Thursday, August 17, 2006

No Mad Cow, We`re Japanese by Kevin Burns

Update: The beef supply in Japan now appears to be very safe. However my complaint with the Japanese government is one that repeats itself all the time. It is this:
the lack of preparation for disasters. The lack of foresight. If one thing is
consistent about the Japanese politicians, it is an inability to prepare for the future. They seem not able to grasp what might happen if we don`t prepare for this potential disaster; be it AIDS, an earthquake, or some other calamity. While there have been improvements, it still seems to be a big problem in Japan. Japan is
the only developed country in the world where the cases if AIDS are still increasing.
It`s a tragedy that the government of Japan lacks a policy of prevention. Their policy is usually one of reaction. For many people reaction is just too late.

Why there is a lack of imagination about what potential disasters could be in store for Japan and how to prevent them is open to debate. Some would say it is the education system that creates people who lack creativity. Others would site the inflexible way decisions are made--requiring consensus. Which of course requires compromise. Indeed there are probably many reasons.

No Mad Cow, We're Japanese! How the "Us" & "Them" Mentality of Japan endangers Japan & The World

We all perceive the world in different ways and nations seem to have a national view as well. In Japan, as symbolized by the word "gaijin," we have an Us and Them mentality. If you are not one of Us, you are one of Them and labelled as a "gaijin." There are words for non-Japanese Asians as well. It is very important for Japanese to distinguish between Japanese and everyone else, a situation that doesn't exist as much in North America. It is difficult for North Americans to understand this mentality.

To each their own you say. But the fact is, this Us and Them mentality is a dangerous thing. I suspect that it was perhaps the major reason that allowed Japan to invade China during the 1930's. It was also a major reason allowing for some of the horrible massacres and experiments perpetrated on the Chinese people by Japanese people. I'm sorry I said it; yes maybe that last bit of truth should be censored out, like another Japanese junior high school textbook. Why should any young person know the truth about their past?

It is the reason Governor Ishihara can get away with some of the derogatory things he has said about Chinese people and still retain power. He would have been ousted a long time ago in North America for some of his racial slurs. It is also the major reason that Japanese who have lived in Europe for longer than 6 months have been banned as organ and blood donors in Japan.

According to The Japan Times, "a health ministry committee on Wednesday decided to ban organ donations from people who have spent six months or more in European countries since 1980. The move is aimed at preventing Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease from speading the committee said." The assumption being that living in Europe for 6 months is much more dangerous in terms of contracting a disease, than living in Japan for 6 months. Oh by the way, if you are German, British or French, and live in Japan, you are tainted goods too. You cannot donate blood. Sure they may allow you to do the procedure to avoid a confrontation, but your blood will go down the drain. You are a risk, at least if you believe the Japanese medical authorities. "...Tetsuyuki Kitamoto, a doctor and professor of Tohoku University, noted that those who have stayed six months or more in Europe are already excluded from donating blood in Japan."--noted The Japan Times.

Creutzfeldt-Jakob better known as Mad Cow Disease couldn't possibly be in Japan now could it? No couldn't be! Impossible! This month a European health committee judging the risk for Mad Cow Disease in various countries, dealt Japan the worst risk rating they have ever given for the disease--a "3." The reason stated had to do with the importation of cattle feed into Japan from Britain during the 1980's--the same feed that caused Mad Cow Disease in the United Kingdom. Japanese authorities argued that the feed was used for fertilizer, but the fact remains that farmers were never monitored in how they used it, nor in how they fed their cattle. In typical style, this story was on page two of The Japan Times. It should have been front page news but wasn't.

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo

The attitude often seems to be why get everyone upset? Why anticipate what might happen and try to prevent it? Let's let things go along, then react afterwards. I suppose I am being rather scathing, but I think I am correct. There is too much foot dragging and not enough realistic analysis of potential crises. Why would any intelligent Japanese health official assume that Japan is in any way safer than France for example? And why does most of the Japanese Press slink from their responsibility of accurate reporting? Part of accuracy is putting a story on the front page when it is really front page news.

The same thing happened with AIDS in Japan and is still happening. The impression is that there is very little HIV infection here, yet there is no analysis of the AIDS figures when they are intermittently reported. In Canada, the actual people infected with HIV is multiplied by at least ten to get an accurate figure as most people don't get tested, and this is mentioned in articles about the latest infection figures. In Japan there is no analysis--people aren't warned that the figures probably stand at at least 50,000 people infected. AIDS activists still complain that the populace is still largely ignorant of AIDS and AIDS prevention, that again coming from a Japan Times report of a few months ago.

Although this incident occurred in 1990, I think it is illustrative of the mentality here in Japan. Some friends of mine were in Hokkaido and thought today would be a good day to go to a brothel. When I asked Hide (name changed) if he wore a condom, he said, "No, she was Japanese." Japanese cannot have AIDS was his assumption. Japan cannot have Mad Cow Disease seems to be the assumption now. Yes history repeats itself, God help us! Would you pass the steak, it's Japanese--so can't be infected with anything. God I love Japanese marbled beef!

Kevin Burns
About the Author

Kevin Burns is a writer and teacher in Japan. He owns Kevin`s English Schools, the Canadian schools in Japan: As well he owns Travel Central Japan a guide to Japan with many articles about this great country: He and his Japanese wife also operate an online store called Merry Lue:

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