British sociologist Ronald Dore (The Asahi Shimbun file photo)
During the postwar occupation of Japan by Allied forces, British sociologist Ronald Dore, who died on Nov. 13 at the age of 93 in Bologna, Italy, visited all 300 member households of a Tokyo neighborhood association to interview the residents.
"Have you got a 'butsudan' family Buddhist altar?" was one of the many questions he asked. Another was, "What is your relationship with 'honke' (the main branch of your family) like?"
Dore's purpose was to understand Japan by grasping the ingrained sentiments of its people in their day-to-day lives.
Back then, Japan automatically aroused suspicion in the minds of the British. Would Japan rearm itself? Would there be a revival of militarism?
There was little popular interest in studies delving into the Japanese psyche and value system, Dore later noted, recalling the extreme difficulties he had in publishing his research results in Britain.
Still, he persisted in his field studies over the years. His method was to focus on details to draw out the big picture, which he applied to his research of Japanese farming villages, factories, schools and labor unions.
In his foray into Japan's corporate climate, he concluded that its strength lay in a common attitude among management and labor personnel of "eating out of the same pot of rice"--meaning they were peers, rather than adversaries--which in turn minimized gaps between "those who worked with their hands" (employees) and "those who worked with their heads" (executives).
Japan at the time was catching the attention of the world with its phenomenal economic growth. Dore analyzed "corporate Japan" from multiple angles, discussing the merits and demerits of the seniority and lifetime employment systems.
Dore was a self-professed Japanophile for decades. But from around the mid-1980s, he began expressing his unease or disappointment with Japan, where the Anglo-Saxon strain of unbridled capitalism and shameless pursuit of profit became evident in the corporate world.
Citing examples of companies cutting the salaries of rank-and-file workers to raise board members' remuneration, Dore lamented the "demise of Japanese-style capitalism."
The rise and decline of postwar Japan can be more or less traced by looking at the titles of some of Dore's publications: "Nihon no Nochi Kaikaku" ("Land Reform in Japan"); "Gakureki Shakai Atarashii Bunmeibyo" ("The Diploma Disease"); "Dare no Tame no Kaisha ni Suruka" (For whose sake should the company be transformed?); "Nihon no Tenki" (Japan's turning point); and "Genmetsu"(Disillusionment).
For 70 years, Dore was a bona fide Japan expert who discussed this nation extensively, including its defects.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 21
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.