Somaliland and Japan: Distance still matters’

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(Medeshi)- For Medeshi News by Yoshia Morishita . These are 3 articles by a friend and colleague of mine from Sapporo, Japan. Yoshia is a graduate from UCL (London) and a former staff at PENHA London . These articles were publsihed on Medeshi in March 2009
Section 1: Distance lost its significance?
In the age of globalisation when we can travel in the way that was totally unimaginable to our grandparents and even parents, we tend to think that geographical distance has lost its significance. Is this true? Yes, this is true in many ways.

Let’s go back in time to the 1950s. In those days, Japanese people, after the bitter experiences during WWII, were determined to re-construct the country through economicgrowth and development, which resulted in a miraculous success, as you have probably heard somewhere.

Yoshia Morishita
During the course of Japan’s rapid economic growth, there were three things which Japanese people wanted to purchase as soon as they saved enough money for them: a monochrome television, a washing machine and a fridge. As these items became widespread by the 1960s, they continued to work hard so they could afford another three items, that is, a Colour TV, a Car and a Cooler (in fact this refers to an air conditioner). These items are mentioned as ‘the three Cs’ in the modern history textbooks used in Japanese schools. What a contrast this is to our life today, which, I would say, is full of high-tech products at home! In the past, everyone was concerned with the household and did not even dream of travelling beyond the national borders. By the way, be reminded that Japan does not share any land borders with any other country.
Sapporo , Japan …

Today we live in a totally different world. I am typing this article over a cup of lukewarm green tea using this little SONY laptop. And where does this article go once it is written up? To the UK. To the web master M, a long-term friend of mine. How does it go? Via e-mail. How long does it take? A few seconds. How does it work? A single click on the SEND button that appears in a web-based free e-mail account of mine. Impossible in the past. Possible now. Distance is nothing. Is that so? Maybe… In the next section, I will consider the significance of geographical distance in relation to Japan and Somalia/land. (End of Section 1).
Section 2 of 3: We still need binoculars to see beyond the distance: Japan’s Navy Dispatch

Once again, geographical distance seems to have lost its significance. It certainly has, but to some extent. Why to some extent? Because it still matters.

Several days ago I received a message from an angry M. I kind of sensed even before opening the e-mail what he had written about. It should be about the Japan Marine Defense Force (Navy, to put simply) dispatching a few ships to the areas off Somalia/land. Bingo!

The Horn of Africa is very far from Japan. It takes the ships about two weeks to get there. Therefore the crew members will eat curry twice onboard. It’s their tradition to have curry on Fridays so they are reminded it’s a Friday. They see the ocean every single day during the voyage. The sun rises and sets today, like yesterday, and definitely tomorrow too. It is possible that they forget the day. The curry helps in this regard (I hear the curry tastes great. I never tried it myself but the recipe should be available at the Navy’s web site).

Putting the weekly curry aside, there are a huge number of Japan-related ships that go through the areas off Somalia/land, and this justifies the dispatch of the ships. It is very rare for Japan to send the troops overseas as the constitution strictly forbids it, unless there is an international agreement/request for the dispatch. A few Japanese commercial vessels have been attacked by some pirates there. There are a great number of ships of a great number of countries that already request the Navy’s protection. The government of Japan believes the dispatch is necessary. It also hopes the Navy will not use force, just like the Japanese Ground Army that never fired a single bullet in Iraq over a period of more than six years.

One thing for sure, in any case, is that the way that the vast majority of Japanese people see our military forces is perhaps fundamentally different from the way the other nationals see their military. I understand that the military of many nations of the world, because of the shared land borders with their neighbouring countries and their operations overseas, is considered as a military ‘force’, while in Japan people tend to see the military as an organisation that supplements the police and help people in case of emergencies, such as frequent earthquakes, typhoons, landslides, rescue activities after avalanches in winter mountains and so on. I get confused when our troops are viewed by outsiders in exactly the way as the military forces of other nations; we do not talk about spreading democracy, human rights, good/bad governance and other ideas that tend to be imposed on some people by the self-proclaimed leaders of the world. Things are naturally different from place to place.

The dispatch is a big issue anyway. Some opposition parties and civic organisations are strongly against the dispatch, referring to the military expansion of the past (some of them actually refuse the use of the national flag and anthem even on formal/official occasions). But perhaps the web master M took it more seriously than I and most of Japanese actually did. So how come we are not taking this issue as seriously as we probably should? Distance seems to matter…
Photos from Sapporo – Japan

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