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.