By Joshua Blakeney
Below are excerpts from Ōkawa Shūmei’s Asia, Europe, Japan, originally published in 1926. Asia, Europe, Japan also appeared in full in his 1943 publication Construction of The New Order in Greater East Asia. I have been working on a translation of parts the latter text for some time. The original Japanese-language version of the text can be accessed here.
The specific passages published herein were translated for the purposes of the Tokyo War Crimes Trial. Ōkawa was initially arraigned by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East for his pro-Japanese speeches and writings but would eventually be exempted from the proceedings upon being diagnosed with mental afflictions. We can assume, therefore, that these excerpts were selected by those involved in prosecuting Ōkawa because they were believed to have provided the most damning evidence of his supposed “crimes”.
Philosophically, I am particularly interested in his observation that “Asia, speaking of it in its entirety, has really been a seminary for the spirit of mankind while Europe has been a school for cultivating the knowledge of mankind.”
Enlightenment rationalism has gutted the West of its indigenous spirituality leading European-derrived cultures to be largely devoid of anything culturally meaningful beyond the scope of scientific reasoning. This has made Europeans spiritless and lifeless and thus more easily controlled by ill-intentioned hostile elites. I share the belief that Ōkawa held that Asia could offer a remedy for the loss of an authentic, rooted spirituality in the West.
In these prose we are exposed to Ōkawa’s belief that the then looming clash of civilizations he prophesized would ultimately lead to a synthesis of European and Asian civilizations. Clearly, Ōkawa didn’t deny Japan’s need to absorb the extraordinary knowledge produced by Europeans. It seems likewise us Europeans ought not to ignore Asia’s advancement in matters spiritual. It seems our lack of ancestor worship and our dearth of animistic nature worship renders us particularly out of kilter with the Asiatic spiritual trajectory to which Ōkawa refers in the following words.
Asia, Europe, Japan
By Ōkawa Shūmei
We must admit that it is very clear that as long as one sticks to the present status quo and the other strives to destroy it, this effort to reconstruct Asia will be contradictory to the aim of the League of Nations–also a product of the World War [One]. Regardless of how the platform of the League of Nations may be decorated with rhetorical flourishes it is after all an organization which is meant to eternally maintain the international status quo and is by no means based upon the new internationalism. Moreover, [illegible word] not the status quo of the world actually imply the domination of the world by the Anglo-Saxons. Therefore, the League of Nations exists in order to enable the Anglo-Saxons to be the permanent dominators of the world. One of the reasons why Japan is called the only black spot in dawning Asia is also because Japan joined the League of Nations. . .
Just after all, the plan and the effort to eternally maintain the present status quo by means of such a perfunctory organization as the League of Nations is of no use and will inevitably end in failure, because the objective of this plan and effort is to hinder a state from coming into existence, from becoming prosperous, or to prevent a state from falling into ruin, ignoring the fundamented law of Nature applicable to all living things and also to deprive a subject nation of its right to restore freedom, a weak nation of its right to become strong, and a newly-risen nation of its right to become successor to a declining one. After all, since any organization or system has significance and value only as a realization of the laws of Nature, it is absolutely impossible for any organization or system which is contrary to the laws of Nature to continue to exist for long.
Thus, in spite of the fact that the League of Nations has been established, the Asiatic nations are on the road to recovery, as I have already mentioned, and utterly ignore the spirit of its establishment. On the other hand, the European nations themselves are confronted with the menace of inevitable revolution and are in a state of protracted internal conflict. It is because a thought that fundamentally and in a wholesale way denies the present European system appeared during the World War I and has already achieved success in Russia and partial victory in Germany and Italy. The fundamental idea of this revolution is the same as that of the French Revolution. It is obviously just the same Western Europe effort as that of the latter in that it strives to realize as much liberty and equality as possible in actual life, through the renovation of external institutions.
History clearly shows us, however, that whenever a new social ideal gained control over the public mind in Europe, it was soon followed by a great renovation in the private life and the social system. Of course, the old idea fought against this and [word illegible] prevailed, but final victory was always celebrated by the [word illegible]. In some cases, in accordance with the metamorphosis of thought, utterly new institutions and systems take the place of the old. In other cases, although ideologically metamorphosing, an old system maintained its existence, utilizing a new life as a driving force. In either case, reformation was inevitable. If you wish a recent example, consider what was done by Metternich. He was a conservative to the core, a man rare in Europe. He firmly believed with regard to the underlying idea of the French Revolution as follows: “ Essentially, such an idea should not have appeared in this world. But now that it has come into existence, unhappily, every nation must cooperate in destroying it ”. But what was the result of his effort? Therefore, we believe that, sooner or later, every European nation will have to receive its baptism of revolution.
There are some Japanese who entertain the optimistic hope that if the spirit of socialism gains control over Western Europe, war among the nations will never arise. Such an optimistic view is very dangerous. Recall the catch-words of the French Revolution, which broke out a century ago. Were they not liberty, equality and fraternity, catch-words which were far more tasteful than the doctrines of present-day socialism? In order to attain those ideals, many noble persons voluntarily sacrificed their lives. However, in spite of the fact that this revolutionary idea gained victory somehow or other, hasn’t the final white domination of the world been carried out most openly by the European powers since the French Revolution? Where in their international life can one find even the trace of “liberty, equality and fraternity”, catch-words so strongly advocated as those which from an intellectual point of view should be common to all mankind? Therefore, even Bertrand Russell, to whom Japanese socialists often refer as their supporter, says in his work, “Proposed Roads to Freedom”, citing the instance of [word illegible], that there will be no ready end to international conflicts, even if all the powers become socialistic states. International relations tend to become more complicated, especially when racial sentiments intervene. Therefore, as he [Russell] clearly states, citing the names of countries concerned, even if all those three countries become socialistic states, the problems between Japan, America and Australia will not be settled by [word illegible] of this fact.
Considering these matters, we can roughly conjecture the future relations between Asia and Europe. The stronger the awakening of Asia becomes, the more inevitable a collision with Europe becomes, so long as Europe does not return stolen Asia to its rightful owners, the war between the East and the West is indeed fated. . .
However, we must not be so rash as to conclude that the coming war between the East and West will be fought between allied Asia and allied Europe. Such a thing cannot possibly happen in the near future. The war between Asia and Europe will be fought by the respective powers representing Asia and Europe, which will be the dawn of [a] new day in the [sic] world history, when all mankind will become awakened from their slumber. . .It will be fought also in the future by the respective powers of Asia and Europe as it has been the case in ancient times. The strong Power representing Asia and the other strong Power representing Europe will be chosen out by Heaven as champions of East and the West. Although there might, of course, be some other countries siding with either one of these two, the actual fighting must be done by the decisive war of the said two Powers. In short, the coming war between East and West will be a clash and strife of the strongest countries in the East and the West. Asia! You must not confuse conceptions with facts, and imagine that the war between the East and the West will take place only when the alliance of all the eastern countries and the alliance of all the western countries is realized. Regardless of the other powers’ attitude, one of you must be chosen as the champion of Asia—the champion for the New World to come. . .
As I have stated, Asia and Europe have been considered the greatest rivals in world history to this day. Asia, speaking of it in its entirety, has really been a seminary for the spirit of mankind while Europe has been a school for cultivating the knowledge of mankind. Thus, the history of Asia, fundamentally, is spiritual and because its renovations and transitions had been inner, its political and economic changes, as I have already mentioned, were inevitably inferior to those of Europe; and people were apt to be unconscious of it. Moreover, aside from the fact that this change has been executed gradually from within, a queer fondness was adhered to even after the older formalities and titles had been in substance completely altered, causing the entire change to become all the more indistinct.
In this way, Asia lays importance in regarding it the holiest duty to uphold the spirit, faith and custom of ancestors and to transmit them to posterity. Therefore, when it comes to an extremist, he tries hard not to believe that human beings and their social systems cannot avoid one or the other of progress or retrogression, and that the transition of time is bound to change everything. Thus, eternity has become the most ideal of life in Asia. Of course, there are conservatives in Europe. However, they, at least, accept the law of social evolution. Their arguments with the progressives are concerned only with the proper rate and exact direction. Asia’s conservative spirit, however, is different; it adheres to perpetual immobility by transcending the flow of time. It is like a man in a boat who thinks the water is not flowing and the boat is not moving because he has his eyes closed tightly and does not look at the banks.
This conservatism of Asia, needless to say, has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. To mention the good part, it is because of this spirit that Asia has been able to uphold that which had been really valuable in the past, and to continue an unbroken line of civilization. Asia’s spiritual training today is still what it was in ancient times, and its fundamental truth has been an unbroken tradition till this day. For instance, let us consider this in the light of our own Japanese senses. Our literary and artistic demands are satisfied by reading songs from the Manyoshu and by seeing Noh dramas. Only Asiatic senses can appreciate and enjoy songs over a thousand years old and dramas over a few hundred years old completely in their spiritual form [word illegible]. . .I can find no such example in Europe.
At the same time, this conservative spirit has accumulated the dust of a past which has become useless to the progress of mankind, and hinders its freedom of development. What had once been of value but is meaningless now and a useless formality which has completely lost its original spirit are still being stubbornly preserved as holy. For this reason, the healthy advance of national life is stunted, and caused to stagnate. Unless it is not [sic] skilfully purged and freed, society will certainly be sick. That such conservatism has been one cause of the decline of Asia cannot be denied.
However, the true meaning in Asia’s conservatism does not, by any means, lie in the devotion to everything that is old. Eternal, certainly, does not mean adhering to the opinion that everything must not change. It must be to separate the things that are temporary and eternal in faith, morals, institutions and customs—in cultural phenomena, generally—and to uphold to the last what is eternal. In other words, it must be to recognize the eternal that lies behind all phenomena and to seize upon it. In still other words, it must be to be over actualizing the eternal in reality itself. The Way of Heaven is sound. Therefore, to say that a wise man does not come from arduous toil is another way of saying that we must always strive to actualize the laws of eternity in our lives. To be a slave to formalities and appearances is, then, contrary to the deepest spirit of Asia’s conservatism.
In this respect, the lessons present day Europe has taught Asia are invaluable. Mercilessly raining blows with an iron whip, Europe is teaching Asia that man’s actual life is holy, that its just repletion and developments are in fact the actualization of order and that all those who ignore this really ignore order itself. Yet Europe itself does not realize this. This, as I have already mentioned, is knowledge which Asia’s original spirit once acquired but which Asia is now being forced by Europe to reacquire willy-nilly. Only because Japan, from ancient times, has taken quite literally the truth that “The easy is not easy and liable to change”, and has not neglected her efforts in actualizing order in actual life has she fortunately been able to exist today. In this regard, the Asiatic countries should all really have something to learn from the History of Japan.
The East and the West have now come to a dead-end in their respective ways. Yes, they have come to the final point where they shall neither be able to exist separately. . .
The history of the world indicates that the West and the East must be linked together. However, this union will not probably be completed in peace. . . For the sake of the advent of a New World, it is the unavoidable fate, as has probably been the case in the past, to have a deadly fight between the powers of the West and of the East. This theory is sure enough realized in the American challenge to Japan. The strongest country in Asia is Japan, and the strongest country that represents Europe is America. We can’t tell whether it was by coincidence or God’s will, but as these two countries are symbolized by the [word illegible] and the [word illegible] respectively, the opposition of the two countries appears as if to signify the opposition between broad daylight and a dark night. These two countries are destined to fight against each other as Greece and Persia, or Rome and Carthage had to. O Japan! Will it be a year, ten years, or thirty years hence? Only God knows when it will be. At any time you [Japan] may be summoned to fight. Let us not lose even a moment in preparing ourselves! . . .
Through the victory of Japan in the coming war between Japan and America, the dark world will disappear and a world radiant with the rays of the sun must begin. . .
SOURCE: “Item 32 – Addition to Doc. 684 – ‘Asia, Europe, Japan’ by OKAWA, Shumei”. Inventory of the Personal Papers of Frank S. Tavenner and Official Records from the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, 1945-1948. University of Virginia Law Library.