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Mysterious Japan: A Diary

Back at the symposium, as the presentation and discussion of one paper followed another, the contrast between two different points of view became clearer and clearer.

The medical men, the sanitary engineers, and most of the economists spoke of sulphur monoxide released into the air, of oil sludge and chemical wastes discharged into the water, of asthma and respiratory diseases, and of various methods of eliminating or at least mitigating the effects of these and of other specific undesirable by-products of modern technology and economic growth. The political scientists, sociologists, and city planners spoke of human destiny and of the dark forces threatening man’s high cultural attainments with destruction. To discover and to thwart the ultimate causes of evil, some of them suggested that we explore the deeper meaning of such words as pollution and environmental destruction. Their speeches tended to be long and full of moral passion.

Thursday, March 12: At this morning’s session, the social scientists continued to denounce pollution. It was a great relief to have the more and more elaborately orchestrated variations of the same theme interrupted by Japanese and American legal experts who reported on their successes and failures in bringing action against polluters.

At lunch I was entertained by several younger Japanese economists with whom I have been working over a number of years on problems of common interest. Just three months ago, the first working meeting of the so-called joint Japan-American Input-Output Project was held in the United States; now we were able to bring information on the progress of both cooperating groups up to date.

At five o’clock the formal meetings came to an end with the adoption of a two-page resolution—an appeal to all inhabitants of this earth to unite in the fight against pollution. The wording of this statement—to be known as the Tokyo Resolution—runs, in part, as follows:

…Environmental disruption is increasingly being recognized as one of the major issues of our time. Man’s environment is global in character, and any disruption of it becomes a cause not only of physical disruption but also of social disorganization, psychological suffering and cultural derangement and has consequently a direct bearing on the welfare of people in all societies.

Environmental disruption is the direct outcome, in the developed as well as in the developing countries, of the twin processes of industrialization and urbanization with the attendant progress in technology.

It is, however, not a necessary outcome of such processes: modern societies with command of science and technology have the means of countering, containing and redressing the worsening trends of environmental disruption, although this may require substantial social, economic and institutional adjustments….

Above all, it is important that we urge the adoption in law of the principle that every person is entitled by right to the environment free of elements which infringe human health and well-being and the nature’s endowment, including its beauty, which shall be the heritage of the present to the future generations….

Thus the social scientists face a moral and intellectual challenge. It is their duty, in cooperation with natural scientists and technologists, to work first of all toward constructing adequate analytical frameworks for the studies mentioned above; and more specifically as immediate and practical actions….

Press photographers waiting in the hall from early morning poured in and marked the occasion with a blinding burst of flash bulbs.

On my previous visits to Japan, I always set aside an evening to see Bunraku, the ancient puppet plays, or the Noh plays, equally ancient dramas. This was the only evening I had free; it developed into a real theater party. I had invited John Nathan, a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard spending this year in Tokyo, who translates modern Japanese fiction and drama, to join me. John said Kensaburo e-a new star rising on the literary horizon from the left—would be with us.

e was pacing up and down in the lobby. Of slight build, his hair short cut, with dark-rimmed glasses and a neat business suit, he could have passed for an assistant manager of the hotel. As soon as introductions were over, he began to talk; the driving passion of a lively mind took over. e’s English is basic and not grammatical but understandable and, when it has to be, even subtle. He is fighting at present for the freedom and independence of Okinawa or rather of the Okinawans. He explained that up to the time of the Meiji restoration, one part of the island, whose cultural tradition predates even Japan’s, was governed by the Chinese, the other by the Shogun of Kiushu (the southern-most Japanese province). It became a Japanese colony after the New Empire won its first war of conquest against China. And thus began for the Okinawans a period of continuous exploitation. Their great national hero is a schoolteacher who led the opposition to the Japanese oppressor, was imprisoned, and died in a madhouse.

Under the American occupation, Okinawans had two layers of masters; and what Prime Minister Sato and President Nixon are quarreling about is who should have the sole right to exploit them. Oe is leading a one-man fight for the true liberation and independence of the island against both the Americans and the Japanese. He has written many articles and is about to publish a book on the subject.

Friday, March 13: Early in the morning our bags were loaded onto a bus and we began an unusual tour of outstanding “environmental destruction” sites. Not surprisingly, they turned out to be the sites of spectacular industrial developments. The journey started innocently enough along the smooth, modern elevated highway that led through the industrial suburbs. Innumerable modern factories with the usual shapes of windowless, low square boxes, lawns in front, parking lots behind, bear the familiar signs of Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, and other electronics trademarks. In fact, some of these firms also build giant turbines and heavy generators that successfully compete in world markets with the similar products of General Electric and Westinghouse.

We traversed one of the largest expanses of level land in Japan. The ascendancy of Edo, now Tokyo, is in part explained by the abundance of agricultural produce grown on this fertile plain. The road entered the hills, with terraces covered by hedgelike bushes of tea and orange groves, here and there a bent female figure with a hoe or a man guiding a small garden tractor. An Indian colleague sitting next to me asked where the water buffaloes were. These had vanished long ago. The thatched or many-tiered tile roofs of villages among clumps of pine trees made the whole landscape a color print by Hiroshige. As a matter of fact, we were more or less following the course of the famous Tokaido road that in ancient times connected Tokyo with Kyoto, and its inns and lively traffic were the favorite subject of that famous nineteenth-century artist.

The uniformed stewardess sitting in front next to the driver reached for the microphone (all Japan seems to be wired for sound) and burst into a Maika song.

Beyond the hills there is a stretch from which one should be able to see the white cone of Fujiama. However, the bus turned off to the left and descended toward the sea. Below, covered by a pall of smoke, was our first exhibit—the industrialized Fuji city. We stopped at a service station to pick up the leader of the local anti-pollution campaign. A librarian, he organized this protest several years before. After distributing a mimeographed anti-Kogai manifesto, he told us, as the bus rolled along, his sad tale.

During the last war US bombers flattened the munitions plant located near the town and burned the residential sections. After the war, the reconstructed Fuji city, with its proximity to Tokyo, its pleasant shore location, and the two streams of crystal-clear water coming down from the mountains, proved to be irresistibly attractive to industry, particularly to paper mills and chemical plants. We were about to see the result of this invasion.

As the bus entered the outskirts of the town, the atmosphere darkened visibly, a smell of sulphur penetrated even the closed windows of the bus, and some of us began to cough. Practically all vegetation had disappeared and the ground was bare and stony. Along the shore, where only fifteen years ago a famous pine grove stood, were tree trunks as bare as after a forest fire. Streams, rivers, and canals ran white or brown, metal blue or yellow, depending on what plants happened to discharge their waste into them. Thick foam dumped by the paper mills accumulated on the shores of rivers and floated in large chunks down the middle.

Thousands, even millions of tons of industrial debris were dumped, without any preliminary treatment, on this once verdant city. The teeming fishing grounds became almost devoid of life. The few specimens that survived were undersized and deformed. To reach their catch, the local fishermen had to sail for many miles along the shore or way out into the sea. Innumerable chimneys and a few gigantic smokestacks belch white, yellow, brown, and black smoke. Orange groves located on the downwind side of the surrounding hills are languishing or have died. The per capita income of this city of some 180 thousand inhabitants is very high, but its mortality rate is nearly twice as high as that of the surrounding country.

We stopped for a brief rest in front of a school on high ground at the edge of the city. Several other buses and taxis pulled up from behind and parked alongside; the organizers of the anti-pollution movement had brought some members and followers to give us an opportunity to hear what they had to say. Rings of people five or six layers deep formed around us. An impromptu interview or rather a bilateral dialogue—with the ever-present microphones—ensued.

Where do the managers of all these plants and their families live?”

Oh, their houses are high up or behind those distant hills.”

Why don’t you and your families move out as well?”

Because we can’t possibly afford commuting.”

How many people have formally joined the anti-pollution movement?”

Very few: workers and employees of these plants don’t dare to join because this could result in loss of jobs and persecution.”

I understand that these exchanges were reported next day in the Osaka papers. Whatever the scientific results of our symposium might be, this tour will certainly bolster the local fight against pollution. After the interview the schoolteacher asked me to be photographed with a group of anti-Kogai activists in front of the statue of a local benefactor, the founder of one of the large chemical plants. They called my attention to the fact that the front of his bronze coat was badly corroded by sulphur-bearing vapors. Before we entered the bus, our host attached white arm bands to our sleeves bearing anti-pollution slogans. Good luck to them.

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