The ills afflicting the country include youth suicides: more than 30,000 in 1999, and many more attempted, denoting a state of “agony” in which youth find neither understanding nor help, reported the bishops, who are in Rome for their quinquennial “ad limina” visit to the Pope and the Holy See.
Japanese society today is one of “anxiety and sadness,” Archbishop Shimamoto Kaname of Nagasaki told the international agency Fides. The president of the nation´s bishops´ conference said the myth of materialism, and the pursuit of pleasure, productivity and technology, have robbed Japan of its soul.
In a “Message for the 21st Century,” entitled “Reverence for Life,” Japan´s bishops tackle the problems of modern life in their country. The highlights include:
–The value of life: Highlighting the “sacredness” and “grandeur” of human life, “God´s one-time gift to each of us,” the bishops recall the “miserable history of humanity in the 20th century,” with so much loss of life. Japan bears the scars of nuclear-weapon attacks.
After World War II, Japan gave priority to economic development. By 1987 it was the richest country in the world, with a per capita gross domestic product of $38,000. However, many human values were sacrificed in the pursuit of economic development, including the weakening of family ties, the bishops say.
–The elderly and handicapped. Remarkable economic development has increased the Japanese life span to 80 years, the longest in the world (16% of the population is over 65). However, the elderly are often neglected and the disabled isolated.
“Discriminatory attitudes toward the disabled are still deeply rooted in modern Japanese society,” the bishops say, calling for measures to guarantee medical care to the needy, adequate old age pensions, economic assistance for families, and a barrier-free society with respect for every individual.
–The family. The self-centered values of modern Japan weaken marriages and families. The bishops note that there were more than 243,000 divorces in 1998, compared with 79,551 divorces in 1947, and these have tragic effects on children.
“The commercialization of sex, promiscuity among youth, and marital infidelity are the result of an emphasis on immediate gratification and comfort,” the bishops say. They insist: “Regard for one´s life companion and children is more important than work and financial gain.”
–Sexuality. Today sex has become a commodity, the bishops; sexuality is alienated, separated, from procreation. “When girls ask ´Why is it wrong for me to sell my own body?´ the adults of Japan cannot give a clear answer! Japanese society is sick,” the bishops lament. They add that this tendency increases recourse to abortion, which in turn calls for special counseling and attention.
–Youth. The bishops remind parents and educators that it is more important to give children love than things, stressing the need to rediscover interpersonal communication today, when “mobile phones, the Internet and the speedy development of new information and communications systems are, in fact, reducing communications between young people and their families.”
–Euthanasia and the death penalty. “The only developed nations in which the death penalty endures are the United States … and Japan,” the bishops note. “A recent opinion poll shows that about 80% of Japanese accept the death penalty, perhaps influenced by a series of particularly atrocious crimes.” However, “life belongs to God,” the bishops affirm.
–Life sciences. The last chapter of the letter focuses on the relation between science and ethics. Condemning cloning of human beings, the bishops urge the Japanese to be more open to organ donation as an “act of love.”