POINT OF VIEW/ Genichiro Takahashi: The need to nurture a new mind

September 07, 2012

SPECIAL TO THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

I just read a book titled "Dokuritsu Kokka no Tsukurikata" (How to create an independent nation). The author, Kyohei Sakaguchi, actually created an independent nation last year in Kumamoto Prefecture and became its first prime minister.

Yes, really.

I can imagine a lot of people shaking their heads and wondering, "Is this Sakaguchi guy off his rocker or something?"

After 3/11, Sakaguchi became sick and tired of the Japanese government and the state of the nation's politics. Most people feeling similarly would think of ways to make their displeasure known to the government, but not Sakaguchi. He thought, "Why not create a much more decent country on my own?"

The question, though, was how.

There is the Montevideo Convention of 1933 that sets out the definition, rights and duties of statehood. Under the convention, the state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (1) a permanent population; (2) a defined territory; (3) a government; and (4) capacity to enter into relations with other states.

Sakaguchi found his answer in the Montevideo Convention. He built a "permanent population" around his Twitter account followers, claimed one of many virtually ownerless properties in Japan as his "territory," and set up a "government." As for "relations with other states," I understand that Sakaguchi visits foreign countries to conduct all sorts of "diplomacy" and is seriously considering applying for United Nations membership.

Moreover, Sakaguchi's nation even has a Constitution with just one article: Help people in need.

Is Sakaguchi really a complete looney? Come to think of it, didn't many young Japanese men aspire to build a new country 150 years ago? Think Sakamoto Ryoma (1836-1867), for one. There are plenty of TV costume dramas featuring him and others, and everyone applauds them. Was Ryoma batty? Well ... maybe.

ENTIRELY NEW JAPAN

The July issue of "Shiso Chizu Beta" (Philosophy map beta) magazine, of which Hiroki Azuma is editor in chief, carried a feature titled "Japan 2.0." The subject is "Japan as an entirely new country," and Azuma and others present their version of a new Japanese Constitution.

For decades, constitutional debates have revolved almost entirely around whether to preserve or amend the Constitution. But according to Azuma and company, there is a third option, which is to rewrite it from scratch. And to create a new Constitution is to imagine and create a new Japan.

The Constitution proposed by Azuma and company is full of stunning new ideas. For example, it gives resident aliens the same right as Japanese citizens to participate fully in politics. In an "open" society such as this, non-Japanese residents can become elected representatives of the Japanese people.

When Ryoma called for the creation of a "country without the 'bushi' (samurai) warrior class," most people had no idea what he was talking about. The samurai class had been so firmly entrenched for so long that people simply could not imagine a society without it.

To deal with today's changing world, what is most needed, according to Azuma, is a "new mind" capable of envisioning a "new world."

The website "Kogoyaku Nippon-koku Kenpo" (The Constitution in colloquial Japanese) is attracting a lot of attention nowadays. There, every article of the current Constitution has been "translated" into colloquial Japanese.

Take Article 21, for instance. The original version goes: "Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed."

And here is the "translated" version: "Hey, you're all free to get together, think and do your thing, and express your thoughts in books and whatever. It's your right to express yourself in whatever way you want, so keep at it."

See the difference? But both the original and the translation are saying the same thing. It goes to show that when the style of writing or speech is changed, it feels as if the underlying mentality has also changed.

The colloquial version of the Constitution feels a lot more "free" than the original. But more importantly, people who visit the website are posting their comments and suggestions, and the translation is modified in response to those posts instantly in real time. Perhaps this is one example of the "will of the general public" being reflected, which Azuma sees as a symbol of the revival of democracy.

"Minshu Kenpo no Sozo" (Creation of people's Constitution), a book published in 1970, describes a movement to create a Constitution amid a nationwide surge of the civil rights movement in the early Meiji Era (1868-1912).

The Itsukaichi Kenpo (Itsukaitchi Constitution), one of the drafts privately prepared at that time, and a Constitution drafted by Emori Ueki (1857-1892), contain articles that are not only far more radical in nature than the Meiji Constitution, but also even more progressive than the current Constitution. Perhaps these Meiji Era thinkers had a more liberal mind than we do now.

HOMEWORK LEFT UNDONE

Those who aspire to create a new country or Constitution have their sights focused on the future. But "Tokyo Purizon" (Tokyo prison), a novel by Mari Akasaka, suggests that one needs to crouch low, in a manner of speaking, in order to jump high in the future.

The story moves back and forth rapidly between the past and the present. The protagonist is a 16-year-old Japanese girl who went to live and study in a small American town 30 years ago. There is a scene where she has to take part in a school debate, the subject of which is the Tokyo war crimes tribunal--or more specifically, Emperor Hirohito's war responsibility. The girl is forced to confront issues that most Japanese pretend don't exist or have simply forgotten or chosen not to think about.

A "new mind" to usher in a "new era," of the sort that drove Ryoma and the young men who drafted a new Constitution in the Meiji Era was precisely what should have been nurtured in the immediate aftermath of World War II when society was being turned upside down and the Japanese people couldn't see their future. Nurturing such a new mind required taking a good, hard look at the "old mind" and putting it to rest for good, but the Japanese neglected to do that.

This is the reality the teenager in Akasaka's novel is forced to face. In order to acquire a new mind, the girl struggles to solve, single-handedly, the homework left undone by the previous generation.

But it's OK, kid. You aren't alone. All sorts of attempts are now being made everywhere to nurture a new mind.

* * *

Genichiro Takahashi is a novelist and professor at Meiji Gakuin University.

SPECIAL TO THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
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Genichiro Takahashi (Photo by Hiroki Nishida)

Genichiro Takahashi (Photo by Hiroki Nishida)

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  • Genichiro Takahashi (Photo by Hiroki Nishida)

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