Deciding to do something different, I boarded an Asahi Shimbun helicopter recently, armed with a chronological table of Japanese history. My intention was to try to assess the direction of our present era by retracing history.

My first "destination" was Kyoto, the nation's capital 1,000 years ago.

Fujiwara no Michinaga (966-1028), the de facto ruler of Japan at the time, penned this poem in 1018: "This world, I think/ Is indeed my world/ Like the full moon I shine/ Uncovered by any cloud."

Having married off his three daughters to emperors, he was at the peak of his power. When he recited this poem before an assemblage of senior courtiers, the latter were said to have chanted it in unison several times.

In any era, there are powerful individuals asserting leadership, and their followers swearing undying loyalty.

But nothing remains today of Michinaga's estate where this poetry-reading party took place. All I saw from the air was a wood plaque marking the site.

My next destination was the Miura Peninsula, where an English merchant vessel, commanded by a Capt. Gordon, cast anchor off Uraga in 1818, throwing local magistrates into a panic. This was in the latter part of the Edo Period (1603-1867).

But the ship set sail soon after the authorities rejected the captain's proposal for trade.

Perhaps emboldened by this successful snubbing of a foreign overture, the Tokugawa Shogunate did not bother to set any firm policy on how to deal with this sort of situation.

In the ensuing years, foreign vessels began calling in growing numbers. And 35 years later, the "Black Ships" arrived from the United States to shock the shogunate out of its smugness.

Japan's failure to read the current of globalization back then does not seem to have changed much over the last two centuries.

The helicopter then headed to the Sea of Japan to fly over the fishing town of Uozu in Toyama Prefecture, the site of the Kome Sodo (rice riots) in 1918.

Subjected to extreme hardship by a steep rise in the price of the staple, local women and others blocked the shipment of rice from the port. Their action triggered a nationwide movement.

Socio-economic gaps always become apparent in the provinces first. This is certainly the case today.

The year 2018 has dawned. Even though the ways of human society have remained unchanged from the Heian Period (794-1185), I wish this year would turn out to be one that will give hope to people 100 years or 1,000 years from now.

Aboard the helicopter, I prayed for a peaceful year.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Jan. 1

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.