Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Japan's "self-containment"
NUMATA Sadaaki  / Special Advisor for CULCON, The Japan Foundation

July 5, 2010
In early June, at a symposium at Sophia University in Tokyo, I heard James Fallows say that there has been an unexpected degree of success in the Japan-US relations in the past 50 years, concluding his speech with this appeal to Japanese students, "Go out and see the rest of the world. Be comfortable with it."

This was in intriguing contrast to his article in the May 1989 edition of The Atlantic Monthly advocating that Japan should be "contained" because of its inability or unwillingness to restrain the one-sided and destructive expansion of its economic power. In fact, I asked him if the subsequent decline in Japan’s international profile suggests that the United States has contained Japan too successfully. His response was that Japan has been containing itself, in the sense of turning inward.

About a week later, at the 24th Plenary Session of CULCON (The Japan-U.S. Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange, comprised of representatives from the Japanese and US governments and from business, academia and other sectors of public life), the Japanese and U.S. panelists, including myself, agreed that a lot more needs to be done to enhance cultural and educational ties, which constitute an important underpinning of the Japan-U.S. alliance. The inward-looking mindset that persists in Japan, to the detriment of Japan's engagement with the world, is a cause for serious concern. It may be that Japan's "self-containment" may have gone too far.

A case in point is the sharp decline in the number of Japanese students on U.S. campuses. According to the Institute of Educational Institute in the U.S., the number dropped from its peak of 47,073 (9.8% of total foreign students in the U.S.) in 1997/98 to 29,764 (4.4% of total foreign students in the U.S.) in 2008/09. They have been eclipsed by the surge of students from India, China and South Korea.

In the course of the discussion, I heard the phrase "Isolation Paradise" (Paradaisu Sakoku) coined by Ms. Michi Kaifu, a business consultant based in Silicon Valley. She cautions that, if the Japanese kept on shunning the outside world and confining themselves within the peace and comfort of Japan, they could deprive themselves of information from the outside and thus lose their sense of balance.

But simply lamenting the lack of initiative or motivation on the part of the young would not bring about significant change. We need to think about some positive incentives to get them interested, for example, encouraging Japanese corporations to place greater emphasis on international experience or training for new recruits.

The CULCON panelists also emphasized the importance of sustaining the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. Now in its 23rd year, the programme has welcomed some 52,000 youths from the Unites States, Britain, Canada and other countries to help the teaching of English at primary, junior high, and high schools or assist the international exchange programmes of local governments all over Japan. Many of the 26,000 JET alumni from the Unites States are making active use of their Japanese experiences in federal and local governments, business, academia, law and other professions, and civil society organizations.

As a part of the screening process launched under the government led by the Democratic Party of Japan to cut wasteful government spending, the JET Programme came under the hatchet last May. The screeners seriously questioned the significance of the programme in terms solely of the cost-efficiency of its implementing body, CLAIR (Council of Local Authorities for International Relations). Their myopic conclusion to "review" the programme, based purely on domestic considerations, could seriously jeopardize this valuable pool of people who know Japan well and can become key players in Japan-U.S. cultural and civil society exchanges as well as in intellectual dialogue.
At a time of political change, international cultural and educational exchange programmes tend to be put on the backburner, because they do not produce immediate, tangible results that appeal to the voters in cost-benefit terms. It is important for both the government and non-government sectors to regard these programmes not as incurring "costs", but as "investment" for the future.

This investment should include encouraging Japanese youths to learn more about the challenges faced by the global community, such as global warming, nuclear proliferation, peace-building, poverty and infectious diseases. At the symposium in Tokyo, it was heartening to hear a number of students actively exploring ways in which they can contribute to the solution of these issues. Such youths will hold the key to freeing Japan from its self-containment and enabling it to engage proactively with the world.

The writer is a former ambassador to Canada, ambassador in charge of Okinawan affairs, and ambassador to Pakistan
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

沼田 貞昭 / 国際交流基金日米センター特別参与

2010年 7月 5日










一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟