The Very Remarkable Yamato Family (Part One)

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Bill Moyers travels to Japan and reports on topics such as work ethic, the changing family structure, traditional ceremonies and the feminist movement.



BILL MOYERS: For several months now, my colleagues and I have been traveling the oceans of the earth, trying to get an insight into the meaning of interdependence, the notion that we are all passengers in a very small lifeboat and what each one of us does affects everyone else. This final report in this series comes from Japan, a country that would literally die were interdependence not a fact. This very ancient culture is already beginning to grapple with the most urgent problems of the future and what the Yamato family — the Japanese-face very day may one day be the lot of us all.

I’m Bill Moyers. The farmers and fisher folk of yesterday have become the world’s most urbanized people but for all the crush and seeming chaos, the Tokyo subway system runs relentlessly and dependably. Over 11 million people sort themselves out every morning in the capital city to make this nation work. Underneath the morning rush hour there is a tightly knit fabric of purpose, a kind of family relationship that delivers the office girl, the businessman, the civil servant and the factory worker to their jobs, where they’ll spend the day with an enthusiasm and dedication unexcelled anywhere. This pattern of subterranean loyalties has given the Japanese society the quality of a social religion, a kind of civic religion, so that it’s very instructive in the morning to watch the Yamato Family begin a new day. Despite the endless flow of people, there is an inner harmony at the core of the Japanese way. Their language doesn’t even have the familiar four-letter words of obscenity. There is simply no way that people can swear at each other. It is as though the Japanese are all brothers and sisters; their subways and cities are safe and clean. Their society works well. If Buddha holds the universe in his palms, for the Japanese it is an elaborately structured pyramid, a hierarchy of groups that provide identity, status and rank. The teachings of Buddha and Confucius were the teachings of Buddha and Confucius were joined to the ancient Shinto religion to create a society in which the individual never feels isolated. The Japanese language doesn’t even have a word for privacy. There is a profound sense of togetherness, that you will always be taken care of.

BILL MOYERS: In the Fifth Century the founders of the nation, the Yamato clan, began formalizing all of this. Gradually this poor, crowded and became a nation. This 700-year-old Buddha has withstood earthquakes, typhoons and wars to become a sturdy symbol of the tradition that helps the culture work so well today. These mothers are dabbing incense smoke on their children to guarantee wisdom and strength. Observers say it is the mother-child relationship that is the key to the Japanese character. The mother is permissive, protective and forever petting and loving. The bonds of dependency are forged at the beginning. The mother, whatever her chores, keeps the child literally lashed to her. Weaning from the breast comes late and there is never any hitting or spanking. Indulgence is the pattern. Should a mother’s patience really wear thin, she need only threaten to put the child outside the house, alone. Children become very dependent on approval from those in authority. They grow up to happily conform, comfortable in their need for the group. Any of these children would burst into tears if they didn’t have on the proper kindergarten outfit.

As adults, they will automatically be dedicated team players who work relentlessly for the success of the group, the company, the economy, the nation. Outside the home, dependency is on the father figure. Policemen, for example, are enormously respected. They are viewed as benevolent authorities who will help with any problem. The boss of a company is expected to do the same. His responsibility merely – begins with the paycheck. His obligation extends to the entire well-being of the employee. People seem to be comfortable with this pattern of dependence on authority. What we see as submission and loss of initiative has none of that feeling for the Japanese. For them, the child-parent relationship extends far beyond the home and it works. In Tokyo, days go by without a homicide.

BILL MOYERS: The obedience to authority makes Tokyo the most crime-free big city in the world. Add to this the homogeneity of a people that has lived together for two thousand years and you get little impulse to lash out at society- a society that is, in effect, your own family. Although on the outside it is endless, the City of Tokyo is hardly just a gigantic jumble. Inside every building the people are securely located, but a man does not say he’s an engineer or a lawyer or truck driver. When you ask what he does, he gives his real identity, his group. “I work for Mitsubishi,” or Sony, or Honda. He is never lost in this gigantic city. Five minutes from almost any place, there’s an enclave where people live, insulated from the torrential flow of Tokyo. Life has a small town quality; people care deeply about each other. But, by Western standards, there is a social cost to all of this.

There is little room for individualism. You are obligated to your family, loyal to your company for life, and obedient to your superior. The group, not you, is what counts, and all decisions are collective. Getting along and going along is the highest virtue. There is no premium on individual talent. Promotion comes by seniority, not merit. It is not easy for an American, a foreigner, to grasp all of this. Fortunately, we had the help of a Japanese colleague in interpreting this remarkable culture. Ten years ago, Takashi Inagaki left Tokyo for a university education in the States. He stayed on and now is a faculty member of the City University of New York. He likes the more open society in the States, although as a child, during the occupation after World War II, he remembers being afraid of American GIs and being hungry. Today, Takashi Inagaki has mixed feelings about his own country. From a distance people admire the Japanese society because there is a sense of community, but you’re saying there are feelings underneath?

TAKASHI INAGAKI: Japanese people, including myself, perhaps, or young people, try to find compromise somewhere. Western individualism is really falling apart; we hate each other in street of New York, we shoot each other, we ignore, we become indifferent to each other. Here, everybody cares everybody’s business. That’s stifling. But — this might be clichÈ but we have to find compromise. Perhaps we can do that here in Japan. That’s why I have very mixed feelings toward Japanese society now.

BILL MOYERS: How did you feel coming back this time? Were you frightened? How did you feel coming back?

TAKASHI INAGAKI: It’s total mixture of all those feelings: fear, admiration, respect. At the same time I want to say goodbye to the society or keep distance which is so difficult to do. Every five minutes, my telephone rings; my relatives calls me; my old friends calls me. Total different system, and they tell me different things, and I have to keep certain distance. The human relationship is totally different here.

BILL MOYERS: It’s hard to keep

TAKASHI INAGAKI: I just can’t say — I can’t say, ‘Hello, how are you, blah blah, hang up. I can’t do that. I have to ask what their mother is doing; I have to ask what their father is doing; and I have to talk about him at the end, just short span of time. Ninety per cent of my telephone conversations are about his family, you know. So like, I feel like all of those Japanese human relationships creeping over to my neck. It’s not you and me that we’re talking, we’re relating. I’m talking to the millions of Japanese behind this telephone line. But perhaps there’s a good side to all of this. Here in Japan, people care about each other and you can depend on each other and that’s a great part of this society. This is a little rice shop here in the Ginza where land is very, very expensive. The owner could become a millionaire by selling it but I know he won’t.

BILL MOYERS: Is it a family operation?

TAKASHI INAGAKI: Yes, it is. That’s a daughter and father and uncle.

BILL MOYERS: What did he say?

TAKASHI INAGAKI: He say that he can sell $20,000 for one just small piece of land right here, but he can support twelve employees from this small area and that means more to him.

BILL MOYERS: He can support twelve employees.

BILL MOYERS: Twenty thousand dollars for the whole store?

TAKASHI INAGAKI: No, just small, tiny area. So he makes more than quarter million dollars by selling this.

BILL MOYERS: But he stays?

TAKASHI INAGAKI: Because he is supporting twelve employees.


BILL MOYERS: Apply this all-embracing paternalism on a mammoth scale and you get a school like this. It is run by Toyota, the car company, for new employees who feel fortunate to be working for the second largest producer in the nation. Teenagers from all over Japan compete to get into this technical high school, where discipline is strict even by Japanese standards. No smoking, no long hair, and no visitors in the dormitory rooms. After their first year, half the day is spent in the classroom and the other on the assembly line. The quickest way to expulsion is fighting. In a system that prizes harmony, it simply is not tolerated.


TAKASHI INAGAKI: The boys come from all over the four islands of Japan, but mostly small towns and villages. It is something to be very proud of. When I asked some of these boys why they chose Toyota, they told me Toyota is a big corporation. How big? They didn’t know. They seemed more comfortable when they become part of a big structure, and more at home when they are identified as member of the group than as individuals.

BILL MOYERS: Many of the boys will end up in this company project built for families. Even their marriages may be arranged by the company. Rent in the company project for a three-room apartment is $20 a month. After several years here, families are encouraged to take out low-cost long-term mortgages and to move out into one of Toyota’s housing developments. And you can always buy a car at a good discount for your commuting.

(MAN SPEAKING IN JAPANESE) This local councilman thinks Toyota is too big. He says that it dictates terms to subcontractors in the region, that it won’t let critics on its premises to campaign, and that it runs the city around it, which has 200,000 people and is called Toyota City. The mayor is a Toyota executive on leave of absence. The councilman also charges that young workers are treated like birds in a cage because of an early curfew and barbed wire around the dormitories. When does well-intentioned paternalism edge over into manipulation? In the company’s discount department store and supermarket you don’t get the feeling that any of the forty five thousand employees are even concerned with this question. If a young fellow wants the latest pop hit from anywhere in the world, he can find it. That’s what counts. Prices on basics are kept low and many of the housewives have received generous wedding presents from the company. They also get a family allowance for each child, and none of their husbands have been laid off, despite the recession which has hurt the lifetime employment system in other big companies.

(NOISE OF COMPANY CAFETERIA) Toyota says it has had to dip deeply into profits to keep everybody at work and continue paying twice a year bonuses. Employees don’t seem to mind being watched over like this. Perhaps that’s why the thought of assembly line sabotage or strike is literally unthinkable, and why so many workers put in dozens of thoughtful suggestions each year to improve production.

TAKASHI INAGAKI: Lunch costs only about thirty or forty cents and you can eat as much rice as you want with either fish or meat. These ladies will cook and serve, and the young girls will serve tea in the company’s offices, are about the only women working in the whole company.


TAKASHI INAGAKI: (translating) I’m glad I came to Toyota. I can learn a lot at Toyota. I haven’t got too much complaint about Toyota. I intend to work for Toyota for the rest of my life.


TAKASHI INAGAKI: I asked a young man several questions while he ran back and forth between the belt conveyor and his tool table. How old are you? Twenty-one. How long have you been working for this company? Five years. How much do you make a year? Seven thousand dollars with bonus. Do you have a girl friend? No. Do you participate in any club activities? No. Do you have any hobbies? Maybe fishing. What do you do after work? Take a hot bath, maybe watch a television. Do you go out often? Too tired. I’d rather go to sleep. Are you bored with the job? Yes. Would you quit the job? I think about it, but I can’t. I don’t want to embarrass my foreman. That would make me feel bad. A much older man was working outside the conveyor line. He had been with the company over 30 years and according to the company rule he was supposed to retire four years ago. He was kept on the job anyway and he feels this is a great honor to him. What would be your advice to the young Japanese people today? He replied, “Patience and devotion. They will pay off.”

BILL MOYERS: The company attends to matters far beyond the assembly line. After work, there are classes in many of the traditional arts, like flower arranging. Profound symbolism is involved. The three main elements in each arrangement stand for the heavens, earth and man.


TAKASHI INAGAKI: This is Universe, isn’t it? This is the universe. And this is the central figure over this universe which make these two elements work. And these branches gives the depth of this universe.

BILL MOYERS: There are also tea ceremony classes, and the young employee absorbs one of the many ancient rituals which give stability to the culture. In the 16th century, Master Takuan said: “The spirit of the tea ceremony is to cleanse the six senses ” “Listening to the boiling water in the iron kettle one’s ears are cleansed.” “By tasting and drinking one’s mouth is cleansed.” “By handling the tea utensils, one’s sense of touch is cleansed.” “And when all the sense organs are thus cleansed the mind itself becomes free and clean.”

(MENS’ GRUNTS) These Toyota fellows are doing warm-up exercise for classical Japanese wrestling: sumo. All the thumping and pounding is to condition the body for the shock of combat. It also becomes part of the ritual and ceremony in the big national competitions. Undoubtedly, these workers also enjoy baseball, soccer and golf, but being part of something old and traditional may provide a special kind of relief from the assembly line. You win by throwing your man or forcing him out of the circle. It’s the kind of confrontation that Japanese try to avoid at all costs in real life. There are faint traces of paternalism in the American companies that sponsor bowling teams, little leagues, credit unions, scholarship funds, profit sharing and community service programs. But in the States, it’s a constant tussle between boss and worker; here when there are differences, the combat is not destructive or bitter.

BILL MOYERS: So the Japanese economy continues to roll up records as Toyota, third after GM and Ford, churns out more than two million vehicles a year. How long can it keep selling that many cars, two thirds at home, one third overseas? And how long can the nation’s industrial machine keep buying up 20% of the world’s raw materials? Committed to staying up front in the international auto race, Toyota says it will maintain its home market by boosting the number of cars on Japan’s already crowded roads from 20 to 30 million and by getting car owners to trade in more quickly and to scrap sooner. So the cars keep rolling chrome trimmed symbols of growing affluence and of raging materialism that is light-years away from flower-arranging, tea ceremonies and Zen Buddhist rock gardens. But so far, the Japanese have held onto their heritage while indulging an ever-expanding appetite for all that is new, appealing and Western. Some critical Japanese say such consumption shows a feeling of cultural inferiority. Others view all the interest in Western things as a kind of exorcism: you embrace the devil to prove that ultimately you can defy or defeat him.

Another possibility: for many years after the war, rewards for hard work had to be deferred. The strategy was to plough everything back into growth. There is also an element of enjoy it while you can. The Japanese are fatalistic, given to grim visions of the future, the most frightening a major earthquake predicted in the next few years which might take half a million lives in Tokyo alone. Foreign investors also have a stake in Japanese consumption. Coca Cola, for example, has made 25% of their profits here in past years. American farmers sell 20% of their soy beans here, and Australia, Canada and Brazil could not survive without this market. On the surface, the new materialism has made everything bright and cheap. Wealth is quite evenly distributed. The very rich and the very poor are only a small fraction of the population. There isn’t a welfare problem; violent crime is rare; psychiatry hardly exists. In its place, perhaps, is Tokyo at night, a collection of huge entertainment areas that offer any and everything for any and everybody. It is Coney Island, La Dolce Vita, Las Vegas, the Left Bank and 42nd Street all rolled into one. For a society that demands instant fun after a long day’s work, gratification has been parceled out among thousands of bars, restaurants, night clubs, casinos and Turkish baths.

TAKASHI INAGAKI: The professional bar hostess is a part sister to the traditional geisha, who entertained with music and dance and saki. Today, the lubricant is whiskey and the hostess makes her money from the liquor she serves to tired businessmen who want to be flattered and indulged. It’s common for one guy to spend a few hundred dollars in just a few hours. The hostess with the white flower is the boss of all the other girls. Imperceptibly she directs them from one customer to another to make everybody feel at home. Japanese housewives do not seem to object to any of this, as long as there is no threat to their family. Bachinko is the most routine escape. There are thousands of pinball shops like this in Tokyo. All you do is flip the lever and if the little steel ball falls in the right slot, you Win more balls, which can be traded for merchandise. It costs 100 yen, about 35 cents, to play. It is sad that every evening, hundreds of thousands of people are just sitting, flipping levers. They become mechanical like the machines. Or perhaps they become hypnotized and enjoy it. It is not too difficult to win so often they go home with a little prize for the family which certainly guarantees that they will come back to play again.

BILL MOYERS: Whatever the after-hours pattern of the society, during the business day, the Japanese move unswervingly ahead. The government-subsidized Japanese National Railways is a model for the rest of the world. Every ten minutes, deluxe trains leave Tokyo on 300, 500 and 700 mile trips. Tickets are cheap, and you cruise at 130 miles an hour. Still, there is an appetite to do it even better and new technology is being developed to get there even sooner. But where is this energetic nation really headed? Prime Minister Takeo Miki, Japan’s leader and the leader of its ruling conservative party, wants to move toward a total welfare state. He wants the government to duplicate the paternalism of the corporations. He wants to guarantee a lifetime of security and erase worry about tomorrow. Unlike the West, the notion of a welfare state has only positive significance here. The prime minister understands English but prefers to speak in Japanese. What services do you think must be provided by the Japanese government to the people in order to achieve the kind of welfare state you want?

(PRIME MINISTER TAKEO MIKI SPEAKS IN JAPANESE) In my total welfare plan, society takes care of all stages of life … from birth through old age and retirement, but without making people lazy or causing elderly people to become despondent and commit suicide. Even in old age, those able may work. “High Welfare” naturally entails “high expense”. But I am always saying that young people should not spare sacrifice and devotion for the elderly and the rich should not spare sacrifice for the poor.

BILL MOYERS: In Japan, big business and government are allies, if not actual partners, and there is agreement on stepping up the control, planning and public spending in their brand of capitalism which, to some, looks like a form of free enterprise socialism. But the slumping world economy is putting pressure on big business to raise prices and cut down on what has long been a pattern of generous annual wage increases, so there is protest.

(RESPONSIVE YELLING) These people are part of the Spring Labor Offensive of the Japanese Trade Union Movement. It’s an annual ritual for the more militant unions to demonstrate, march and strike, but rarely do most workers, including Communists and Socialists, want to disrupt the economy. This year because of the recession and. because of the basically paternalistic industrial structure in which the workers are children and management is the parent, most labor unions are making moderate demands. But Japan’s miracle economy has oil and raw materials problems, just like the rest of the industrial world, only more so, so difficult days are ahead for big business. The family patriarchs know this and so does a work force that is less docile and childlike than it used to be.

BILL MOYERS: (YELLS) As part of the Spring Labor Offensive, these factory workers are demonstrating against the Mitsubishi Bank. The bank is part of the enormous Mitsubishi combine, which is like General Motors, U. S. Steel, Sears Roebuck and Bank of America, all rolled into one. These men, machinists who produce printing presses, charge that Mitsubishi squeezed their company out of the market by cutting off credit to their factory and forcing it into bankruptcy. In return, the men have seized their plant and occupied it ‘for the last 18 months. Their headbands say “Unity” and their blue vests say “Mitsubishi Monopoly Hust Take Responsibility for our Condition.” It’s also the sense of their chant. Their union leaders are demanding that the bank president come out. The men feel betrayed by paternalism that is under pressure because of the slump, and pushed into default in the small business sector. But there is no chance of violence. Fighting and window breaking just doesn’t happen, for even protest has an almost ritual quality that keeps it predictable and under control. Eventually, the bank did send out some executives to hear the men. Cynics might feel this is all empty gesture and that nothing is going to reverse the Mitsubishi decision. Not necessarily. In Japan, no corporation, no matter how powerful, can ignore this kind of display. These men who refuse to leave their machines have already been offered other jobs by Mitsubishi but they’ve turned them down, insisting this factory must be kept in business. Nor can Mitsubishi call in the authorities and simply eject the men and dismantle the plant. Public opinion wouldn’t tolerate it. An employer is expected to behave like a father and friend, and he cannot violate this image with impunity. The workers, however, feel free to use a junked press they’ve rebuilt to print up posters for the Spring Labor Offensive.


BILL MOYERS: About one third of the Japanese work force is in trade unions but they’re, for the most part, not like the labor organizations in America or Europe. They’re organized on a company basis and they don’t support this kind of militancy. They see themselves as part of the corporate family.

(SHOUTING) And it’s not unusual for their officers to go on and become company executives. These more militant unionists are strongest in the public sector — the railroads, postal and telephone services. A few weeks ago, the railroad workers brought the nation to a halt for three days even though the law forbids them to strike. In the end, however, they accepted the wage guidelines for the entire economy — 15% to keep up with the current rate of inflation. (MAN SHOUTING) The major demand this spring is for a national minimum wage for older workers, day laborers, and part-time employees who don’t get the benefits of industrial workers.


TAKASHI INAGAKI: She makes 2100 Yen, about $7 a day. Even she works on Sundays, otherwise she cannot support her life. She hopes by coming here that her salary would go up. She makes about 80,000 Yen which is about $270 per month. 96,000 Yen which is approximately $330 a month. She makes about 35 with the first answer from the management about her salary raise. She wants to have more. The government and the corporations offered 15% wage but we are not satisfied, therefore we are here today. He makes approximately $450 or so a month.

BILL MOYERS: What kind of work?


TAKASHI INAGAKI: She is — I mean, he is engaged in a publication house so he’s editor.

BILL MOYERS: What political party?

TAKASHI INAGAKI: (translating) “I don’t like any particular party, but if I am forced to say, perhaps JCP Japanese Communist Party. If I am really obliged to say.”

BILL MOYERS: As these demonstrators march up what would compare to Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D. C. there is no chance of disruption. They simply want to pass in front of the Diet, the national parliament. In post-war Japan, the establishment has always gotten the message. Their policies of super-growth have doubled and redoubled the standard of living for 110 million Japanese. But in a world of shrinking resources with only four small islands which hardly add up to the size of California, how do you keep growing? Seiji Ishibashi is probably typical of the new generation of young executives who will have to find some answers. He is in the international division of Kajima, one of the largest construction companies of the world. Ishabashi’s feelings about himself, his work, his society are a clue to how Japan will negotiate the future.

SEIJI ISHIBASHI: This is my wife. She went to the same school as I did and we met in the office of our company. We’ve been married for six years now and we have two children, and his brother is now sleeping, taking a nap. We are very busy working at the office so — and moreover I go to school at night, three days a week, so on Sunday I like to spend more time with my family so that I can talk with my children. I want to be like my father in the way he behaved: politeness toward other people, respect for the aged, respect for the neighbors. I feel sorry for father because he died at the age of 54. Japanese people have worked too hard, you know; sometimes time that should have been spent with the family, with children, were sacrificed for the job. That’s wrong. I have been working for Kajima corporation for eight years now. When we joined our company, there are very few young guys so we had to work very hard. We averaged about three or four days we had to stay overnight, but now, even if sometimes the manager wants those new people to work an extra hour, they say sometimes they have their own appointments so they have to leave. They have to go home. Their value systems have changed from that of ours, but I think it’s a good thing, a healthy thing in my opinion. But at our time, if my boss was still working in the office, although we didn’t have anything to do, I felt some obligation that I have to stay until he goes home because there might be something that I should do. (MAN SPEAKING IN JAPANESE)

BILL MOYERS: The president of Kajima, an international business leader, plans to keep pushing for more huge projects outside Japan as his own country moves ever closer to the limits of its growth. Domestically, he says, a slowdown is inevitable. (MAN SPEAKS IN JAPANESE)

TAKASHI INAGAKI: (translating for Takeo Atsam) In a larger sense, we are playing a very important role for the betterment of the countries which are still under-developed. We have many projects in Southeast Asian countries where they need dam for power, for irrigation, they need highway, they need hospitals, they need buildings, apartment houses. So I see much significance in doing foreign jobs, not only for making money but for the prosperity of mankind.

BILL MOYERS: Ishibashi is headed for what is perhaps his company’s most ambitious and perhaps last great project in Japan, the Seikan Tunnel, an under-the-ocean tunnel connecting the two northern islands, studied for decades and now actually being dug.

SEIJI ISHIBASHI: I feel a strong power of Japan and I am glad that I work for a company which has the capability, the power to do that kind of job. If I were working for the American company and the recession comes, then I wouldn’t be able to concentrate my time and energy to the work. I would have to be trying to find another job before I get laid off. But in Japan, I think most af the companies have the permanent employment system. Personally, I think I’m heading for an intermediate course between American efficiency in business and the Japanese family type of relationships.

BILL MOYERS: These fishermen are at the edge of Japan’s last frontier, on the northern end of the main island of Honshu. Across 15 miles of sea is the island of Hokkaido, very cold in the winter but the nation’s only major undeveloped area. Now, the only passage is by ferry. This is the construction camp built by Kajima, main contractor for the tunnel. For the last three years, hundreds of men have been working with the ocean as their ceiling and this finished portion of the tunnel gives no hint of the problems they’ve had. The tunnel is designed for railroad traffic only; the Japanese National Railways crack bullet trains will now speed north as well as south.

Originally, ’78 was the completion date. Now it’s 1979 and even that may have to be changed because of the complicated geological conditions. Already, engineers have had to make one major shift in the route that they planned. As the men drill and blast, they must constantly inject chemical stabilizers, grout, into the spongy formations that extend down from the ocean bed. The grout is supposed to solidify the digging area and to stop water seepage which has been a constant problem. (CONSTRUCTION NOISE) The drilling goes on, even if progress is slow, for the imperative to grow cannot be contained. (MAN SPEAKING IN JAPANESE)

TAKASHI INAGAKI: (Translating for Yasuhiko Kodama- ∑project director) Technically, this project is a very difficult one and another element is that this is in a very remote place so that personnel management is another problem. This second tunnel project is said to be the project of the century and I’m very honored to be able to work for this project and I feel, at the same time, great responsibility.

BILL MOYERS: This is the Honshu region that will be developed once the tunnel and rail lines are finished. Now it’s a fishing and farming area, sensitive to the devastation that development has brought to other parts of the country. It wants some growth and more wealth, but not the polluted waters and the defiled landscapes that are so common.

(WOMAN SPEAKING IN JAPANESE) Setsuko Sugiyma, a councilwoman seeking reelection, tells what she thinks must be done.

TAKASHI INAGAKI: (Translating): This lady is 47 years old and she is a grandmother. She has three children and three grand-children. Her husband is also in town government. For most of her life she was a nurse until the whole question of what was happening in this part of Japan became the most important thing to her. She warned the farmers that they must not sell out to land developers who seem like they will pay a high price. She says that inflation will quickly eat up the fortune that looks so attractive. These villages do not mind that Setsuko Sugayam is a member of the Communist party. They have voted for her before and they know that the Japanese brand of Communism is not so revolutionary. I think they want a better life that some development would bring- more schools, and higher income. But they don’t want destruction of the earth and the sea. This is the dilemma of Japan: how to grow without self-destructing.

BILL MOYERS: A few years ago, an oil refinery, a nuclear power plant and deep water port for tankers were planned for the Pacific side of this peninsula. Constant protest by the citizens stopped government support for the project, but farm people feel the idea is not dead. (CONVERSATION IN JAPANESE)

TAKASHI INAGAKI: This is not their land. They’re farming somebody else’s land. I think they get some share of the profits perhaps, but there’s already a large portion of the land very close to this land purchased by a big corporation, I mean the individual persons in the corporation. What they can get from this farm will be just enough to survive.

BILL MOYERS: These women were once all farm workers but now they can make more money working on the ever-expanding network of roads or in factories in the winter. The government actually encouraged eight million farm people to leave agriculture between 1960 and 1970. They could produce more for the economy in production or construction, contributing to a flow of extensive exports that easily paid for cheap food from around the world. These days, food prices are soaring. With more than half its caloric intake imported, Japan has now decided it must become more self-sufficient in the production of food. But how do you promote agricultural and industrial expansion in the same area? About 100 scallop boats operate out of this cove, using techniques only recently developed to raise commercial crops of shellfish. And in this little harbor, the Japanese predicament is right on the surface. Can there be development without the destruction of the adjoining bay? It is called Matsu Bay and it is one of the few not yet contaminated. The bay is divided into big segments and each is assigned to one of the fishing villages surrounding it.

BILL MOYERS: Most of the villages operate as cooperatives. These freshly harvested scallops were grown in baskets suspended from floats. They’re four years old, fully grown, and a very profitable commodity. The Japanese love of seafood is built into the culture. Up until a hundred years ago, it was forbidden to eat meat. Buddhist beliefs condemn the killing of warm-blooded animals. Each bushel of scallops sells for about 22 dollars. Cooking the scallops first and shelling them makes them a much easier and more lucrative product to ship down to Tokyo. Fish has always been basic to the wellbeing of the Japanese, and as the world’s oceans are becoming depleted, the Japanese have had to agree to limit their catches. This has made them sadly aware of the pollution and destruction of their own coastal waters, and keenly sensitive to preserving clean waters like Mutsa Bay. This is Japan’s first and only nuclear freighter, berthed in Mutsu Bay in a port scheduled for major development. This was a government decision, and clearly a mistaken one. The second mistake was the work of the renowned Japanese shipbuilding industry. They installed a nuclear reactor which developed a tiny nuclear leak. The possibility of contamination of the Mutsu Bay scallops began to lower the price of the shellfish, and at first the government simply offered to pay compensation. Then the fishermen surrounded the freighter itself and demanded that it be moved. A leader of the fishing cooperative recalls the protest against the nuclear ship. (MAN SPEAKING IN JAPANESE)

TAKASHI INAGAKI: (Translating): When nuclear ship Mutsu came to the port of this area, they wanted to demand $20 million for compensation because they were getting almost $33 million business this year, and $20 million for the compensation is not that big. The price of scallops went down by 20% when the nuclear ship Mutsu decided to enter this particular port, but after the government made a decision that ship has to move out of this area, the price went back 20% and the fishermen just organized approximately 70 ships to protest, and they brought the pack of mud to the port, and they threatened the government that they’re going to drop the mud into the port so the Mutsu can’t enter the port, and they didn’t do it, but government took that threat very seriously. When there is a nuclear accident the radioactivity would spread out about the market and that’s the end of the fishermen’s life.

BILL MOYERS: For the time being, the bay is ignore the feelings of the people. But how against the nation’s need to grow? safe. Business and government cannot simply long can these fishing villages hold out Certainly there’s a need to keep building if sufficiency for all is a goal. A pledge of more has been made to the Japanese people and, as the prime minister said, he intends to honor it. But in Tokyo, as in any other big city, the costs are visible- pollution, crowding and a growing cost of consumption. Tough auto emission control laws and the removal of industry are beginning to clean the air, and perhaps there are more basic controls in the culture itself. In this almost infinite city, history and tradition protect the network of neighborhoods and small shops, the almost unseen and nourishing base for skyscrapers and computer- controlled offices. Nor is Japan soon likely to abandon the effectiveness of the group, the loyalty of one- person to the next, for the flashier star system of the West. But it may find new ways to reconcile the role of the individual in the collective. You have rebelled against this matriarchal society and so have some of your friends whom I’ve met. Do you think the sense of revolt is very strong?

TAKASHI INAGAKI: Well, I could say it is strong but desperate; that’s more accurate way of expression are desperate. Where are we fighting for? Where fight like that, at the-same time I could say it’s more I am desperate, and my colleagues we’re going? All this desperate For instance, I was so involved with this group and this young people’s underground play. One of the dialogues says: “I want to kill my mother,” and I was shocked at the beginning. Five minutes later I realized in my deepest heart, they said it: you have to kill your mother. Psychologically or physically, you have to eliminate mother from this society to be free, to be individual. Every two or three years I come back to Japan and go home with mixed feelings. The biggest fear I have before entering the house is whether or not I’ll be able to come out alive without losing my own identity as me, myself. Yet, at the same time, I want to be truly nice to my mother and brothers. When she was a small baby, my mother was given away to a peasant family, simply because she was a girl. She forgave her parents long time ago, she said, because brothers and I loved our grandparents very much and that was enough for her. Since we’re little, my father has rarely come home, perhaps twice a month, because of his business. He spend many nights on his company’s couch. My mother accepted and lived with this fact. She always forgives and conveniently forgets the bad things in life, and moves on with the present, and I really admire that hardship of her childhood, Second World War, bringing up me and brothers and seeing me go away — nothing has really crushed her loving spirit. Maybe she’s Japan. Maybe it’s all of the Japanese mothers who hold us so tightly together, perhaps too tightly. How do you cut loose from your mother?

This transcript was entered on May 7, 2015.


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