The magazines chose a list of the top 100, available here, on the basis of the following criteria: “Although the men and women on this list are some of the world’s most sophisticated thinkers, the criteria to make the list could not be more simple. Candidates must be living and still active in public life. They must have shown distinction in their particular field as well as an ability to influence wider debate, often far beyond the borders of their own country.”
Sixty-six are from North America or Europe. Not one is from Japan. The last time FP/Prospect conducted this survey, Ohmae Kenichi and Ishihara Shintaro were included in the top 100, at 97 and 100 respectively. Is Japan really so far removed from global intellectual currents that not one Japanese merits inclusion on this list? I suppose that English ability might have something to do with it: how else does a public intellectual “influence wider debate…beyond the borders of their own country” today than by being a proficient or fluent English speaker?
Beyond that, another point that many on the list have in common is an interest in regional, transnational, and global problems. Japanese public discourse, however, tends to be inward focused, meaning that Japanese public intellectuals make their names discussing Japan’s problems, often looking at international problems solely in terms of how they affect Japan.
Part of it too may be selection bias on the part of FP and Prospect. India and China combined for ten of the 100, reflecting the focus of global media on the two Asian giants. But does that translate into influence for its public intellectuals?
I urge you all to choose a Japanese public intellectual (Oe Kenzaburo, Murakami Haruki, Funabashi Yoichi, whoever) as your write-in vote.