A talk with Steve, my tutor for 2023






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 discussion for August 30, 2023: we would like to talk about two great British politicians, William Pitt and William Gladstone. Could you find any similarities between them?

At the start, Steve mentioned that there were William Pitt the Elder and William Pitt the Younger, so we decided to expand our talk to the three politicians. Essentially, all three were reformers of the British system: political institutions, elections, fiscal systems and so on. They also expanded and strengthened the British empire. They were popular with commoners; indeed, each of them was people’s champion. 

William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) was prime minister of Britain from 1766 to 1768. He joined army first before entering into politics. Pitt led Britain through the Seven Years War to become a world power. Pitt supported the American colonists in their self-governance, advocating no taxes for America: famously known as “no taxation without representation”. At home, Pitt worked hard for overcoming corruption in government. Both Pitts had health issues. His son, William Pitt the Younger died at the age of 47.



Like his father, William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806) became prime minister, in fact for a total of 18 years over three terms, becoming the second longest serving British prime minister after Robert Walpole. Pitt was first called to the bar before entering into politics. He became Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister) and excelled as an outstanding administrator. He was only 24 when he first assumed the top position. Being a slave abolitionist, Pitt tried to stop slave trade but failed on two occasions unfortunately. Perhaps his greatest achievement was weathering Britain through the American independence, the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars, and thus Pitt managed to reorganize Britain peacefully from its old system and procedures to a reformed system. Commoners called him “Honest Billy”. 



Now comes William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898), a liberal politician. He was prime minister for four times, 12 years in all. Like Pitt the Younger, Gladstone was Chancellor of the Exchequer (for four times). During Gladstone’s first premiership, he carried out many reforms that included the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the introduction of secret voting and more. People loved to call him “Grand Old Man”. 


As seen here, the three great politicians stood up to their unwavering principles of making people’s lives better. Couldn’t today’s politicians worldwide learn from them?









A topic of discussion for July 12, 2023: On several occasions, you have talked about Australian cities. Again, I would like to ask you which particular city would you prefer to live in if you return to Australia now?





Steve said that his home town of Adelaide has changed a lot since he came to Japan in 1999. Definitely it is Adelaide that is Steve’s unwavering choice of Australian cities to live in. He has mentioned how Adelaide is a lovely city: good infrastructure, public transport, food and wine, parks, beaches and more. On top of that, Adelaide is not susceptible to natural disasters, such as cyclones or earth quakes. So, Adelaide is touted as one of the best cities for raising children and for retirees. Can you ask for more?












A topic of discussion for June 14, 2023: Have you tried AI, like ChatGPT?  If so, how do you find it?

I think it has become the “norm” for almost everybody to see how well ChatGPT works. To this, Steve mentioned that he once asked the causes of the First World War. What did he get? “It gave me a very standard explanation”. So, Steve went on to challenge some of the points, to which he was given deeper details but it did not reveal any new ideas. Based on his experience, Steve felt that how you framed your question would lead to a response from the system accordingly. It seemed to come closer to what is known as confirmation bias.  


In Steve’s view, the system gives a correct direction in general if you don’t know anything. As cautioned by the developers of ChatGPT, their outputs are not always correct. What you can do is to continue asking the system from different perspectives to yield a better understanding on anything you enquire about. Also, Steve mentioned that Wikipedia and ChatGPT can be used alternatively taking advantage of their specific features. Wikipedia can be used to cross check facts if necessary.


For myself, I have experienced both pros and cons for ChatGPT. I asked the system to translate the lyrics of the Yokohama city song from Japanese to English. It gave a poetic output, which I found appropriate. On the other hand, I was surprised to find a grossly incorrect output when I asked “why Shibusawa Eiichi, the father of capitalism in Japan, didn’t make a conglomerate or Zaibatsu of his own? “The answer was OK in general, but with one exception. It mentioned that Shibusawa was the founder of Mitsubishi conglomerate, which was in fact founded by Iwasaki Yataro. What can I say?    











A topic of discussion for May 10, 2023: How did you enjoy golden week this year?

Steve seemed to have enjoyed golden week thoroughly. He mentioned that his partner went to see her parents for a whole week, meaning he could enjoy it all to himself. What did he do?  It was games and games that he’s so found of. One day, Steve played games with his friends at his place from morning to late at night. Other days, he said he spent at home resting and enjoying himself, cooking, watching his favorite TV programs, reading and more.


For me, I took this opportunity to visit places of interest in Tokyo, kind of “a renewed tour of Tokyo”, as I had refrained to do so because of COVID for the past few years. Where did I go? I went to two places. First, I went to Shibuya and headed to the observation rooftop at “Shibuya-scramble-square” building. The rooftop observation is located on the 47th floor, 229 m high. Because of strong winds there, we were advised to put away everything that could be blown away in a storage locker on the 46th floor. We had an excellent 360°view of Tokyo. Entrance fee was 2,500 yen per person.

    Due north,                         Tokyo Tower in the background

    the Shinjuku area    

Next day, we went inside the National Stadium, which was rebuilt as the main venue for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. We started with seeing autographs by Olympians on the wall, interview spaces, locker rooms, then we stepped onto the track and field. The last part was to go to the observation deck for a spectacular view of the stadium. The entrance fee was 1,800 yen per person; it was well worth it.    









A topic of discussion for April 12, 2023: we would like to talk about the unification of Germany and Italy that took place in 1871 and 1861 respectively. Do you see any similarities of their unification?

Steve’s first comment was that Germany never existed as Germany itself.

There were Germanic states but they were never unified. This draws an analogy to Italy; there were Italian speaking states but never a united Italy. So, what were the factors for their unifications? For both Germany and Italy, we see that there were core states and key figures that took initiatives for the unifications.


For Germany, it was the Kingdom of Prussia. Under the strong leadership of Otto von Bismarck, as prime minister of Prussia or more famously known as the master of real politic, Prussia became the most populous and mighty Germanic state. By wining wars against Austria (1866) and France (1871), Prussia managed to create a unified Germany as the Empire of Germany in 1871.


For Italy, it was the Kingdom of Sardinia. Like Bismarck, Camillo di Cavour was the Kingdom’s prime minister and he helped modernize the kingdom both economically and militarily, culminating in unifying northern Italy as a result of the Treaty of Turin in 1860. Other noted Italian figures were Giuseppe Garibaldi and Giuseppe Mazzini. Garibaldi played an important role as a revolutionary hero who led his own army of “Redshirts” to control poorer southern Italy. He helped southern Italy be annexed by the Kingdom. In this way, Italy was unified in 1861 as the Kingdom of Italy. The king of Sardinia became the King of Italy. 










A topic of discussion for March 7, 2023: Now COVID restrictions will be lifted almost completely shortly, what is your travel plan for this year? 


Steve mentioned that he went to Yamanaka Lake (Yamanakako), Yamanashi prefecture, recently and he enjoyed it very much. There, he noticed a Nordic glamping site, which he would like to visit next. Yamanaka Lake is one of the five lakes facing the north eastern side of Mount Fuji. These lakes were created by the volcanic eruptions of Mount Fuji and are popular tourist destinations.


For me, I would like to visit Nagasaki, where I had once made all necessary reservations to go but cancelled them because of COVID.   













A topic of discussion for February 8, 2023:

Can philosophy be used as a guideline for living today?







First of all, Steve mentioned, “how do we define philosophy?” Because natural philosophy covers everything. So, from this, independent fields of science are derived. The ancient Greek definition of philosophy is “love of wisdom”. From this perspective, we can utilize some philosophical methods, such as questioning, critical discussion, rational argument and systematic presentation when encountered with actual problems.


Also, it gives guidelines to what is right and wrong, giving guidance to moral issues. Philosophy in this context is “useful” for living today. Don’t you think so?












A topic of discussion for January 11, 2023:

Could you mention some books that you found particularly interesting last year? 

Steve introduced “Power and Thrones – A New History of the Middle Ages” written by Dan Jones. The book covers the emergence of new kingdoms, inclusive of Islamic West, after the fall of the Roman Empire. There were major forces at play that draw parallel to today: such as climate change (e.g., causing severe drought), pandemic diseases, mass migration (including the Hans migration), technological innovation and so on. The book also covers the first European voyage to the Americas. Law and governance were codified, based on the Roman legacy. As to religion, Christian churches became powerful institutions that influenced secular systems. The evolution of architecture was observed, like Gothic cathedrals.


Then, Steve mentioned another book entitled “Imperial Twilight – The Opium War and the End of China’s Last Golden Age”, written by Stephen R. Platt. 






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