OP-ED

En Route to Japan

When I dipped my toes into the far west of the Pacific Ocean, on the California coastline back in the summer of 2004, I hoped to visit Japan and do the same on the shores of the Far East. A full six years later, I am set to visit the country of origin of many of the world’s products to see where so many things begin – “Made in Japan” indeed.

Ahlam Mostaghanmi – a world-class Algerian female novelist, puts a few eye-opening words on the lips of her protagonist in her novel “Memory.” Khaled, the protagonist, says, “all industrial revolutions worldwide emerged from the people themselves. That’s why Japan has become what it is today, as well as Europe.”

Khaled continued, “The Arabs alone rush to construct buildings and call these walls a revolution… But revolution takes place when we need not import even our food from abroad. A true revolution is one that makes citizens outsmart the machines they operate on.”

This argument is valid. Look where Japan is and where Yemen stands today. It is disheartening to juxtapose the two nations, to compare and contrast.

Japan, after World War II, began a bloodless revolution by establishing a leading, technology-driven, industrialised economy. While Yemen, on the other hand, since its 1962 revolution against the Hashemite dynasty, has to date suffered a myriad of violent clashes and scenarios, embodied in numerous civil wars and conflicts.

A Japanese diplomat in Sana’a responded to school kids’ queries about what made Japan as successful as it is today. The response was simple; his country has very scarce natural resources in comparison to Yemen’s, for instance. Therefore the Japanese decided to invest in human beings themselves – the most precious and sustainable resource around.

In stark contrast to this idea of investing in humans, I immediately recalled the terrible humanitarian situation of many women, children and elderly – the Ja’asheen – ousted by a tyrant sheikh from their ancestral lands in the South. They are still camping near the Sana’a university campus in the capital.

Disappointingly, all wings of state authorities just glance at them and have simply done nothing since the group was displaced from a village in Ibb last December. Forget about the thousands killed every year in traffic accidents or those dying as a result of poor health care; this is the Yemeni revolution in action.

Invited by the Japanese embassy in Sana’a I am heading eastwards to Japan with aspirations to learn about the healthy ingredients of an interestingly successful yet very populous nation. What is the magic formula that allows a nation to rise like a phoenix out of the ashes of atomic bombs in World War II into world’s second largest economy behind the US today?

What more does a nation want more than establishing the strongest national branding in the world! Even elderly people in the furthest rural areas in Yemen will emphasize, when advising you, that if you are buying something to make sure it’s “made in Japan.”

The journey in Japan will start at Narita Airport, 70km away from Tokyo, through which more than 30 million passengers pass yearly – more transiting passengers than citizens in Yemen.

Japan has quietly stepped, in recent times, few decades back in terms of reviving its grand cultural identity. Although Japan is one of the top eight largest industrial countries in the world, the nation carefully manages to preserve a cohesive identity and culture. Economic observers might consider this feature a drawback, but it could well be a winning horse for nurturing a successful, resilient nation.

This opportunity to visit Japan is consequently very meaningful. In exploring the Far East, I have an opportunity to delve into the correlation between the simultaneous preservation of cultural identity and forward developmental progress and advancement. The lessons learned would be apt for Yemen.