A talk with Steve Mickevics, my tutor in 2019

 

 

 

 

Every month, a talk with Steve on various topics will be posted. Steve comes from Adelaide, Australia. He’s been in Japan for more than 10 years, and is married to a Japanese. His daughter, Sakura, is now four years old and attends kindergarten.

  

 

 

 

 

 

A topic for discussion for December 12, 2019: As we come closer to the end of 2019, what news, events or happenings, be them public or private, would you like to highlight for the year?

 

 

 

To this, Steve focused his talk on two occasions: firstly, it was his mother’s visit to Japan and secondly, his daughter’s sports day.

This is how he elaborated on them. His mother, who lives in Adelaide, Australia, visits Japan every year to spend time with Steve’s family; this time it was for three weeks in July and August. During her stay, Steve took her to Hakone, which is about 80 km south west of downtown Tokyo; Hakone is a national park with a lake near Mt. Fuji. They enjoyed themselves going to an outdoor museum for sculptures as well as “Onsen,” hot springs.

 

As to his daughter, Sakura, Steve mentioned that although it was enjoyable to have visited Toin’s kindergarten for the sports day, he found that the venue was too crowded with parents eager to watch their children performing. Actually, the sports day event was carried out jointly with Toin’s elementary school. So, Steve said that he would like to have the sports day event held separately.  

 

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A topic of discussion for November 13, 2019: From October 1, 2019,

 

The consumer tax here has been raised to 10% but remains 8% for food stuffs. People tend to think paying taxes as their duty and obligation to their society in general. Is there a way to pay taxes willingly, if not happily?  

 

The discussion started with this remark from Steve, “I pay my tax willingly.” Basically, taxes are collected by the government to be spent on various public services, such as education, social security, medical assistance, national security and more. People tend to focus on the very fact of paying their taxes from their own pockets but not fully appreciating the benefits of these public services.

 

As pointed out by Steve, it’s important to know why taxes are levied; so, once this becomes clearer more people can be expected to pay taxes willingly. In this respect, the government has a responsibility and accountability of properly managing the collection of taxes and spending on public services, more than anything else.

 

Taking this opportunity, I’m pleased to let you know that a junior high school student in my neighborhood has written an essay regarding taxation in response to a competition for juniors by the National Taxation Agency. The essay was acclaimed as the best and received the Kanagawa prefecture governor’s award.  This is what she said. “My elder sister is a disabled person and she receives social security benefits, such as the service of “helpers” coming to my house or staying at a daytime facility on a regular basis.” “I have realized that my sister can live happily every day thanks to these services that are provided by taxes.” “I do hope that every person will pay taxes willingly. When I grow up, I would like to contribute to Japanese society by paying my own taxes.”

 

 

Lastly, we talked about taxation in the near future. Will the consumer tax remain as it is? Or, will it be increased to twenty something like some European countries to cover more social security spending as we rapidly brace for a declining population but an increasing number of seniors?  Here, Steve mentioned an interesting system called “universal income.”  Universal income is the system of paying a certain amount of money to people. Some countries have already implemented or are implementing universal income on a trial basis. There are many, many variations; of course, there are pros and cons for this. But this will offer an interesting prospect for the future, if not an alternative.      

 

 

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A topic of discussion on October 9, 2019: Just a few days ago, I read in the paper that our future depends on human intelligence, ethics and the development of science all based upon asking ourselves “are we doing these in conformity with moral rightness.” This is advocated by a contemporary German philosopher, named Markus Gabriel. How would you like to comment on this?

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s so obvious.” “Is it that profound a matter? These were the first comments of Steve. So, we tried to elaborate on these points. Generally speaking, human beings have become “more intelligent” one generation after another, due to accumulating information through various means. Then, we talked about ethics.

 

Here, Steve provided that there are three aspects of ethics to understand. Virtuous ethics is one. Consequential ethics, meaning ethics of one’s actions, comes next. The third is deontological ethics, which is duty-based ethics like what a medical doctor should follow. Regarding the role of science, we discussed that the development of atomic bombs is one good example of what science could produce and how it conforms with moral rightness.  

 

Then, Steve mentioned that there are other factors impeding our future. What did Steve point out? First of all, it was the negative side of religion. History teaches us how religion has worked against the development of science or the realization of gender equality; to some extent it is prevalent even today. Another point raised by Steve was separation into national identity. As is well known, this can culminate into war, genocides etc. in worst case scenarios. In connection to this, we have a good and promising example of the EU that shows what can be achieved in terms of unity rather than separation.

 

Markus Gabriel reminds us the importance to keep asking ourselves, “are we doing things with moral rightness?” After all, we have to admit that human nature and behavior does not change so easily.

 

 

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A topic of discussion for September 11, 2019: We have talked a lot about the philosophical achievements of ancient Greece. Let’s now turn to some other fields of the ancient Greek civilization. What is your take on the influence of ancient Greece on a global scale?  

 

 

 

 

 

As is well known to many people, ancient Greece has played an outstanding role in creating, inventing, formulating, editing and above all documenting many fields of human intelligence to the world. Steve tried to provide some examples. He mentioned the Parthenon for one thing in the field of engineering and architecture, Steve also added the introduction of plumbing, the development of a central heating system, the odometer, and mile stones among others.

 

In terms of astronomy, the ancient Greeks invented the “astrolabe”, which was subsequently developed into today’s sextant, an “analogue computer” that showed the movements of the sun, the moon and stars. These all culminated in the theory of “helliocentrism”, in which the earth and planets revolved around the sun. There were also great achievements in arts (amphitheaters, sculptures), musical instruments, literature (such classics as the Iliad, the Odyssey, tragedies and more). We also should not forget about the Greek’s democratic political system.   

 

 

These and other achievements by ancient Greece spread to and were expanded on in Ancient Rome, the Byzantine Empire, and even the Islamic caliphates, culminating in the Renaissance, thus becoming the basis of modern western civilization. Looking back at ancient Greece, one wonders what was the impetus or driving force behind such achievements: just the freedom to study and of speech? 

 

 

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A topic of discussion for August 21, 2019: This is a follow-up of the previous topic. Could you highlight and explain ancient Greek philosophers that you like after Socrates?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As if Steve had expected this topic, he was well prepared to talk about two great figures and four schools of philosophers. Plato (427-347 BC) came first, being one of the prominent followers of Socrates. It was Plato who wrote valuable records of his master in the form of dialogues; Socrates himself did not leave any works. Why was Plato such a great philosopher and what was his outstanding contribution among many others? To this, Steve mentioned the “Theory of Forms.” It’s rather difficult to understand, so this will help: “It denies the reality of the material world, considering it only an image or copy of the real world.” (Wikipedia) Turning to his political thoughts, Plato was not in favor of democracy, observing what had happened to Socrates through his trial and subsequent death sentence in the name of democracy. He advocated that a group of philosophers, who could see the “real world” by philosophical practice, would be best suited to lead a country.

 

Then came Aristotle (384-322 BC), who was one of the best followers of Plato. Aristotle not only absorbed what Plato taught but also enhanced and expanded his teaching in his own way. He was accredited with creating a “comprehensive system of philosophy”, which covered a wide range of studies such as ethics, esthetics, logic, physics, other sciences, metaphysics and so on. Aristotle developed methods of logical argument called syllogism.

“It applies deductive reasoning to arrive at a conclusion based on two or more propositions that are asserted correct.” A classic example was given by Steve; the major premise is “all humans are mortal”, the minor premise is “all Greeks are human”, and the conclusion is “all Greeks are mortal”. Aristotle advanced reasons for anything coming into existence: attributing it to four factors, matter, form, source and final cause. How would you compare this with Plato’s Theory of Forms?

 

Now let’s turn to the four schools of philosophy. They focused on “how to live day to day lives” according to their perspectives. The first were the “Cynics” in the 5th Century. They advocated a life of virtue, rejecting four basic desires: namely wealth, fame, power and sex.

 

Next were “the “Skeptics” (360 BC~). They asserted that all information needed to be supported by a lot of evidence. They even doubted the human senses. Coming next were the Epicureans (307 BC ~) who were hedonists. They pursued spiritual happiness and lived outside of towns on basic essentials: water, milk and bread.

Lastly, it was the Stoics (3rd Century BC~), who were founded by Zeno. They advocated how to lead a virtuous life. By avoiding pleasure, which were thought to be bad, one could come closer to this goal. 

   

 

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A topic of discussion for July 10, 2019: Could you highlight and explain some ancient Greek philosophers that you like? 

It turned out that Steve had thoroughly studied ancient Greek philosophers at university; so, today’s topic was perhaps a surprise and a welcoming one for him. How did he manage the discussion? Well, Steve tried to focus on Socrates, who was “the founder of western ethical tradition of thought”, and pre-Socratic philosophers.

 

To start with, Steve talked about Thales of Miletus (624~546 BC), who is considered the first western philosopher and father of modern science. He asked “Why things happen as they do?”, “What things are made of?” among others. In this way, Thales questioned and tried to answer in a theoretical and scientific manner anything that was previously thought to be god-related activities. He was credited with predicting the solar eclipse and calculating the height of the Pyramids.

 

Next came Anaximander (610-546 BC), who was Thales’s pupil and left his works in writing. Anaximander advocated the “open universe”, not enclosed or limited. He also said that everything was created from a single source, “Apeiron”.

 

Then came Pythagoras (570-495 BC), who is perhaps best-known today for his Pythagorian theorem. He was the first person to say that the world is round. Pythagoras founded a large school of philosophers, which focused on the practical aspects of life as well: How to live life? What to eat?

 

Herakleitos (535-475BC) came next. He is well known to us by saying “No man steps in the same river twice.” He advocated that everything is changing constantly; he believed in free will; “we can choose our own path.”                            

The opposing idea came from Parmenides of Elea, who advocated fatalism: “Things don’t change”, “Future and past are set”.

 

Empedocles (490-430 BC) said that everything was made of four elements: earth, water, air and fire. Upon these elements were two forces, “love” and “strife,” which worked to mix and separate the elements respectively. 

 

Democritus (460-370 BC) advocated an atomic theory of the universe; everything is made of atoms. With the backdrop of these philosophical feats,

Socrates (469-399 BC) came into the picture. What was his greatest philosophical contribution? Simply put, it was the “Socratic method” a series of questions and answers that would stimulate critical thinking and draw out ideas and underlying presupposition. Later philosophers expanded and enhanced the concept of the Socratic method to what is known as dialectics. 

 

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A topic of discussion for June 12, 2019: If there were a time machine that you could ride, what period and where would you like to go?  

I’m sure that it would be something like an exciting fantasy to ride in a time machine for anyone. Steve’s first reaction was “difficult to pinpoint” as to what period and where to go. Well, we first agreed to focus our discussion on a short visit somewhere instead of living there. Steve also mentioned that he would like to go forward into the future; but we agreed to stick to the past. So, this is how our discussion went.

 

Steve first mentioned that he would like to visit when and where Jesus lived.

Did he actually exist? Why was he so attractive, evangelical, charismatic?

How did he manage to create “Christianity”? Steve hopes that he could find and understand something about Jesus; also, to see firsthand how his audience reacted to his speeches and behavior. By the same token, Steve would want to see Buddha and Mohammad. After such visits, would Steve feel more agreeable with these religious founders or the opposite, I wonder.

 

Then, Steve said that he would like to see the ancient wonders, such as Machu Picchu or the Egyptian Pyramids; how were they built and for what purpose? As a last option, Steve mentioned that he would like to meet ancient philosophers like Socrates and Confucius; what motivated their thinking and how did they live? Lastly, Steve’s choice of meeting a later philosopher was Francis-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltair, who lived in France during the 18th Century.  

   

Now it’s my turn to say when and where to go? Well, I would like to go to ancient Japan during the 2nd and 3rd Centuries when one of the prominent kingdoms was called “Yamataikoku”, and was said to be ruled by a Queen according to an ancient Chinese document (no documents exist in Japan for those times). There is an argument as to the location of this kingdom, whether in central Japan or the northern part of Kyushu. So, I would like to find out the actual location as well as how this queen ruled her kingdom if she ever existed. 

 

   

 

 

 

 

 

A topic of discussion for May 8, 2019: What are some interesting events in English history?

A lot of historical events have taken place in England over a long time. Accordingly, Steve started from Queen Boudica who revolted against the Roman Empire in the 1st Century before moving on to; the Norman conquest of 1066, the Magna Carta of 1215 which forced King John to restrict his governing power in favor of his nobles; The English Civil War in the 17th Century where parliamentary power overcame the British monarchy; the period of the Black Plague in the 16th Century; The Great Fire of London in 1666; to the industrial revolution and the evolution of the British Empire among many others. Turning to recent times, how England managed to survive both WW1 and WW2. As highlighted by Shakespeare, we have seen the evolution of arts and literature in England. Newton was a good example of scientific feats.

 

How did England become a world power and extend its influence across the world? Perhaps its geopolitical position being an island nation played into it a lot. This enhanced their desire to be a maritime power. It also formed a formidable fortification against European dictators like Napoleon and Hitler. On top of that, what about the role of Protestantism? There is a thinking by some historians that tries to correlate Protestantism and capitalism: simply put “work hard and accumulate capital.”

 

 

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A topic of discussion for April 10, 2019: What are the “charms” of the Middle Ages in Europe?

Once thought to be a time of backwardness which garnered the name the Dark Ages in Europe due to witch hunts, brutal feudal lords or plagues, the Middle Ages is perhaps regarded as the preserver of ancient classics and built upon them with the help of surrounding civilizations, culminating in the Renaissance.

 

Steve was well prepared for his take on this topic by saying that the Middle Ages began in the 5th Century when the western Roman Empire fell and ended in the 15th Century; furthermore, it is subdivided into three periods namely the early, high, and the late periods. One of the notable feats in the early to high periods was the emergence of the Islamic Golden Age (the 8th to 13th Centuries) where the classical learning of not only Ancient Greece and Rome but also India and China was collected, studied and even expanded. Through trade and later the Crusades, this prolific learning subsequently permeated to Europe one way or another.

 

During the high period, there was a remarkable increase in population due partly to a warmer climate: this enabled more crops to support more people.

Also, it was the time of the Crusades. From the first expedition in the 11th Century to the last or the 9th one in the 13th Century, those who went east

fighting against the Arabs brought back with them something related to the Islamic culture, which was more mature than theirs at that time. We also saw the Mongols expanding their empire to the eastern parts of Europe. They were known to be harsh and cruel against those who opposed them, but after their conquest their rule brought about multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-religious practices.

 

Severe famine and the Black Plague wrecked most of Europe in the late period. The fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 saw the Greek scholars with a prolific quantity of ancient books taking refuge mainly to northern Italy.  This had a profound effect on starting the Renaissance. Also, this period witnessed the early stage of the Age of Discovery.

 

As seen here, the role of the Middle Ages was clear in that it fostered means and ways for realizing the Early Modern period. 

 

 

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A topic of discussion for March 13, 2019: Here in Japan, people appreciate community activities such as residents’ associations or PTAs but when it comes to electing their leaders, we often find difficulties in doing so. Why? Simply because there are not many people who voluntarily take the initiative, or stand up for those stints. How do you compare this with your practice in Australia?

 

Steve’s first remark was that “residents’ associations” as those practiced in Japan are virtually non-existent in Australia. He mentioned that work done by residents’ associations, such as patrolling their neighborhoods, looking after kids to and from school, carrying out disaster prevention drills among many others are basically the responsibility of local government.

 

According to Steve, in Australia there are many volunteer groups associated with society, sports, games, or a wide range of specific events. After the talk, I checked the internet and found that resident associations are also non-existent in many other countries in America and Europe. I also found that there are some countries in Asia that do have organizations quite similar in scope to resident associations in Japan doing substantial amounts of public service. Is there any historical background to a residents’ association?

 

The residents’ association was formed relatively new in the late 1930s in order to tighten the government’s grip on the people for the principal aim of   preparing for war. It was based on the traditional system of “gonin gumi”, which literally means a group of five people, that were established to offer mutual assistance during feudal days. After the war, it was disbanded by the occupational forces as part of their “democratization” agenda. However, it was reestablished in the late 1950s primarily to enhance the peoples’ living environment. 

 

So, how should I, being the head of a local residents’ association myself, like to see the future of our organization and its activities? Well, it must focus more on the needs and wishes of its members while maintaining its core practices in particular preparing for a mega earthquake when all kinds of civil services are expected to be completely paralyzed.   

 

 

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A topic of discussion for February 13, 2019:

What interesting movies have you seen recently?

 

Steve’s first remark was that he had not seen any movies recently. He went on to say that he doesn’t find it interesting to watch movies, especially related to history, which seem to focus on some particular events or happenings perhaps because of the inevitable time limitation of around two hours. This somewhat results in the difficulty of understanding a whole perspective or simply put there is not enough in-depth description. In this respect, Steve cited an example of such a movie like the one depicting Robert the Bruce, the King of Scots who lived in the late 13th to the early 14th Century. 

 

Instead, Steve went on to mention that he finds some TV drama series on historical themes more interesting because they manage to delve into details, sequences, backgrounds and the causality of events. One such recent series according to Steve was about Alfred the Great, who was the king of the Anglo-Saxons in England in the 9th Century.    

 

Lastly, let me introduce you to the recent movie that I found interesting. It’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” depicting the iconic rock band “Queen” and its legendary vocal Freddie Mercury.    

 

 

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A topic for discussion for January 9, 2019: Is there any place in Japan that you would like to visit in 2019?

 

 

 

 

Steve’s first comment was that he isn’t that interested in visiting places per se because he would rather be doing things. So, it’s ok for him to go white water rafting for instance. Anyway, being a family man, Steve has to make a compromise in that he has to choose places that his daughter, Sakura now 4 years old, can be interested in. Sakura seems to like going to Disney Land; to which Steve said it’s ok. Steve also mentioned that he’d like to have lunch at a restaurant in a high building with a magnificent view. He also elaborated that he went to Okinawa last year with his family, but he doesn’t feel like going back again. I guess they were busy going places one after another.      

 

Well, Steve admitted that “I’m not a big fan of travel.” The bottom line is that he enjoys daily life at home: relaxing with his computer, meeting his friends, gaming, his favorite hobby, among other things. But there is one particular place that he eagerly wants to visit one day. That is the venue of World Board Gaming Championships, southwest of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, the USA. So, one day he hopes to go there.

 

Coming back to the day’s topic, I would like to recommend a few places of interest to his family. What about cycling, for example “Shimanami Kaido,” it happens to be a beautiful connecting route between Honshu (main island) and Shikoku island by a number of bridges linking small islands or inlets one after another. You can rent an electric bicycle if you like.   

 

For hiking, my recommendation is the Oze marshlands located in the Nikko national park. There, you can marvel at beautiful scenery from spring to autumn (winter is nothing but snow and completely isolated): cute ponds with flowers and mountains in the background will welcome people walking along elevated wooden boardwalks. Sakura has the last say?

 

 

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Facts about Yokohama

A talk with Steve Mickevics, my tutor

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Kohoku New Town

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Jike Art & Craft Corridor


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