Letter From Mitaka
issue 231 - May 1992
Letter from Mitaka
Masaoki Hoshino shares his hopes and fears for his country.
You asked me about my expectations for Japan now we have the reputation as a great and prosperous nation. Let me start with my own experience.
I was born in Osaka during the Second World War - 1944 to be exact. My father was a high-ranking officer in the Imperial Japanese Army. He participated in the invasion of China. Our family line was Shizoku - direct descendants of Samurai warriors. By my father's time the Shizoku had transferred their loyalty to the imperial throne.
After that great tuming point in Japanese history, the Meiji Restoration (1868), this ethic of loyalty to the emperor was required of all Japanese citizens. Many Koreans and other Asians became his subjects as well by right of conquest. The imperial ethic even entered family life with the head of the patriarchal family becoming a little emperor. The Japanese family became the smallest unit of the emperor system.
I was born and raised in such a family. My father was proud of being a soldier and a descendent of the Samurai. But my grandmother was a Christian with a different set of values. The two sets of values tugged at my heart. When I was 13 my father passed away and we lost all our possessions to bankruptcy. I felt released from the traditional values of the Hoshino family and became a Christian.
But I found the emperor system alive and well even in the church. A minister was also expected to be a strong leader and was referred to by the honorific of Sensei, meaning teacher. I felt comfortable having a new little emperor to follow. But I began to see society and people in a different light. I entered a seminary and became a minister myself and in 1968 I got my own church in an isolated rural community.
The church had no congregation so I started working with the poor farmers, whose good humour and hope for the future I found infectious. But farmers were encouraged to leave their land and seek work with Japanese corporations in the city. There the imperial ethic of loyal obedience made the company emperor. Everyone danced to the tune of 'work hard to catch up with the West' and we succeeded.
But our agriculture wallowed in neglect. Many rural communities were in ruins. As the decade wore on the smiles on the faces of the young farmers that had greeted me when I first arrived in our community began to fade. Indeed there were no young or even middle-aged faces to be seen.
I sensed that as Japan lost its agriculture it would also lose its independence. For me agriculture and rural communities hold the original shape of Japanese cultural tradition and spirituality. The frightening speed of change caused an almost invisible frustration amongst the people - and not just in the countryside. The way we prepare our food, the pace of life, how we treat our families - there was no longer a firm foundation on which to stand.
I think we lost our identity as Japanese - and most of us didn't notice until it was too late. Loss of identity left a vacuum. The Government tried to fill it with a 'new patriotism'. The Ministry of Education set out to teach the new generation an uncritical love of nation and emperor. The far Right took heart at this and started their own campaign of emperor worship. Their parades of cars now snake through the streets of our cities with militants in military-style uniforms flying the controversial rising sun flag.
After the spurt of economic growth that started in the late 1960s fashionable new religious cults started popping up like rooms after a spring rain. They reflect the failure of traditional Japanese religion to meet the needs of young people. Kohuta-no-Kagaku ('The Science of Happiness') has gained millions of new adherents over the last couple of years. Kids in my country are subjected to intense competitive pressure. For them the present is hard, the future beyond their control.
I fear these unhealthy tendencies will come together to create a new type of fascism in our country. Sometimes I wonder if our great expansion in economic power isn't just a bubble. Our success and prosperity are hard to experience in everyday life. We work hard to make money for the company, but sometimes we wonder if there is anything to life besides work.
Many Japanese are starting to get pessimistic about the country's future. But a few of us think that now is the right time to abandon the dreams of economic supremacy and look to a new horizon for humanity and society. We feel that this is the path for realizing our Japaneseness. When we were poor and small we lost our joy and our identity because of our poverty; when we became rich and big we lost them because of our plenty. Now we must find a new balance to strike.
United Church Minister, Mitaka, Japan