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2009年2月 9日 (月)


(Mainichi Japan) February 9, 2009

Times change as Japan pushes for punctuality at U.N. Security Council


A poem written by an American who visited Japan in the Meiji Period waxed wryly about "the Japanese way," in which rushing into the main topic of discussion is considered bad manners, negotiations are conducted leisurely from morning till night without haste, "right away" means a week later, and clocks all tell different times ...



Around the same time, a British guide to Japan explained that it was useless to get upset over things progressing so slowly in Japan, for an hour's delay unsettled no one and "soon" could mean anytime between now and Christmas. For many of you, such descriptions undoubtedly sound like descriptions of foreign countries in modern-day guides.

Hearing these views of Japan today, one is struck with a sense of disbelief. But according to Ikuko Nishimoto in her book, "Jikan ishiki no kindai: toki wa kane nari" no shakaishi" (The Modern Age of Time Consciousness: The Social History of "Time is Money") published by Hosei University Press, the Japanese at the end of the Tokugawa Period and into the Meiji were an easygoing bunch who never fussed about time.


The book offers details of the dramatic events that led to the transformation of the laidback Japanese people into one of the world's most restless and prompt. What reminded me of those twists and turns was the news that Japan, which assumed the position of U.N. Security Council chair this month, presented each of the Security Council's member nations with an atomic clock, urging strict punctuality.


The U.N. is a diverse collection of countries, some of which are a stickler for punctuality and others who may not care as much. Meetings are said to start 15 minutes behind schedule for the most part. So one wonders if a 15-minute delay is the global average in matters of punctuality?


Japan's gift to its fellow member nations is fitting of a country that struggled to make the shift from a time-indifferent nation to an impatient one.


Let's hope it proves useful in the Security Council, where "time is peace" and "time is human life" can truly mean something.


As for meetings that jump right to the point -- that all depends on Japan's capacity as the presiding chair. ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)



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