In 2011 the Kanji of the Year, as nominated by the Japanese public, was "kizuna" meaning "bonds" or "connections". This choice, of course, came in the wake of the 3.11 disaster. In the aftermath, it appeared that in Japan, bonds and connections - between people and people, between humans and the environment, between Japan and other nations, between the past and the future, and, as a result of radiation, between the molecules that constitute life - were recognized as having greater significance in people's lives. People had learned first hand that when you strip away everything else the only thing that really matters are these connections and bonds. Out of the tragedy of 3.11 this had been the major lesson learned and a major value shift had been the result. It appeared that, after the years of stagnation, a path to a more harmonious, enlightened future had opened up.
Or so a lot of us thought...
Just one year later, the Kanji of 2012 is "kin" meaning money/gold. This seems to suggest that "money" - material gain - has once again become the main priority for the majority of Japanese. There have been those who have argued that "kin" can be interpreted as "success" or "achievement", or "the path towards" those things, but there are alternative kanji which could have been selected if that was what was truly meant. Even if this was the case, it's sad to see that we still associate success/achievement with gold/material gain, particularly after the lessons learn from 3.11; It was precisely the obsession with material gain (greed) which compounded the effects of the natural disaster - earthquakes and tsunami are easy to recover from (Japan has lots of experience), radioactive fallout isn't. The pursuit of material gain as the only recognized measure of success and achievement damaged the lives of millions of people and the surrounding natural world. And because money is the only measure that people seem to recognize, the only way that people can be compensated for their loss is with more money. Doesn't this vicious cycle, which results from placing "kin" as the sole measure of rewarding success and compensating loss, reveal a lack of truly innovative thinking?
If you needed anymore proof of the failure to think about things in a different way, today the pro-nuclear, right-wing LDP led by nationalist Shinzo Abe was returned to power with overwhelming support. Abe was Prime Minister in 2007 and says that his way of thinking hasn't changed in five years since he resigned. The re-election of Abe is a return to an earlier way of thinking, a way of think that alienated Japan's neighbours and produced the problems which magnified the effects of the 3.11 disaster.
Why did people forget so soon? Are humans doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes eternally? How many times do we have to touch the fire before we realize that it burns? What does it take for humans to change their values in a meaningful way? How earth-shattering - literally and figuratively - does the wake up call have to be? This lack of creative thinking mixed with long-term memory loss isn't just a Japanese trait, it's a human trait - how many mass shootings do there have to be before people decide that things need to be handled differently?
I'm guilty of these same mistakes myself, I've become too caught up in the pursuit of worldly success and have lost touch with the things that are truly important to me.
So, I will be returning to the source;
Vow to create more than I consume;
Ask more of myself than I ask of this world.