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Wednesday, April 16, 2014


There is an op ed piece in the International New York Times today by Jochen Bittner (political editor for Die Zeit) entitled "What Germany can teach Japan."  After World War II Germany admitted horrendous faults, took the appropriate humanitarian action, cultivated regional cooperation and became the glue for the European Union.  Japan, on the other hand, is again alienating its neighbors.  On this trip, I've talked to colleagues who now feel uncomfortable about traveling to China and South Korea.

A typical attitudinal problem with Japan is underscored:

When I (Bittner) asked a Japanese official why his government didn’t react to the proposal of President Park Geun-hye of South Korea to set up a committee for jointly developing history schoolbooks, after the Franco-German model, he said Tokyo had “not received any proposal from the Korean government in relation to this issue.” If Germany had waited for a written invitation for reconciliation from France or Poland, my generation would probably still believe that we were surrounded by hereditary enemies.

Here is the key point:  Japan feigns a kind of samurai attitude to ignore the truth, possibly from shame, but certainly too to avoid being faced with further reparation payments.  When it comes to comfort women, the obvious strategy is that if they wait long enough, these sex slaves will all soon die and the problem will safely go away.  In reference to contested territories, the regime of Shinzo Abe is headlong careening towards bypassing the Constitution to better arm the country against those "expansionist tendencies" of China and Russia.  Today, the lead editorial of The Japan Times was entitled:

effectively scolding the government for such reprehensible tactics.  It is terrible enough that the Fukushima nuclear calamity could cost more than $10 trillion, but to further saddle the economy with unnecessary and expensive military expenditures, when the USA provides all the protection necessary, seems senseless.  I guess there is something about national pride that overwhelms logic, for all those islands of contention are essentially without tangible value.

Now, when you add Prime Minister Abe's latest judgement to re-activate idling nuclear power plants, in the face of Fukushima, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, you wonder why the mass populace is mostly silent.  I think I have the answer.  All those fossil and renewable options are so expensive that already existing nuclear power is, really, the best solution today.

Just on the front page headlines today are areas where Japan can improve:
  • Only 14% of scientists in Japan are females, wasting all this talent, and Haruko Obokata's tribulations could well be related to this disproportion:
    • Russia     40%
    • UK          38%
    • USA        34%
  • For the first time, 25% of the population are 65 or older:
    • the percentage will reach 40% in 2060, unless measures are taken
    • total population declined for the third straight year, losing 217,000 people last year, while the 65 and older group jumped by 1.1 million
  • The key to population balance is a more progressive immigration policy.  The USA became what it has become because of migrants, and I'm a good example of a resultant product.  There, however, is a pervading "Japanese Only" attitude in this country.  Whether it's maintaining comfortable uniformity or even in the game of soccer, bigotry is dominant.  There are signs accompanying nationalistic marches indicating Koreans as cockroaches.  Not good.  Less than 2% living here is "alien."  In some ways, one can compare this view to that of U.S. Republicans on immigration, where indicators show definite racism.    Part of this country's success can be traced to this cultural identity.  However, perhaps the time has come to re-examine what should be the future of Japan.

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