25 March 2014
Sophia University

Comparing Australia and Japan

On her first visit to Japan, to study at Tokyo's Sophia University, Australia's Bree Wellington has shared with us her comparison of Australian and Japanese ideology, politics and economics.

On her first visit to Japan, to study at Tokyo's Sophia University, Australia's Bree Wellington has shared with us her first impressions, in the form of a comparison of Australian and Japanese ideology, politics and economics.

Australian and Japanese ideologies:

Australian cultural ideology is often very contradictory. Originally founded as a convict colony, Australia has become increasingly multicultural since the White Australia Policy was discarded in the early 1970s. However, diversity has definitely come at a cost, where ‘culture clashes’ can be seen on both macro and micro scales. The Sydney riots against a relatively large congregation of Lebanese immigrants is explanatory of why Japan is weary of opening up its gates to immigration.

At the same time, racial clashes are reducing, as the next more liberal generation enters adulthood and becomes more integrated into a multicultural society. Through this, a sense of ‘mateship’ is encouraged between people, leading to a more harmonious and inclusive society. Of course, Australia still has a lot to improve in this respect, particularly in terms of addressing the natural segregation that occurs when certain races overtake whole districts. However, Australia is doing quite well on the whole at embracing cultural diversity.

The key element of Australian cultural ideology is, however, with respect to the way it views society, much in contrast to Japan. Being a predominately liberal society, the ‘individual’ remains the most important factor in the make-up of the nation. In short, the good of the individual largely overrides that of the collective. Australia is arguably relatively balanced in embracing this individualism -- it has not taken it quite to the same extent as the US -- however it is still one of the main pillars upholding Australia society.

Equally important is that despite being quite open in many ways, Australia is still relatively conservative compared to its Western counterparts.

Before we are able to adequately contrast the Australian cultural ideology with that of Japan, we must first review the history from which the Japanese ideology has grown.

The Meiji Restoration remains a vital period when reviewing the Japanese ideology of today, despite it taking place about 150 years ago. The lead-up to the Meiji Restoration saw discontent among the Japanese populace towards the Tokugawa Shogunate -- the last feudal military government to exist in Japan. The intrusion of Western powers to push Japan to end its isolation led to discontent. In 1868, samurai associated with the anti-Tokugawa movement staged a coup that eventually returned power from the Tokugawa Shogunate to the Emperor.

The Meiji government abolished the feudal system and undertook a variety of reforms under the slogan of “fukoku kyohei” or “enrich the country and strengthen the military”. The reforms took the form of sending students off to study science and technology at foreign universities, and advancing industrialisation, amongst many other things. Ultimately, the goal was to combine ‘Western’ advances with traditional ‘Eastern’ values, and hence build up a stronger Japan to survive against the colonial powers of the day. National unity came hand in hand with achieving such a goal.

Much of this thought is reflected through the Japanese ideology of today, with strong nationalism being right at its core. This is reflected in many ways, with homogenisation being most obvious. From having spent only 8 days here, it is starkly obvious that not only racial homogenisation, but also cultural homogenisation, is an important factor of Japanese society on both a micro and macro scale.

Generally, everyone looks similar, acts in similar way and, based talks with a few locals, have similar ideals. Of course, this is vital to building up a nationalist society. However, Japan has taken this a step further by making it extremely difficult to immigrate, and clearly continues to resist Western influence, ranking the lowest Asian country with fluently English speaking citizens.

More than this though, I see the mentality through which every citizen acts. The ‘collective’ remains the most important part of the society as opposed to the ever-present West idea of the ‘individual’. This became most obvious when I found out that the Japan only wear facial masks to stop other people from getting their illness, not to protect themselves, as is done back home.

It is hence useful to review that ‘collective nationalism’, through a largely homogenous society, is at the heart of Japanese ideology, and is hence reflected in both political and economic studies.

Overall, this starkly opposing cultural ideology gave me a huge shock when arriving to Japan. Whilst Australian multiculturalism is almost at the core of its workings, the Japanese have embraced the complete opposite, and in all honesty, this seems to be functioning to their advantage. The Japanese population are (generally) not living by the restriction of the police or the law, but through what is acceptable by the social norm. For example, it is not necessarily illegal to eat or drink in the streets, however it is very much socially unacceptable. Hence, it is extremely rare to find any sort of rubbish and they are therefore kept very clean.

As well as this, the traditional (masculine) hierarchical system is much more willingly embraced by the people given that that is how they have operated for many generations. Opening up Japan for immigration would undoubtedly disturb this balance. Similarly, collective nationalism is made much easier by keeping the nation racially homogenous, as it becomes easier to direct the populace towards common goals, unlike Australia. Having such a uniform society has its pros and cons, however the most interesting study is how it has affected its political economy.

Similarities and differences in Australian and Japanese political systems:

The notions of change and continuity remain at the core of assessing the similarities and differences of Japanese and Australian political systems. Both are very similar in the way that they are laid out -- with a figurehead at the top (in Japan -- the emperor; in Australia -- the governor general on behalf of the Queen) under which a bicameral system of the upper and lower house sit. Both also allow for a judicial system of courts whereby the Supreme Court reigns as the highest.

However, this is largely where the similarities end.

The political system, at large, plays a major role in the decision making processes of Australia. The two major parties -- Labour and Liberal -- dictate whether these decisions are made through either a centre left or a centre right lens. The party in government is generally in possession of much power, within the restrictive controls of the upper house. The Prime Minister not only also has a lot of power, but also commands the approval of the populace. The four year term of the Prime Minister is usually served in full, although recent Australian politics have been somewhat more turbulent than that.

In reflection of its cultural ideology, Australian legislation is largely encouraging of multiculturalism, although it is also interesting to note that the key parliamentary positions are, on the whole, reserved for white men and some white women. Overall, legislation is made with the notion of the ‘individual’ at its core.

Japanese politics, whilst ostensibly similar, contains some stark contrasts.

On the whole, politicians serve a more ‘ceremonious’ position than anything else. Big business and bureaucrats yield much influence over the politicians, hence why the “Iron Triangle” is so heavily referenced in studies of Japanese political culture. Therefore, on the whole, the Diet and the Prime Minister have less actual power than their Western counterparts.

The notion of ‘fukoku kyohei’ also still plays a vital role in forming Japanese legislation. Negotiations are almost wholly directed at strengthening Japan through diplomacy, and economics and trade, as will be discussed.

However, the traditional conservatism of Japan still has great influence over its movements. Old loyalties and a general unwillingness to reconfigure old political structures limit the Japanese potential. This is largely seen in that the higher positions in both business and politics are exclusively occupied by older males.

Australian and Japanese economic policy:

In complete contrast, both Japan and Australia have very open economic policies -- probably related to Australia’s openness to diversity and Japan’s continual aim to strengthen the nation.

Both have key economic strengths of which they have utilised in order to strengthen the economy -- Australia in raw materials and Japan in manufacturing.

Interestingly enough, both states have adopted fairly unchanging economic policies until recently. Japan, having suffered from deflation for the best part of 20 years, has adopted fairly radical measures in an attempt to boost their economy.

More specifically, since the induction of Shinzo Abe and his party, what has been termed the “3 arrow” system of Abenomics has been employed in order to boost the economy out of its previous state. The first arrow involves what is termed ‘quantitative easing’, essentially increasing the amount of money in circulation with the goal of reaching a 2% increase in inflation. The second arrow involves fiscal policy directed at investing in public works and infrastructure to stimulate demand. The final arrow aims to deregulate the Japanese market with the eventual view of joining the many free trade agreements that Japan has been offered.

In short, whilst monetary and fiscal policies remain key components of the Abenomics plan, the promotion of big business remains at the core.

Australia has similarly utilised its mining industry to underpin its economy. Both Japan and Australia are hence heavy exporters and therefore have a strong presence in world trade, as well as with each other.

Japan-Australian economic relations remain extremely close, with Japan ranking as the second largest import market for Australia and the third largest for export.

Although Australian economic policy has not quite undergone the same degree of economic reform as Japan in recent years, it is undergoing continual change in the direction of more free trade, similar to the goals of Japan.

Concluding remarks:

It is overall very interesting to see how the differing cultural ideologies of Japan and Australia have resulted in many similarities and differences in their respective political economies.

Japan, being quite a uniform and traditional society, has embraced a political system that is probably more ceremonious than anything else, to keep up with traditions. Its reluctance to alter legislation -- particularly with regard to Article 9 forbidding it to use its military for war purposes -- is reflective of a humbled society that embraces incremental change rather than disruptive. Similarly, its reluctance to allow immigration is demonstrative of how closed off its culture is in reality. Nationalism is hence very achievable in Japan and therefore remains a fundamental tool used in Japanese politics.

Australia, in this way, is starkly different. It embraces multiculturalism, and particularly the politics of the Rudd/Gillard era was reflective of such. However, unlike Japan, individualism trumps the collective, and general nationalism remains harder to achieve in such diversity.

The economic systems of the countries are, however, much more similar. Both are able to utilise trade through openness and through the strength of a key industry -- manufacturing for Japan and raw materials for Australia. Japanese openness to trade is no doubt related to it striving for national economic strength. Whilst this may also be true for Australia, it may also be related to a natural attraction to openness and diversity.

Hence, whilst in some ways differences in Australian and Japanese ideologies have lead to differences in key factors of their political economies, it can also be seen that there are ways in which this has also lead to convergence of the same.
Tags: japan, australia, multiculturalism, nationalism, collective nationalism, individualism, Tokyo's Sophia University

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