Masks or blindfolds

I am in Japan at the moment. It is a relief to be back in a culture where there is no tipping of waiters, no backhanders to get things done, and a country where people bow and show respect at all times (except the Yakusa!). Not that I have ever been a traditionalist, bemoaning the behaviour of the young or writing hang’m-flog’em letters to the right wing press. Quite the opposite. It has always seemed to me that a radical youth is needed everywhere to stir up societies and stop them becoming moribund or reactionary, even though it upsets those who are approaching their dotage or who have a monopoly on power.

Wanting to shape a country’s culture shows a person cares about it. In the fifties and early sixties we teenagers felt alive and sensed we were dominating attitudes and beliefs. We behaved badly but the arts flourished with our headstrong attack upon the establishment’s control of what counted as culture and what didn’t. Eventually we were marginalised as our creative forces were subsumed in the new consumerism but much changed. This condition still pertains. Ideas are merchandise like everything else. Walk the streets of Tokyo or any other city in the world and you see fashion appropriating every form of disaffection, muzzling it or neutering it. The young are disinheriting the earth.

As I said recently, student revolt in the UK over fees bears little comparison with earlier student revolt over disproportionate power and control where the haves dominate the have-nots, keeping them firmly embedded in ignorance and powerlessness. Similarly, marching to Aldermaston or Greenham Common encampments had a different order of caring for a country, its people and humanity as a whole, than breaking windows at Tory Headquarters in London. When people march for their rights to gather, to be uncensored or not to be discriminated against. there is hope.

I visited the Hiroshima Peace Park, yesterday, for the second time in three years, with its museum attesting to the devastation of the Atomic bomb in 1945. The images and artefacts are so unsettling that the mind revolts against them, trying to deny them access. No human being could do this, surely? Harry Truman did and he was no Hitler or Stalin. The order was passed. The decision was made not to warn the civilian population. Days after Hiroshima the Americans turned on Nagasaki. The carnage was stupendously obscene. The bombs we have today are thousands of times more powerful. Many countries have them. Yet, in the main in the apathetic west we don’t protest about the world’s ills beyond our doors. We keep our heads down and let our politicians, our own Harry Trumans, do what they may. Even if we could be flattened by H Bombs or environmental suicide.

When I was forced to drink coffee in the smoking area of a restaurant in Tokyo, a young couple came in, their faces covered in those white anti-pollution masks. They took them off and lighted up cigarettes. It seemed to sum up the Wonderland we live in very well.

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