POINT OF VIEW / Genichiro Takahashi: The time for protest in Japan and the world is 'now'

January 15, 2012

Special to The Asahi Shimbun

A slim book, written by a man who turned 94 last year, is only 30 pages long. Published in France, the book has become a runaway bestseller. It has sold more than 2 million copies and been translated into many languages.

The author is Stephane Hessel, who joined the French Resistance during World War II and became a diplomat after the war. He was involved in drafting the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

The title of his book is "Indignez-vous" or "Time for Outrage" in English. It can be considered a "living will" of a surviving French Resistance fighter. The gist of Hessel's message to young people is as follows: "More than half a century ago, we fought injustice. In our present century, economic disparities and all forms of discrimination still continue to plague the world. I ask you, young people, not to think you are helpless. Don't give up. Please fight everything that is out there to ruin you. The future is yours to create."

Hessel's words are simple and perhaps even trite. It would be no surprise if young people dismissed them out of hand as "an old man's rambling." Yet, his words have shaken France (and the world). Why?

Akio Fujiwara, a journalist who visited Greece and observed its people who continued to strike even while the nation was mired in its worst economic crisis, wrote in the December issue of "Sekai" (The world) magazine: "They don't give a fig about what will become of their country. ... They are prolific and totally unreasonable."

Unable to understand their behavior, Fujiwara sought the opinion of Theo Angelopoulos.

Looking back on his own life, the 76-year-old film director noted: "Now is the worst time, even when compared with wartime. For a very long time, Western Europe, including Greece, believed it had achieved true prosperity. But suddenly, everyone realized it wasn't true. ... The problem is that finance has come to influence everything we've got--our politics, ethics and aesthetics. We must stop this. Let's open the door. That's the only solution."

"Opening the door" means changing our present lifestyle that puts economics above and before everything else.

I think the best and most substantial "opinion magazine" that came out last autumn was the autumn-winter issue of "Tsuhan Seikatsu," published by Cataloghouse Ltd. I'm sure many people's reaction will be, "Huh?" I know, it's only a mail order catalog. But when you look at its cover, you definitely start wondering about this magazine's true identity. The cover shows a map of Japan clustered with symbols denoting nuclear power plants, and it says in bold print: "A referendum on nuclear power generation. As soon as possible."

And the content is really quite something. The lead-off article is a full reprint of a feature story that ran 22 years ago. There, you can read about a group of women telling Naoto Kan, "Please make nuclear power generation the focus of the next election." The magazine's foresight is just too uncanny.

In a section designed to enlighten readers on the necessity of a referendum on nuclear power generation, Tetsunari Iida, executive director of the Institute of Sustainable Energy Policies, is among an impressive lineup of energy experts offering their opinions. Elsewhere, there are Taro Kono, a Lower House legislator, and Masashi Goto, a nuclear reactor designer, discussing the Fukushima disaster.

And that's not all. The magazine looks at "six issues that are beginning to fade into oblivion amid the media frenzy over the Great East Japan Earthquake and its aftermath." These "issues" range from the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to the so-called Akihabara massacre of June 2008.

Last, but certainly not least, there is even an interview with Takeji Muno, then 97-year-old journalist who could be dubbed "Japan's Stephane Hessel." You'd be tempted to call "Tsuhan Seikatsu" an opinion magazine, wouldn't you?

But you can't, really, for one very obvious reason: This is a mail order catalog. One of the items recommended in the autumn-winter issue is a rice cooker that uses gas instead of electricity. In the section featuring goods that should "keep people warm during winter in the post-nuclear-power-generation era," the magazine recommends specially designed curtains, made with three layers of fabric that trap air between them and minimize heat loss from the windows.

And in the "Made in Tohoku" section, the magazine offers an array of goods made in the Tohoku region, recommending them because of their fine quality, not because we should buy them out of pity for the people of Tohoku.

Opinion magazines mull over the future of the country of their publication (or the world) and offer blueprints. "Tsuhan Seikatsu" has its own philosophy and explains its stance, but I've begun to think that it is trying to offer something more. And my take is that what it is trying to offer is more than just "a lifestyle model."

Incidentally, a commercial TV station refused to run the magazine's TV commercial. Couldn't this be proof that "Tsuhan Seikatsu" has become the "toughest opinion magazine" in the country?

The 49th issue of "SIGHT," a quarterly magazine that claims to "read the world from a liberal standpoint," features a section titled "We believe we must change Japan if we are to stop nuclear power generation." The content couldn't be clearer.

Kenji Eda, a Lower House lawmaker, offers his insight on "politics and nuclear power generation"; Shigeaki Koga, a former senior industry ministry official, opines on "bureaucrats and nuclear power generation"; and musician Ryuichi Sakamoto, who felt acutely after the March disaster that "democracy has not yet matured in Japan," discusses "Japanese and nuclear power generation."

Because the section consists almost entirely of interviews, the comments of these people contain some rough edges. But in any case, this magazine, too, does not aim to be an "opinion magazine" as such.

The company that publishes "SIGHT" is a music magazine publisher. In style, "SIGHT" mimics rock 'n' roll and pop music magazines. It took a long time for colloquial Japanese to be incorporated into songs sung in Japanese, and for Japanese to be incorporated into the lyrics of American-born rock music.

In discussing politics and society, I think it's about time we got our "everyday words" back and replaced the words used in writing by academics and critics. I believe doing so is probably more important than the substance of what's discussed.

By the way, don't you think expressions like "Time for Outrage" and "Let's open the door" could be right out of any rock 'n' roll song?

* * *

Genichiro Takahashi is a novelist and professor at Meiji Gakuin University. His latest novel, "Koisuru Genpatsu" (A nuclear power plant in love), is now available in bookstores. "Hon no Jikan" (Time for reading), a public relations magazine, began running Takahashi's serial column titled "Kokumin no Kotoba" (Language of the people) in the December issue.

Special to The Asahi Shimbun
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Genichiro Takahashi (Photo by Yoshiyuki Suzuki)

Genichiro Takahashi (Photo by Yoshiyuki Suzuki)

  • Genichiro Takahashi (Photo by Yoshiyuki Suzuki)

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