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Being neutral is difficult

May 2, 2023

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading. I read and write so much for work, and gather information from books, magazines, and the web, that I am almost sick of it, and I spend my days reading as a hobby to relieve the exhaustion I get from all those activities. Sometimes I am surprised at myself. And I am aware of it. This spring, one of the books that stayed with me was a non-fiction book by journalist Rie Izawa called “Kuroi Umi: Boat Suddenly Vanished into the Deep Sea(黒い海 船は突然、深海へ消えた)” (Kodansha Ltd.).

In June 2008, a fishing boat docked off the coast of the Pacific Ocean suddenly received two large impacts and sank in a very short time, killing 17 people. The government concluded that the accident was caused by waves. The author, who suddenly had doubts about this conclusion, began to investigate all possibilities through interviews. It is a very interesting story. Even as a layman, I have the feeling that this conclusion is rather strange. Was there some kind of pressure to hide the truth? Did someone intentionally push through a contradictory report? Questions like these keep coming up, and I can’t stop flipping through the pages.

The author struggled to get key government officials interviewed, but when she finally did, halfway through the book, a top government official at the time said to her, “The fishing boat accidents really do happen so often. No matter how many times we warn them, they still go to dangerous areas of the sea, catch fish, and make a lot of money…”.

That really struck me. I am not siding with them, but for those who investigate, piecing together the few clues available and making a plausible story out of it is their daily work. They may investigate a disgusting number of maritime accidents and be touched by so much grief, anger and malice that their hearts are worn out. In fact, the minds of those who work on the front lines of trouble in any profession must be under tremendous stress. An accident is a great tragedy for the victims and those involved. But for those who have to investigate the case, it is nothing more than a routine part of their job, with emotions suppressed. This gap in sensitivity causes friction between people.

What made me gasp when I read the report was that I realized my own inability to maintain a neutral mind without knowing it, just by reading the opinions of the victims’ side. For some reason, I had assumed that whoever wrote this investigation report must be a bad guy. However, when I think about it calmly, the person who wrote the report must have had his own comfort and rationality (although it may not always be correct). I believe that many conflicts in the world, large and small, occur because the people involved are unaware of the limits of their own cognitive abilities. In short, they make mistakes because they assume things without having a proper conversation with each other. Often, however, there can be malicious intent at the root of the problem. It is understandable that people are tempted to avoid deep conversations to protect themselves and their organizations. It is a very difficult subject.

By the way, Ms. Izawa’s investigation, as you may have guessed, gets more and more exciting from the middle of the book on …… Anyway, it is a good book and well worth reading. Finally, on a personal note, I somehow remembered that the fishing boat had made a port as its base where I used to go fishing when I was a kid. Thanks to this book, I was able to mourn them again. Once again, I was made aware of the power of books.

Shu Yasumi, Editor-in-Chief


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