Readers’ letters: praise for Article 9, scorn for TPP and concerns for education

Some readers’ letters in response to recent Community articles:

War is crime, Article 9 the solution

I try to stay out of Japanese politics, not being a native of Japan. But I live here, and this includes me in the politics of this country. Actually, being human, this includes me in world politics. I also liked [Osaka Mayor] Toru Hashimoto at first, as a charismatic thinker. But, whether his initial statements about women are personal or political, I can in no way accept him as a representative of my beliefs. He does not respect women as equals and has no business being the boss of Osaka, or of me, as a 12-year resident.

Debito Arudou’s article about Mayor Hashimoto’s statement about comfort women (“By opening up the debate to the real experts, Hashimoto did history a favor,” Just Be Cause, June 4) is brilliantly and bitingly written. His theoretical solution — to “calmly” dissect Hashimoto’s illogic and use his own words against him — is a stroke of genius, and I don’t use the word genius lightly.

I would add, however, that the idea of “war crimes” is a myth. War itself is a crime practiced by criminals in high places, directed mainly toward attaining power and satisfying greed, where morality plays no role. That does not excuse the Japanese government and military in World War II for the atrocities they committed, but more importantly highlights those atrocities as criminal acts within the crime of war-mongering.

Until war-making is abolished as a political-economic tool, this crime will continue ad infinitum. As Mr. Arudou says, we must learn from our crimes, not pretend they never happened.

To the Japanese people’s credit, their government and military have lived in peace for 67 years due to Article 9 of the “peace constitution,” ironically written by U.S. Occupation forces. And to their credit, Prime Ministers Kijuro Shidehara and Shigeru Yoshida played pivotal roles in making that happen.

Now there is a movement in America, sponsored by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, to bring a version of Article 9 as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Once this is attained, both Japan and the U.S. can form an international coalition to support the United Nations in the abolition of war-making (the original intention of the U.N.). Thus the crime of war-making will be relegated to the dustbin of history, and the Japanese people may take heart that they defeated their own criminals in high places and can now revise their censored history books to tell the truth about the shameful atrocities that Hashimoto tried to dispute.

Brookline, Massachusetts

TPP could be Japan’s road to ruin

Chris Burgess’ article “Ambivalent Japan turns on its ‘insular’ youth” (The Foreign Element, May 21) hides behind a weak red-herring thesis in order to promote corporate power and Western hegemony. While one can sympathize with the idea of Japanese students having more opportunities to study abroad and not being discriminated against by employers upon return, it may be that Japanese cultural nationalists are wary of students who have been overly influenced by the negative aspects of American culture.

This is not to say that Japan is innocent of hypocrisy involving international trade and capitalism. Japan has opportunistically benefited from seeking open borders abroad where it could sell its goods while keeping its cultural and geographical borders fairly tightly closed at home.

However, the most telling thing about Burgess’ thesis is what he fails to explain, rather than the minutiae he goes into to defend the insular youth who get blamed by the government for Japan’s bleak economic future.

Burgess blithely implies that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is “in the nation’s best long-term interests” without any explanation of what the substance of the TPP is, or an analysis of the history of other international free-trade agreements and their impacts on countries that have adopted them. Apparently it is important that Japan be involved in TPP as a “test of its commitment to globalization,” but questioning liberal trade assumptions is not a priority.

Now there’s a loaded and ill-defined term if I’ve ever heard one: “globalization.” Just who benefits from it and what are its goals? A careful look at previous free-trade agreements in the 1990s reveals an acceleration of global financial power at the expense of localized grass-roots democracy, vastly greater wealth disparity between the haves and the have-nots, as well as hastened environmental destruction on a planetary scale. For example, it is uncontroversial to state that NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement) had a profound impact on American jobs during the Clinton era, literally decimating the country’s manufacturing base.

Also, Japan’s inward-looking cultural tendencies should not be discarded in favor of unlimited immigration, so that Japan ends up flooded with a multitude of immigrants from foreign lands who do not speak the language or respect its customs. This has happened in Europe and the United States at the behest of the globalist and multiculturalist proponents. Today, approximately one-third of the U.S. population is living on the poverty line, and the European American population of the U.S. will become a minority in a few short years.

What are the real goals of TPP and globalization as carried out by predatory corporations — which already yield excessive control over almost every aspect of our lives — if not to further weaken Japanese sovereignty?


TPP is no ordinary deal

Chris Burgess is right on the mark in defending Japan’s youth from allegations of imperiling the country’s future with their apparent insularity. However, he is off the mark in upholding anxiety over the Trans-Pacific Partnership as evidence of government or social inwardness.

First, TPP is a secret, forced globalization package with the potential to wreak havoc on Japan’s national agriculture and its regional economies, and to severely limit its right to control its own financial, medical and intellectual property rights systems. Anxiety over TPP is not necessarily representative of radical “anti-globalization” but rather of justified concern over becoming unable to manage globalization and its inevitable negative side-effects.

Second, distrust of TPP has existed in other “TPP countries” since it first surfaced. One reason is because all the negotiations have been conducted clandestinely. Does anyone know exactly what promises will have to be made by participating countries, other than to drop all trade tariffs at some point? As Jane Kelsey argues in her edited 2010 book, “No Ordinary Deal,” TPP is exactly that — a free-trade negotiation unlike anything the world has ever seen.

Finally, taking the LDP’s commission on TPP issues draft proposal at face value, and reducing the TPP dilemma to an “open Japan” (good) versus “closed Japan” (bad) argument plays right into the hands of Keidanren and the major corporations who are benefitting most from Abenomics, and also into those of Monsanto and even larger multinational entities that are well-known for placing profits before people.

Yes, it is easy to find examples of Japan’s reluctance to embrace “globalization” — especially considering the number of possible definitions for this word — but TPP is a different matter. Simplistic “TPP = open = good” rubrics are best avoided.


Fluency in English could cost Japan

Re: “Inose’s slurs anger, bemuse Turks in Tokyo but may boost Istanbul’s Olympic bid” and “Turks in Kansai fear Inose gaffe indicative of wider ignorance about culture” (The Foreign Element, May 14):

I went through the articles on Gov. Naoki Inose’s poor remarks about Turkey and Islam by Mr. David McNeill and Mr. Eric Johnston. I am concerned that Inose’s ignorance may represent the attitudes of average Japanese people. Living in a country isolated for more than 2,000 years from the rest of the world, Japan is a unique country, mono-cultural and a monolingual. This unique situation makes it difficult for Japanese people to understand the existences of other cultures.

When I went to the USA for the first time in 1952, I was asked to take an orientation course. The instructors taught us that English is a tool for communication. Being a foreigner, mistakes in grammar can be forgiven. However, one should avoid the following: personal insults, subjects dealing with religion, ethnicity, male-female relationships, the female physiological condition, physical or mental handicaps, and four-letter words.

The instructors emphasized the importance of avoiding the use of words for personal insults. They said no matter how hard you apologize for a personal insult you made at an earlier date, one will never forget. In Japanese society, we have an expression that flowing water will clean everything (mizu ni nagasu). But this expression does not apply to people from other cultures.

Japan is exposed to global society. English is taught at grade schools. Japanese people will make progress in English. However, the most important things are knowledge and understanding of other cultures, and to have respect for non-Japanese.

Fluent English may destroy the image of Japanese people rather than improve their standing in the global community, if Japanese people use discriminatory words and vulgar expressions. Mr. Inose’s careless comment represents a case study in how to destroy the good image of Japanese people as a whole. We must learn from his attitudes.


Japanese education inherently flawed

I share similar concerns to those expressed by Gerald Mclellan in his article “Education: What are we paying all the money for?” (Hotline to Nagata-cho, April 16). Many factors prevent the Japanese education system from reforming itself. State-censored textbooks, memorization-based high school and college entrance examinations, and large numbers of students jam-packed into the classroom all make learning less interactive and student-centered. Lecturing continues to be the dominant form of instruction at the secondary level of education in Japan.

In my view, this rigid environment leads to two types of classrooms. One is total chaos, where the inexperienced teacher loses control of the classroom. In such classrooms, students will chat and walk around while the teacher lectures on.

The other is where the teacher successfully controls the classroom and keeps students silent. In this seemingly favorable condition, Japanese middle and high school students daydream and practice the master-level theatrical technique of looking engaged. The Japanese teachers usually interpret silence as a sign of enthusiasm for learning and, to further gauge the level of student engagement, teachers rely on the shining of student eyes (me ga iki-iki shiteiru).

Many academically capable students are masterful in utilizing classroom time for personally productive ends, resorting to the classic tradition of naishoku (doing work for home on the side). Camouflaged by silence and a textbook placed upright on the desk, many students engage in fact-memorization exercises for high school or college entrance exams that may not be related to the subject matter being taught in the ongoing class. For those committed to studying for private university exams, science majors can get by not studying humanity subjects, while humanity majors can get by ignoring science subjects.

The experienced teachers are sometimes aware of naishoku activities taking place in the classroom, yet a delicate balance has to be maintained as part of a gentleman’s agreement. If nothing changes, the teacher will continue to enjoy a heightened sense of authority and get quiet classrooms. Students will continue to have freedom to daydream and/or prepare for entrance exams. This unofficial socialization curriculum teaches students to accept their roles as obedient ones-on-the-surface, while they are not necessarily committed to the roles they play.

In Japanese classrooms, students spend substantial amounts of time either in complete chaos or in theater-like classrooms where students get better and better at looking motivated or engaged. Fortunately or unfortunately, this learned skill will help students meet their short-term goals. Once in college, for example, students will be placed in auditoriums with large crowds of other students to listen to lecturing professors. Later in college, students will exercise the same learned skill of looking enthusiastic and motivated to appear productive in the eyes of company recruiters.

The sad part of this is that the educators and students are not on the same page discussing important societal, cultural, economic and scientific problems. They are not exchanging ideas and practicing how to provide innovative solutions. Many modern states strive to foster creativity, problem-solving abilities, imagination and innovation in children, so that their youths will eventually be able to navigate the global economy. Japan should consider reforms to change the informally established equation between educators and students, so students will finally benefit from what their parents paid for.

Arlington, Virginia

Send comments on these issues and story ideas to community@japantimes.co.jp.

  • kyushuphil

    Thanks to Kazuaki Uekawa for thoughtful remarks on education in Japan.

    Only one thing missing — Kazuaki Uekawa’s specific alternative, or reform, to status quo.

    I’ve been on record urging more writing as alternative and reform. I’d love to hear specific others. If we want to engage the human — for more openness, energy, and creativity — we can do that, yes?

    • Paul

      Either more writing or more discussion-based activities. Lectures have their place, but teachers must make more effort designing curriculum that engages the student, encourages open-ended questions, and inspires action. Student progress must also be recorded in a way that allows the student to use this effort for applying to universities both in japan and abroad. Perhaps what Japan needs is a few unorthodox middle and high schools (and even universities) to be willing to experiment with their students’ learning, take risks, and support their student’s real growth as global, informed citizens.

      • kyushuphil

        Let’s combine writing and recording student progress.

        Let students monitor their own progress by writing about it. They could celebrate teachers who ask best questions, felow students who respond with most vitality to classes, and complementary reading for best perspectives on course material.

        This writing — with instructor comments added — could be a key part of the essays that international schools are now asking to see, to see how young people are truly alive and global.

  • bobdolethesecond

    “the European American population of the U.S. will become a minority in a few short years.” Sorry?

    Why do you feel that this is an important point to make in your letter against immigration and ‘globalization’? Is this part and parcel of the “road to ruin” that you warn against? If only we could find a place to put those immigrants, dude. Maybe then, we could finally return to the glory days. #’Merica?

    An anti-globalization piece from a xenophobic foreigner living in Tokyo. Interesting.

  • “Now there is a movement in America, sponsored by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, to bring a version of Article 9 as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution”

    I am sure Iran and North Korea are very excited about this development.