April 25, 2005
Japan, China, Apology, Textbooks - Simple Right?
But Japan's neighbors have a long memory. Some say a victim complex. After all, Japanese leaders have apologized many times for Japanese aggressions and excesses throughout Asia. The Japanese Emperor himself delivered an apology in Beijing some years ago. Most of the Japanese who invaded China and Korea are long since dead, and the new generation(s) are anti-war. Right?
The problem is that apologies have a hollow ring when actions contradict the words. For example, there is a great outcry in Asia every time a Japanese Prime Minister visits Yasukuni Shrine (which memorializes Japan's fallen soldiers, including a number of war criminals). This has been argued back and forth, and frankly I don't understand. I don't come from a culture that venerates the dead, at least not in the same way, and I haven't looked closely at the relationship between Shinto religion and Japanese nationalism either. To me, the issue of textbooks is more concrete. Recently, Japan has approved a list of history textbooks for classroom instruction that generally gloss over or simply don't mention the terrible things Japanese troops did in Korea and China. This has been going on for many years, actually, and today a great many Japanese don't understand that the Koreans and Chinese are so upset about. They don't know the full story nor have they had to wrestle with the 'dark side' of what their grandparents' generation did. They have never struggled with moral dilemmas. They are ill-informed and ill-equipped, some would say, to prevent history from taking a similar course in the future.
My wife completed her education in Japan and graduated from a good university here, but she never knew what really happened in Korea and China until she went to the USA for graduate school. In the USA she learned about the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers and saw (through Korean and Chinese friends) how real and raw the wounds are even today.
So what is the present crisis about?
I have read that it's about politics. That China is controlling the situation to serve their own ends. They have power to deny Japan a seat on the UN security council. They want to be the leader in Asia. And they would rather have Chinese people mad at Japan than pointing fingers at Chinese leaders for their own internal problems. I also hear it's all about business. On the news here, almost every time a Japanese person is quoted, he (not she) is saying a variation of, "This is bad for business." Outside commentators also say that both China and Japan have to be careful, because both neither of the two countries can afford to stop buying and selling with each other.
Finally, I hear it's about justice. I'm sure this is a popular sentiment on the streets of China and Korea, and it's actually fundamental to China's big picture position: that Japan shouldn't be a member of the security council because the country is essentially immoral (unable to take responsibility for evils of its past or be trusted with leadership in the future).
Strange to hear "immorality" cited in an international debate. Strange also for China to make the accusation. I admit I wasn't exactly seeing straight on this until I read this article in BBC news. But I still think it's an important point, and the fact that China is saying it gives the world some permission to bring the argument back to them.
All the participants on the stage seem a bit screwed up. This is a social, political, moral, political, economic and emotional mess. But there are things that can be done to begin straightening up the mess.
Why can't Japan change it's textbooks? It seems so easy to me. There's no need to bathe in shame here -- I'm just thinking of giving balanced information and facts using the best available historical information. What a grand and practical gesture that -- if knowledge is a good thing -- would benefit, not harm Japan!
My Japanese teacher doesn't think it will be so easy. I need to listen to my tape of our lesson today, though, to figure out exactly what she said. But one thing I caught -- which we both agreed on -- is that there must be powerful people behind Koizumi who are pulling his strings. There is always a sense about the government here that most things are behind the scenes and out of the hand of ordinary people.
Technically, ordinary people form a powerful group. Voters. They could take Koizumi and the LDP out of power. How idealistic of me to say that! I know... I could get all cynical, which is why I don't say much about Japanese politics much in this blog. But today I want to think Japan could change on a point like this. I really think it would be in the country's own self-interest, and it would be the right thing to do. Why is it so hard?
April 21, 2005
Mortality, Life and Falling Cherry Blossoms
We said goodbye to my parents yesterday and explained to the kids that they would be getting on a plane and going home. There was something so unnatural about that. How do you explain to a 4 year old and 2 year old twins that their grandparents are leaving? Our four year old is just starting to understand differences of location and time. We returned from a trip to Nagano last weekend and she said, "We're back in Japan now!" The twins are entirely in the moment. As we all hugged and said the words, I had a pain in the pit of my stomach that intensified each time one of the kids' faces lit up again with a smile at my father or mother.
I think I began to face my own mortality for the first time in the weeks leading up to my marriage. I didn't want the fickleness of life to cut short the journey we had begun. I realized in the face of great happiness that I was helpless to guarantee it would continue. The second time I experienced mortality so intensely was prior to the birth of the twins. Hitomi was in the hospital on bed rest; Reia and I were staying with my in-laws in their house. At that time, on the news they were saying an earthquake could be imminent on the major fault that passed nearby. Furthermore, I knew that an engineer had declared that the house would completely collapse if that happened. I had a hard time sleeping at nights. I didn't want to miss seeing my daughters and watching them grow up. No wonder sometimes we're afraid of even good things, because they make us so vulnerable.
These past three weeks it's been wonderful watching my parents interact with the girls. My kids are so happy with them. Yet I wonder how many more times we'll all have such times together. My parents are amazing. My father quit his medical practice when he was nearing sixty and they moved to a village in Africa for four years to work in a hospital there. They have lived with remarkable energy. The fact that they seem to have less energy now is disturbing. But it points to the heart of my faith, which says I must lose my life to find it (in Christ). My hope doesn't come from what I can hold onto (my own life, my parents, my culture or control). This may seem intense; I'm just trying to be real though.
I'm sure many of you reading this realize that the falling cherry blossoms represent death. Cherry blossoms appear briefly, for about a week, and then disappear just as fast. Their brief, bright life speaks to the heart's of many Japanese people who think about such things. Put simply, they are a reminder to live life fully and in the now.
By the way, another reason for this intensity is that I've been reading an autobiography by Ayako Miura. This remarkable woman suffered from tuberculosis for many years following World War II. I never imagined how terrible it was to have TB. But the book isn't about her disease. It's an amazing story of her life and an incredible love story. I admit to having a sentimental streak, but her story explodes mere sentiment. She went on to become an important novelist here. As I read this story of her life, I encounter such passion and realize I've hardly tasted suffering (passion and suffering are closely related words). Her story reveals heights of love (and despair) that I also have yet to experience. The title is "The Wind is Howling" (the title of the English version). Reading her story makes me want to be a better writer, and, more importantly, to live and love more fully -- and put that on paper and on the computer screen.
April 13, 2005
Spring in the Air, Heading for Nagano with Family
Spring is here! The blossoms in Tokyo have mostly fallen from the trees, but I have this feeling that Winter has passed and things are changing. I was so busy in March and the first half of this month... Today I'm realizing that it's time to stop looking for the next project and get off this roll that I'm on. The months ahead are full of potential! My parents are here for a few more days. Friday we're all heading to Karuizawa (in Nagano) to experience the mountains and real nature. In the past three years, I've spent 99 percent of my time in the city -- with urban parks as our main escape. But I'm an outdoors kind of guy. I own a backpack and know how to use it (not for cheap trips to Thailand but for actual camping in the mountains and trees). My wife says I may want to move if I really get out in Nagano or ever take a trip to Hokaido. I'm sure she's right (that I'll think about it). Anyway, after Nagano my parents will start packing. Just today I was amazed at how bright the faces of my kids glowed in the presence of their grandparents. My mom has been reading them piles of books (literally). My dad, too. And they are just heaping on the love. By the way, that's my dad in the picture above (launching Mari at the playground). I'm happy to have them here, too, and I'll hate to see them off. But then I'm looking forward to a Spring full of life and hope. This past month I've been so busy (not due to my parents, but for other reasons), and it's taken a toll. From next week, I want my attention, time and energy free for relationships.
April 12, 2005
Hanami at Shakuji Koen (Cherry Blossom Party)
April 08, 2005
In-Laws, Allergies, Horse Head and Bubble Baby
The only bummer is that my wife and I have had terrible allergies for the past couple of weeks. My dad came and promptly caught a cold. Now I have the cold, too, plus allergies. I've hardly breathed out of my nose for weeks now, and that's despite taking loads of medication. On a related note, on the news tonight they said that a forest fire was reported somewhere near Tokyo today. It turns out that the clowds of "smoke" were actually cedar pollen -- which, by the way, is 30 times more plentiful this year than last year.
Oh, correction -- I breathed through my nose for one night this weekend. We drove across Tokyo that day and stayed at a hotel next to the ocean on the Izu penninsula. Are we living in the wrong place?
So, back to my parents being here. One of the most entertaining moments so far: My mother was practicing her Japanese at a store, and the worker couldn't help laughing (neither could I). The girl asked my mom if she needed anything else, and my mom earnestly replied, "Daijobi." That is "Diiiiijobee" (with a slight midwest twang). If you don't speak Japanese, then it isn't that funny. Well, maybe if you weren't there...
It really is late. I shot the pictures yesterday at Inokashira Park. It's a great park, and I'm glad we finally found it. I took the usual pictures of people, but I tried to look for some other interesting images, too.