Pontus Marine

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Somaliland and Japan: Distance still matters (+Photos)

(Medeshi)- These are  3 articles by a friend and colleague of mine from Sapporo, Japan. Yoshia is a graduate from UCL (London)  and a former staff at PENHA London . These articles were publsihed on Medeshi in March 2009

Section 1: Distance lost its significance?
In the age of globalisation when we can travel in the way that was totally unimaginable to our grandparents and even parents, we tend to think that geographical distance has lost its significance. Is this true? Yes, this is true in many ways.

Let’s go back in time to the 1950s. In those days, Japanese people, after the bitter experiences during WWII, were determined to re-construct the country through economic growth and development, which resulted in a miraculous success, as you have probably heard somewhere.
Yoshia Morishita
During the course of Japan’s rapid economic growth, there were three things which Japanese people wanted to purchase as soon as they saved enough money for them: a monochrome television, a washing machine and a fridge. As these items became widespread by the 1960s, they continued to work hard so they could afford another three items, that is, a Colour TV, a Car and a Cooler (in fact this refers to an air conditioner). These items are mentioned as ‘the three Cs’ in the modern history textbooks used in Japanese schools. What a contrast this is to our life today, which, I would say, is full of high-tech products at home! In the past, everyone was concerned with the household and did not even dream of travelling beyond the national borders. By the way, be reminded that Japan does not share any land borders with any other country.
Sapporo , Japan ...

Today we live in a totally different world. I am typing this article over a cup of lukewarm green tea using this little SONY laptop. And where does this article go once it is written up? To the UK. To the web master M, a long-term friend of mine. How does it go? Via e-mail. How long does it take? A few seconds. How does it work? A single click on the SEND button that appears in a web-based free e-mail account of mine. Impossible in the past. Possible now. Distance is nothing. Is that so? Maybe… In the next section, I will consider the significance of geographical distance in relation to Japan and Somalia/land. (End of Section 1).

Section 2 of 3: We still need binoculars to see beyond the distance: Japan’s Navy Dispatch

Once again, geographical distance seems to have lost its significance. It certainly has, but to some extent. Why to some extent? Because it still matters.

Several days ago I received a message from an angry M. I kind of sensed even before opening the e-mail what he had written about. It should be about the Japan Marine Defense Force (Navy, to put simply) dispatching a few ships to the areas off Somalia/land. Bingo!

The Horn of Africa is very far from Japan. It takes the ships about two weeks to get there. Therefore the crew members will eat curry twice onboard. It’s their tradition to have curry on Fridays so they are reminded it’s a Friday. They see the ocean every single day during the voyage. The sun rises and sets today, like yesterday, and definitely tomorrow too. It is possible that they forget the day. The curry helps in this regard (I hear the curry tastes great. I never tried it myself but the recipe should be available at the Navy’s web site).

Putting the weekly curry aside, there are a huge number of Japan-related ships that go through the areas off Somalia/land, and this justifies the dispatch of the ships. It is very rare for Japan to send the troops overseas as the constitution strictly forbids it, unless there is an international agreement/request for the dispatch. A few Japanese commercial vessels have been attacked by some pirates there. There are a great number of ships of a great number of countries that already request the Navy’s protection. The government of Japan believes the dispatch is necessary. It also hopes the Navy will not use force, just like the Japanese Ground Army that never fired a single bullet in Iraq over a period of more than six years.

One thing for sure, in any case, is that the way that the vast majority of Japanese people see our military forces is perhaps fundamentally different from the way the other nationals see their military. I understand that the military of many nations of the world, because of the shared land borders with their neighbouring countries and their operations overseas, is considered as a military ‘force’, while in Japan people tend to see the military as an organisation that supplements the police and help people in case of emergencies, such as frequent earthquakes, typhoons, landslides, rescue activities after avalanches in winter mountains and so on. I get confused when our troops are viewed by outsiders in exactly the way as the military forces of other nations; we do not talk about spreading democracy, human rights, good/bad governance and other ideas that tend to be imposed on some people by the self-proclaimed leaders of the world. Things are naturally different from place to place.

The dispatch is a big issue anyway. Some opposition parties and civic organisations are strongly against the dispatch, referring to the military expansion of the past (some of them actually refuse the use of the national flag and anthem even on formal/official occasions). But perhaps the web master M took it more seriously than I and most of Japanese actually did. So how come we are not taking this issue as seriously as we probably should? Distance seems to matter…
Photos from Sapporo - Japan 

(End of Section 2)

Section 3 of 3: Distance matters but every little connection also matters for the future.

Reading newspapers of Japan and Europe is pretty interesting. Different headlines, different issues, and different perspectives, even about the same story. One thing for sure is that with only Japanese media, my awareness of international issues will definitely decline. In general Japanese people are less aware of international issues than other nationals.

This may be good in some ways though; in general, many ‘foreign’ cultures are new to them and so Japanese people are curious about different cultures and do not discriminate against them. Also, I have heard that people in developing countries, for instance, do not complain about Japan’s development assistance because Japan does not tell them what to do; you are less bossy when you show respect to and interest in others who have different perspectives. In fact, according to a recent survey conducted by The Yomiuri Shimbun of Japan and BBC, Japan, together with Canada, is considered as having the most positive impact on the international society, although some Japanese critics say that no one needs to complain about Japan because the country has no strong opinions or does not play an influential role internationally. It is like one of your classmates who always goes out for lunch with you, smiles, nods and is ready to pay for a few of the classmates’ meals who are currently short of money.

In Section 2 of this article I wrote that although the dispatch of a few Japanese Navy ships to the areas off Somalia/land is a big issue, the vast majority of Japanese people do not take it as seriously as they probably should. We import a wide range of commercial goods carried by vessels that go through the sea areas in question. Our economy depends so much on trading. By dispatching the Navy ships, we may be able to get rid of the image that Japan contributes to the international society only financially. We know that financial contribution, however big it is, does not bring a good international reputation or respect (e.g. Kuwait never thanked Japan for our financial help during the Gulf War, and Japan never seems to get a permanent seat at the Security Council despite its financial contribution the amount of which is the second biggest, or actually the biggest as the US does not pay as much as they should in time).

The politicians of Japan’s government party argue that by the dispatch Japan would be properly recognised as a committed and cooperative nation; it is good for national interest. Maybe... Politicians represent citizens in democratic countries and are supposed to think and act in future-oriented ways, although they often pursue short-term interests. Some of the Japanese media do support the dispatch. They do mention protecting Japan-related vessels is very important given the economic structure of Japan, but also tend to say that the dispatch is necessary because a number of other countries have already dispatched their war ships. Japan does not have the courage to do anything new. The country prefers to see what others do before it takes action itself, meaning that it is, in a sense, very cooperative and clever.

Distance also matters. Africa in general and Somalia/land are unknown and a probably-never-to-visit continent. No direct flights. Very limited connections. A distant place that suffers and needs help. On top of it, the pirates, which we only see in films or amusement parks. Naturally, all these are beyond ordinary Japanese people’s imagination. Protecting Japan-related vessels is important, but the dispatch and all the related issues, probably to many people in Japan, sound like other people’s business. Many others are already operating near Somalia/land and so it should be safe and legitimate to go there to join them. Supposedly this is how ordinary Japanese people see the issue of the dispatch.

One of Japan’s neighbours is that mysterious North Korea. Compared with Somalia/land, it is just a stone’s throw away from us, and yet we know very little about the country; we only know it is such a troublemaker. However, we pay attention to North Korea as it is near to us and preparing for a missile launch in early April. It may affect us. When we still do not know much about our troublesome neighbour, how come we are aware of issues surrounding Somalia/land which is really far? The necessity to know such issues is minimal. There are plenty of other issues to be dealt with in our daily life… One thing for sure is that Japan has no intention of expanding its sphere of influence to Somalia/land. It is simply too late and too far in the first place. I think Japan only wants to protect unarmed commercial vessels (and civilians like that Japanese female medical doctor who was kidnapped to Somalia when she was treating the disadvantaged in the Horn) from heavily armed people, be it Somalis or others.

The above being said, very few people have hatred towards Somali/land. We are very far, very different and so on. I hope my articles will help the visitors to the web site Medeshi to know that there is an ordinary Japanese citizen like me who wants to contribute to building an invisible but solid bridge between the two countries. That way, little by little, the distance will be overcome.

Thank you for reading! (End of Section 3).

About the writer:(Mr) Yoshia MORISHITA is a Japanese national who studied and worked in the UK, as well as Turkey and Eritrea. He has visited around 25 countries of the world and developed his international perspectives. He has a Master’s degree in International Development from UCL, University of London and worked as a research associate at a British NGO. Currently he is living in Japan running a small business in the area of various international programmes and businesses facilitation and co-ordination, while reading sociology at Hokkaido University.