At the beginning of the New Year

A Happy New Year to you.
I hope you all had a good start and I look forward for the many happy occasions we will think and act together.
We had a relatively a mild weather here but we experienced during the holidays unpredicted weather; such as out of season rainstorm, and lack of snow up in the snow country in contrast to an unusually big snowfall the preceding year.
A number of important events took place last year. The Yoshiko Nomura Memorial Museum and the Shibakawa-An were completed (see NCN39). The Nagano Regional Conference and the successful International Forum which was for us the first after our dear founding Director General Mrs. Yoshiko Nomura had left us. These were all significant events for us.
This year the Center will mark the 45th anniversary of its foundation. Forty-five years ago, for family women to organize international conferences was considered impossible. Against that background Mrs. Nomura felt that she must take the initiative as a housewife, a citizen, a woman, an oriental and an amateur, all considered to belong to the periphery group to the center, to do something about the state of our society that seemed to be worsening and for the future and decided to start the educational volunteer activities. I believe we all felt that the last Forum was only possible because of her sustained commitment over the years.
As a result, the Forum was able to welcome two out of the three UNESCO leaders and mmany ambassadors representing respective countries. I say this not for their titles and positions but because their participation out of their understanding and support for the Center's objectives. To me that was a major proof of the value of the initiatives of a group which is generally regarded as subordinate.
The publication in Arabic of "The Principles of Nomura Lifelong Integrated Education" resulted in a large number of participation from the Arabic speaking world which enabled us to have a true dialogue. This too made me realize the significance of the initiative of our civic group from Japan.
Another major noteworthy event was the presence of our Executive Director Mrs. Masuko Tamatani, who at eighty-years of age was one of the first to volunteer to participate. In other words, the Forum was participated by all three generations; the pre-war generation represented by the Executive Director, my generation, the mover of the present, and the young generation.
I believe the very fact that we inherited the forum where all three generations and many countries represented by people with different backgrounds and official titles came together to have frank exchange of view was a veritable proof that Mrs. Nomura's spirit is successfully carried over.
With this landmark event behind us, I thought to myself how fortunate our generation is for having received direct guidance from the Founder. In consideration of our heritage built up by the Founder's generation, I cannot help but say clearly that we are now at the very critical moment, as there are less and less people who can see things in the mesh-like relations of time and space especially after my generation.
With those sobering thoughts I returned to my country only to learn with great alarm the major change had taken place regarding the state of our country through the passage of the amended Fundamental Law of Education and the promotion of the Defense Agency to the status of a full ministry, the Ministry of Defense. I am not sure if we have really thought about the issue deeply, or that we have sufficiently discussed the matter. It is against that background that the revision of the constitution will be focused this year.
Are we seriously thinking about the proposed revision of our constitution, particularly the Article 9? Do we really know how Japan came to adopt Article 9?
I learned from Mrs. Nomura that our island nation of Japan, due to its geographical conditions, had hardly any history of engaging in war with other countries or experience foreign aggression with the exception of a limited period in modern times. And that it is the only country that has experienced the atomic bombings. These background and events had formed the consciousness and beliefs of the Japanese people, who as a result determined never again to fight a war. The constitution was a direct result of the original choice made by our people empowered by our circumstances.
Some say that the constitution was forced on us. I believe what is important is the substance of the constitution, not whether or not it was forced on us. I believe the "pledge of pacifism" has to do with the identity of the Japanese people.
Another spirit that represents Japanese identity is chu-jo I learned from the founding Director General that chu means sincerity, earnestness and integrity and jo, caring and forgiving.
When I was a student I learned that the rest of the world regarded us Japanese being diligent, earnest, honest and modest. These days we do not hear the same. That means that we are forsaking our own identity by putting money, material goods and capacities above everything else.
We have learned consistently from Mrs. Nomura that these spiritual values are invaluable.
The Forum I believe was a witness of how such spiritual values do inspire young people.
When I talked with Mr. Bogdanov and Mr. Borisov who were both from Bulgaria and in their twenties, they told me that the young people in Bulgaria were living irresponsibly amidst great social upheaval and confusion. Youth excuse themselves by saying since everybody else live for themselves what's wrong about them living that way. The men told me they felt ashamed of themselves when they were treated with respect and sincerity by Japanese members. They promised me that when they returned to their country they would live honestly regardless of how others live.
Miss Laila Takkash from Palestine told me that seven years ago she traveled to Japan to participate in the International Youth Forum. Then for the first time she visited Nomura Center. She said that older persons there listened sincerely to what a teenager had to say. That experience gave her the confidence about her own dignity and pride as a human being.
These are some the testimonies I personally heard regarding how Japan's spirituality can contribute to the world. But we Japanese are about to dump these values without realizing what we are about to do. This will mean nothing but the loss of identity.
It was on the extension of that identity that we had the spirit to adopt Article 9. It is such a shame to think that we are about to throw that spirit out without much thought.
Today we have the first post-war born Prime Minister and he and I belong to the same generation. By that I mean we were born and raised just about the time of the high economic growth. If I had not encountered the lifelong integrated education, I too would be part of the values that control this society today. Because I was taken seriously ill at young age, I learned that it was not because of one's capacity, efficiency or performance that one is valued but the very fact that I am a human being my existence itself carried value and dignity.
I also learned how important the values of sincerity and integrity we have as Japanese are. I came to find those values also in me through being affirmed by the members of the Center.
I fear that lost in the rapid torrent of the scientific civilization many of us, in Japan irrespective of generations, are about to throw out the values without realizing them as values.
From the beginning of the year there have been horrific incidents one after another involving family between parents and children, man and wife and among siblings that made you wonder how human beings can be that cruel.
But I hear beneath those incidents, souls crying out for help, crushed by a sense of loss of values as a human being and the pressures to earn more money, possess more goods and perform better.
There is much talk about the importance of education to recognize the individual personality of students. I believe that the political decision of becoming "an ordinary country" without much thought for Japan's national identity or understanding of the historical background that led to the adoption of the Peace Constitution is really no different from individuals who commit horrific crimes because they have lost their own identity and dignity.
Adults tell children to respect the dignity of life but what is inconsistency, if at the same time we attempt to revise the Constitution which may well open the way to support war, in other words, to kill people.
I believe this is where we must grapple with the need to face this as a personal challenge. I ca say for myself, if I had not come across this learning I too would have continued to dismiss any notion that as a human being I was born with an innate dignity. I would have continued to negate my own humanity. That is why I am convinced that each of us must be confident of the values we have been entrusted with and not waste time in sharing them with others.
What I mean by deepening our understanding of the preciousness of the values we have inherited, is the need for us to probe deeper into our sub-conscious and face our own yet unknown parts of our nature. As Mrs. Nomura often told us "education is a relational concept," of getting to know oneself through interaction with others. To know oneself deeper, awaken to one's own personal identity as well as to that of one's identity as a Japanese citizen.
For me that means I must practice the values in my family, community and society, in my country and in the world, and make myself more whole by sharing those values with others.
This year will be the beginning of collective retirement of the baby boomer generation. It is also the year when a full-fledged discussion will take place on the proposed revision of the Constitution. This year will be a crossroad year for the world.
All the more those of us who have been led to learn these principles of education have great responsibility.
With that conscious awareness let us start the New Year.
(New Year Address, January 9, 2007)
Nomura Center for Lifelong Integrated Education
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