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

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.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Safety Seats a Must

One day, a Japanese friend of mine, his two-year-old son and I were about to go to the amusement park in their car. The little boy was not in his safety seat; he was just standing in the front passenger seat. To my great surprise, the father did not feel it was necessary to restraint his toddler in the safety seat before moving off.

-"Hey! Why don't you put your son in the safety seat first?" I asked.
-"It's too much work to buckle him in the seat," he replied. "Besides, he cries a lot when I try to fasten the seat belt. I guess he doesn't like the seat."
-"Aren't you concerned about your child safety?" I uttered. "Even at low speed, a minor impact is enough to send your lovely son banging into the windshield if he is not in the safety seat."

He did not seem to agree with me. However, I insisted on putting the little boy into the safety seat saying, "You should use the seat because it's the regulation now." He finally stopped the car and put his son in the seat. The child did not want to stay in the seat and cried a lot, but I tried to calm him down while his father fastened the seat belt.

I am certain no one likes to hear awful stories about car accidents, especially ones that involve children. But the chilling truth is that many infants are killed every year in Japan because their parents do not feel it is necessary to restraint them in a safety seat.

Ever since I came to Japan I have been puzzled by the total lack of child restraint in family cars. I see countless cars with young children (sometimes two or more) standing up in the front passenger seat, grandmothers holding toddlers in their arms, mothers driving with babies strapped to their chest; but what I rarely see is a vehicle that has been fitted with a safety seat.

It defies logic. If parents didn't feed their children or give them water to drink, they would be tried for neglect, maybe even murder. Shouldn't parents have the same obligation to keep their children safe in a car?

To see beautiful little faces pushed up against the front and back windows of such well-kept speeding cars is "criminal." But, the Japanese police seem to be either unwilling or unable to do anything about it. If some kind of on-the-spot fine was introduced for offending drivers, I am sure this kind of irresponsible behavior would soon decrease or even disappear.

Maybe I am preaching to the converted here. I certainly hope that every parent reading this article already uses safety seats for his or her children. If not I would like to call general public attention to the dangerous lack of awareness. There are plenty of conventional car seats available on the market, they are not too expensive and relatively easy to install. If you really do love your children, buckle them up in car seats for their safety.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

No Discrimination

Did you know that March 21st is International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination? With that in mind, I would like to share this with you.

A week before my eldest daughter started elementary school in 2002, I went to her school and talked to the Principal, Vice-Principal and all the teachers about the importance of teaching children to respect individuality and accept others who look different as equals, but they didn't take me seriously. About two weeks after school started, she came back home from school very sad, telling us that one of her classmates told her to change her natural brown skin into "normal" hadairo (ochre) color. I called the teacher and the Principal right away to urge them to deal honestly and democratically with the matter, calling us for a face-to-face meeting with the child and her parents, but the Principal refused. The parents did not take the matter seriously either; when my wife talked to the child's mother on the phone, she laughed about the matter as if it wasn't a serious problem. Finally, I went to talk to the School Board officials to ask them to do something about the problem. Again, I was disappointed. They evidently don't think racism is a serious problem in Japan and don't want to act.

My children have darker skin than the other Japanese children, and many people openly make cruel and racist comments about them: "kitanai (dirty)," "makkuro (black & dirty)," "baikin (microbe)," "unchi (pooh)," "kimochiwarui (disgusting)," "kurokoge (blackburn)," etc. When I go out with them, many parents also point at us "gaijin." Those people are wrong because my children are not foreigners in Japan; they are born here and are Japanese citizens just like the other Japanese children. And above all, they love Japan and the traditional Japanese culture.

I think racism is a very serious disease that Japan needs to cure. Racial discrimination in society, in public and private institutions, in senior and junior high schools, in elementary schools, and even in kindergartens, is evidence that much needs to be done before Japan can experience multiethnic harmony. Education will certainly play an important role in curing the disease of racism. Racism here is based on the idea that the Japanese belong to a "unique ethnic group" that is totally different from all the other ethnic groups in the world. The education system must make a considerable effort to denounce this myth. To do this, schools must familiarize students with the reality of the "singleness of the human family," and explain that all of the people in the world belong to the same human race. Because of the importance of the problem, this view should be introduced into the curriculum from kindergarten through to the 12th grade, and reflected in every course a child takes during the 12 years of schooling. This approach would help to prevent racism. Imagine all the students in Japan learning that Africans, Europeans, Americans, Asians and Australians - all races - are all related. They would be fortified against the poison of prejudice that they are exposed to in their homes and in society.

We must teach our children that all human beings come from the same ancestral stock. Every person on our planet belongs to the same species. This unity, however, does not mean uniformity, but implies a celebration of diversity, because once the reality of unity is understood, diversity becomes an asset rather than an obstacle. Imagine what life would be like if all the people in the world looked alike, thought, spoke, and felt the same way, if all flowers were the same color, if all foods tasted alike. Life would simply be monotonous. We should all understand that "variety is the spice of life" and cherish differences because they are extremely important.

Multiculturalism and ethnic diversity have become important issues in many countries around the world in recent years, and the Japanese government too must consider them seriously and provide helpful programs for developing the skills citizens need if they are to contribute to, and survive in, an ever-changing and diverse society. Diversity will be utilized to reinforce Japan's stature among the nations of the world. It will teach the Japanese to accept and respect diverse views, welcome debate, listen, discuss, negotiate and compromise for the common good of the world. We all know that recent advances in information technology have made international communications more important than ever. Japanese citizens who can speak many languages and understand many cultures will make it easier for Japan to participate globally in areas of education, trade and diplomacy.

Japan must make it possible for women and men of the world's many ethnic groups, religions and cultures to live together, to encourage different people to accept and respect one another, and work collaboratively to build an open, resilient, creative and thoughtful society.

A Message to Japanese Parents: Education Must Start at Home

Fathers should try to understand mothers, and mothers should also try to understand fathers. I deeply believe it is the harmony, peace and mutual love between husbands and wives that brings happiness and peace to the family and the society.

We want happiness in our families and communities, but we do not lead exemplary lives. If children have taken the wrong path these days (smoking, drinking, killing…) we adults are mostly responsible, we are not exemplary in our behavior either.For example, how can a father prevent his son from smoking if he smokes in front of him? Then the son, too, will start smoking by stealing cigarettes from his father’s pocket. If the father scolds him for smoking, the modern day child retorts, “Father, when you yourself are smoking, why do you object to my smoking?” Therefore, parents should never behave in a manner that will set a bad example for the children.Only when the father is good can he expect his son to be good. Is it possible for a father to keep his son at home when he himself roams about as he likes?

Nowadays, Japanese fathers do not try to discipline their children, and children do not listen to their mothers. The majority of Japanese parents are lenient; they accept anything their children do. This is the reason why Japan has become such a filthy nation. And ever since there are almost no spiritual activities in Japanese people daily lives; children have no chance to take the path of charitable services, faith in God and devotion.

Hence, the Japanese should tackle the questions of morality and ethics in their contemporary culture. I believe there is a need for education of the heart and the soul inJapan; an education that emphasizes ethical behavior, morality and character. The failure to integrate this aspect of education into the lives of young people is what makes it seem acceptable to snap, to shoplift, to kill, and to behave as if there are no standards or rules in the society.

These days, Japanese adults and children alike do not show any interest in reading spiritual and philosophical books (The Holy Bible, The Teaching of Buddha, Hojoki by Kamo-no-Chomei, Emile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau...). They read all sorts of trash (pornographic magazines, violent and sexual comics, “empty“ love stories…) and start on the wrong path in their childhood. If the tender saplings grow straight, the tree will also grow straight.

If the sapling grows crooked, then the tree will grow crooked. But, Japanese parents of today ignore this crucial notion.They fear to establish strict rules for the children, as they may run away from home and end their lives.

If Japanese parents really want their children to grow up to be responsible adults in the society, and if such children are to be fostered, then, they must first correct themselves. When a “bad son” defies the commands of his father, the mother must persuade him in a firm manner and say, “My dear son, it is not for you to disregard the commands of your father. Obey by any means.” Therefore, in all situations, it is the mother who advises the child. So, Japanese mothers of today should have pure thoughts and ideals, instead of watching Korean dramas and yearning for a “lover” that looks like “Yong-sama.”

It takes a character to lead a family. I have three children. When I have to punish them, to teach them the difference between good and bad, it is not pleasant. It always demands character, and I need the collaboration of their mother. Yet, he who loves well, punishes well.