Osaka Ali rides the Hankyu Line train often and his eye frequently goes a-wandering. Recently, an in-car ad for a University called Ritsumeikan in Kyoto caught his attention. The poster was attractive enough to get him to look at their website. The events page yielded an even more interesting find: a panel discussion with the former president of the Japan Foundation, Kazuo Ogura. The title of the discussion was what hooked him, “Geneology of Anti-Globalism”. Faaascinating …
Ogura was recently invited to be a visiting professor at Ritsumeikan, a role to which he brings considerable experience. The Japan Foundation is a government organization (part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs) that promotes Japan and Japanese culture around the world. Their main work includes arts and cultural programs, Japanese language education and intellectual exchange. As president of the Japan Foundation, Ogura oversaw literary symposia on the work of Haruki Murakami, arts exchanges with Afghan craftsmen, educational programs for Chinese students, programs for teens in disater-struck Aceh, Indonesia, co-operation between the US and Japan after Hurricane Katrina and the launch of the Japanese in Anime and Manga website. He additionally served as a deputy foreign minister for the Japanese government as well as an ambassador to three countries. He was joined on the panel by two other professors at the Ritsumeikan College of International Relations.
Osaka Ali decided to check it out, understand his adopted country a little better, and find out from the panel why they think that the world is turning against the idea of globalism. From the sub-prime crisis to the financial meltdown in Europe to the Arab Spring, the global fabric has been straining and tearing. Now grass roots phenomena like the Occupy movement are growing and spreading. “Geneology of Anti-Globalism” sought to learn where these movements came from, what birthed them, how they survive and thrive and how they are influenced by their local conditions.
The discussion covered many topics ranging from the number of democratic countries vs autocratic ones, export and import flows, money transfers, the degree of freedom of expression in various countries, the loss of languages and dialects, the proliferation of Non-governmental Organizations and even the number of foreign films to Japanese films in the Japanese movie market. It was enough to make an amateur researcher’s head spin (are you still with me?). Norihisa Yamashita and GyongSu Mun, both professors at the Ritsumeikan College of International Relations, also enriched the conversation contributing perspectives on the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty and Japan-Korea relations. Luckily all was made understandable by very capable translators commissioned by the University staff.
After the discussion, Ali got a chance to talk to Professor Ogura and was able to ask him what his view of recent activities by anti-Globalist movements meant as well as what it means to be pro-, counter- or even perhaps alterna- globalism. His answer was a surprise in its simplicity. He said, “People reject globalism when they feel that they cannot participate. When you feel that globalism is something being done to you, you might reasonably reject it.” Participation in society, government, the world is the answer when the interconnected world makes life less than ideal and more like a straightjacket. The message Ali took from the conference is that the world will inevitably become smaller, but opportunity and duty require our participation and our voices. Even learning to communicate in a new language is way to participate, to be active and not a passive victim of global changes.
After that Osaka Ali realized that he had a international-sized hunger in his belly. Heading home, he stopped in downtown Osaka. He had to reach out for a little bit of familiarity, somewhere, somehow … comfort food. But where to find the right meal after the deep intellectual discussions, amongst throngs of gastronomic choices available in downtown Umeda? Then, turning around after passing through the station, it stood just ahead … a grand announcement of the only kind of meal that could satisfy. The “Big America Grand Canyon” burger at McDonald’s. Osaka Ali made his way into the familiar fast food paradise without reluctance. Globalization 1 – Osaka Ali 0 …