Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Respect for Life

One beautiful afternoon, I went for a bicycle ride along a brook not far from my residence. I saw three grade-school boys sitting under a tree near the brook. They had a creel and a landing net. I knelt beside them to look into the creel. It held seven crayfish; four alive and three dead.

They proudly recounted to me how they captured each crayfish along the brook. My attention was much more of a compliment than any words I might have offered. I observed patiently as they showed me the skills of the four crayfish that were still alive. They set them on the ground, roughly touched them with sticks and caught them as they moved forward.

After the crayfish had performed, I gently said, "Now, guys, it's time to free them."

"No way!" they shouted. "We've caught them and they belong to us."

"You must free them!" I insisted. "They don't belong to you."

"It wasn't easy to find these crayfish," one of the boys uttered. "And it took us more than two hours to catch them."

"Well guys," I said, "I understand that you've worked hard to catch the crayfish. But you have to realize these little creatures need to live in fresh water. If you don't put them back into the brook now, they are going to die. Three of them are already dead. It is sad, isn't it?"

They frowned upon me and insisted on taking the crayfish back home, but they finally followed my advice and put the crayfish back into the brook.

These three boys were neither my children nor my students; but as an adult, I felt I had to guide them toward compassion for other living creatures. They maybe thought I was a mean person at that moment, but they will probably grow up and understand that I just did not allow them to do what was wrong.

There will be moments when we see children close to us being cruel to other creatures. Even though those are not moments for harsh judgment, neither are those moments for silence. Teaching them to be kind to other creatures will nurture their sense of familiarity with nature and friendship with all humans, thereby enriching their hearts. When people develop respect for life in childhood, they are most unlikely to harm things when they grow up.

Everything in this world comes into existence in response to causes and conditions. We see this in the web of nature, in the relation between humans and the environment, between the individual and society, between parents and children, and so on. Indeed, we should create a world where compassion for others replaces brutality, because we are not living alone.

(This article was first published in Mainichi Weekly on April 19, 2003)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dignifying Japanese Women

Recently there have been many television news reporting the exploitation of young schoolgirls, who are lured by “telephone clubs” into the nadir of pornography and prostitution. According to statistics compiled by researchers, many schoolgirls in Tokyo, including elementary-school girls, have experienced solicitation for sex by older men, in many cases by intellectuals like teachers, doctors, government officials and even politicians. This is unusual in a country that boasts high literacy standards and economic success.

What riles me most of all is the widespread and tacit consent in Japanese society of such immorality. It is acquiescence on behalf of parents, educators and lawmakers that has allowed the obsession of the Japanese male with cuteness to mutate into an obsession that might best be described as lewd.

When I first arrived in Japan, traveling from the airport to my lodging on a cold winter’s night, I was shocked to see teenage girls wearing miniskirts as school uniforms. As the days passed, I became well acquainted with the sight of these girls in their minis. Curious, I asked many Japanese adults about this and their answer was “fashion.” If a girl does not conform with her peers, she will be the laughing stock of her school. What?I was puzzled to hear that.

I think Japanese schoolgirls’ skirts are too short to be considered as part of a decent and proper school uniform. I cannot understand why educators tolerate this kind of fashion sense of these girls, knowing they could attract attention and interest from many “hot-bloodied” predators. I can neither understand why the Japanese government has allowed magazines for adults portraying teenage girls in these uniforms nor why institutions like “telephone clubs,” “love hotels,” etc., help promote promiscuous behavior among young girls. Is this the image of the next generation of respectable and responsible women?

Before it is too late, we should open our eyes and look at this issue as a grave national problem if we really wish to bring dignity to Japanese women.I believe the government must enforce legislation to prevent minors from becoming involved in immoral activities voluntarily and severely punish violators to send the message across in male-dominated Japanese society.

I also believe feminists must come together to educate young women and oppose any institutions and practices that bring indignity to Japanese women. But most important of all, we parents must spend more spiritual time with our daughters and protect them from negative influences of society so that they can earn respect and better circumstances.All this will certainly help save the reputation of the current and future generations of Japanese women.

(This essay was first published in Mainichi Weekly on December 6, 2003)

Pedophilia: Zero Tolerance!

I can't understand why many Japanese folks are not really condemning pedophilia. It is very shocking and shameful to know that there are still many adults (even parents) in our communities who are doing almost nothing to fight against this vice. Don't we all need to take care of our children and protect them from the negative influences of society? If we don't; how can they earn respect and better circumstances?

Pedophilia is running rampant all over the world, and in advanced nations many adults; especially educators, parents, lawmakers and the police are ardently fighting against it. In Japan, however, it is not considered a serious problem. And it is very sad to know that every day, a tremendous number of Japanese girls and boys are being sexually exploited by pedophiles (even educators, doctors, lawyers, judges, politicians, police officers and Buddhist monks.)

The Internet (cell phones and "Deai-kei saito" or "dating sites") has provided Japanese pedophiles with a "convenient" tool for locating unsuspecting children for their sexual pleasures. It has also provided a highway for pedophiles to connect with their buddies. They can now support each other, share "love" stories and even exchange indecent pictures. Last year, a Japanese father was arrested on suspicion of molesting his grade-school daughter; taking indecent pictures of her and sharing them on the Web with other pedophiles. He pleaded guilty, but to my great surprise, the court just scolded him and warned him not to do anything like that with his own daughter anymore: what a ROTTEN court!

I urge all responsible and decent adults to stand up and fight against this vice - pedophilia - that is destroying the moral fiber of our communities. It must be "Zero Tolerance!" If we run across a site that appears to be exploiting children, by all means, we must report it to police and urge them to take firm actions against it.

We must always pay attention when our children are surfing the Web, monitor what they are doing and who they are talking to. We, responsible adults who are concerned about the safety of children everywhere in Japan, must do our best to stop this awful crime before it is too late. We must not allow any innocent child to become the victim of these sick adults. They are tracking down, seducing and convincing our children they love them and will give them money and presents. Aren't they vicious?

Pedophiles do not have certain "appearances" that distinguish them as such. They could be married with children of their own. They could be our next door neighbors, our children's school teachers, volleyball coaches, tutors, preschool teachers, baby-sitters, or even relatives.Pedophiles tend to choose occupations that put them in close contact with children such as teaching, counseling, daycare, scouting, coaching... I am not saying that all people in these professions are pedophiles; I am sure most of them are not. I am just trying to raise awareness here in Japan, where a great deal of parents have no sense of prevention.

Here are some other safety tips for parents to protect children from pedophiles:
- Be aware of whom your children are spending their time with.
- Trust your instincts and be alert.- Do not be afraid of asking questions to your children, their peers and adults around them when you suspect something has happened.
- Listen to your children and take what they tell you seriously.
- Be concerned if your children show fear or mistrust of an adult. Children are basically honest and open about their feelings so trust their instincts, too.- Be open-minded and discuss "pedophilia" with your children.
- Discuss "pedophilia" with your children's friends, classmates, teachers, coaches, other parents, neighbors...
- Contact the police if you suspect someone of being a pedophile or you've come across a site that appears to be owned by a pedophile. Urge the police to deal seriously with the matter; if they don't, write to newspapers.- Start "ZERO TOLERANCE!" campaign in your community.
- Be very close to your children.
- Always remember this: "Prevention is better than the cure!"

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Extreme Nationalism, Militarism & Nukes: Deadly for Japan

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine, an arson attack on a house of a lawmaker who criticized him, the popularity of the hawkish Shinzo Abe (for sure the next Premier of Japan) who is obviously promoting extreme nationalism and militarism in Japan, Former Prime Minister Nakasone and other Japanese lawmakers’ nuclear ambitions…all are signs that this nation is taking a self-destructive path again.

Public polls after Koizumi's latest pilgrimage to the shrine also have indicated rising domestic support for his visits, especially among younger Japanese, prompting concerns about a rise of nationalism.

Frankly, are nationalism, militarism and nuclear weapons really needed for the welfare of contemporary Japan?

Japan’s security was once measured in terms of its ability to fend off military attack. But under existing conditions in the world there seems little likelihood that any nation would attack Japan. It is obvious that the real front line of defense for Japan is not on any military perimeter. It is the maintenance and healthy growth of international cooperation. For this, world peace is, of course, necessary but so also is the solution of endless economic and political problems in Japan’s relations with the various countries of the world (especially China and the two Koreas).

Many Japanese politicians (Nakasone, Koizumi, Abe, Ishihara…) and ordinary citizens have always seen China and North Korea as strategic daggers pointed at the heart of Japan. But, I think world economic and diplomatic conditions now make such a concept an anachronism. A more apt figure of speech would be to describe stagnation or decline in world trade as a sword of Damocles hanging precariously above Japan’s head. The thread that supports it is threatened by a various breezes: extreme terrorism, major wars, global ecological damage, or, most probably, the inability of human beings to cooperate successfully in a situation of rapidly increasing complexity and growing tension.

One might expect that the vigor the Japanese once put into military defense would now go into the solution of the serious problems that stand in the way of effective world cooperation, for this is Japan’s great strategic frontier. But such is hardly the case. In fact, the Japanese seem remarkably passive, more like spectators at the great drama of world history than like participants in it. They tend to wait for others to take initiatives and then merely to react to these. In part it seems to be an expression of their traditional isolationism. They still seem to see Japan as somehow separate from the world. They do their best to fathom what the world may have in store for them but do not think of Japan as being a major force that will help shape the world. To other peoples they seem ready to take advantage of whatever others might develop in international relations, but unwilling to take any risks themselves. The American concept of the Japanese desire for a “free ride” has not been entirely off the mark.

The Japanese seem slow to realize that, while Japan is undoubtedly dependent on the rest of the world, what that world will be is in no small degree dependent on Japan’s role in it. It is indeed an irony--perhaps even a tragedy&--that the Japanese, while possessing the world’s >most global economy, should at the time be among its psychologically most parochial peoples. As they themselves are fond of saying, they have an “island country mentality” (shimaguni konjo).

It is doubtful that much of present world civilization would survive a general nuclear holocaust, but certainly Japan as it now exists would definitely not. As nuclear weapons proliferate, as seems probable, even localized wars, if they prevented Japan’s access to food supplies or oil resources, would certainly bring the country tumbling down. Unlimited population growth in the developing countries or growing frictions between them and the industrialized countries might lead to such disorders as to impair world trade. There is also a growing capacity for acts of international terrorism to produce chaos in an ever more closely intricately knit world. Any of these developments would have particularly serious consequences for Japan’s finely tuned economy and worldwide economical dependence.

Nakasone, Koizumi, Abe, Aso, Ishihara, so-called “Japanese nationalists” and all the Japanese:
1)Have you already forgotten Japan’s miserable past (Pacific War, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, poverty…)
2)Are you willing to punish your own nation again?

If not, use your brains and hearts; and think deeply before you act. You have no other choice but promoting important universal values such as peace, love, nonviolence, compassion, antiracism, respect for life diversity and prosperity for all human beings.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Porn too readily available in Japan

The exposure of a pedophile ring in Belgium and the children's summit is Sweden several years ago have highlighted the tragedy of children being used for pornography and prostitution. This is an international problem that is finally receiving the attention of the media and ordinary people in "advanced" nations.

We can only hope that the outcry will prompt the Japanese government to truthfully criminalize (not only a "tatemae" or an afficial stance) child pornography, but I doubt it. Not only is child pornography apparently accepted in Japan, but pornography of all kinds is readily made available to children.

Vending machines sell it on the street (even in small country towns); the manga (comic books) read by young people contain both pornographic photographs and drawings; schoolgirls disrobe in some video games; and shockingly, it is even given away as prizes in some video game centers!

Two years ago, a Japanese man who sat next to me on the plane from Fukuoka to Aomori told me that he was in a video game arcade somewhere in Tokyo; and some of the prizes offered were playing cards with pictures of naked women and pornographic videos. According to him, those videos didn't appear to be "soft porn." They were hardcore and the cover of one depicted a woman engaged in a sex act with a farm animal! Isn't it nice to think that a grade-school boy or girl could win that and take it home?

Young people should be educated about issues of sex and sexuality but not through books and videos that degrade women, abuse animals, make children "sexy" or depict rape as something a woman enjoys.

The blind acceptance of all forms of pornography in Japan is perpetuated by Japanese women who allow themselves to be portrayed in this way and who ignore what their children are being exposed to.

It is about time that women in this country stood up for themselves and their children as women have been doing in many other countries for a very long time.

People maybe have the right to produce pornography but I believe they also have the duty to control its distribution.

Japanese women (because I think most Japanese and non-Japanese men living in Japan aren't going to do it) must get pornographic vending machines off the streets, pornography out of children's comics and video game arcades, and fight have child pornography FULLY criminalized (by all means necessary) as much of the rest of the "advanced" world has done already.

Nota Bene:
For us men, if we do really love and respect women (our grandmothers, mothers, wives, girlfriends, aunts, sisters, daughters, nieces...) we must stand up and fight for their welfare and dignity!(Joel Assogba)

Quotes for Thought (Voltaire)

Voltaire is great! I would like to share some of his quotes with all of you:

1) "...the safest course is to do nothing against one's conscience. With this secret, we can enjoy life and have no fear from death."
2) "A witty saying proves nothing."
3) "All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God."
4) "Animals have these advantages over man: they never hear the clock strike, they die without any idea of death, they have no theologians to instruct them, their last moments are not disturbed by unwelcome and unpleasant ceremonies, their funerals cost them nothing, and no one starts lawsuits over their wills."
5) "Anything too stupid to be said is sung."
6) "Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well."
7) "Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd."
8) "Every man is guilty of all the good he didn't do."
9) "God is a circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere."
10) "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh."
11) "God is always on the side of the big battalions."
12) "I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it."
13) "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him."
14) "Indeed, history is nothing more than a tableau of crimes and misfortunes."
15) "It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong."
16) "It is forbidden to kill; therefore all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets."
17) "Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers."
18) "Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by imagination."
19) "Love truth, and pardon error."
20) "Marriage is the only adventure open to the cowardly."
21) "Men are equal; it is not birth but virtue that makes the difference."
22) "Prejudice is opinion without judgement."
23) "Regimen is superior to medicine."
24) "The art of medicine consists in amusing the patient while nature cures the disease."
25) "The multitude of books is making us ignorant."
26) "The secret of being boring is to say everything."
27) "There is a wide difference between speaking to deceive, and being silent to be impenetrable."
28) "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities."
29) "To succeed in the world it is not enough to be stupid, you must also be well-mannered."
30) "Use, do not abuse; neither abstinence nor excess ever renders man happy."

Question to all:
Which one is your favorite? Why?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What on Earth is Happening to Teenage Boys?

Here we go again with another shocking incident involving teenage boys. A high school boy conspired with a friend to murder his mother. What on earth is happening to these teenage boys?

Boys, whose eyes always sparkle with inexhaustible curiosity and wonder, regardless of the weather—rain, snow, sunshine or storms—are invaluable treasures of this world. Their liveliness and vitality are like force of roots which, after persevering in the winter blizzards and snow, sprout and break the crust of the earth when spring arrives.

The French writer Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712 – 1778), in his famous immortal work, “Emile,” portrays a boy who has reached puberty:

“As the roaring of the waves precedes the tempest, so the murmur of rising passions announces this tumultuous change; a suppressed excitement warns us of the approaching danger. A change of temper, frequent outbreaks of danger, a perpetual stirring of the mind, make the child almost ungovernable. He becomes deaf to the voice he used to obey; he is a lion in fever; he distrusts his keeper and refuses to be controlled.”

As is well-known to many people, this literary masterpiece portrays a boy, Emile, who grows up with what Rousseau defined as an ideal education, and this work is universally accepted as a pedagogical classic. But I think those concerned about human beings in general, not just those involved in education, should read this book at least once.

In any event, “a lion in fever” is an exquisite and superb portrayal of a boy who has just reached the age of fifteen. In our times, children graduate from junior high schools and enter senior high schools when they are around the age of fifteen. It is a very important stage because I believe children become “adults” around this time (they can make babies you know!?). Rousseau termed this stage “the second birth,” and I suspect that it is no easier today to educate children at this age than it was in his day.

What, then, is the present situation for young people in Japan? Do they have good “doctors” who can cure their “fever” at home, at school and in the society? This “fever” is peculiar to adolescents who have tremendous emotional ups and downs; are they being led toward a healthy course which leads to mature growth? Regrettably I cannot offer a positive answer. These days I even suspect that the situation is worse now than ever before.

Particularly in recent years, violence at school and at home has become extremely serious, and it is shifting from the senior and junior high schools to elementary schools. Moreover, the violence occurring among pupils is now being directed even against teachers and parents, and the incidents of such violence are rapidly increasing. I hear that because of this violence some junior high and elementary schools even find it difficult to conduct classes normally. Some schools have begun summoning the police.

I believe many contemporary adults have become very insensitive to the inner aspects of human beings; the number of those adults who are extremely enthusiastic about developing the outer aspects of their children while negligent about their inner qualities is increasing.

Rousseau also stated in his “Emile”:

“Do you desire to stimulate and nourish the first stirrings of awakening sensibility in the heart of a young man; do you desire to incline his disposition towards kindly deed and thoughts; do not cause the seeds of pride, vanity and envy to spring up in him through the misleading picture of the happiness of mankind; do not show him, to begin with, the pomp of courts, the pride of palaces, the delights of pageants; do not take him into society and into brilliant assemblies; do not show him the outside of society till you have made him capable of estimating it at its true worth. To show him the world before he is acquainted with men, is not to train him, but to corrupt him; not to teach, but mislead.”

Now is the time we need to realize, though belatedly, the confusion of our contemporary civilization, which has pursued the betterment of only the outer aspects of human beings. Only this understanding will enable us to blaze the path along which “a lion in fever” can become cured and grow to be as gallant as the king of beasts.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Love, Compassion & Respect for Life

Uncle Phil told me the following story on the phone last week:
[Next door to him lives a boy of kindergarten age. One day he found him squatting in the tiny yard of the apartment building, working earnestly at something with a trowel in hand. After a while, he stood up and then reverently chanted something with small palms joined together. When asked what he was doing, he said "My pet hamster died, so I prayed he would be born a human being in his next life.”]

The little boy was conducting a funeral ceremony for his "little friend." He said it had been his own idea and not a suggestion from his mother.I could not suppress a smile when I heard this story. I think the boy's action has profound significance. I regard his spontaneous emotion as a reflection of a vivid and lively awareness of life.

I believe children act as their natural emotions dictate. Through such actions, I am sure, they nurture a sense of familiarity with nature and friendship with other children, thereby enriching their hearts. When people develop respect for life in childhood, they most unlikely, when they grow up, to harm things. And they will be even less likely to commit suicide or jeopardize the lives of others. The story impressed me all the more because I have recently heard of many such tragedies; a series of sad and painful incidents which took place within the world of children; violence, suicide, murders...

The light of peace begins to shine where adults regard children as precious; and they instill important universal values such as non-violence, compassion and respect for life in them. This must be the fundamental basis and origin of peace.

No matter what happens, suicide, one would think, would be the farthest thing from children's minds. That children, who are synonym for hope, should easily choose death must be viewed seriously as an extraordinary state of affairs.

Japanese children and teenagers seem as fragile and easily broken as glass. In order to change that brittleness into tenacity and flexibility, like that of the bamboo, I think the time has come when we must consider, on a fundamental level the educational influence the family, school and society at large have on children.

I think no one who is a parent or a teacher is indifferent to the growth and development of children. However, in what direction children's growth should be guided is quite another matter. When children are raised without strong messages of love, compassion and respect for life; then they may be much more likely to take their own lives when frustrated. They can never develop the resilience of the bamboo, which patiently perseveres under the weight of fallen snow and eventually spring back again, shooting up in the warm spring sunshine.

I sincerely pray that parents and teachers will live every single day filled with a wealth of vitality so that they can offer a warm human touch like the sun, not only to their own children and students but also to other children, students and adults with whom they encounter as well.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Who's is the Emperor of Japan?

All who read will know the answer to a simple question that concerns Japan's cultural heritage. In this respect, I want to make known a striking reality -- many young people in Japan don't know who their emperor is.

I will set the scene that brought me to this, well, appalling realization. I recently asked a group of middle school students (all of them were of Japanese ethnic background, born and raised in a very conservative country town in Kyushu) a simple question in English that goes something like this: "Who is your emperor?"

I was subsequently confronted by a sea of blank faces.

"All right, I'll rephrase that: Who is the emperor of Japan?"

Through the translation of my question to the students by an embarrassed Japanese teacher, it dawned on me (and her) that they perfectly understood what I was saying but just didn't know the answer.

I have, since my initial shock, asked this same question to high school seniors, some university students, and even some office workers; my hope being that a simple knowledge of one's own country and cultural assets might become apparent further down the line. A majority had no idea who the emperor was.

It is with some dismay that I now build a picture of an education system, older generation, "mono-cultural" society (call it what you may) that is producing a generation of young people ignorant of a few basic facts, their cultural heritage. I fear it is the latter in both cases; the fact that these young people don't know who the emperor is conceals an ignorance far more shameful -- they don't know what it is.

These young people know of David and Victoria Beckham, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, Hamasaki Ayumi, Utada Hikaru, Bae Yong Jun, and even Elvis Presley who died long ago (but, who is still living in the spirit of Premier Koizumi and many other fans here in Japan and around the world.) Of course, nothing wrong about that! But…

Ironically, all the "foreigners" that I have asked the same question knew exactly who the Japanese emperor was.

Am I merely interacting with a set of unusually uneducated young people, or have I just missed another lesson in Japanese etiquette: that it's somehow disrespectful to announce the emperor's name in public and better to feign ignorance?

Contemporary Japan: Westernized?

In any fast changing society there are curious and sometimes uncomfortable contrast between traditions inherited from the past and new characteristics produced by new technologies and institutions. Japan having moved faster and farther than any other nation during the past century may be subject to particularly severe strains of this sort, but they are not different in kind--only in degree--from what the West itself experiences.

I believe Japan has not been Westernized, as is commonly asserted. Nothing is more central to traditional Western culture than Christianity, but less than 1 percent of the Japanese population has embraced this religion. What Japanese have taken over are the modern aspects of Western culture, which for the most part the West too has only recently developed in response to modern technology--things like railroads, factories, mass education, great newspapers, television, and mass democracy. In this sense Japan has more significantly become modernized, not Westernized, and the process of modernization has taken place on the basis of Japan's own traditional culture, just as happened in the West, with same sort of resulting contrasts and strains.

A head start in the West of four decades in railroading and a few years in television did not make these features of modern life distinctively Western as opposed to Japanese. Japanese are every bit much at home with them as are North Americans, Europeans and others. Tea which is an East Asian drink, coffee from the Middle East and Africa, kimono-like dressing gowns, martial arts, sushi, Chinese foods, African rhythms in music... have not produced traumas or schizophrenia in West. Why should multicultural values, foods, arts, music... have this effect on Japanese? Mozart and Beethoven now belongs as much to Japanese as to other Asians, Australians, Africans, Americans or even Germans. "Happy Birthday," sung always in English, and "Auld Lang Syne," sung always in Japanese, are as solid natural parts of Japanese folk today as of North American.

Only old ladies and some very wealthy women commonly wear Japanese kimonos, while most other women reserve them only for very festive occasions, such as Coming-of-age and university graduation ceremonies, if they can afford them at all. The Japanese find nothing incongruous in the contrast between the traditional Japanese garb of brides at Shinto wedding ceremonies and the traditional Western white they usually wear at civil ceremonies or Christian weddings, which are popular even for nonbelievers. Grooms are almost always dressed in Western style, specifically in cutaways in more affluent circles, a costume that is much used for formal occasions in Japan and is called "moningu" from "morning coat." Hardly any men ever wear traditional garb of any sort. Neither did their fathers or many of their grandfathers, and they would feel almost as self-conscious in a traditional Japanese costume as a North American native in Indian dress.

We all naturally live in multicultural societies, and nobody can deny it (at least people who are well-educated.)

Reflecting on the History of WWII in Asia

While exchanging ideas about wars with a group of Japanese high school students the other day, I asked who started the Pacific branch of World War II. I got answers ranging from Korea to China to America, but not Japan.
-"Have you ever heard of Pearl Harbor?" I asked.
- "Yes!" a boy replied while giggling, "It is an upscale jewelry shop in Hawaii."(How could he joke about an atrocious event like that?)

These students all knew well about the misery and suffering caused by the U.S. army's atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but they ignored the atrocities Japan committed on innocent people in Asia.

It would be ridiculous to address the problem by defending atomic weapons. They certainly are the most abhorrent weapons ever devised, mainly for the particularly cruel long-term effects of radiation poisoning.

Likewise, I will leave it to others (who are no doubt chomping at the bit) to differentiate between the folly of using nukes now, when their power to savage living organisms in thoroughly understood, as opposed to their use mere months after their creation by an exhausted, war-weary nation faced with a recalcitrant, zealous, indeed suicidal (the infamous kamikaze) enemy leadership that couldn't seem to realize the war was lost and wouldn't capitulate.

But who's surprised that a tremendous number of Americans didn't know the first atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima? All countries have a good chunk of citizens either uneducated or unable to recall their education.

Anyway, I was very upset--but not surprised--by the fact these high school kids did not know much about Japan's history of invasions and colonial rule. Their ignorance sharply and exactly mirrors the content of their history textbooks, which condone atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Military. Take for instance, the Ministry of Education's approval of a certain junior high school history textbook that --from the points of view of China and Korea -- was painting a much rosier picture of Japan's role in World War II than was historically accurate. Atrocities were downplayed and Japan's role in using sex slaves from Korea and China were excluded.

I think the Japanese need to reflect on the history of World War II from an impartial standpoint. It is beyond my imagination how much the victims of the atomic bombs suffered. Because of their suffering, Japanese people can sympathize all the more with the Asians who suffered as a result of Japan's military invasions.

For better or worse, it is indeed history from which we learn the exact facts and lessons to improve human dignity, peace, freedom, happiness and justice. But it does not just happen by waiting, erasing the painful parts of history, playing political games and ignoring responsibilities.

The war, massacres and inhumane crimes that were done in the name of Japan mean every Japanese has moral responsibility toward the suffering victims. But, by not letting children know about these unpleasant historical facts, they will grow up believing their nation has never done anything wrong.

If Japanese schools continue teaching students an obviously biased version of the truth, what is it that they are actually teaching them? They will come to believe that certain actions and events can be covered up, that responsibility does not have to be assumed.

It saddens me that Japanese schools teach students about the horrors of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, yet hide Japan's shameful history. I believe that presenting such an unbalanced view of history is a crime against humanity.

Every country has things to be ashamed about. Canada has the atrocious treatment of the native people, the United States the Indians and the African slaves, Germany THE HOLOCAUST, and Japan has the Asian war victims ("comfort women," the victims of Nanjing massacre ...) etc.The only way we can stop such terrible things from recurring is to teach our children about them, and hope they learn the valuable lessons offered by history. Otherwise, how can we ever hope to stop history from repeating itself?

First Step for Better Relationships With Asian Nations

Before and during the Pacific War, many Asians died in their pains and cries. Some of them were tortured and murdered by the Japanese imperial military.The grandfather of a Chinese-Canadian friend of mine once burst into tears while touching the scars on his face, talking to me about the Pacific War: "These are the scars from slashes made by Japanese soldiers, and I will never forget the bloody history of the war." A Korean-Canadian acquaintance told me that even though he wishes to make peace with Japanese people, it is still hard for him to forget the past because of the awful stories he heard from his grandmother: "Japanese soldiers raped women and girls. They beheaded anyone that offered any resistance."

Many Japanese veterans who moved to Canada after the war, and became Canadian citizens told me awful stories on how they were cruel to innocent people during the Pacific War. Most of them also said that they hated the Japanese system because they were brainwashed and betrayed by narrow-minded educators (parents, teacher, politicians, Shinto priests ...)

In 1995 then-Premier Murayama Tomiichi apologized to Asian nations for Japan's military aggression during the Pacific War. It was a good initiative to help alleviate the victim's sorrow and anger. But contrary to his words, some Japanese politicians continue to minimize atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in the past, or they simply act as if their nation has never done anything wrong.

On August 15 2006, Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro visited Yasukuni Shrine, his fifth annual visit to the shrine since he took office in April 2001. This shrine honors war dead, including Tojo Hideki, a class-A war criminal, who instructed his family to make no excuses before he was executed after the war.

The war happened decades ago, but I think it is our generation's duty to deal with the truth of history. If the Japanese government really wants to forge good genuine relations with its Asian neighbors, it must view history correctly and show sincerity in handling the sentiment of people that have suffered under Japan's militaristic aggression.

I think the prime minister's visit to Yasukuni Shrine again this year deeply hurt the feelings of most Asian people, and severely damaged Japan's image as a "peaceful nation" in the international community. At the same time, it is no doubt a real challenge to all peace-loving people in Japan and other Asian countries who seek friendly relationships with each other. His visit to Yasukuni Shrine has aroused deeper apprehension among Asians because it was not long since Japan had enacted emergency laws to deal with threats to national security.

I deeply believe the Japanese government must review its nation's past, reflect on it, vow not to repeat the same faults, and cooperate with other Asian nations. This will never be attained unless Japanese politicians, the media and the majority of Japanese citizens make serious efforts to make their own viewpoint on other Asian nations which were victimized by the Japanese imperial military in the past.

Inspiring Quote:
"People who have closed their eyes to the past, are blind in the present." (Richard Von Weizsacker / Former President of West Germany)

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Albert Einstein's Words of Wisdom

Albert Einstein was not only a great scientist, but also an awesome philosopher. The great harvest I have personally reaped from Einstein is his words of wisdom.

Einstein words of wisdom are imperishable; and they are great sources of inspiration.


1)What do you think of the following quotes?
2)Which one is your favorite? Why?

Einstein's quotes:

"Nothing that I can do will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice, I can help in the greatest of all causes--goodwill among men and peace on earth."

"A man may die, nations may rise and fall, but an idea lives on."

"A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?"

"All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree."

"Anger dwells only in the bosom of fools."

"Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts."

"Force always attracts men of low morality."

"How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of goodwill! In such a place even I would be an ardent patriot."

"How strange is the lot of us mortals! Each of us is here for a brief sojourn; for what purpose he knows not, though he senses it. But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people."

"Human beings must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it."

"Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity own to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the inquiring constructive mind."

"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."

"It is only to the individual that a soul is given."

"Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

"Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person."

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

"Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and its beauty."

"Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding."

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Prejudice Can Be Fought with Fearless Courage

I believe prejudice cannot be defeated entirely; but it can be fought with fearless courage and stamina, and with a "Great Soul."I spend as little intellectual and emotional energy as possible on lunatic fringe movements and other idiocies. Instead, I travel all over Japan to give lectures in Japanese on antiracism, nonviolence and peace. To my great surprise, I receive a lot of encouragement from many intelligent and compassionate Japanese educators, government officials (mayors, city councilors, lawyers ...) and journalists.

I have been on many radio and TV shows here in Kyushu to promote multiculturalism. Elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, universities, community centers, and institutions of all sorts request my lecture every week. Can anyone stop me from promoting multiculturalism and other important universal values here in Japan? I do not think so.

When I think of India, I recall that it is the birthplace of Buddha, and, at the same time, the name Mahatma Gandhi also comes to mind. They are both equally familiar to me. Shakyamuni, who is known as the Buddha of compassion, seems to have been an exceptionally bright man who treated all ethnic groups equally. Mahatma, "the Great Soul," was a "warrior" who dedicated most of his nearly eighty-year life to the welfare of all human beings. He fought against injustice in South Africa and India.

Although Gandhi never resorted to weapons -- more precisely, because he never took up weapons -- he was a "soldier" who fought the battle for truth. No adversity or obstacle ever caused his faith to waver or drove him into despair. Gandhi's movement, which was called "nonviolence," continued without pause until he was shot to death by a Hindu fanatic.By all non-violent means, I'll fight till the end. I bet my life on what I am doing; and together with all warm-hearted brothers and sisters all over the globe: "We shall overcome!" (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Speaking Up Against Rabid Racism in Japan

I once opened up a Japanese newspaper to read the top story about the Japanese government possibly letting "foreigners apply for chief posts." I was upset because I knew damn well that they weren't talking about me (an African-Canadian and permanent resident of Japan). They were talking about my buddy, "Lee," who was born and raised in Japan, attended a Japanese school, speaks, reads and writes fluent Japanese, obeys Japanese laws, cheers for Japanese athletes, laughs at Japanese jokes and pays Japanese taxes. My first reaction was to ask the journalist who wrote the article and all Japanese lawmakers: "Exactly what's so 'foreign' about Lee?"

All dictionaries define a foreigner as a "person from a foreign country." Lee is definitely not from a foreign country, but from Japan. Sure, his parents came here from Korea at the ages of 4 and 5, so technically one could argue his ancestry is Korean. But for that matter, all Japanese-Americans, Japanese-Canadians, Japanese-Peruvians, Japanese-Brazilians etc. were originally from Japan? Does that make them all "foreigners" in their respective country of birth? Nationality should be defined by whichever nation one has the strongest ties to, not by "Hitleresque" racial theories.

However, I don't believe that finding the perfect word will solve the problem. Nor is the media directly responsible for the racism and xenophobia of the Japanese government, that persistently maintains a system under which people who fulfill every internationally-accepted qualification for citizenship are denied it. It should be an international outrage that this exists, but it's not. After all, Japan is a "liberal democracy" (not a totalitarian and reclusive nation like the Republic of North Korea that the Japanese media, lawmakers and ordinary citizens ferociously criticize on a daily basis), and it could be worse.

The "hawkish" led by Koizumi, Abe and Ishihara could soon be persecuting ethnic Koreans, Chinese and other minorities.This nonsense is an example of the primitive logic, xenophobia and racism which is well-documented in all primate societies and are probably encoded genetically in all of us. The farther back one looks into human history, the stronger becomes the evidence of the fear of the foreign "barbarians."

My question to racist Japanese lawmakers is this: Are you proud of behaving like a bunch of stubborn primitives? Of course, Japan as a nation has many things to be very proud of. This, to put it mildly, is not one of them.

A nation in which people are lawfully discriminated against by ethnicity or family origin, which infringes a primordial human right (Japanese nationality to all the children born in Japan regardless of their parents' nationality), can never be considered a true member of the international community. The failure of Japanese voters and their representatives to solve this problem is debasing human dignity. The issue begs the question of whether Japan is capable of being a society of coexistence.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

When Japanese are "Gaijin" (Foreigners)

A sense of separateness is not easy to measure. Most people have no idea how their own feelings would compare with those of other peoples. Nationalism runs rampant throughout the world. Unconscious racial and cultural arrogance and disdain for others is pronounced in many nations around the world. But I think the Japanese sense of distinctiveness -- is itself very distinctive.

The strength of the Japanese feeling of separateness becomes more clear-cut when one considers Japanese attitudes toward other peoples. Japanese seem to have a sharp awareness at all times of themselves as being "Japanese" and of others as being first of all "not Japanese."

Again such attitudes are hard to measure, but I believe the Japanese seem to feel them more strongly than do other peoples -- except for persecuted minorities or simple tribal peoples. The first answer of a Japanese to the question "Who are you?" is likely to be "A Japanese."

Any person who goes abroad is probably surprised at the strength of his or her own nationalistic feelings, but most Japanese are less able than most others to lose consciousness of their national origins even momentarily and are more likely to see themselves always, not just as representing themselves, but as someone being exemplars of the whole Japanese nation. A Japanese who distinguishes himself in the world is much less likely to think of himself or be thought of by his friends, acquaintances and fellow citizens as "little Ichiro" who made good, but as a "Japanese" who became famous.

The uncanny inability of the Japanese to place themselves in a foreigner's shoes is very strange. I have had a weird experience with a Japanese tourist in Canada (my home country), one which stands out in memory. About 8 years ago, I was in Vancouver visiting my old friends who, when seeing some Japanese tourists nearby, asked me to exhibit my newly acquired language ability and speak in Japanese. I soon chose a Japanese man and his high school-aged son, and approached them with a typical tourist question: "Can you recommend some good restaurants around here?"

The father looked at me caustically, perhaps shocked that I could speak "his language," then replied that he could not recommend any since he, too, was a "stranger" there.

"Stranger?" I said. "You mean you're a 'gaijin' (foreigner) here."

"No," he emphatically replied. "I am Japanese, not a 'gaijin' (foreigner). You are the one is a 'gaijin' (foreigner)."

However, unable to understand the fantastically ludicrous nuance of this dialogue, my friends were duly impressed that I had merited such an emotional response.

Ishihara, Koizumi, Abe, Aso, and most other Japanese I might venture to say, might have responded in the same way as the man did. Not until the Japanese can see themselves as "gaijin" (foreigners) in distant lands, as we all are, will their everwhelming desire to be internationalized be realized.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fixing Japanese Education not Impossible

The Japanese education system is in horrendous condition. My children attend a Japanese public school. I talk to many parents and teachers. I also have 5 years experience as an inspirational speaker, and I have given more than 150 lectures to teachers, students and parents all over Japan. I have exchanged ideas on education, bullying, suicide, violence in the school and juvenile crime with more than 500 educators.

Even though the situation has rapidly worsened, the education authorities have shown a lack of will or wisdom, or both, to do what is necessary to fix the system. I believe a few matters should be considered:
- Students feel very put upon. They have an education system forced upon them in which the have no choice of courses and no input. In addition, they are taught what to think, but not how to think for themselves.
- Generally, teachers are insensitive to students and the struggles they face. They often neither teach nor nurture. The system is not designed to do that.
- The authorities, starting at the top, allow no effective means to punish students -- not even denial of club activities. Teachers are not taught in college how to deal with problem students, and many principals are afraid to take a stand for fear of losing their jobs.
- Parents, unable to nurture or discipline their children, demand that teachers do something that the parents themselves cannot do. Many teachers eventually pull into their shells and try to protect themselves. Children now have equal rights with parents and teachers, and in confrontations, it is usually the child who wins.
- Children have not been taught -- neither in the home nor at school -- moral direction. The message of the day is "We make our own rules," and I have heard students say this many times.
- Some principals have complained to me that it is impossible to teach morals and ethics apart from religion, in which these beliefs are rooted. The Japanese education system is founded upon Humanism, a nontheistic religion that lacks moral absolutes necessary for moral development.

The solution to this problem will not be easy, but it is also not impossible. We need to make the effort, pay the price and work to fix the system. We can do it!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Speaking Up Against Antiquated Sexism in Japan

It is not uncommon for me to feel disgust at the way women are treated in this country. I am often amazed not only at how men treat women, but also at how women treat women and how children view women. I am appalled and shocked by women’s subordinate position in Japanese society.

I am well aware that in other “advanced” nations too, there are a handful of problems between the sexes, from domestic violence to child pornography. However, of all affluent nations I have lived in or visited, I have never come across such a display of ignorance and discrimination against women as in Japan—a so-called “advanced” society and a member of the Group of Eight industrialized nations.

The other day, while teaching an English conversational class to a group of junior high students. I caught a glimpse of a pencil case. On it was the brand name “BITCH.” Drawn in stick figures on the pencil case was a man pointing a gun to a woman’s head. I immediately asked my student if she thought this was OK. She passed the buck, stating it was her sister’s.

“How can this be possible?” I thought. Then I was magically struck with the realization that I am in Japan. I am in a country that constantly reminds me that the only reason women were put on this earth was to be at the beck and call of men. Articles in magazines point out that in Japan, men have the money and power, while women serve sex and are only allowed to say “So desu ne…!” (Well…!)

There are many “sick” sex ads everywhere. Junk mail promoting juvenile prostitution are sent to e-mail boxes every day, and many Japanese men (educators, government officials, doctors and lawmakers) jump on the opportunity to buy sex. Under-18 pornographic magazines are in book stores where children can easily see them. Very weird adult videos are in video shops where young people can easily purchase them. What is worse is that many Japanese voters, especially parents and educators, don’t complain about these things to their representatives—they are not even considered problems.

Whenever I ask Japanese women about sexual harassment or why many women in Japan allow men to treat them as “sex objects,” most of them have no answer: they just giggle. A Japanese acquaintance told me she has often seen “decent-looking” guys touching women buttocks in crowded trains, but surprisingly the victims do not complain or react at all. She also told me she is extremely tired of sitting in subways next to, or near men openly gazing at pictures of nude women, reading manga that often includes violent rape, then being stared at from head to foot by these same men.

In the past, Japanese men forced a tremendous number of women to become sex slaves; today, Japanese men gaze hungrily on the subways at pornography. Video rental shops and television senders provide not only lust on film, but worse, violent and aggressive sex toward women; and finally, groups of Japanese men (including educators, diplomats, government officials and even lawmakers), who are married, proudly carry their prostitute guidebooks and parade through Thailand hoping for sex, while their wives and kids stay at home.

Even if not all Japanese men purchase pornographic materials or sex guides, I am unpleasantly shocked that this society continues to condone or at least passively observe as men continue the ancient tradition of classifying women as objects rather than human beings. In Canada, the nation of which I am a citizen, we have a bit of these problems, but Canadians stand up against them. Women, especially, are united in trying to stop sexploitation and sexual inequality.

Acknowledging that there are differences between women and men, they do not determine the superiority of one group over the other. Japanese women must fight for their reputation, rights and dignity. They need to take care of their own children to protect them from the negative influences of this “filthy” society so that they can earn respect and better circumstances. Many Japanese men do not care, as they have treated women like “sex toys” for centuries.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Marriages and Families for Thought

A revolution is going on in marriages and families. Psychologists and sociologists tell us that one of the overriding problems in our contemporary societies is the family--tensions within the family, leading to divorces and separations and uncertainties within the family. Magazines and newspapers are filled with articles titled "How to Hold Your Marriage Together," "Spice Up Your Sex Life to Prevent Divorce" and "How to Be Happy Though Married." We are beginning to assume that there are no good homes.

But I can assure you that in spite of all the statistics and all facts, there are today tens of thousands of happy marriages and homes in the world. And those homes are happy because spirituality is in the home; you cannot leave morals and spirituality out of your marriage and expect to be happy.I deeply believe almost all of the problems that our nations face begin in the home. Dishonesty is learned in the home, and honesty is learned in the home. Children hear their parents curse, and they learn to curse. Children hear, "I love you forever!" and they say, "I love you forever!" In my judgment a nation cannot rise higher than its home life. Bitterness, crime, alienation, even perversion, starts in the home.

I would like to express my opinion about three types of people in regard to marriage:

Married couples who are disillusioned
Firstly, some people have already experienced marriage -- the joys, the hardships. the sorrows, the boredoms and the frustrations of marriage. And they have become disillusioned; they haven't yet decided on divorce, but the marriage is shaky. They ask, "What ingredient is missing in my marriage? What's wrong? Marriage is not what I thought it was going to be. It's not the ideal that I thought it would be." How many people marry with stars in their eyes in June, and are disillusioned by Christmastime? He didn't know she looks like that without her hair combed; she didn't know he can't always get his "stuff" up at night, and he has bad breath when he gets up in the morning. People learn all types of things when they marry and start living together.

Married Couples Who Are Disconnected
Secondly, some people have been married for years -- two people just living under the same roof. They may have too much pride or too many external pressures to be divorced, or even admit that anything is wrong. The household becomes merely an accumulation of individuals who come together for room and board. They have become accustomed to that arrangement, and they have ceased asking questions about how to improve the condition. They are to be commended for keeping the home together rather than seeking escape through divorce, but they still have that fragile feeling about marriage. The marriage is not the perfect ideal that they thought it would be, but they are sticking together for other reasons.

Married Couples Who Are Happy
Thirdly, some people have happy marriages. What makes up a happy marriage, a happy home? We could set up guidelines that say a happy home is one where they husband and wife help each other, or they have a great "sex life", or the children attend good schools, or they are engaged in charitable causes, or they fit into the accepted social life of the community... But I personally believe a great marriage is a spiritual commitment, not a contract. It means that you are committed to each other for your lifetime. You truly love, respect and support each other forever.

Some people today sign a prenuptial contract. Before they marry, they sign a contract that says something like, "We must have sex at least 3 times a week; if we divorce, you get this and I get that..." But commitment means that we give in faith. We entrust everything to the other person. And if we are blessed with children, the family relationship is a three-way commitment. Each member of the family cherishes important universal values such as love, compassion, respect for life and spirituality.

I deeply believe marriage is a spiritual commitment to each other; it's for life. Marriage is a complement: it is the spiritual blending of two personalities. Because of selfishness, alienation, pride and perversion, sometimes, they don't mix.

How can we quarrel with each other or victimize one another?

I believe the nature of an animal is very simple and easy to grasp. In comparision, a human being's nature is like a bamboo forest that is extremely hard to penetrate.

Human relations are not easy to handle. Misunderstandings between husbands and wives, conflicts between couples and their in-laws, arguments between parents and children and so on are as old as human history, but they still remain very difficult to resolve. However, if even one person embraces the firm view of life that "Because of that, this exists" or in other words, "Because of that person, I can develop," then he or she need never experience pointless conflicts in human relations. The other party's good or bad points do not determine one's happiness or unhappiness.

In a case of a "sexually unsatisfied" wife, for example, her present existence is in relation to her husband, whatever sort of person he may be. One who realizes this point can turn everything, both good and bad, into an impetus for personal growth.

Of course I am well aware that this is easier said than done. I think, therefore, it is all the more vital that we foster a sense of community and coexistence based on the awareness that we are all inter-related.

We are all imperfect human beings who, through some mystic bond, were born to share the same limited life span on this Earth, a small green oasis in the vast universe. Then, how can we quarrel with each other or victimize one another?

I firmly believe that profound mutual compassion is what will change discord into harmony. People who are accusing me of preaching puritanism should try to read my essays in depth. My views do not focus on difference of faith, ethnicity, nationality, or religion. My views focus on important universal values ("true" love, equanimity, peace, nonviolence, anti-racism, morality, ethical behavior, character, wisdom, compassion, respect for life...) that are missing in our societies.

We have many countries in the world, but only one Earth. At night we have many stars above us, but only one sky. Faiths may differ, but I believe the pathway is one. Human beings may differ, but I believe the divinity in a person is one. Let's all get together and make the world a better place for all the future generations.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Limiting immigrants: naked racism or blatant stupidity?

How can Japan, a nation which depends on foreign countries for its very survival succeed in closing doors to immigrants? Aso, Abe, Koizumi and "Kozumi children" must be kidding!

Even a "not-so-smart" layman can see that if Japan limited the number of immigrants to 3% or less, its future would surely be gloomy. If the Japanese are to maintain their relative position in the world or even avoid a substantial or perhaps catastrophic decline, there must be significant flow of foreign workers to Japan. There also must be a steady or even rapid growth in world trade, which itself is possible if there is continued world peace (especially in East Asia) and a marked improvement in the handling of international tensions and global problems.

If the Japanese refused to share their nation with others (especially the Chinese and Koreans), economical and political nationalism on the part of other nations (especially China and Korea) would not be surprising, and this could lead to increasingly restrictionist policies and trade wars. In these, Japan, because of its poor hand in natural resources and manpower (recently), would certainly be the loser.

To state the case in positive terms, Japan has as great an interest as any nation in the maintenance of world peace, the expansion of world trade, and the solution of the problems its own citizens face (the problems of aging society, low birthrate, labor shortage ...) Japan in its own interest needs to do better. Japan, with its great potentialities at the moment (various industries that need workers; many abandoned lands, houses, shops and schools that need to be revived, many universities and research centers that need "brains" from other nations ...), should be attempting to maximize its effort to the solution of these problems.

To do this, Japanese leaders and ordinary people would have to have a much stronger sense of mutual trust and cooperation between themselves and others. Without a greater sense of fellow feeling on the part of Japanese for other peoples and, perhaps more difficult, of other peoples for the Japanese, there may not be enough mutual trust and understanding to permit the solutions of these problems Japan faces.

The needs go much deeper than the enthusiasm for the United Nations and the formal "internationalization" (Let's study English, French, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili and all the languages in the world ...) that Japan have espoused. The Japanese must overcome their sense of separateness and, to put it bluntly, show a greater readiness to join the human race. They must really identify themselves with the rest of the world and feel a part of it.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Japanese Comedy and Televised Shamelessness

In any event, since ancient times laughter has contributed to the calming of people's minds, smoothing the course of human relations. Laughter sometimes becomes derisive and deplorable, revealing the vicious and inhumane tendencies, but I do not think that the essence of laughter exists in such humor. I think it is an exquisite expression of man’s spiritual richness and is also his good companion, enabling one to have flexibility of mind on any occasion. There is a great deal of meaning inherent in long-established adages such as “Good fortune comes to the door of people who laugh,”“Laughter is the best medicine,” etc.

In satirical French comedy of the seventeenth century ("Les Fourberies de Scapin", "Tartuffe","Le Bourgeois gentilhomme" etc. by Moliere) for example, a healthy sense of humor and a spirit of satire have long remained intact among the ordinary people in France and many other nations.

We should not be so shallow as to say that this type of culture among ordinary people was something which diverted their attention from the problems of their contemporary societies, such as poverty, social injustice, class distinction and oppression. In a much deeper sense, the people must have felt that without laughter today they could not welcome the bright hopes of tomorrow. This is a result of the hard-earned wisdom of the ordinary people in those days.

However I sense something very "sick" in contemporary Japanese comedy. I have not had many opportunities to watch comedy shows on TV lately, but as far as what I myself have observed and heard from people who often watch these shows, I cannot help but feel that the Japanese comedy of late have no healthy laughter.

Many comedians find their prey in old people, homeless people, poor people and people with physical or mental disabilities. They tease and ridicule people who are weak or different. Their verbal harassment is, on many occasions, directed against the physical appearances, ethnic origins and occupations of certain people, and so the term "sadistic comedy" is now often used. Far from the time-honored healthy satirical spirit which spontaneously invites people's laughter, recent Japanese comedy seems to me to devoid of feeling and so repugnant as to be of no value.

What I am worried about most, however, in addition to this negative tendency, is the almost total lack of sense of humor or satire toward the hierarchy, ruling classes or the government. Personally, I am afraid that this tendency reflects the political indifference and sense of helplessness prevailing among the Japanese.

Not only comedy shows, but most of shows on Japanese TV are "garbage." I know that television standards the world over are pretty low, but in Japan they are abysmal. Television in Japan persistently downgrades the sacred and celebrates the profanes. Television, the real "opium of the people," has become both a symptom and a cause of the malaise of apathy, materialism and triviality currently troubling society.

Unfortunately, the viewing public -- generally poor "brains" and poor critics -- accept it all, as if to say, "If it’s on TV, it must be OK." This is dangerous.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Recommendation to All the Japanese: "I think therefore I am." (Rene Descartes)

The entrance exam war appeared in Japan about the time Japanese postwar baby boomers, dubbed the "dankai" generation came on the scene.

Study for entrance exams is a matter of technique. Students simply develop a successful method to retain the required knowledge and regurgitate it for test. This pattern of "shallow" thinking is molded in just two generations. So, it can be argued that members of the "dankai" generation and the "post-dankai" generation like to deal with things they can immediately understand.

Consider the scene of a university entrance examination. After receiving the papers, the examinees scan the questions and quickly decide which can be easily solved and set about tackling them; but pass over questions that appear difficult.

This scenario raises the following questions:
-Has the tendency to give up when things appear difficult to understand taken root more deeply than the Japanese imagined?
-Can the Japanese not see this tendency reflected in the way social issues such as the lack nursing-care facilities, problems of aging society and low birthrate, problems of national pension systems and even child-rearing are dealt with?
-Don't the Japanese have a tendency to focus on the easy issues when considering the future, such as the best way to care for people and, at an extreme, issues relating to life science, philosophy and spirituality?

Having read many articles about poor nursing-care services, violence in schools, juvenile crimes, suicide and government scandals; I feel the gap between the so-called rational decision-making system and the reality of the Japanese complicated society has become too wide to be bridged. One reason for this gap, I think, is the Japanese lack of consideration for the inner world of people-something that cannot be instantly grasped through "shallow" thinking.

About eight years ago a youth asked a panel of Japanese intellectuals on a television show a question that shocked many: "Why must I not kill others?"

The "adults" could not give him a clear answer and journalists later put the question to many educators. The question begs a logical answer that does not leave the issue open to ambiguous rhetoric.

I believe it is a very callous question that only someone who lacks of humanity could ask. A person who has received "education of the heart"; based on love, compassion and respect for life, or what could be described as the weight of humanism on one's mind, would not ask this question.

To answer this question, I think we should consider why the majority of people do not kill others, despite being able to and, maybe, sometimes wishing to. From this perspective this is relatively safe society, because we don't see dismembered bodies on the road despite the huge population. Also, people in the Japanese society do not live in constant fear of dying-despite the certain knowledge we will all die one day. Although the number of suicides is on the rise, most of people do not kill themselves.This opinion should lead us to recognize the efforts deep-thinkers have made to accumulate wisdom and ethics over many years. The accumulation of wisdom and ethics will almost certainly lead us to insight about the essence of logic-defying human nature, and reveal how our lives are touched by the consideration and efforts of others.

We should always ponder the wisdom and ethics we inherit. Simple questions can never lead to such deep thoughts. Humans should place importance on things that cannot be understood rather than those that can be easily understood. In that context, politics, sociology, philosophy and child-rearing, among numerous human activities, are struggles to seek answers that cannot be easily found. They are issues not easily understood but deserving of thoughtful consideration.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Kids Need a Break from Time-consuming Club Activities

"Exercising too much is bad for one's health," but this maxim is largely ignored on the playing fields of Japan. When I began teaching in Japan, I was disturbed to see that students were allowed to doze off in the classroom or be excused from participation because they were tired. However, I came to realize that most students were not at fault.

A simple English conversation class became a form of sociological study. Asking "What time do you get up?" I was astounded by the number of students who were up at around 5 a.m. and in school before 7 a.m. to play sports. It was a shock to see children making their way to school as I returned bleary-eyed from an all-night...

At 6:30 a.m. on Sunday, girls brandishing tennis racquets and whole baseball teams swarmed onto my train, doing little to soothe my already frazzled nerves!I admit that clubs engender a sense of "belonging," but is it right to devote such large quantities of time to sports? As a child, I played a different sport every afternoon because I enjoyed doing so, but students restricted to a single club tell me that their practices are "tiring" or "boring." Enjoyment seems to come second to duty.

Training to excess does little for enthusiasm or development. Moderation and variety are the key success.Another factor is the involvement of the teachers who run the clubs. Although a large number enjoy their work, I feel too much is expected of teachers, whose commitments outweigh their available time. They deserve a break much as their charges do!We live in a video-game age, where children appear to lead increasingly sedentary lives, but if sports in Japanese schools continue to be so time-consuming, then no cry will succeed in encouraging young people to turn to sports. There is no surer way of alienating children than to take away their pleasure.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Time is Priceless

A very rich, powerful and famous man was near death. He had all the material possessions most people spend their lives trying to gain: money, castles, pleasure boats, planes, a beautiful wife...

Yet, as the end of his life approached, his last words from his deathbed were, “All my possessions for a moment of time.” The wealthy man now saw time as the most precious thing in the world. Unfortunately, all his material possessions could not buy time.

Idleness and foolishness in life can steal our time. And since thieves are attracted to valuable things, it’s no surprise that idleness and foolishness launch continual attempts to steal our time. But if we can spot thieves before they reach our valuables, we may be able to do whatever is necessary to prevent the theft. The crucial question then becomes, “How do we stop thieves of time?”

Before committing our time to any activity, we should ask two simple questions. The first question is, “What will be the fruit of this activity in five years?” That is, five years from today will it matter if I do this activity or if I don’t? If the answer is, “Il won’t matter,” or if there may be negative consequences, we need to commit our time to something else.

When I examine my own life over the past five years, I am sometimes frustrated that I don’t see greater results today. But when I ask myself what will be important in another five years, what comes to my mind is my three children and other children around me.

Today my children, ages ten and under, are young enough that their hearts are naturally tender toward compassion and wisdom. In the next five years I may never speak to halls full of people, write a best-selling book or do any of the other things that are mark of “success.” But if five years from now my children and other children around me are taking meaningful and thoughtful actions in the world, I will be a success, no matter what else does or does not happen!

But in order to help my children learn to take meaningful and thoughtful actions in the world, I need to spend time with them. And that doesn’t always happen naturally. Rather, I must train myself to spend time thoughtfully and intentionally, remembering that some day I will have to give account for “every idle word and action.”

The second question is, “What will it matter in eternity?” We receive just one life that soon will be over, and only what we’re doing for all the future generations will last. We need to invest time, which we can’t keep anyway, to make an eternal treasure that we will never lose. Think about it—eternity is a lot longer than the years that we will spend on earth. So doesn’t it make sense that we focus our time on guiding our children toward important universal values such as love, compassion, wisdom and respect for life, the things that matter for eternity?

Together We Can Achieve Peace

Here is a simple notion: Children are the foundation of human security. The world cannot build a peaceful and stable society without teaching its youngest citizens to respect differences and live together as one. Yet, this basic idea is ignored by many adults around the world.

Every day, many children are the victims of violence, abuse, bullying, sexism, discrimination and racism. Also, many children are brainwashed and forced by cruel adults to take part in bloody wars for ridiculous reasons. And life can be awful when children are manipulated to commit crimes against humanity.

Building peace means upholding and defending moral rules — not preaching hatred, or encouraging violence. The basic need to achieve peace and basic moral rules are the same everywhere. The right of cultures to peaceful coexistence, and the belief that all men and women are created equal are essential and universal. 

With the globalization advancing, more and more people from different ethnic groups are being called to live together. In order to live in harmony, adults need to think creatively and act concertedly, encouraging children to be broad-minded, to accept individuality, and to act sincerely from the heart rather than from customs. Teaching children to be kind not only to their close friends and people they know, but to all the people in the world should be the basic condition and the goal to bring peace to the world.

We must live out the change we wish to see in children. We must be tolerant and nonviolent because as the Indian spiritual leader Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.” I strongly believe that the terms “democratic spirit” and “peace” are synonymous.

It’s very important that we teach children a global ethic as follows:
- We all have a responsibility to work for a better global order.
- Our involvement in the preservation of human rights, freedom, justice, peace and
the earth is absolutely necessary.
- We should not consider ourselves better than others.
- What we do not wish done to ourselves, we should not do to others.
- No one has the right physically or psychologically to torture, injure, much less kill, any other human being.
- No people, no state, no ethnic group, no religion has the right to hate others.
- We must commit to a life of truthfulness, and treat everyone with respect.  

Let's promote positive behavior among children and offer them more opportunities for mutual spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. The values we give children should transcend differences like looks, gender, religion, social background, ethnic background, nationality and race. We should focus on the basics of peace, love, equality, authenticity, brotherhood and freedom. We all have to get together and build a peaceful world!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Inflexibility of Japanese Society and Violence

Japanese society is remarkable, if anything, for its homogeneity, orderliness, and adherence to strict patterns. Though constantly changing, it remains thoroughly and distinctively Japanese. If there is an underlying psychological malaise in Japan, it surely comes from the uniformity and strictness of the patterns society fixes on the individual.

A tightly knit social system leaves many tied down by heavy burdens of duty and obligation, or uncomfortably constrained by rules of social conformity. Young people, as we have seen, are particularly restive, chafing at the reins and often breaking out in rebellion (dropouts, lack of moral fiber of youth, brutal crimes committed by juveniles, suicide…)

A rapid rate of change has produced a wide generation gap, which probably makes true communication between the generations even more difficult than in the West, though this is masked on the surface by a typical Japanese desire to maintain a show of harmony and to avoid confrontation by a discrete silence between parents and children on matters of consequence.On the surface Japan still gives all the appearences of a “happy society,” but no one can say that present conditions of “stability” and apparent contendedness will continue indefinitely.

It’s my belief that Japanese society is evolving as most societies do, and the inflexibility of society and the education system, so firmly in place for so long, is being challenged. History is evidence that chains that bind a society tightly will be broken violently.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Peace (Joel's 135 tips)


We, human beings, possess great inner qualities which can illuminate the whole world, and also tragic flaws which can pull the whole world into the abyss of violence and destruction. We can either succumb to these tragic flaws, or light the torch of humanism that will shine forever, and bring peace to the world.

A lasting world peace will never be initiated politically; it will begin first in the hearts and minds of each of us. Until we have peace within our families and our communities and most importantly ourselves, no government will ever have the power to bring peace to us.

Joel’s 135 tips

1. Put a beautiful smile on your face. It will bring about others’ smiles.
2. Be kind to others.
3. Be kind to animals.
4. Do not be selfish.
5. Make room for peace at home. Outer peace begins with inner peace.
6. Show gratitude to all the people around you.
7. Appreciate every little thing you receive from others.
8. Plant flowers and little trees in your garden, and take good care of them.
9. Put some potted plants in your room, and take good care of them.
10. Always ask yourself what you can do to help others.
11. Love and respect yourself.
12. Love and respect others.
13. Open up your heart to all the people in the world.
14. Listen to other people open-mindedly.
15. Always tell the truth even when it is not easy.
16. Be polite and humble.
17. Live with the spirit of a WORLD CITIZEN.
18. Always accomplish your duties.
19. Uphold and defend moral rules.
20. Do not use curse words.
21. Never, Never, Never kill living creatures.
22. Do not preach hatred.
23. Be an activist of WORLD PEACE.
24. Write to newspapers on issues relating to antiracism, nonviolence, peace, freedom, and so forth.
25. Do not hold grudges.
26. Take part in peaceful demonstrations to protest violence.
27. Be convinced that peace is not a utopian dream; it is achievable!
28. Convince others that peace is achievable.
29. Do not seek revenge.
30. Protect life because it is precious.
31. Let us live together and share the world with all other living creatures.  
32. Be always in control of your temper. 
33. Read books about Gandhi, King, Mandela and other peace activists.
34. Free your mind from all social evils.  
35. Read the HUMAN RIGHTS and follow them. 
36. Make time in your life for consistent daily prayers. 
37. Do not persecute others. 
38. Act sincerely from the heart rather than from customs. 
39. Keep your environment clean. 
40. Respect individuality. Every person in this world has his or her own brilliance.
41. Have a true democratic spirit.  
42. Always work for a better global order. 
43. Your involvement in the preservation of human rights, freedom, justice and peace is absolutely necessary. 
44. Do not consider yourself better than others. 
45. What you do not wish done to yourself, you should not do to others.
46. Always remember that no state, no ethnic group, no religion has the right to hate or mistreat others. 
47. Think, discuss and express your own opinions freely. 
48. Be socially active.    
49. Have a vision based on personal values and judgment.  
50. Do not place too much emphasis on money and material possessions.
51. Do not abandon yourself to pleasures. 
52. Develop your inner qualities. 
53. Learn about the atrocities some Europeans committed on African slaves, American Indians and Australian aborigines.
54. You must help create a world where compassion for others replaces brutality.  
55. Adopt nonviolence to fight the battle for truth.  
56. Do not close your eyes to the past history of your country.  
57. Reflect on the history of wars from an impartial standpoint. 
58. Learn about the atrocities the Japanese Imperial Military committed on innocent people in Asia in the past.
59. Learn about the Holocaust that took place in Europe during World War II.
60. Learn about the misery and suffering caused by the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
61. Learn about the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Liberia ...
62. Sympathize with all the people who have suffered under invasions and colonial rules.
63. Learn about the dangers of totalitarian regimes, and raise your voice against them. 
64. Learn the valuable lessons offered by history, and help improve human dignity.
65. Show sincerity in handling the sentiment of people that have suffered from discrimination, wars and violence. 
66. Avoid remarks or jokes about subjects like race, religion, disability or age.
67. Do not ignore harassment, discrimination and other crimes. 
68. Do not overuse the resources of the world because you will deprive people elsewhere of them.
69. Do not only learn about peace, you need to be active in trying to bring it about. 
70. Remember that peace is not just antiwar or antiviolence, but much more than that. As long as we have injustice and strife within our communities, we are not in peace. 
71. Social changes begin on an individual level. So, work mindfully to improve the relationships in your own life.
72. Be fair.
73. Respect and appreciate all the cultures in the world.
74. Do not join the military in order to go to war.
75. You have the right to disobey any immoral rules coming from authorities.
76. Raise your voice against all weapons.
77. Raise your voice against the use of military violence in resolving conflicts.
78. Always go to vote. 
79. Be charitable and share what you have with others, especially those in need.
80. Do not look down on the needy.
81. Fight against poverty and misery. 
82. Never think you are too powerless to make a difference.
83. Free yourself from useless worldly attachments. 
84. Give your affection freely and constantly to others.  
85. Help calm the anger of others. 
86. Reconcile with anyone you once argued or fought with.  
87. Walk in the same direction as all the peace lovers in the world.  
88. Do not compare yourself to others.
89. Try to understand others and get along with them.
90. Do not neglect your body.  
91. Always learn from your mistakes. 
92. Always apologize to people you have hurt. 
93 Do not worry about anybody getting ahead of you because life is not a race.
94 Be courageous.
95. Do not worry about triumph.
96. Do not worry about growing old because aging is a natural process.
97. Do not bully or abuse weaker creatures.
98. Be kind to the nature. Nurture a sense of familiarity with the nature and friendship with other living creatures.  
99. Learn about the world. 
100. Discuss social problems with your family, friends and teachers; and try to think of solutions to them.
101. Never keep birds in a cage.  
102. Do not deprive any living creature from its FREEDOM.
103. Be involved in volunteer activities: deliver food to homeless people, visit lonely senior citizens and sick people, distribute toys and clothes to less fortunate children ... 
104. Lead a healthy life: exercise every day, eat a balanced diet, do not smoke, do not use drugs, do not drink too much alcohol, make sure you get enough sleep ...
105. Enrich your spirit.
106. Do not commit suicide. 
107. Do not be influenced by money, profit, honor or vanity. 
108. Be a human of penetrating insight. 
109. Be aware of the Seven Social Sins that are engraved on Mahatma Gandhi’s tombstone:
1. Politics without Principles
2. Wealth without Work
3. Pleasure without Conscience
4. Knowledge without Character
5. Commerce without Morality
6. Science without Humanity
7. Worship without Sacrifice
110. Always share your joys and sorrows with people around you.
111. You should know when a rule is to be followed and when it should not be followed.
112. Never blame a whole nation for the acts of individuals.
113. Reject extreme nationalism and xenophobia.
114. Encourage others to do good things.
115. Be a positive role model.
116. Enjoy music and arts.
117. Be optimistic about the future.
118. Solve problems cooperatively.
119. Value multiculturalism and diversity.
120. Think critically and creatively.
121. Make responsible decisions and take meaningful actions.
122. Cherish family gatherings.
123. Do not work mainly for money.
124. Have a pure heart.
125. Praise people for their good actions.
126. Make others happy.
127. Do not break promises.
128. When someone asks you for something, give it to him or her.
129. Talk to your enemies.
130. Always clarify your words and ideas to avoid misunderstandings.
131. Learn about different cultures.
132. Where there is no vision, the people perish; so have a clear vision and focus on the future. 133. Start every single day of your life with hope and positive thinking.
134. Be content with what you have
135. Give PEACE the first place in your heart.

Title: Peace
(Bilingual Japanese・English) 96 pages.
Tel: 0942-53-8644
E-mail: joel@po.saganet.ne.jp
URL: http://www2.saganet.ne.jp/joel/

Friday, April 28, 2006

Violent Juvenile Crimes for Thought

Japan is experiencing a surge in gruesome crimes committed by juveniles. The other day, a 15-year-old boy, probably after a trivial argument, killed a 13-year-old girl, whose body was found abandoned in a vacant pachinko parlor. This is a shocking incident which has struck terror into hearts of parents and teachers around the nation, especially those with children of the same age, who must have felt anguish at the thought that it might have happened to their own children.

I believe primary, junior high and high school years are the most dream-filled period of one’s entire life. Normally, young people of this age have an insatiable curiosity about everything and they enjoy discussing wholeheartedly. They fire their imaginations by reading great novels and adventure stories, filling their minds with all kinds of dreams as they envision freely what they want to do and what they want to be when they grow up. Murder, one would think, would be the farthest thing from their minds. That young people, who are a synonym for peace and hope, should so easily choose to kill people must be viewed seriously as a grave state of affairs.

Japanese children seem fragile and easily broken as glass. In order to change that brittleness into tenacity and flexibility, like that of the bamboo, I think the time has come when Japan must consider, on a fundamental level, the educational influence the family, school and society at large have on children. I guess no one who is a parent or teacher is indifferent to the growth or development of children; however, in what direction children’s growth should be guided is quite another matter.

Children in Japan are forced to cope with conditions that are extremely abnormal. Too much emphasis is placed on the school system, while the importance of the roles played by families and communities has been minimized. And so far, there have been no effective regulations established in this country to protect children from harmful information. With the increasingly free flow of information (violent comics and video games, pornographic magazines, “dirty” TV shows…), the mental boundary between adults and juveniles is disappearing. As a result, juveniles are strongly influenced by trends. Brutal “adult” crimes can be committed by juveniles rather easily because they lack sufficient social understanding to restrain themselves.

Japanese children spend almost no time with their parents. Every day after regular school hours, most of them are confined to cram schools (some may even go to more than one such school). They return home late, have dinner, and go to their rooms to play violent video games and read “weird” comics. With this kind of routine, children do not have much contact with their parents. I run a language school and have an opportunity to talk parents; I am amazed at how little most of them know about their children. During discussion sessions, I like to probe the emotional condition of my students. There is often an undercurrent of frustration and repressed anger, particularly among males. Some who appear to be nice young men have some dark thoughts. These thoughts are of a violent, sexual, or confused nature.

Japanese children are disciplined only to study; otherwise they are left alone and for the most part allowed to behave rudely in public. The other day in our local supermarket, a grade-school boy was screaming. After a while, his mother told him to be quiet. He then said to her: “Why do you say such a thing to me, Mom? If you say it again, I am going to kill you.” The mother did not say anything more. I do not want to imagine that child’s future and I wonder how his parents have disciplined him. They must have confused loving with pampering. I strongly believe that parents are responsible for their children. It’s their duty to teach their children what is good and what is bad, and they need to discipline them from childhood. But, I am not suggesting that parents are always to blame for their children’s behavior. There are, of course, many things that shape the growing child: temperament, constitution, intelligence, peers, culture...

Important universal values such as love, compassion, respect for life, or what could be described as the weight of humanism on one’s mind, are sorely missing from children education in Japan. The growing numbers of stabbings and murders involving the youth are a testament to how despondent some young people feel. These children are the ones on which the country’s future rests, and their despair must be of national concern.

All the system that Japan has built up over the past 60 years, including the culture of education and politics, have met their limits. The problem is not simple, and solutions must be far-reaching; but I strongly believe the social system as a whole must be changed so as to enable schools, families and communities to build a sound environment for children.

Adults must realize that the environment in which they live is also the one in which children grow up. And together they must share the problems facing young people. Our lives are becoming time-pressed, yet fathers need to be allowed more time to be with their families and take an active interest in their children’s moral and spiritual upbringing. Mothers need to show through example that love and discipline are connected.

I sincerely hope that parents will live every single day filled with a wealth of vitality so that they can offer a warm human touch like sun, not only to their own children but also to other children and adults with whom they encounter as well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

No More a Foreigner

(9 / 13 / 2003 Mainichi Weekly)
On my way to work one day, I met a group of grade-school kids with their teacher. As soon as they saw me, the children shouted, “gaijin da!” ("alien!") The teacher scolded them, saying that it is rude to call foreigners gaijin (aliens) and that they should call them gaikokujin (foreigners).

“Hey, don’t assume I am a foreigner!” I interjected in Chikugo dialect. “About 15,000 individuals of various ethnic groups are becoming Japanese citizens annually. The color of my skin doesn’t tell you anything about my nationality. So, don’t lead the children in the wrong direction.”

Gomennasai (sorry.)” She shrugged in apology and left in great haste with her students.

This is by no means an isolated case, and I bet many other Japanese adults might have responded in the same way as this one did. In fact, while discussing the issue with two prefectural government officials in charge of human rights education a few days later, they frankly told me, “No matter how excellent your Japanese is, how long you have lived in Japan and how deeply you may be involved in its life, we Japanese will never accept you as a member of our society.”

Ethnocentrism is evident in the attitudes of the Japanese toward people of other ethnic backgrounds in Japan. Japanese citizens of Japanese heritage take it for granted that people from other ethnic groups are and always will remain outsiders.

Most of them claim they are being polite when introducing me as “gaijin-san.” However, they ignore the fact that about nine out of my 34 years of culture I carry around with me are from this country. I am not officially Japanese yet, but spiritually I am no more a foreigner in Japan. Above all, I love this nation and admire many aspects of its traditional culture. It is that love and admiration which impel me to buy a house and live here permanently with my family.

Just like people of Japanese heritage have naturally fitted into other societies, people of various ethnic backgrounds have become members of Japanese society. Although Japan has become a mosaic nation, people who are called Japanese are exclusively of Japanese descent and lack diversity. Isn’t this abnormal?

Whoever cares about the future of Japan must no longer remain insensitive to the present abnormal situation. It will take time to build a harmonious multiethnic Japan, but this does not mean we should just sit back and wait. Educators, politicians and the media must teach the public that a person of any ethnic origin can be a proud Japanese citizen.

To set an example of honesty, I have designed and self-published a poster which I deeply hope to spread all over the nation.