When the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake hit Japan, affected people lined up in an orderly fashion to wait their turn to receive supplies. Not a single riot occurred. This behavior was highly applauded by people around the world. This indicates that the spirit of bushido, which has long been passed down in Japanese society, is once again appreciated around the world. In the ongoing efforts of Japan and the Japanese people to expand their contributions to the international community, we need to rethink the identity of the Japanese people and hold an accurate view of the world and history.
1. Learn about the Japanese Spirit of Bushido Once Again!
Inazo Nitobe served as an under-secretary general of the League of Nations. This was not his only achievement. He also played an outstanding role in disseminating the concept of yamato-damashii, or the soul of Japan, throughout the world. In his book, “Bushido,” he described how the Japanese people live and think, which is embodied in the practice of bushido. Bushido places emphasis on righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, sincerity, and honor and includes the idea of noblesse oblige or the responsibilities associated with one’s social position, which, according to Nitobe, is commonly shared with the concept of chivalry in Europe. He also explained that the bushido philosophy, which places emphasis on loyalty rather than individualism and puts a higher priority on serving one’s master, nation, and society than on the individual, is superior to the Christian philosophy of the West. Nitobe’s “Bushido” does not convey the actual history and state of bushido in an entirely accurate manner, but it does describe the spirit of the Japanese people, yamato-damashii.
“Bushido does not place importance on knowledge, but rather on action.” This is the spirit of bushido, which exactly outlines the Japanese identity. In order for Japan and its people to play a part in today’s world, we should once again be learning about bushido.
2. Individuals Need an Accurate and Well-Grounded View of the World and History!
Through my experience of studying at Harvard Business School and discussions at the World Economic Forum, I have come to strongly feel that “the more internationally active we become, the more important our uniqueness becomes.” Uniqueness is something inherent that cannot be copied by anybody else. I think what is unique to us is … ourselves, that is, our “identity.”
Then, how is identity formed? My theory is this: identity is shaped by the place where you grew up, the land that you touched, the wind that you felt, and the landscapes that you have seen, as well as the conversations you have had at home and school. For me, this place is Tokai Village and Mito City in Ibaraki Prefecture. Elements that form an identity are: our worldview, or our awareness that Japan is part of the world, and our view of history, or our understanding of the present moment as one point on a continuum from past to future. As our worldview locates Japan physically in the world by way of the x- and y-axes (east-west for longitude and north-south for latitude), our view of history serves as the z-axis, defining the era of today.
It is important to have a healthy, unbiased view of history from the perspective explained above. For those who work in the international arena, you have more opportunities to express your views as a representative of the Japanese people. It is necessary for each of you to have a view of the world and its history as well as a view on Japan’s historical position in the world and to establish your identity as a Japanese person.
3. Continue to be a Country that Guarantees Freedom of Religion!
The Constitution of Japan guarantees freedom of religion. However, there is a place in Japan that is not easy for the prime minister to visit, even if he wants to. China and South Korea say, “Do not go there,” and every time the prime minister does visit, he is criticized. Even the United States, an ally of Japan, expresses its disappointment when the prime minister visits this place. This is a very strange state of affairs, any way you look at it.
Yasukuni Shrine commemorates loyalists of the Meiji Restoration and soldiers who died in the Boshin War as well as those who have died in wars involving Japan since Commodore Perry’s 1853 visit to the country. It is quite natural that the Prime Minister and Cabinet members, as leaders of the country, pay their respects at the shrine where those who died for Japan are honored. The right to visit places of worship of any kind, such as shrines, including Yasukuni Shrine, temples, churches, and mosques, should be guaranteed as part of religious freedom, which is a fundamental human right. These kinds of attempt to turn an emotional issue into a political issue should not be left unaddressed.