Archive for the ‘Japanese Society (General)’ Category

Japan’s Identity Crisis

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

The chapter “Ethnic Diversity and Citizenship Education in Japan” in the textbook “Diversity and Citizenship Education: Global Perspectives”  is a rather scathing critique of the Japanese government’s backwardness. The government, despite egregious indicators suggesting otherwise, has continued to preach the notion of a homogonous Japan.

This façade obviously cannot hold  for long. Borders between countries are becoming ever the more porous, and Japan is already finding itself in the throes of globalization’s turbulence. Even if the government doesn’t recognize a multicultural Japan, they’ll have to recognize it when the ministries are swarmed with trick-or-treaters from all across the world nagging at their sleeves for candy.

Of course, the rational hunch would be that the Japanese government officials are fully aware of Japan’s future as being inevitably awash with foreigners, and they’re probably just as equally aware of the outdated notions of the “pure and homogonous Japan” that they’re trying to peddle with increasing desperation. It is all most likely their way of buying time before the day of reckoning.

Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s book “utsukushii kuni he [To a Beautiful Country]” really comes to mind in terms of rising nationalistic sentiments amongst the Japanese people. The book’s notoriously nationalistic overtones is probably matched only by Masahiko Fujiwara’s “Kokka no hinkaku [The dignity of the State].” Both are, quite conspicuously, attempts to try and resurrect a national identity amongst the Japanese people.

As Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, the author of the chapter eloquently pointed out, the sense of collective identity has continued to decline precipitously in Japan. But efforts like Abe and Kiichi’s are counterproductive: any man with a morsel of liberal education will be able to quickly spot the words which connote the arousal of nationalistic fervor.

What we really need, then, is a new generation of Japanese who consider themselves members of one multicultural global village.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Japan: The Place that Never Existed

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

The French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, a man who advanced new frontiers in linguistics in the 19th to 20th century, once observed that “every language is a complete system of signs.” His work in linguistics led him to differentiate between signifiers (the symbol, or word) and the signified (the object that is brought to mind).

Nearly a century later, a Frenchman by the name of Roland Barthes would step foot onto Japanese soil. Barthes, who devoted much of his life to sociology and lexicology, was intrigued by the country.

So intrigued, in fact, that he would go on to write an entire book—Empire of Signs—on his observations of Japan in 1972.

His initial quest was simple, audacious, and fascinating; Barthes would go to Japan although he spoke no Japanese.

And thus Barthes’s journey began:

“The murmuring mass of an unknown language constitutes a delicate protection, envelops the foreigner in an auditory film which halts at his ears all the alienations of the mother tongue: the regional and social origins of whoever is speaking, his degree of culture, of intelligence, of taste, the image by which he constitutes himself as a person and which he asks you to recognize.” (p.9)

Yet Barthes could not have been ever the happier:

“What a respite! Here I am protected against stupidity, vulgarity, vanity, wordliness, nationality, normality,” Barthes notes exuberantly. He then goes on to play observant: “the unknown language, of which I nonetheless grasp the respiration, the emotive aeration, in a word the pure significance, moves around me, as I move, a faint vertigo, sweeping me in its artificial emptiness, which is consummated only for me: I live in the interstice, delivered from any meaning.” (p.9)

Eventually, Barthes reaches the conclusion that Japan is, as the title suggests, an empire of signs devoid of meaning. He arrives at this conclusion from his analysis of Japanese haiku, gastronomy, and city planning.

Starting with Haiku, he first enumerates a few such as:

I come by the mountain path.
Ah! This is exquisite!
A violet!
-
Basho (p.71)

Which leads him to conclude that “The haiku wakens desire: how many Western readers have dreamed of strolling through life, notebook in hand, jotting down ‘impressions’ whose brevity would guarantee their perfection, whose simplicity would attest to their profundity.”

This basic analysis leads to a much deeper observation: “there is a moment when language ceases, and it is this echoless breach which institutes at once the truth of Zen and the form—brief and empty—of the haiku.” (p.74)

What Barthes is thus talking about is haiku’s attempt to elucidate the lack of a Saussurian signifier to accurately represent the Saussurian signified. In other words, he realizes in haiku a certain form of arresting silence that talks quite loudly to the soul in the most ineffable of manners.

Likewise, in the field of gastronomy, Barthes notes Japan’s emphasis of lightness rather than the rich and creamy tastes preferred in his France:

“For us, in France, a clear soup is a poor soup; but her the lightness of the bouillon, fluid as water, the soybean dust or minced green beans drifting within it, the rarity of the two or three solids which divide as they float in this little quantity of water give the idea of a clear density, of a nutrivity without grease, of an elixir all the more comforting in that it is pure.” (p.14)

By stumbling upon Japan’s emphasis on things that are clear, pure, and silent, Barthes triumphantly lands upon one more triumphant find: the lack of a “Center” in Tokyo.

Again, Barthes begins his observations with what he’s used to seeing at home—a concentric city with the center filled with churches, offices, banks, and other key functions of civilization. In contrast, “the city I am talking about (Tokyo) offers this precious paradox: it does possess a center, but this center is empty. The entire city turns around a site both forbidden and indifferent, a residence concealed beneath foliage, protected by moats, inhabited by an emperor who is never seen.” (p.31)

Thus Tokyo’s ominous center imposes the stillness of nothing amongst the daily havoc of a typical modern city.

And thus, concludes Barthes, “daily, in their rapid, energetic, bullet-like trajectories, the taxis avoid this circle, whose low crest, the visible form of invisibility, hides the sacred ‘nothing.’ [Tokyo] is thereby built around an opaque ring of walls, streams, roofs, and trees whose own center is no more than an evaporated notion, subsisting here, not in order to irradiate power, but to give to the entire urban movement the support of its central emptiness […] in this manner, we are told, the system of the imaginary is spread circularly, by detours and returns the length of an empty subject.” (p.31-32)

Welcome to Japan—the land that has never existed.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

High Time for Watershed in East-Asia Relations

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Last month’s collision of a Chinese trawler and two Japanese Maritime Coast Guard vessels comes at a time when both countries were looking forward to warmer relationships. Since 2009, China has been Japan’s largest economic trading partner, and the new Japanese leadership under Prime Minister Naota Kan was reputedly the most pro-Chinese government in decades.

Yet as bilateral relations were strained by the collision, much of this goodwill has been dashed. The collision occurred in disputed waters near the Senkaku Islands (called the Diaoyu by the Chinese), bringing disputed territory to the forefront of politics. In the end, China ratcheted up its grievances against Japan, and a bizarre slew of incidents—unusually thorough custom inspections of commodities headed for Japan, China’s sudden weeklong ban of rare earth exports, and the detention of 4 Japanese construction workers—seemed to be more than Japan wanted to bear.

Japan freed the trawler’s skipper on September 24th, perhaps in an effort to defuse escalating tensions. Another factor may be the host of multilateral talks scheduled to take place over the coming months, such as the G20, East Asian and Asia Pacific Economic Co-Operation Summits. In light of talks, Japan may have seen a need to bring about a quick conflict resolution.

However, Japan’s ultimate decision to free the skipper has several lasting implications. For one thing, China’s assertion of legitimacy over the islands seemed much more coordinated than Japan’s mixed-signal response during the weeks the trawler’s captain was detained. This underscored Japan’s ineptitude to appeal its stance to the international community. China, too, made a firm point that it intends to take a hard-line stance when the going gets rough, a clear contrast to the “peaceful rise” it has long preached to its neighbors. The collision has undoubtedly made nearby countries with territorial disputes with China fidgety, while simultaneously giving a wake-up call to the United States that it may not be able to get away by playing observer when tension in the region escalates.

As far as the islands and the development natural gas reserves in vicinity go, it is unfortunate that Japan and China cannot agree to jointly develop the large reserves of natural gas discovered in 1969 by ECAFE (UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) near the islands in a harmonious manner. In essence, the struggle over disputed territories in East Asia is not just about development rights and EEZ’s (Exclusive Economic Zone). Making territorial claims is a way countries assert themselves as the nexus of power in the region. This means that geopolitically, the close proximity of the countries and the framework of an “East Asian” region makes reconciliation and integration that much more difficult, especially when so many countries are trying to become the leader of the region.

Where judicial interpretations of territorial claims differ, regional integration is the only way to avoid a zero-sum conflict. Though the region is stable on the surface, underlying mistrust still looms large. If true reconciliation does not take place, new conflicts will stir old grudges—in particular sentiments characterized by rumination on past victimizations. What the region desperately needs is historical reconciliation, now in the “forgiving and cleansing” way which is colored by religious overtones and therapeutic language, but macro-level psychological reconciliation where past wrongs become incorporated into a new narrative told by all parties. By combining narratives through reconciliation, mutual understanding will become more tenable, and region will not just be marked by increasing economic interdependence but increasing mutual trust as well.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Sensing Nature

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

The latest exhibition at the Mori Art Museum, which will be on display until November 7th, is aptly named “Sensing Nature”—a collaborative work by world-renown Japanese artists Tokujin Yoshioka, Taro Shinoda, and Takashi Kuribayashi.

Showcasing some of the masterpieces of the three artists, the exhibit subtly imposes the question of “rethinking the Japanese perception of nature.”

And masterpieces they are. Those who view the exhibit are first greeted by Yoshioka’s “Snow,” which recreates the seemingly fantasy-like quality of snow. Yoshioka achieves this feat using 15 meters of enclosed open space, a fan, and 300 kilograms of feathers. The fan spins every now and then, causing the feathers to fly, float, and fall to the ground, leaving visitors the impression that they’re actually watching snow fall slowly to the ground.

Curious patrons of the Mori Art Museum then proceed to view the works of Taro Shinoda, who has been working on the theme of the “connection between man and nature.” Among his intriguing works is the Ginga—a series of water-filled bottles with air tubes hang from the ceiling that releases a droplet of water simultaneously, causing the white milky water in a round pool below to ripple. The resulting effect is nothing short of spectacular; observers feel the slightest sense of a disturbance in the water’s “harmony,” an iconic symbol of the Japanese notion of natural beauty.

Shinoda reveals that his work Ginga was inspired by the Hojo garden at Tofuku-ji Temple in Kyoto, which was designed by Shigemori Mirei, a notable Showa-era Japanese landscape artist. The east garden is a karesansui—a dry landscape—and features stars arranged in a Big Dipper motif that ‘shine’ by way of a pattern of furrows raked in the gravel. Shinoda effectively recreates the waxing and waning starlight of the Milky Way in his eccentric work.

Lastly, visitors to the museum enjoy the works of Takashi Kuribayashi, a legendary Japanese artist who specializes in nihonga. His works show how one’s perspectives can change with different locations, which he achieves by dividing his works into certain different layers.

While notions of Japanese shintoism were faintly perceptible, contemporary questions related to traditional worship of nature, such as neo-animism, neo-drudism, and a resurgence of voodoo rituals were left largely untouched. However, the artists’ creativity is certainly no short of genius, and their choice of materials (such as feathers for snow and white cardboard for a forest) invokes within the patron a sense of child-like glee as she makes her way about enjoying the works.

Right in the heart of Tokyo, the exhibit delivers a captivating experience for Tokyoites and urbanites hailing from around the world to see the beauty that nature has to offer. If anything, the museum is undeniably fun, and the minimalism of the exhibition space acts as a temporary retreat from the urban sprawl.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

For Want of Silence

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

“E pur si muove,” Galileo muttered in 1632 as he was forced by the Catholic church to recant his theory that the earth moved around the sun. Galileo’s four words changed the way we fundamentally view the universe and justified the centuries of scientific inquiry that followed.

In the same century, a little Japanese monk who had carved out a name for himself for his poetry was looking at the island Sato, the stars, and the oceans. The monk was compelled to write, “turbulent the sea, stretching across to Sado, The Milky Way” in the haikai no renga form.

The famous line was written by Basho in 1689.

Be it Galileo or Basho, both have conveyed messages of enormous significance and beauty while maintaining the brevity of a simple sentence unassailed by verbiage. Basho saw the sea and wrote poems that have endured centuries. Today, Japan is still surrounded by the sea, but it is also surrounded by a sea of clutter.

Japan’s major news organs all tout the same headlines. People are bombarded left and right by messages. Noise pollution and light pollution, two evils brewed by urbanization, are the consequences of contemporary modernization.

Public transit has not been spared, either. The tranqulity of the trains are treacherously destroyed by voiced messages reminding commuters not to get their fingers stuck as the train doors close and not to forget their belongings on the train. Urbanites, especially those in Tokyo, do not enjoy the same serenity that clear-minded thinkers had enjoyed during eras of great cultural and artistic achievement.

The Information Age has birthed new words like “digital divide,” and “information literacy.” UC Berkeley Professor Robert Reich coined words like “symbolic analyst” in reference to those employed in the tertiary sector that can swim through today’s sea of information and make some sense out of it.

Today’s world is brimming with information; keep the water flowing and we’ll all surely drown.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Jihad, McWorld, and Bureaucratic Officialdom

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

In the March 1992 edition of the Atlantic Monthly, Benjamin Barber, an American political theorist, published his work “Jihad vs. Mcworld.”  He claims, with great brevity, that in today’s world, the forces of Jihad and the forces of McWorld are the two primary forces vying for the hearts and minds of men.

In his opening paragraph he remarks: “Just beyond the horizon of current events lies two possible political futures – both bleak, neither democratic. The first is a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a threatened Lebanization of national states in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe – a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic mutuality. The second is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast computers, and fast food – with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one commercially homogeneous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce. The planet is falling precipitantly apart AND coming reluctantly together at the very same moment.”

Thus, Barber sees McWorld and Jihad pitted against each other as they exert their influence across the four corners of the world. McWorld, a gruesome patchwork of multinational corporations trumpeting blind, voracious consumerism, has birthed a resurgence of corporate symbolism and the decline in influence of traditional culture in our daily lives.

In contrast, Jihad is traditional culture turned avenging-angel-incognito, causing sporadic acts of violence as symbolic acts of resistance against McWorld’s strengthening clutches upon our daily lives. Barber does not, however, see Jihad as justified, but rather that it is little more than a movement by small groups of people of myriad variety trying to gather whatever vestiges of identity they can morsel.

Barber puts it most succinctly when he observes: “neither McWorld nor Jihad is remotely democratic in impulse. Neither needs democracy; neither promotes democracy.”

It would be stating the obvious to say that Japan, as a nation, has largely sold itself to the seductive luminosity of what Barber calls “McWorld.” One stroll to Shibuya’s notorious pedestrian intersection will dizzy the unsuspecting tourist with relentless bombardments of corporate symbolism.

Though Japan is recognized as a democratic country, in essence, vested interests, largely protected by bureaucratic red tape, holds the Japanese citizenry from garnering true political representation. Ever since the end of World War II, true political power has been firmly in the hands of bureaucrats, and despite a strong albeit short-lived campaign to wrest control from them by former prime minister Yukio Hatoyama, bureaucrats are still calling the shots today.

If Japan’s bureaucrats were a well-intentioned bunch with noble ideals and true civil servants in the name of the word, then perhaps a spoonful of bureaucratic paternalism might be digestible to the general public. But such has too often not been the case. This is perhaps most perceptible in the number of excessive and unnecessary public works projects that have been proposed and carried out by bureaucrats and their construction companies (through which they make hefty sums of money) over the years.

Of course, there have always been public protest, no matter how feeble and ignored by the media the protests may have been. The efforts though, were mostly in vain, as Alex Kerr, a critic of contemporary Japan, notes in his book “Dogs and Demons” that “so weak is Japan’s democracy in the face of [bureaucratic] officialdom that in twenty-five out of thirty-three such cases, between 1995 and 1998, legislatures have refused to conduct referendums.”

In his book, Alex Kerr laments the damage that has been wrought to Japan’s environment. Kerr illustrates the ghastly reality of contemporary Japan in excrutiatingly vivid detail: “Japan has become arguably the world’s ugliest country. To readers who know Japan from tourist brochures that feature Kyoto’s temples and Mount Fuji, that may seem a surprising, even preposterous assertion. But those who live or travel here see the reality: the native forest cover has been clear-cut and replaced by the industrial cedar, rivers are dammed and the seashore lined with cement, hills have been leveled to provide gravel fill for bays and harbors, mountains are honeycombed with destructive and useless roads, and rural villages have been submerged in a sea of industrial waste.”

Much of this damage is irreversible, or reversible albeit with a very high cost. The public has been so detatched from policymaking through bureaucratic officialdom and so blinded from relevant matters due to total immersion into the labyrinth of McWorld’s objectified symbols that flowering of true democracy in Japan seems to be the wishful thinking of a fool.

The kind of democracy that Japan should strive to achieve, if it still has the capability to strive for democracy, is the kind of “Open Society” advanced by the late Karl Popper in his 1945 book “The Open Society and its Enemies.” Popper, disillusioned with top-down government after his fellow socialist friends were shot dead in the name of greater societal good, became a strong advocate of liberal democracy. According to Popper, it is the unpredictability nature of the future of society through any viable scientific means that necesitates a bottom-up approach to governmental decision-making, and thus there lies the latent need for true democratic participation by all respective citizens.

Whether or not Japan’s citizens will garner true political representation lies in the citizens’ ability to rally under the battlecry for true representation – which is possible only when they realize that they must represent themselves.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

The Plight of Feminism

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

As we greet the 50th anniversary of “the pill,” it seems apt to reinvigorate feminist discourse. 

Simone de Beauvoir proclaimed “one is not born a woman, but becomes one,” affirming Spinoza that we are not predetermined to act but rather that society determines how we act—effectively breaking the long-established explanation of female social inequality based upon biological grounds. In other words, while men and women may differ in sex from birth, the difference between male and “man” and female and “woman” is the difference between a human being born with a tabula rasa—a blank slate—and a human being after he has been molded by his social environment.

This, in itself, ushered huge strides in how we think of the role men and women play in society—that is, we are not biologically determined to act in a certain way. If it is society that mandates how “men” and “women” ought to act, then we may be critical of what society decrees.

Today, feminism is a huge global movement that involves the participation of both sexes in its discourse. However, feminism itself has many different varieties: American feminism differs greatly from French feminism and post-colonial feminism.

American feminism emphasizes equal social rights—in particular, equal political footing between the two sexes. This can be seen in how women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton had fought for women’s suffrage alongside Frederick Douglass, who fought for equal rights for African Americans.

In contrast, French feminism distances itself with American feminism and instead focuses on much more metaphysical questions, like what defines the difference between the “body” and the corporeal body.

Though American feminism and French feminism have made their marks in changing how society views gender inequalities, postcolonial feminism has been established in part as an antithesis to the aforementioned variants of the feminist movement.

Postcolonial feminism is a movement spearheaded by the unheard millions of voices of women in developing countries (I use the term “developing countries” here only because it shows the cartographic area I am referring to; in no way do I believe that “developing countries” are “backward.”) Women in the Southern hemisphere, who have long been denied equal footing with their male counterparts, found some homage in the succession of “traditional knowledge” from one generation of women to the next.

In other words, women in the Southern hemisphere, whose roles have largely been restricted to the household, sought both meaning and individual identity in “traditional knowledge”—knowledge that has allowed women to raise hundreds of varieties of crops in a small plot of land.

Yet the one bastion of strength these women have enjoyed has been increasingly been encroached upon by large agribusinesses such as Monsanto, an American multi-national company. As Vandana Shiva, a highly acclaimed Indian economist argues, in today’s corporate-led globalization, there is no room for true female empowerment. As a matter of fact, as agribusinesses plow away small fields and farms that have a diverse range of crops and replace them with large tracts of monoculture fields, “traditional knowledge,” the one source of power for women in the Southern hemisphere, is undermined and placed at risk.

Shiva argues that there must be a resurgence of feminism, one that is truly global and reflects the voices of all women. She criticizes American feminism and French feminism for establishing the Western image of women upon their counterparts in the Southern hemisphere, which is eminent in how some traditional customs of women in “developing countries” have been frowned upon by those in the North.

In place of male supremacists and religious conservativism, feminism faces new fronts against corporatocracy and MTV. The former puts “traditional knowledge” and postcolonial feminism in peril; the latter confuses the high ideals of feminism with overt sexual liberalism and the affirmation of promiscuity.

Speaking of which, feminism, as understood by the populist culture in Japan, is as denigrated as MTV’s image of women. As the late Masao Maruyama, a political theorist in Japan notes, Japan has always never reached the idealized vision of freedom envisioned by Locke and instead has been stuck swimming in the low-brow, trivial, sensational, and irrelevant freedom of Hobbes. Feminism in Japan has been tainted by the sexual promiscuity professed by MTV, and draws not the quill of the academic but the frills of sexy lingerie.

On the bright side, in recent decades feminism has grown as a field of study in Japan—providing fertile grounds for domestic public discourse on issues of gender in a country long plagued by a male-centered society.

The reason? A declining fertility rate (which bottomed at 1.26 in 2005) has made gender equality a central issue in Japan, particularly in Japanese politics.

There are already signs of conscious improvement: the Japanese government initiated the “Basic Law for a Gender-Equal Society” to try and help Japanese women tackle both child-rearing and retaining a career.

Whether or not reform towards true gender equality will be realized in Japan (and the rest of the world) remains to be seen, but it seems that true academic discourse towards the role of women in has finally begun after centuries of oppression.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

“Eco-Points”: Not so eco-friendly

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Have you ever wondered just how eco-friendly “Eco-Points” are? After all, the Japanese government has specifically articulated that only eco-friendly products will merit “Eco-Points,” a new form of government subsidy.

If one really thinks about it, the “Eco-Points” system isn’t environmental friendly at all. It’s not in the least bit green; it’s a total farce.

According to JapanTimes, the Japanese government has installed the “Eco-Points” system to:
1) stimulate consumption
2) to promote [the] use of energy-efficient goods

This should be revised to say:
1) to stimulate consumption, especially household consumption
2) to promote the idea that Japanese citizens are buying themselves into being environmentally conscious citizens

More on #2 later. For now, lets concentrate on #1.

So, just how green are “Eco-Points?”
Let’s take a look at TV’s for example (one of the 4 products where “Eco-Points” can be redeemed- the others are refrigerators, air conditioners, and cars).

“Eco-Points” can be redeemed for TV’s that have high energy efficiency. So far, so good.
You get more “Eco-Points” for bigger TV’s. In other words, the bigger the TV, the more “Eco-Points” you get.

Ah, now we begin to see some contradictions. Obviously, if the TV is bigger, there will be greater energy consumption. A household that originally intended to buy a 32-inch TV may decide to swap their old TV for a 40-inch instead, an increase in energy use caused by the warping of consumer preference by none other than “Eco-Points!”

 To give you an idea of what this implies, here’s a little graph to help you visualize just how eco-friendly “Eco-Points” really are:

This graph makes the whole “Eco-Points” sham glaringly obvious in all it’s notorious glory. The government isn’t really trying to make Japan greener (though just like any other country, it certainly loves proclaiming to be eco-responsible.)

It’s basically just trying to get consumers to spend their hard-earned cash on not just a new TV, but a bigger TV. Not just a new refrigerator, but a sleeker, air-brushed steel door refrigerator. Not just a new air conditioner, but an air conditioner that dispenses negatively-charged ions that refreshes the room’s air.
In other words, “Eco-Points” is an attempt to jump-start the economy. It is, in fact, nothing short of and nothing more than a government-sponsored defibrillation of an increasingly floundering economy.

In the JapanTimes article List of goods qualified for Eco-points now out, there’s a Q&A which reads:
Why are the points being awarded only for air conditioner, refrigerator and TV purchases?

The government is focusing on those appliances because half of total carbon dioxide emissions from households are produced by these three products alone, according to the Environment Ministry.”

Notice how the answer state “carbon dioxide emissions from households.” If there’s any room for opposition left, here’s the knock-out kick statistics:

Japanese households consistently make up less than 20% of total CO2 emissions.

If the Japanese government really wanted to get serious about cutting down on CO2 emissions, then they would enact regulations on the industrial sector, by far the biggest pollutor. But that would hamper GDP growth, the government’s primary objective.

Why aren’t “eco-points” being applied to say, greener production lines or greener smelting equiptment? The answer is simple: the government wants to put an end to consumer frugality and stimulate domestic demand.

Let’s review.
Publically, the government has stated it has launched the “Eco-Points” system to:
1) stimulate consumption
2) to promote [the] use of energy-efficient goods

And I argued,
This should be revised to say:
1) to stimulate consumption, especially household consumption
2) to promote the idea that Japanese citizens are buying themselves into being environmentally conscious citizens

From everything I’ve written thus far, #1 is quite obvious: The government wants to jump-start the economy by having consumers literally buy themselves out of a decade-long recession.

Now on to #2. The evidence for #2 has already been mentioned, but what good is there in coupling a system that rewards more expenditures with something like eco-friendliness?

In a previous article, I wrote about how we’ve entered an era of “symbolic consumerism.”

The fact is, we now live in an advanced capitalist paradigm in which we can buy ourselves into a new image of ourselves, including the view that we’re environmentally conscious, no matter how preposterous and paradoxical that may be in reality.

But I’ll give it to the DPJ. Their a wily lot, and while “Eco-Points” hasn’t made the world a greener place, it has certainly dethawed many people’s wallets.

So, all in all, I’ll give it to the DPJ: a party doing a splendid job spurring GDP growth under the banner of being green- since 2009.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI

Lessons from Iwo Jima: Trilateral Relations Between Japan, China, and the US

Monday, March 29th, 2010

Mix together Clint Eastwood, Ken Watanabe, Ninomiya Kazunari, and add a touch of history to get the Academy Award-winning “Letters from Iwo Jima,” the companion-piece to “Flags of our Fathers.” A recent war-movie on the Pacific War, the two movies received worldwide acclaim for accurately depicting the gruesome realities of war.

65 years has elapsed since the Battle of Iwo Jima, which involved some 22,000 Japanese and 100,000 American combatants. Today, little is spoken of the event, and despite a brief blip from the two movies, the lessons of Iwo Jima have all but faded from the public mind.

Mr.James Bradley, the author of the book Flags of Our Fathers and the man who wrote the story which would later become the groundwork for the two movies, came to Japan and gave a lecture about how he was influenced to write the book.

To be honest, I was absolutely fascinated. Especially when he talked about how he went through over 200 books to research the historical facts behind the little-known battle.
But what I really wanted to know was what kind of lessons we can learn today from a battle where tens of thousands of Japanese and Americans had died.

When it came time to ask Mr.Bradley for questions, I raised my hand without hesitation and cut right down to the chase when my turn came and asked:

“Mr. Bradley, in your presentation you described Japan, China, and the United States, and it seems like today the economic relationships between these countries are warming, but politically, there’s still room to de-thaw. What do you think is the biggest impediment to the trilateral relationship between these countries, and how do you think this can be overcome?”

In a very humble way, Mr.Bradley first responded by saying that he’s a historian and his field of expertise is about events 100 years into the past. He was quick, however, to offer a very lucid response:

“Very recently I talked in front of 4th graders. I asked them, ‘tell me about a friend you haven’t met.’ They all looked stumped, but this is really what’s at the core of establishing relationships between countries. It’s much easier to go to war with someone you don’t know than someone you do know. If it was up to me, I’d kidnap half of the children in America and FedEx them across the world so we can have true, human relationships between countries.”

The audience laughed at the FedEx joke and cheered.
Bravo Mr.Bradley, Bravo.

Establishing peace between countries is really as simple as that. It’s all about getting to really know each other. Once you get to know your “enemy,” then you can realize that he sleeps just like you do, eats three meals just like you do, and even has a mom and dad just like you do.

We have so many more similarities than we do differences, and that’s what this world really needs to realize.

After all, we’re all human, and that should be reason enough for mutual understanding.

//By Ryo TAKAHASHI