Engaging the Japanese youth of today in development concerns

Source: Japan for Sustainability

Ms Sachiko Komiyama

This essay proposes five engagements for the youth of today, especially the youth in Japan, to take action in order to make the necessary changes in the following 10 years and commit to make the world better.

The five engagements are the necessity of shifting mindsets, reconsideration of competitive society, capitalism, and individualism, be healthy consumers, the importance of education, and promotion of new development approaches based on human security.

The necessity of shifting mindsets

First of all, it may be necessary to shift mindsets from a “quantitative-based sense of values” to a “qualitative-based sense of values.”

We, Japanese, sharply achieved economic development after the World War II, and today, Japan is considered as one of the developed countries. According to the 2009 Human Development Report, Japan’s Human Development Index (HDI) ranked 10th in 182 countries. This result illustrates that Japan achieved economic growth, delivered appropriate health care services, and provided considerably high education to Japanese people.

On the other hand, the Happy Planet Index (HPI) in 2009 showed that Japan ranked 75th, quite low compared to its HDI rank. Other countries that ranked lower in the HDI had higher HPI ranking, such as the Philippines which was ranked 14th in the HPI.

This survey made me ask why Japanese do not feel happy while having access to education, health care services, good public services, jobs, and sufficient incomes. On the other hand, Filipinos feel happier than Japanese even though the majority have difficulties in their access to education and health care services, and in obtaining enough income.

This contrasting mindset may be explained by a culture that focuses on people’s capacity to learn, whereby the culture is developed and is obtained by learning from other members in a society and by its dependence on the surrounding environment. According to Schultz and Lavenda (1990), culture is defined as “sets of learned behavior and ideas that human beings acquire as members of society.”

The happiness and satisfaction gained are not necessarily measured by the acquisition of material wealth and securing the comforts in life, but the quality of live lived.

Reconsideration of a competitive society, capitalism, and individualism

By accepting new ideas like competitive society, capitalism, and individualism, Japan is losing traditional values such as mutual cooperation and having a trust-based society. It may be useful to remember Japan’s traditional values.

After the Japanese post-war economic miracle, the majority of Japanese aspired and achieved to become middle class. However, by gradually shifting towards a competitive society and individualism, Japan slightly started to widen the economic gap among its citizens.

This change influenced the access to opportunities of education, jobs, and social services, and, at the same time, contributed to some loss of traditional Japanese values and ways of thinking such as mutual cooperation among neighbors, the value of a trust-based society, and importance of harmony.

When I visited East Timor in 2008 to monitor and evaluate several projects that Japanese NGOs implemented, the lifestyle of local people reminded me of the weakening of a Japanese tradition that values trust among its members.

In a fishery project in East Timor, fishermen were reluctant to record their daily profits in writing so that these can be equally distributed. The Japanese NGOs explained the importance of recording in written form to avoid any mistakes and injustice. However, the Timorese fishermen expressed that they did not need to record in writing because they trust their members and their leader.

While recording is indeed part of sound project management, this episode reminds me of the importance of trust.

Be healthy consumers

As consumers, we should be more aware of the products we consume and where they come from. This will contribute to stopping illegal business practices that promote human rights violations and extraction of natural resources that fuel conflicts.

Responsible international business sectors are asked to take appropriate action to minimize or stop the spread of illegal natural resources in markets. As well, we, consumers, also have to be always conscious of the origin of products that we buy and use in daily life. The simple truth is that there are no consumers where there are no sellers and vice versa.

In Japan today, we can find fair trade products much easier than before. However, the fair trade market in Japan is still quite small compared to Western countries. Therefore, we, consumers, also have to raise more awareness of the “quality” of products, apart from design, price, and function.

The importance of education

Education contributes to promoting the understanding of the relations among our countries, reminding us of the experiences of the past wars, and coexisting with people who have different cultures. The educational sector can considerably contribute creating the necessary changes to create a better world.

In Japan, the curriculum of primary and secondary schools officially included Education for International Understanding since 2002. It may be crucially important to study from childhood how Japan is related to other countries, especially the challenges in many developing countries such as poverty, hunger, conflicts, and environmental destruction. These are not just affairs of individual countries but are global concerns that involve developed countries such as Japan.

It is important to be aware that Japan needs to cooperate with the international community because our country extremely relies on imported products from all over the world. However, we may tend to be unconscious of this fact in our daily lives.

It is also important to teach the young generation the experiences of the World War II that Japan lived through. It seems that the Japanese memories of World War II are gradually fading. It has been more than 60 years after the war and Japanese who experienced the war are decreasing in numbers. Even though such memories are unfavorable and distressing, it is crucial that these memories are relayed to the next generation, as I believe that this is one of the useful measures to prevent possible new wars. I would like to keep in mind that nowadays my country, Japan, is free from threats of physical violence, in other words ‘at peace’, at the cost of people’s peace in other countries.

We, Japanese, should keep in mind that Japan was also responsible for many brutal acts as well as being victims of atomic bomb attacks during the World War II. Yet, there are controversial discussions about Japanese history textbooks for a long time because official textbooks tend to be focused on Japan being a victim of World War II, omitting or minimizing the cruel acts by the Japanese military in Asian countries. It is essential to adequately teach the youth the facts and experiences of the war.

Also, foreign residents in Japan are gradually increasing in the last decades. Today, it is not a rare case to see Japanese children in the same classroom with foreign students such as Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, and Brazilians. While foreign children make efforts to adapt to Japanese circumstances by learning the Japanese language and culture, Japanese children have lesser opportunities to learn the culture and language of their foreign classmates. It might be meaningful to official integrate a peer education system in the curriculum for Japanese and foreign schoolchildren.

Promotion of new approaches based on human security

The human security perspective makes it possible to improve the capacity to cope with global issues through collaborating with various stakeholders such as NGOs, private sectors, governmental institutions, and individuals.

Japan’s official development assistance (ODA) introduced Human Security since elaboration of the new ODA Charter, originally established in 1992. The objectives of Japan’s ODA “are to contribute to the peace and development of the international community and thereby to help ensure Japan’s own security and prosperity.” The last significant change of the Charter was implemented in 2003 and includes contribution to peace-building as one of the “new development challenges.”

Also, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) initiated new types of activities within the human security perspective. The first initiative is reinforcing partnership with NGOs. The relationship between Japanese government and NGOs has not been historically very favorable because of discrepancies of their policies and priorities on international cooperation; Japanese ODA has emphasized hardware aid, while Japanese NGOs has made priority to software aid. However, because of the recent trend of ODA policy from hardware aid to software aid, the Japanese government has begun to approach NGOs to find possibilities of collaboration with them.

In addition, since Japanese NGOs face shortage of resources, financial support from the government has become quite attractive for them. By promoting a close relationship with NGOs, ODA will benefit the current trend of shifting to software aid from hardware aid and in improving the awareness of Japanese citizens toward global issues and understanding of the importance of ODA.

There are also advantages for NGOs by approaching ODA. NGOs are not sufficiently recognized as a crucial presence in Japan’s society as Japanese citizens conventionally tend to consider meeting public interests as a responsibility of the government, not of NGOs. With NGOs collaborating with the government, this will help improve reliability and confidence on NGOs by Japanese citizens.

Finally, through promoting partnership of ODA and NGOs, positive impacts on international cooperation might be expected. Firstly, while ODA frequently tends to be used as political tools and for political interests, humanitarian assistance by NGOs will assist in broadening assistance and directly target directly grassroots communities where this will help vulnerable people. Secondly, governmental aid is based on requests by recipient governments, while NGOs do not require such requests from recipient governments to implement their activities. Therefore, NGOs can include areas that ODA cannot deal with because of political or foreign policy issues. Thirdly, Japan’s ODA is allowed to implement its activities only after completing peacekeeping operations, according to the ODA Charter. As a result, the timing to start peace-building operations through ODA is often delayed. On the other hand, as NGOs do not have such restrictions, they can contribute in supporting the smooth transition from peace-keeping to peace-building.

The second initiative is reinforcement of partnership with private sectors. Private sectors are now expected to contribute to Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a global movement. It is crucial to encourage private sectors to participate in international cooperation, not by pursuing their financial benefits but by contributing to the international community in terms of CSR. JICA established the Office for Private Sector Partnership in 2008 and is planning to collaborate with private sectors through improving the business environment, promoting private participation in infrastructure, and collaborating with CSR and businesses.

The third initiative is promoting linkages between the JICA volunteers program and other development projects. Traditionally, the JICA volunteers program is treated separately from other development projects, because volunteer work tends to be flexible. However, due to the human security emphasis, JICA is interrelating the top-down approach (technical corporation projects) with the bottom-up approach (volunteers program), so as to reach comprehensive grassroots support.

The last initiative is encouraging Japanese citizens to participate in international cooperation. JICA provides Japanese citizens in developing countries with the opportunity to realize their strengths. In fostering independent thought, assistance also allows recipients to return some of the knowledge gained, further reinforcing the value of their own abilities. JICA has many collaborative activities such as in-class activities, lectures on international cooperation program to classrooms by ex-volunteers, international cooperation-themed essay contests for junior and senior high school students, and development education study tours for the teachers program.

Using a holistic development perspective

Lastly, it is essential to analyze a development topic from various points of view by using a variety of sources to understand the issue holistically. It is important to know that a topic can be seen differently when observed from different angles.

The information that official institutions provide is often written from a national point of view which sometimes give less attention to the individual person. On the other hand, the information NGOs provide frequently focus on the rights and benefits for local people. Collecting and analyzing the information from both sides, in addition to the information from the outsiders, is important in understanding and responding to development concerns.

Ms Sachiko Komiyama is from Japan and is part of the student batch for SY2009-2010 of the Dual Campus Master of Arts Programme in International Peace Studies, Asia Leaders Programme at the University for Peace. Sachiko also holds a bachelor’s degree in Japanese Language and Culture from the University of Tsukuba.

Reprinted from Environmental Science for Social Change (http://essc.org.ph/content/view/424/163/)


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