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 20 years.
A topic of talk on April 27, 2022: The Enlightenment in the 17th and the 18th Centuries Europe played an important role in the world, politically, socially and artistically. Could you describe it briefly?
When we talk about the Enlightenment, it’s always “entertaining”, full of energy, forward looking, confidence in human ability and feats and so on.
It is said that the Renaissance (the 15th~the 16th Centuries) brought about the intellectual and philosophical movement of the Enlightenment, which highlighted “ideas such as liberty, progress, tolerance, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state” among others. Furthermore, it is without doubt that the Enlightenment affected politics, resulting in the US Independence in 1776 and the French Revolution in 1789.
Steve mentioned the leading philosophers and scientists of this era. Firstly, it was Rene Descartes (a French philosopher, 1596-1650), whose quote “Cognito, ergo sum.” or “I think, therefore I am” is so famous. Descartes was one of the founders of rationalism, questioning everything about us. Then, we discussed Sir Francis Bacon (an English philosopher, 1561-1626), the father of empiricism. Bacon advocated for the scientific method of experiment and observation.
Here Steve emphasized the importance of the “movable-type printing press,” which was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th Century. During the Enlightenment, printed books played an important role of disseminating and exchanging ideas and knowledge among philosophers, scientists, politicians, and even well-learnt monarchs, like Catherine the Great. So, in this way intellectual communities were formed in Europe and the Americas. Of course, cheaper books helped enhance education and learning at all levels of society.
We talked about Montesquieu (1689-1755), a French judge and political philosopher, who advocated the separation of powers in government. The US Founding Fathers were greatly influenced by Montesquieu’s idea in drafting their constitution. One of the feats during this period was the abolition of slavery in Europe. It was essentially manpower needed for agriculture, but was deemed unjust and wrong. Then, we turned to Voltaire (1694-1778), a French writer, historian and philosopher. Voltaire was noted for his criticism of Christianity, freedom of speech, separation of church and state among others. Interestingly, he showed “admiration for the ethics and government as exemplified by China’s Confucius.” Steve also mentioned Adam Smith (a Scottish economist and philosopher, 1723-1790), the “Father of Economics” as well as the “Father of capitalism”.
So, we have seen the Enlightenment in terms of the feats of its intellectual community. History has witnessed, thereafter, the rise of capitalism, industrial revolution, imperialism, communism and so on in their extreme forms, unfortunately leaving behind the well-being of the masses. Is this the cynical evolution of history?
A topic of talk for March 9, 2022: How would you assess the historical deeds of the Vikings?
The Vikings were not “savage pirates” as once portraited, but were hard working farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, traders and so on, reflecting their complex society and advanced culture. Perhaps this initial image of the Vikings is the result of being described mostly by outsiders rather than by themselves. They did have their own language with an alphabet but left very little of any historical substance.
Steve kicked off the talk by saying that the word Viking means to “raid” in their language, but they did not call themselves Vikings. They were initially confined to today’s Scandinavian countries. To the south, Charlemagne or Charles the Great (747-814) succeeded in uniting the majority of western and central Europe, subsequently becoming the Emperor of the Romans. So, Charlemagne’s empire acted as a cap to block the Vikings from expanding their influence southwards. When Charlemagne died the door for the Vikings opened wide. This period is called “the Viking Age”, which extended from the late 8th Century to the late 11th Century.
They were skillful navigators manipulating agile seaworthy longships with the help of “sun stone” navigational tools. New routes to the Mediterranean, North Africa and even to North America were established. The Vikings managed to set up trading posts, which eventually grew into settlements in many places in Europe, including the British Isles, Ireland, Iceland, Normandy, the Baltic coast, the Dnieper and Volga trade routes in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine to name but a few. In terms of raiding, the Vikings favored attacking Christian monasteries, undefended but always with treasure. Slave trade was practiced as both a lucrative and indispensable resource for running their own communities.
One can say that the outward push of the Vikings gradually subsided after reaching its peak. Perhaps, they turned their attention to solidifying what they had gained. With this, the Age of Feudalism began. European kings sought the help of their nobles to build fortresses, castles and gather soldiers to defend their kingdoms. It is interesting to know that the Viking Age nearly overlapped with the “Medieval Warm Period” (950~1250) whereas the Age of Feudalism was with the “Little Ice Age”.
A topic of discussion for February 9, 2022: Where would you like to go for a holiday in Japan or in the world as soon as Covid-19 comes under control?
First of all, Steve mentioned that he is not overly concerned with Covid-19, especially the Omicron variant. So, during the last Christmas and new year’s season, he went to Osaka. He also said that he is going to Gotemba this coming weekend, looking forward to the outlet mall and onsen, hot spring, there. This summer, he is interested in going to Okinawa or Hokaido. Well, well, good for Steve.
Not finished yet. Steve is planning to go back to Australia this year for a few weeks during a three-week Christmas and new year’s holiday. This will be much longer than last time, 5 or 6 years ago, which was for a week.
As for me, I would like to go to an onsen first and foremost, without any particular places in mind. Maybe, it will be the southern island, Kyushu, as I had once planned to go there around Nagasaki but I had cancelled it because of the Covid-19 outbreak.
A topic of discussion for January 12, 2022: Do you find any difference in living in Japan, good or bad, when you first came here and now?
Steve kicked off the discussion by saying that he doesn’t like to compare now and then: putting it another way, he’s more “focused on now”. Having said that he has definitely observed big changes while living in Japan since 1999.
What Steve mentioned first was mobile phones. It is astonishing that the usefulness of the mobile phone has extended from simply just a voice communication device to embracing text messages as well as becoming a handy computer or a smart phone as it is called now. For Steve, he literally could not live without it. It makes life easier in Japan as a non-Japanese, providing functions such as a translator or navigational tool while driving and so on.
Thirdly, Steve talked about the 2011 earthquake. What we witnessed was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in the north-eastern part of Japan that caused a catastrophic tsunami, not only obliterating coastal towns facing the Pacific Ocean, but also shutting down the Fukushima No. 2 nuclear power station as a result of an unprecedented reactor melt-down.
Then, Steve went on to explain Japanese politics, how they have become more stabilized. From the perspective of political parties, it has been a conservative party presently known as the Liberal Democratic Party that’s been in power for most of the time. But we happen to have had so many prime ministers with only one-year tenures. Can you believe that there were six prime ministers over a period of six years from 2006 to 2012? So, it was a remarkable feat for Abe Shinzo to be prime minister for eight consecutive years from 2012 to 2020.
Next Steve has felt a “right wing swing”. He took as an example the movement by some politicians, opinion leaders, mass media among others, which call out for the justification of Japan’s role in the Second World War. This tendency has been observed in what kids are taught at school. It has moreover exacerbated the movement for changing the Japanese constitution, which is based on liberal democracy and pacifism.