“During the Meiji era (1868-1912), the Empire of Japan emerged as the most developed nation in Asia and as an industrialized world power that pursued military conflict to expand its sphere of influence. After victories in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905), Japan gained control of Taiwan, Korea and the southern half of Sakhalin. The Japanese population doubled from 35 million in 1873 to 70 million by 1935, with a significant shift to urbanization.”
Japan is a large island off the eastern coast of Asia, but very small in land mass compared to its neighbours, China and Russia. Yet, as noted in the Wikipedia quote above, Japan had grown so powerful that it defeated both China and Russia in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
One of the reasons the culture of Japan is so unique is because Japan has a huge population crammed into a relatively small land space. The Japanese culture stresses respect, restraint, cordiality, and hospitality. These are vital for the nation to function smoothly, because it is such a crowded space.
Most of you know that Japan became so militaristic and aggressive that the Japanese invaded the mighty United States of America in December of 1941, attacking the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Japan, an ally of Germany and Italy in World War II (1939-1945), ended up losing the war, and the Americans exacted an exaggerated revenge by dropping atomic bombs on two large Japanese cities — Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
On Saturday I was watching some games in the current European football competition, and I was struck by the celebrations of the Hungarian young people in their Budapest stadium and outside after Hungary held France, the reigning world champions, to a 1-1 draw. It was mostly young Hungarian men, but there were many young ladies participating in the festivities (just so Ya Ya doesn’t start complaining).
Japan came to my mind, because we in Bellze well know that our Belizean young men are the most explosive element of our population, and it is the most difficult of assignments to control them and direct them to whatever it is that will be of most benefit, not only for the nation, but also for themselves.
The United States became so liberal in our lifetime that the Americans began to send their young lady recruits to active combat overseas. I do not believe the Japanese ever messed with that, but I am willing to be corrected. The main point of the essay is that I know of no nation on earth which historically did such an outstanding job of training and focusing their young men as did Japan.
At the same time, that point emphasizes by contrast the terrible situation we Belizeans have in our country where our young men are concerned. Our young men do not have an enemy outside our borders: their chief activity is shooting and killing each other. How did this come to be?
If anyone passes my home walking a dog or dogs, I will know, because my neighbor’s dogs will start barking at those passing by. That barking is not necessarily altogether hostile: there is probably an attempt to establish an acquaintanceship in the barking. I will grant the barking is likely also competitive in motivation, in the nature of, ‘if you would like to do anything, I am here to kick your butt’.
I remember my young days, when the competitions young men were engaged in were in cricket, football, basketball, and so on. Government workers had to do the job on Saturday mornings, so cricket games, for example, would be commenced on Saturday afternoons after lunch. Sunday mornings were reserved for church services, so the cricket games would be completed on Sunday afternoons/evenings.
My sense as a child and young boy was that there was intense competition amongst the teams from the various city neighborhoods, but I never detected malice. I suppose there may have been disrespectful words from time to time, but the men, at the end of the day, held each other in respect, no matter their color or class or ethnicity.
I would normally hesitate to write such a column, fearing that I would be accused of nostalgia. Bottom line is, nevertheless, if what is the status quo amongst our young boys/men remains the status quo, we will never be able to build any kind of credible nation in Belize. The young men of any society are the defenders and warriors of that society against external enemies. Such was the case with the great Japan. Such is not the case with our feeble Belize.