The Goi Peace Foundation, a key partner of the UNESCO Global Action Programme on ESD (GAP), is pleased to announce the winners of the 2017 International Essay Contest for Young People. The theme of this year's contest was LEARNING FROM NATURE. From among 15,441 entries from 155 countries, the following winners were selected:
Children's category: Neda Simic (Age 12, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Youth category: Neha Rawat (Age 22, India)
Children's category: Lê Hoàng Mai (Age 13, Vietnam) and Chiaki Oyadomari (Age 14, Japan)
Youth category: Itsuki Umino (Age 16, Japan) and Anna Grigoryan (Age 20, Armenia)
The complete list of winners and their winning essays are available here.
The First Prize winners presented their essays and received their awards from the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan at a ceremony held at Nikkei Hall in Tokyo on 25 November 2017.
The annual essay contest is organized in an effort to harness the energy, imagination and initiative of the world's youth in promoting a culture of peace and sustainable development. It also aims to inspire society to learn from the young minds and to think about how each of us can make a difference in the world.
Guidelines for the upcoming 2018 International Essay Contest for Young People will be announced here at the end of January 2018.
Everyone in Japan Has Heard of Him
By PHILIP SHABECOFF
Physician: The time for masquerade and imposture is at an end. Our fatherland is about to strike, and the groaning machinery has already begun to move forward. The wellspring of our strength is not our leader, or those near him, but the young people--the power of young people united together.--From "Kantan," a modern Noh play by Yukio Mishima.
First Doctor: Fascinating!
okyo -- Yukio Mishima, who deserves and probably will be awarded the Nobel Prize for literature the next time Japan's turn comes around, has many costumes, many guises, many poses and many pastimes. One costume he designed himself is a military uniform, with a tunic tailored to mold his slight, muscular torso, a high peaked cap and close- fitting trousers.
It is the uniform of Mishima's own little army, called the Tate No Kai--the Shield Society. There are about 100 young men in the army, all of them well-formed youths with clean features and fresh complexions and all of them very well mannered and forthright. Mishima (pronounced Me-she-ma, no strong accent) likes to stand among them and watch them march in review or to join them in singing "The Song of the Tate No Kai," which he wrote himself.
Though left-wing critics have warned occasionally that Mishima and his young men are proto-fascists out to revive Japan's nineteen-thirties-style militarism, the young men of the Tate No Kai act more like Boy Scouts than Hitler Jugend. Certainly they do not engage in any serious political activity. Mishima says they are preparing to help the armed forces in case there is some sort of leftist uprising in Japan. Mostly they just drill and sing they song, take karate lessons and once a year go for a couple of weeks of training on the slopes of Mount Fuji.
Shunsaku Fukuda, a tall, handsome, 23-year-old student, finds it hard to explain why he joined the Shield Society. "I am very interested in Mr. Mishima--not his books, I haven't read many--but in his ideas about Japan," the youth said. "I suppose I agree most with Mr. Mishima that we must restore the sword to Japanese culture to go with the chrysanthemum."
Another of Mishima's costumes is the snowy white kimono in which he kneels silently on the wooden floor of a grimy police gymnasium, his close-cropped head slightly bowed, a razor-sharp sword in his waistband. Suddenly, in a graceful movement so quick and fluid it is difficult to follow, he rises, drawing the sword. The blade slices through the empty air once and again and again; slowly, carefully, it is returned to the waistband. The process is repeated, each time slightly changed.
With a modest nod of his head, Mishima acknowledges the applause of the young children and their mothers in the audience and explains to a foreign guest the meaning of the ritual samurai sword passes. This position is to help a friend commit hara-kiri, that is to ward off a surprise attack.
In another gymnasium he wears a white karate suit. He has been at this only a year, and though he kicks and slashes and shouts "Hiiee!" along with the young men, he seems a little stiff and awkward. "He works very diligently at karate, and he will be pretty good at it," his instructor said. "Of course, he is not as supple as the young men."
Then there is Mishima wearing flashy clothes and acting in a gangster film (he has made three movies but is far from challenging Toshiro Mifune as a boxoffice attraction) or Mishima sitting on a tatami floor in a dark kimono serving a guest paper-thin slices of raw fish as they silently watch the deepening twilight; Mishima holding a dialogue with a roomful of firebrand leftist students who give him their respectful attention; Mishima directing his own Kabuki play in the National Theater; Mishima lecturing in witty, colloquial English to a clutch of American matrons at Tokyo's International House, where, as one of his listeners recalled, "the sexual temperature rose as soon as he walked in"; Mishima posing, nude except for his wife's jewelry, for a book of photographs.
Who is this Mishima, then? A Japanese Norman Mailer flexing a samurai-style machismo? A kind of Zen man-for-all-seasons? A dangerous reactionary militarist, as some left-wing critics charge? A poseur desperate for celebrity?
Mishima denies he is any of these things. He is a writer, he explains; all his other activities are in the service of his art, and in no way interfere with his art.
Mishima may indeed be fascinated with role-playing. But his writings reveal him to be an agonizingly honest, truth-seeking man. He is to be taken at his word, even when he speaks of himself.
The clearest, most accurate picture of Mishima, then, shows him coming home from an evening of drinking or talking or drilling with his army and going to his study at midnight to sit down and write until dawn. He does this every night without fail, and from his pen comes book after book.
There are such novels as "Confessions of a Mask," "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion," "The Sound of Waves," "After the Banquet," "Forbidden Colors." There are Kabuki plays, Noh plays, modern plays, short stories, essays, criticism, poems, songs. His latest work is a tetralogy that uses reincarnation as a literary form of continuity. The first volume, "Spring Snow," is already one of the most popular works of literature in postwar Japan.
Mishima's is a wonderful, astonishing and frightening creative energy--as wonderful, astonishing and frightening as the creative energy of contemporary Japan itself.
Mishima does not say he should have won the Noble Prize already--at least he did not say it to me. But he has no doubt about his artistic position in Japan. During one late-night conversation he remarked, "I cannot see any cultural developments in [postwar] Japan of any significance--perhaps architecture is the only exception. Painting? No. Sculpture? No. Theater? No. In literature, there is only myself. It is only a joke, but you know, a writer should have self-confidence."
An even more laudatory assessment can be found south of Tokyo in the old shogunate city of Kamakura. There, at the foot of a wooded hill and next door to a Shinto shrine, in a long, low, dark-wood home with a black tile roof, set in a grassy formal garden, lives Yasunari Kawabata, the 1968 Nobel laureate in literature. A Japanese friend and I presented our calling cards and after a few minutes were received by Kawabata in a small tatami room whose shoji--sliding rice-paper windows--were closed against the still-chilly air coming in from the hills
My Japanese friend dropped to his knees as he entered the room and in this position moved gracefully to the low lacquer table where the novelist was sitting. "Sensei"--"Teacher"--murmured my friend. "It is a great honor."
Kawabata was dressed in a tweed jacket and blue turtleneck shirt, his long, snow-white hair swept back in two feathery wings from his high forehead, his huge liquid eyes slightly amused. He made tea, with small delicate hands moving expertly among the pieces of an exquisite old tea set and pouring water from a kettle steaming on a tiny charcoal fire. Then he lit the first of the cigarettes that he chain-smoked throughout the afternoon.
"Ah, you want to know about Mishima," he said with a little laugh. "He is not my disciple, you know, although people sometimes say so.
"Well, then, Mishima has extraordinary talent, and it is not just a Japanese talent but a talent of world scale. It is the kind of genius that comes along perhaps once every 300 years.
"This new work--'Spring Snow' and the other volumes--is his best book so far. It used to be said that 'Kinka-kuji'--'The Temple of the Golden Pavilion'--was his masterpiece. But this new one is greater. Mishima is really going at it with his whole heart now. He has a tremendous gift of words, and it has never been richer than in this new book. I don't know how it will be in translation, but in Japanese it is a masterpiece.
"Before I received the Nobel Prize I said that Mishima would get it. He is one of the most comprehensible of Japanese authors to the Western mind. I regard the prize as having been awarded not so much to me as to Japan. As far as talent goes, Mishima is far superior to me."
We chatted a little longer, then a new group appeared at the door, bowing and kneeling. The master smiled and nodded. Our interviews was over.
But even almost 100 years of Westernization had not managed to change the spirit of the festival, and the feeling of nakedness, of sanctity and of rapture was all-pervasive. . . . Now our country has reached a peak of material civilization such as our Meiji grandfathers never dreamed of; and meanwhile Western civilization has lost some of its luster. Cracks in the facade have become apparent, and colonialism and empire have become dreams of yesterday. In short, Japan actually finds herself the equal of the West measured by the West's own yardstick of civilization. There now, our self-confidence has returned!
--From "Nakedness and Shame," an essay by Yukio Mishima, introducing a volume of photographs entitled "The Naked Festival."
Mishima is, I suppose, about as far as possible from being a typical Japanese. His life and his work, if they reflect contemporary Japan, do so the same way a fun-house mirror returns a modified, individual view of reality. He feels he has no obligation in his work to Japan, only to his art. Yet there are uncanny echoes of modern Japan in Mishima's life; glints of national aspiration in his private ambitions; broad hints of what it is to have been Japanese in a world dominated by the West, in a country defeated by the West but finally reaching exhilarating parity with the West.
Mishima's house is nothing like Kawabata's. There are no soft brown woods, no straw- matted floors; there is no rigorously ascetic beauty. It is on a narrow street in a working- class neighborhood; but it is a dream (or nightmare) of late Victorian, bourgeois opulence. The walls of its high-ceilinged parlor drip with oil portraits of languishing 19th century beauties and sailing ships rolling in lushly romantic seascapes. A grilled balcony is stuck gratuitously into a lofty wall. A marble-topped table is inscribed with the Roman initials "YM." Baroque and rococo objets are scattered on tables and shelves. The accumulated effect is oddly endearing, even attractive, but not the least bit Japanese.
In his novels, Mishima sometimes lists menus, which are always Japanese. In "After the Banquet," for example, there is this one:
White miso with mushrooms and sesame bean curd;
Thin slices of squid dipped in parsley and citron vinegar;
Sea trout in a broth of red clams, sweet peppers and citron vinegar;
Thrush broiled in soy, lobsters, scallops, pickled turnips, licorice-plant shoots.
But when I went to his house for dinner a few months ago, I was served:
Scotch on the rocks;
Carrot sticks with onion dip;
Cream of corn soup;
Hearts of palm salad, and
After dinner, as we sat with glasses of brandy and he puffed a big cigar, I remarked that although he constantly calls for a return to basic Japanese values, his house and his life style indicate a certain ambiguity about the West.
He shook his head. "If you look at my house, it seems completely Westernized," he said after a pause. "But I am living in a double house. You can see only the visible house. But I also live in an invisible house which you cannot see. Let me give you a simple explanation for the Western civilization you see here.
"Here are two floors of a house. How to get from the first to the second floor is a basic problem. In Western culture, the solution is to make a stairway. Then anyone can climb up from the ground floor.
"The stairway is method--not technique, not civilization, but method inherited from the ancient Greeks. They adopted this method in building their culture.
"Since the 19th century, the Japanese have learned the Western way of using a stairway. We imported this stairway, this method, from the West and with the method we immediately imported all the trappings of Western civilization to modernize our country.
"But in our own Oriental way of thinking, there is no stairway at all. We never believed in method. It has been said of Noh acting that its highest discipline is a flower. How can you reach a flower? There is no method. You can only try hard by yourself. Independently. A teacher may suggest something but he cannot help you. So it is with climbing to the second floor. You must try hard to climb by your own enthusiasm and ambition. Maybe you will jump up. Maybe you will climb a pillar. But you must decide yourself and not rely on method. . ."
He paused to relight his cigar and offer more brandy, then went on: "Another way of thinking is Indian. The Indian meditates about how to reach the second floor and after a while reaches the conclusion that he already is there. That is an illusion. But we Japanese can actually climb to the second floor."
In the last 100 years, that is, since Perry's "black ships" spurred the modernization of Japan, the Japanese have learned from the West "the quick way" of doing things, Mishima contended. The Japanese are now proud that they can do things a the same speed as the West, he explained.
"But I would like to ask the Japanese people: 'We think we have climbed to the second floor. But can we be sure? Can we really certify that this is the second floor? I believe that Europeans can certify their results and say they have reached the second floor because they built the stairway. But if we borrow the stairway, the second floor is not our second floor--at best it is borrowed.'"
I later described this conversation to a friend of Mishima's, an Englishman who has been close to him for a number of years. The Englishman thought it over and said:
"Mishima is, of course, a thousand times more interested in Japan than he is in the West. But he is open to the West, and he has a vast knowledge of European culture. And he has time for us, which is better than can be said for most of his contemporaries.
"To me it is a nice thing that there are a few men like Mishima in Japan--men who really value the West. It is those few people who are protecting you and me here. Don't forget, 30 years ago it was a bloody bad thing to have white skin in Japan."
I think the Englishman exaggerated the indifference of the Japanese to Western culture and their hostility to the Western presence in their homeland. But he hit upon an important truth about Mishima. Mishima may rage against his country's being mesmerized by Western materialism, but he is a rare Japanese who also profoundly understands Western culture and can communicate with Westerners gracefully and confidently.
Death had transfigured the kitten into a perfect autonomous world.
"I killed it all by myself"--a distant hand reached into Noboru's dream and awarded him a snow-white certificate of merit--"I can do anything, no matter how awful."
The chief peeled off the squeaky rubber gloves and laid one beautiful white hand of Noboru's shoulder. "You did a good job. I think we can say this has finally made a real man of you--and isn't all this blood a sight for sore eyes!"
--From "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea," by Yukio Mishima.
At various times during the last two decades and more, Yukio Mishima has had Japan gasping with admiration, bewilderment or outrage. Probably his most controversial extracurricular activity, though, has been his organization of the Tate No Kai, his small army of young men. He has been vilified as a rightist intent upon restoring Japanese militarism, mocked as a play-acting chocolate soldier, spied upon by the security police and applauded by the dinosaur wing of Japanese politics.
Behind a thin facade of indifference, Mishima seems to be hurt and annoyed by all of these reactions to his military venture.
Some months ago I wrote an article on Japanese rightists for The New York Times, mentioning Mishima's name along with that of a wild-eyed extremist named Bin Akao, who is famous for ranting anti-Communist speeches along the Ginza during the lunch hour. The next time I saw Mishima he gently but firmly chided me for associating his name with Akao's and said he would explain what he was trying to do since I obviously did not understand what was happening in Japan.
He began by saying that many intellectuals in Japan, whether on the right or left, are irritated by the political situation. They are frustrated, he said, by Government propaganda insisting that Japan has settled into a beautiful relationship with the United States and that her defense problems are completely solved by the security treaty with America. "The people are irritated because our society is moving as if it were a railroad-- there seems to be no chance of moving off the rails and starting in a fresh direction."
Mishima believes that "the spirit of Japanese history" is operating among Japan's radical left-wing students, but that they have not been awakened by it--they are simply acting on subconscious impulses. The leftists, he asserted, are at least superficially convinced that Japan is completely Westernized and has cast off all Japanese traditions. His own group, the Tate No Kai, on the other hand, consciously feels Japanese traditions.
"The martial spirit I would like to see restored to our culture is not like pre-World War II militarism. Japan's traditional martial spirit disappeared during the Meiji period [the reign of the Emperor Mutsuhito, who transformed Japan into a modern industrialized state between 1867 and 1912], and as it disappeared, militarism appeared. These are opposites in the Japanese mentality, although most foreigners mix up militarism and the samurai spirit. It was in fact the policy of the American occupation to mix the two up. The occupation wanted to cut off all military symbols of Japanese culture."
Actually, the bureaucratic army officers of World War II created a Japanese militarism devoid of all martial and samurai spirit, he asserted. An attempted coup d'etat in 1936--the Niniroku Jiken--was an attempt to revive the martial traditions in the Japanese Army, but it failed, and the military became dominated by a "new, modernized, Westernized, civilized army, which was so close to Fascism and Nazism."
"Yes, Japanese militarism was very much a Western import. Think of the Cultural Revolution in China. Mao was worried about the Westernization of the military because the Red Army wanted to be modernized--to have modern weapons and be well organized. Mao didn't like this. He wanted to restore the spirit of the revolution in the army so he started the Cultural Revolution.
"The Japanese Army, too, needs a cultural revolution."
Mishima is preoccupied with this return to an essential Japanese spirit in literature as well as in martial arts. In most of his early novels, the protagonists were anti-heroes, physically or psychologically wounded, tormented by obsessions with beauty or sex or mutilation and martyrdom. He was fascinated by blood and pain and terror.
A Western friend recalled having been invited to Mishima's house for dinner; late in the evening, Mishima offered to show the friend his collection of swords. "The swords were beautiful and razor-sharp," the Westerner said. "Mishima took one of them and demonstrated the procedure for hara-kiri--he later made a movie about hara-kiri, you know.
"Then he said he would show me how a samurai used to help a friend commit hara-kiri. He told me to kneel down on the mat. I could feel that sharp edge of the sword almost touching the back of my neck. I was terrified, but didn't dare move. We had been drinking a lot all night.
"Fortunately, Mishima never loses control. But he had a wicked grin on his face after it was over."
In our conversation, Mishima explained that in his 20's--until he wrote "The Temple of the Golden Pavilion," about a young man who burns down a famous Buddhist temple because he is obsessed and rendered impotent by its beauty--he was enthusiastic about "wounded" or "negative" protagonists.
But the wounded characters were something he had learned from the West, Mishima insisted. The Japanese copied the Western novelistic form and with it the essentially negative Western protagonist.
"After I was 30, I wanted to write about positive characters. But it is very hard to put a positive character into a modern novel. However, the more I got back to Japanese tradition, the more I was able to achieve a positive character. It is my firm belief that our basic Japanese character was stunted by Westernization. We have learned mental disease and shame from the West. Thus my shift to positive characters is in effect a Japanizing process."
He added that he is also trying to get back to the "masculine" or "rough-souled," rather than "feminine" or "tender-souled," tradition of Japanese literature.
Most Japanese literature, including the work of Kawabata, Mishima said, comes from the "tender-soul," or "feminine" tradition, represented by peace, elegance, refinement and beauty.
"But I am trying to get back to the 'rough-soul' tradition of the samurai--warrior stories from the medieval age, samurai poetry since the 15th century, and even some Kabuki and Noh plays. . .
"Since World War II, the feminine tradition has been emphasized to the exclusion of the masculine. We wanted to cover our consciences. So we gave great publicity to the fact that we are peace-loving people who love flower-arranging and gardens and that sort of thing. It was purposely done. The Government wanted to cover our masculine tradition from the eyes of foreigners as a kind of protection. It worked. The wives of American occupation officers became enchanted with the flower-arranging and the rest of 'Japanese culture.' But we have also hidden this 'rough-soul' tradition from ourselves."
As for all the blood and gore in Mishima novels: "This blood and brutality is something we have stylized into a special sense of beauty. It comes from our subconscious. We have always had a special symbolism about blood. For example, we use blood as a metaphor for cherry blossoms. . . ."
A hawk was circling in the bright sky over the sea. High in the heavens, the hawk was dipping now one wing and then the other, as though testing them, and, just when it seemed about to plummet downward, instead it suddenly slipped backward on the air, and then soared upward again on motionless wings.
--From "The Sound of Waves," by Yukio Mishima.
Yukio Mishima is a pen name, adopted when the author was still in school and writing articles and short stories. His real name is Kimitake Hiraoka. He was born in Tokyo in 1925, the son of a high-ranking and well-to-do civil servant. He was pointed toward a career in the civil service and attended the aristocratic Peers School in Tokyo, where he was awarded a prize as the best student.
A former classmate, now a Government employee and still a friend, recalled some aspects of Mishima's school days not mentioned on dust jackets:
"The boys respected Mishima for his intelligence and his sharp tongue. But he was always very weak and sickly. Those were tough days, just before the war, and there were always a lot of fistfights. Mishima was always cringing and physically afraid, so the boys picked on him all the time. He always envied the strong, hard boys.
"Now Mishima has made himself a tough, virile type through the force of his own will, while all of us who were on the judo team at school are becoming flabby and middle- aged." Mishima's passion for weightlifting has not only left him hard and heavily muscled but has even created a fad in fad-prone Japan.
Mishima, his old friend said, used to speak with contempt about the drilling and flag waving at school. "After the war began, Mishima was called for his army physical. The day he went for his examination, he had a heavy cold and a fever and was coughing. The army doctor told him he had tuberculosis and reflected him from service. Mishima told me a few days later that he had laughed out loud with relief after leaving the examination.
"But Mishima was very patriotic in the old-fashioned sense. We all were. We all still are."
After working in a factory during the war, Mishima studied law at Tokyo University, then entered the Finance Ministry and was put into the banking division.
His distaste for the bureaucracy was so obvious that a superior suggested that he devote full time to writing. The superior was Kiichi Aichi, now Foreign Minister of Japan, who reportedly likes to tell people that he was the one to discover Mishima's talent.
Mishima's first novel, "Confessions of a Mask," was published in 1948 and brought him quick celebrity and a dash of notoriety. The hero of the novel, which Mishima said was partially autobiographical, is a homosexual with strong sadistic impulses.
His friends, however, caution that the homosexual aspects of "Mask" and several other novels should not be taken too seriously. "It is just another of Mishima's games--it means nothing," an old friend said.
Until now, most of Mishima's novels have been set in contemporary Japan. But in most of them, time and place are like the scenery and settings of a Kabuki play: They are rich and beautiful and integral elements of the complete work of art--but they always remain the backdrop of the drama.
Perhaps one exception is "The Sound of Waves," Mishima's Japanese version of the Daphnis and ChloÎ legend set on an island off the coast of Japan. In this story, the sea, the sky and the island's rocks are as much elements of the action as the young fisherman hero and his pearl-diver girl friend.
Some of the novels are based on incidents described in Japanese newspapers, others are romans a clef.
But fact and event are only tools of the trade, along with the legends and history of Japan, the myths of Greece and the accumulated cultural and religious experience of both Europe and Asia. With these Mishima creates his own concepts of life and the human condition.
Meredith Weatherby, president of Weatherhill Publishers in Tokyo and translator of several Mishima novels, commented: "Mishima is writing about Japan, but he is also writing about man anywhere. Hate, love, avarice, despair, sickness--they are all there."
In Japan, of course, Mishima's success is great indeed. For Japanese whose intellectual interests go beyond samurai movies and sex comic strips, he is a culture hero. His novels are often bestsellers, and many have been made into movies.
He is also one of the few writers in Japan who are respected by intellectuals of both the right and the left and who are relevant to both the postwar and prewar generations.
Mishima does not move in any literary circle. "A literary circle inevitably is like a beauty contest," he said. "How can a candidate in a beauty contest be friendly with the other beauties?" His acquaintances come from varied backgrounds--movie actresses and army officers, Western journalist and old schoolmates.
Mishima and his wife, Yoko, have two children. Though Yoko stays in the background, waiting on table, for instance, when her husband entertains, and Mishima seems to think that women belong in the back of the house, she is bright, talented and informed. (When Mishima and I were talking about modern European literature one evening, he called to his wife in the kitchen for the correct spelling of the name of the Polish author Witold Gombrowicz. The answer came right back.)
Some of Mishima's friends express concern that he is burning himself out with his extraneous--that is, nonwriting--activities. But Mishima scoffs at such fears and says he knows exactly what he is doing.
Before the ware, he said, writers used to serve up the raw stuff of life to tradition-bound Japanese society. Now, the Japanese people feel liberated and free. They are materialistic and wealthy and want nothing but to enjoy life without limitation. Of course, Mishima added, all this freedom and enjoyment is artificial. This is also true of the writer. He has no raw material to offer because his life, too, is "artificial" canned food.
"So I reached the conclusion that we must search for and find something genuine and pure--something 'raw' not only in our minds but in our history. I want to touch fire, but there is no fire in our present society. Who is the one in Greek myth who took fire from the mountain? Yes, Prometheus. I want to be Prometheus.
"Of course, we already have fire--civilized gas fire; I want to use real fire. So I started to do body exercises, kendo [Japanese fencing with bamboo staves], karate. I shouted, and when I shout i feel some fire and I feel some raw material of life. It was a new experience for me and something very difficult to find in modern life."
Philip Shabecoff is a New York Times correspondent based in Tokyo.
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