Channelling Discontent for a Better Japan

The Internet is a great source for a second opinion. That much became obvious to me after publishing my piece, Progress is Powered by Dissatisfaction, on Japan Today. Though you can certainly read the piece in its entirety through the hyperlink above, the message of the entry itself is clear: although many Japanese people have evidently become dissatisfied with the status quo, little progress has been made in shaking up the establishment for the better.

The failure to change the establishment, however, isn’t because of a lack of effort. Here are a few comments I’ve selected from the feedback section below the original article.

“The Japanese as a nation are being thwarted by a tiny minority who run the country and have made a lot of personal wealth out of maintaining the status quo. Get rid of that system and Japan has a future. Until then – best to just wear a hard hat…If the triple disaster and subsequent governmental BS, lack of food safety controls, lack of information, blatently wrong/withheld information, exposure of children to insane levels of radiation, protectionism, lack of help and support, (I dont think I need to go on) hasnt been enough to galvanise the Japanese into a level of dissatisfaction where they are openly protesting and demanding change, then quite honestly, I dont know what will.” – Nicky Washida

Recently, some people new to JT have been shocked at the pessimistic postings from some of us who have been in Japan for a long time. I agree some people here are always seeing the glass half empty, but others are just telling you like it is. There is much to love about my adopted homeland, but some things just don’t make sense and it is a shame that, as Nicky said earlier, a tiny minority controls Japan and could care less what the public thinks or what would be best for the people of Japan.” – Godan

“I too love Japan but the last decade has been brutal & I too was hoping that 3/11 wud bring MUCH needed change to Japan, allow it to re-invent itself, but sadly looks like its going to be an excuse to mess things up even worse.” – GW

In other words, many see the establishment as “too strong” for to rise against. Government, bureaucracy and big business are all collaborating to keep themselves in power for as long as they can, and the regular people can simply do nothing about it. The so called “iron triangle” is too strong to break.

I refuse to believe that the common people are powerless against the strength of a select few. As individuals, perhaps. As a collective whole, we are not.

Take the Minamata disease as an example. In 1956, people in Minamata City began to suffer from the effects of mercury poisoning. Many began to experience muscle weakness, hearing damage, paralysis and were driven insane, among the many other horrid symptoms the mercury wreaked on their bodies. An excess of 1700 individuals died.

The source of the mercury was eventually traced back to contaminated seafood, which had been tainted by chemical waste dumped by the Chisso Corporation. For a number of years, Chisso continued to divert blame away from itself, funded research into alternative causes of the disease, hid information and provided token, insignificant payments as hush money to victims. The government turned a blind eye.

By 1959, people had enough. A delegation of Minamata community members were sent to Nagatacho to argue their case to the federal government. Others rioted inside the factory and gained the public’s sentiment for their cause. Class-action lawsuits were filed and many were growing fed up with the government’s inaction and the company’s refusal to take responsibility.

The cumulative results of all of the above worked to the victims’ benefit: 10 000 received financial compensation from Chisso Corporation (totalling more than $86 million) and the government formally placed the blame on Chisso Corporation for causing the deaths of the aforementioned. The common people prevailed against the minority ruling class.

The financial compensation received was hardly enough. But for Japan, a country with strong hierarchical structures, where subordinates almost never speak out against his/her superiors, the victory of the Minamata victims was unprecedented.

As Friedrich Engels so aptly puts it, “All history has been a history of class struggles between dominated classes at various stages of social development.” If history is as Engels says it is, then the cumulative result of class struggle can prove to be a powerful force in changing the very fabric of human society. Like the victims of the Minamata disease, the road to victory will be hard and long. Success is never guaranteed. But without struggling to dismantle the brick walls erected by those who want to keep you within it, you have a zero percent chance of ever getting out.

Nicky Washida wrote that “laboratory rats eventually learn that when you bang your head constantly against a brick wall, it hurts and nothing ever changes so why continue doing it?” Lab rats, however, work alone. Have you ever wondered how termites build nests soaring to heights in excess of thirty feet? Have you ever considered how wolves hunt prey much larger than themselves?

The answer to these questions is one and the same: teamwork. Without a collective effort and a general sense of discontent, nothing can be achieved. Channel that discontent into a single effort, however, and we could see positive change in Japan grander in scale than the reforms made post WWII.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is not a hope. It is a realistic goal.

[Edit: Responses to Reader Feedback]

Japan’s postwar economic miracle was the work of conservative bureaucratic and political elites. There was no movement from the masses, no class struggle – just the American occupation throwing some elites out of power but allowing other members of the pre-war elite to take their place. The establishment was changed, but not because of the dissatisfaction of the common people.

Here were a few sources of references (here, here, here  and here ) that I didn’t include in the entry above. Though struggles between elites led to much of the reform post-WWII, the working class had a hand in the formation of modern Japan.

The photo at the top of the article is neat, but does it have to do with the topic of the article?

Changed it. I do apologize about the nationalistic undertone it conveyed.

Save Japan from that pixelly header. Nothing screams weekend project like an mspaint logo/header.

Ouch. Thanks for the feedback. A new logo will be coming soon!

 

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