By Brian Covert Staff Writer KOBE — Dr. Masao Miyamoto despises the Japanese work ethic of taking no vacations, putting in free obligatory overtime and the sacrificing of individuality for the sake of group harmony.
That Miyamoto also happens to be an official of the Health and Welfare Ministry seems to be no deterrent to speaking his mind on the subject, and he did just that Friday before a meeting of the foreign community in Kansai.
“The only way to overcome (this) system of slavery is for the people inside the system to understand the importance of their rights and independence,” said Miyamoto, quarantine director for the Port of Yokohama and author of two controversial books on the Japanese work system.
“It may sound like a rather extreme comment, but Japan is not a country based on democracy and free trade,” Miyamoto said to a packed meeting here of the Kansai chapter of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.
Formerly an assistant professor of psychiatry at Cornell Medical College who had spent 13 years in the United States, Miyamoto said he was labeled a “heretic” after joining the ministry in 1986 and espousing his ideas openly on the topic of freedom of Japanese workers.
In his often-humorous speech Friday, Miyamoto psychoanalyzed Japanese society as one exhibiting “obsessive-compulsive” behavior and “masochistic tendencies” in its self-sacrificing drive to always be perfect.
“I don’t have a strong argument with people who enjoy masochistic pleasure. To each his own. But if the entire country must embrace the perverse nature of masochism, then I think it becomes a problem,” he said.
On current economic issues such as rice imports, Miyamoto dismissed market-opening overtures to foreign countries as nothing but intentionally token measures by the Japanese bureaucracy, stating that “Japan must embrace the concept of free trade in the domestic economy” and that “protectionism must be curtailed.”
Miyamoto said that because of his outspoken opinions, he has become ostracized from superiors and fellow bureaucrats. His two books, “The Code of the Bureaucrats” and Japanese Japan-Bashing,” are virtually banned at the bookstore of his own Tokyo-based ministry.
“The aim of the Ministry of Health and Welfare is supposedly to improve the quality of life of the Japanese people,” he said. “But I wonder how the bureaucrats can decide on improvements if their own everyday lives are so miserable.”
Miyamoto praised the course of political reforms being pursued by Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa, but added that domestic pressure would not be enough to make meaningful changes in society.
“What’s necessary here is gaiatsu, or foreign pressure, to support the Hosokawa government’s reform movement — for the benefit of Japanese consumers.”