I have found that I and people I know are increasingly working longer and longer hours. And this with ever increasing demands on the job, as the demands for perfection increase, and the support to achieve it decreases. Especially the large organisations in which we are working appear as despotic, in that one has no say over what happens or what might happen, but instead is faced with a stream of orders and new demands being delivered constantly, yet randomly, through the impersonal medium of email. There is no discussing with this new invisible master - often the sender is not even a person with whom you can engage in conversation, but some impersonal departmental (i.e do-not-reply) email address. Then one finds that travel to anywhere is time consuming, and extremely stressful, as conditions are crowded and arrival on time is far less than certain - whether it be by train or car. With people arriving home late, exhausted we must prepare meals, often reply to a few still-unanswered work emails. All of which leaves us little spare time - and in such a state of mental exhaustion that we could not enjoy it anyway. Necessarily our weekends are often consumed with the other chores of life, maintaining houses, shopping, and preparing food and clothing for the next hectic week. This sad condition of modern people led me to reflect as to how we got into this state, and what has changed to make modern life so difficult. I wondered how we used to cope, and I recall as a child how the weekends were quiet, the shops were closed after midday Saturday, and there was hardly any traffic. Now, the busiest traffic times are on weekends, as is the busiest trading. And a major reason, I think is the fact that now both partners work, there is no-one with time to do shopping in the day, prepare meals for 6.00 pm (we often eat much later, even if we feed the children earlier, either my wife or I may find it is 9.00 pm before we have time for dinner). So why is modern life so crazy?
Chesterton, it appears, is someone who also reflected on and addressed many of our modern problems - that fact that he did this 100 years ago seems to make little difference to the relevance of what he had to say in his book What is Wrong with the World. Not suprisingly the issue of gender roles is one he addresses at length. But what is surprising, and in a sense enlightening, is that he argues that the traditional roles of men and women were not established to trap women, but rather to free them from the madness of industrial society. According to Chesterton, the gender arrangements in early industralism insulated women from the commercial pressures of having to be competitive at work - which Chesterton argues makes one a 'monomaniac'; necessarily too-focussed on work and its demands for specialisation to become a complete person. The traditional arrangements, Chesterton argues, were to keep some part of humanity free from these inhuman demands. To allow at least one half of humanity to be whole people, to allow them to develop as complete, to become good at many useful things rather than an expert at mostly one thing. To allow them to focus on and contemplate the broader issues and tasks that are so necessary to a sane and on-going human existence. This half of humanity, to be spared from the inhumanity of industrialism was, women. He explains this division was made because the natural role of women in relation to birth and child-rearing, but they need not be child-rearers to benefit from these freedoms. I guess with the freedom also came the ability to pursue study and careers if they wished - certainly many women did - C.S Lewis's mother was a Mathematics university graduate in the 1800's and Dr Maria Montessori a science graduate not long after that, and I am sure there were many others. Clearly they could also have careers if they chose; Florence Nightingale is an example here. Maybe this education and these roles were harder to get, but when you consider that they were up against people - mostly men - whose livelihood depended on them succeeding and devoting their all in the narrow specialisations demanded for most jobs, then it is perhaps no surprise that such positions were hotly contested and no more so by those who had the most to lose or gain from them i.e men who desperately needed a way to earn a living.
So then we come to the criticism of this 'patriarchal system' we are presented with the image of the despotic man, who because he is the breadwinner (and perhaps also because he himself is fully aware of his suffering from the absence of any real freedom, having to subject himself to the demands of an employer for the working week) demands that he has more rights and privileges in the household. Now there are at least two ways to see this: one as though the system is wrong and two, as though the man is wrong. The modern argument seems to commonly be that the system is wrong - that we should grant women equal power and opportunity. But this comes with two great risks. The first is that women lose their protection from the commercial world and are now subjected to the same evil forces of competition that men are. Secondly, there is an assumption that some, perhaps many, will not succumb to the same demand of special rights and privileges as men were accused of doing: becoming equal despots with the worst of men. Such a situation is rife for conflict with each party demanding special privileges and rights (i.e rights to disregard the rights of others) as a result of their sacrifices and as due their power and authority. And this is leaving aside all the problems that arise when humanity loses its generalist and all the benefits that came with this - more on this later perhaps.
The other view is that there is nothing wrong with the general family system, but rather there is something wrong with some individual men. Good men, endowed with such authority and whatever power comes from being the breadwinner, should endure the associated suffering with tolerance and kindness and not seek to be overbearing but rather be generous and as kindly as possible under the circumstances. Development of such magnanimity requires a good raising of boys to understand their roles, responsibilities and passing on the ideal of a 'good man' as having these attributes.
Unfortunately, with women and men now desperately caught in the worldly competitive fray that sucks nearly all their energy, thought and time, it is unlikely that many men, or women, will be taught and developed in such a way. So it seems we all degenerate into dog-eat-dog competitiveness and bickering over who has what rights and privileges. The situation is complicated by the fact that despite modern developments in the workplace, the old role expectations are still in place. Even though you may say that men can help with the housework, and perhaps even be stay-at-home dads, men still feel the expectation that if it comes to the crunch, they are the ones who must provide an income, so they carry the stress and burden of having to be on top of their game, as well as doing new chores that traditionally men did not. Even if ostensibly a man is a stay-at-home-dad if anything happens to their wife's position they must return to work, and that with the added difficulty of having been out of the workplace for a period. On the women's side, they appear to still feel the traditional obligation to maintain certain standards around the household, on top of their new duties. So on both sides there persist these stresses that are likely to lead to senses of injustice and the potential break out of arguments.
On top of this are all the additional modern stressors I mentioned above. Traditionally men had to give their all to their jobs for 8 - 10 hours a day maybe 5 and a half days a week. But at least back then the work stopped after hours. And married men didn't need to also shop for food, cook their own meals, clean the house, etc (just as many married women did not need to work in commercial ventures). Now the demands of work are increasingly, all day everyday, with many people working 60 hours or more, and that is not counting time spent answering emails after hours or contemplating work problems during the night or on weekends. Add to this the enormous amounts of time many spend travelling - another modern phenomena - and a significant stress for men and women.
I am sorry but I do not have any solutions to these problems, I can merely state the situation as it appears to me. But I can summarise this situation as being a kind of dilemma whereby we need to find a way to retain in people that magnanimity that I mentioned above - that the sense of sacrifice men probably mostly felt by being locked into mindless or demanding jobs, from which there was, and perhaps for many still is, no realistic escape - that this should be seen as a sacrifice of love and an opportunity for generosity of spirit. And it seems, given the modern situation of women, that many women perhaps also could take this view of the demands that they see as placed on them. Perhaps women have traditionally done this on the whole, but if so the need now for such an attitude is as a great as ever.
Illustration by High Moon, adapted from his original which had another purpose.
On March 11, 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake hit, causing devastation to the Tohoku District, and compounded by the massive tsunami and subsequent earthquakes. The death toll exceeded 15,000 and nearly 10,000 people are still missing. From April 29 through to May 10, I stayed in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the worst affected areas, to help out at a local office of JEN, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) engaged in disaster relief (originally established as "Japan Emergency NGOs").
Ishinomaki is the second largest city in Miyagi Prefecture, with a population of about 160,000. Almost 3,000 lives were lost in the disaster here, and a large number of houses were swept away by the tsunami. Two months after the earthquake, more than 8,000 residents, accounting for nearly 5 percent of its population, were still living in over 100 shelters scattered across the city.
On my trip to Ishinomaki, I took a two-hour ride from Tokyo to Sendai on the Shinkansen bullet train and then a 90-minute ride on an expressway bus. The rail line, named the Senseki Line, runs from Sendai to Ishinomaki along the coast and was badly damaged by the disaster. I heard that it might take several years to be completely restored. When I entered the city, I was surprised at the sights I saw, totally out of the ordinary. Along both sides of the roads were piles of various abandoned household goods that had been washed up by the tsunami.
Furniture, household appliances, tatami mats, bedding, and more. The tsunami had reached several kilometers inland. I saw some houses still standing, but their first floors appeared no longer habitable.
I took a taxi from Ishinomaki Station to JEN's local office. I didn't ask any personal questions on the way, but the elderly taxi driver started to tell his sad story bit by bit: "I'm staying in a shelter at an elementary school; I had never imagined that my home would be hit by a tsunami. During the first ten days after the earthquake, the shelter was so crowded that I couldn't even find a space to lie down to sleep. I can't live in my destroyed home, and I don't have enough money to rebuild it. To move into a temporary housing unit, I have to win a highly competitive lottery. Even if I did win, that house would only be a temporary residence, after all. I have no place to go. Many neighbors around me were killed by the disaster. Everybody told me that I was lucky to have escaped death, but I'm not so sure. Survivors like me have to keep on living with all sorts of worries. If I had died, I might have felt pain, but it would have been just for a moment. I wonder sometimes which would have been better."
After a visit to JEN's office, I went by car to a seaside area and was stunned by the scene before me. Heaps of rubble stretched as far as I could see. Destroyed and covered by mud were parts of houses such as pillars and boards, along with furniture and various typical household items. Cars were scattered all around; some just the body frames, others upside down. I saw signs saying "Already Searched" on car windows, wheelchairs left overturned, and stuffed toy animals peeking out of the mud.
I also visited some shelters. In the gymnasium of one elementary school, each evacuee had a space measuring roughly a few square meters as temporary accommodations, and they were using cardboard cartons as partitions for each household. Meals were bread, cup noodles, and boxed meals distributed by the city or delivered as food assistance from all over Japan, or warm meals served by personnel from the Japanese Self Defense Forces. In some shelters, evacuees took turns preparing meals.
However, inadequate nutrition, caused especially by lack of vegetables, is a general concern for evacuees.
Other people not in shelters were staying temporarily with relatives or friends. Although about 10,000 temporary houses are needed in Ishinomaki alone, the number of houses under construction or even being planned was barely 1,800 (as of the end of April), since it is still difficult to secure available building sites in the area. The administration of procedures required to construct any temporary houses are divided up among government offices as follows: the central government, for procuring materials; the municipal governments, for procuring sites; and the prefectural government, for arranging construction. With these offices smoothly coordinating the work, I hope that everyone who needs a house will be able to move into a temporary one as soon as possible.
The experience of personally seeing damaged sites and hearing what had happened provoked a lot of thoughts, one of which was about humanity's "coexistence with nature." Being a land of frequent earthquakes, Japan has experienced many huge tsunamis in the past. Typhoons also hit it as many as 10 times a year sometimes. As it is located in the monsoon climate zone and nearly 70 percent of the land is covered with steep mountain forests, the country often experiences natural disasters such as floods and landslides caused by heavy rains.
Ishinomaki had a solid embankment built along the shore. The city and its residents believed that it would provide sufficient protection against a tsunami, but this time the tsunami was much higher than the embankment and it devastated the area, leaving behind massive damage. I keenly felt the weakness of humans and human-made things in the face of natural threats like earthquakes and tsunamis.
We often use the expression "coexistence with nature." It's often found in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports of companies, and it definitely becomes a topic when discussing town-building activities.
After seeing the situation in Ishinomaki, however, I began to think the expression is used merely superficially and is too optimistic. I think we refer to coexistence with nature when we establish a natural environment around us as something we can appreciate, which would never attack us, as if it were a miniature garden.
Most Japanese towns, including Ishinomaki, were planned and built based on the idea of combating threats from nature with technology. In this case it was to establish a solid embankment that could withstand a tsunami, but at Ishinomaki the embankment was destroyed because the tsunami was much bigger than people using modern technology had predicted. What do we need to do now? Is a more fortified and higher embankment the solution?
The city of Kamaishi in Iwate was also badly damaged as the tsunami surged and overflowed its embankment. It had built a huge one after learning lessons from the earthquake and tsunami in Chile in 1960, but it was still useless.
The city of Miyako in Iwate also suffered considerable damage from the tsunami, but in contrast the people from the city's Aneyoshi region were all found safe. This region was once destroyed almost completely when it was hit by the Meiji Sanriku Tsunami in 1896 and the Showa Sanriku Tsunami in 1933. The number of survivors from these tsunamis was said to be two and four, respectively. There is a stone tsunami marker erected on a mountain path about 500 meters away from the shore, on which warnings are inscribed to be passed on to descendants to remember the importance of having houses on a hill. People from the region have kept in their mind the warning on the marker: "The tsunami reached here." "Do not build houses below this point." "Be cautious even after years have passed." Every house in the region is built on sites above the marker, so no damage to people and houses was reported here.
Open floodplains used to be found in many monsoon regions in Asia.
Although heavy typhoon rains cause flooding and overflowing rivers, they also contribute to bringing nutrients from upstream, which in turn help boost crop harvests. I learned that people in the old days didn't try to stop flooding. They left spaces open for flooding on the floodplain in case of any overflow and avoided living there. People were adjusting their own activities to natural rhythms.
As the population has continued to grow and people thinking that they can build houses anywhere they want as long as they pay for them, they began building houses on flood plains and ended up suffering from greater damage caused by typhoons and flooding. For people living by a river with a high risk of flooding, it is now normal to expect engineered high embankments to contain the enormous threats from nature.
"All life, including human beings, is sacred and kept alive by everything in the universe." This is an eastern idea. The concept means that we live in a web woven of all that exists, both animate and inanimate.
The ancient Chinese philosophies of Laozi and Zhuangzi include the basic concepts of "naturalness" and "non-action," suggesting that instead of trying to manipulate or resist nature, fitting ourselves into the natural world is the most appropriate attitude.
A woman who was evacuated to a local temple and now takes care of dozens of evacuees including elderly people at the shelter said, "I love the sea. The tsunami hit and swept my house away, but it can't be helped.
Television broadcasts reported about people who felt betrayed by the sea or blame it on this disaster, but I have never felt like that. I live close to the sea because I love it, so I don't blame it. I'll live by the sea again, although I'm thinking about living somewhere uphill next time." She reminded me of the concepts of non-action and naturalness.
"Naturalness" here is a mode of being in accordance with the ways of nature. To gain such naturalness, Laozi and Zhuangzi preached that non-action is important. In their idea, the opposite of non-action is "artificiality," attempts by people to put something natural under their control. Examples of artificiality here are trying to block tsunamis or flooding with engineering technologies.
Should humanity regard nature as an object that needs to be suppressed and controlled, or just let it go and go along with its natural oscillations? The earthquake and tsunami disaster has given us an opportunity to reconsider the relationship between humanity and nature and how we should perceive it.
People in the disaster areas, including those in Ishinomaki, have started discussing and working on reconstruction plans. Some towns might choose to build higher and stronger seawalls, while others might decide to pass on the tough lessons from the tsunami disaster this time to future generations by telling them that we should not live too close to the water's edge because it is the realm of nature. There is no single and ultimately correct answer. Yet I strongly hope that future city planning is developed with longer time perspectives to enhance resilience, not just short-term efficiencies, and that planning and reconstruction in the affected areas are carried out using the hard lessons learned from this disaster.
Written by Junko Edahiro
Japan for Sustainability (JFS) is a non-profit communication platform to disseminate environmental information from Japan to the world, with the aim of helping both move onto a sustainable path. See what's new : on our web site E-mail: info[AT]japanfs.org
Hallowe'en is an ancient Celtic festival held annually in respect for the Dead - our recent and previous ancestors. It is a ritual festival of honouring those who have gone before us.
Americans have adapted their 'trick or treat' game to this time of year, but the Celtic meaning runs culturally deeper than lollies and kids doing tricks. Our forefathers had to condend with less in worse conditions - they struggled, they survived, they learnt and became wise. Hallowe'en is respect for the wisdom that came before us by our ancestors who have enabled the current generation thrive better than they did.
Traditionally, Hallowe'en is a colloquial abbreviated expression for 'All-Hallows-Even' meaning the evening before All Hallows Day, where All Hallows Day is 1st November. 'All Hallows' refers to all ancestors and a reverence toward them.
Jack-o' Lantern is a carved pumpkin associated with the pagan Hallowe'en feast. The tradition from Britain, Ireland and Celtic Europe involves a pumpkin with a face carved into it and candle light inside to project a ghostly flickering face of our ancestors. It originates from the pagan agrarian tradition in Ireland of using pumpkins as lantern light in the evening while harvesting turf (peat bog) for fuel heating to prepare for the onset of winter.
Indeed, the peat in the bog lands has been known to produce a light flammable gas which can spontaneously combust causing a phosphorescent flickering light, also traditionally termed 'will-o'-the-wisp' (Latin 'ignis fatuus'). The light is quite ghostly. The candle light of a carved pumpkin is also quite ghostly - one should try it with a pumpkin next Hallowe'en.
The Hallowe'en tradition is a noble one of respecting one's ancestors. It surpasses that of Christianity which adopted and manipulated the tradition and turned it into All Saints Day to celebrate the churches saints instead of one's ancestors. Surely Hallowe'en has more genuine grassroots meaning.
The Hallowe'en tradition also involves lighting a bonfire which is said to also have originated in Ireland during Pagan times when the Celts lit huge fires on the hills so the spirits could find their way. It was also said that these fires would help to keep away evil spirits. Another old Irish Halloween tale says that if you drop a strand of your hair into the flames and dream of your future husband or wife to be, you're dreams will come true!
Bonfires are a huge part of the Halloween festivities in Ireland and are lit in both rural areas and towns throughout the country. They are built from all sorts of materials and some take days of preparation!
There are many games associated with Halloween. Apples are a traditional Halloween fruit as they were very plentiful in October. One of the most popular Halloween games in Ireland is 'Snap Apple'. In this game an apple is hung from the ceiling and the children are blindfolded. The first one to take a bite from the apple wins! This game can also be played by putting apples into basin of water. The first person to lift out an apple by grabbing the stem with their teeth is the winner.
The tradition is pagan and is not confined to the Celts, but such recognition of the dead transcends many faiths as a form of Festival of the Dead.
The Hallowe'en tradition predates Christianity and so this is why mainsteam Christian faiths choose not to recognise its human value - it undermines their religious doctrine.
In ancient times, Celts celebrated a holiday called 'Samhain' (pronounced "Sa-wan") on the last day of October, the 31st. In the northern hemisphere this was at a natural time when the farming harvest had ended and the days started to get noticeably shorter and colder.
Such productive (oft 'weather fortuitous') harvest time induced a sense of respect for those who had made such riches possible and so this extended into a time for respecting one's ancestors.
Roman invasion of Britain and Europe eventually saw Christianity replace paganism. Hallowe'en was graduually replaced and inculated by the Christian All Saints' Day on not 31st October, but 1st November. It was part of a concerted Christian deculturation of local primitive faiths. Today, the Catholic church recognises 2nd November 2nd All Souls' Day to honour the dead.
Mmm, I respect the deep human-earth meaning of Hallowe'en, rather than the invasive religious ulterior motive of compliance.