Concentrate on the basics - Lessons from Koizumi

by Ashok Ashta

Junichiro Koizumi was praised for his political acumen in leading his party to a landslide victory in the last general elections in Japan. Seeing that his favored reform of the postal service was being blocked in parliament, he ordered a snap election. He sacrificed his prevailing comfort of office to endure the risk and pain of an early election to enjoy a better political future.

For me, the simple learning from his methods can be summed up as 'concentrate on the basics'. While both the Liberal Democratic Party that won the election and the main opposition party fought on a platform for reforms, Koizumi kept his message focused on postal system reforms.

This reminds me of his early days in 2001 when he kept peppering his speeches with the quote 'tsune ni senjou ni ari', which translates to 'always be in the battlefield'. This Japanese term can be traced back to Torasaburo Kobayashi who is considered to be the founder of the modern education system in Japan during the Meiji era in the 1870s. Kobayashi is also the protagonist of the Kome Hyappyo (100 sacks of rice) story that Koizumi is inspired by. The story goes like this.

Kobayashi's village in Nagaoka province of Japan has been going through economic difficulty. A neighboring province sends 100 sacks of rice to Nagaoka to assist people cope with their suffering. Kobayashi decides to sell the rice and build a school with the funds generated. The famished samurai and village people angrily question why Kobayashi is not distributing the rice to everyone. What good is the school if the people are dying of hunger?

Kobayashi answers that, using his calculations, the rice, if distributed immediately, would help everybody for 2 or 3 days after which it would finish. There would be nothing left to show for the 100 sacks of rice. The school on the other hand would survive to educate the children of Nagaoka and the educated population would be better equipped to face economic downturns of the future. He argues that through the school the 100 sacks of rice would multiply to 10,000 and then to 50,000 barrels in the years to come. He explains that education is fundamental to preparing a strong foundation.

Fortunately for Kobayashi and today's Japan, his people could recognize the wisdom in what he was saying. They realized that battle-preparedness starts with education. The school was built and till today it is recognized as the foundation of modern education in Japan.

Koizumi learned the lesson of concentrating on fundamentals from Kobayashi. The lesson prescribes enduring pain today for the sake of a better tomorrow. Can't we all learn the same lesson from Koizumi? Instead of walking out of parliament can't we take the pain to discuss the education of our populace? Instead of pointing fingers for lack of implementation in the comfort of Delhi can't we take the pain to oversee implementation of education schemes? Citizens fully educated in both their civic responsibilities and rights can ensure accountability of their leaders to quicken the development of the country. For as Torasaburo Kobayashi said, "The prosperity of a country, the growth of cities - everything depends on people. Build schools and develop people of ability."

Ashok Ashta is President of BUSINESS-INDIA/JAPAN, a private enterprise promoting Indo-Japanese Cultural and Business relations.

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