Visit to Japan


18 May, 2010

When Rajmohan Gandhi, President of Initiatives of Change International, gave a public lecture in Tokyo last week on Japan’s role in the world, the choice of venue – the Ozaki Yukio Memorial Foundation – was highly symbolic.

Ozaki, a Member of the Diet for 63 years, was known as ‘the father of parliamentary government’. After Japan’s war with Russia (1904-1905), as Mayor of Tokyo he sent cherry trees to Washington, DC, expressing gratitude for the mediation of the US President. Visiting Europe after World War 1, he saw the devastation and became a pacifist, risking his life to oppose militarism in the build up to World War II. Following that War, his daughter, Yukika Sohma, played a key role in making historic apologies to The Philippines, Korea and other nations; and in her later years, founded an aid programme to assist refugees from Indo-China, her organization becoming a co-laureate with a network of civil society bodies awarded a Nobel Peace prize in 1997.

Gandhi began his lecture remembering Mrs Sohma as ‘one of the most unforgettable people I’ve met… Her love for Japan was combined with care for the whole world’. And that was both the starting point and the summation of Professor Gandhi’s lecture. While acknowledging the strains that Japanese are facing today from bursting of ‘the economic bubble’ and unprecedented national debt, Professor Gandhi challenged his audience of 230 to go beyond their own security concerns, cultural customs and comfort to enable their nation’s role in creating an Asian community in service of the world’s needs.

This message was repeated throughout the week in Japan, with Mrs Usha Gandhi, hosted by Japanese friends as part of the Gandhi’s current Voyage of dialogue and discovery on behalf of IofC International. The programme included meetings with politicians, ambassadors, media interviews and briefing the Foreign Correspondents Club, receptions and dinners, and the 33rd Annual conference of IofC Japan held at a resort on Miura Peninsula over 15-16 May.

Considering the ‘astounding examples of how this shattered nation restored itself’ after the War and the way some leaders reached out to former enemies with a ‘statesmanship of the humble heart’, combined with its economic miracle and technological excellence, and the graciousness and cultural strengths, how can any Japanese feel diffident about what Japan can give the world, Gandhi asked his audience at the Ozaki Yukio Lecture Hall.

On the first day of his visit, when received by Prime Minister Hatoyama, he had voiced support for the Prime Minister’s concept of an East-Asian community. But then Gandhi urged that it should extend beyond East Asia: a genuine Asia community, spanning as well all the countries in South-East Asia and the nations of South, Central and West Asia. Initiatives of Change has endeavoured to support such a vision, he asserted, ‘by creating a non-state, small-scale, multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-religious community where we know one another, care for another, are sensitive to one another’.

This was not the same as the pre-War ‘tragically-wrong desire’ of Japanese militarism to dominate Asia. It was an honourable desire to build an ‘independent Asian community… that shoulders the burdens of the planet alongside the West, in cooperation with the West and, where needed, assisting the West’. Referring to the pain he had witnessed in parts of Africa earlier in his’Voyage’, he said an imperative for any such community would be assisting Africa to address its problems.

Spelling out the principles for such an Asian community, Gandhi said it would be democratic throughout – ‘for without rights people cannot create community’. It would be free of any imposition of religious, sectarian views on anyone. It would work for the reduction of the nuclear danger. ‘Because of Japan’s unique experience of atomic bombs, you have a bounden duty to pursue nuclear disarmament,’ said Gandhi. ‘And when you address this issue, please shed your customary politeness and make your point in language we all can understand.’

It would be a community working for the peaceful resolution of disputes; and be ‘pro-poor, pro-weak and therefore, pro-women’.

It would work for clean air, like Tokyo’s. And it would place ‘need over greed, bread over bombs,’ he said. ‘About 30 years ago, the world learned that Communism and state control distort the economy and cannot produce wealth for all. But the last few years, the world has also learned that the pursuit of greed is as equally damaging to economies.’

Above all, he concluded, it would be a community motivated by conscience, listening to the Inner Voice. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi’s principle that ‘the only tyrant I will obey is the still small voice’, Professor Gandhi emphasized that in the Asian Community of his vision, ‘obedience to that voice would be accepted as a voluntary principle’.

Gandhi ended the hour long lecture (including translation by Fujiko Hara, a grand-daughter Ozaki Yukio) with a forthright challenge for Japanese to defy those voices which want to limit Japan’s leadership role because of its past, or with the accusation that wealth, culture and comfort undercut their understanding of the world. ‘A surgeon does not have to have a tumor to operate on one.’ And he urged his listeners not to fear the accusation of individualism, of taking initiative. ‘As long as your real interest is the happiness of your fellow humans, do not be afraid of the stage, of leadership.’

The response, at the lecture and everywhere, demonstrated a capacity to respond to such a challenge. After a 90-minute question time, hands were still shooting up. A similar lively dialogue continued after Gandhi’s talk at the IofC weekend conference. Reflecting a hunger that often seems obscured by Japanese cultural modesty, a student of Tokyo University asked; ‘As a young Japanese woman, how do I contribute to the world, to healing its pain? How can I listen to this invisible voice?’

Accompanied by Yukihisa Fujita, a Member of the Diet, and by Hironori Yano, President of IofC Japan, Mr & Mrs Gandhi encountered a similar desire at a very different level, during meetings with President of the House of Councillors Satsuki Eda and with former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. ‘We politicians cannot avoid thinking about security and defence,’ said 90 year-old Mr Nakasone. ‘But it is important for us in politics to have an agenda of making friends with our neighbours… in Asia, the Pacific, with Russia and the United States.’ He recounted his visit 60 years ago with a delegation of 75 Japanese to Caux, the IofC centre in Switzerland, saying that ‘having lived through War experiences in Japan, to be then surrounded by many people from all over the world practising the way of life envisaged by moral re-armament… had a very deep impact on my life.’ Then, with urgency he added: ‘And we need to convey that agenda to the coming generation.’