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Japan Political Pulse: Embrace the peaceful message of 'The Analects of Confucius'

There are speculations that former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi may visit North Korea as a confidential envoy for the Japanese government. Koizumi, now 75, visited the country 15 years ago as prime minister.

However, Koizumi laughed away such rumors. When asked for his thoughts on the current international situation including North Korea, Koizumi said he wants to convey the message of "The Analects of Confucius" to U.S. President Donald Trump.

"Japan's moral sense is based on The Analects of Confucius. It says that even if you are not understood by others, you shouldn't get angry. Then you can become a person of virtue,'" he said.

"The essence of The Analects is 'sincerity and consideration' to others. When I went to China (while I was prime minister), I was asked to write a message, so I wrote down that phrase in front of (then) President Jiang Zemin," Koizumi said. "Even if you're criticized, you shouldn't get angry. Instead, accept the criticism as it is. This is the essence of Chinese classical philosophy for Japanese people."

"Trump's thoughts are far removed from the spirit of The Analects. He frequently criticizes others. I'd like to tell him he doesn't understand the meaning of the phrase, 'To remain free of anger when not recognized,'" he said.

On Sept. 17, 2002, Prime Minister Koizumi met with then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (now deceased) in Pyongyang. Five Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea then returned to Japan. Koizumi visited North Korea again in May 2004 while he was still in power, and opened the way to bring family members of abductees to Japan.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dined with three former prime ministers, Yoshiro Mori, Koizumi and Taro Aso, at a vacation villa owned by Nippon Foundation Chairman Yohei Sasakawa in Narusawa, Yamanashi Prefecture, on Aug. 15 this year. Weekly magazines including Shukan Shincho and Shukan Asahi published articles speculating that the incumbent and former prime ministers discussed a plan to send Koizumi to North Korea as a secret envoy during the meeting.

Sasakawa posted a photo showing the current and former prime ministers bursting into laughter on his blog. The Mainichi Shimbun also ran the photo on Aug. 25.

Koizumi categorically denied that he was asked to visit North Korea as a confidential envoy. He also said he could not remember why he and the three others laughed.

"I forgot. It was the first time for me to be in a photo roaring with laughter like that. But I can't remember why I laughed. I'm growing old," he said. "What I remember is that we ate sushi and talked about the period when (the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's) intraparty factions flourished."

Koizumi denied even having talked about North Korea during the dinner meeting.

Regarding news reports speculating that Koizumi and the three others talked about a possible visit by Koizumi to North Korea, Koizumi said, "These reports are all baseless. If Japan were supposed to deal with the father (Kim Jong Il), we might have talked about such an idea, but I don't know (Kim Jong Un)."

Japan-North Korea talks have effectively been stalled. In December 2011, Kim Jong Un took over the reins of government after his father Kim Jong Il passed away. North Korea has continued provocative acts, including its nuclear and missile development. Japan has responded to the rising tensions by strengthening its alliance with the United States and increasing budget allocations for the missile defense program.

The Analects of Confucius is a record of dialogue between Chinese philosopher Confucius, who lived around 500 B.C., and his leading disciple, and was completed during the Later Han dynasty from the first to third centuries. It was introduced to Japan sometime around the fifth century via the Korean Peninsula.

Following the Age of Exploration in the 15th to 17th centuries, The Analects of Confucius influenced Enlightenment in Western Europe in the 18th century. The statue of Confucius is embedded into the wall of the U.S. Supreme Court along with those of the prophet Moses and Athenian lawmaker Solon.

The phrase, "To remain free of anger when not recognized," is not a local, old-fashioned idea in Japan but is undoubtedly an axiom that encourages international dialogue in the 21st century. (By Takao Yamada, Special Senior Writer)

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