Japan Wakizashi Dagger

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The Most Dangerous Man in Japan is Not a Yakuza or Politician!

Japan ’s history is filled with extraordinary individuals, from samurai warriors and ninja assassins to military leaders, who could be described as the most dangerous men of their era.   In contemporary times, this label has often been applied to one or more infamous yakuza gang members, including Yoshinori Watanabe, former boss of the Yamaguchi Gumi, Japan ’s largest group of professional gangsters (which has its own telephone directory, listing 101 gangs throughout Japan ).   But I have long had my own candidate for “The Most Dangerous Man in Japan ” title—and man whose only weapon and whose only form of attack is a single word: the interrogative “Why?”   In my opinion the most dangerous man in Japan today is a combination martial artist, scholar, professor, former NHK TV host, debate enthusiast, prolific author (over 100 books), and accomplished poet named Michihiro Matsumoto.   Matsumoto began his professional career in 1962 as member of the Foreign Department of Nissho Iwai trading company, then went on to serve as a simultaneous interpreter and translator at the American Embassy in the early 1970s, associate professor of Business Administration at the Sanno Institute, executive assistant at Nikko Securities, instructor at International Christian University, host of NHK-TV’s popular English/Debate Interview Program, and professor of Foreign Studies at Nagoya University.   In the 1980’s Matsumoto founded the Matsumoto Debate Institute. In 1986 he became the president of the Kodokan Debating Society and in 1998 he became president of the International Debate Development Association, concurrently serving as professor of Intercultural Communications at Honolulu University .   Matsumoto’s checkered career in commerce, government service, academia and public broadcasting has been about as un-Japanese-like as you can get because in a culture in which employees didn’t ask questions, hunkered down, and remained with the same organization for life, he didn’t stay quiet and he didn’t assume a low profile.   Having pattered his early life after that of Japan’s most famous samurai warrior, Musashi Miyamoto [1584-1645], author of the noted treatise Go Rin Sho   (Go Reen Shoh) or Book of Five Rings on fighting death-duels, Matsumoto questioned everything and everybody, and wherever he went he soon became known as a maverick—as someone who didn’t think or act like the typical Japanese and invariably upset the famous wa (wah) or harmony that was the foundation of Japan’s traditional culture.   Matsumoto’s professional and public life became epitomized by the question “Why?”—the word he constantly used in an effort to force people to publicly explain and justify their opinions, policies and actions, something that had long been taboo in Japanese society.   His dedication to the why/because way of interacting with other people has finally begun to pay off.   A growing number of Japanese are adopting his philosophy—a phenomenon that is particularly conspicuous among some academics, senior business executives and leading politicians.   Matsumoto has, in fact, been something like a virus that started out as a tiny irritant but has now begun to impact on Japan ’s contemporary culture in fundamental ways that are having a slow but profound affect on society in general.   But this does not mean that Matsumoto himself is no longer Japanese in any traditional sense. He is, in fact, more traditional in his overall philosophy than most of his contemporaries, having remained a strong advocate of the value of the fabled spirit of the samurai, and he uses this spirit as the foundation for his teaching.   Just as Kendo (The Way of the Sword) was the primary principle in the discipline and training of the samurai, Matsumoto’s uses the same principle in teaching English, calling his method Eigodo (The Way of English), and in his debating tournaments.   Matsumoto’s latest book, Kokka no Kiga i (Koke-kah no Kee-guy), or The Spirit of a Nation [Nisshin Hodo, September 29, 2007 ], is a call for Japan to return to the positive elements of the samurai way.   The Spirit of a Nation was, in fact, written to counter a 2006 book entitled Kokka no Hinkaku (Koke-kah no Heen-kah-kuu), The Dignity of a Nation , written by mathematics professor Masahiko Fujiwara.   Fujiwara’s book is a critique of capitalism and democracy and basically calls for the Japanese to return to the militaristic style of government and business administration that characterized pre-World War II Japan… It sold over two million copies during its first year in print.   Matsumoto’s philosophy represents not only the best path for Japan to follow into the future, it is also the country’s best defense against those who advocate a return to the aggressive, militaristic principles and policies of the past. _________________________________________ Copyright © 2009 by Boyé Lafayette De Mente. The author is the writer of 40-plus books on Japan ’s culture, language, management practices and sexual mores, including KATA—The Key to Understanding & Dealing with the Japanese . To see a list and descriptions of his books, go to his personal website: www.BoyeDeMente.com  

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