(Keibo Oiwa is a remarkable Japanese anthropologist, who knows Canada (and many other countries) well, and has founded in Japan a so-called Slow Movement designed to slow down the pace of humanity’s frenetic search for progress. He wrote his Ph.D thesis on the subject of St Laurent Main, the dividing street in Montreal, and at that time became a close friend of my son Thom with whom he has since worked on various projects. He recently wrote this thoughtful reflection on the results of the earthquake and tsunami that has devastated so much of Japanese life.)
With all the events of the few weeks following 3/11, I often had difficulty in focusing and thinking clearly. But while a bit confused, I was hoping that going through this would make me more courageous and creative. And now that I have come out of the tunnel, I feel much better and positive, and see things more clearly.
What Japan has experienced since 3/11 is like X rays; yes, all of us and our society were X-rayed and have now become transparent. What do I see? That what we need now is a bit of silence, time for mourning, prayer, and awe. We must contemplate on the dead and realize, as Thich Nhat Hanh said in his recent message to Japan, that part of ourselves, part of the earth, has died, and the dead is and will be in us forever.
We are shocked to see in front of our own eyes our arrogance and the illusion that we can somehow control our Mother Earth. The Earth that created the great tsunami is the same Earth that has been giving everything to nurture us. We must re-instill the sense of awe that we might have been missing for a long time. We must meditate so that we can rediscover a way to reconnect ourselves to our Mother.
We see clearly that we have been a part of this civilization and its violent system built upon our own greed, hatred and ignorance, or what Buddhists call the three fundamental poisons. Instead of accusing TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) and the governments, we must realize that it is we who created this monster called TEPCO that has become powerful enough to control governments, media and other big businesses. Yes, they had a kind of dictatorship, and we were willing to support and embrace it, increasing our consumption of electricity 5 times since the 70’s. With their massively financed “All Denka (entirely electrified homes)” campaign, they have been successfully made us believe that more and more nuclear plants are necessary to live comfortably.
The fisherman-philosopher Masato Ogata once said “Chisso is me.” He is a survivor and witness of the Minamata environmental crisis and was referring to the powerful Chisso Corporation that caused the mercury poisoning of the ocean killing innumerable lives including humans. Yes, TEPCO is me.
One of the most important lessons we learn and relearn from the events of 3/11 and after is that our way of living was created and barely maintained only by causing irreparable damage to the Earth, thus curtailing the possibility of a good future. The mass media is now busy orchestrating a cheerful chorus of “recovery” and “reconstruction.” But the question is what we are going to reconstruct? The same kind of towns and villages that have been proven too many times in history to be so vulnerable? The centralized massive energy system that has made our democracy hollow and has made the rural communities and remote regions enslaved by the big cities, electric power companies and central government? Reconstruct the banks and walls to protect the 50 plus nuclear power reactors, and make the reactors themselves strong enough to beat the next challenges of earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, floods and landslides? Recover the once famous Japanese technology and the invincible “kamikaze spirit” that would make no more mistakes and neglects like the ones we witnessed this time? Reinvent the once miraculously growing economy that required us to endlessly consume, to build all those nuke and other power stations, to destroy much of our once healthy ecosystems, and to sacrifice our rural communities and their beautiful landscapes?
I can already hear politicians in future elections talk loudly of those “reconstructions.” But then we will have to remember that we can never reconstruct the world without the horrifying amount of toxic nuclear waste which will be with us for thousands of years to come. Every step we made during the last several decades with more and more nuclear reactors was to make both the reconstruction of a healthy past and the construction of a healthy future harder and harder. Put another way; the reconstruction of a pre-3/11 world would mean extinguishing the remaining hope for a healthy, sustainable world. So let us say No to “reconstruction” of our previous Japan and choose from the remaining possibilities.
I can also hear clever people repeat the same old pre-3/11 stuff, saying that without giving an alternative, the argument against nuclear power is not persuasive. To this, I must repeat what the political scientist Douglas Lummis once said; the alternative to nuclear power is no nuclear power. Let us stop acting as if we still have a choice. We cannot afford another disaster, and that’s how disastrous our situation is.
This is a new era that has started on the March 11th. This is the age of what the Buddhist philosopher Joanna Macy called the “Great Turning,” that has been prepared for in many parts of the world. According to her, the Great Turning has been occurring on three simultaneous levels; environmental movements, anti-globalization and re-localization activism, and personal, spiritual awakening. Let us, too, join in the creative process with the new vision given by the 3/11.
Of course, there are not too many reasons to be optimistic. Even if we turn around and shut down all the nuclear plants today, we have to spend decades to make sure that all the reactors continue to be cooled, and many generations after us have to invent ways to deal with the enormous amount of toxic nuclear waste that is already here. So shall we continue our pursuit of wealth and luxury without turning around? Why not stopping later instead of now, if it’s too late anyway?
Again let us stop acting as if there is a choice. We must turn around not later but now. And that is if we are still interested in human survival. Let us become a “nuclear guardian” as Joanne Macy has urged us, accepting responsibility for the nuclear materials produced in our lifetimes. Macy is not optimistic, either, but her words are deeply consoling.
“Even if the Great Turning fails to carry this planetary experiment of ecological revolution onward through linear time, it still is worth it. It is a homecoming to our true nature.” (Joanna Macy “The Great Turning”)
Remember that the Chinese characters we use for the word “kiki (crisis)” can mean both danger and opportunity at once. This must be a great opportunity for us to grow spiritually, while stop growing materially, learning how to slow down, scale down and simplify. The real wisdom is to know how we can downshift joyfully and thankfully. This must be the moment of truth.
Keibo Oiwa is a cultural anthropologist, author, translator, environmental activist, and public speaker. He lived in North America for sixteen years and holds a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Cornell University. Since 1992, he has taught in the International Studies Department of Meiji Gakuin University. The founder of the Sloth Club, an ecology and Slow Life NGO, he gives lectures and workshops on social and environmental issues.