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As I See It... (13 June, 2006)

13 June, 2006

GeishaOn one occasion when West met East in Japan in 1903, the consequences were diverse, curious and unpredictable. Giacomo Puccini visited London in 1900, and was captivated by an original stage play by David Belasco, and made up his mind to turn it into an opera, which he eventually did. The story concerned a free-wheeling American naval lieutenant named Pinkerton, who becomes entangled with a geisha, named Cho-Cho-San, the doomed Madama Butterfly. It is a melodramatic story, culminating in the geisha’s dramatic suicide, caused by being abandoned by her lover Pinkerton. Puccini used all his genius and imagination to achieve spectacular effects of original eastern charm, and his characteristic skills to create the right Japanese ambiance, and composed his most magical music.

The action of the drama is set in the garden of a small house on the hillside of Nagasaki, overlooking the Bay. It will be remembered that Nagasaki was the second city of Japan on which an atomic bomb was dropped by the Americans in 1945.

After its eventual performance in Tokyo, the audiences were enthusiastic to know more about the wonderful West, whose artists could reproduce their land and people with such sympathy and éclat. And that’s how it all began.

A small and secluded, but highly volatile people, submerged in a completely oriental culture, suddenly acquiring a dangerous itch to play the Big Time! The Japanese soon developed a voracious appetite for all kinds of goodies from abroad. Then the enterprising entrepreneurs concluded : “Why should we not make such attractive consumer goods at home? We have the materials, all we need to do is learn the know how!” In no time at all everyone wanted everything from the West, and all eyes were turned on Europe.

Japanese artisans and craftsmen were set to work to imitate European goods of all imaginable verities. The Emperor desired particularly that the railways of the nation be brought up-to-date, with the rest of the modern world, and Japanese locomotives should be as sturdy, sound and good as British railway engines. The great handicap was that Japan possessed no steel of its own, and was therefore forced to import all its requirements from countries suspicious of Japan’s commercial ambitions. However, whatever they copied and produced locally was not expected to last very long. The policy was thus devised to produce items designed for short duration, and the industrialists evolved a highly lucrative economy in accordance with this policy. It was not long before Japan, by the 1930s captured markets world wide with ingenious, attractive, and cheap products. British, German and Dutch machinery was guaranteed to last a lifetime, but who wanted to wait that long to turn over profits?

The United States of America had adopted the time and labour saving revolutionary method of mass production on the assembly line, from the inspiring example of Henry Ford. In time, giant companies such as Mitsubishi and Toyota would come into being in Japan and challenge General Motors. It was written across the sky that the motor car, first driven by electric batteries, would one day convert to using petroleum for purposes of propulsion, and thus automobiles would largely be responsible for the destruction of humankind. I have a vision in which, as the world slowly collapses, the last re-conditioned Toyota being sold to a man gasping for a breath of polluted air.

There is a difference between patriotism and nationalism - the latter rakes of aggression and jingoism.

The Japanese are a martial race, and have invented and sent down the ages various species of the martial arts, such as karate, for example. This expertise became one ingredient of a concoction which with honour, chivalry, reverence and devotion, suffused the nature and inclinations of the Japanese people. You have only to study the manifestation of the Samurai to get the drift of my meaning. And nationalism, evolved into a cult, with the divine king at the top of the social structure, into what was called Shinto. The divine emperor was a deity to be worshipped with a frenzy which eventually was almost to lead into madness. To put it in a nutshell, this Shinto made some of the population, when the disastrous passion for warfare overwhelmed them, and turned them in to fanatics, almost squads of robots, which went to the extent of creating probably the first ‘suicide bombers’. For example, aeroplane pilots who deliberately crash into there selected targets.

It does not matter from which perspective you view history, the case for patriotism cannot be argued. It must simply be accepted. Japan has a great history, and worthy traditions, but its national pride was to dominate and disfigure all its other aspirations, and militarism was to distort all the graceful arts with its ugly stamp. The Japanese character was at the mercy of an idealism of negatives, and some historical observers opine that all the murderous and brutish acts committed by Japanese soldiers during the 1930s, in Japan’s expansionist incursions into China, Manchuria, and the peninsular of Korea, not to speak of their savage conduct during World War II in South East Asia, typifies the behavior patterns and excesses of a people in the iron grip of a deadly inferiority complex. This seemingly outrageous statement will easily be understood by those thinkers familiar with the ideas and theories of the notable Alfred Adler, (1870-1937), Austrian psychologist and psychiatrist, born in Vienna, and educated at Vienna University.

Japan today? After experiencing the two atomic bombs, the American occupation, and humbly accepting the MacArthur constitution, the proud nation has survived over fifty years of rebuilding itself to become among the first powerful nations of the world. In the field of electronics alone it is leading a dazzled world!

Why play coyly with the prohibitive Constitution, and agree to send “peace keeping missions” and “reconstruction teams” to uncomfortable and dangerous hot regions of the earth?

Japanese leaders should look back into their past with penitent hearts, and thank all the gods they believe in, for the high quality of life the people of Japan enjoy, without bothering to tempt providence...

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