New Year Message

Mrs. Yumiko Kaneko
Director General
A happy New Year, everyone!
It is wonderful for us to be able to come together in this way and I look forward to having a good year with all of you.
From the year's end into the dawn of the year, Japan went through a rocky time for the whole country. I personally had a heartbreaking time and as a nation Japan spent a flurried period.
The December 16 general election resulted in a change of government. In fact, it was a highly contested election with the involvement of more than the usual number of political parties and challenging issues. A new cabinet was formed ten days later on December 26. The consequences affect us all. Not a few people must have seen a turn of the year with a feeling of uncertainty for which direction we are heading.
Although this election was the first since the triple disaster of March 11, 2011, it had the lowest voter turnout since the end of World War II. Indifference must be partly to blame, but I think many people stayed away from the polls simply because it was difficult to decide whom to vote for with so many political parties contesting so many issues.
I am so apprehensive that national administration is to be changed under such state of general election.
I fear that decisions regarding the direction of our country may be taken without discussing well, while ordinary people like us are trying to figure it out. The problems such as the economy, diplomacy, energy and reconstruction after 3.11 are not far from us who live in this century, but are all closely connected to our everyday life.
We learned that to live the contemporary society requires us to understand the times in which we live. It is imperative to know the times in order to know who we are. We are apt to see the present separated from the past. In fact, it is important to understand the present as part of a historical continuum.
The other day, while cleaning my son's room, I found his junior high school textbook. I took it in my hand, flipped through a few pages and found this entry: "Let's check how people lived in the old days." A number of objects were listed, including a washboard and tub, an iron pot, an abacus, a hot water bottle and a hibachi, all things we used every day when I was growing up. It made me feel old -and that was just some fifty years ago.
Fifty years have made a tremendous difference in how we live. In other words, the time when my parents reared me is very different compared to nowadays when I am bringing up my son.
On such things as energy, there were no nuclear power plants when I came into the world. Even without electricity, we were able to wash our clothes in a tub of water with the washboard we all had in our homes. We were not aware of any problem to have no electricity.
In 1958 the Tokyo Tower, a radio tower, was constructed as a symbol of high economic growth, and in 1963 Japan's first nuclear power plant became operational. Fifty years or so since then, the Sky Tree has replaced the Tokyo Tower to become the tallest tower in the country, and the myth that nuclear power was perfectly safe was dispelled by the dreadful events of two years ago.
Since the end of the WWII our lives have been made comfortable with the rapid introduction of new scientific inventions. When I was born, the electric household appliances began to permeate into the ordinary household, however when I was growing up our bathwater was still heated over a log fire. We could never have imagined that when we became parents we would have more than one television set. In fact, young people today don't even watch TV. Instead, they are inseparable from their handheld electronic devices.
With the rapid innovations of science and technology during the last fifty years, we allowed ourselves to become fascinated with changes of every kind of device that we could not figure out how to use after only two or three years.
And we seem to have forgotten the providence of nature that all things are to age and decay.
I rather think that the triple disaster of March 11, 2011 was a reminder from nature.
My father died last November at the age of eighty-eight. I knew that all human beings too age and pass on. Perhaps because he was so full of life and energy I had wanted to think that death would not come to him.
We have spoiled ourselves into thinking that we can simply discard possessions that fail to perform and exchange them for something new. Perhaps we find it difficult to accept that we all live under the strict rules of nature, as does everything that exists.
The latest and most awesome skyscrapers and highways, just like the buildings constructed fifty years ago, will one day become deteriorated.
My father had a great-grandson who had his first birthday last November. It was sad to hear my sister say that by the time he learns to eat rice on his own, grandpa will eat less and less. And when the boy begins to learn to walk, grandpa will be walking less and less too.
It was difficult for me to listen to my sister say about my father and her son, but she was right. I really understand through my father's demise that all of us, in fact all living creatures, are destined to live one's life towards death in the real sense of the term. As plants wither and leave seeds to succeed them, we pass on our lives to the next generation. My father who lived his life to the full taught me how precious it is to live as well as we can, and this is how we play our part in the long chain of life.
It is a challenge for all of us to concentrate our efforts to reconstruct our country's economy from the triple disaster. This was one of the issues contested in the last election. It is indeed a mammoth task.
But if we expect the economy to return to where it was before the disaster, forgetting to learn the spirit of "knowing when it is enough," I am very apprehensive that we may be making the same mistakes.
Since we live in a country where earthquakes are an everyday occurrence, we must not forget to learn from the last tragedy lest we be doomed to think only of the loss.
Too many precious lives were lost, with everything visible washed away. If we fail to learn from this enormous sacrifice it will be a betrayal of those who died.
Immediately following the disaster, the people of the region showed us the best qualities of the Japanese. Overseas news media reported disciplined Japanese people queuing up for water and food, with no vandalism.
The sufferers showed patience, discipline, compassion, diligence and collaboration, the very virtues of "chu-jo" our founder taught us. The world saw how the spirit of the Japanese endured even when everything else was lost.
Last November, we had an exchange meeting with staff of AAR (the Association for Aid and Relief) reporting their activities on the Turkish-Syrian border. The staff told us how people in both countries were friendly toward the Japanese, and that they were accepted because Japan had always been neutral and it was therefore easy for them to carry out their mission. He said this made him proud to be a Japanese.
I felt while listening to these reports that we should not fail to remember that our compassion and caring spirit and the personal integrity we take for granted are virtues that can mean much to the world. These are things we can contribute.
We live in unprecedented times. In so many ways and in all corners of the world we are all connected. Just as what happens to the European economy affects us, so nuclear power plant accidents concern and affect us all across our borderless skies and oceans.
During the 1960 Chilean earthquake, the Sanriku coast of East Japan was struck by a six-meter-high tsunami, taking the lives of 142 people. This is but one example of how we are connected.
That is to say, we must be aware of the truth that we live in a world where there can be no stability and security for any country alone.
There are even problems with our close neighbors. I believe there are two indispensable prerequisites for this issue. One is not to comprehend the issue just from the standpoint of the present. And the other is that we have to consider if it is possible to find a country that is solely peaceful in this world in term of national defense.
Our founder impressed on us that since Japan had now lived in peace for a long period, Japanese should reach out the rest of the world with the principle on which we have lived as the principle of peace.
Together with the spirit of maintaining discipline even in the face of disaster, could this not be our biggest contribution to the world?
I do not recall having been taught it at school, but I got to know not so long ago that we had a surprising history rarely seen in the world. I mentioned this in my lecture last year. During the 15th to 16th centuries the modern political system was created and modern capitalism was developed. Europe became the center of the world while Asia, Africa and Latin America were considered the peripheries.
Against this background, a Portuguese ship arrived in Japan in 1543 bringing firearms, and within less than a year our forefathers had learned how to make their own. Ten years later, Japan was mass-producing handmade guns and by the second half of the 16th century it had become the world's biggest producer of guns. This feat speaks of the remarkable skill and energy of Japanese artisans even in isolation.
We are often criticized for lacking in creativity and being copycats. I think we can say that our true value rests in not merely copying but improving on the original goods. The Portuguese and Spaniards who then ruled half the world were apparently disheartened and dropped their original plans for aggression to Japan.
What was amazing was that while we succeeded in holding the European powers at bay and we failed in our attempts at invading Korea, we closed our doors to the evolving world beyond our shores.
We dropped the guns, symbolic of the Western world, and returned to the sword. The Tokugawa Shognate not only regulated the holding of firearms but also introduced methods of government that brought in a rare period of peace for 250 years. During all this time the Western countries that participated in creating the modern world system, as well as the Asian and African countries that were victimized by them, experienced war, famine, disease, revolution and exploitation. The choice made by Japan, I like to think, was one made on what we may call the spirituality of the people. I also think that the peace we enjoy today has been built on the wisdom of our forefathers.
Needless to say, I am not about to say that we will or should repeat history, but unless we learn our place in it and how we have become the nation we are today I really have an apprehension that we risk choosing a wrong path.
To live and prosper in peace in our global world of the 21st century it is imperative that we integrate our differences, not by denying them but by respecting and celebrating them, sharing our similarities and coming together in common purposes.
I believe it is important to study our roots and know our own identities as individuals and as a nation that have sprung from them with the virtues and weaknesses we have inherited from our ancestors.
We are said to have strong egos. Self-centered people who only think of themselves are increasing in number at a time when our societies and planet earth itself can only survive through collaboration. Just when we must learn to live together and share the resources of the earth we will end up choking on our greed if we put our self-interest before the needs of others.
Perhaps the innovations of science and technology give us the leisure to do things by ourselves and at our own pace, but in the process of satisfying ourselves we seem to lose the sense of living together and for each other. We do not even try to talk things over any more, many of us are so full of self-assertiveness and keep to ourselves, feeding on and cultivating our own limitations for fear of disharmony.
It is important also for us to see recent developments with neighboring countries not simply as territorial issues to be resolved fairly and rationally, but as the issue of us human beings who are to deal with these issues.
At the personal level, how do we learn about ourselves by first seeing the problems of bloated ego in ourselves? How do we make our efforts to understand the others and make ourselves understood by them?
We must also become better persons through our own self-education starting with improving relations at home, the smallest unit of our society, and at our schools and in our communities. If in these ways we can become better people we will have come a long way to forestalling disharmony before it divides us.
If we realize the enormous responsibilities our national leaders bear and if we expect a great deal from them, we must be ready to become better persons ourselves. So let us dedicate ourselves this year to carrying out our own responsibilities as people who live in this critical time, keeping it in mind that the process of our self-education in our daily lives is sure to influence on the world.
I wish you all happiness and a fulfilling year.

(D.G. Kaneko's greetings at the start of the New Year, January 8, 2013)
Nomura Center for Lifelong Integrated Education
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