Me with Ogawa-san in one of the juku classrooms.
I remember a discussion I had with Ogawa-san, my boss and the owner of the juku where I taught in Kokura. I wanted to understand the political situation that I had seen on the television – I wasn’t really sure I had understood, between my limited Japanese and the differences in the Japanese government (even though it has three branches like the United States – executive, judicial, legislative). He told me that one of the elected representatives was doing something that people didn’t like, but he seemed resigned to this. It occurred to me that the Japanese are relatively ‘new’ to the concept of democracy, having been a feudal society for centuries, and ruled by emperors and shoguns. I told Ogawa-san that if he didn’t like what the representative was doing, he should TELL him so – because that guy worked FOR Ogawa-san and the other people who had elected him.
At first Ogawa-san was shocked. Japanese people are very respectful, especially to those who have status. But then he realized what I was saying – the way his parents had lived under Emperor Hirohito, and which he had been born into, was not the way things were any more. Even though he had lived through the war and its aftermath, he still basically thought like a ‘traditional’ Japanese person.
This lag in empowerment was evident in a button I got from a woman protestor on the street. I’ve been to my share of protests – peace, anti-nuclear weapons, Central America, etc. – so I was interested in learning what the group of women were protesting. I can’t remember specifically what their agenda was that day, but it was something I probably would have participated in back home. I had a few buttons with me, and asked her if she’d like to trade her Japanese button for mine. She nodded yes. I asked her what it said – since I was effectively illiterate reading Kanji. Shukensha watashi she told me. I had to wait until I got home to look it up in my dictionary: I’m the boss. What an empowering message! Based on my discussion with Ogawa-san, it was a message that needed to be shared – because even the younger generation who had been born since the war, had parents like Ogawa-san who came from another era.