KIZUNA – Bonding and Connection

Written by Kamini Devadass, Be Movement issue 3 – JAPAN, published March 2013

As borders become more porous, the Japanese traits of discipline, harmony and consideration for others can play an instrumental role in shaping the future of international politics, so believes Masahide Adachi, the Director of the Japan Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), Singapore.

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Founded in 1988 by Japanese authorities, CLAIR now has offices in Singapore, New York, London, Paris, Seoul, Sydney and Beijing. CLAIR aims to strengthen international collaboration, which in turn would have the ripple effects of stimulating communities, enhancing harmony and deepening understanding. A key area the organisation contributes to is through sharing experiences with the international community.

On lessons from the earthquake, Adachi says, “I think [the international community] can learn the need of social harmony, the feeling of sharing such hardships [with] the people in their society so they feel belonging to the community, the importance of community.”

Other than experiences, CLAIR also seeks to share practical expertise and policies in disaster management and recovery, social welfare, water supply and sewage management.

In 2000, CLAIR Singapore introduced the Specialist Dispatch Project with the aim of improving the quality of local administration, technical expertise and human resource management of the governments of the 10 ASEAN countries and India.

By dispatching Japanese government officials, including retirees, with the relevant knowledge or technical skills to these governments, the Japanese government enhances its ties with them. Its most recent disaster prevention exercises took place in Thailand in 2012, when five Japanese government officials were dispatched.

Though well prepared for disaster management, the Tohoku Earthquake reminded the Japanese that even the most elaborate precautionary procedures can never be a guarantee against the incalculable forces of nature.

“I thought [that] for an earthquake like this time, we have to change the concept [of disaster management] to prepare for [future] disasters. We tried to manage […] by building large walls and building walls on the sea, but [they were] completely broken down by the tsunami. The power of nature is unlimited. We can’t manage everything by building infrastructure.

The very important thing now is to secure the route to flee from the tsunami and it is important to not live close to the coastline of course, so city planning is very important. As a public official I thought we have to change some of the points to deal with the tsunami,” says Adachi.

“But, for the scale of this earthquake, there were only a few people affected by the tremor itself. I think it’s because of our efforts to build houses which are anti-earthquake. We put in a lot of effort to build those houses and schools,” he adds. The fact that the majority of the buildings in Japan are still standing after one of the biggest ever earthquakes is testament to Japanese technology and construction expertise.

A public official since his graduation from the Law Faculty of the University of Tokyo in 1992, Adachi speaks from his extensive experience in the public sector. He also realises Japan has much to learn from the international community.

Adachi says, “I think for Japanese leaders in each local area, they lack the experience to communicate with foreign people. The most important thing is communication. They tend to see things [from] the same angle, but the world is so large and the people in the world see things at different angles. […] They have to learn to see things from different angles, as without that they cannot communicate with people of different cultures.” Though CLAIR has placed emphasis on efforts to advance the Japanese culture through international cooperation, Adachi fears that the reticent nature of the Japanese places them at a disadvantage. He says, “If Japan is more open to the international world and accepts more and more people in Japan, I think it should be [fine].”

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“What I need for Japan is to be more confident, about ourselves, our culture, our product and our uniqueness. I think uniqueness is not a bad thing.” He adds, “The challenge Japan has to overcome is to open the shells of ourselves and see the possibilities for ourselves in the future.”

Still, faithful and proud of his roots, he believes through the disaster the Japanese have realised something that had been with them all along.

“I don’t think the earthquake itself changed the Japanese culture [fundamentally] but I think it had a great impact on the Japanese state of mind. Because at that time, as people worried about their friends and relatives, [they once again began to understand] the importance of [the connection] between people to people,” says Adachi.

“Kizuna or bonding [became] widely known due to the disaster. Many felt the importance of human relations, how important it is. I think it changed their values and [perceptions of things].” Kizuna is now common parlance when the Japanese speak of the earthquake.

It is true the disaster left in ruins the lives of many, but it is also true that it came as a timely reminder of what many of us may have forgotten – that the bonds we share will help to see us through.

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