Japan’s Spiritual Crisis

EDITORIAL, 27 Feb 2012

#206 | Johan Galtung, 27 Feb 2012 - TRANSCEND Media Service

From Kyoto, Japan: A grey, cold Sunday morning, fitting the sad theme.

The Japan Times, an excellent middle wing newspaper, came in the middle of the night, with four typical stories, for a starter.

We approach the 3/11 anniversary.  The earthquake struck on 11 March 2011, followed by the tsunami and the near meltdown of Fukushima No. 1 nuke plant.  Once M, 11 March 2004, terrorism struck the Atocha train station in Madrid.  A bad date; may inspire somebody.

We read: “Worker at No. 1 nuke plant died from ‘overwork’. He was dispatched by a subcontractor, a construction firm based in Shizuoka, and started working at Fukushima No. 1 on May 13.  On his first day he engaged in piping and other work in a waste disposal facility at the complex, but complained of not feeling well the following morning. He was immediately taken to a hospital and died shortly afterwards–radiation still high around Fukushima No. 1–640 km off the coast of Fukushima.”  A private construction firm.

We read:  “All Investment Advisors Co. rerouted pension assets via Caymans and told the SESC (Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission) that about 90 percent of its clients’ assets have been lost”.  A private firm, like Olympus, the camera+ giant covering up losses; with auditors and outside advisers.

We read a letter to the editor from Yang Xiu in Melbourne about the Nagoya mayor who denies the Nanjing massacre in 1937: “What matters is that Nagoya’s mayor denies a fact that has been investigated by Japan’s own historians. Denial of the fact will lead to only more hatred between nationalists and between governments.”

We read: “Media continues to despair over Japan’s fall”, by Michael Hoffman: Japan’s GDP is forecast to fall 16 percent by 2024, 42 percent by 2050.  40 million less Japanese in 50 years.

Aging is a factor: in 50 years 40 percent will be 65 or over.

A disaster complete with its denial; privatization with speculation and corruption; imperialism complete with its denial; deep demographic change.  But Prime Minister Naoto Kan, when disaster struck, does not deny:, “nuke crisis was caused by Japan, not by quake” (JT 19 Feb 2012): “–the disaster laid bare a host of even bigger man-made vulnerabilities in the nuclear power industry and in Japanese regulations–we were totally unprepared. Japan needs to dramatically reduce its dependence on nuclear power.” And he declares having been “turned into a believer in renewable energy.”

Problem: Japan is No. 21 in new wind energy, far behind No. 1 China, No. 2 USA, No. 3 India, Brazil, Mexico: no public money. Cutting out the soda water automats all over would help greatly.

He did not mention the use of nuclear energy to sustain a small elite through secrecy, nor its potential for nuclear arms, nor the role of US investment (General Electric, Westinghouse).  “The plant was built on the assumption that there was no need to anticipate a major tsunami, and that’s the very beginning of the problem”.  Yes, that was the work of “experts”, part of that elite deaf to all warnings from anyone outside their little circle.

The economy.  Negative growth of 0.9 percent in 2011 and no recovery so far.  The trade deficit is the highest in 31 years, since 1980, with exports decreasing, and “industrial revival claims ring hollow as makers flee Japan” (JT 10 Feb 2012).  29 percent of the nation’s households lack financial assets”, jumping up from 22 percent. And the government has to service a gross debt burden of more than 200 percent of annual GDP–more than half of fiscal spending–to Japan. The country is not in debt bondage to other countries.

Worse still: the finance economy is blossoming; the Nikkei index rose above the 9500 line, like Dow did above the 13000 line.  A crash may close the gap to the sluggish real economies, in both.

Any bright sign?  Yes. Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda prefers increasing the sales tax to cuts in welfare services to an aging, vulnerable population.  The government proposes raising the sales levy from currently 5 percent to 8 percent in April 2014 and to 10 percent in October 2015; others say a 15 percent raise is needed. Now.  Problem: opposition in his own party.

A Japan very different from the buoyant super-dynamic Japan this author experienced for the first time 44 years ago:  A deeply engaged youth as opposed to the apathetic, apolitical youth of today; super-creative technical achievements as opposed to today’s “Towering achievement: At 634 meters, Tokyo Sky Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world, is to be inaugurated in May 2012.”  In an earthquake zone?

What happened?  Japan has been out-competed by its offspring, the countries it imperialized, brutalized, conquered while raising them economically: Taiwan, Korea, China, Hong Kong, Singapore.  Socio-economic rights and infrastructure first, then “opening up” to civil-political.  Ever higher degrees of processing of raw materials, no Ricardo “comparative advantages” (exchanging raw materials for finished goods).

But there is worse.  This author published with Ikuro Anzai Nippon wa Kikikan, Is Japan in a Crisis?[i] And the answer was yes, a spiritual crisis.  Japan sold its soul to Washington, and is left in a spiritual vacuum; neither US nor Japan.  Walking through the marvelous bullet train, Shinkansen, only sad, grey, tired faces; no laughter, no enhancing conversation seen or heard.

The decline and fall of a civilization is, in the minds of many, the consequence of elites not up to the challenges, losing their charisma.  Washington does not care, hanging on to Okinawa.  And the people do what they still can do: turn to other sources of livelihood and meaning at the local level and through NGOs.  With growth gone distribution matters; meaning, more power to women.

The Japanese will retrieve their roots in the local soil and find new meanings.  But Japan will not be the same again.


[i]. Kyoto: Kamogawa, 1999.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 27 Feb 2012.

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One Response to “Japan’s Spiritual Crisis”

  1. satoshi says:

    Regarding Prof. Galtung’s editorial, let me comment on the following four points.

    1. On the surface:

    After WWII/Pacific War, Japan became of one the most economically prosperous countries in less than several decades.

    You may have the impression that Japan is a wealthy country at least in economic statistics – well, the truth is “although GNP was No.2 (now No.3) in the world, GDP per capita is constantly somewhere between No.20- No. 26,” depending on the annual statistics.

    Everyone living in or visiting Japan can buy the most advanced electronic gadgets in the contemporary world, while the average Japanese live in miserably small and expensive accommodations, about which an OECD report once ridiculed that Japanese lived in rabbit hutches.

    2. Aging population:

    If you will go out of big cities in Japan, you will surely be surprised by the huge number of senior people in the country side. Elderly people, elderly people everywhere! You may wonder where young people are.

    General Douglas MacArthur, the supreme commander of the Occupation Forces in Japan just after WWII/Pacific War, said that the mental age of the Japanese was 12 years old. It is not sure if the mental age of the Japanese grew up since then, though it is sure that their median age became significantly advanced. The rest of the Asian countries are full of young people. Compere Japan with China, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore or any other Asian countries. It is obvious that Japan is declining. It is declining fast. Japan is the “nation of the setting sun” today. Prof. Galtung refers to “super-creative technical achievements as opposed to today’s ‘Towering achievement: At 634 meters, Tokyo Sky Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world, is to be inaugurated in May 2012.’” But remember this: The candle burns brightest just before it goes out.

    3. National debt:

    But the problem is not only the median age. The bigger problem is the Japanese economy and the financial situation of the Government. For example, the Japanese National Debt is 228% of GDP as of 2011.

    A list of the national debt:
    (Source: http://www.economicshelp.org/blog/774/economics/list-of-national-debt-by-country )

    1 Japan 225.80
    2 Saint Kitts and Nevis 185.00
    3 Lebanon 150.70
    4 Zimbabwe 149.00
    5 Greece 144.00
    6 Iceland 123.80
    7 Jamaica 123.20
    8 Italy 118.10
    9 Singapore 102.40
    10 Belgium 98.60
    11 Ireland 94.20 more on Ireland Debt
    12 Sudan 94.20
    13 Sri Lanka 86.70 14 France 83.50 (more – France National Debt)
    15 Portugal 83.20
    16 Egypt 80.50
    17 Belize 80.00
    18 Hungary 79.60
    19 Germany 78.80
    20 Dominica 78.00
    21 Nicaragua 78.00
    22 Israel 77.30 23 United Kingdom 76.50 (see also UK national debt)
    24 Malta 72.60
    25 Austria 70.40
    26 Netherlands 64.60
    27 Spain 63.40
    28 Cote d’Ivoire 63.30
    29 Jordan 61.40
    30 Cyprus 61.10
    31 Brazil 60.80
    32 Mauritius 60.50
    33 Ghana 59.90
    34 World 59.30
    35 Albania 59.30
    36 Bahrain 59.20
    37 United States 58.90
    38 Seychelles 58.80
    39 Morocco 58.20
    40 Bhutan 57.80
    41 Guyana 57.00
    42 Vietnam 56.70
    43 Philippines 56.50
    44 Uruguay 56.00
    45 India 55.90
    46 Croatia 55.00
    47 El Salvador 55.00
    48 Poland 53.60
    49 Malaysia 53.10
    50 Kenya 50.90
    51 Argentina 50.30
    52 Pakistan 49.90
    53 Tunisia 49.50
    54 Turkey 48.10
    55 Norway 47.70
    56 Denmark 46.60
    57 Aruba 46.30
    58 Latvia 46.20
    59 Finland 45.40
    60 Colombia 44.80

    Greece is in the serious national debt and Germany is struggling to help them. The national debt of Greece is 144%, while that of Japan is 225.8%. No country helps Japan.

    In 1979 Prof. Ezra Vogel, then professor of social science at Harvard University, published the book, entitled, “Japan as Number One.” Time has changed. Japan is the number one in the national debt today. Ask Prof. Galtung if he is ready to write a new book, “The Fall (or Decline) of the Japanese Empire.”

    Meanwhile, China and other Asian countries are rising. They are the “nations of the rising sun” today. Perhaps in this context, some economic critics discuss that China might face a big economic crisis after Europe. (For example, see “China is right to open up slowly,” written by Martin Wolf, The Financial Times, 29 February 2012, page 13.) Well, but China is learning lessons from Europe and Japan.

    4. Soul-searching:

    Prof. Galtung mentions the roots of Japanese people. The roots of the Japanese Royal Family, for instance, are still in question. It is probable that they came from the Korean Peninsula. It is deemed that they were some of the ancient Korean political power, equipped with well-organized administrative systems and metal technology, that had well-trained soldiers. They conquered local native tribes living in the Japanese islands then. (Those native tribes could be considered as the original Japanese. Probably they were slaughtered and, thus, perished.) It is said that it is written “I am that I am” (“Ehyeh asher ehyeh.”) in the ancient Hebrew on the other side of the “Yata no kagami” or the Eight Span Mirror, one of the sacred instruments for the Japanese Royal Family. Needless to say, it is one of the most well-known phrases in the Bible. (Exodus 3:14) “Somin Shorai,” one of the traditional protection accessories of Japan, can be considered as the Japanese way of pronunciation of “Simon Israel.” Meanwhile, some people point out that some basic words of the Japanese language derived from Hebrew, while others claim that the Japanese language stems from Tamil. But nobody is sure. History contains unimaginable mysteries.

    Prof. Galtung says that Japan sold its soul to Washington. By implanting or by injecting an extremely tiny computer chip into your body or brain, someone can control you. Well, it can be said that even before implanting computer chips into Japanese officials, Washington has already controlled Japan well. But does it mean that Washington as the Shepherd has “successfully” saved the “wandering sheep in the far-east”? If “successful,” successful for whom? (See Matthew 18:10-14 on the parable of the wandering sheep.) On the other hand, think this way: What if Japan did not sell its soul to Washington? What would be the relation between the US and Japan after WWII, then? What would the-then USSR respond to Japan, then? What would China respond to Japan? North Korea to Japan? What would be the political/military power situation in the far-east, then? What possible power vacuum in the region could attract what? If Japan did not sell its soul to Washington, Japan would likely to sell its soul to Moscow. Remember that the USSR had a plan to divide Japan into two after Japan accepted the non-conditional surrender to the Allied Power. There would be a “North Japan” and a “South Japan,” then. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_Japan ) If Japan did not sell its soul neither to the US nor to the USSR, what then? The most realistic possibility could be that Japan would equip itself with the nuclear weapon to protect itself from the USSR and China. It was the Cold War Era. To sell the soul to Washington or to Moscow or not to sell it to anyone, the outcome could be very difficult for Japan in any case. Then, how could Japan pursue the ideal of peace as stipulated in the Preamble to the Constitution of Japan as follows? “Desiring peace for all time and fully conscious of the high ideals controlling human relationship now stirring mankind, we have determined to rely for our security and survival upon the justice and good faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world.” Are the words as such just an expression of peace-idealists’ dream?

    Anyhow, as Prof. Galtung says, it is about time for Japanese to begin soul-searching. I believe that it is also time for Japanese to humbly learn from Chinese, Koreans and other Asians in the region. Time is now. If not now, when? The anniversary of 3/11 is just around the corner. Hung Ying-ming, a Chinese sage, teaches, “When trees and shrubs return to their roots, they know the passing glory of flowers, blooms shoots, and leaves.” (Cited from Book Two, Passage 78 in “The Unencumbered Spirit,”(Cai gen tan) by Hung Ying-ming, translated by William Scott Wilson, Kodansha International, Tokyo, 2009) Hung’s teaching as such seems as if he was implying the declining Japan, looking for its own roots.

    Never forget: Tens of thousands of innocent local residents who were killed by 3/11. Also, never forget: Millions of innocent Chinese, Koreans and other Asians (in addition to some Western POWs) who were brutally killed by Japanese soldiers. For survivors of 3/11, it was yesterday. They will never forget it. For survivors of WWII/Pacific War, it was also yesterday. They will never forget it. In this regard, let’s keep the following words in mind: “When philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” he meant it as an admonition–not as an endorsement of mass amnesia or historical revision. This should be obvious.” (See http://www.transcend.org/tms/2012/02/forgetting-the-past-one-military-movie-at-a-time/ )

    If you think that it is “illogical” or “unreasonable” to discuss the two completely different incidents together— one of them man-made, the other, a natural disaster–, it means that you do not understand the modern Asian history at all even if you have read hundreds of thousands of books on Asian history. Imagine like this: You were tortured and your property was destroyed by Japanese soldiers during the WWII/Pacific War. They killed your family, relatives and friends, all of whom were civilians. Your agony has continued for decades after decades even now even at this very moment, while Japan has enjoyed an extraordinary economic prosperity for over the decades after WWII/Pacific War. What do you think of Japan, then? What do you think of Japanese, then? Are you happy to see the prosperity of Japan? If you are religious, you may complain, ”Where is God? What has He been doing?” If you are atheistic, you may be sure that the prosperity of Japan is the very evidence that there is no God. Some 66 years have passed since the end of the War. Then, last year, “3/11” attacked the north-eastern part of Japan and tens of thousands of innocent Japanese were killed. Many survivors lost their families, relatives, and friends as well as their properties. They are innocent people. They are innocent victims. Now, as an innocent victim of Japan during WWII/Pacific War (and perhaps even after the War), what do you think of those innocent Japanese victims of 3/11? This question is very sensitive and very difficult. But please answer frankly. Your answer will tell who you really are.

    Compassion, forgiveness and a strong vow of peace are the keys in the above mentioned context. But the practice of these three would never be easy; it is a litmus test for you if you are one of those peace-loving people in this global village. Compassion, forgiveness and peace have no borders at all. Compassion without borders. Forgiveness without borders. Peace without borders. Let’s start working to establish a new relationship, based on compassion, forgiveness and peace! The Preamble to the Constitution of UNESCO stipulates that “since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed…” It would be a centuries-long project. Learn from the past, soul-search at the present and look for the future.