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Yokohama port anniversary, population boom, Zen bus-drivers and Japanese longevity

by Edan Corkill

100 YEARS AGO

Thursday, Jul. 1, 1909

Yokohama celebration

We congratulate Yokohama on its attainment of a half century of existence as an open port, which it celebrates today. Fifty years are not so very long a period of time in the life of a city. But when one looks back to the sleepy hamlet of fishermen of fifty years ago, and turns to the thriving city of today, Yokohama may, indeed, be said to have good reason to feel proud of its phenomenal growth. Here transformation is more eloquent than statistics and we dispense with figures. Nor was it so very far back when the nation at large used to look askance at the Yokohamaite because in those days foreign trade meant getting the best of others by hook or by crook. Today one counts the leading businessmen of Yokohama among the most respected of our citizens and looks to foreign trade as a vital motor in the nation’s continued wellbeing. It is not exaggeration to say Yokohama and its builders have played a very important part in the very history of the Empire in the past fifty years.

Speaking of the builders of Yokohama, we think it only proper and fair to most generously remember the service done for its growth by its foreign residents. Whatever story the future may tell, the past and present of Yokohama is a monument to foreigners’ constructive genius.

75 YEARS AGO

Tuesday, Jul. 17, 1934

Population cited as Japan’s most serious problem

Emigration to Chosen (the Korean Peninsula) and industrialzation of the nation were suggested as promising solutions to Japan’s population problem at today’s session of the American-Japan Student Conference at Aoyama Gakuin College.

“The population problem is the most serious facing Japan,” the Japanese delegates declared.

Birth control was suggesed by the American students but declared impractical by the Japanese delegation which explained that the family system here is so old and so deep rooted, it defies sweeping changes.

Difficulty met by Japan in attempting to expand her economic markets was explained by the Japanese students who said other countries frequently mistook trade expansion for political ambitions.

Failure of the industrial system of the United States during the depression was cited as an argument against economic expansion.

Emigration to Korea was considered one of the most promising solutions to the population problem, the Japanese students asserted, saying: “Japanese cannot move into Manchuria to live because of the extreme low standard of living there. Our people could not compete with the Manchurians. However, the Koreans are used to a low standard of living. They could emigrate into Manchuria and the Japanese could move into the country they vacate.”

The Americans agreed this was a good plan and compared it to the forcing of the western frontier in their own country.

The difference between dictatorship and democracy was discussed with the Japanese students concurring with the Americans that democracy is always to be preferred to a dictatorship which infers subjection of the people to the state. Only in cases of emergency should a dictatorship be resorted to, the delegates agreed.

“Is Roosevelt a dictator?” the Japanese students asked.

The answer was “No” with an explanation of the president’s added power to hasten economic recovery.

The conference will conclude its meetings in Tokyo Wednesday. Thursday, it will begin an inspection tour through Japan, and into Korea and Manchoukuo.

50 YEARS AGO

Friday, Jul. 3, 1959

Tokyo bus drivers study Buddhism

Zen Buddhism has 53 new disciples today — although “conscripts” would be a more accurate term.

Religously determined to reduce traffic accidents, Tokyo’s Kokusai Vehicle Co. has placed 53 of its bus drivers in Kamakura’s Enkakuji Temple to reflect upon the teachings of Zen.

The drivers began their spiritual meditation Wednesday. They will continue to seek peace of mind through prayer and self-denial until July 14.

Rising at 4:30 each morning, they receive a simple breakfast, then begin a day of quiet contemplation, squatting yogi-style as they seek Zen’s “inner light,”

At the end of their austere training period, the men will again climb behind the wheels of their buses. Presumably they will be in a benign frame of mind that will enable them to accept Tokyo’s traffic philosophically.

25 YEARS AGO

Sunday, Jul. 1, 1984

Life expectancy tops Icelanders’

Japanese have topped Icelanders to become the world’s top in longevity and the average women in Japan can expect to live beyond 80 next year, according to can official survey released Saturday.

The Health and Welfare Ministry said the average man in Japan now has a life expectancy of 74.20 and the average woman 79.78. According to figures from Iceland, the average life expectancy for a male there was 73.91 in 1981-82, and that for a female 79.45, ministry officials said.

The survey found the life expectancy for Japanese men in 1983 was 0.02 years shorter than that in 1982 but that for women was 0.12 years longer.

Ministry officials blamed the reduced life expectancy for Japanese men on increased suicides among middle-aged and elderly people.

In this feature, which appears in Timeout on the third Sunday of each month, along with our Week 3 stories, we delve into The Japan Times’ 113-year archive to present a selection of stories from the past. Stories may be edited for brevity.