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Shizuko Sugii

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Coexistence of Nature and Human Beings The Importance of Words

Shizuko Sugii
Lawyer, Himesyara Law Office

I have worked as a lawyer for 48 years. Even today, at 72 years of age, I continue to work as an active lawyer. Currently, I serve as the Director of the Himesyara Law Office in Tachikawa City. That being said, operation of the office is delegated equally and democratically to all members of the office, including young lawyers. In that respect, I do not possess one strong power of someone like Prime Minister Abe (if that comparison is accurate). The majority of the cases handled by our office utilize the Houterasu System in which the national government temporarily pays legal fees for individuals who do not yet have the financial resources to pay themselves. In this respect, Himesyara is a classic example of a town lawyer—similar to the town doctor portrayed in the film Red Beard.

When handling domestic relations cases such as divorce, I truly feel the poverty which exists in Japanese society today. According to a very recent survey by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, the poverty rate for all citizens is 15.6%. In particular, the poverty rate reaches 50.8% for single-parent households. The poverty rate for children is 13.9%, which means that one in every seven children lives in poverty. There are many people who are unable to get divorced because they worry about how they will make ends meet after getting divorced. Also, school fees are so high! The calculation table defined by courts does not consider school fees for private schools, so the question of whether the mother or father will pay school fees is a point of serious contention during divorces.

In this way, I experience a variety of worries during my daily work. As the result of working as a lawyer and experiencing the real world on a daily basis, my social perspective is broadened. This helps me to recognize the importance of efforts to create an even better society. Also, occupation is an important element of human life, and any occupation—no matter how fulfilling—has a certain level of difficulty and stress. Personally, even I sometimes feel a little beaten down. In order to overcome such despondence, I encourage you to confront your difficulties head-on.

When I was in university, there were many cafes where students would gather to talk and engage in debates. This is very nostalgic for me. Instead of using the internet to focus only on information which interests you, I believe that it is extremely important to acquire a wide range of information from newspapers and magazines. I also recommend debating with your friends. When engaging in debate, it is important to avoid becoming overly focused on winning the debate. Do not feel victorious if you defeat your opponent. Instead, it is important to respect the position of the other party, to learn from different opinions, and to express your opinion in an easy-to-understand manner. The essence of a democracy is to share and debate accurate information.

I recently wrote the following essay. It will be published in a certain magazine (the August edition of Gakushu-no-Tomo) which will go on sale in about one month. I sincerely hope that the essay will help inspire you to engage in debate. Please excuse my poor writing.

Coexistence of nature and human beings―The importance of words

The greenery of mountains has deepened. The foliage of trees emits a substance called phytoncide. Simply entering a forest will restore our vigor and refresh us. Also, when hiking a mountain, it is also refreshing to exchange greetings like “Hi!” with people whom you have never met before. Words are important tools which connect people and deepen trust.

However, “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” Particularly in politics, there are rampant uses of shrewd paraphrasing and fictional words which evade the crux of matters.

During World War Two, announcements from the Imperial headquarters described the total annihilation of the Japanese military as honorable death and the defeat of Japan as a change in course. However, no other political administration has recklessly used deceptive words to the extent of the Abe administration. For example, Tomomi Inada, the Minister of Defense, used evasive word of “conflict” instead of “war” when describing the situation in South Sudan.

Forceful enactment of the Anti-Conspiracy Bill has created concern for the decline and devastation of democracy. Today, we must reconsider the true meaning of democracy. Democracy is more than simply making decisions based on a majority of votes; instead, it can only be achieved by sharing and debating information. Forcing the will of the majority is not democracy.

The poet Minoru Nakamura (also a highly-respected lawyer) once said the following: “There is no guarantee that what you want to say will be accurately conveyed to another person. In this meaning, words are a kind of wondrous living creature.” Today, more and more people focus solely on information which they agree with and refuse to listen to different opinions. In such times, it is necessary to seriously consider how to engage in dialog with people who blindly believe claims made by the government.

In nature, people naturally become kind. We should value words which make it possible to deepen the trust among us.

Shizuko Sugii
In 1967, Shizuko Sugii graduated from the Faculty of Law, Chuo University.
In 1969, she was registered as a lawyer, and entered employment at the Santama Law Office (employed until March 2000).
In 1990, she became a Civil Conciliation Commissioner, the Tachikawa Summary Court (until March 2016).
In 1990, she became a Chairperson of the Committee on Women’s Rights, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
In 1991, she became a Chairperson of the Committee on Equality of the Sexes, the Daini Tokyo Bar Association.
In 1992, she became a Vice-Chairperson, the Daini Tokyo Bar Association (first woman to hold the position).
In 1993, she became an Executive Director, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
In April 2000, she opened the Sugii Law Office in Kunitachi City.
In 2001, she became a Director of Tama Branch, the Daini Tokyo Bar Association.
In 2002, she served as a Part-Time Lecturer on gender theory, Tsuru University (until 2014).
In 2003, she became an Executive Director, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.
In 2005, she became a Director, the Kanto Federation of Bar Associations (first woman to hold the position).
In 2008, she became a Chairperson of the Domestic Legislation Committee, the Japan Federation of Bar Associations (until May 2013).
In April 2009, she opened the Himesyara Law Office (Director).
From 2009 to 2011, she served as a Member of the Legislative Council (Sub-committee for Non-contentious Cases and Domestic Relations Trials).