Izu writer witness to changing China

13:33, July 05, 2010      

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Chinese usually have mixed and complicated feelings toward Japan. The attitude toward Yoshikazu Kato is a rare exception.

As one of the most recognizable post-80s Japanese critics and columnists focusing on Sino-Japan relations and culture, Kato has won positive comments from Chinese readers and domestic media.

However, the 26-year-old has been branded a "quisling" in his native Japan.

When studying at the School of International Relations of Peking University, Kato participated in the 2005 anti-Japan students demonstration and urged communication between Chinese and Japanese students when the relationship between China and Japan was at its most tense.

Meanwhile, many are familiar with his columns in several mainstream Chinese newspapers and his appearances on local television talk shows.

Recently, the young Japanese writer and commentator released his latest book, How Far Is It Between Izu and Beijing, in which for the first time he reveals his childhood experiences and why he made the bold decision seven years ago to come to China, when he had "no friends, no Chinese-speaking skills and no money".

Born in Izu, the small village made famous by Yasumari Kawabata's acclaimed novel, The Izu Dancer (1984), Yoshikazu Kato was not a promising student at school. Instead, he often badly behaved and liked beating up his young brother and fighting with others.

But his potential began to surface when his family ran into financial difficulties and he had to shoulder the responsibility of being the oldest son and began supporting the family by doing translation work and selling newspaper part time.

In 2003, he made the decision to come to Beijing and study international relations at Peking University. Initially it was so he could save some money for his family, so that his young brother could go to university, but recalling the decision he made seven years ago, he feels it was the right one at the right time.

Although he did not know any Chinese when he arrived, his language-learning approach proved to be both money saving and efficient.

With strict self-discipline, he talked with the women selling ice cream at street stalls several hours a day, read People's Daily and wore headphones so he could listen to the radio.

Within a year, after he had talked with "countless" women like this, he could converse with his classmates and professor in Chinese.

However, he spent more time engaged in off-campus activities and events than studying. While most of his foreign classmates were happy just to observe the changes taking place in China, Kato was not content with being an onlooker and he decided to become involved and began writing.

In his articles, he never tries to avoid sensitive issues such as Japan's invasion of China in 1937, the different attitudes of the two countries toward that period of history, as well as the last wave of anti-Japanese campaign he witnessed in 2005 in Beijing.

He believes that "communication at both the official and local level, as well as building a concrete mechanism of crisis management will help contribute a healthy relationship between the two countries".

His new book is a memoir, in which his seven years in Beijing are definitely the highlight, but the book does not end with a full stop. As a man who still keeps the habit of running 10 km to 15 km a day that

he developed in his teens, Yoshikazu Kato has a clear map for his future and is eager to keep moving forward.

Although he has received some very good offers to work overseas after graduating from Peking University, he has chosen to stay and carry on observing this fast changing country with his "Third Eye" (the name of his column on the Financial Times' Chinese website). But in the future, his goal is to achieve an international vision.

"In the next few years, I will go to the United States to be a university teacher. It is something I will achieve sooner or later," he said. As another country that has a great impact on Japan, he believes that a profound understanding of both China and US will help clarify his vision.

"As for being a politician, that probably won't happen until I am 40 years old...before that, I would rather be a drifter in the world," he said.

Source: China Daily


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