Educator, writer, farmer Gregory Clark

Gregory Clark, 75, is the Honorary President of Tama University and Trustee of Akita International University in Japan. A prolific writer, with a background in economics and international politics, his opinionated investigative pieces often spark intensive debates. His 1978 book “The Japanese Tribe: Origins of a Nation’s Uniqueness” explored what he saw as the differences between the rationalistic, ideological societies of the West and China, and the emotional/practical Japanese. The book stirred strong feelings from both sides of the argument.

Clark’s personal story reads like a brilliant novel: Born in Britain as the son of a famous economist, Colin Grant Clark, Gregory moved to Australia with his family as a boy. He entered the Australian foreign service and from 1959 was stationed in Hong Kong and later in Moscow. Fluent in Chinese and Russian (and now also Japanese and Spanish), he abruptly left the Australian foreign service in 1965 due to his strong opposition to the Vietnam War. He turned to academia, with a spell in journalism, and has been living in Japan on and off since 1969. Although education and writing are his fortes, Clark’s passion is more grounded: He is also a farmer and land developer in Chiba Prefecture’s Boso Peninsula, where he prefers to play with dirt rather than with politics.

Think contrarian! Foreigners often assume that Japan and the Japanese are weird and we, non-Japanese, are normal. How about reversing this idea? What if the Japanese way makes more sense than ours? The answer is easy: In many practical, daily-life matters it clearly does!

The male ego is too strong. I think that children belong to the woman and they should have the same name and nationality as their mother. Our boys grew up in a bilingual home but they are Japanese as their mother Yasuko is.

Everyone should study economics. It’s good training for the mind and it teaches you a lot about the world in which we live.

Japanese are creatures of emotion and instinct. They are honest: In my 38 years in Japan we have never experienced any sort of crime. Yet there is no inherent ideology or religion in Japan saying you should be honest. With us, if I find a wallet the rationalistic approach is to ask myself, “Why should I return it?” But the Japanese instinctively return the wallet to its owner.

One failure can haunt us for life. I wasted much time and energy opposing the Vietnam War. For years I would wake up every morning and feel sick when I heard about “Another successful bombing.” Soldiers should be doing more useful things in life than killing. Create an army and you create a war.

Japan was more liberal than other nations. I published my book “In Fear of China” in 1968. The content was not pro-China; it simply showed that the Chinese foreign polices were not as fearful as claimed. In those days, nobody wanted to hear reasonable assessments of China. Nobody, except the Japanese. The book was translated into Japanese and it opened the door for me to make a career in Japan.

If you have ever thought of becoming a farmer one day, Japan is the place to do it. In Japan, we are very lucky as today’s abandoned land was meticulously developed and beautifully managed for hundreds of years by diligent farmers. So when we buy land here, we are buying the labor of those hardworking Japanese. We should look after it, carefully.

Once prejudices are set, changing the mindset is very slow. Chiba Prefecture is next door to Tokyo and the land there is cheap. Yet Tokyo people don’t think of Chiba as a place to commute from, even though it only takes one hour by train. My favorite area, the Boso Peninsula, is a treasure trove of nature — it has a warm climate, a dramatic ocean front and rolling hills with lush sub-tropical forests full of flowers and birds. It is paradise for surfers, too.

First impressions last a lifetime. I first came to Japan in 1961 with a Sony tape recorder (which showed me the excellent technology) and spent three weeks traveling around (which showed me the beauty of the nature and the kindness of the people). “This is a wonderful country, ” I thought. “I will return some day.”

Left and right go hand in hand. I’m what you would call leftwing when it comes to foreign policy but rightwing in domestic policy. I’m a conservative on questions like excessive welfare spending. But in foreign policy I’m bitterly anti-war: Western governments lie.

Japanese don’t know how to colonize. They spent more money in the countries they invaded than they actually made. They wanted the people there to become good, faithful Japanese. We saw this in Korea. “We bring you our education, we build you railways, infrastructure and we will all be one happy family.” It was similar in the western districts of Papua New Guinea, where even today the Japanese are respected. Unfortunately they were not so kind to those who did not want to be “Japanese.”

When my children are well and doing well, I am at my happiest. Yasuko and I spent much of our lives creating these people, our children, so when we see the good results — their total bilingualism and biculturalism especially — we are very happy.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “journeys in japan.” Learn more at: Twitter @judittokyo

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