Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Japan at a crossroads.

Japan is at a crossroads. As the nation embraces itself in the run-up to the general election to be held on 16th December, the future of the nation is hanging on a very delicate and potentially volatile balance. So much is at stake.

As this essay is not about naming and finger-pointing, here I do without any specific mentions of the political parties. I am writing thus not in fear of offending somebody, or in the hope of affecting the results of the election in my own trivial and negligible ways. I am choosing this particular style in the recognition that anyone could alter his or her system of thoughts, so that naming is not really necessary or appropriate.

It is understandable that Japanese politics is leaning towards the conservative at the moment. A psychological mechanism called “mortality salience” suggests that when people become aware of life-threatening situations, circumstances suggesting their own mortalities, they tend to protect themselves with conservative values. Immediately after the September 11th attacks, for example, the support for the Bush administration, which preached conservative policies, jumped up. How it affected the results of the presidential election in 2012 is now history.

It is understandable that, in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and the incident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant last year, the Japanese people are finding conservative values attractive. The political parties projected to win the General Election tend to put forward conservative and nationalist policies, including the revision of the progressive Constitution of Japan enacted after the defeat in Second World War. 

To recognize and appreciate one’s unique historic and cultural heritage cannot be a bad thing. It is also practical, from time to time, to realize that people’s behavior cannot be changed overnight. Conservatism, at its best, recognizes that it is not possible to change the nature of people overnight, as progressive arguments sometimes seem to suggest.

That some Japanese politicians are stressing the merits of traditional Japanese values is both understandable and appreciable. In a time of recognized national crisis such as this, it is only human nature to emphasize Japanese values, both real and imagined, against those of the neighbors, such as Korea and China. The real question is, however, whether it is wise to do so, especially to the degree that ethnic and cultural diversity is threatened.

We live in a globalized world. Connecting beyond and overcoming national borders is the name of the game. The equation for prosperity has changed. The internet has literally redrawn the map of human activities on the surface of the earth. The search for talents has also become global. It makes sense to be lenient to ethnic diversity, not only in human rights perspectives but also from economic points of view. A Syrian student fathered Steve Jobs. Sergey Brin was born in Russia. Taiwanese entrepreneurs were involved in the founding of Yahoo and youtube.

In this age of small world networks, no nation succeeds by preaching nationalistic values. The great paradox is that a nation thrives to the degree it is able to refrain from nationalistic sentiments and open its doors to the diversity of world at large.
It is certainly true that Japan has had its share of entrepreneurs of ethnic minorities. Mr. Masayoshi Son of Softbank is one of the most luminous examples. The most remarkable thing, however, is not how Mr. Son managed to overachieve. The real question is why there aren’t more cases like Mr. Son.

Japan has come to a crossroads. One road leads to more openness, embracement of the cultural and ethnic diversity, and economic prosperity. I don’t think the other road is worth mentioning here. I for one believe that Japan would never take that road. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Visitor: A butterfly lover’s philosophy of life.

As a boy I used to chase butterflies, in the field, and among the woods. My childhood time was literally divided between reading books in the room and searching for the airborne insects in the wild. After some period of field training, I learned all of the butterfly species by heart, so that I could identify which species the moment I saw one flying. Looking back, I think it was a marvelous manifestation of the brain’s ability to apply pattern recognition. What a pity it does not have any practical value in today’s world!

Sometimes, I could not tell what I was looking at, as the butterfly would appear strange and exotic. At such a time, my heart would suddenly throb violently. It could be a new species yet to be discovered by human kind (to discover one was the wildest dream of a boy like myself). The reality was not that exciting, as we all regret to learn. Most of the time, it was just the shades and backgrounds that made the butterfly appear to be different. After a more careful observation, it would turn out to be quite a common species.

From time to time, which was equally exciting, the butterfly would turn out to be a “visitor”. A species not normally resident, but was blown into the area by strong wind, especially after the passage of a typhoon. In other cases, when the butterfly had a strong ability to fly, it could wander on its own into the forest where I was chasing butterflies.

Since I spent so much time chasing butterflies, I think part of my philosophy of life has been formed by interactions with these elegant creatures. In my life, I sometimes catch myself waiting for “visitors”. Some person, event, or phenomenon, that would enter my world only rarely. It is such a pity that visitors do not come so often. But when one does come, it infuses my life with a strange sense of joy and expectancy. It makes me want to run off and venture into an unknown, enchanted kingdom.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

I would vote for Obama.

I am not an American citizen. If I were one, I would vote for Mr. Obama.

In my view, the race between Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney is one between sharing vs. competition, collaboration vs. acrimony.

The idea that economic growth can be brought about through competition in the free market is a fantasy at best. In fact, people need to be in possession of certain knowledge and skills in order to be a functioning competitor. At a time when the disparity of household income directly translates into the educational opportunities for the kids, the gospel that Mr. Romney preaches is not only a logical fallacy but also a factually misleading propaganda.

The idea that prosperity can be brought about through competition is also false. Prosperity is based on collaboration, with each individual bringing onto the table his or her unique capabilities, without sticking a price tag to the contribution.

Mr. Romney’s speech divides and alienates people. Now is the time to take a hard look at the real conditions in which human beings make their efforts. Mr. Obama is not saying that we can be lazy and the let the state take care of us. He is just saying that in order to make a serious effort, we need to collaborate in a spirit of mutual helpfulness and respect. That is only a common sense. 

Something even a five year old kid knows, before the young mind is polluted by the false ideology of the free market.

The ideology of socialism is long gone. Now is the time for the simplistic belief in the free market to be gone. Electing Mr. 
Obama for President would be symbolic of the times when we are coming to grips with the realities of how human societies are organized and work, at long last.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Growing out of beers.

This summer, a strange phenomenon is happening to me. I seem to be growing out of beers.

Ever since I started enjoying alcohol at the legal age of 20 (well, my memory is actually rather fuzzy there), I liked beer the best, especially as a starter. On a summer evening, ordering a pint of beer has been the thing to do. It is a collective 
phenomenon. Actually, in Japanese, there is a special expression for the endorsement of beer as the first drink of the evening (Ask any Japanese people around).

Then it started to weigh in. I noticed the small gradual changes within me when it was too late. I find myself ordering other drinks (what a sacrilege!) at the beginning of supper with colleagues and friends. Beer is not the first choice any more.

I ponder why this change is happening. It is personally so interesting and at the same time rather unnerving. Am I losing something, perhaps the famous “mojo” (Austin Powers)?

I am watching my thirst and drive carefully as we Tokyo residents start to prepare ourselves for the inevitable chills of autumn.