First published in I.J. Catanach (ed.), Japanese History and Politics; NZASIA Occasional Papers, Vol. 4, 1980
'The English sickness may not be contagious; but its virus may well be present in other bodies politick.' 1
THE TERM 'English sickness' (Eikoku byō) is widely known and used in Japan rather as the devil was used in early Victorian England to bring misbehaving children into line with the wishes of their parents. The implication is that Great Britain (and perhaps certain other countries too) 2 are exhibiting pathological symptons such as collective greed, reluctance to work hard, excessive egalitarianism, and a declining willingness to defer to established authority.
Western writers in recent years have alternated between euphoria and pessimism abouth the health of the Japanese polity, but up to the oil crisis of 1973-4 the sanguine tended to predominate over the doubters and doommongers. 3 Not surprisingly, the past four years have seen a dampening of euphoria about the prospects for Japan, but the revised assessments which have emerged have in many cases been measured, sober and not without a touch of optimism, rather than deeply pessimistic. The best-selling allegorical novel Nihon no chimbotsu (The Sinking of Japan) was noted, but not taken seriously, in the West. Most writers assumed, with good reason as it turned out, that the Japanese economy would not only survive the massive increase in price it now had to pay for its essential supplies of energy, but would live to fight many another battle in world markets. Indeed there was a certain comfort to be derived from the fact that the oil crisis had brought Japan down a peg, and that Japan was facing problems rather similar to those being experienced in Western countries. The editors of a massive assessment of the Japanese economy recently published by The Brookings Institution in Washington, put it this way:
'The economy, made confident by a long period of extremely rapid, self-sustaining growth and newly achieved affluence, has been chastened by the oil crisis and by the difficulty in combating inflation without depres
* Originally prepared for presentation at the Second New Zealand Conference on Asian Studies, Christchurch 11-14 May 1977. Postscripts dated 2 May 1980 and 28 May 1980 are appended after the notes.