Media  International Exchange  2018.01.12

Genuine Japan-China Exchanges Promoted by Young People Who Like Japan So Much; Mutual Understanding and Mutual Trust That Overcome Obstacles Originating from the Gap in Historical Perceptions and Territorial Claims

An article published in August 21, 2017
Japan-China student exchange program carried out by students from both countries on their own initiative

Every summer for the past several years, a Japan-China university student exchange program has been held, which I always look forward to as an opportunity to interact with students from the two countries. About 40 students in total participate in the program, with about 20 from each of Japan and China. Many of the Chinese students participating in the program come from mainland China, but some are studying at Japanese universities.

The program was launched in 2013 by students of those days who wanted to do something that would help improve as much as possible the relationship between the two countries, which turned the worst ever in September 2012 due to the territorial dispute over the Senkaku Islands.

The program consists of a range of wonderful activities, all of which the students plan and manage by themselves. Inspired by their enthusiasm, manufacturers, service providers, financial institutions, media companies, scholars, and business managers representing Japan as well as government organizations cooperate with them in the implementation of the program.

As part of the summer exchange program which takes place in the latter half of August every year and lasts slightly more than a week, students visit companies and factories, mainly those located in Tokyo, thereby learning Japanese companies' perspective on management, the current state of their Chinese business, their views on China, etc.

Participants of the program are divided into several groups, each consisting of several students from both Japan and China, and conduct group activities. In the evening, they organize what they have learned from company visits and exchange opinions with other groups at the training camp.

In addition, Japanese and Chinese students engage in a frank exchange of views, focusing on themes such as the reality of the other country's social life and the gap in historical perceptions, territorial claims, and cultures, and gain firsthand knowledge of their common points as well as their differences.

Participants educate each other by sharing high level of awareness of the issues, and understand each other on a deeper level by discussing a variety of themes, which will lead to the gradual disappearance of prejudice and sense of discrimination stemming from misunderstanding. Consequently, participants will begin to see the other country in a different way, look at their own lives in more depth, and nurture warm cross-border friendships.

Toward the end of the program, members of each group summarize what they have learned from the program and give a group presentation in front of other participants and all individuals belonging to companies who have cooperated in the implementation of the program by delivering lectures to students, hosting students on a company visit, etc.

Each presentation is filled with deep emotion brought by mutual understanding, respect, and enlightenment between Japanese and Chinese students as well as high ambition of contributing to the promotion of mutual understanding between the two countries based on the experiences of the exchange program.

University students' willingness to take on new challenges and ability to take practical action

Since I was unable to attend the program this year due to a schedule conflict, the other day I gave a speech on Chinese economic trends and what I thought Japan-China relationships should be, to more than a dozen university and international students at a pre-training session. Subsequently, I asked all of the participating students what, based on the speech I had given, they wanted to do practical action for the sake of the two countries.

While I was surprised by Chinese students' excellent Japanese language skills, the fact that all participants, whether Japanese or Chinese, were clearly aware of the problems and had concrete and specific goals was far beyond my expectation.

Below are comments from some participants.

"I would like to work in Japan and become a bridge between the two countries." (Chinese student)

"I would like to join a Japanese company and engage in China-related business." (Japanese student)

"As I get too comfortable in a Japan-China relationship alone, I have decided to go to Italy for study in order to challenge myself." (Chinese student)

"Because my sister whom I love very much went to Beijing for study, I stayed and studied there for one year around the same time as her." (Japanese female student whose Chinese pronunciation was excellent)

"I wanted to go to China for study and asked my parents' advice. As they were strongly opposed to my plan, I have tentatively decided to go to Taiwan for study. Nevertheless, I want to go to China some time in the future." (Japanese student)

Each of the participants was found to not only maintain a high level of awareness of the issues but also to have taken practical action, including overseas education, career choice, and participation in, and hosting and managing of, the Japan-China student exchange program.

Whereas it is very hard even for an adult to put into action "Awareness comes only through practice," it is very encouraging to learn that the students have chosen the challenging paths at their own discretion and taken practical action to tackle them.

It is often said that students and company employees of the new generation are, in general, extremely introverted in nature, dislike studying abroad or being dispatched to overseas, show their reluctance about tackling any challenges and lack independence of mind.

I meet a lot of university students via the Japan-China student exchange program every year. In addition, I have been in intimate association with some students even after they got a job by providing them with an opportunity from time to time to talk randomly about any topic they want. I am always impressed and feel greatly energized by the fact that they, whether current students or alumni, have a high level of awareness of the issues and tackle challenges through practical actions with a positive attitude.

Looking at their behavior, I realize that it is completely different from general estimation of negative stereotypes about university students or younger employees.

I suspect that behind the critical view that the younger generations are introverted is a lack of any effort to identify such independence of mind and willingness to take on new challenges among young people. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. However, I can definitely say that we must not make a sweeping generalization about, or take a one-sided view of, the youth of today.

Joint performance of Japanese anime song artists and Chinese teenagers raising the roof in Shanghai

Let me introduce here another Japan-China youth exchange which is completely different from the aforementioned activities of university students and relatively unknown to Japanese people.

Japanese anime songs (Anison, short for anime song) are steadily gaining popularity year by year, mainly among Chinese high school, junior high school, and university students. Every summer for the past several years, Japanese anime song artists play a concert in Shanghai.

When the first concert of its kind was held some years ago, the number of participants was only about 800. However, the concert is now so enthusiastically received that the venue, Mercedes-Benz Arena with a capacity of 18,000, is filled to capacity.

What surprises me is the concert itself. The overwhelming majority of the audiences are Chinese students in their teens who are able to communicate in Japanese.

On top of that, the entire audience sings along to each Anison sung by Japanese artists in perfect unison, waves penlights, and gives applause and cheers to performers. Each reaction is exactly the same as those seen at a concert held in Japan.

A band having gained fame by performing the theme song of an anime that became a massive blockbuster last year played a concert for the first time in Shanghai July this year. Since the band was virtually unknown in China and had no really popular songs other than the theme song of the anime film, there were a lot of concerns; they were, for example, worried about how many people the concert could attract, and how the audience would react to each song.

However, when the day of the concert came, the venue, Mercedes-Benz Arena, was found to be filled to capacity. Furthermore, the response from the audience consisting largely of Chinese teenagers was terrific throughout the concert, as they knew very well all the songs performed, which was an unexpected surprise for the members of the band.

The members are said to have said after the concert that they were genuinely touched by a far more excellent response from the Chinese audience than expected.

Chinese youth attending Japanese Anison concerts have good manners. In cases of U.S. and Korean pop stars' concerts, it often happens that visitors do not line up perfectly prior to admission and teenagers having no consideration for other people stand on their seats to jump up and down during the concert.

By contrast, Japanese Anison fans, despite being young people of similar age, line up perfectly prior to admission. They neither violate the rules nor disrupt order even when they get really excited about the concert. Observers say that this may be due to the cultural effects of Japanese anime.

There are a large number of high school and junior high school students in China who love Japanese anime and Anison very much. Mastering Japanese language without realizing it, they become able to speak and sing in Japanese.

Quite a few of them have come to understand and feel familiarity with Japan and eventually come to Japan for study. When they talk with Japanese students of similar age about anime and Anison, they can hit it off right away. Here exists an opportunity, albeit little known in Japan, to strengthen ties between the two countries.

Young people such as high school, junior high school, and university students to forge a new Japan-China relationship

Young people in their teens and early 20s play a central role in both intellectual exchanges through the Japan-China student exchange program and spiritual and cultural exchanges through anime and Anison. For this generation of youth, there are no national boundaries between China and Japan. Even if there are any, the boundary wall is so low that they are able to reach out to each other instantly.

I would like those who are reluctant to improve the Japan-China relations as well as those who are worried about young people's tendency toward introversion to see these great Japan-China exchanges carried out by the young generation with their own eyes, understand them, and the feel changes of the times.

I cannot forget what a female university student said at the pre-training session of the Japan-China student exchange program. She stated that she had had a desire to go to China for study, but her parents had not permitted her to do so; nevertheless, she was planning to go to the country some time in the future.

It is certain that her parents did care about her future and gave her advice based on their best intentions. However, if they had understood that the two countries were beginning to understand and trust each other, their advice to her would have been different.

I sincerely hope that people of the generation of students' parents will, in the foreseeable future, understand the younger generation's emotional bond and feel the advent of a new era.

Young people have enough energy to overcome conflicts originating from the gap in historical perceptions and territorial claims and create a new relationship between Japan and China based on mutual understanding and mutual trust. I would like to continue to support further expansion of the scale of Japan-China exchanges carried out by young people, bearers of the two countries' future.

(This article was translated from the Japanese transcript of Mr. Seguchi's column published by JBpress on August 21, 2017.)