Japan: A Stagnant Country with NGO Dynamism

EDITORIAL, 16 Sep 2008

#26 | Johan Galtung

The news from Japan is that there are no news.  Thecountry seems lost between a rapidly declining US Empire and a quicklyrising China-India, Chindia, with the yuan-rupee (yupee?) soonovershadowing the yen.  The State seems to have no other project thannourishing status quo.  Capital is lost in small and big scandals ofthe type capitalism seems to produce these days, with growth stagnantlike in the USA.  And the Media talk about everything but what has justbeen said, specializing in murders; and they are frequent and sometimesatrocious and the worse they are the more is the murderer rewarded bygetting instant, first page fame, contributing to Murder as Usual, Inc.

Why? The real victory of the USA over Japan was not the 1945 militarycapitulation in radioactive ashes, but the cult that followed ofWashington as the new Sun Goddess.  It took some time, and in theprocess the Japanese are trying to emerge from the cocoons ofcollectivism to self-assertive individualism and from obedience toauthority to often-egocentric guidance.

Theold pattern still holds for Japan in the world, loyal to a USA thatwill sacrifice them the moment they no longer serve US interests; likeif they start building a community with neighbors they have treated sobadly, Korea and China.

But even if Westernization may not fit Japan as a whole, it serves someJapanese very well.  Key words: Japanese women feel less tied bytraditional patriarchy; NGOs are sprouting all over Japan, theinfluence of graduates from the two leading universities, TokyoUniversity and Kyoto University, is rapidly declining in relativeterms.  And local groups are becoming very self-conscious, active andeffectively networking.

I met with one of 7,000 such groups in a little town Shirahama (whitebeach, white sand) 3 hours from Kyoto, with a Mediterranean climate. They were mainly retired teachers, ideal for local group formation. Well trained, literate, they know everybody locally, having been theirpupils and students, and they in turn know their teachers.  Beingretired they have ample time and their pensions provide them witheconomic freedom.

The conversation centered on military, economic, cultural and politicaltopics very much of their concern.

On top of their mind was the defense of Article 9, A9–the peacearticle in the Japanese constitution–that denies Japan the right toconduct war.  The government tries to hide their support for USaggression in, say, Afghanistan, as defense of Japan – many buy that,many do not.  The group organizes meetings with people old enough tohave suffered the Pacific war 1931-45.  And that brings up theproblematic relation to China and Korea, with history teachers in thesegroups reporting meetings with South Korean colleagues and the greatdifficulties in arriving at a joint history text without forcingthemselves. But then a joint history could also have a Korean versionon the left page and a Japanese to the right; knowing each other may bemore important than consensus.

Such groups can weave ties to teachers in China–North Korea may comeafter some years–the kind of ties out of which an East Asiancommunity, bound to come, will one day emerge.  And there are otherpeace NGOs, like Japan’s PeaceBoat, plying the waters around the threecountries, making deep contacts.

To make the community deny stationing self-defense forces, unless theyabide by A9, would be interesting, as would training in nonmilitarydefense.  For a, not-so-distant, future.

Economically the group keeps old traditions alive, like making aspecial charcoal of very high quality.  They have experimented withlocal currency on par with the yen, but with 10-25% discount (theshop-keep may join if he thinks he gets more than 25% more sales). Labor currency, one-hour service (like baby-sitting) like one-hourservice (like language teaching) is also known to such groups–gainingprestige with all the bank scandals in the conventional systems.

This is a resort place with mainstream tourism benefiting developersand corporate interests. Alternative tourism, with home stays, B&B,ample dialogues about localism, makes sense.

And so does local FM radios, with no publicity, treating people likeadults, open for dialogues and call-in programs.  In Kyoto such aradio-sender exists (there are 300 of them in Japan) and time can bebought as there are some, but not much, cost involved, for alternativesto public, mainstream media.  People are longing for transparency andno official propaganda, and it does not have to stoop to personalattacks and slander.

Local TV will probably also has a great future, as it can easily becombined with inexpensive videotaping and U-tube, of course withoutcommercials.  Or, better still: anyone with a product may get time toinform about it but then in a dialogue with someone who has tried theproduct and may have experiences and questions, not the usual one way,Stalinist, publicity.

Further down the road is, of course, a stronger local community, notnecessarily against Tokyo (except for A9!), but supplementing it,making Japan stronger by recreating the local level, networking alldirections, also internationally.

But of course nothing of this is news. It is only people, not state andcapital.  And in addition positive, not murder.

This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 16 Sep 2008.

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One Response to “Japan: A Stagnant Country with NGO Dynamism”

  1. I feel respect in deep insight of Mr. galtung as the Japanophile.