Society That Seeks Only Affluence


Everyday Life

When the children of Kodomo no Sato (children's home in Kamagasaki, a town of day laborers in Osaka) meet people from churches and mission schools, there is one thing which always impresses the guests; After a meal, the children voluntarily clear the table and do the dishes. It is something that we all do in our everyday lives.

Of course sometimes they are told to do so, but even small children often do the chores as play. Some wash their socks before going to sleep. For us living and surviving here, everyone takes care of themselves and others in a communal environment. It is only natural that they perform these tasks. We are astonished by the impression the guest always have.

People of many countries who visit Kodomo no Sato all express how happy they are to meet the children. When a person with a dark skin comes, the children ask such straight forward questions, such as "why are you dark?," or "why do you look different from us?" Then, they ask him to join them like this, "Let's play dodge ball" or " Please let me ride on your shoulders." There is no need for them to speak the language. They explain the rules in Japanese and invite him to play together. They also ask his name, the country where he is from, looking it up in the map. When it is the time for him to leave, the children say, "Please come back again."

When physically disabled people visit, the children ask questions like "why can't you walk?," "why are you like that?," even the guest has difficulty in speech. If they don't understand the answer, they ask an adult what the person has said. They also stick to him and try to explain Kodomo no Sato. Every visitor leaves with a smile. There is also a boy is physically disabled and comes everyday. Although he cannot speak at all, the children try to understand him through his body language. They play with him and when he bothers others they get angry with him. They know what kind of situation would be dangerous for him. They will scold him for doing it, and sometimes save his life from danger by sealing him.


I often hear mothers say to their children "If you don't study, you will be like one of them," pointing to people sleeping in train stations or working on the streets. Ten years ago, a group of junior high school students killed three homeless men and injured several others, saying "You are useless to society, so die!"

As soon as two young men of Kodomo no Sato came back from work as day laborers for the first time after graduating from junior high school, they immediately said, "Day-workers deserve more respect than the prime minister. The work is so hard."

The profit-first socio-economic structure of capitalism created "disposable workers" who are hired when they are needed and abandoned when they are not. If they are out of work, there is nothing they can do except sleep on the streets. The children of Kodomo no Sato understand well that they are not lazy and that they have no other choice. Among those homeless, the sick, elderly, disabled cannot get a job and are faced with death. In Kamagasaki alone, more than 100 people die on the streets every year in such an affluent society. These facts are not taught in schools.

During "Children's Night Patrol," which is carried out only during the winter, the children of Kodomo no Sato bring rice balls, miso soup and blankets to those who sleep on the street, who has built roads, buildings and underground waterways, and supported our life, in order not to let them die. By talking with these day laborers, the children learn that among them are even those who in the past held high social status, such as college professors, journalists and company owners. There are also dignified veterans who refuse to receive veteran's pension, claiming the war was unjustifiable. These are people who decided not to lose their humanity by joining a society where people step on others to be successful.

"Good evening. How are you?"
"Fine, thanks. It' cold here, don't catch a cold."
"Yeah, thanks. Good night."
The children hesitantly say their good nights to these men, wishing they would survive another night.

A third year junior high school girl gave birth to a baby girl. In her diary, she wrote, "If my mother had an abortion, I would not have been here. I thought of having an abortion, but I just could not kill the life inside of me." The media picked up this story, igniting the debate over teenage motherhood. An author Joji Abe criticized the mother for not being realistic. He said "Can this little mother be responsible for the life of the child? The dignity of life isn't something to be taken sentimentally." Another author, Fuyuko Kamisaka, said, "A person is entitled to be a parent only when he or she is an adult with a certain economic strength." And Toshiro Ishido, a playwright known to have deep a interest in educational problems, said, "They say life is important. But today, people only talk about a person being alive and not the quality of life. That means even senile person should be respected. A child born out of someone who is not qualified to be a parent is same as a dog."

Majority of public opinion is that to have a child, one must be responsible and qualified to be a parent. Being qualified, however, does not mean just being over 20 years of age or having economic means. There are cases of parents killing the children or children killing the parents in upper class families. Parents, who are financially well off, have put their children in institutions saying they have disabilities. There are parents who simply disappear leaving the children behind, or commit suicide killing the children with them. I don't know how many parents are out there who are not capable of responsibilities of parenthood.

In a society where pursuit of affluence and one's "gakureki," educational background, receive undue emphasis, humanity and personhood are often left out as criteria for value judgements.

In such a society, so called "common sense" has given birth to discrimination against those with physical disabilities and those without economic or social power as being unqualified to be a parent and a person with little worth.

Among various opinions raised about the junior high school mother, I think the one by a junior high school teacher reflects what Japanese parents in general really feel. She said, "They tend to think first of how the abuse the parents and their teenage mothers would receive rather than how the young mother can overcome social barriers and make a life with her child. It is regrettable that today's society is not ready to accept such a young mother and her child."

Society is not ready to accept what it labels as drop outs. So parents try very hard to ensure that their children do not become one, which usually means making them study very hard. To change such social narrow-mindedness, I think everyone of us must struggle.

Everyone at Kodomo no Sato helped to take care of the baby of the junior high school girl. While the mother attended school in the morning, adult staff and volunteers looked after the baby. When the children returned from school, they played with the baby like their own little sister. The mother's brother and sister helped the most in looking after the baby.

Neighboring Countries

Bananas today are cheap and perfectly shaped. These bananas are grown by Filipino workers who are showered everyday with agricultural chemicals banned in Japan. They are underpaid and often get sick. In the cities, there are many so-called street children.

Profit seeking Japanese companies in other Asian countries are often guilty of many irresponsible acts. One of the primary causes of flood in Asia and particularly the disaster brought on by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines is the massive tree-felling operations by Japanese corporations. There are families that come from rural areas, because Japanese companies took away their land. Others have to go to foreign countries to find jobs. Since about four years ago, Kamagasaki began to receive many foreign workers.

Because these facts are not taught in schools, they made a play titled "Bananas and Kamagasaki." Through the play, they learned that their lives are supported and enhanced by the sacrifices of other Asian people.

Major Japanese corporations probably would not want to hire the young people of Kodomo no Sato. But even if they are offered a job, they would refuse, because they want to do away a with society where only profits and affluence are sought after at the expense of others.

In the summer of 1990, some members of Kodomo no Sato including elementary school children, went to Thailand and the Philippines. In Thailand, they helped children living in the slums of Khlong Toei build a park. In the Philippines, they stayed at the home of youth and children from Blihan who had been forcibly relocated from Smokey Mountain in Tondo during the Marcos era. It was an encounter of two groups of children who are both socially oppressed in their own countries.

Indigenous People

In the summer of 1992, we went to Hokkaido to meet the Ainu people, the indigenous people of Hokkaido, and to study their culture. What made us interested in Ainu was a fight between two workers at a Yoseba, a place where day laborers are picked up. One of the two was an Ainu. The other man told him, "You, Ainu, go back to Hokkaido."

A place that used to be called Ainumorishi many years ago was invaded by the mainland Japanese in what they called "conquest of the land of Ezo." After many years of fighting during the Meiji Era, the mainland Japanese completely occupied the land, without any treaty exchanged with the Ainu (no such cases exist in other countries). The name of their land was changed to Hokkaido. Like the indigenous people of many other countries, the Ainu have been robbed of their lifestyle, culture, language and rights, forced to assimilate. In so-called the "Ainu hunting," the mainland Japanese treated the Ainu as slaves, and called them barbarians. Deep-rooted discrimination against the Ainu has brought about and still exists today.

"Teacher, there are 37 students plus one bear attending class today," reports a student, indicating an Ainu child. Some Ainu children are refused to be held hands by other children, and hit by the teacher who tell them "It is your fault." There are mothers who say, "I cannot tell my child that he is an Ainu."

Once a Japanese prime minister said, "Japan is a country of only one ethnic group." He was criticized from abroad for the statement. But the Japanese government still call the Ainu "old natives."

Japanese schools do not teach children the real history and the people who suffer. We went to Ainumorishi and witnessed them with our own eyes. Everywhere we went, the name of places were in Ainu language. Children of Ainu were studying Ainu language and dances and celebrating traditional festivals in a movement to restore their culture and rights.

The United Nations designated this year "the International Year for the World's Indigenous Peoples." With "the Law for the Protection of the Old Natives in Hokkaido" still in effect, can Japan really eliminate ethnic discrimination, restore the infringed rights of the indigenous people and other minority groups, and establish a society which guarantees their lifestyles and cultures? Are schools today preparing children to take on that task? It won't be an exaggeration to say that the answer is 100 percent no. Grades students receive are more important in today's schools than educating them about human rights.

The Earth

The beauty of Ainumorishi's natural environment was beyond our imagination. We were all impressed by the Ainu's appreciation of nature and the lifestyle in coexistence with the nature. Mr. Shigeru Kayano, who taught the ways of the Ainu to the children of Kodomo no Sato, says the following in "Pesshi (ripple)," published on May 28, 1992: "Speaking of the protection of nature, there is no such expression in Ainu language. If the nature, that is to say, the sea, mountain, river or bird had a month to speak, they would say 'Don't be arrogant to say that the nature should be protected. We, the nature, do not want to be protected. As long as you lead a plain life, we can provide you with trees to make paper, start fire, or build a house.' I am sure the gods of the nature would say so."

In the Christian tradition, there is an idea that the nature is there to be controlled by humans. It is this idea that destroyed the environment to the present extent. I feel strongly that we must reform this idea. Mr. Kayano says, "We human beings are too extravagant. It was our pursuit of luxury that made the electric companies and the capitalists create such monsters as nuclear power plants. I don't want trains, cars, or airplanes to be faster than now. The brightness of electrical lights could be half or one third of what it is now. I think we must hand down to future generations, the mountains, rivers, crop fields, villages and towns where people can live.

As Kayano says, we use new electric appliances one after another for convenience, exposing our children to deadly radiation. Sprays we use to make things cleaner have destroyed the ozone layer. I think we must face the fact that the more we seek luxury and affluence, the more we discriminate people and disrupt the environment. In other words, the "gakureki" society is destroying the ozone layer, increasing radiation exposure and threatening the life and future of our children. Because this kind of society demands that children study harder, so they can join reputable companies, and lead stable, extravagant lives. Incidentally, 1992 was the year the Earth Summit was held.

The Most Important Rule

I hope you understand why I write about everything from everyday life to environmental problems. In today's schools, these issues are not taught at all. But these are things that are very important for a human being to be human.

What's important as a human is written in Mark - Chapter 12, 28-34. These are rules of Christians. To love our neighbors as we love ourselves is to understand other people's pain. The children of Kodomo no Sato in Kamagasaki are learning to understand other people's pain. Because they take the side of the marginalized and oppressed, they were born to bear the cross.

If understanding other people's pain is the most important thing for a human being to live like a human being, we should reform the "gakureki" society. It is a system that puts our children into major Japanese corporations which exploit the people of other countries for the benefit of a few. It is a society which fosters only those who can be useful to Japan, casting away those who are not.

I am not claiming that children not study or drop out of school. Children should study truth and humanity. The Ministry of Education is requiring schools to sing "Kimigayo" as the national anthem and hoist the Hinomaru flag as the national flag. The Board of Education of each school punish teachers who do not follow these guidelines. There are too many teachers with little awareness of the society or people, who accept and conform to the "gakureki" society. I cannot help but question the present educational system.

This kind of society is sustained by adults, particularly mothers, who tell their children to study without questioning the quality of their education. They only wish for the individual happiness and life of affluence for their own children.

Children today endure tremendous competition and pressure in the hell of the "gakureki" society. The most notable example is the incident of a high school girl crushed to death between the school's iron gates. Her death was incurred by a teacher who tried to shut out the students who were coming in late. The students who saw the teacher shut the gate kept running, jumping over the girl who had fallen to the ground. We have allowed the "gakureki" society to eat away the minds of our children. When the children of Kodomo no Sato heard this news, what they said was, "Why didn't they help the girl, their friend? Why didn't say anything against the teacher?" Those who can ask this question perhaps understand what the most important thing is. But for those students who kept running, the society has taught them that being on time for an examination is more important that helping a friend in need. Which value do we want our children to have?

We need change now. We need to reform ourselves to be able to live as human beings. Children will not be able to escape the hell of "gakureki" society that distorts their values unless we struggle for a reform with a sincere heart.

Mr. Kayano says "It is the time to think how we can control our worldly desires."

The same things is written in the Bible. Let's think about what will happen if we keep on pursuing luxury. Then what should we do? Matthew - 6: 24-34, and Mark - 10: 17-31.

"Let the children come to me and do not stop them, because the Kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these" Mark - Chapter 10: 13-16

By Tomoko Shoho