On November 9, 2008, The Sumitomo Cultural Forum - 2008 -“Words of advice for the next generation” was held in The Yuraku-cho Asahi Hall in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo.
Mr. Hisakazu Suzuki, the secretary-general of the Sumitomo Group Public Affairs Committee introduced the history of the Sumitomo Cultural Forum the attendees as the sponsor. The forum had started in 1979 with the first being titled “How to live in the 80’s” and included specialists from various circles related to the forums’ chosen subject, as well as panelists to discuss the topic as it related to ways of life in the particular period until the 11th and final forum in 1985. Although, he explained that due to Japan’s large changes it underwent in the 21st century, the forums were brought back to the forefront of ideas and discussion.
This year’s forum, which was the third since 2006, was titled “A message for the next generation”. In a more globalized society, our everyday social relationships and environment are changing at an unprecedented rate. The children of the next generation will outlast us and become our future. What we should say to these children and what we should leave them in the future was the topic that was discussed for over 3 hours with the keynote addresses delivered by a few select panel representatives followed by a discussion amongst the panel. The speaker for the keynote address was novelist, Wahei Tatematsu. The panelist’s featured three other people, Mary Christine, a cross-cultural communicator and Miyazaki Tetsuya who is a well known social critic. Atsuko Fukushima, essayist and newscaster, made an appearance as a coordinator as well.
The first part of the keynote address by Mr.Tatematsu conveyed his observations from things he has experienced in daily life and various volunteer activities. He suggested what we should leave for the future was the small acts of nature going on around us. Then he mentioned that the amount of children playing by the river is steadily decreasing because of a levee construction. The result of this, the ability to sense danger and knowledge relating to nature are parting ways. He then elaborated on his views by using the example of Eki Miyazaki, a famous monk from Eihei temple who had information in his daily journal pertaining to the perception of nature by the five senses. When he re-read the journal, he realized that due to unchanging seasons there are always things that never change.
He also appealed to the audience about the importance of preserving nature for the next generation with a comparison of these examples; one of the volunteer activities that he has sponsored, called “Kojinomori”, similar to what is mentioned in the famous historical document “The Record of Ancient Matters”, is the afforestation of Ashiodouzan, a mountain in Tochigi Prefecture. This as well as other efforts are similar to the ones being done by another volunteer group which has been planting trees over 100 years in the forest of Besshidouzan mountain which is located in Ehime Prefecture.
The second part of the forum included a panel discussion which the attendees listened to each panelist’s opinions and stories based on their own experiences.
Mary Christine gave her insights based on various experiences from living abroad. “Especially in Asia, the traditional culture that is handed down from generations is always being cherished” Ms. Christine later states that “I believe that there is always someone out there who needs me more than I do. When you engage in assertive communication, the speaker and listener can establish a connection. If these conditions are met, the people involved in the conversation will want to talk more and society can grow. Leaving the children with this knowledge is my true desire”.
Social critic, Mr. Miyazaki pointed out that the reality of staggered generations is making communication between each generation difficult “Because of late marriages and unmarried couples, the birth rates are declining at a rapid rate; it is getting difficult to recognize children as a generation”. He also emphasized what each of us can do to overcome this resulting communication breakdown. “The solution to this problem is showing children the way of life without being ashamed”. Also he spoke to those who are living in the present, “I feel like the Japanese are seeking stability in their life and are afraid to speak out because it would disrupt the balance which they are accustomed to. I don’t want to forget our life is always facing some aspect of danger”.
After delivering the keynote address, Mr. Tatematsu joined the panel discussion. He discussed a variety of topics ranging from the story of woman who puts make-up on while riding a train, his own activities of nature conservation and research at the South Pole. He also expressed his views on his role and a particular goal, “There may not be much that I can do but as a novelist, what my job is to convey my thoughts to the world. I will do more that just write books, if I ever have the chance to talk to young people, I will tell them the ways to ensure Japan’s prosperity for the future”. Mr. Tatematsu ended the forum with a reference to Ryoukan’s story about ways to achieve life goals. “Ryoukan’s, ‘give my all to the world’ way of living really touched me deeply. I may never be able to live my life that way but there is still the way of life like Ryoukan so I will never forget his worldly views and try to live my life accordingly”.