Tue, 14 Nov 2000

A country needs attitude

The Asiaweek of Oct. 20, 2000 edition, the Hong Kong based weekly magazine, carried a conspicuous front cover titled Japan with Attitude, with the latter word being printed in eye-catching capitals. A subtitle read: Forget the politicians. A new generation is taking charge.

In taking note of the title on the cover, I began to wonder if any country, in this case Japan, should be dubbed to have attitude, would it be possible for a country not to have attitude? If so, what then is the requisite for a country to qualify as having attitude.

The feature article, coming from Jonathan Spraque and Murakami Mutsuko of Tokyo, was entitled: Japan's New Attitude, bearing a subtitle pointing to old-line politicians and business men who struggle to catch up with the times while asserting that a new society is emerging, in which the role of individual initiative rather than the outdated group-oriented attitude or behavior prevails.

The outstanding single feature revealed by the article is its reference the decline of the traditional corporate system, in which old values, dominated by an expectation of loyalty from the group, is being replaced by the new society establishing new values.

Now Japan must produce creative and imaginative individuals, who with the advance of information technology and of globalization must be able to cope with the concomitant challenges. According to a noted Japanese psychiatrist quoted in the article, for Japan to thrive in the global age, social and cultural development is as important as the economy. Evidently the tendency is not confined to mere changes in systems or institutions, but Japanese culture and individual mental attitudes.

A remarkable novelty discovered in the attitude among the Japanese youngsters today concerns the mental change, in that the mode of acting in groups in the pursuit of solutions now gives way to one of acting on their own initiative in an individual way.

There is increasing awareness of the constructive role of ordinary citizens, instead of the orthodox, dominant role of the bureaucracy, in the search for solutions to challenging problems affecting the society.

Then, in the search for the new identity befitting the Japan of tomorrow, it is recognized that educational reform constitutes the main vehicle to lead toward the realization of a new identity.

The old fashioned educational system, providing only memorization machines to produce apathetic and sheep-like attitudes among the young, instead of developing creative and imaginative thinkers, must be supplanted by an overhauled educational system to fulfill the new needs of skill and expertise befitting the era of globalization.

As for politics, interestingly it is the politics relating to NGO activities, to which the youngsters are increasingly getting attracted. The campaign for participation as volunteers in overseas programs under the auspices of UN agencies, such as building water works and erecting bridges, like in Kosovo and East Timor, has gained momentum among the young people of Japan.

So, such is the picture of Japan in a capsule dubbed "the new attitude".