Table Speech

“The Future of Cultural Exchange in East Asia”

April 6, 2011

Mr. Shugo Matsuo
President, Office Matsuo, Inc.
Director, The Japan Foundation

 I have long engaged myself in music, the so-called “soft industry,” which gave me numerous occasions to make cultural exchange visits to many different countries.

 I first got involved in Republic of Korea (ROK) about 15 years ago as the Chairman of Recording Industry Association of Japan. I talked with many people from different fields, trying to lift the “ban on popular culture” taken by ROK, which kept people in our neighboring country from enjoying the Japanese music. I learnt that “people of my generation still suffered from wounds that could not be healed easily. In reality, however, music goes beyond national boundaries and many people, especially the young, listen to the music and get moved as much as we do.” Music transcends logic and theory.

 Kim Dae-jung, the then president, stated that ROK would “gradually remove the ban on Japanese music” during the 1998 Japan-ROK Summit. He believed that active cultural exchange would help to overcome political and economic issues between the two countries. Mr. Kim reiterated his intention to “deepen cultural exchange” when Prime Minister Obuchi visited ROK in 1999. A committee was established, with 10 members from Korea and 10 from Japan, including distinguished people such as Mr. Shumon Miura, Mr. Ikuo Hirayama, Mr. Soshitsu Sen and Mr. Heisuke Hironaka. I was honored to be one of the members. We had active meetings in a friendly atmosphere, thanks to Mr. Kim’s enthusiasm and great insight. The committee extended its term to 8 years, which was eventually succeeded by the Japan-China-ROK Cultural Exchange Forum. We realized, anew, how personal exchanges could resolve various issues among countries.

 Cultural exchange between Korea and Japan has shown a remarkable growth. 2002 World Cup Soccer was jointly held in Japan and Korea for the first time in history, and Korean actor called “Yong-sama” fascinated Japanese women. As many as 5.3 million people travelled between the two countries last year. Travelers between Japan and China have also grown rapidly, hitting 5.14 million. The USA has long been Japan’s largest partner for exchanges after WWII. Yet, ROK and China have overtaken the USA during the last 5 years. Active personal exchanges will lay the foundation for further exchanges in various fields.

 In 2009, ex-Prime Minister Hatoyama made a proposal for an “East Asian Community”. I believe that cultural exchange, especially popular culture, as well as personal exchanges can pioneer the way to political alliance in the East Asian Community. For example, Japanese “animation” is extremely popular to the younger generation in China, Korea, Russia and Europe. Contemporary Japanese culture, based on its classical culture, also dominates the market. The term “Cool Japan” has been widely known for some years. Japanese pop culture, including animation films aired on TV or comic books, makes the people in Asia feel close to Japan. Understanding different cultures laid the basis of cultural exchange so far. Today’s pop culture crosses national boundaries and young people everywhere instinctively understand it. Some say “pop culture will come to play a crucial role in building a peaceful world.”

 The number of people learning Japanese has shown a rapid growth, to reach 4 million. The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test has been held at 206 cities in 54 countries, and nearly 770,000 examinees took the test in 2009. Japanese language is gaining rapid popularity throughout Asia, especially in East Asia, and the number of Japanese learners and examinees in this area account for 70-75% of foreigners learning the language. Learning Japanese will surely facilitate the understating of Japanese culture.

 Growing popularity and interest towards Japan make us think what should be done on our side. Only a few Japanese today have clear memories of WWII, as 80% of the population was born after the War. I frequently communicate with young Japanese high school students. When I ask them what they know about WWII, only a few students can give me a clear answer. They seem to lack the knowledge that should be handed down naturally from generation to generation in the family life. They also seem to be apathetic and less motivated. Their major concern is “getting a job” and all they wish for is to lead a “safe and risk-free life”.

 The young people of today are the digital generation. We, the analogue generation, must come up with an effective scheme that nurtures them as the driving force to create new cities and countries in East Asia. The survey result published in March 2010, indicated a promising sign. Many young people in China (between age 15 and 20) chose Japan as their favorite country making Japan rank No.1, followed by the US, France and ROK. The younger generation must get guidance to become capable successors, and our generation is responsible to hand down what we have learnt.