Into the Sea!

Saki Ishida
Chubu Middle School

gQuick! Everyone! Into the sea!h

If your cruise liner were sinking and you heard these words, what would you do? With no guarantee of survival?no promise of safety?could you take the plunge?

Well, a clever captain I know told me this story. As his ship began sinking, and his passengers panicked, he came up with a way to save all the people. He decided to take everyone aside, country by country. To the British passengers, he said, gIf youfre a true gentlemen, youfll jump into the sea.h To the Italians, he said, gA beautiful woman has just jumped in!h To the Americans, gIf you jump into the sea, itfll make you a hero!h And to the Japanese, can you guess what he said? gHurry up! Everyone else has already jumped in!h

Now, I know this is just a joke. Surely in real life it would not be this simple. But donft you think, just a little, there is a hint of reality hidden in this joke?

The British, of course, are famous for chivalry; the Italians, celebrated for their romantic flair; and the Americans, so admiring of heroism! Of course, I donft think everyone fits neatly into these stereotypes, but I found myself all too familiar with this portrayal of the Japanese.

Most Japanese worry a great deal about the people around them. We put the group ahead of ourselves; we try not to stand out; we take great pains not to ruffle otherfs feathers. We even do things like nod and say yes, or agree on the outside, when we really think something different on the inside. If youfre Japanese, chances are youfve had this experience.

But feeling, worrying, and thinking for oneself are essential human qualities. At times it may be easier to blend in with the crowd?people who, on the surface, act and think the same. But when we do, we forfeit our own emotions and we forfeit our individuality. Sometimes I do this as well, and Ifm irritated with myself.

Not long ago, I saw some children from another country on TV. They were enthusiastically talking about their ideas?discussing, debating, arguing and sharing. When somebody had an opinion, he or she stated it with confidence and the others took interest, even if they disagreed!

This couldnft be farther from my experience at school. In my classes, when somebody shares his or her opinion my classmates either yawn with disinterest or immediately agree. Rows of children, one after another, respond gI think so, too,h gI think so, too,h gI think so, too,h gI think so, too.h Donft you think itfs a little creepy?

If my classmates were on that ship, they really might jump into the sea, one after another like robots. It may be a joke, but I donft think we can laugh anymore! What will the future hold if we donft think for ourselves?if all we do is follow the words of others?

Surely we canft all be a well-mannered, romantic superhero, who gets along with everyone and always speaks his mind, but we can change the way we look at the world around us. We must learn to express our own thoughts and opinions while continuing to respect others.

Finally, there are many wonderful things in Japan?ancient traditions, pristine nature, delicious food, otaku culture and much more. We must embrace diversity if we want to make Japan a better place. The truth is, I love my country and Ifm proud to be Japanese, but make no mistake. I have my own ideas and my own opinions, and I intend to share them with the people around me before the ship sinks completely!

(2-16 Speech in 61st Contest, 2009)

(C)JNSA FUND/the Yomiuri Shimbun

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