11/19/2004 -Speech-


Good evening. I would like to thank the members of your group, the “New Discovery Society,” for allowing me this opportunity to speak and share my thoughts with you. Your director Mr. Furumoto has asked me to offer a “fresh perspective” on Japanese culture, and I hope that you’ll find my speech interesting. I also hope you’ll be able to understand my Japanese, which I have neglected recently due to a busy schedule.

I understand that your group is composed of people from all different aspects of society. I know that some of your efforts have been rewarded from the international community, such as ProfessorYukio Hirose of Kanazawa University、who was awarded the 2003 Ig Nobel prize in chemistry from Harvard University for his research of a bronze statue in Kenrokoen Park that fails to attract pigeons.


Mr. Furumoto has entitled this speech, “The Scroll of the Heian Period-“unlimited” and “unable to grasp.” I think these words capture the Heian Period very well, in that the “mystery” in this period is something that cannot  be “solved.”


I have been writing on the arts and culture of Japan for over a decade now, and have produced several articles on different aspects of Japanese culture, including lacquerware, the Asaichi Market in the Noto Peninsula, Sado Island, and an interview with pioneer manga artist Hagio Moto, all of which were published in The Japan Times from 1995-1998.


 I studied Japanese art at college, and became interested in Heian culture after seeing a Heian exhibition of art in Kyoto, commemorating the 1200 anniversary of the founding of Kyoto.  A short while later I found myself writing my first novel, set in the Heian Period.


Unlike other novels set in this period, I chose to include elements of Japan , China and Korea, rather than just Japan. I felt this was a natural consequence of my research, as I realized the immense influence China and Korea had on Japan at that time. The cultural exchange between China and Korea with Japan resulted in many of Japan’s national treasures, such as the Miroku Bosatsu in the Koryuji and the sculptures and architecture of the Horyjui complex in Nara, done by artisans and craftsmen from the ancient Korean kingdom of Koryugo. In Asuka Village in Nara we can see the Kitora and Takamatsu tombs, of whose wall paintings are almost identical to the tombs near present day PyongYang North Korea.


Indeed, we see that the very basic elements of Japan, such as techniques to grow rice, and kanji, were all Chinese imports. Also, may aspects of Japanese culture which are thought be “purely Japanese” are from the Korean Peninsula, such as sumo, and the Tanabata festival. We can see evidence of this in the ancient  PyongYang tombs, in the wall paintings depicting sumo and the Tanabata festival.


In the Shosoin at Todaiji temple in Nara we can see a magnificent repository of Tempyo secular art, embracing Central Asian, Chinese, Persian and Mediterranean culture. Perhaps we can think of these various cultural elements as threads weaving together a magnificent tapestry that contributed to ancient Japanese culture a thousand years ago.


Therefore, it is clear that Japanese culture owes an immense cultural debt to mainland Asia.


Indeed, the Japanese word for “gratitude,” kansha, is derived from/uses the same Chinese characters as the Korean word, kamsahamnida, as is “arigato” is derived from the "Portuguese word, 'obrigado.


However, as we find ourselves in the 21st century,I cannot help but feel that Japan has yet to pay back this immense cultural debt, and  rather, has severely damaged relations with its Asian neighbors, thus leaving a “stain” on this tapestry. I believe the reason for this lies in the mindset of the governmental and cultural leaders of Japan. I feel that as Japan finds itself surrounded by nuclear armed Asian countries, including a very hostile nuclear armed North Korea, that is of the utmost importance to question the judgment of these leaders, and to examine the reasons for this apparent lack of gratitude at the government level, towards Japan’s Asian neighbors.


I believe that without this reflection , the current nuclear problem with North Korea will not be solved.


When the United States was contemplating targets on which to drop the atomic bomb, Kyoto was one of the five targets, but was not chosen because of its vast cultural value. If indeed the atomic bomb had been dropped, a thousand years of magnificent Heian culture would have been destroyed in an instant, similar to the destruction  of several historical sites of Babylon civilization in the Iraq war.


In his 1997 book “On History,” Eric Hobsbawm warned of the danger of separating any historical event from its larger human context. “Historians, however microcosmic, must be for universalism…because it is the necessary condition for understanding the history of humanity, including that of any special section of humanity.”On History. New York: The New Press, 1997.


I believe that it is imperative that in the 21st century we foster true “leaders of culture” who realize that the environment, peace and human rights must be maintained or else culture cannot exist. I believe that the person who realizes and acts up on this realization to maintain these basics in society is truly a “person of culture.”(hirakareta bunka jin”


“Heian” means Peace and tranquility. Therefore, I would like to expand upon the title given this lecture to “the unlimited potential as culture as a ‘weapon’ for peace.”


I would like to ask the question, “What are some qualities necessary for “ leaders and people of culture in the 21st century”? I have come up with a few qualities which I feel are important-


1)A detached, objective , flexible, and global perspective on culture and world events


2)A borderless heart, with a genuine interest and respect in cultures other than one’s own, and a borderless perspective of the world, realizing that the borders of the earth are manmade.


3) An acceptance, not denial, of the complexity of the world we live in.


4)The will to look at the facts and reality of the history of one’s own country, and to understand how this history affects the present situation and the future. In other words, a timeless view and understanding of culture.


5)The will to look for common ground between cultures, and not differences.


6)To be informed about the current events in one’s own culture and the world at large.


7)The courage and will to speak out against lies and “spin” when necessary.


As someone who was born into two cultures, Japanese and American, I have done my best to study the past of these cultures in  an objective manner, in order to understand the present.




If we look at the past history of the US, we see that the US has engaged in massive bombing campaigns against the Asian people, including Vietnam, Indochina, Japan and bringing us to the very present in the Mideast, with the Iraq war.


If we were to apply the current US administration to the criteria I have suggested for 21st century leaders and “people of culture,” we can see it would fail.


We do not see a global perspective, but an egocentric one in which the immediate interests of the US are given the utmost priority and the rest of the world be damned. We see this in the refusal to support international treaties and organizations, such as the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty,(CTBT) The Kyoto Protocol, and The International Court. We don’t see a detached, objective perspective and a willingness to look at the reality of events as they transpire, but a stubborn, attached view to continue with the same policy, despite blatantly clear signs that that policy may not be working.  We can see this now in the Iraq war, where it has been estimated that over 100, 0000 Iraqis have been killed, as well as over 1000 American soldiers, and we can now see almost daily kidnappings and beheadings on the Internet, . Usama Bin Laden is slowly but surely succeeding in his intention to “bankrupt the US by the Iraq war,” with over 200 billion US dollars spent so far and growing on a daily basis.


Looking at Japan’s history, we cannot help but be disturbed by Japan’s past World War II atrocities against its Asian neighbors, and the subsequent denial and “selective amnesia” regarding these atrocities occurring at the governmental level, that continues until today.


Last month, Governor Ishihara of Tokyo insisted that  ”Tokyo need not apologize for its bloody wartime invasions of neighbors,” and argues that “Japan did Asia a favor by delivering it from Western imperialism.”


In 1990 he gave an interview with Playboy in which he said, “People say that the Japanese made a holocaust there in Nanking, but that is not true. It is a story made up by the Chinese. It has tarnished the image of Japan but it is a lie.”


Governor Ishihara also claims that the Chinese authorities have exaggerated the  reported death toll of 300,00, and supports this claim with historical literary references to Chinese literature, saying that the Chinese have a tendency to exaggerate, citing such references as “hair that has grown to 3000 meters.”


From these comments we can see that Governor Ishihara lives in a world of spin, delusion and denial, displaying an arrogant, xenophobic, mindset. Despite receiving Japan’s highest literary award, he fails on every level to be “a person of culture” in the 21st century,” and should be held fully accountable for his comments. Unfortunately, instead of voices of protest at the government level we are met with a resounding silence.


It is not to say that there are not voices of repentance at the government level, such as in 1995 when the Japan’s then prime minister expressed heartfelt repentance. It is simply a shame that such sincere voices of apology are extinguished by the constant denial of Japan’s past history in the highest echelons of government, such as Ishihara.


Ishihara is like the frog who knows only of his small pond, ignorant of the vastness of the sea, and ignores the emerging tidal waves surrounding him, a nuclear armed China and Korea, and a new generation of Chinese raised on tales of what the Japanese Imperial Army did to their ancestors. Here in Japan, we see schoolchildren read textbooks edited by a government sunk deep in denial of its past.


We also actual proof of this at the recent Asian soccer cup, where the Japanese team was resoundingly booed by the Chinese.


We must grasp that we will be victims of government policy and wear the faces of our leaders, even though we may not be directly connected to their policy making. The Japanese soccer team had no direct connection to Japan’s past history with Asia, as well as Mr. Koda, who although he had no direct connection to the dispatch of SDF forces, was beheaded for simply being Japanese. Thus, If the Japanese government is not willing to address its past, then I feel the Japanese citizens must, in order to preserve culture and culture.


We must understand that such comments made by  Governor Ishihara as using the derogatory term “sankokujin” in referring to Chinese and Korean people, and President Bush, labeling Iran, Iraq and North Korea “an axis of evil,” are akin to disturbing a dog that’s eating or waking a sleeping nuclear armed lion, such as China. Such comments must be stopped dead in their tracks or we, the people, will pay the price.


Japanese citizens must understand that the American people will never offer the full sympathy and attention that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki deserve, as long as the Japanese government is denying the Nan king massacre. I have seen this many times personally, when discussing the bombings, the inevitable reply was, “What about Nanking?” Sometimes I feel the only way to wake the Japanese government out of its denial is to say, “How would you feel if someone is spreading the rumor that Hiroshima never happened?”


As I mentioned before, I don’t believe the current nuclear deadlock with North Korea will not be resolved,as long as the abduction issue is not resolved. Again, perhaps we should look at past for answers to the present. During the Adzuchi and Momoyama period artisans from the Korean peninsula were brought back to Japan, some against their will, and were not allowed to return home, as their great artistic skill resulted in a flourishing of Imari culture and profit in Japan. Again looking at World War II, we that many Korean and Chinese workers were brought to Japan against their will, and in addition some of them suffered the atomic bomb explosions.


Although the time and circumstances are different, we can see that there has been a history of abduction by Japan of Korean nationals, very similar to the situation we see today of the abduction of Japanese by Koreans, on the Korean Peninsula.


I say this not to deny the suffering of the families of the abductees, but to point out that there is indeed a history of Japan abducting Korean nationals to Japan, and that without this objective view of the past, the present issues will never be solved.


As we live here in Ishikawa, the closest point to the Korean Peninsula, I do feel that we have a mission to unify and bring peace to Asia, in that the “”flash points” of the world, the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Straits, where China and Taiwan are engaging in military maneuvers, are right in our backyard. Indeed, we have seen proof this in the siting last week of what is suspected to be a nuclear power submarine from China near Okinawa.


What can we do here in Ishikawa, the “porch” of Asia?


I feel that the “power of the people” is immense and that citizens should act on a grassroots level and get involved in the movement to heal the wounds of Japan’s world war II history.


The American Fellowship of Reconciliation in Washington held a press conference last month, exhibiting a display of 400 photographs of Americans exposed to the Iraq war. These people wanted to express their grief and shame for the war, and made banners written in both Arabic and English, expressing their sympathy for the Iraqi people.


Indeed, Sei Shonagon said herself in The Pillow Book, “sympathy is the most wonderful of all qualities.”


Next month we will hold an international forum addressing the nuclear problem on the Korean Peninsula and a seminar on Islamic and Central Asian culture, which I hope you will be able to attend.


In closing, I would like to leave you with a quote by Yuki Matsuda, a Hokkaido girls high school student, one of the winners of the 6th Shinpei Goto and Inazo Nitobe Memorial International Cooperation and Understanding Composition Contest: “Internationalization is not about buying imported products or learning to speak English. It is about caring for people in other countries, like yourself.”


I agree with her, and I would like to add “caring for people in other countries of the past and the future as well.”


Thank you very much for allowing me to share my perspectives and thoughts with you tonight.





皆さん、今夜はこちらの、 招きいただき、私のお話をさせて