Monday, August 2, 2010

Justice makes it to Japan

My good friend from Japan called me this evening to wish me well on my operation tomorrow, but our conversation meandered over many things. She knew I did not really want to think about the morning. So she carefully guided the conversation over to change, change for the better.

We talked about the upcoming 100th anniversary of Japan's annexation of Korea and what might the prime minister say. She expected a cabinet approved speech of measured apology. Another Murayama Statement it would become. Not enough for her, but significant to me. If true, then the Foreign Ministry would have two formulas to use to offer careful apologies.

The Japanese government repeats and adjusts the 1995 Murayama war apology for various situations. Last year’s apology to the American POWs was of this style. One twist, however, has been that the Japanese Ambassador to the US Fujisaki who delivered the apology has refused to put his words in writing. He even went so far as to write one former POW that the apology would remain oral and he would NOT provide a written statement. No wonder the Ambassador did not mention it as one of his accomplishments of 2009.

Is this insincerity or a fear of intimidation by Rightists and other Nationalists? Neither speaks well of Japan's democracy or support of humanitarian values.

My friend rationalized that Japan simply does not have enough practice with justice. She cited what she said was a very popular NHK rebroadcast of a PBS show on the theory and practice of justice with Harvard professor Michael Sandel. This phenomenon was mentioned in JapanRealTime (the must read blog on Japan).

She said his book Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? is the number one bestseller in Japan and that he will be touring there in late August (23-27). The fascination with this program, she believed, was the sign of a new, changing Japan. 

Everyone liked Sandal's question and answer style, which sounded to me similar to the traditional Socratic method used at all the American Ivies. That Japanese were receptive to this fairly confrontation method upturned many traditional Western assumptions about "the Japanese."

To my friend, the wide acceptance of this show and book indicated a Japan with kinder less authoritarian men and citizens willing to weigh different points of view. This was the new democracy of the new Japan. She found this all extremely exciting and hopeful.

I will think about this in a few weeks as I recover. Maybe the fad will be over by then.