Whipped cream heaped clouds floated over the ever-darkening sky. With each hue darker, the moon glowed deeper and rose further away from the creamy clouds. As trees blended together in the darkness, her moon majesty sent a dusting of gold leaf cover over the clouds.
Leonard Cohen sings into my being. The cars, a music, enter and peter out of the soundtrack. As the moon levitates above, my eyes lower in silent prostration. The world rejoices in our place.
Last night, biking my things to my new apartment, I saw the dusky orange outline of our lord Fuji-san, may the sun forever shine on her glory. She beams her power across the land, shooting up the smoke of clouds and drawing pilgrims up to her crater top. Her majesty has been photographed, painted, and drawn from every angle, real or imagined. Her image finds an altar on many foreign fridges and in the numerous, now shut Narita souvenir shops.
Accidental sightings of Fuji are a good omen. This time she brought news of an article publication and a sailing date. I pay forward my gratitude into the silent goddess behind a reversed swastika symbol. All this, in the humdrum suburban streets, I go on practicing my Tokyo religion.
In reflection, that last trip before COVID lockdowns took effect feels even sweeter. In reminiscing about travel, I find a new way to enjoy the trips I have taken.
An Italian vacation, with a lover in tow, a dream come true! Driving from Naples to Sicily, taking a few days in scenic stops along the way feels a bit like peeling an orange. Holding this beautiful fruit, and digging my nails into it, and letting juices seep out. In this way, slowly, I ate through Italy’s coast.
I was lucky to get to Italy in February 2020. I was even luckier to be able to leave. I was in disbelief during the first three days of the official lockdown in Milan. I did not anticipate that this would happen all over the world.
Entering Japan on March 11 was the first time, I was grateful for bureaucracy. I got to return to my life in Tokyo while the doors, gates, and borders slammed shut.
One silver lining in this pandemic has been the growth of interactions in online forums. Now, people from all walks of life have the opportunity to grow from new perspectives they find online. The artful moderation and maintenance of an online space make all the difference. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I had some chances to moderate and improve cross-cultural understanding through dialogue.
George Floyd’s murder in the US led to global awareness of America’s ongoing racial injustices and set the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in front of many new eyes. I volunteered as a moderator on the local BLM Facebook page in Tokyo. There are few psychologically safe forums to discuss race and disparate treatment within Japan. While moderating the discussion, I wanted to provide a safe environment for dialogue and a place to search for lasting solutions.
With this hope, I developed a discussion group that met online to discuss activism, intersectionality, and progressive ideas to advance society. By sharing difficult life experiences, we modeled safe spaces where vulnerability is welcomed. Participating in this “service above self” gave me new insights into social justice movements. In addition, this group of activists, teachers, and community leaders inspired me to share my ideas with a broader audience. As a result, I have now publicly shared conflict management tools developed from that group and continue to foster dialogues in other public arenas.
Last year as a Board member for the nonprofit FEW (For the Empowerment of Women- Japan), I had another opportunity to advance diversity and inclusion. As the lead program director for FEW, I was charged with recruiting speakers for our Career Strategies Seminar (CSS), a biannual women’s leadership conference. When a group of speakers fell through at the last minute, I had the opportunity to dial up our conversation on diversity. Due to the online nature of the 2020 seminar, I was able to bring together minority voices from across the globe. As a result, for the first time in our 40-year history, FEW’s CSS event had a black Olympian from the UK, a black American entrepreneur in Qatar, and a mixed-race speaker discussing ‘hafu’ identity in Japan. I even took the opportunity to be a panelist and shared advice from my non-linear career path.
I saw how vital leadership training could be through these two related yet different opportunities. As a professional woman, I had to know when to speak up, when to step forward, and also when to lean in and listen. From my service, I began to see the problems of diversity without inclusion in public forums. It takes a conscious effort to encourage some voices. I now carry this lesson with my professional work. When I took the chance to serve, I also connected and empowered others. It is my hope that other individuals step into service in this way.
Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman wrote, “One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results.” The economic policies of the World Bank & IMF have increased global inequality. The COVID pandemic illustrates how public health and environmental failures spill past national borders. Our interconnected planet faces transnational phenomena that increasingly have the potential to disrupt our day-to-day lives. Global economic development and justice require a model of development which values global public goods.
Dr. Jason Hickel, an economic anthropologist, writes on global inequality, “The notion that aid is a meaningful way to reduce global inequality represents an extraordinary failure to grasp the structural forces that produce and perpetuate global inequality. Poor countries don’t need charity, they need justice.” Contemporary global economic inequality and environmental degradation are two sides of the same problem. They represent a post-colonial economic order meant to preserve the wealth of the global north.
Development policies promoted by the IMF and World Bank demand the borrower countries resort to fiscal austerity and privatization. Argentina and Greece are excellent examples of the consequences of this type of policy. However, historical analysis of wealthy nations shows that protectionism and investment in human capacities ended up creating service-oriented prosperous country economies. Thus, the logic of privatization and the forms of development pushed on poor borrowers are flawed. Arguably, they are unjust.
A fundamental theory in international studies is that economically tied democracies do not fight one another. The economic integration model linked strictly to GDP does not deliver long-term global peace and stability. As developing countries destroy their environment to sell natural resources to the global north, they undermine their growth potential. The marginalized poor suffer the worst consequences of environmental degradation. At the community level, the desire for economic development pits disparate parties against one another. A clean environment is a public good. When communities disregard this, conflict and degradation follow reckless economic growth.
We need new metrics. We can improve economic injustice and environmental degradation through complex systems thinking by valuing public goods differently. There are environmentally sustainable global development forms that correct the global North-South wealth inequity. Naomi Klein’s work suggests a starting point. We need a new analysis that considers human well-being. Solutions can develop once worldwide health and environmental stewardship become global concerns.
Creative solutions and a re-imagining of global public goods are our existential imperatives. As this pandemic has shown, nation-states do not exist on their own. Good immunity to withstand disease, the knowledge to distinguish fact from fiction, and strong domestic infrastructure can have global consequences. When countries revisit national priorities with these well-being metrics, we will be on our way to just international development.