Awaji Conference Statement 2012

Awaji Conference Statement
13th Asia Pacific Forum, Awaji Conference Japan
Saturday, August 4, 2012

When looking at the hardship of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the rebuilding effort after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake was evidently exemplar and rapid. Yet, despite the far stiffer regulations of the bureaucracy as a whole back then and everyone from the governors on down calling for designation as a special economic zone, the powers refused to ruffle the integrity of the legal system by taking a one-country-two-systems approach. Moreover, it was OK to use state money to pay for restoration, but not to be creative with the rebuilding. The explanation was that, if you wanted to do something better, you had to do so with local money in Kobe. Well, there was no way that could be done. In the end, state money was used and everything was returned to the way it was -- pointless Ancien Régime. That was one side of the story back then.

Within that, however, Kobe had several pet projects in mind in which they wanted to do things anew rather than merely restore what was there before. One was a new urban center in the eastern end of the city, HAT Kobe. Today, it is a cluster of international institutes and think-tanks like JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency) and WHO (World Health Organization). If a world conference on disaster prevention is to be staged, then Kobe is the first choice. It bears great significance when the "Kobe Action Plan" or "Hyogo Action Plan" are named in talks at the United Nations.

Another project was Hyogo Performing Arts Center in Nishinomiya City. The hall often hosts performances conducted by Yutaka Sado, and is thought of as a place of recreation and relaxation by all residents.

Another one was this Awaji Yumebutai, as well as its main programs, the Awaji Conference and Asia Pacific Research Prize. In the 20th century, the Asian Pacific was sadly stained with the blood of war and, though, because of the vast differences, the region is looked at as divided rather than one, the Awaji Conference aims to make it a where cultures can interact, coexist and mutually enrich one another.

The Commemorative Lectures given this time were each wonderful in their own right. In his lecture, Masakazu Yamazaki took a global perspective of the various civilizations of mankind; what differed about Western civilization is that many small countries coexisted and rivaled one another; the pitch and catch between them acted as stimulus and toughened each of them. Modern Japan, amongst non-Western countries, accepted Western civilization on the belief that this interaction had toughened each Western country and played a pioneering role in the pitch and catch between cultures of the East and West.

Then, there is the fact that East Asia has suddenly risen to power. Though Japan may have seemed the sole leader from the Meiji Era until the 1960s or 70s, it has since been but one link in the chain of economic development within the "East Asia Miracle." In the words of the Ohira Administration, the "Pacific Rim" has progressed as a place of interaction. We are at the forefront of this coexistence between differing cultures where things of diverse nature and content are mixing it up. In that sense, we saw the launch of the Asia Pacific Forum in 2000 as a historical moment for mankind.

The report delivered by Dr. Komiyama was quite impressive. The double punch of a dwindling birthrate and aging population has made many Japanese fatalistically pessimistic. Yet, as he puts it, this longevity should be welcomed, as the dwindling birthrate can be overcome by using a little magic to reshape this pessimistic tendency into something more positive. Japan has already overcome its bouts with pollution and an energy crisis. In a world where the necessities of life, mobility and access to information abound, in a world at the saturation point where the industrially advanced nations have exhausted every means for expanding internal demand, you find Japan with a declining population. But, conversely, that would mean, by enhancing energy efficiency, a great portion of the energy demand can be covered even with natural energy. Because that is what is happening, Japan is basically a model to everyone else. It is a "developed country with problems." Hearing about the opportunitie Japan has given its unique situation and the international contributions it can make was encouraging.

In his report, Governor Ido explained how a mega solar power plant is to be built in an abandoned area of Awaji Island, which will basically convert it into a field and a pioneer region of the new energy sector. He also talked about a dual residence system with extended-stay farms where people can come and go between the city and countryside. Though the permanent population is destined to decline, their plan is to grow the transitory population.

Moreover, the steep rise in persons age 65 and over will come in about 10 years, after which it will increase at a more gradual rate, so now is a crucial moment. Here, the point that Dr. Komiyama emphasized was that elderly persons between 60 and 75 years of age and women must be effectively utilized as human resources.

Not much was discussed about overcoming Japan's falling birthrate, but this is a slightly disheartening subject common to us all. What I mean by this is that we were all led to believe that something would be done about the issue when the Democratic Party of Japan came to power in a change of political regimes 3 years ago. They did provide families with a child allowance, but that program was harshly criticized as pork barrel and doing nothing to resolve the problem. And, because of the financial straits the country was in, it was eventually withdrawn as a half-cooked measure. Rather than dole out money to people, they should have seized the opportunities presented by this change in government to fix the long-term and structural problems of the country by pursuing a course that would have created the social system and infrastructure for raising children. But, they didn't and so, because the feeling is that we missed an opportunity, not much was discussed about this issue.

Since the Meiji Era, modern Japan has directed its core efforts at catching up with the West via bureaucratic initiatives and centralized government. However, it looks like Japan does not know what to do now that it has caught up with the industrially advanced nations of the world. A vision for that kind of Japan can guide the nation and, with a consensus among the people, human resources can be developed. As was previously stated, the issue is to coexist with others in a way and style that Japan would find comfortable - something based on caring about one's community, respecting one another, independence for the people and the decentralization of power.

In Kumamoto, the love for one's hometown is very strong. The students of the Prefectural University of Kumamoto are involved in many, many activities tied to local communities. They regularly go to the Town of Nagomi where, together with residents and businesses in the nearby area, they are restoring abandoned land into working fields and paddies. Like Awaji, Kumamoto has a rich variety of foods, so to capitalize on this, the college students join hands with high school students to create new recipes, which they all enjoy together once a month.

That is simply wonderful. And, what must not be forgotten here is that projects like this are not just done for the local community but must be managed as forerunner projects on a national level. Moreover, a national level must be firmly understood in order to make the local community even better. Just thinking about the community from start to finish really changes nothing. After all, coexistence is key. Contributions that will truly improve communities are made by incorporating various trials from around the world and setting the bar high.

This was touched upon in today's discussions as well. What universal measures are there for the age of globalization? Dr. Isagai talked about a seminar on community revitalization that drew a crowd of 60 students. His attempt to incentivize students to visit communities, think for oneself and take action through this seminar is absolutely profound. In it, he lectures about concepts and theories. And, he uses a case method and has a platform. This platform architecture is not normally included at universities, so the fact that he is offering guidance is very interesting.

President Ietsugu gave a very interesting talk about developing human resources who can "compete on equal terms" in the global environment. These human resources are cosmopolitan people who have their own views, ambitions and challenging spirit, are versed in different values and cultures, and are skilled communicators. He also talked about what actually happens in their workplace and trial tie-ups between universities and businesses.

Japanese society as a whole has various problems. Every generation in time has had its problems, but Japan today is not forming mature people, as children are having trouble becoming independent from their parents. How can human resources who retain Japanese traits yet can fulfill a global role be developed? In that regards, there is a lot that young people should be doing and managing themselves. There is the issue of being mentally prepared and the issue of weaning oneself off protection, but one cannot interact on an international stage without knowing English or being computer-literate. Looked at inversely, having both of these skills means to have the basic tools for getting started.

As was pointed out, just having the proper tools is not enough; it is extremely important to have a feel for the world and know about different cultures and how the world works. The international community is constantly making rules. Rather than avoid joining in TPP talks with the excuse that we're late getting onboard and presuming that the others will always get the best of us, it is necessary to develop the human resources who can get involved and win the argument.

At the base of any technical skills are the liberal arts. The basis for cultivating skills as a person or developing one's richness as a human being is a person who is sensitive to the fact that life is precious. It is essential to have the foundations of a wonderful person. These tasks are multiple layers deep and complicated. Though Japanese education focuses on everyone learning just certain things out of fear that someone will drop out, it is not easy to speak English or use the internet, understand how the world works or acquire knowledge of the classics or a rich sense of humanity. This is requested to everyone, though not all can achieve it. Just those who are ambitious will be fine, so I wish education would focus on producing leaders or an elite class of people. Japan must not create a society where there are few or none elite or leaders who are bound by the spirit of noblesse oblige. This is not expected to everyone around the world. The West has quite a few people of questionable character. But, they also have strong leaders in positions of competence who are responsible and work hard; they do their jobs while moving about the world.

Given that kind of world, college education has been a major topic of this forum. The problem also begins in junior high and high school, but the question has been put forth of whether our college education system is good the way it is. In fact, do Japanese businesses really want global human resources? Of course, each individual company will have its own needs and policies, so everyone is not demanding a singular type of global human resource. In any case, on the whole, Japanese businesses are not effectively utilizing - for example - persons with overseas experience or foreign exchange students. Because they spent many years living amongst non-Japanese, foreign exchange students have friends for life who deeply understand one another. They have an opportunity to create a special kind of community. But, do Japanese organizations have the internal systems for utilizing the skills of those kinds of people when they return to Japan, or return from their overseas youth cooperation program, or manager-level foreign nationals who are willing to work in Japan? This is something that must be reexamined.

Before WWII, Japan had to overcome national crises in the Sino-Japanese War and Russo-Japanese War, just like in the novel "Saka no Ue no Kumo" (roughly translated as "Clouds Over the Slope"), and after the war, Japan enjoyed a long period of strong economic development. But, the point was raised that these past 20 years have been a reversal of their very success to the point that we have been misled. But, rather than grieve over that, we can turn the Great East Japan Earthquake into an opportunity; we have the chance to change. That chance is with us here in Awaji and how Japanese society develops leaders all across the nation. Much of the discussion here pointed not to an intolerant, self-righteous "Japan über alles," but Japan must go beyond that by interacting with many countries and with calm confidence and a good understanding of international standards.

This year's theme of "Japan's Future and the People to Build It" was a tremendously important subject and many of us feared that it would simply disintegrate in midair. However, once we gave it a shot, the discussions were more productive than years before owing to everyone's keen insight. Thanks to everyone's wonderful contributions, it was a rewarding forum.

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