On the occasion of concluding all the programs of the 21th EU-Japan Fest (Jan. 2013 - Mar. 2014), Secretary General Mr. Shuji Kogi wrote an essay.
The twentieth century was called one of warfare. The conflict that broke out on the Balkan peninsula in 1914 soon spread the fires of war throughout the European continent and then around the world. That was the First World War. One hundred years have passed since. What has mankind learned from the two world wars and the sacrifice unprecedented sacrifice they wrought?
Even as I write, the turmoil escalates moment by moment in the tense situation in Ukraine precipitated by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and cold war nightmares flash through my mind. We hold our breath over a situation that could have a grievous impact on international society.
“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.”
So did Robert Schuman, then French foreign minister looking towards European unification, address his country’s national assembly on 10 May 1950. The two world wars of the previous century both originated in Europe. Schuman’s words affirm a strong determination and resolution never to repeat that tragic history.
The “creative efforts” that he called for are by no means required only of national leaders and governments. The requirement is for individual human beings to work hand in hand across national borders in taking small actions. Reviewing the 20th century’s history of war makes clear how important this is. The lessons we must work through lie buried in history.
Who supported war?
Crowd psychology can sometimes rush headlong into foolish action, and as a result the general public become party to tragic history. In his Backing Hitler: Consent and Coercion in Nazi Germany (2001), the dynamic Canadian-born scholar Robert Gellately gets to the crux of the matter.
(The German government has in recent years produced and distributed an inexpensive edition of this book. This writer would like to express profound respect for the sincerity of its attitude looking to the future.)
I would like to quote also from Tadao Sato’s book Grassroots Militarism on how the Japanese public dealt with the Pacific War. Here Sato describes popular attitudes of the early 1940s:
Even if we are to leave historical assessments to future generations, it is evident that such actions as the American invasion of Iraq not long ago and Russia’s annexation of Crimea could not have come about without the exuberant support of the American and the Russian people.
Is art impotent?
The growing turmoil in Ukraine raises concerns of chain reaction and the spread of this local conflict. Through our work at the European Capitals of Culture we have formed deep ties with the four European Union nations that border on Ukraine — Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland. Of those cities, Slovakia’s 2013 European Capital of Culture Košice is located near the Ukrainian border. Over the many years since the end of the cold war era, many Ukrainian artists have played important roles in the artistic and cultural life of the city. Inasmuch as the Japanese artists who last year took part in the European Capital of Culture developed relations with them, for those of us who share a common destiny in culture and the arts it is by no means the case that the Ukrainian turmoil is someone else’s problem, a “fire on the opposite bank”.
When I visited Wrocław in Poland recently, a large number of artists gathered in the plaza and, by candlelight in the freezing cold, offered prayers for their brethren in Ukraine. The spectacle brought something to mind: the solidarity of artists across Europe who in the early 1990s stood up in support of the thespian activity that continued in Sarajevo even as bullets flew in the Yugoslav civil wars. “Can art save the world?” asked the banner of a poster calling for support. It is not the case that amidst the fires of war the work of artists did anything for the cause of peace. It is certain, however, that for people who trembled in fear of death amidst the fierce fighting, the existence of art provided some slight hope for the possibility of life. For the people of Sarajevo who were driven to the depths of despair, the existence of art was a visceral reminder that they were alive; for them it was a light of hope only just visible beyond the dark.
Eric Antonis, who served as executive chairman of European Capital of Culture Antwerp in 1993 and promoted these activities of solidarity, later put it to me this way. “Can art save the world? The answer is No. But human beings can never truly flourish without art. This is precisely why we individual human beings seek to create opportunities through art to examine and reflect on what it is to live, to discuss this with those around us. That is the mission of the European Capitals of Culture.”
The European Capitals of Culture
During the 1980s, while pursuing integration in the political and economic spheres, the European Community (EC) also embarked on an effort that set great store by creativity and cultural diversity. This was the institution of European Capitals of Culture, inaugurated in 1985 at the proposal of Greek culture minister Mme Melina Mercouri and with the busy efforts of Jack Lang, then the French culture minister. What began with great fanfare, however, did not proceed as the EC bureaucrats in Brussels had anticipated, not least because the member country ministries of culture had a strong grip on authority.
The cooperative framework by which the host city rotated among the ten EC member countries of the time did not actually function from the start, but in 1990 Glasgow won acclaim for its operations in which local artists, residents and all sorts of public facilities worked together as one. Before long, the narrow focus on the local culture of the host city developed into a new, broader vision of “culture as the common heritage of the world” that would lend European Capitals of Culture greater heft.
On the historic occasion of European integration in 1993, calls went out for countries around the world to take part, and in Japan the non-governmental organization EU-Japan Fest Japan Committee was thus formed to provide support for the Japan-related programs in which the European Capitals of Culture played the leading part. With the assistance of the Japanese business world, the Committee has since conducted activities in support of the European Capitals of Culture on a continuing basis. Counting Košice, Slovakia, and Marseille-Provence, France, in 2013, Japan has now provided support to 33 host cities in 22 countries. In each case the year of hosting marked a new start for independent bilateral exchanges that would continue into the future. As a result, Japan is the only country that has taken part in the European Capital of Culture every year over the 21 years since then. In this we take a quiet pride.
Globalization of the European Capitals of Culture
As I mentioned above, with European unification in 1993 the European Capitals of Culture moved from being an intraregional project to one with a wider field of vision that took in the entire world. In 1999, ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the former East German city of Weimar hosted the European Capital of Culture. At the opening ceremony President Roman Herzog of the Federal Republic of Germany quoted, as befitting Weimar, from Goethe’s (1749-1832) “On the Relation between Man and Culture”:
Two centuries on, these words still ring fresh and light our way forward. The Goethe-Institut, the cultural organ established by the German government after the war, is known not for its pursuit of national prestige, but for its wide-ranging work attentive to culture and the arts throughout the world. Prominent on the institute’s website, and an agreeable representation of its attitude to culture and the arts, are these words from Goethe’s Faust: “Here I am man, here such dare be!”
Nearly 100 countries took part at Košice and Marseille-Provence, the two 2013 European Capitals of Culture. Over these many years the European Capital of Culture has taken great strides from its framework as an EU project to take on a role and mission that are global in scale. The European Capital of Culture now draws on culture and the arts, and people, from all over the world and continues to develop into an unparalleled effort to welcome and generate splendid culture.
Our shift from internationalization to globalization
Over the course of two great wars the 20th century saw the birth of many “nation states” and an international society premised on the “state system” took form. “International” affairs are ones between nations, and another feature of the twentieth century was the birth of international organizations such as the United Nations.
In the 21st century, however, international society composed of the fundamental units of nation states is undergoing radical transformation with the expansion of transnational economic activity and the revolutionary development of communications technologies that encompass the globe.
Many of the global issues that now arise one after another are impossible to resolve anymore solely in state-to-state political and diplomatic relations between pairs of countries. As well as existing as states, countries are now laden with new obligations and responsibilities as members of global society. Globalization shows that the world as a whole is growing into its own shared destiny.
In the economic sphere, meanwhile, the multinational character of companies is a product of globalization. The label Made in Japan was once appreciated as a mark of high quality in consumer goods, but many products are now manufactured in countries throughout the world and we no longer inquire about the country of production. For global companies the key to their development is how far they can apply a global perspective in training staff, generating high-quality product and building a services operation. What we ask of a company is not its nationality or its land of origin. Are companies not now nurturing their own identities, now ready to progress from a multinational character to no national character at all?
What does it mean to transmit or create culture under globalization?
Like business, with globalization culture is encountering a new state of affairs. Taking examples from the European Capitals of Culture of recent years, we find much that impresses on us the remarkable currents and changes underway. For instance, we Japanese have been accustomed to think of such fields as shogi, go, bonsai, kyogen and haiku as traditional Japanese culture. At least this writer has vaguely considered them so. The reality, however, is that they are seeing major change. For a long time now, these instances of traditional Japanese culture have spread to other countries, gradually attracted interest in various regions and established themselves in local cultures. Each year’s European Capital of Culture turns an eye to burgeoning outside cultures and applies new stimuli to regional cultural activity. Here I would like to report on the development of some forms of culture deeply connected with Japan.
1. Shogi and go
Similarities with chess and the high regard for their depth of play are helping these board games spread throughout the world. It is deeply intriguing that their local fans characterize shogi and go as “wordless dialogue with fellow humans”. At European Capital of Culture Marseille the local chess club and the France Shogi Federation worked together with the International Shogi Popularization Society, a private Japanese body, to hold the world’s first chess-shogi biathlon and gained a major response.
The bonsai boom in Europe was at Japanese instigation, but the art form has been welcomed in countries around the world over the past half-century. The fan base is growing across all generations, from youth to the elderly. Bonsai is putting down roots in local culture, and I would like to salute how its enthusiasts have incorporated into their practice such philosophical notions as “dialogue with Nature” and “dialogue about life and death”. The European Capitals of Culture have presented opportunities for greater interaction with Japanese bonsai masters. The Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency has sent young bonsai masters to several European countries as cultural ambassadors, and a bilateral framework is taking shape for cultural transmission and reception. The bonsai exhibition at European Capital of Culture Košice featured three pieces shown by the president of Slovakia, also known as a bonsai practitioner.
The Czech city of Prague hosting the European Capital of Culture in 2000 sparked increased interest in the performing art form kyogen. Before long, the Czech kyogen company Nagomi Kyogen Czech had formed around leader Hybl Ondrej. Its members have since undergone extensive schooling, including training in Japan and instruction in the Czech Republic, with Shigeyama kyogen masters. In 2013 the Japanese Cultural Affairs Agency sent kyogen master Motohiko Shigeyama to Prague for one year as a cultural ambassador to provide instruction in local kyogen activities. The results have since been seen at European Capital of Culture Košice and in other parts of Europe. Rather than traditional Japanese culture, kyogen is now assuming a place as “one of the world’s performing arts”.
The poetry festival at European Capital of Culture Genova in 2004 spurred a deepening of exchange between Japanese and European poets. Poets from 14 European countries would then take part in the Euro-Japan Poetry Festival held in Tokyo at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura. The “haiku exchange” that took place here then made a major contribution to the development of haiku in Europe. A fond memory is of the participation of the Swedish haiku poet Lars Vargo, who currently serves as his country’s ambassador to Japan. The haiku program at European Capital of Culture Vilnius 2009 in Lithuania drew submissions from 15,000 ordinary people. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, is known to compose haiku, having released numerous volumes of the form. “Although haiku originated in Japan,” he says, “haiku is now a philosophy shared by all the world.”
Above I’ve touched on culture traveling from Japan to Europe, but it goes without saying that more than a few cultural forms from the West have taken root in Japan and have now developed to such an extent that they influence Europe. The Prix de Lausanne international ballet competition, for example, is known for discharging world-class artists, and Japanese nationals make up a large number of past prize winners. The Suzuki method of violin instruction developed by Shin’ichi Suzuki is renowned worldwide. Tracing the path of origin, transmission and development, we see that culture is passed on not only in its country of origin. Globalization is spurring cultural transmission and creation in new ways.
“For those who’ve long forgotten what it is to feel”
Such was the theme of the performing arts festival held at European Capital of Culture Košice last year. No mistake but that the phrase reminded many that, buried in a daily grind, they had lost sight of what it is to live. Heidegger wrote, “Unless a man is aware that someday he will certainly die, nor can he truly feel what it is to live.”
While maintenance and development of culture and the arts sometimes require some degree of commercialization and industrialization, they are primarily extremely personal endeavors. Every human being, no matter who, has a story that will light a fire in another’s heart, and if we fail to open our hearts there is no art anywhere that can reach our souls. Unless we listen carefully on the micro level for the inner voice of the individual, no macro-level theory of culture can ever be more than empty talk. One must hope that the future beyond globalization will have room for the stuff that makes people human.
For the sake of our children who will see the 22nd century
When I was a young man, I took out insurance to fund my first child’s education. My thought at the time, when I saw that the policy would mature in 2001, the 21st century, was that it was quite a ways off. It’s just something that occurred to me recently. Now it’s 2014, and my thoughts turn to the future of the children who will be born here on Earth this year. If they are blessed with good health, no mistake but they are sure to reach the 22nd century in their lives. They will live in the next century, a time that we will never see. What sort of world will it be, this 22nd century? Since ancient days adults have criticized and moaned about young people and the state of society. This human lament repeated over and over for thousands of years may have sounded an alarm for societies of the future. But is that enough?
In a way, children are diamonds in the rough. To polish them is our responsibility as adults. If adults can be more responsive to their qualities and artistic talents, I am confident that their future will be a society abundant in the stuff that makes people human.
Our individual capabilities as human beings are but meagre. However, just as a great river starts from a single drop of water, what these children who will see the 22nd century need from us is for us to continue adding our own drops of water to the flow. If those of us alive today seek each other out and add to our number, we are sure to be able to accomplish something.
In closing, I would like to quote Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Boy Scouts, who devoted his life to children.
Thank you dearly to all who managed to read this long essay through to the end.