Big Talk

Japan has Been One of the World’s Top Countries Since the Jomon Period

Sapporo Medical University Professor Jun Takada, an expert in radiation protection, has continually conducted surveys and research on nuclear radiation damage at the Silk Road, Marshall Islands, Fukushima, and other locations across the world. He has also won two prizes in the “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest, the Prize for Excellence and Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize). Toshio Motoya spoke with Takada about the wonderful qualities of the Japanese civilization based on Takada’s latest research incorporating archaeology.

Japan, a major maritime power since ancient times, developed the world’s top navigation techniques in the Jomon Period

(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today.

(T) It’s nice to see you again. Seven years have already passed since I won two consecutive prizes in the “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest. As I wrote in “Fukushima is not Hiroshima or Chernobyl” (which won the Grand Prize [Fuji Seiji Prize] in 2011), Japan has not met its demise, but has recovered fully.

(M) The damage from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station accident after the Great East Earthquake was a man-made calamity clearly caused by the leadership of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government.

(T) Yes. The victims suffered after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 due to the delayed responses of the Tomiichi Murayama administration. Similarly, the government’s problematic handling of the Great East Japan Earthquake led to many unnecessary deaths.

(M) More than 2,000 people died because of disaster-related causes in Fukushima Prefecture alone.

(T) In addition, livestock was evacuated from the 30-kilometer area around the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986. However, Prime Minister Naoto Kan did not evacuate any livestock from Fukushima, which led to many domestic animals starving to death or having to be culled.

(M) The DPJ government also strengthened the standard for radioactive materials in foods, which should have been relaxed.

(T) That is true. As a result, Japan’s radioactive material standard became the most stringent in the world, although there was absolutely no need for such strictness. Some people say this standard caused more damage stemming from misinformation. The DPJ set strict standards but was indulgent regarding its own party. It collapsed the year after the earthquake, in contrast to the post-nuclear accident restoration that took place in Fukushima and eastern Japan.

(M) All nuclear power plants were shut down under the DPJ. Permission has finally been given for plant re-starting, but in some cases this requires the agreement of local governments that use the nuclear safety agreements as an excuse, and whether the plant is re-started depends on the governor’s way of thinking. Shutting down these plants destroyed Japan’s energy balance, which is extremely unstable today. Japanese money is also flowing overseas to purchase more oil.

(T) Japan has experienced natural disasters like earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis since ancient times. The Japanese ethnic group has developed while referring to our memories to overcome such disasters. The same applies to the Great East Japan Earthquake, which fully proved the wonderful qualities of the Japanese people.

(M) Japanese people band together in times of emergency. I think that’s a major feature of our ethnic group.

(T) The spirit of “wa,” or harmony, is an essential characteristic of the Japanese. The Yamato Imperial Court was the first nationwide government, and the word “Yamato” is written using the characters for “great harmony.” Japan is a nation that has continually held to this spirit of wa since ancient times. I believe individuals and organizations will eventually meet their demise if they do business that emulates European and American models while forgetting and disregarding this wa ethos. In Japan, this spirit is at least as old as the Jomon Period, meaning it has survived for 16,000 years.

(M) That is very old!

(T) Yes. For instance, yosenabe hot pot was invented in the Jomon Period, when families would simmer shellfish, fish, and vegetables in earthenware pots (called “Jomondoki”) on the sunken hearths of their pit-houses. We still eat this dish today. The Japanese archipelago gained its current shape – a crescent of islands stretching from Hokkaido to Okinawa – roughly 50 million years ago. Japan was fully separated from the Asian continent when the Sea of Japan was created, giving rise to its coastal areas. Being on the ocean is beneficial because of the ample marine products that can be harvested for food. This also led to the development of marine transport. Japanese people had already invented dugout canoes, which have been excavated at Mikatago Lake in Fukui Prefecture and other locations, in the early Jomon Period. Boats sailed between Honshu and Hokkaido, and I think Japan’s navigation techniques were number one in the world at that time.

(M) I did not know that.

The modest, rational Japanese spirit inspired many world-renowned inventions

(T) We learned in school that the ancestors of the Japanese people were an agricultural people who lived on this island nation. This is a major falsehood – Japan was a maritime nation of people who traveled on the ocean. When the Yamato Imperial Court was formed in the 3rd century, Japanese boats had already arrived on the continent. In Japanese history, we are taught that many things and people were introduced to Japan from the Asian continent, but Japan also impacted the continent in significant ways. Records from the Chinese state of Wei say that Japanese people visited there in the time of Queen Himiko.

(M) I understand that Japanese culture spread to Asia.

(T) The Nihon Shoki (“Chronicles of Japan”) is the oldest book of Japanese history. It was compiled from the 7th century and completed in the early 8th century. This book says the Yamato Imperial Court had a navy of 180 ships, which Empress Saimei dispatched to Hokkaido under Abe no Hirafu. Abe no Hirafu subjugated the Emishi people, and together they drove back another ethnic group that had come to Hokkaido. This is corroborated by archaeology.

(M) That is different from the Japanese history we learned. Why aren’t people told about these historical truths? I think the reason is because postwar education focused only on bad things without conveying the things that will inspire pride among the Japanese people. We have a history as an exemplary ethnic group, yet we have been implanted with a masochistic view of history.

(T) I feel the “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest has revealed this to the world. I was blown away by “Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?,” Toshio Tamogami’s essay for which he won the first Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize). I have conducted research in my own way to share correct historical information, and last year I published a book entitled, Why Japan’s Wonderful Civilization Has Advanced and Survived, and Will Never be Exceeded by China or South Korea (Seirindo). In the book, I describe an episode from the Nihon Shoki in which Empress Saimei sent Abe no Hirafu with 200 navy ships to Herobe Island to fulfill a request from the Emishi. Abe defeated the Mishihase, a savage ethnic group had confined itself in a fort on the island. The location of Herobe Island is a subject of much archeological discussion, but my conclusion is that it is Okushiri Island in southern Hokkaido. The Mishihase were the Okhotsk people, and their traces remain on Okushiri. For some reason archeologists do not sufficiently read the Nihon Shoki and other historical sources, so they don’t understand the true nature of the Okhotsk cultural sites they research. The battle with the Mishihase was the first war waged in defense of Japan. We cannot conduct proper historical research without coherence between excavations and historical records like the Nihon Shoki and Kojiki (“Record of Ancient Matters”).

(M) We need to teach more correct history. In postwar education, the prevailing Tokyo Trials-centered historical viewpoint tells the story that Japan was a bad country that was transformed into a good, democratic country after its defeat in World War II. However, more people have come to doubt this view thanks to Tamogami’s award-winning essay. This also helped bring about the second Shinzo Abe administration.

(T) I believe the meaning of the existence of 21st-century companies is to accurately understand the past and set forth correct present and future policies based on this understanding. That is exactly what APA Group does. I think Japanese companies that achieve healthy growth in the future will be those that interact with the world according to their understanding of Japan.

(M) We have started expanding APA Hotels overseas, but there is still room for growth. I’ve stayed at a luxury hotel in a great location in Manhattan (New York), but APA Hotels definitely offer much better user friendliness.

(T) I stayed at an APA Hotel in Chiba over this year’s Golden Week holidays. I was very impressed by the automatic check-in kiosks that enable a small number of staff members to handle the operations. This modesty, frugality, simplicity, and rationality are in tune with the Japanese spirit.

(M) APA Hotel jointly developed these automatic check-in kiosks with the manufacturer. We will also install countertop credit card check-in machines on the front desks very soon.

(T) This modest, frugal, simple, and rational spirit has survived unbroken since the Jomon Period. For example, sushi was first eaten in the Edo Period as a logical type of fast food that could be prepared quickly. The same is true of soba noodles.

(M) Japan is also unique for combining food with technology to invent conveyor belt sushi restaurants. Some systems input the preparation times for each plate and automatically remove the sushi after a specific period has passed.

(T) In my book, I mention hybrid vehicles, light-emitting diode (LED) lights, and electric bidet toilet seats as examples of wonderful Japanese inventions from the contemporary era. Electric bidets particularly exemplify the Japanese love of cleanliness. Two years ago, I traveled to Singapore and went to a new shopping mall near my five-star hotel in the Marina area. I saw TOTO toilets, but they didn’t have electric bidet seats. Perhaps the culture there does not favor them.

(M) APA Hotel has installed electric bidets in all rooms starting from our very first hotel. This includes our American hotel. I held a press conference in New York, where I declared that APA Hotels with electric bidet toilet seats will become a global standard.

(T) Electric bidets also help save resources and energy since they cut down on toilet paper use. The Nobel Prize in Physics was given for the invention of blue LEDs developed by a team of Japanese scientists. These LEDs – a Japanese energy-conservation technology – can be regarded as a lighting equipment revolution that will remake technologies from the time of Thomas Edison. I don’t think this would have been developed by people who grew up in countries like the United States that have abundant energy.

(M) Japan withstood the oil crises by using technology to reduce oil consumption.

The measures of civilization are the number of Nobel Prizes and average life expectancy

(M) Creativity is hampered if one is bound by tradition. APA Hotel has abandoned past ways of thinking and focused on the needs of users. Up until now, top-grade hotels have provided services based on the concept that employees are servants and customers are their masters. However, today users desire privacy and time. Doormen and bellboys that enter customers’ rooms are no longer necessary.

(T) I see.

(M) APA Hotel sells satisfaction rather than space. We install bigger beds and brighter lights so guests can read or organize their luggage on the beds. The latest APA Hotels also have under-bed storage. We keep evolving, and our employees suggest many new things as well.

(T) Japan is unique because it has continually advanced according to the concept of kaizen (continuous improvement), all the way down to individual workers. Japanese people utilize the spirit of wa to come up with optimal answers as a group without focusing a great deal on hierarchal relationships. I think we like to work together.

(M) The extended family is also the fundamental structure in Japan, which itself is a nation like one large family.

(T) This is exemplified by how the word “kokka” (“nation”) contains the character for “home.” Other countries do not have this sense.

(M) Japan is a nation with a single language and ethnic group, and most members of the Japanese society share numerous common qualities. That is why many people have a deeply established Japanese identity. The U.S. consists of people from across the world, which is why their identity as Americans must be recognized by singing the anthem in front of the American flag. This is different from Japan, which is why I am against simply accepting immigrants to make up for the declining population.

(T) We need more consideration and wisdom to that end.

(M) Japan is becoming a nation of individual families, which is why the birth rate is falling. People would have more children if we revived the extended-family system, which is something Japanese people should truly wish for. We must use the tax system to encourage more extended families, such as by lowering the real estate tax, and fewer men should be transferred away from their families. APA Hotel is striving to be a company that places importance on families, including boosting our number of local hires to reduce job relocation.

(T) I think we need more companies of that type for the sake of the glorious Japanese civilization. People believe that “Bunmei kaika” (“civilization and enlightenment”) was achieved with the Meiji Restoration, but Japan had a uniquely advanced civilization long before that.

(M) Postwar education has continually made people misunderstand this. Today, I am working to help people regain pride in their home country of Japan.

(T) I believe we should focus on two indices that measure our level of civilization. The first is the number of Nobel Prizes for science in the 21st century. There are three prizes of particular prestige: Physics, Chemistry, and Physiology or Medicine. As of 2016, the U.S. is the top winner with 44 laureates. Japan is number two with 15, and the United Kingdom is number three with 14. China has only one Nobel science laureate despite its huge population.

(M) Considering that, Japan is quite accomplished. For example, Kim Dae-jung is the only South Korean Nobel Peace Prize winner, and it has no Nobel laureates in the sciences. This is because South Korea has abandoned kanji (Chinese characters) and switched to Hangul. I doubt it will ever win any prizes in that field because people cannot read past papers written in kanji, so they can’t refer back to their history.

(T) This is a disconnection in their civilization.

(M) Yes, and South Korea is blaming Japan for the fictitious comfort women story because it lacks an understanding of history. Hangul is not a perfect language, and it is unsuited to academic research.

(T) In contrast, Japanese is a diverse, sophisticated language. It uses hiragana, katakana, and kanji characters, and we can express many things, such as by writing foreign loanwords in katakana. I think people who cultivate good Japanese-language skills in their youth will grow up to be extremely clever.

(M) I agree. Some Japanese parents teach their children English from a young age, but they need to start with a good understanding of their native tongue. If not, children will have poor skills in both.

(T) That is right.

The Japanese achieve great growth by turning predicaments into opportunities

(T) Another way to measure a civilization is its average life expectancy, which is in proportion to national power. Since it is an average, the number falls if only wealthy people live long lives while regular people die at young ages. In other words, nations with long average lifespans widely share benefits with their whole population. Looking at World Health Organization (WHO) data from 2016, Japan’s average life expectancy is the longest in the world at 83.7 years. Switzerland is number two at 83.4 years. Another index is “healthy life expectancy,” the average number of years a person can live a normal life without caregiving. Singapore is number one at 76 years and Japan is number two at 75.

(M) Singapore is an urban nation where roughly 5.6 million people live in an area about the size of Tokyo’s 23 wards. The two countries cannot be compared because of their wildly differing sizes. By all rights, we should instead compare Tokyo and Singapore.

(T) That may be true. As might be expected, there are no Nobel laureates from Singapore. The economy is developed but the technologies to uphold it are brought from overseas. Japan has a fantastic language and has been one of the world’s top countries from the Jomon Period until the 21st century in many realms, including society and technology. I think no other country is as wonderful as Japan. The compass is one example of how Japan greatly impacted the Asian continent. People say the compass was invented in China, but it was actually developed in the maritime nation of Japan. The Nihon Shoki even names the inventor as “Samonchiyu.” Japanese technologies from the 7th century were certainly brought to the continent via Japanese envoys to Tang China. v

(M) Really!

(T) Marco Polo was at the court of Kublai Khan when the Mongol Empire invaded Japan. Polo learned that Japan had fought off the Mongol Empire, and after he returned to Europe he told people that “Zipangu” was a fantastic country. Even back then, Japanese civilization inspired pride and respect in the Western world.

(M) I think one reason Japan has maintained its civilization is the unbroken imperial line. For instance, the Jewish people were nomads for 2,000 years after their nation was stolen away. Israel is an extremely strong country today because of this history of struggle.

(T) However, Japan was nearly subjugated at times. The biggest threat was the Mongol invasions. The defeat of the Mongol Empire (which ruled the Asian continent at that time) by an island nation to the east must have been an incredible shock to the Mongol people. The Russo-Japanese War astounded the world in a similar way. Japan was regarded as vastly inferior to Russia, yet it won in both naval and land battles. This gave the Japanese people a great deal of confidence.

(M) You also wrote about that in your latest book. I was a bit surprised that you, a physicist, wrote a book of that type.

(T) The job of a physicist is to take scientific notice of things regular people don’t see. Based on archeology and historic documents, such as the Nihon Shoki, I give proof that Japan has maintained a glorious civilization.

(M) The problem is that many Japanese people don’t understand that our ethnic group is worthy of pride.

(T) They probably also don’t know that Japan is the world’s number-two Nobel Prize winner. I am in charge of a yearly seminar for new students in the School of Medicine, where we show a video about Marie Curie, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics. After watching the video, one student said that Western scholarship and technologies are wonderful, and that Japan is merely emulating them with a lack of ingenuity. When I mentioned the number of Nobel Prizes, even this supposedly talented student wasn’t aware of the many Japanese laureates.

(M) We must share more truths about Japan with people like that. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”

(T) First, I want them to have a good understanding of how Japan has maintained its glorious civilization. I hope Japan will start implementing school education, corporate activities, and politics based on this.

(M) I constantly talk about pride in my business activities, and I have never yielded. I held to my beliefs after Tamogami was dismissed for his “True Interpretations of Modern History” essay, and also during the scandal about my book last year. Employees are negatively affected if a company’s leader loses heart.

(T) Japanese people are good at turning predicaments into great opportunities for growth. This applies to APA Group, World War II, and the Great East Japan Earthquake as well as the recent soccer World Cup. Japan lost in the end, but we gained major potential for the future.

(M) Japan was able to promote itself to the world. Thank you for joining me today.

(T) I enjoyed having a meaningful discussion about Japanese civilization with you, the CEO of an advanced company. Thank you very much.

Date of dialogue: July 5, 2018


Jun Takada
Born in Tokyo in 1954. Graduated from the Department of Physics, Faculty of Science, Hirosaki University. Earned his master’s degree from the Graduate School of Science, Hiroshima University, and his Doctor of Science degree from the same institution in 1990. After serving in positions at the University of Chicago’s James Franck Institute, Kyoto University’s Institute for Chemical Research, and Hiroshima University’s Research Institute for Radiation Biology and Medicine, he has worked as a professor at Sapporo Medical University since 2004. He won the Prize For Excellence (Adult Division) in the “True Interpretations of Modern History” Essay Contest in 2010, as well as the Grand Prize (Fuji Seiji Prize) in 2011 for his essay entitled, “Fukushima is not Hiroshima or Chernobyl.” His many published works include What Happens During a Nuclear Explosion Disaster? (Chuko Shinsho) and Chinese Nuclear Bomb Tests: Surface Nuclear Explosion Disasters on the Silk Road (Iryokagakusha).