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Home > Debates Last Updated: 14:33 03/09/2007
Commentary (June 7, 2004)

Warning: Japan's Ideological Seclusion

Kazuyoshi KITAOKA (President, Japan America Television Inc., Los Angeles)

When I visit Japan these days, I feel uneasy about the increasingly prevalent attitude of those who say, "We Japanese are doing alright by ourselves within Japan." I am afraid that this attitude of ideological seclusion seems to be more apparent than ever in today's Japan. This is a very odd phenomenon, as we think of a globalizing world, where goods, capital and even human beings are moving beyond national borders. If such an attitude becomes really dominant in Japan, then Japan would be totally unprepared for a terrorist attack by Al-Qaeda or a nuclear attack by North Korea. Japanese are just too relaxed and tend to become angry at those who disrupt their peaceful lives, such as the three youngsters who were temporarily captured by local insurgents in Iraq.

I also have noticed that there are very few people in Japan who can identify their weak points, for example as compared to the United States, and do something about it. Rather they tend to justify their weaknesses. Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara is a case in point. When he became the governor, the first thing he did was to close all the Tokyo government offices in the U.S. He said there was no reason to keep these foreign offices at high costs. And unfortunately, other local governments followed suit and closed down their offices across the U.S. This means that Japan's top leaders are increasingly becoming inward-looking, as bureaucrats as well as politicians are emphasizing the administrative effects of various policies on their own localities and constituencies these days. In this kind of atmosphere, closing down their foreign offices appears to be a rational decision, but it should be a governor's task, especially in the case of an international city like Tokyo, to keep and utilize their foreign offices for human interactions and communications in the 21st century. Governor Ishihara seems to lack a vision and sensitivity for the coming global age, as exemplified by his decision to close these foreign offices as well as his ultra-nationalistic attitude toward foreigners and foreign countries, including the U.S.

Needless to say, the problem is not restricted to top leaders. I am afraid to say that most young people in Japan seem to lack the ability to comprehend the wider background or the deeper understanding of specific social events, and they tend to be quite inward-looking without regard for a rapidly globalizing world around them. This may be at least partly because they are so dependent on inward-looking mass media to gather and interpret information within Japan. It can be pointed out that Japan's education system is not really working to educate these young people. This is in sharp contrast to the U.S. education system, as emphasized by USC Professor Yuichi Iwaki in his speech in Los Angeles the other day. (
). I basically agree with Prof. Iwaki's points and strongly feel that Japan needs a better education system to break the current trend toward ideological seclusion.

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