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Monday, March 26, 2012

JAPANESE PERSPECTIVES

Diversity, inclusiveness should be the key words for Japan after March 11


Special to The Japan Times

March will forever be a month to remember in Japan. Already a year has gone by since that awful 11th of March when the world erupted in all sorts of ways around us. Given all the terrible things that happened then and continue to haunt us now, what are the values that we need to hold most dear? What kind of mindset do we need to maintain so that we do not return unquestioningly back to the old ways of doing things — the same ways that lie under some of the crucial man-made problems that followed the natural disasters that hit us just over a year ago.

As I contemplate these things, the words that come to mind are diversity and inclusiveness. Diversity provides you with alternatives in times of crises. This was such an important part of the lesson we learned over the few weeks immediately following the earthquake and tsunami disasters in the Tohoku region.

It was thanks to the existence of small retailers and local grocery stores that had nothing to do with global supply chains that kept us going as daily products disappeared from the shelves of large supermarkets and convenience store chains. The inclusiveness that allows the large and the small to coexist makes the economy go round in times of strain.

Uniformity leads to vulnerability. Societies that cannot abide diversity will always fall prey to their own intolerance. Societies that exclude are by definition societies that close in on themselves. Such societies cannot give birth to anything. Such societies do not develop the capacity to reproduce. Such societies are doomed to wither away.

And yet, actual daily life as we live it seems increasingly intent on denying diversity and turning its back on inclusiveness. In fact, this is the thing that is most worrying about post-Fukushima Japan. Local governments up and down the country are reluctant to take on debris from the directly hit regions for fear of radioactive contamination. Cases have been reported of hotels and inns refusing to take bookings from Fukushima inhabitants. Most sadly of all, children have become involved in this disturbing trend. Evacuee youngsters from Fukushima have been told by their schoolmates to not come near because they carry the radioactive germ.

And of course it is not just nuclear panic that is driving intolerance and the denial of diversity. Nursing men and women from beyond the border are finding it well nigh impossible to enter the profession in this country because of tests and evaluations that so clearly indicate they are not welcome here. This kind of unwillingness to accept diversity is totally unacceptable. Stirrings of intolerance are evident in local government in Osaka, where administrators are being subjected to scrutiny that veers frighteningly close to freedom of speech violations.

All this brings to mind how different things once were. Way back in the Edo Period, most civilians lived in "nagaya"-type dwellings, which were what one might call single-story semidetached apartment blocks. Within those communities, diversity was infinite and inclusiveness was total. The clever, the stupid, the educated, the illiterate. All were there and all were equal. Everyone took part in everything. Everybody looked out for everybody else.

On a positioning map where the horizontal axis is inclusiveness and the vertical axis is diversity, clearly where you want to be is where the coordinates are high on both those two counts. That is a place to be treasured. On no account should we fall down into the opposite box where the count is low for both diversity and inclusiveness. Such are the values we should hold close in the post-Fukushima landscape.

Noriko Hama is an economist and professor of Doshisha University Graduate School of Business.


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