First published over twenty years ago and long out of print, this is a unique interpretation of the essence of Japanese society and individual psychology. It explores the mind and soul of the Japanese and points to the hidden laws of Japanese life which have created the singular character of the country. It is seen by many to have a similar stature in presenting and interpreting the 'parameters' of Japanese society as Benedict's The Chrysanthemum and the Sword and Nakane's Japanese Society. Kurt Singer, a friend of Keynes and one of his German disciples, taught in Japan from 1931 to 1939. This book is the distillation of his experiences and meditations during those hundred months. Singer died in 1962.
Once the subject is understood to be not "the Japanese" but the culture of the pre-World War II ruling classes of Japan (the army, civil bureaucrats, academicians), Singer's rather abstract observations achieve a definite, if fragile, reality (a German refugee teaching in Tokyo, he wrote this in 1945). The national character of the elite Japanese, he found, developed in a childhood "almost free from any restraint"; then came discipline: "When the student graduates from his university he is like a tree enclosed within a hard and colorless bark," The language itself, devious and purposely ambiguous, invites concealment. Thriving on "suffering, patience, toleration of abuses," life was mediated through peer pressure and small-group relationships, "a pattern of patterns," so that individual creativity was suppressed, with stress "laid on the harmony of the whole. . .preferably enshrined in semi-conscious automatisms." Singer's discussion of Japanese culture vis-a-vis Chinese, Japanese calligraphy, poetry, legends and religion, pinpoints the impact of the intense formalism of the people, a character trait (as Richard Storry, British Japanese scholar, notes in his introduction here) which to this day underlies the Japanese personality. The book suggests that Singer himself had not fully solved the formalism/creativity question but his awareness of the duality enabled him to deal potently and sensitively with the "fundamental pattern." (Kirkus Reviews)