Japan a developed and modern nation
By Mujahid Iqbal
Even after having lived in Kuwait for more than a decade, I have never felt that I was living far away from Pakistan. Since the past eight years, I have had the opportunity to publish the annual ‘Japan Magazine’ in cooperation with the Japanese Embassy in Kuwait. During this period, I always longed to visit Japan, but was precluded due to my preoccupations. A few months ago, the General Manager of the company I work for, Mr. Irfan Nagra, expressed his desire to visit Japan for business and leisure. Thinking that two would be company, I readily agreed. Due to the good oﬃces of Mr. Shinji Bantani, Cultural Attaché at the Embassy of Japan in Kuwait, visas were quickly obtained.
However, Mr. Nagra had to go to Pakistan for personal reasons. As it would have been diﬃcult for me to ﬁnd time later, I decided to go ahead with my scheduled visit. Therefore, I boarded an Etihad Airways ﬂight on May 24, to ﬂy to Tokyo via Abu Dhabi. After a long ﬂight, it was announced that we had reached our destination, and that we will be landing at Tokyo’s Narita International Airport. As luck would have it, our ﬂight landed in the Land of the Rising Sun at daybreak. The sun was peering from between the clouds, and the blue water of the ocean was shimmering. Gazing at this beautiful spectacle, my desire to visit Japan was fulﬁlled.
Mr. Arif Ali and Mr. Muhammad Aasim warmly welcomed me at the airport. Arif is a childhood friend, and is like a brother to me. When we entered professional life, he went to Japan, where he met and married a Japanese lady and started a business venture there. He requested me many times to come to Japan, but I could not arrive at a decision. I got an opportunity to come to Kuwait, but in spite of the distance that separated us, we stayed in touch with each other. Muhammad Aasim is Arif’s business partner; together, they run a pre-owned cars dealership.
Japan is an amazing country, leaving visitors from even developed countries, let alone developing nations, awestruck. When we left the airport, our car halted at a traﬃc signal. There, all of a sudden, my cell phone started emitting an alarm and the car started rocking. Arif explained that the alarm is an earthquake signal which, because of my cell phone’s roaming network service, had been activated.
Our car proceeded towards Ibaraki Prefecture, which is slightly more than an hour’s drive from Narita International Airport. Driving through the countryside, we could see paddy ﬁelds all around us, gently swaying in the wind. The beautiful houses, clean roads and calm environment had a soothing eﬀect on my mind. We reached Handi restaurant, and were welcomed by the owner and his staﬀ members. Piping hot rotis, naanparathas, kadhai chicken, raita and mutton dishes were laid out before us. It was afternoon by then, and we ate the delicacies on oﬀer heartily, ﬁnally washing it down with tea.
From there, we proceeded to Ibaraki, where Arif’s car yard is situated. He exports pre-owned cars and spare parts to a number of countries. He talked to his employees about the work they were engaged in, and after providing them directions, we left for Kawama. This is a residential area, where Muhammad Aasim’s house is situated. At the time of my visit, Aasim’s family was out of Japan, so my stay was arranged at his house. Both Arif and Aasim are very jovial and vivacious, due to which I never felt bored or lonely during my stay in Japan.
The Japanese are modest, polite, respectful and soft-spoken. Even the ‘global war against terrorism’ has not given birth to hatred and intolerance among the Japanese people. My amazement knew no bounds while roaming around in Tokyo, Mt. Fuji, Asakasa, Akhiabara, Skytree, Noda city, Chiba Prefecture and Odiaba. To understand the reasons behind Japan’s progress and development, it is necessary to know its history.
Situated far away from the historical and cultural capitals of the world, and unaware of the strides that humanity had taken in social development, Japan, for many long years, was untouched by the philosophy of Greece, the principles of governance of Babylon and Nineveh, the architecture of Egypt, the rule of law of Rome, the poetic tradition of Persia, and the spirituality of India. Scholars of social history are silent about developments on these fronts in Japan.
After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the United States of America in World War II and Japan’s humiliating defeat followed by the cultural and economic onslaught of the United States on Japan and the spread of corporate culture the world over, Japan should have been swamped by the cultural, moral and economic values espoused by the West. However, my surprise knew no bounds while roaming around the streets of ultra-modern Tokyo.
While foreign education systems and cultures wreaked havoc in many Asian communities, it also reduced them to become non-intellectuals and imitators. Why did all this not occur in Japan? Why is the global economy dominated by Japan? These questions frequently arouse in my mind during my stay in this country. Compared against any standard of progress, the Japanese people are a great nation. Even after losing a war and being occupied, how did Japan make such rapid progress?
The answer to this is to be found in the 214 years of Japan’s history between 1633 CE and 1853 CE. This period is called “Sakoku”, which means “period of national isolation”. This was the period during which European powers entered many countries under the pretext of trade or missionary activity and gradually established their rule over them. These European powers included Spain, the Netherlands, Portugal, England and France. Foreign traders ﬁrst entered Japan in 1604 CE. Traders from the Netherlands received permission to trade with Japan in 1609 CE. These traders revealed that Spain and Portugal planned to attack Japan. This was done to gain the conﬁdence of the Shogun, who was the de facto ruler of Japan.
However, because of this information, the Shogun restricted the permission granted to the Dutch traders and limited their activities to Nagasaki.
In 1613 CE, the British too were permitted to trade in Nagasaki. These traders indulged in missionary activities, converting simple Japanese folk to Christianity. It was because of this that 26 missionaries were hanged to death in Nagasaki in 1597 CE. Along with the British, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch traders too carried out missionary activities.
In 1633 CE, Japan imposed a ban on its nationals from travelling outside the country. Japanese nationals residing in foreign lands were barred from coming back to Japan in 1635 CE. Action was taken against Japanese nationals who had sworn allegiance to the Pope in Rome. In Shimabara, 30,000 Christians were killed. In 1641 CE, all ports trading with foreign countries were closed. Japan had decided to become completely self-reliant.
It was because of these turn of events that the Japanese became an independent and self-respecting people. They understood that an honorable existence is possible even when cut oﬀ from all contact with the outside world. In fact, this allowed them to preserve their values and culture unalloyed.
The Japanese brought more land under cultivation. Industries were set up, and ﬁsheries and salt manufacturing received a ﬁllip. Tokyo became a populous metropolis. During this period, the Japanese acquired two characteristics: industriousness and contentment. Bushido philosophy was born, which laid emphasis on loyalty, chivalry and honor. These values are to be found in the Japanese people to this day.
Loyalty is one of the core values of the Japanese people. Even today, those found guilty of treachery or disloyalty sever their ﬁngers and oﬀer them to their spouse, friend or employer. Someone found guilty of disloyalty to a party or group is given a dagger with which he stabs himself and commits suicide (hara-kiri/seppuku).
The Japanese are not conversant with English, nor do they follow the British system of education. In spite of this, Japanese universities are of the highest global standards. Only a few signboards can be found in English, which have appeared during the last two decades; it is the Japanese language that is overwhelmingly used. Japan has a large stake in global trade – the Japanese say that there is no house in the world that does not contain at least one article manufactured in Japan.
Looking at Tokyo city spread out before me from Tokyo’s Skytree, I thought: had Japan not undergone this 214 year-seclusion, it would have given birth to intellectuals subservient to the West, who would have guided it towards a path of development paved with the values of Western civilization, as a result of which the Japanese people would have been as humiliated and poor as other peoples who lost all that they possessed by blindly aping the West.