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Human Rights Education in Asian Schools Volume Ⅰ

What should Human Rights Education Aim at in Japan?

Kinhide Mushakoji
Tokyo, Japan

Japan is presently facing a very peculiar problem as an ally of the hegemon (United States of America) which supports human rights however selectively it does so. Japan has taken the position that human rights are universal. Its government is participating in the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, and it has established an Advisory Commission on Policies for the Protection of Human Rights which is expected to present its report on human rights promotion in three years time and on human rights protection in five years time to the Prime Minister.

   On the other hand, the same government is extremely cautious to touch upon the past cases of human rights violation by the State of Japan - during its phase of expansion when it invaded, and colonized or occupied the neighboring States in North East and South East Asia. The case of the military sexual slaves called "Comfort Women" which requires State compensation is typical in that the Japanese government refuses to make State compensation, while supporting, seemingly as a replacement, the Asian Women Fund offering "atonement money" in the name of the Japanese people. This negative attitude towards assuming responsibility for human rights violations is expressed by questioning both the invasion and the human rights abuses which accompanied it, and claiming that Japan just followed the Western Powers at that time.

   The apparent contradiction between the above two tendencies, one pro-human rights and the other anti-human rights, are however only the two sides of the same coin. For Japan, as a State, human rights is but a touch-stone imposed by the hegemons and the international community for its claim that Japan is a civilized country. Therefore, the Japanese government is ready to improve its human rights record and wants also to forget, and to be forgotten by the outside world, the past violations of human rights which are negative proofs to the fact that Japan is not civilized, or was not until its defeat and occupation which was the occasion for human rights and democracy to be introduced. We use here an expression which is no more accepted by the international community, i.e. "civilized", a term which assumes that only those States and societies which meet certain social and legal standards defined by the Civilized Nations are "civilized". This concept, which was at the very basis of International Law before 1945, has been at the root of Japan which had to prove that it was a civilized nation to be admitted into the international community. Its misbehavior which started when Japan had carved its power position in it was an unfortunate and unacceptable reaction to this tendency.

   Even today, the importance of abiding by human rights standards is stressed in the Japanese government circles on the same ground. Such an example was recently found in a document stressing the importance for Japan to join in the international efforts to suppress child trafficking. It was argued that if Japan continued to ignore this issue, it would be seen by the international community as a State lacking morality and this would affect considerably its international status.

   This strong motivation is quite remote from the orthodox emphasis on the responsibility of the States to respect, protect and promote human rights because of its universality.

   On the level of the civil society, the public understanding of human rights is characterized by the following three tendencies. Firstly, there is a difficulty to understand the idea that human rights are universal. This difficulty made it necessary to translate the term "Universal Declaration of Human Rights" as "World Declaration of Human Rights" in order to avoid difficulties to understand the importance of this Declaration if the uncommon concept "universal" is used.

   Human rights in Japan is perceived to be established by the State and protected by the bureaucrats implementing its policies. Only recently, some citizens, mostly belonging to minorities, begin to appeal to the judiciary to seek protection of their rights against the State. The concern for human rights protection is mostly expressed by local governments under the pressure from local citizen movements.

   As a matter of fact human rights, first adopted in the 1870s due to criticism of the Western Powers which refused to revise unequal treaties with Japan until it abrogated the interdiction of Christianism and the persecution of the Christians, has always been associated with domestic homogeneity and external respectability. Human rights has been accepted to the extent that it supported the homogeneity of the society, even in its puppet state of "Manchuguo". Japan promoted human rights, in the sense that it created a "human rights bureau" within the puppet Government of "Manchuguo" to deal with inter-ethnic conflicts, an attempt to improve the image of "Manchuguo" in the eyes of the international community while dealing with the need to create a homogenous society in North-East part of China, one of the most multi-ethnic region of this big country. This approach to human rights is quite far from the authentic human rights culture, born in the West, where the legitimacy of human rights is based on the demand on the State made by the people to guarantee their individual rights. In the case of Japan, human rights is guaranteed by the Confucian ethics of the enlightened bureaucrats, and not realized through popular demand.

   The Confucian tradition of Japanese "enlightened" bureaucracy has always encouraged the Japanese government to take good care of its people, as cherished subjects of the Emperor, as citizens whose security and prosperity is entrusted to the good care of the bureaucrats. The Meiji Government which adopted Confucianism as the ideology in the modernization of Japan, adopting selectively Western technologies and institutions while keeping a "Japanese Spirit", created a homogeneous people which supported first a military invasion, then an economic extension of Japanese Power in the region. The national objectives of Japan changed radically during the past hundred years from military expansionism to economic expansionism, from a nation-building centered on the Emperor to one in the service formally of the people and practically of the big business. In spite of this transformation, the Confucian ethics of the enlightened bureaucrats dictated them two closely related obligations. One has been to serve the national interest of Japan, and the other to protect and guide the Japanese people.

   Due to the historical and cultural circumstances which made human rights a part of the State policy implemented by its bureaucracy, serving the State by saving its face internationally and strengthening the integration of its citizenry, there is a two-fold dichotomy which contradicts the universality and indivisibility of human rights. On the one hand, there is a not so minor legal opinion held by Constitutionalists about the fact that some human rights are valid for all human persons, but some apply only to Japanese citizens since they concern the Japanese State's protection of the Japanese nationals. Second, equally disturbing but less conspicuous, common notion sees two separate categories of human rights. On the one hand, human rights refers to the freedom of expression of the Japanese citizens. The mass media likes to talk about human rights in connection with the freedom of the press. On the other hand, human rights is associated with the elimination of discrimination. Human rights means then the rights of specific disfavored groups who should be protected by the State and its bureaucracy. These two versions of human rights exist side by side, and the basic universal message of human rights that all persons are individually equal, hold equal rights, and therefore should be free to express themselves, and should not be discriminated, is not necessarily well understood.

   This is why human rights in Japan receive a legal protection by the State, yet is not necessarily accepted as universal. The State is aware of the need to promote human rights, even if it was for not "good reasons" when evaluated from the point of view of universal human rights. The bureaucracy is well disposed to develop activities to protect human rights, defined as the rights of specific minority groups, even if this was more to be faithful to the Confucian ideals of good governance rather than of accountability of the bureaucracy vis-a-vis the civil society. The Japanese society is basically interested only in the rights and well-being of the Japanese majority. Its range of interest excludes in it the Buraku people, in its periphery the Ainu people, and the non-Japanese -- the Korean community settled in Japan, the foreign workers ("legal" and "illegal"), the victims of trafficking, etc. This majority expects to be protected by a patriarchal ( therefore gender-biased ) State and society. One should not be influenced by the growing attention paid to the civil society. In spite of the proliferation of citizen's movements and their growing influence on the bureaucracy, the basic units composing the Japanese society are not individualistic civil societies but rural and urban communities, composed by local bosses. This state of affairs is gradually improving thanks to the activities of the different minority communities, and because Japan's more "enlightened" part composed of an urban-dwelling "intellectual" middle class begins to become aware of the need to overcome this ego-centric approach to human rights of the majority Japanese.

   Taking the above tendencies into consideration, we may say that in order to promote human rights in this country, it is the non-Confucian side of contemporary Japan, which must be activated. This includes the civil society, with a growing awareness about universal human rights, on the one hand, and on the other, the local, rural and urban communities which hold traditional values mixing Daoist values surviving in local Shinto Shrine festivities, Buddhist religious communal groups, local solidarity institutions with Confucian values remaining strong among the old generation indoctrinated in schools before 1945, and modern democratic and privatizing ideas of the young generation who support human rights in the rather negative sense that they refuse to sacrifice themselves to the State or the society and cherish their private life and freedom.

   Here, we have to take into account the historical process where the following traditions have been occluded, but remain an important source of motivation in the different sectors of Japanese society, in a hidden and occult manner. We refer here to the different manifestations of Japanese shamanism, i.e. Shintoism, Buddhism, and popular traditions which were all partly coopted by the Confucian State but had also some of their traditions left unpolluted by the modernizing State.

   Daoism as it is widely recognized, has been at the root of the Chinese version of Mahayana Buddhism imported into Japan. The Japanese appellation of the Emperor, "Tenno" or emperor of heaven, is a Daoist concept. This is why, I put together all these religious traditions, which counterbalance the top-down Confucian State-centered ideology, in a way unacceptable to the historians of religion but meaningful for the religio-political analysis of Japan. It is crucial to identify the different cultural elements and social forces which may help to organize a Yin pole which can counterbalance the enlightened bureaucracy on the Confucian Yang pole, in the Yin-Yang system of the Japanese State and society.

   This is extremely important because, human rights, as developed in the West, are rights of human individuals as citizens, in an "order" composed of the State and the civil society. As we have seen above, this is not the case in Japan since the bureaucracy and the majority of the citizens constitute an ideologically homogeneous "order" accepting human rights under certain restrictive conditions quite contrary to its universality. In this country, as in many of the East and South East Asian countries where there is a remaining influence of the Pax Cinica concept of "order", we do not live in a civil society in which security and prosperity are guaranteed by a State which is aware of its accountability to the citizens, and does not assume a patriarchal enlightened role.

   We in Japan live in a society where the Confucian "enlightened" bureaucrats ( or now, "technocrats" ) bestow their wise guidance over the people, who on their side, rely on their common sense-based wisdom to live their own lives in a Daoist manner, i.e. by ignoring but opposing the intervention from the bureaucrats.

   This is the socio-political context of Japan within which human rights norms are faithfully encoded as human rights conventions are ratified. But the encoding of human rights in that context was done with entirely different meaning in terms of the respective roles of the State and the civil society or between the individual person and the surrounding society, as well as in terms of the universal legal idea (idee de droit) behind the specific legal norms (regles de droit). This fundamental difference between the West and the Japanese society, as part of the now defunct but still influential Pax Cinica world, has to be well understood in order to determine the approach one must adopt in promoting human rights, and in seeing that human rights norms are enculturated in Japan. It is within this context that human rights education in Japan has to be conceived and designed.

   The context, one may argue, is not important provided that the human rights norms are enforced. If so, we may just encourage the Japanese bureaucrats to become even better patriarchs applying these norms as guidelines for good governance. We may encourage them to avoid too open intervention into mass media, and to broaden even to non-Japanese citizens their good care. We may also wait for the local communities to cease relying on bosses and reflect the opinions of their inhabitants. The civil society composed of an ever growing number of privatized citizens, passively democratic but apathetic in face of political choices, may become some day more active. If this is our choice, there is no need for human rights education, except perhaps to make human rights an integral part of legal education.

   However, one may also take the position that human rights are not a mere assemblage of legal norms but corresponds to a way of life, a way to organize the society and the policy, a way to respect each other's human dignity. In brief, a human rights culture and civilization. If this is the case, then human rights education has to cope with the above characteristics of the Japanese State and society. Even then, one may argue that it is not so important to understand the above-mentioned aspects of this society since what is necessary is only to transform it into a society based on the great idea of human rights which is simply to Westernize and "democratize" the Japanese society. Such an approach has been tried by the Occupation Forces after Japan's defeat, and did not succeed in building a society truly open to this universal idea. This is why we have to find out a way to develop a Japanese model of human rights culture which make the best use of the existing cultural elements, exogenous and endogenous.

   This is where the above analysis of the Japanese society becomes relevant to the question of human rights education. Learning the Confucian tradition which constitutes one pole of the Japanese society/policy, we may have to see how the other pole can become more powerful to the extent that it can balance the now overwhelmingly influential bureaucratic pole in dialogue with the opposite pole which is represented only by a nascent civil society. The problem of this civil society pole is that it is not truly representative of the whole nation, as proved by the election results of all sorts, with the exception of a few newly-built urban quarters where the traditional community structure does not exist. This civil society pole is also plagued by its political apathy, leaving the task to represent it vis-a-vis the bureaucratic pole to a very small minority of active citizen's movements often called NGOs.

   The recent anti-human rights drive called "the Liberal School of History" organized around the claim that the campaign demanding State compensation for the victims of the "Comfort Women" military sexual slavery was a shameful attempt to incriminate the Japanese State in the face of the foreigners and supported in many local parliaments is a proof of the fact that the local communities are allergic to deal with the good people living in these local communities, animated by different Daoist values and traditions, who have to learn by themselves that their communal ties may not have to be broken even if they accept the universality of human rights as an idea and a lifestyle.

   We have, in this connection, to learn from a few examples from the different Asian countries where local community development is based on the activation of the local tradition reinterpreted by local change agents. They have succeeded in building the ground for the respect of human dignity by removing the patriarchal elements and therefore exogenous principles like the rule of law becomes important and the development of a stronger civil society is crucial. Yet, such efforts can become truly effective only when the traditional communities cease to play the role of reinforcing patriarchates to the benefit of the most negative sector of the patriarchal bureaucracy. This is where the different examples, contemporary and historical, of social movements' efforts to activate people power in local communities have to be taken into account such as South Asia's social movements which fight patriarchal rules and systematic violence against women in rural communities. We may learn from religious activists, Buddhist and Islamic, who remove the feudal status quo orientation of their establishments and become themselves change agents in the local communities they live in.

   Historical examples of Daoist activation of communities are many, beginning with the Chinese classic such as the Tale of the Water-Side. In Korea, the Tonghak Movement, influenced by Daoism, Confucianism and Christianism, built a model of a human rights community including gender equality as early as the last part of the 19th century. In Japan also historical examples of the peasant commonwealths in the 17th century central Japan, the Confucian bureaucrat Oshio Heihachiro's revolt in the 18th century Osaka (an example of an enlightened bureaucrat adapting the principle of bureaucratic virtue in his decision to revolt), and the 20th century Suiheisha Sengen (Levelers Declaration) of the Buraku Liberation Movement are some of the many examples of community contexts.

   Human rights education has to take a dual approach. It should instruct the civil society about the fact that it is composed of individual persons who have to respect the rights of others as well as their own. It should make the bureaucrats learn the fact that they are responsible and accountable, not to Confucian virtues, but to the civil society and to individual citizens. This effort to make the Japanese civil society more mature by absorbing exogenous cultural norms from the West must be combined with an effort to activate or reactivate the communities, and to integrate the communities into the civil society, or vice versa. Human rights have to be understood, respected, and fought for as legal norms within a democratic separation of powers between the legislative, judiciary, and executive. This requires an education of both the bureaucrats and the civil society. Human rights culture, however, needs also to go beyond individual competitiveness and be based on a sense of community and symbiosis. This is where the different Daoist traditions have to be reinterpreted and reactivated in the service of a better enculturated human rights culture in Japan.


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