[GLOBAL EYE]Region needs cooperative spiritI have seen a survey on Japanese men’s choice of jobs they dream of; being head coach of a professional baseball team, a conductor of an orchestra, or a commander of the imperial fleet were among the top choices.
They are heroic jobs in which the holder exercises absolute power while making decisions and bearing ultimate responsibility. However, it is not certain whether these jobs are still admired by modern Japanese as symbols of masculinity today, when people are more individualistic than group-oriented and multilateral perspectives of the world with democratic values prevail.
Nowadays, the Japanese business community often use the term “The Last Samurai.” It is used to refer to a secret tactic, policy or person that can help Japan gain an edge in a field where the country has outstanding technology or has lost its dominance. In association with the resolute heroism of samurai from the past, the phrase also reminds Japanese of a sense of tragic and heroic determination. Even Hollywood has made a movie titled: “The Last Samurai,” starring Tom Cruise.
Why are such words and phrases with tragic tones so popular in the digital era of the 21st century?
The population is diminishing, and the growth of both China and Korea represent the overall stability and prosperity of Asia. An information communication revolution resulting from the advancement of information technology emphasizes the creativity of individuals. As American values collapse, anti-American sentiments are growing worldwide. Having been blessed with rapid economic growth by riding alongside the United States, Japan may have found itself at a crossroad where a decision is required to secure the kind of sustainable growth and stability it enjoyed in the last century.
“The Last Samurai”-style moves can also be found in recent Japanese politics: Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has dissolved the House of Representatives and shown an obsession with reforming the Japan Post. Mr. Koizumi is behaving like the last samurai of Japanese political reform.
His rise in popularity and approval rating after the dissolution of the House of Representatives might reflect hidden desires and obsessions of the Japanese, who had been lethargic during the last ten years, which are often referred to as the “lost decade” or the “wasted decade.” Of course, the desperate, do-or-die moves of Mr. Koizumi are welcome domestically, but that does not mean they are also positively accepted in international politics.
The far-rightist, conservative attitude and distorted understanding of history by Mr. Koizumi, who has visited the Yasukuni Shrine, are not befitting for the leader of Japan, which is the world’s second largest economy and hopes to have a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
This twisted historical perspective and behavior can be seen as an expression of someone with hegemonic ambitions, such as Okakura Kakuzo, who claimed during the days of militarism that “the Westerners had called Japan a civilized country since Japan began large-scale massacres in the battlefields of Manchuria.” Japan comes under the clause on war crimes defined by the Charter of the United Nations. The country was able to accomplish unprecedented economic prosperity after World War II, only because it pursued the image of a pacifist nation. Korean and other Asian neighbors were able to put away their tragic memories of the past and expand friendly relations with Japan because its citizens were peace-loving, unlike some extreme right-wing politicians.
At present, Asia is at a crossroad of taking a path to peace and prosperity, or falling back into a fight for hegemony and dissolution, similar to the Cold War era. The possibility of war between Taiwan and China has drastically decreased, and there are signs of a resolution of the tension and crisis on the Korean Peninsula. The region is full of the spirit of coexistence and cooperation. However, Cold War-era rigidity can overturn this spirit of cooperation at any time.
At this point, the role of Japan is very important, and cooperation and reconciliation with Korea, which shares its core values of democracy and a market economy, are essential. The fundamental cause of the division of the Korean Peninsula is deeply related to Japan’s past imperialism. By making a contribution to resolving the division of the Korean Peninsula, Japan can free itself from the burden of its war crimes and achieve reconciliation with Asia.
Japan can play an important role for the success of the upcoming six-party talks. The aesthetics of tragic but romantic determination, which Mr. Koizumi enjoys, are needed now. Mr. Koizumi has already displayed his resolution when he pursued the Tokyo-Pyongyang joint declaration.
Japan can pursue peace and prosperity, and achieve reconciliation and cooperation with the rest of Asia by making a decison for cooperation, not by fanning rightist trends and tearing its peace constitution to rags.
* The writer is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan