LONDON – The Japanese were described as secretive, narrow-minded egoists with no moral code or international outlook, and may be secretly developing nuclear weapons, in an analysis of the country’s psyche written by Britain’s departing ambassador to Tokyo in 1972.
Sir John Pilcher wrote in a letter to Foreign Secretary Sir Alec Douglas-Home, dated June 8, 1972, that because Japan emphasizes following formal rules of behavior above all else — something he refers to as the “form” — the Japanese lack a moral code. This, he said, is accentuated when Japanese go abroad.
When Japanese leave the formality of Japan and travel overseas, they are “utterly at sea,” Pilcher said, adding that Japanese people’s basic instincts take over when they are not guided by formal rules.
“Thus the bad man restrained in Japan by form with a sense of shame, but no inkling of sin, behaves abroad unabashedly badly,” Pilcher wrote. “The good man may, of course, exhibit laudably his virtue.
“I submit that the evil behavior of the Japanese during the last war was basically due to these factors and of course to a traditional contempt for the prisoners of war aided by a deliberate policy to humiliate the former colonial rulers in front of their erstwhile Asian subjects.”
His letter and other government files from 1972 had remained confidential under the 30-year secrecy rule. It was released to the public for the first time Wednesday.
Pilcher, who died in 1990, also appears to blame the terrorism of the Japanese Red Army on the lack of moral grounding.
The Japanese are secretive, he said, noting that this was displayed with the planning for the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“With this in mind, I have pondered whether (the Japanese) might not even now be harboring some atomic surprise with which to confound the world,” he said. The prospect was “extremely unlikely” due to scientific opinion, “but to hold the suspicion may be salutary.”
The ambassador criticized the Japanese for being self-centered and opportunistic. He suggested it would be difficult to integrate Japan into the international community.
Nevertheless, Pilcher believed it was important for the West to continue developing a strong relationship with Japan. By doing this, he said, Japan will change. Pilcher was encouraged by the changes to Japanese schooling — which was increasingly styled on the American system — as he expected it to produce more balanced citizens.
He wrote: “The aphorism ‘the Nipponese are hard to please’ is only too true. They are so ingrown and self-centered that they are scarcely aware that the other man has a point of view at all, let alone one to be considered seriously.”
Pilcher said this sense of superiority, which he attributed to the Shinto religion, “could easily be whipped up again into rabid nationalism.”
He endorsed the view of Japan’s vice foreign minister at the time, who called his fellow countrymen and women “frail flowers of opportunism,” adding that Japanese were “narrow-minded and egoistic, lacking an international outlook and barren of philosophy.”
In conclusion, Pilcher wrote: “I find therefore the old flowers intact though in a milder form. (The British) are not immune from them ourselves.
“The Japanese are openly in pursuit fully of their own interests, yet I leave Japan heartened by the courage shown by prominent Japanese in drawing public attention to their shortcomings.”
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.