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.