Home [ SOCIETY ] Are the Japanese intelligent?

Are the Japanese intelligent?

E-mail Print

This is a terrible question to ask which can lead into issues of racial superiority and the like, issues that the superior/inferior Japanese love to obsess about. 

But it is difficult not to read Richard Lynn’s books “IQ and the Wealth of Nations” and “Race Differences in Intelligence” and look up all the scores. 

Lynn argues, based on his research that average nationl IQs are one important factor, though not the only one, contributing to differences in national wealth and rates of economic growth.  Further, he argues that genetics and race have a substantial role in explaining these differences.  He observes racial clusters of national IQs.  Six East Asian countries have IQs in the range 105 and 108.  The 29 European nations all have IQs in the range between 92 and 102, while 19 nations of sub-Saharan Africa all have IQs in the range between 59 and 73. 

The racial argument is strengthened by the fact that Ashkenazi Jews average much higher than local populations (with 107-115) in the US and the UK.  Curiously, Ashkenazi Jews in Israel score lower.  Do you have to be a bit stupid to live in that unstable country?

IQ is not a constant, however.  Genetically caused high national IQ leads to high per capita incomes which facilitates high quality nutrition, education and health care for children, which in turn enhance their intelligence.  In short, a virtuous circle. 

Quite predictably, Lynn’s work has come in for lots of criticism and praise, with accusations of bias.  Obviously, there are many difficulties measuring IQ scores across cultures and in multiple languages.

So what are the scores?  Japan comes in at equal fifth on 105, just behind Hong Kong, Singapore, North Korea and South Korea.  We are equal with Taiwan and China.  So there certainly seems to be an East Asian factor. 

Moving over to Europe, the UK scores 100, Germany is just behind on 99 along with several countries like Finland.  The US is just behind on 98, Russia on 97, Mexico 90, Brazil 87, Afghanistan 84, Bhutan 80, South Africa 72, and Equatorial Guinea picks up lucky last on 59.

Interestingly, there is some correlation between Lynn’s work and that of the OECD in its Programme for International Student assessment.  Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan and Finland all score highly on the OECD’s estimates of literacy, numeracy and scientific capacity.  And Japan is not that far behind.

If Japan is so intelligent, why has the country been sliding down hill for two decades?  Why is it in such a mess right now?

A good friend of mine is convinced that the Japanese are fundamentally stupid.  He believes that the only reason why they achieve anything at all is by perspiration and perserverance.  Quite frankly, when I look at my fellow country men, I have to agree with him.

In fact, intelligence is neither valued or rewarded in Japan.  On the contrary, we must be modest and humble, and not shine out above everyone else.  Our higher education system helps us in this regard.  Although we are force fed with information at secondary school, basically rote learning, once we get to university, we learn virtually nothing.  Importantly, the IQ and PISA tests occur while we are still young and learning.

It is only if we join a large enterprise, that we actually receive serious training.  And since we are always working in groups, it is our group that teaches what to do.  This means that we keep doing the same thing over and over again, with only some tiny improvements – innovations which will not be punished for excessive initiative.

Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on the survival of the fittest.  However, in Japan, it is not the fittest who survive, but the most cautious and risk averse, and sometimes the most stupid!

What hope do we have?



IQ and the Wealth of Nations by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen


Race Differences in Intelligence: An Evolutionary Analysis by Richard Lynn


Programme for International Student Assessment -- PISA 2006 results