Vietnam War protest leads to strong peacetime bonds

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Japanese war protestor promotes human resources development in Vietnam

Masayuki Abe was 21, a college senior, when he was jailed by the Japanese government for nearly 12 months.

His crime was participating in a days-long protest against the Vietnam War in 1969.

Abe saw himself as a prisoner of conscience. He told the The Thao & Van Hoa (Sports and Culture) newspaper that Vietnam was a victim of gross injustice and anyone with a conscience had to support the country.

He said he has never regretted being jailed because of Vietnam, although it ended his chance to finish law studies at Waseda University.

Abe frequently skipped classes after being drawn to the wave of Vietnam War opposition that was sweeping Japan in the late 1960s.

When he had money, he also left Tokyo to help organize anti-war campaigns in Kyoto or Osaka.

The protest that got him into trouble was attended by more than 100,000 people who gathered in front of the US embassy building and headquarters of the Liberal Democratic Party of Japan.

Abe said the police had hit him very hard at the protest, leaving a scar on his head that he sports until now.

The physical pain and long days in the cell made him think about what he had done, and he decided there was nothing he had to regret.

"I didn't know much about Vietnam at that time. I just learned through the press that it was a small country suffering terrible bomb strikes by the US," Abe told The Thao & Van Hoa.

He said it was a story Japanese people related to, as all of them could remember what it felt like being bombed during World War II.

For Abe, the Vietnam-Japan relationship has lasted well beyond the Vietnam War.

Abe first visited Vietnam in 1993, when he assisted with the construction of two skyscrapers as a nanotechnology expert.

He has been traveling between the two countries regularly since. In 2005, he switched work and began recruiting young Vietnamese people to study in Japan with support from the Japanese government.

Reflecting on the past, Abe said: "I have never regretted having to cancel my law studies.

"That turn in my life forced me to choose new roads and I'm completely satisfied with my work in Vietnam at present."

The 64-year-old is currently head of the Vietnam Communication Initiative, a Tokyo-based NGO that works to support the development of Vietnam's human resources.

Last month, he published "De tro thanh Samurai tieng Nhat" (To become a Samurai in Japanese) as another support to young Vietnamese people.

Published by Alpha Books in Vietnamese, it provides information on how to find employment in Japan. The introduction to the book says its aim is to introduce young Vietnamese people to a rich culture and leading technologies, while enlisting their help for an aging society that needs people to work.

Abe said he wrote the book hoping to make the Vietnamese people realize that Japan is an interesting country and a place that can help them make their dreams come true. 

The book introduces readers to Japan, its landscape, culture, life and economy, the presence of Vietnamese people in the country and the chances available for more to come. But most of the book is devoted to methods for studying the Japanese language, along with key instructions on how to introduce oneself and answer interview questions to be chosen by a Japanese company.

This is not the first book that Abe has authored, but it is a very different one. He has a book on semiconductors and several books on cryptology to his credit.

Weak reading culture

As an author, Abe is concerned about what he sees as a weak reading culture among Vietnamese youth.

He said Vietnamese youth are smart, "but the wisdom of young people is always connected to their reading culture, and I think Vietnam does not have a strong one."

He said he was "rather surprised" when several Vietnamese students asked him what books they should read and how they should read them.

"People who work mainly with the brain should have reading as a basic need, like breathing."

Abe said Vietnam's reading culture could be threatened even more in the booming age of information technology.

He said countries with a long-rooted and well-developed reading culture would know how to make use of information technology to facilitate their reading habit.

"But when people already have little interest in books, they will easily run after other applications of information technology and continue to go farther away from a reading culture."

He said the reading culture crisis was happening in many countries, including Japan, where people above 40 can be seen spending their time on the subway reading books while the youth play games on their smartphones or other gadgets.

Abe said he and other Japanese activists cannot change the young Japanese people right now, but they have tried to persuade parents of little children to introduce books to them, to build the love for reading at an early age towards creating a new generation of Japanese people who love reading.

He said Vietnam should also think about doing it for the long-term benefit of the youth and the nation as a whole. 

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