'Weak and flabby' Japan must go back to basics to overcome territorial violations
To let the world see weakness is to invite overt public insult, and the deep discomfort that brings.
Earlier this month, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak took a trip to Japanese-claimed Takeshima, and just five days later a group of activists from Hong Kong landed on Japanese-controlled Uotsuri Island in support of Chinese and Taiwanese claims to the Senkaku Islands. In the face of these brazen acts, it's futile to demand that the Japanese people "keep their cool." Even if cool heads prevailed, we are still left with some very serious challenges.
Japan's defeat in World War II came some 67 years ago. In the ensuing years, the post war generation worked to rebuild the country, and Japan now has one of the highest standards of living in the world. Japan, however, has lost a certain something, and we are only noticing the absence with this summer's events.
"Ah, that's what it is," I thought to myself recently as I sat in a small theater watching "Olo," the latest film by 77-year-old director Hisaya Iwasa. What I had suddenly understood was the specific challenge Japan and its people face -- whether they can contain their anger at our neighbors' territorial violations or not. I remembered something essential to this economic powerhouse of a nation, thanks to the film.
Olo is the name of the film's main character, a young Tibetan refugee born under the Chinese occupation who, with a true do-or-die attitude, flees over the Himalayas at the age of only 6. He is sent on his arduous journey by his parents, who want their son to be free of political oppression and be educated as a Tibetan.
At a town half-way through the journey, Olo is abandoned by his adult escort. He manages to survive by taking work as a dish-washer, and after six months he finally makes it to Dharamsala in northern India. Olo is now 10 years old. His story is a real one, using his actual name and his actual experiences, and Olo himself even appears in the film.
Iwasa's camera follows Olo as he leaves his homeland and ends up in a refugee village in a strange country, where he starts his education. Tracing Olo's journey, Iwasa also brings the Tibetan people and their efforts to hammer out a living into high relief. Olo, certain he will meet his family again someday, is determined to keep speaking the Tibetan language and keep practicing Tibetan Buddhism. Even when he's treated unfairly by people of other ethnicity and put under severe social pressure, Olo has the will to push this aside and, though he is poor, remains a radiant example of strength and nobility.
"There is no economic development in Tibet," a 36-year-old Tibetan from Dharamsala now living in Osaka is quoted as saying in the film brochure. "However, I believe we are developing our strength of spirit, even more than Japanese, than Americans, than Canadians, than Australians, and so on."
The man quoted in the brochure has a 5-year-old son. He put him into a Japanese nursery school for a while, but in the end sent his boy to live with his parents in Dharamsala. Why would he do such a thing?
"Japan is a developed country, and it has everything," the man said, adding that he sent his son to India "because I didn't want him to become a soft person. I wanted him to see first-hand the anguish Tibetan children experience."
So, people get "soft" if things are too easy for them. In that case, Japan has been reduced to pure flab.
"Olo" director Iwasa broke into the film business in 1959, when he was hired by Iwanami Film Studios. As an assistant to famed documentary maker and Minamata disease sufferer Noriaki Tsuchitomo, Iwasa had a hand in many films and often went on overseas research missions for television programs. "Olo" is his second feature film about Tibet.
Asked why he made a movie about Tibet, Iwasa replied, "About 16 years ago I met a Tibetan who simply refused to lie down for anybody, and that made him shine. His attitude reminded me of Japanese people when I was a child. When I was 10 years old, I felt that this country had been broken by defeat in the war, but maybe I'd like to meet my 10-year-old self again."
The March 11 disasters hit in 2011 while Iwasa was editing "Olo," and he once again felt that Japan was breaking.
What lies behind the Chinese and South Korean violations of Japanese territory? Is it something to do with those countries' domestic politics? Or was it due to the shakiness of the Japan-U.S. alliance or a lack of effort on Japanese constitutional reform or independent defense policy fronts? Perhaps it's the ruling Democratic Party of Japan's lack of coherent foreign policy that's to blame, or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' peace at any price stance.
There is at least some truth to all these reasons, but the overall situation can't be solved by politicians and bureaucrats sitting around a table arguing over policy. Rather, all us Japanese must learn from the Tibetan refugees. We must start again to respect the traditions of our forbearers and take back our hereditary lands. (By Takao Yamada, Expert Senior Writer)
August 20, 2012(Mainichi Japan)