To my nephew:
This spring you entered junior high school. Just before you graduated from elementary school, you visited the US with me.
It was your second trip abroad, though I know you cannot remember the first one, as you were only a year old.
During your first trip, we went up to the rooftop of the World Trade Center to see the bird’s eye view of New York City. Well, three months later, those great towers were destroyed. Since then we have been facing endless turbulence and conflict in the world.
On the other hand, your past 12 years have been happy and pleasant ones. You have grown up with love and decent care from your family. Not even for a minute, did you feel the threat of misery of poverty. I loved to see you running, swimming and occasionally quarreling with your siblings – all evidence of your vitality.
However, in those 12 years, we have witnessed countless tragedies in the world. We have seen the series of wars that followed 9/11 and the unemployment and serious distrust between rich and poor that followed the global financial crisis. Now, these struggles are becoming more and more tangled.
Someday in the future, you will leave the nest of your parents. I think this chaos will not yet be healed.
To my nephew: I sincerely hope that your future is a happy one. Of course, I wish for this happiness to be gifted to you as a result of your hard work and persistent spirit. However, it is also true that the future environment of our country and the world will influence your life, too.
During this unpredictable time, I would like to tell you several things.
I would like you to be a man who can make his own decisions based on his own views. Say “No” if you feel it is the right thing to do, even if everyone else is saying, “Yes”. Japan is traditionally a group-oriented society. People tend to follow the trends adopted by this group called society. Do not be easily swept along by the waves of society. Japan has bitterness in its history: a war founded on a hysterical wave called nationalism. This wave was originally created as a means to end a domestic economic crisis. When people start moving towards one direction – one that they see as a way out from their frustrations – do not ride on the same bus.
I would like you to be a man who can embrace the good side of our traditions. Please understand that all nations in the world have both positives and negatives in their heritage. It is like a coin. One side of the coin shows you the cultural beauty and sophistication inherited from past. On the other hand, on the flip side, we can see the dark convention and superstition to which people cling. I would like you to hone your judgment, so that you can identify what is positive and what is negative.
I would like you to be a man who can enjoy the differences among people. The world is complex and profound. Use your own eyes, but also learn from others, in order to see the world as it really is. Do not judge things instantaneously; taste things and try to discover what is going on behind the scenes. Be flexible and tolerant.
Get rid of any uniform thought. Be unique and love the uniqueness in people, instead of following like a duck only because it is the popular thing to do.
I would like you to be a man who has a strong sense of curiosity. I like a person who can be excited like a child. I like a person who likes traveling. I like a person who speaks vividly about what he or she has discovered. The reason I invited you to come with me to the US this winter is because I wanted you to experience the excitement of discovery and to encounter new things.
Do not stop long to find yourself. When you move you will find the way you like. Do not hesitate to know your own secret weakness; this weakness will teach you compassion for others. I would like you to be a man who can take time for other people. Stop by at the collection box to donate coins at the airport. Say something good with a smile to encourage the people you meet.
Education will create the society of the future.
However, it seems that the Japanese education system is broken and will not be easily fixed. Therefore, I would like to tell you what you will not learn in your school. The most important thing you need to learn is the concept of empathy. There is no textbook for this.
It is too early for you to know this, but more than 30,000 people commit suicide every year in our country. Why? It is because of depression. Depression happens when people feel loneliness, despair, isolation, economical frustration, or oppression from work, school or even their families.
It is sad to say, but when it happens, all we see are the commuters irritated by the train delay caused by somebody jumping onto the railroad tracks. People have lost their sense of community. And they are also losing the ability to feel the agony of others. I would hate to see grow up to be this kind of man.
I really do not know what Japan will look like when you are 40 years old.
Things are changing so fast. Traditional values and ethics are getting fuzzier day by day. As society changes in this turbulent economy, people’s frustrations grow. They are desperate to find any way out, even if it is not the best one. People have become impatient and easily manipulated by cheap solutions.
So there may be challenges. Be a man who can take the necessary risks to overcome these challenges.
I hope Japan will reform its educational system to address the needs of the future. I hope Japan will be an attractive country respected around the world – instead of a country where self-satisfaction or complacency, backed up by narrow-minded nationalism, has spread. And I hope Japan can be a country where people can live comfortably and safely. Unfortunately, we are far away from such an ideal goal. So I hope you will work hard towards these goals, as a citizen of this country. Although your impact may be small, it is always important to be a single good seed; each one is necessary to build the future.
We don’t have to follow the US or China or the so-called global trends. When you look at the world or society, look at things horizontally rather than vertically – as globalization requires people to network and communicate horizontally on an international scale. All we need to do is develop these skills. I know you do not remember, but imagine looking up at the World Trade Center from the bottom. All you could see was a tall building. This is a vertical view. However, when you went up to the rooftop, you could see a panorama of 360 degrees. This is the horizontal view. It is called objective, a wide and fair view. In truth, many Japanese are not good at seeing things this way. Maybe this is because Japan is an island and society has long been organized by hierarchy.
To my nephew: What I hope for you is also my hope for the future of Japanese society.
Keep in mind that what I say here includes many contradictions. For example, if you say your opinion clearly, you may break the beautiful Japanese tradition of valuing harmonious communication. If you have a global view, you may need to fight against your own society. Again, always remember it is like a coin that has two sides.
Have a big, strong stomach in order to digest such contradictions they way they are – instead of issuing blame and using said contradictions as an excuse for not moving forward.
I hope these words will inspire you to join the team shaping society for the next generation and to respect individual uniqueness and ways of thinking.
Good luck and be persistent when you fight!!