Ms. Yasmeen Lari was invited to Japan in the middle of September 2016, “for her extraordinary contribution, from all over Asia to receive the prestigious Japanese “Fukuoka Art and Culture Prize 2016 as architect, architectural historian, heritage conservationist and human aid worker”

In the previous year, 2015, she had been invited to Japan to the International Experts Meeting on Cultural Heritage Disaster Risk Management in Tokyo (11-13 March) and Sendai (14-18 March), which was one of the cities affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, in order to assess and review the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action and to adopt a post-2015 framework for disaster risk reduction. Then she fell unconscious in the hotel corridor on the last day of the conference at Sendai, and was hospitalized and not allowed to return from Japan to Pakistan without an escort with an oxygen cylinder. My son Mihail had to rush from the USA to be with her all the way to Aga Khan Hospital in Karachi, where his first comment to her treatment was, “Ammi I have brought you to a second world country”.

I therefore asked Mihail to accompany her to Oslo in Norway in early September 16, 2016, where she was to lecture before a gathering of experts from all over the world, which I thought would be of interest to him, and from there to go to Japan with her, but Mihail only agreed to go to Oslo, therefore I had to accompany her to Japan.

I had not gone abroad for over a decade because of various engagements at home and age slowing me down. Therefore it was a shock for me to board Emirates Airline and see Dubai Airport, both of which had developed into one of the best in the world, with every comfort for the passengers. It was a shock because there was a time in 1950s when my uncle and father-in-law, Mr. Zafarul Ahsan, I.C.S, as the first chief of PIA, had developed it into one of the best airlines in world, and all flights between Europe and Asia used to land at Karachi Airport to use its excellent facilities.

Now I was entering from the mountains of filth, poorly maintained streets, roads and sewerage lines of Karachi, a gift of the MQM and PPP governments, into an Arab country where everything was kept spotlessly clean and in working order, mostly by workers from sub-continent.

However, Japan was kept clean not by hired workers from poor Asian countries but by the Japanese themselves. One did not see a piece of paper or a leaf on the street or in a bus or train or plane. The whole of Japan was so clean that no Japanese could have written “Blowing in the Wind” after papers flying in the city streets, a song which won the Nobel Prize for the American singer and songwriter, Bob Dylan.

Although the American occupation of Japan helped in making it at one time the second greatest economic power in the world, the foundation was laid by the shoguns who united Japan, and the Meiji establishment which modernized it. Here it would be helpful if we knew a bit of Japanese history.

Japan was rife with warfare between feudal lords during the "Warring States" period from 1467 to 1573. This was the period when the Lodhis in 1451 had consolidated their power in northern India while the rest of India was in turmoil, as the Bahmani Kingdom had been torn asunder in 1490 in central India, and the Hindu Kingdom of the south was in pieces.

Meanwhile in Japan, the ‘Three Reunifiers - Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu’ – were working to bring the warring daimyos (feudal lords) under central control. Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) emerged as victor at the Battle of Sekigahara in October of 1600. The imperial court named him shogun (supreme military leader) in 1603. He established the Tokugawa bakufu (tent or military government) that ruled for more than 250 years from Edo (Tokyo). Akber in India about that time had stabilized the Timurid Empire after the death of his father Humayun in 1556. But the Timurid stability did not last after the death of his great grandson Aurangzeb in 1707, because the Timurids had to fight and kill each other to succeed to the throne, which badly affected the stability of the empire.

However in Japan, to ensure continuity, Ieyasu had his son Hidetada named shogun in 1605, but continued to run the government from behind the scenes until his death in 1616. Under his son Hidetada (1616-23) and grandson Iemitsu (1623-51) all daimyos were bound to the shogunate, and this limited any individual daimyo from acquiring too much land or power. The alternate attendance system required most of the 250 feudal lords to spend every other year in Edo, serving the shogun.

The peasants who were 80% (eighty percent) of the Japanese population, were forbidden from engaging in non-agricultural activities, thus ensuring consistent food production. Industry and trade also flourished, giving Japan high levels of capital accumulation, and a culture of the cities developed, which produced woodblock prints, kabuki theater, novels, haiku poetry, and fashion fads tied to the geisha or female entertainers who presided over entertainment quarters of each city. The subcontinent had also developed its diamond street but was mostly devoted to sexual pleasure and poetry and music was meant to add spice to it.

The system also encouraged the growth of lending libraries and schools tied to temples, government offices and individual scholars, which gave Japan a literacy rate of about 40 percent for boys and 10 percent for girls in the early 1800s, ranking it near the top of the world.

The dominant faith of the Tokugawa period was Shinto and Confucianism, which provided a leadership committed to the Confucian ideal of public service. The Tokugawa regime banned Christianity, and Christians were exiled, executed or driven underground because European traders and Christian missionaries were making inroads all over the world, and establishing their colonies. The Tokugawa Shogunate prohibited international trade except for a handful of Dutch traders who were confined to the artificial island of Dejima, constructed in the middle of Nagasaki Bay.  A small number of Chinese traders were also allowed to use Dejima. All other foreigners were strictly forbidden to set foot in Japan, and any Japanese person who went overseas was not allowed to return to the islands.

American warships under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Edo Bay (Tokyo Bay) on July 8, 1853. When the Japanese refused to allow the Americans come into the port, Perry threatened to fire on coastal cities. He and his officers landed on July 14, 1853, and presented the American demands, and notified the Japanese that he would return for their answer. 

China has done the same to Europeans. It limited them to the commercial port of Canton, and threatened harsh penalties for any European who tried to leave the port city and enter China proper. However during the First Anglo-Chinese War, called the First Opium War, from March 18, 1839 to August 29, 1842, mighty Qing China having suffered casualties of about 18,000 Chinese soldiers against 69 British troops killed, conceded to Britain trade rights, access to five treaty ports, and possession of Hong Kong. Therefore when Perry returned to Edo in February of 1854 with eight battleships, the shogun's representatives signed the Convention of Kanagawa on March 31, 1854, which gave the USA access to the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate; allowed the USA to appoint a consul at Shimoda; and guaranteed the safety of shipwrecked Americans in Japan. 

The Anti-Western feudal lords, particularly in the southern provinces of Choshu and Satsuma, blamed the Tokugawa Shogunate for its inability to defend Japan. The samurai, called shi-shi or “men of spirit”, began agitating for their ouster and carried out assassinations of foreigners. The foreign fleets retaliated by bombarding the strongholds of the Shi-Shi. A similar attempt was made in India in 1857 to get rid of foreigners, but was foiled by the British Governor of Punjab who organised mostly Punjabi Jats belonging to Sikh, Hindu and Muslim religions, and Pathans from his province first to disarm and kill Hindustani sepoys stationed in his province (which at that time comprised both Punjab and KPK), and then sent them to capture Delhi, the capital of the Timurid Empire and centre of rebellion.

In Japan on November 9, 1867, Yoshinobu resigned from the office of shogun, which was abolished. The southern daimyo launched the Boshin War (1867-69) to ensure that power would henceforth rest with the emperor rather than with a military leader. In 1871, the daimyo were summoned before the emperor, where it was declared that all domains were now to be returned to the emperor under the control of a state-appointed governor.

Once their power was secure, the Meiji administrators, set about refashioning Japan. The Charter Oath in 1868 promised to seek knowledge from around the world, studying, emulating, adapting—and finally surpassing—peoples everywhere. They sent missions to the West, including a 50-member group headed by head of government, Iwakura Tomomi in 1871–1873, to negotiate and to study institutions such as banking, schools, political systems, and treaty structures. They also dispatched young people to study in European and American educational institutions. And they brought hundreds of Westerners, whom they called “live machines” to Japan every year until the late 1870s, to create an educational system to teach English and science, and construct railroads and buildings. One of their central slogans was, kuni no tame (for the sake of the country). They were committed to national strength, regardless of what customs or ideologies had to be violated in the pursuit of that goal.

The Meiji Restoration accelerated industrialization, which led to the rise of Japan as a military power under the slogan "Enrich the country, strengthen the military". The four divisions of society were abolished through nationwide conscription, so that every male would serve for four years in the armed forces upon turning 21, followed by three more years in the reserves.

This made Japan into an imperial power, which seized Korea, defeated Qing China in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, and shocked the world by defeating the Tsar's navy and army in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. In this Japan was an exception, because rest of the world was colonized by the European powers by 1914 as victors of the First World War.

Another reason for Japan’s rapid progress was that it eradicated religious intolerance. An example was a Pakistani living in Japan for the last twenty years. He was married to a Shinto lady, his daughter was a Buddhist although he himself remained Muslim, saying his prayers, and on national occasions was invited to recite from the Holy Quran. And when I asked a Japanese about his religion he told me that he is normally a Buddhist but he got married as a Christian because they liked the Christian marriage ceremony and when someone dies in the family they adopt the Shinto ritual.