New Year Message

Mrs. Yumiko Kaneko
Director General

A very Happy New Year to you all.
We had an unusually warm and balmy New Year compared to that of previous years. But it seems to me that the cold air is today catching up with us. In fact, the last two days were as cold as at this time in other years. We find it difficult, don't we, to adjust to these big changes in temperature?
I was getting quite worried, in fact, by the exceptional warmth this winter. There has been abnormal weather throughout the world. We are living at a time in which almost irreparable damage is occurring as we witness draught in some places and rising sea levels in others. We are also seeing infectious disease epidemics and the extinction of certain species.
We have learned that 2014 was the hottest year on record and that glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate.
Even after last year's United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), I was left with the feeling that the larger climate issues stay in our minds only as long as they continue to make the news. When such issues are not reported, we only feel the effect of the weather on ourselves. Leaving aside whether or not we feel the urgency of the climate changes, I believe we must try to keep in our mind we are at the critical state of the global climate.
COP21 was held in Paris from 30th November to 12th December last year with the participation of 196 nations and non-self-governing territories. The first objective was to achieve international agreement, and almost all participating countries submitted targets for greenhouse gas emission reduction.
In 1997, as you will remember, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Japan. Mandatory emission cut was limited to the parties of 35 industrialized countries, as the US and Canada withdrew. Center stage was the debate as to whether only developed countries ought to bear the burden for reducing CO2 emissions. This had such a polarizing effect that it was decided the first objective for COP21 should be to reach a global consensus. You will no doubt be aware of, through the media reporting, the fierce back and forth between developed and developing countries on this issue.
Developing countries demand financial assistance for introducing renewable energy technology while developed countries note that these nations are also putting out large quantities of greenhouse gases. Even as they share this globe, both sides seem inclined to demand, "you first, we'll follow." If the developed countries stick to this position, we will surely have more problems ahead.
After all, this is the space age. Our founder was quick to seize upon this reality and proclaim as early as 1970 that "The Earth is One" be adopted as the theme for the national conference she organized. To be honest, many of us then felt that this was unrealistic, but as years went by we realized she was right, that we indeed have a common destiny. For the people of this planet can hardly divvy up the air and the seas and the continents and expect greenhouse gases to obey our borders. We are all intertwined.
The Paris Agreement had set an initial cap for the increase in average global temperature at 2 degrees centigrade above the pre-industrial revolution level. It also established the long-term objectives of pursuing efforts to limit the temperature to increase to 1.5 degrees and in the latter half of the current century achieving a balance between manmade emissions and woodland absorption so that the effective production of new greenhouse gases would be at net zero. The Agreement further called for all countries to review every five years their objectives for emission reductions and to update their action plans each time in order to step up their targets. The Agreement paved the way for an eventual adoption of a legally binding international convention which would also include terms for recovering losses and damages from offending parties and would spell out the roles that both developed and developing countries would play vis-à-vis the supply of capital, technology development and transfer, and capacity building.
That these ideas were laid down and consented to by 196 parties is, by all standards, a great achievement.
However, there remain the realistic challenges of who is to implement these proposals and how to enforce them. We have firm objectives that in the second half of this century we are targeting net-zero emissions offset by natural absorption. But who will insure that this happens? The second half of this century means from 2050 to 2100. I will be over ninety years old when it begins. How old will you be? Those born in the year 2000 will be 50. In the meantime, who will carry out these promises?
It is quite true that our planet is in a dangerous situation. But the point is, I believe, that we must be ready to push forward simultaneously in implementing agreements and inheriting those tasks.
But knowing that we let the urgency of the situation slip from our consciousness if we do not follow the news, we must undertake the task how we have our next generation follow us in all seriousness. I was reminded by the unusual warmth at New Year of how important it is for all of us who inhabit this planet to have a deep understanding and personal awareness of global events.
Just the other day, there was a report of a hydrogen bomb test by North Korea. True or not, we are once more reminded to reflect on our relations with our neighbors and other countries. We also learned of the severing of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Impacts of this and exacerbated by their respective Shi'a and Sunni histories. Nations are intertwined and instability reach to the neighboring countries as well. Though we ordinary Japanese think that Sunni people and Shi'a people share the roots as Islam, they seem to deepen Sunni-Shi'a divide. So throughout the world, those countries who are closer to one another geopolitically and spiritually are apt to cause critical divide.
Another important issue in the news is the flowing into Europe of refugees fleeing the IS terrorist movement. We Japanese, of course, are not being impacted quite as directly as the Europeans from the activities of IS, but neither are we entirely separated from them.
As I discussed in my New Years address of 2015, there was the violent attack on the office of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publisher, on Jan 7th that now comes to mind again. The victims had published in their magazine a cartoon that mocked the revered leader of Islam. It was this that provoked the terrorist attack as an extreme protest.
The lesson drawn out of this incident, I thought, was to recognize ourselves being indifferent to those things other people cherish only because they seem not significant to us.
Then there was yet another series of terrorist attacks that took place in November, again in Paris. This resulted in the death of 130 people with over 300 injured. Restaurants, a concert hall, and a soccer field were the targets of these fatal terrorist attacks.
Why should the year have ended with more such carnage in France? While France accepts a large number of immigrants and refugees, my understanding is that it also has a strict assimilation policy. Some analyzed that some of the Moslems who had settled in that country have become discontent. They tend sometimes to sympathize with terrorists and eventually become members of problematic organizations.
These incidents led me to consider. When did our planet turn into a place plagued by both abnormal weather and hotbeds of terrorist activity?
Just fifty years ago we could not have conceived of such abnormal climatic conditions, while just three years ago we could not imagine such extreme radical groups as IS coming into being.
What has caused these things to come about? I believe that it is, on the one hand, a product of scientific development and, on the other, fallout from an increase in the number of people who cannot accept heterogeneity.
This thought led me to reflect on how our families, which are the smallest units of our society, have changed over the years. I began by looking at Japan. Large families were the norm throughout the sixties and up into the seventies. I was a child during this period. And what I recall of the New Year is time spent with my motherfs family.
My mother was one of three siblings, who would each bring their children. My older sister and myself and nine cousins made for quite a large event. It was my aunt, the wife of my mother's older brother, who would take charge. Our mother would dress my sister and myself in traditional kimono, and then we would proceed to have fun with all our cousins--flying kites, playing Japanese cards that had ancient poems printed on them, and enjoying games such as fukuwarai (lucky laugh) and hanetsuki (badminton).
I recall those childhood New Year holidays as very happy times. We enjoyed delicious New Year delicacies packed in special Urushi wooden boxes and we joyfully received our New Year cash presents. Looking back as an adult today, it must have been a huge commitment on the part of my mother's pre-war generation. It had to have been a particularly tough job for my aunt, the wife of my mother's older brother, to manage this family event year after year. New Year for Japanese families was a time of huge gatherings, when all the members of large families from different backgrounds would get together. That is to say, we learned to accommodate the family members of different cultures and relationships within our one extended family. We would assert our opinions at times and, in turn, we would also accept the views of others. In so doing we have unintentionally built human relationship.
Yes, such New Year scenes were the norm back then. During the time just after the end of war, for the generation of my parents as well as Mrs. Tamatani, our executive director, having lived through terrible times in their younger days, New Year gatherings was the symbol of happiness, though they should have tough situation in a big family with such troubles between wife and mother-in-law. Their attachment to these memories must have been very different from those of my generation that had not known the war. "Tough" to them would have had a different meaning. My generation would regard human relationship in the big families as pretty "tough", however that generation found happiness in that circumstances and it is this generation that brought us up.
Thus, the home and families, without knowing, became a place for unintentional education. Children grew in a variety of atmospheres where all sorts of consciousness were born from those gathered. We would challenge one another, in a subtle and often unseen way, and then we would make up. As I see it, those were indispensable lessons about peace and getting along with others to which we were exposed through that process.
Looking back from this moment, the future of that time, I feel that in those days we were given a hands-on education in developing harmonious relationships with others. I cannot emphasize the value of this enough.
It was an age during which we were making constant adjustments, adapting to cultures, coming to grips with heterogeneity in everyday life. Today, however, as parents, we benefit from conveniences that give us what we want without our having to help or share with one another. There are many tools that spare us from having to work together. We live for comfort, for ourselves.
As nuclear families have become the norm, we have unknowingly produced a new generation that lacks the power and ability to adjust. Many of our most basic modern problems, I believe, are a result of our being born and growing up in an advanced, scientific, and civilized environment in which we are nourished and satisfied but within which we are unable to shift or readapt. This is the situation in Japan, but it might well be the same all over the world.
We Japanese, historically and geographically, have lived together as a more or less single national group, with a single national language, on a small nation island surrounded by the sea. Within these conditions we had no option but to stay together and this situation, I believe, formed an appreciation of the wisdom of sharing with each other and living together. We have tended to take this for granted. Living in contiguous land-based countries, people could flow freely over boarders. That is to say, as an island nation, we Japanese had our own unique characteristics.
Today, however, our environment has changed significantly. Because of this, our founder has challenged us to change as well. We must first change our own consciousness.
Our globalized world is different from the world we once had, in which we seemed able to understand one another without even opening our mouths. As our founder has said, we Japanese must develop a global consciousness, we must appreciate our differences, we must talk things over, we must try to understand and accept our heterogeneity. And from these changes, we should be able to make good use of our own familistical characteristics of sharing and collaborating.
Last year, our government approved unprecedented security measures that may change the peace-oriented structure of our nation. I wondered when this happened if perhaps we had not taken for granted being peace for many years after the war and the spirit that enabled us to firmly maintain pacifism and peace constitution. We must realize that this spirit could be of particular value for the world, and at the same time we should take pride in conveying this spirit in the globalized society. From that perspective we must be awakened to our own role of holding such mission.
I say this because recent events have proved that weapons cannot build peace. At present, the world is hard pressed to find ways of combatting IS.
Countries separated only by land borders may well conclude that there is no option other than entering into battle and fighting to win. But we must value the collective spirit that our island nation has nurtured. And the people living on this planet called Earth must similarly find ways that will enable us to live together.
It is of utmost importance for us Japanese to recognize the value of collaboration and partnership. This is, after all, an age during which the annihilation of all life on earth could at any moment become a reality. Our founder has taught us that our task going forward will be to develop a global consciousness and to build a global civilization. She continued that as we proceed down this path, the most important thing is for us to realize that each country and the people of each nation possess independent identities. And when we can create harmony among our different cultures with their various characteristics we will have created a new civilization, a global civilization.
At the individual level as well, we must treasure each person with his or her unique background. When one recognizes one's self as a dignified individual, that is when one can see others as precious. Considering unusual incidents of our present society, I think there are many who today cannot see value in themselves and therefore have lost their appreciation of the dignity of others. However, Nature's providence teaches us that each has needs to live.
Similarly, providence tells us that all races, nationalities and cultures exist because there is a reason and need for them to be. We must, therefore, accept heterogeneity, and become individuals who can compensate for and fulfill one another. We must develop education for this purpose. Recognizing that we have enjoyed the privilege of such an education, it is us who must carry it forward.
In order to restore and revitalize our planet so that all can survive, each of us should be responsible first of all for cleaning up our own mess before insisting that others be similarly considerate. This begins with examining the harmful things we do to the planet we share. We must be mindful of the CO2 we unthinkingly cause to be released while at the same time permitting the destruction of forests that absorb it.
I have learned that one of the problematic issues in the Amazon region is illegal destruction of forestland. I saw on television that some people make their living by cutting down protected trees. But what can we do about this here and now? We cannot go to the Amazon to stop tree poachers.
Every footstep makes its own echo. As I have suggested, we all have wants and needs. But often when we get something we crave, we suddenly feel we need more. We think "if I only had that thing, I would be happy," yet this is often followed by "oh, and that thing too."
The first place to start, therefore, is by learning to be satisfied with what we have. In this way, we can promote a global balance. If we could all change the way we live, we could change the world. It is necessary to provide education that teaches how to think and how to live. We need to help one another to understand and appreciate when we have "enough" and learn not to take being existed for granted.
A short while ago we heard Mrs. T remark that she feels in herself that she is very caring towards others but also can be hard-hearted. She said she wants very much to overcome this negative trait. This illustrates an interesting point. We tend to ignore what we have while thinking all the time about what we want. We fail to appreciate our blessings while thinking only of what we lack.
Such imbalances impact not only our own bodies, but our environment as well. As a greater number of people begin to appreciate things as they really are, I believe the world will change in many ways.
Becoming able to understand clearly our own natures, including their negative aspects, follows naturally from our acceptance that we are all born with basic human dignity. That is to say, the very notion that we have been born and lived until now is in itself affirming. We need to realize and remember this. I believe that this is connected even to issues such as terrorism as well as with the global environment.
We should first of all consciously cultivate both a national and global perspective. We need to do all we can as citizens of our larger communities. We must find ways together to live as members of our global family. Let us make this our challenge and let's celebrate together with gratitude the 40th anniversary of our Miyazaki Branch as well as the 13th Miyazaki Regional Conference on Lifelong Integrated Education this February 7th.
This is the Year of the Monkey, which is said to bring good harvests and drive away calamity. Our situation is a critical one, but let us start the New Year with a resolve to overcome together the challenges that beset us.
(From Director General Kaneko's New Year Message on Jan. 8, 2016)
Nomura Center for Lifelong Integrated Education
Yoyogi 1-47-13, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-0053 JAPAN
Tel: +81 (0) 3-3320-1861 / Fax: +81 (0) 3-3320-0360

© 1997-2016 Nomura Center for Lifelong Integrated Education