With Japan using the crest of its postwar financial miracle, Sony chairman Akio Morita and Japan’s Minister of Transport Shintarō Ishihara unleashed a manifesto.
The doc, revealed in 1989, contained a prophecy that propelled it to home bestseller standing, and into the involved fingers of officers on the CIA.
On the time, the authors famous, the American and Soviet superpowers had change into “depending on the initiative of the Japanese folks” in creating new expertise, as exemplified by the nation’s dominant manufacturing of semiconductor chips. For Morita and Ishihara, this signalled “the tip of modernity developed by Caucasians” and the emergence of “an period of latest genesis” led by Japanese technological supremacy.
Quick ahead to 2021, and Japan’s high-tech picture is peeling away. “Japan wants a software program replace”, the New York Instances tells us. The nation’s octogenarian IT minister, Naokazu Takemoto, has been mocked for his incapability to keep up a functioning web site. Japan, it appears, is lagging behind within the world race to digitise, regardless of being the house of Panasonic and Mitsubishi, of bullet trains and neon-lit city life.
And nowhere is that this higher symbolised than within the nation’s ongoing love affair with the fax machine. The Twentieth-century expertise continues to be a fixture in lots of Japanese places of work, the place there stays an insistence on paper paperwork bearing private seals. However fairly than asking why Japanese companies have patiently stood by their buzzing fax machines, maybe we must always actually be asking: why do we discover it so stunning? Why do representations equating Japan to excessive applied sciences persist so tenaciously, regardless of proof on the contrary?
An apparent perpetrator is “techno-orientalism”. One utility of the time period orientalism has been in describing the romanticisation of the east, within the eyes of the west, as a spot of exoticism and mystical knowledge. Japan’s booming microelectronics business opened a brand new risk for orientalist fantasy: techno-orientalism, or the concept that the east may characterize an unique, technoscientific future. Assume right here of how neon-lit Tokyo helped encourage Blade Runner’s aesthetic and Neuromancer’s television-coloured skies.
However look additional again, and there’s a deeper historical past, entangled with trendy imperialism, that feeds into our thought of latest Japan. The fantasy of superior technological improvement has lengthy been elementary to defining Japanese nationwide id – as “trendy”, relative to each its Asian neighbours and the west.
It was no accident that when Akio and Shintarō spoke in 1989 of Japan’s rise, they framed it as “the tip of modernity developed by Caucasians”. Japan entered the trendy worldwide order staring down the barrels of cannons mounted on American steamships. In negotiating the nation’s opening, western imperial powers impressed upon Japan their overwhelming mechanical would possibly, bolstered by an “ideology of dominance based mostly on expertise”.
In response, technological improvement grew to become the cornerstone of Japan’s nationwide agenda. As encapsulated in slogans resembling “oitsuke oikose” – “catch up and overtake” – the aim was to create native industries, infrastructure and army capability that might finally provide Japan parity with, and even superiority over, the west.
This “techno-nationalism” additionally served as a elementary motive for Japan’s imperial enlargement. By the late Thirties, Japanese engineers referred to their work within the puppet state of Manchuria (an space protecting Northeastern China and components of neighbouring Russia) as “gijutsu hōkoku”, or “service to the nation by way of expertise”.
One among Japan’s earliest and most important investments in faxing occurred in 1936, on the event of that yr’s Berlin Olympics. A telephotographic community was established between Tokyo and Berlin to transmit not solely photos of the occasion, but in addition an illustrated photoletter from Hitler to Nippon Electrical.
Shortly after, in 1941, the Japanese Planning Company outlined a imaginative and prescient of how Japanese engineering mixed with uncooked supplies from its Asian empire would possibly create an autonomous zone free from domination by Western applied sciences. Foreshadowing the phrases of Morita and Ishihara half a century later, this imaginative and prescient of a “new order” intersected with broader wartime debates about how Japan would possibly “overcome modernity” – a time period largely understood to be synonymous with overcoming the West.
This nationwide fantasy, a projection of what Japan may or ought to change into on the degree of state and business, endured by way of Japan’s Eighties technological ascendancy – simply because the fax machine was having fun with its heyday. However the exuberant postwar bubble would burst.
Throughout the “misplaced decade” of the Nineties, Japan’s economic system entered a recession, then shrank. An ageing inhabitants and marked gender and earnings inequality grew to become the matter of every day headlines. From this attitude, sluggish digitalisation is merely one index of a normal malaise gripping the nation because the finish of its financial miracle. However, even because the hole between fantasy and actuality widened, Japan’s high-tech picture remained an integral a part of the favored creativeness.
The persistence of this picture within the face of contradictory proof is much less stunning given how technological prowess has been a elementary half Japanese nationwide id for over a century. If renewed consideration on Japan’s love affair with the fax machine tells us something, it’s maybe much less that Japan is mired within the pre-digital previous, however fairly that the age when Japan outlined its relation to modernity by way of superior expertise could also be coming to an finish.
Hansun Hsiung doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that might profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their tutorial appointment.