Adapt or Die Series

Part 2: Growing Your Way

It’s decided, no more old habits or methods. You keep relying on old ways and the old ways aren’t working. You want to make a change… but how? Well as we talked last time, what’s true of a nation is often true for us. We’ve learned the importance of change and growth from Chinese history. Now let’s learn from another Asian nation: Japan.  

Just 11 years after the First Opium War, American gunboats under Commodore Perry sailed into Tokyo harbor to demand concessions. The Japanese, similar to the Chinese, found themselves powerless to respond to western technology and suffered a humiliating defeat. So the Japanese had a choice. They could trust in old methods and doctrines like the Chinese or try something new. They chose the courageous path of change.

The Japanese leaders made the near impossible decision to change just about everything in their society. In what is now called the “Meiji Restoration,” Japan reformed their government, economy, military, technology, social structure, and even aspects of their national identity. They studied experts in each individual field, modeling their navy after the British, their Army after the Germans, and elements of their constitution after the U.S. They hired Western scientists, teachers, bureaucrats, soldiers, and politicians to teach them new methods. The Western world had a clear edge and Japan needed to learn it or suffer more humiliations.

Now you may think, “I can’t just run around chasing the latest trends, I’ll never accomplish anything but raising my blood pressure that way. And besides, my specific case or personal strategies are unique to me. If I change too much I won’t be me.” And the Japanese leaders agreed with you. 

The Japanese leaders respected their deep traditions and culture. They created a constitutional monarchy centered on the Emperor and centered their training for the military and bureaucracy on the ancient samurai code “Bushido.” Whenever possible they reformed Japanese methods rather than expelling them. They called this strategy “Wakon Yosai” roughly translated as “Japanese Spirit; Western Learning.”     

It wasn’t easy to lead this way. The Japanese people and mid-level leaders launched at least two major rebellions demanding return to the status quo. But because the Emperor and his cabinet urgently sought change, Japan was the only major nation in Asia not colonized by the West. While the Chinese suffered under what they call the “Century of Humiliation,” the modern Japanese state ensured that foreign troops never occupied a single yard of Japan. Hong Kong, the last portion of China held by Britain, was finally returned to Chinese control in 1997.

Wanting to find the courage and methods to change well? Check out these courses… 

Language Reboot

Marriage Remade

Or check in next time for the conclusion to our “Adapt or Die” series. 

Daniel Morgenstern is the director of youth and small group ministries at Restoration Covenant Church in Apple Valley, MN and proudly serves as a Sergeant in the Minnesota National Guard. In all his work, he relies on his background as a Missionary Kid who spent the first 12 years of his life in Ukraine.

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