A New Year Message

Mrs. Yumiko Kaneko
Director General

Let me first of all wish you and your loved ones a very Happy New Year. I sincerely hope that this will be a better year for all of us.
Over the New Year we enjoyed relatively calm and balmy weather in Tokyo and its vicinity but there were severe conditions in many other parts of the country. But severity does not stop with the weather, as indeed our society seems to be under greater pressure as the year unfolds. It seemed to me that the situation is beckoning us to learn from it.
This year, unlike previous years, I had a new experience as my husband and I joined other parents to support the winter training camp of a baseball team of which our son is a member. So I spent New Year's Eve washing the boy's muddy uniform! Apart from enjoying the experience as a busy mother, the three of us were able to visit my parents on New Year's Day. It was a rewarding time that made me feel that our lives were definitely connected in so many ways. I was also grateful that we could share the time with my elder sister and her husband.
These family activities occupied my time, but to be honest I was not in much of a mood to enjoy the New Year festivities so leisurely. Watching the media, I was reminded that there were many who could not afford to celebrate the New Year.
As I said on the last day of our work at the year-end, I feel that we have been taking a new step forward since November 29 when we observed the sixth anniversary of Yoshiko Nomura's demise.
And having started the New Year differently this year, I realized the importance of recognizing it as a turning point. That is to say, I feel it is good to mark the end of one year and the beginning of another, all the more so when we are busy.
When we observed the sixth anniversary of the founding director general Mrs. Yoshiko Nomura's demise on November 29 (the seventh in Buddhist terms), I had the sensation of reliving that sad day six years before. Looking back on the very day of her passing when I succeeded her as director general I felt plunged into darkness. I recall asking myself single-mindedly, "How did Mrs. Nomura carry on?" Since then, as director general of the new generation, I have kept asking myself, "What am I to do?" and "How did she live every day? What should I be doing?" Now, I am not just contemplating how Mrs. Nomura was able to carry on, but also "How we truly followed in her footsteps?" and "How should we go forward?" In other words I find myself living the moment of present in the inter-related passage of time from the past to the present with the perspective for the future.
Our world is changing rapidly. This New Year, comparing my childhood with that of our son, I realize how different the times are today. Children's lives have changed dramatically in the fifty years since I was growing up in the 1960s. We had many more siblings, cousins and relatives then, and the New Year was a time when we flew kites, battledore and spun tops outside, and indoors played 'sugoroku' (Japanese backgammon), pinned drawings of eyes and noses on outlines of faces blindfold, and competed with family members to match cards with ancient poems.
Today, there are fewer children in each family, fewer large families celebrating the New Year together, and the children are very likely playing electronic games on their own.
One reads in the newspapers that nowadays many parents are afraid to let their children play outdoors, and as a result their physical endurance scores are falling.
As others among you no doubt did, I watched Soichi Noguchi, an astronaut who will be living in the International Space Station until May, offering his New Year greetings with a traditional Japanese battledore and sacred straw symbol usually hung over the entrance to a home. I thought to myself, "What an age - our battledore was in space!" We are living in an age of science, a time when there are not one but a number of Japanese astronauts. At the beginning of the 1960s mankind had not yet reached the moon, but today we are staying a few months at a time in space. The changes that have taken place in the last fifty years are quite breathtaking.
Mamoru Mori, another Japanese astronaut, was quoted in a newspaper article as saying something that inspired me, coming from someone who had flown in space. On returning to earth, he said, he found the air on our planet was quite different from the artificial air (a mixture of oxygen and nitrogen) that he and his fellow astronauts were breathing in the shuttle. The earth's air smelled, and is filled with fungi and microorganisms. However, Mori said, he felt that without them humans would not be able to live long.
He said that on returning to earth after living in an artificial environment he realized how important are our relations with other living things. I believe he must have learned from his own experience that as humans we have to live together and that our lives are dependent on the environment that is our natural element.
We are told that in spite of the vastness of the cosmic world, the earth, so far as we know, is the only planet where life exists. And we are driving our only inhabitable planet into greater peril. We are constantly reminded we should "pay attention to the planetary environment" but I believe we must begin by realizing our mistake in taking it for granted as a limitless treasure trove. It is we human beings who have developed it and polluted it. Before saying we should be kind to the earth we should accept the fact that we are the ones who are destroying it. Our founder told us this repeatedly.
We must all, as planetary beings and global citizens, learn to live together, not just with our fellow human beings but sharing life with other living creatures. I believe it is the imperative of our age to give serious thought to this.
I am not talking of an ideal but the sober reality that we must accept. As adults we must earnestly grapple with this truth and pass it on to our children. Why? Because it is our children who will inherit the planet and continue to live here.
We all know of COP15 (the Conference of the Parties) that took place in December in Copenhagen. The conference had a long name - The 15th Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. And heads of state and government of most of the world's nations were gathered there. That in itself is a proof that the earth is in serious crisis. In spite of that, the international community could not come to an agreement on reducing CO2 emissions, and the targets set by the Kyoto Protocol have not been realized. As we failed to agree, CO2 emission continues to increase.
Even though we were not able to reach an agreement, I believe it was significant that the world took the first step to come together. Unless we meet and discuss these things we will not know what discrepancies there are and attempt to adjust them. With the present situation of the planet as background I believe that, if nothing else, to attempt to face it as a common challenge was a big step forward.
That in itself is a positive outcome, but we cannot set the issue aside saying, "It's too bad we could not reach an agreement." Each of us must seriously regard the state of the earth's environment as our own problem.
The history of humankind records how territorial expansion followed the progress of civilization and development. Japan, however, given its geographical condition as an archipelago surrounded by sea on all sides, has a long history of learning to share rather than looking to expand outward. Recently, there have been studies describing our country in the Edo period as a cyclical society with good methods of recycling and reusing resources, but that was surely the outcome of history dictated by geographical conditions.
With this in mind, I believe Japan has a big role to play in the area of environment.
Our founder taught us the essence of Japanese culture by listing the following characteristics:
* "We have the polytheistic religions of Shinto and Buddhism co-existing, we are tolerant of other religions, and we even celebrate Christmas,"
* "We possess a spirit of collaboration that respects harmony,"
* "We are the only country in the world that has suffered nuclear bombing,"
* "Due to our geographical location in the Far East we have a history embracing every civilization of the world,"and
* "The source of these characteristics is a spirit of animism that allows us to see life and spirit in all animate and inanimate things in nature".
If we embodied these attributes and let them guide our lives, we could make an enormous contribution to our planet in this century.
We did not know that such a spirit was within us, or if some of us did I am afraid we may have set it aside as of no great importance. But our founder patiently taught us what real values are and helped us nurture them even though we were not aware of her intention. Is this not the reason that we have found peace and harmony in our lives, starting with our families? We should acknowledge this gift of the spirit and cultivate it in our daily lives so that we can share the experience with the next generation.
How many of us have heard of "the spirit of animism"? At least the generation to which I belong has heard our parents tell us, "We must not do anything dishonest to the sun up in heaven!" and "The salary your father brings home he earns with his sweat and tears." Today, salaries are remitted to a bank account so that without a sense of gratitude it is easy for us to simply draw money out with our bank card. Most of us do not give it another thought. Even children who have inherited a long family history, without someone telling them what a treasure it is, seldom appreciate it, much less add to it. We have a responsibility to be conscious of the values of our spiritual legacy, if only to be able to pass them on to the next generation.
The last fifty years has witnessed a rapid development of the material world. If we continue to live "business as usual" where our values are concerned, then things will undoubtedly turn for the worse in the coming ten years. As science and technology develop and information technology delivers captivating inventions one after another, we will be living in an ever faster and busier age. What is most important in this contemporary world is for us to draw out the spirit in us that will guide our times and prevent us from been borne away in the fast moving current. We are fortunate to have been taught ways to hone this spirit through studies in lifelong integrated education. We must be positively aware of this and unfailingly pass it on to the next generation.
I believe many of us today have realized that happiness does not come from having more material goods. We all know that true happiness lies in balanced spiritual and material well-being. We may be fulfilled materially yet we have a feeling of emptiness if we are distressed. Conversely, even if we are materially poor we can be happy if our mind is cultured.
We need to learn to be balanced in mind and body, and appreciate true abundance and richness. In an age focused on ever more efficiency and higher performance, we must remind ourselves of the need to recognize the importance of nurturing the invisible spirit and mind. As what is most precious is too often invisible to the eye, we need to cultivate them intentionally.
It is education that cultivates and enriches us with the invisible spirit. However, our busy days go swiftly by, and education is time-consuming. It takes time to achieve its targets. After all, they have to be attained by us human beings.
It is important for us not to abandon our ideal. We should be committed to advancing step by step towards it, starting with little things that are possible. In an age when everything is done quickly it is so easy to give up and say we cannot do it. We have to be realistic, for it takes time to nurture a whole person. This, our founder kept telling us for the last fifty years, undaunted by the changing times.
In my capacity as the new director general I realize now how difficult it is at times to keep reminding ourselves always to follow our founder's wise teaching in our daily lives. At the same time, I am ever more aware of the preciousness of the legacy she has left us. I can never be grateful enough for the fortune of having known such a great teacher who kept reminding us of the most important things in life.
This year we will be organizing what will surely be a memorable 10th International Forum. To repeat a tradition of this size ten times is in itself a feat. Yoshiko Nomura never wearied in sending the same messages to the world, and we are indeed blessed to inherit her mission.
Again I am reminded of how farsighted our founder was to have created a forum where cultures and civilizations can meet in harmony, particularly in these times of critical change.
And the thought that an ordinary homemaker had the vision and perseverance to create so much in the 1970s makes us humble and grateful, but at the same time summons us to talk frankly together to define and meet the challenges that lie before us.
Not least, we must attend to the relations we have with our families - our husbands, our children, our mothers-in-law, our daughters-in-law, and those we work with - and talk openly and honestly with them. And examine also how we relate to the world around us, and watch how we are improving and changing ourselves.
It is sometimes difficult and hard, I know, to do it to those closest to us. We should resist relying on impersonal communication tools and electronic devices to avoid or that may unconsciously divert us from talking frankly with each other to solve any problems in our relationships.
We all recognize these difficulties because we encounter them in our daily lives. Let us decide to face up to the challenges that come our way, and know that we live together as we meet and overcome them, and be happy in the knowledge that we are growing and maturing.
I wanted to share with you my determination and the objectives I set for myself for the coming year.
I very much look forward to having an enjoyable year with you.
Thank you.

(D.G. Kaneko's address at the first meeting of the New Year, January, 2010)
Nomura Center for Lifelong Integrated Education
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