The process of rebuilding from the disaster of March 11 has the potential to become a turning point in Japanese history and the first step toward a new kind of civilization. Kondō Seiichi, commissioner of the Agency for Cultural Affairs, calls on young people from around the world to join Japan as it works to build a new future.
For the first time in a long while, Japan is buzzing. Vital issues are being debated and original ideas put into practice almost daily as Japan embarks on a massive project to rebuild communities across the ravaged Tōhoku region. I believe that we are witnessing the first stirrings of a major paradigm shift in human history. A new kind of civilization is being born—one in which added value is produced by cultural and creative industries that do not consume large amounts of natural resources; a civilization whose prosperity and security is built on a close and sustainable coexistence with nature. Young people of the world: come to Japan, experience this historic moment for yourselves, participate in the debates, and join with us as we take practical steps to rebuild!
3/11: The Catastrophe That Broke Through the Impasse
The idea that change is necessary is in itself nothing new. Following the publication of the Club of Rome’s Limits to Growth study in 1972, the late twentieth century saw repeated proposals calling for a shift away from materialism and excessive dependence on economic growth. But in reality, nothing changed. To this day, our fixation with improving the material prosperity of our daily lives continues to cause conflicts over resources, escalating oil prices, and instability in financial markets.
Why has change proved so elusive? The reason is that everywhere you look around the globe politics, the financial world, and academia are still dominated on all levels by the same individuals and organizations who built the systems in the first place and therefore have a vested interest in their survival. Such people are not in a position to change anything, even though they may understand intellectually that things cannot continue the way they are. Citizens in prosperous societies have a vested interest in ensuring the survival of the system that guarantees their own prosperity. This makes it extremely unlikely that such societies will produce idealistic leaders with the strength and determination to shatter the mold and bring about meaningful change. People look out egotistically for their own interests, and as a result everyone ends up losing. Call it the irony of democracy.
It took a disaster on this scale to break through the impasse and resolve the conflict between ideals and reality. Images of the devastating tsunami served as a violent wakeup call. People realized: “Something is wrong. We can’t go on like this.” There have been major disasters in the past, of course—the Kobe earthquake of 1995 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to name just two—but in the end neither of these events led to major change. This time is different, for two main reasons.
The first is the behavior of people in the disaster areas, which has demonstrated beyond any doubt that the interests of the whole community are best served when people transcend their own egos and work to help each other. The second reason is the undeniable reality of the electricity situation. The nuclear crisis in Fukushima has led to a serious shortfall in the electricity supply. People in Tokyo and surrounding areas were faced with a stark choice: make far-reaching changes to their lifestyles or risk the possibility that the city would fail to get through the peak period of demand for electricity this summer. The result of this realization was not an exodus from Tokyo but a mass movement to conserve electricity and switch to more energy-efficient appliances.
Individuals and Companies Take the Initiative
The promptest responses to this new tendency have come not from the government or academia but from individuals and companies. Companies have increased the volume of LEDs they are producing, are working to develop and boost the production of high-performance batteries for electric cars, and are making progress with new technology and facilities for solar and wind power. Many of these measures have been technically possible for some time but until recently were regarded as unfeasible for economic reasons. Vast amounts of financial and human capital are being poured into these areas today, with valuable support from Japan’s cutting-edge technology. There is talk of inviting international artists to come and live in Japan to lend their flair and sensibility as the country builds a new future. The idea is to combine the strengths of Japan’s technological expertise with refined culture from Japan and around the world.
This time, I believe, we will see true change. Young people of the world—come and share in this exciting moment of transformation! I exhort students, young academics, and artists from around the world to come to Japan and share in this historic moment. Do not allow overreactions to the situation in Fukushima put you off. Japan needs your talents and wisdom. On June 25, the Reconstruction Design Council submitted a report to Prime Minister Kan with the title “Towards Reconstruction: Hope beyond the Disaster.” One of key ideas of the report is that reconstruction should be open and international in character (see chapter four, “Open Reconstruction”). (Written on July 4, 2011.)
In This Series
Cultural Perspectives on Disaster and Recovery
We Are Not Godzilla! Japan’s High School Students Come Together in Fukushima (August 5)
Young People of the World, Come to Japan! (July 4)
Time for the Japanese to Tap Their Latent Strength (May 10)
Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1946. Joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1972. Served as director general of the Public Diplomacy Department, as ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) from 2006 to 2008, and as ambassador to Denmark from 2008. Commissioner for Cultural Affairs since July 2010.