Wednesday, March 21, 2007

拝啓、日本 - Dear Japan,

As of today, it has become spring. It has been murderously cold all week, but that hasn't kept some of the Sakura from coming into bloom. It budget constraints and preparing to move back to the US have, however, kept me in my crappy apartment these past 4 days. I've only stepped out to run errands or get a snack at the conbini, and that's meant that I've spent a lot of time surfing the internet, reading webcomics and blogs, and watching Japanese TV.

I usually only end up watching about two or three hours of television a week. If I'm at home on a Tuesday night I love watching Lincoln, a comedy show where some of Japan's A-list subject each other to juvenile pranks and bizarre, inane challenges. Needless to say it's AWESOME. I also end up watching whenever my girlfriend, who turns the TV on as soon as she gets home, calls me into her room to see something cool.

Today there was this program on called SASUKE, it's a televised sporting event held twice a year where people race to the end of a Ninja-inspired obstacle course. I completely RIVETED. But the thing that I really noticed (other than how cool it is to see someone actually jump and climb around like a ninja) was the incredible sportsmanship of all the competitors involved. They showed reactions of the crowd and the previous champions while people were running the course, and Invariably they cheered the successes and congratulated the efforts of each challenger. There was no trash-talk, there were no bitter rivalries, just athletes testing themselves against a REALLY difficult challenge, and when someone fell or failed or ran out of time, everyone was disappointed, but proud of them for trying. One competitor really impressed me, after seemingly clearing the hardest obstacle in the run (it eventually was the downfall of every challenger) he stopped, raised his hand and disqualified himself for accidentally grabbing a disallowed handhold.

Wow, that's some integrity.

On the other hand, I was in my girlfriend's room the other morning talking to her about moving and flight arrangements when I couldn't help but notice the panel discussion program that was going on in the background. The theme was "Why does America bully Japan so much?" Various recorded informational segments, narrated by a white stuffed toy dog with a red circular spot around one eye, were presented with a period in-between where the collected experts (Lawyers, academics, and popular entertainers) discussed the sub-topic presented in the clip. A one point I was so angry I was shouting at the screen. The little Japan-Dog had presented a segment about the second world war, and addressed the Nanking Massacre referring to the definitive book by Iris Chang as 'Chinese Propaganda'. After the stuffed Dog got done denying the clearly substantiated slaughter of 300,000 innocent people (we found and counted the bodies), the 'Experts' started in. First, one lawyer started in by saying that his grandfather, who had served in the Manchurian campaign, claimed never to have raped nor seen any member of his company commit such atrocities. Then another, older asshat went on to say, "every occupying force must take measures to control the populace and prevent uprisings. Just look at what's happening in Iraq and you can see what happens when you don't." and then finally as icing on the cake a white-haired woman said, "Surely some horrible things were done, Japan has recognized that and apologized. Isn't the fact that we can sit here and openly discuss how much is true, and just how much is propaganda proof that that the Japanese people have taken responsibility for what happened there."


The previous Prime Minster of Japan, Junchiro Koizumi, went to worship at Yasukuni Shrine, where class A war criminals are enshrined as gods. Shinzo Abe, the current Prime Minister of Japan, was director general of a Group headed by Nariaki Nakayama, former education minister, who's express goal has been to remove references to the institutionalized rape and forced prostitution of "Comfort Women" by the Japanese Army during the second world war from Authorized history text-books for Junior High Schools. Nakayama has openly claimed that the Nanking Massacre was a "pure fabrication" and his group (full of prominent LDP members) has called for a retraction of Japan's official apology for the crimes in 1993.

I love this country, and I fear for it's future.

Japan is an amazing and beautiful country, and the people in it are just as beautiful and amazing, with an appreciation of beauty and a sense of solidarity that the rest of the world would do very well to emulate. That solidarity is both the Japanese people's greatest strength and it's greatest weakness.

Japan is the world's second largest economy, second only to the US. And unlike the US Japan has a incredibly homogeneous population. Most Japanese want the same things, worry about the same problems, and have the same social values. Most Japanese are worried about the growing cost of supporting the growing population of senior citizens, and concerned that the support might not be there when the time comes for them to retire. They value the quality of education, and take great pride in the high level of technical skill in the Japanese workforce. They fear an economic disaster like the popping of the bubble in the early nineties, and remain cautious even though their economy is now in better shape than it's ever been. (Though only the richest of the rich are getting the benefit.) They are concerned that students today are not learning the skills they will need (as recent institutionalized cheating scandals suggest) and are disturbed by the amount of bullying and suicide in their school system. The general public of Japan also is looking for solutions to the problems of climate change and overfishing.

Meanwhile Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party(Not actually very liberal at all) are busy trumping up inflated statistics of crime committed by foreign nationals (even though there appears to be a Yakuza gang-war going on in Tokyo) and making noises about changing Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution - That's the one where Japan renounces war and a standing Army and instead commissions a much more limited Self-defense force.

Abe, continually spouts his talking point of making "A Beautiful Country: Japan" a reality but he fails to explain what the hell that's supposed to mean. Beautiful because of it's rich and artistic history? Beautiful because of a strong, technologically advanced and ecologically sound industry? or Beautiful because there are no Koreans or Chinese living here dirting up the place with their inferior ways? (It should be noted that Korean TV dramas and Chinese food are HUGE hits here.)

Abe and his LDP asshats are out of touch with the Japanese people, but they can get away with it because there is no real alternative to them. The Democratic Party of Japan isn't even the Pepsi to the LDP's Coke. More of a Diet Coke: one makes you fat, the other has sweeteners that break down to form formaldehyde.

But if a real populist were to come to power, holy shit would Japan ever be AWESOME. If somehow instead of the cadre of myopic, racist Oligarchs we have in power now, a government committed to the goals of the Japanese people were to run the show you would see a truly beautiful country: Japan. Beautiful because it's people would have one of the highest standards of living in the world, if not THE highest.

How high? Imagine Norway, they're the current #1. They have free school, free medical care, most people own two houses and retire in their fifties to a life of quiet luxury. Sure Norwegians pay a lot of taxes, sometimes 50% of their income, but since they all agree on what they'd like to see those taxes spent on they all reap the benefits. Now take Norway and give them a SHITLOAD more money. That's what Japan could be.

How do they do it? Homogeneity.

If I have 2 dollars and I want to get lunch, I'm not going to be able to get anything really satisfying or filling. Maybe a candybar or a tiny McDonald's cheeseburger and a tiny drink but that's it. If I and 10 other people have 2 dollars and all want to eat lunch, bingo, we can order a large pizza and still have money left over for a 2 liter or so of soda. But what kind of toppings should we get? Here's where the Norwegians and Japanese have us Americans beat. Try getting a group of random Americans to agree on what should go on their pizza, I dare you. Meanwhile the Japanese are forgetting to tip the delivery guy for their corn-and-mayonnaise monstrosity and the Norweigans are chowing down on some lutefisk or something.

Homogeneity is how the Japanese have been able to pull of their Promethean revolutions throughout history. They do the same thing until it becomes clear that it doesn't work anymore, and then BAM! inside of a generation they're playing a whole new ballgame. From the Nara, Heian, Sengoku, Edo, Meiji, Tasho...etc, etc. It's like one of those undersea documentaries where all of the fish in this HUGE school change direction at the exact same moment.

But there's certainly a dark side.

If the LDP asshats somehow manage to convince Japan at large that they need to cast off their commitment to peace and become a world military power, there WILL be trouble. Japan has the know-how, the manufacturing facilities, and the fissionable material to have a full-scale nuclear weapons program inside of months. They even have orbital launch facilities. All they lack is the political will. And the LDP leadership wants on the UN Security council so bad they can taste it.

[Later, I will post a Japanese-Language Addition to this post. あと この日記の日本語バージョンを付けるから お楽しみに]

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