I have many hopes for young people today, and one is that they have courage. This includes the courage to be independent and self-reliant: the courage to stand on their own two feet. Recently, Japanese young people, perhaps because they grow up in the warm, protected environment provided by their parents and society as a whole, seem to lack this spirit of self-reliance. I believe that young people should be so strong that they are afraid of absolutely nothing. They should have the courage to accept any challenge. They will fail sometimes, but in the process they will develop a natural prudence. In any event, they ought to have the courage to act.
Uesugi Yozan (1751 - 1822), the daimyo (feudal baron) who restored the fortunes of the impoverished Yonezawa domain, is frequently represented as a model for business managers. Born in the household of the Akizukis, the family of a lesser Kyushu daimyo, Yozan was adopted by the esteemed Uesugi, the daimyo of the Yonezawa domain (in what is now Yamagata Prefecture). Yozan was seventeen at the time, about the age of today's high-school students. The Yonezawa domain, with an annual revenue of 150,000 bushels of rice, was ostensibly a large fief, but in reality it was almost insolvent. Yozan first arrived in Yonezawa on a chilly day in late autumn. As he looked out from his palanquin on village after village where even the doors of the houses were broken in, the new lord blew on the almost extinguished charcoal in his small hand-warmer. Seeing this, one of his retainers offered to bring fire immediately. The young lord restrained him, saying, "I am now learning a very important lesson. I shall tell you about it later." Arriving at his quarters, he called his vassals before him and made the following proclamation: "As I saw with my own eyes the poverty of my people, I was just about to lose all hope when I became aware that the piece of charcoal in my hand-warmer was about to go out. As I blew lightly on the charcoal it began to glow again. I wondered whether I could rekindle the same sort of flame in the heart of my domain and the hearts of my people and restore them to better conditions. The prospect fills me with hope." By thrift, the promotion of local industries, and the development of new farmlands, Yozan was ultimately successful in revitalizing his domain. That episode of the day in his youth when he saw the dismal poverty of his domain and mustered courage is well known.
That one has lost hope and fallen into despair does not mean the end of everything. It simply means that the flame in one's heart is flickering feebly. All one has to do is rekindle it.
Some people merely drift with the times and develop no backbone. When something untoward occurs, they blame society or the government. In doing this they admit their sense of absolute powerlessness in the face of their surroundings. What one needs is the strength to say, "I don't care what society is like. I'm not going to give in. No matter how bad things are, I'm going to push on through." The Meiji Restoration of 1868 was the greatest reform movement in Japanese history, and when we recall the young age of the noble patriots of those days, we feel the greatness of youth's hidden strength and courage. Takasugi Shinsaku (1839 - 67), a retainer of the Choshu domain, was only in his twenties when he went to Nagasaki to buy warships. The domain's confidence in him is commendable, but even more impressive is the inexperienced young man's composure in making such enormous purchases. Yoshida Shoin (1830 - 59) was twenty-seven when he opened the Shoka Sonjuku academy, and Sakamoto Ryoma (1835 - 67) was only thirty-three when he fell under the dagger of an assassin. Saigo Takamori (1827 - 77) lived a bit longer, but he was in his thirties when he was active in the overthrow of the shogunate. These young people devoted their entire lives to carving out a new age. True enough, feudal society was beginning to crumble, but it was undoubtedly hemmed in by walls whose thickness we in our day can hardly imagine. These youths fearlessly flung themselves against these obstacles.
Having renounced war and made the decision to adopt a pacifist foreign policy, Japan will undoubtedly face many trials in the years to come. Japan also has the potential to lead the world in a variety of ways, including the promotion of disarmament, international cooperation, and technological innovation. To bring on this new age, the vigor of youth is essential.
To meet these challenges, I hope Japanese young people will develop the courage for self-sacrifice. As we in Japan look around us today, we do not often see people who would risk their lives for their country or in the service of others. I am talking about even small acts of self-sacrifice in daily life. For example, giving one's seat in a train to an elderly person is a small act of self-sacrifice. Instead, some people remain nonchalantly seated as an older person stands nearby. When everyone makes these small sacrifices in daily life, things go harmoniously and smoothly. Though the world may seem to give precedence to individual rights and self-expression, young people should not forget the spirit and pleasantness of such small acts of self-sacrifice.
Finally, the young must have the courage to challenge the unknown, to turn toward the unexplored and boldly plunge into uncharted territory. It would seem that many young people nowadays draw a blueprint for their whole life and are satisfied with merely realizing it. If that is the way it is, there is little to hope for in the way of spiritual progress for the individual, society, and humanity as a whole. Young people are brimful of energy, and I hope that they will use that energy to challenge the limits of the abilities they are endowed with. It is wrong for young people to underestimate themselves - to build a wall around their own abilities and to pace this way and that within it. If, for instance, it does seem that a wall of difficulty bars the way, by trying boldly to smash through it they can show their hidden strength and create new worlds.
Self-reliance, self-sacrifice, and a willingness to challenge the unknown--young people need these three kinds of courage.
Copyright © by Rissho Kosei-kai. All rights reserved.