-- A Journalist's Report on the JAEG General Assembly --

* .... Taisei Yokusan Kai (the Imperial Rule Assistance Association) is the government-sponsored fascist organisation active in Japan during WWII.

The World Expo 2005 to be held in Seto, Aichi Prefecture has 12 sub-themes, which include 'the Forest of Information', where the achievements of geography is supposed to be displayed as a part of its exhibition.
Explaining this sub-theme, the official documents of the Japan Association for the 2005 World Exposition claims as follows:
'The conceptions of geography are about to change. Once based on the key concept of the international boundaries, geography is now changing into the new science of geography consisting of two spheres:those of life and of information. New geography is now ready to be presented to the bubbling curiosity'. (from 12 Approaches to the Nature's Wisdom December, 1998).

Most of the sub-themes have contents in line with the principal theme of the Expo 2005: 'Rediscovering Nature's Wisdom'. 'the Forest of Study and Play' calling children back to the forest, and 'the Forest of Decimation', showing the scenario of the environmental destruction and the resurrection.

There is but one sub-theme that is peculiar and bewildering: 'the Forest of Information', where geography is the centrepiece.

The 'Forest of Information' was the outcome of geographers swarming over the Expo 2005 through various paths. This outcome might contribute for greater awareness of geography among the general public. However, asked what to do with 'the Forest of Information', the response from scholars having committed to plan the theme was gibberish, merely claiming to 'map environmental data'. Might their contributions to shove geography into one of the sub-themes be positive in a respect, this by no means evidences their fulfilment of the responsibility as the professional academics. They have given no essential impact on the general philosophy of the Expo 2005.

Expo 2005 is not only the case in point. Recently, many geographers in Japan have been committing themselves in national projects by joining the government councils and the like. Geographers are invited to participate in the government projects as national comprehensive development projects, or the relocation of the metropolitan functions. At the level of the local states too, geographers have been active at the various councils or committees. However, as evidenced in the case of Expo 2005, in some cases those geographers are not fulfilling scholastic responsibility, the authorities make a cat's paw of those geographers instead. There are pros and cons to the projects such as the new national comprehensive development plans or the relocation of the metropolitan functions. Considering the enormity of impacts of these projects, those geographers placing themselves under the government's thumb must answer for their actions.

Geographers have been thereby swallowed into the torrent: the conservative LDP, the Liberal and Buddhist Komei parties and the business leaders coalesced and all began to talk alike. It seems that geographers are also subsumed into this coalition, the contemporary equivalent of 'Taisei Yokusan Kai*.

Amidst this torrent, there was an incident that generates fear that an academic association might be drawn into the contemporary 'Taisei Yokusan Kai'*.
The Japan Association of Economic Geographers (JAEG), in its general assembly held in Nagoya recently, adopted the proposition to amend its constitution. It changed the way of choosing the executive members from direct election to the election by trustees' collusive 'mutual vote'. Trustees are chosen by means of the direct election of members at large, yet the trusteeship does not suffice to entitle those elected to gain entry into the management of the association. They have to be chosen to be the executive members through trustee's collusive 'mutual vote': the procedure that is much more opaque to the members at large. The larger votes won does not necessarily qualify him or her to participate in the management of the JAEG.

It was the core members of the JAEG executive body including its head who proposed this amendment to the general assembly, with claimed rationale 'to choose right set of persons ready to devote to the actual management in order to run the association without a hitch'. Many groups have faced similar situations: the executive services are something of volunteering. It is not hard to accept their explanation. Yet, in view of the current prevalence of conservatism, the association should have seen to it to maintain the system whereby the opinions of the minority are not disregarded and the association managed under the principle of democracy.

In the JAEG general assembly, objections were raised to this rationale for amendment, 'fearing the amendment shall hinder the variegated opinions from being represented in the management of the association'. 'More precise explanations of the texts of the proposition' were demanded. Yet, those who proposed the amendment avoided facing the criticism, merely talking 'you and us have been discussing this matter or the meaning of the texts are self-evident without explanation' and so forth. The debate was not enough for the majority of the participants to understand the mooted points.

The general assembly lasted 3 hours with harsh exchange of words. Yet, the time seemed to have lapsed without constructive and exhaustive debates on the agenda. Professor Mizuoka, Hitotsubashi University, who is also a member of the JAEG executive body, was most vocal in raising objections. Some attempted to shun responding him by resorting to personal attacks, claiming, 'being a member of the executive board Mizuoka is supposed to support the proposition; his posture to oppose the proposition in the general assembly is questionable' and 'in the executive board meetings Mizuoka has spent much time to present his opinion'.

Another oddity was that only a few members pointed out the mooted issue of the proposition explicitly. Some in the floor whispered 'yes, he is right' to give consent to Mizuoka's claim, but this did not develop into open speech.
As the secretary started to distribute the ballot sheets for taking vote on the proposition in camera to the participants, those who supported the proposition were reported to have demanded to take the vote by show of hands instead of using the ballot sheets. Having this demand adopted, those who were against the proposition were forced into awkward position of revealing their identity publicly. It takes much courage, in this sort of atmosphere, to oppose the proposition made by the authority of the association.

Some might perhaps see 'much imagination' in associating this amendment with the degeneration of the JAEG into Taisei Yokusan Kai*. Yet, considering the current torrent where many scholars have come to forget criticisms and begun to degenerate to submit themselves under the government's thumb, we indeed need to keep watchful eyes on the consequences of this constitutional amendment of the JAEG.

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