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

Ushering in the Dawn – A Dialogue Between Japanese and Chinese Students
SHIBUSAWA Ken  / CEO, Shibusawa & Company

November 12, 2010
In the spring of 2005, Japan's prospects for joining the United Nations Security Council spurred protests in China, and anti-Japanese demonstrations drew as many as 10,000 students to Beijing. Recognizing that deeper mutual understanding was essential for breaking through this strained atmosphere, the Jing Forum was launched as an ambitious effort to develop a dialogue between Japanese and Chinese students. A group of students from Tokyo University stayed in Beijing for about a week to conduct their fieldwork. Workshops were held with students at Beijing University on the issues of national security, historical perception, economics and the environment. These discussions were developed further during a return visit to Japan by a group of Beijing University students and culminated in a final presentation.

That was five years ago. Relations between Japan and China seemed to have improved due to economic developments, until recently clouds began to gather again over the two countries following an incident that took place near the Senkaku Islands on September 7, when a Chinese fishing boat collided with two patrol vessels of the Japanese Coast Guard. While a number of bilateral events were canceled from fear of antagonistic reactions, the fifth Jing Forum was concluded as planned and I was present at the final presentation.

Participants to the Jing Forum appeared to have experienced various awakenings. In particular, Japanese students apparently found their engrained prejudices against the Chinese people disappear by spending time together and communicating with each other. Chinese students, on the other hand, brought with them an image of the Japanese as a polite people, and didn't seem to have experienced much of a perception gap. However, as part of their fieldwork for the economic disparity workshop, they participated in a soup-run at Chuo Park in Shinjuku, and many were impressed by the sight of homeless people patiently waiting in an orderly queue to receive food and offering words of gratitude when given their ration. Some were amazed when one homeless person came up to them and began asking questions on China-U.S. relations in flawless English. Coming to think of it, Japan is indeed a curious country where even such talented individuals are homeless.

Why are the Japanese so pessimistic? This was a topic that both sides found difficult to come to a mutual conclusion. A Japanese student said, "Japan has been in a recession ever since I was born 21 years ago". A Chinese student responded,"I would understand your despondency if you were facing the bad times now after having enjoyed the good times. But, if you have experienced only the bad times, how could you feel the gap between perception and reality?"It makes us realize that the sense of pessimism that permeates Japanese society today is not the fault of the younger generation, but comes from adults who lament the loss of the good times.

Another Chinese student pointed out that while values do not change, perception does. Her comment underscored a key difference between the two countries in regards to the one's perception of the world. China is is a society that is centrally controlled, yet is very large and ethnically diverse. Because of this environment, perhaps the Chinese people have an inclination to think that whatever they see or hear, is not necessary the entire picture. In contrast, the Japanese tend to believe that whatever they perceive is the whole truth. For example, it is common sense among the Chinese people that the mass media is state-controlled. Meanwhile, in Japan, although news reporting can be very narrowly focused, s, due to competition among themselves, viewers and listeners see them as reflecting the whole picture.

It is indeed important to try consciously to perceive things not only from a fixed angle, but from various angles as well. The same elephant looks very different, depending on whether you are looking at it from the front end or the back end. We can only begin to understand the entire picture by adopting various angles of perception. Perhaps the pessimism in Japanese society stems from seeing things only from a fixed angle. It is easy to regard the future as a straight line extrapolating from the present.. But that is unrealistic. The future arrives a cycle of waves, advancing and retreating.

We cannot be but pessimistic about Japan-China relations when viewed through the eyes of the media. However, seeing the real bilateral relationship through the Jing Forum allows us the comfort to be optimistic. To be sure, this is a program involving students that are the cream of the crop from elite universities in both countries, and does not reflect the views of the entire populace. Nevertheless, we should not forget that the dawn of every new day doesn't arrive from the entire sky but starts from a single bright spot on the dark horizon.

The writer is Chief Executive Officer of Shibusawa & Company, Inc. and Chairman of Commons Asset Management, nc
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渋澤 健 / シブサワ・アンド・カンパニー株式会社 代表取締役

2010年 11月 12日







(筆者はシブサワ・アンド・カンパニー株式会社 代表取締役、コモンズ投信株式会社 会長。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Ushering in the Dawn – A Dialogue Between Japanese and Chinese Students