[Photo: Edwin Pijpe]
[This article was first published in Catalonia Today magazine, November 2019.]
There are many surprises that foreigners in Japan will come across. One of the more notable ones relates to the idea of the future that is held by many Japanese people.
A Japanese University professor (whose name unfortunately escapes me) made the basic argument that:
For the future to be a real or immediate concern for Japanese, as something to aspire to or work towards, there would have to be major changes to the national mentality. This would mean that for future events to be more than some kind of remote or abstract possibility, Japan would need to do away with accepting “things as they are” and start imagining “things as they should be.”
He went on to explain that the idea of change would have to be embraced more, which would be contrary to the well-established mentality of “not upsetting the status quo.”
According to the Professor, this is a major reason why few Japanese people hardly have a picture of what justice is or can be. He argues that to hold this belief someone would first need to have a view of how “things can be,” ideally.
I would compare this with a principle that many in the Western world keep dear to their hearts. In the USA for example, “having your day in court” is seen as one of everyone’s fundamental human rights and is exercised often over very minor and trivial matters.
Commonly though, the only people who gain anything from these lengthy and expensive legal proceedings are the lawyers from both sides. Of course, some cases drag on for months and even years and the one left standing at the end of the battle is most likely to be whoever was the richer at the start.
Therefore, the so-called “justice system” provides a self-sustaining method of keeping a high demand for lawyers. This is surely wrong.
What is also equally unhealthy for a modern society is when many people hardly consider taking their own legitimate grievances to court to be settled.
It would be illogical to make the same mistakes as the US system, but there could be improvements in Japanese justice if a change in mentality happened.
I understand that in Japan it’s extremely rare to fight in court over a long period of time. An example would be the infamous Kabutoyama case, where after twenty years, a teacher was still unable to clear her name after an apparently baseless murder charge against her.
This is a sad but very relevant example of what can happen when authorities (who are generally held in high esteem by the public consider) themselves as untouchable. When someone believes that they are not accountable to anyone “below” and do not have to fully explain the reasons for their actions, then this is bound to produce extreme unfairness.
Change has been a central part of Japanese life over the last century. The rapid rise of commercialisation has been quietly absorbed into people’s everyday patterns but the aspirations of plenty of people there appear to go no further than being materialistic.
Where is any idealism?
Accepting “things as they are” while not thinking about “things as they should be” is against the better interests of most Japanese.
A wider view of the future which sees “things as they are” and also “things as they should be” could well mean a more just experience for those who deserve better. I mean this both in and out of court.
Footnote: an interesting comparison with Japn would be with the Aymara people who live in the Andes highlands of Bolivia, Peru and Chile. A metaphor for their concept of the future is that they are on a boat rowing backwards with the past in front of them and the future at their behind them. There is a kind of sense to this beacause none of us can see the future but we can “see” the past before us.