that they are working like dogs, because they are easily laid off when the situation turns bad; managers such as Mr. Iacocca earn exorbitant amounts of money and the gap between rich and poor is widening; management looks down upon the workers as if they belong to some lower class.... It is American workers, not Japanese workers, who are beginning to feel that they are working like dogs. Lech Walesa came to Japan. He visited a Japanese factory and said that it was the most ideal workplace he had ever seen. He specifically talked about the labor-management relationship he saw. He said that in a sense, Japan is the most advanced socialist country in the world. I agree with that; I've said it before.
Playboy: One of America's perceptions about Japan is that the price for all the efficiency is the individual--Japan's workers are like robots. Do you agree?
Ishihara: It is not so at all. In our culture, names are given to the robots. The vital points have not been Westernized at all. In the West, people would avoid work if they could. But Japanese people find virtue in working. Aristocrats in Europe take pride in playing and not working. The aristocrats look down upon the workers; at the same time, workers resent the aristocrats. In Japan, this does not exist. We look down upon people if they don't work hard. The emperor stands at the top of the monarchy or the aristocracy, but even he works. There is a myth in Japan that the goddess of the sun used her loom and wove her own clothes. Emperor Hirohito worked as a marine biologist.
Playboy: Are you concerned that materialism could take the place of Japan's spiritual core?
Ishihara: I don't think so. For example, Japanese people have a strong sense of season and a strong reaction to nature. There is a sense of finding a higher value that transcends materialism. That hasn't changed.
Playboy: But do you acknowledge that the Japanese work ethic has been emphasized at the price of a strong family structure? Japanese men rarely see their wives and children.
Ishihara: It is nothing new--it was the same in the past. People get promotions within the company by working very hard and being very committed. It may be a peculiar philosophy, but in Japan, men have always had great pride about working. The family is the same as it has always been. What I am worried about are the urban housewives; they have become so used to living luxuriously and their attitudes toward their husbands and children are very egotistical. They are worse than the American middle class.
Playboy: There are reports about a new attitude of Japanese women--they are less tolerant of the traditional double standard. It seems like the germ of a women's movement.
Ishihara: But a bigger problem I see is housewives who don't look after their children. They cook something easy in the microwave. They play tennis all day long.
Playboy: Do you support the incredible pressure placed on Japanese children--the pressure to excel in cram schools, with hardly any time to be kids?
Ishihara: I think we have come to a time when we really have to change the framework of education in Japan. This system was developed in order to create specific kinds of people who were needed for the process of modernization: bureaucrats, engineers, social engineers such as doctors, teachers, public accountants, attorneys, as well as soldiers. We became very good at producing these. These people did not need to be educated at being different from one another. They didn't have to stand out from others--in fact, it was not good for them to stand out.
Playboy: And now what would you have Japanese education do?
Ishihara: Return to greater emphasis on individualism, and not only in schools. The education and training systems have to be changed so that individualistic initiatives are tolerated. Now, instead of encouraging individualistic attitudes, fail-safe attitudes are encouraged. If someone tries something new and fails once, there is no tolerance of that and no chance to make another mistake. The people with the best ideas go abroad and do fantastic work. We must be able to merge this kind of creative, individual thinking into our culture.
Playboy: What are your plans? Do you anticipate that you will run again for prime minister of Japan?
Ishihara: If I can get enough support.
Playboy: Are you ultimately too individualistic to do so?
Ishihara: I don't think so. The public in Japan supports me. They want me in office. However, if I have to compromise myself in order to become a political leader, then I will be better off not to become one. I would prefer to remain a strong individual.
Playboy: In your book, you say, "Japan is flattered by many nations these days for no reason [other] than its wealth. Money is important, but Japan has many valuable assets." What can Japan contribute to the world?
Ishihara: Japan can teach what we have learned to do well: our capabilities as managers, as manufacturers. We also have a great financing capability. Japan's leadership can help establish new kinds of infrastructure in countries that need aid. It is not only dollars that are important. Another example is the relationship between workers and the machine. Japan is the largest user of industrial robots, yet the attitude is not that robots and technology are taking away jobs or dehumanizing workers. They free workers to do more complex tasks. Those who are in charge of specific robots paste photographs of their favorite movie actors or singers on them and call the machines by those names. A sense of communication is established between the workers and the machine. Because of this, Japanese workers are much more adept at identifying machine failures as soon as possible. For another example, in the case of human-to-human relationships, the rank-and-file workers and their management are on an equal footing. It's not rare for a president of a company to visit the job floor or the factory and spend time with workers and listen to what they have to say, which I know rarely happens in Western plants.
Playboy: You say that America should acknowledge Japan's place, but in fact, it seems that America already does--which is part of the problem. Americans in some ways are feeling defeated. There is a pervasive opinion that Japan is unstoppable and that American business has had it.
Ishihara: I think that view is quite wrong. The largest forces--the dynamo that moves civilization--are ideas and inspiration. These ideas cannot be gauged by a yardstick. The numbers don't show it, but the capability to come up with good ideas that move civilization forward resides with the American people, in my view. Managers and politicians in the United States fail to extract that potential.
Playboy: What is an example?
Ishihara: Young people everywhere enjoy skate boarding and windsurfing. The skate board is the combination of the skate and the surfboard. Windsurfing combines surfing and sailing. It seems that combining two ideas like that is simple--anyone could have come up with those inventions--but that is not the case. They are unique and intriguing ideas that only American people could have thought of. Such a sense of inspiration once existed in Europe, but not any longer, and it does not exist in Japan.
Playboy: Why do you think that it is an American and not a Japanese ability to create an idea such as a skate board?
Ishihara: Part of it is the existence of so many races in one country. It is part of America's Constitution that there should be no constraints on people's thinking. That means that they are free to think of whatever they want. That freedom is why they come up with new things. That is also why they can be irresponsible.
Playboy: Yet, in economic terms, ideas are only as good as the ability to utilize them. Japan routinely takes American ideas and betters them or produces them more efficiently.
Ishihara: That is precisely the reason we should work together as partners instead of against each other as adversaries.
Sony succeeded in using the transistor, an American invention, to make a small, compact radio. Japan has the technology to erect high-rise buildings with high accuracy with laser-beam measurement and land-surveying technology developed by U.S. science, originally as a method of measuring the distance between the earth and points in outer space. Japan, too, succeeded in incorporating that technology into a tool so that now we can build high-rises one hundred and twenty meters high, with an error of just two to three millimeters. Instead of institutionalized competition, we would be better institutionalizing partnerships. First you must acknowledge what we can contribute and treat us as equals.
Playboy: Are you saying that the U.S. will continue to make the technological breakthroughs, but Japan will make the profits?
Ishihara: No. The U.S. should work to be better manufacturers, too--to utilize the ideas themselves, to make better products. But if not that, it could be structured so that American companies would get royalties for designs that Japanese companies manufacture. That is how we can be partners.
Playboy: Some people in America feel that it is not partnership you are after. Your book has been referred to as Death to America.
Ishihara: That's a little hysterical, no? We're talking about a wife saying no once in a while. That's not going to kill anyone. Presently, Japan is increasing her direct investment in the United States. But Japanese companies don't necessarily change managers from American to Japanese. Japan can participate in the management of U.S. corporations in the United States and, conversely, the U.S. can participate in the management of Japanese companies here.
Playboy: What now is your hope for your book as you prepare to publish an authorized translation? What effect will it have?
Ishihara: I hope for a better understanding of the differences between Japan and the United States. I genuinely hope that we can have fruitful discussions based on deeper mutual understanding. We need a frank dialog. I'm trying my best to get Japanese people to pick up the habit of saying things frankly. Frank dialogs are the real imbalance between Japan and the United States.
Playboy: If what you say is true, what will it take for Americans to understand that Japan's saying no is not threatening?
Ishihara: To recognize the existence, the very existence of your counterpart is the first step. If somebody is saying no, it is a very clear message. If you feel that is threatening, it comes from prejudice or at least misconception. Saying no is not a threat. It is standing up and asking for respect. The world is becoming smaller and a new civilization is emerging. Illusory perceptions--how can I put this?--mistaken values have to be weeded out. The pitting of race against race has to be weeded out completely. White people have to become aware of this absurd notion they have. When they grasp it consciously, they can discard it consciously.