What has messhi hoko got to do with education in Japan?

Messhi hoko is the Japanese concept of “self-sacrifice for the sake of group”.

Masao Miyamoto, psychiatrist-turned-bureaucrat and author M.D. of “Straitjacket Society: An Insider’s Irreverent View of Bureaucratic Japan” explains that messhi hoko was a philosophy introduced into Japanese education by the Japanese bureaucracy for the purpose of expanding Japan Inc. An excerpt from the book on the author’s basic tenet that messhi hoko is responsible for curbing creativity in the Japanese and the total subordination of individual lives and expression to the group, follows on below:

“*To expand Japan Inc., the bureaucracy introduced the philosophy of messhi hoko or self-sacrifice, for the sake of the group. This philosophy requires the subordination of individual lives to the good of the whole. Since all Japanese invariably belong to some sort of group, through this philosophy they end up sacrificing their personal lives voluntarily or otherwise.

It is difficult to say no to messhi hoko and look for another job, since most Japanese companies are based on this philosophy. A person who rejects the concept of self-sacrifice can expect total isolation from the group. The fear of ostracism evokes strong anxiety in most Japanese, therefore the threat of removal from the group exerts a strong controlling influence on individual behavior.

*In psychological terms, the stimulation of masochistic tendencies equals pleasure. The more you lose your personal life, the more pleasure you get, and as it is very difficult to resist the centripetal force of messhi hoko, this philosophy has become a very efficient way to control people. It has infiltrated the daily lives of the Japanese particularly through the education system, which the bureaucrats of course control.

*The Japanese are educated so that even if they are frustrated or unhappy, they will resign themselves to the situation. This education is very important since, if people do not complain, it is easier to propagate the philosophy of messhi hoko.

*To accomplish the goal of messhi hoko the bureaucrats introduced an educational program based on the idea that all Japanese should look, think, and act alike. This type of education does not allow for individual differences, and as a result, creativity is severely curtailed. from a psychiatrist’s point of view, the bureaucrats are asking people to embrace an illusion.

*Ultimately the bureaucracy does not want people to be independent. Being independent means that a person expresses his thoughts openly, develops a capacity to say no, and questions the status quo. Messhi hoko prevents people from becoming independent. What this means in terms of personality structure is that a person’s pride is fragile, and he can be easily injured. However a greater problem with the inability to develop independence is the concomitant lack of impulse control. This is the main reason why Japanese cannot say no. What messhi hoko does is to arrest development at the stage of adolescence.

*Envy is a hostile impulse. In the West, the feeling of envy is condemned, but in Japan, envy is condoned as a form of justice. If envy is sanctioned, it is difficult to develop one’s talent. Creativity by definition stands out, and in Japan, since any deviation from the group elicits a hostile response, talented people become victims. When viewed from this perspective, Japan resembles a socialist or even a communist country, where idealism develops to prevent envy from arising among the people.

*The bureaucrats announce to the world that Japan is a democracy with a free-market economy. But Japanese soceity functions like a totalitarian country because, even though the separation of the three branches of government is ocnstiutionally guraranted, bureaucratic control of all forms of power is nearly absolute. Once you belong to a group, freedom of expression, disappears. Open expression of critical thoughts is not tolerated without approval by the entire group. In addition, the regulatory power the bureaucracy wields over the economy curtails consumers’ greedom of choice.

What distinguishes Japan’s “totalitarianism” is that there is no observable Big Brother figure. It is the structure itself that functions as Big Brother. This kind of structure makes it almost impossible to change the system.”

Straitjacket Society” is the English version of the earlier Japanese work “Oyakusho no okite” which became a bestseller in Japan and which catapulted the author to fame owing to its controversial contents and “whistle-blowing” effect as well as psycho-analytic andi insightful writings on the enigmatic workings of the Japanese bureaucracy. The Japanese book was a compilation of articles for a monthly magazine by Asahi Shimbun.

2 thoughts on “What has messhi hoko got to do with education in Japan?”

  1. Thank you for the interesting articles. As I know no one in Japan, there are many things that are difficult to grasp without experiencing it and among them there are the education and the professional world in Japan.

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