I talked with two brilliant Japanese friends for several hours each. One is an influential and eminent politician/statesman, the other a business consultant to major Japanese corporations. Which one had the clearest, most comprehensive view of Japan today?
The answer is found in my masthead.
Tokyo is growing in population. Forty three million people live here, up a few million from a few years ago. No city in the world comes even close in size or economic output.
Young people and young families are moving here from all over Japan. It’s driving up residential real estate prices especially, as they prefer the inner city, Shibuya-ku and Minato-ku. Schools are facing shortages of classrooms. Interestingly, these new Tokyoites spend more time in Tokyo and less outside the city for trips and sports.
The movement to Tokyo is part of the four step national plan to deal with a shrinking/aging population which I related a few years ago. The most visible other sign of this national program is the dramatic increase in the number of elevators in subway and train stations. See photo on right.
The new young people in Tokyo have taken a startling turn in taste. Their favorite movie stars, the top movies and the top songs are Korean. Korea decided to expand its film industry five years ago and this is the result.
Korea plays an interesting role in Japanese thinking. North Korea terrifies the Japanese. It further encourages Japanese support for a militant, strong and bold America. The Japanese self-defense forces in Iraq don’t have a single soldier who has ever killed anyone. The self defense personnel consider themselves peacekeepers and emergency aid workers. Their domestic popularity is increasing as a result. They count on American protection in Iraq.
Japan has a fairly long history of relations with China and the Korean peninsula; over two thousand years of known and written history. The Japanese, I’m serious, have never forgotten that Genghis Khan conquered the Korean Peninsula and used it as a jumping off point to attack Japan. An English word memorializes that thwarted attack: kamikaze. The kami kaze was the heaven-sent storm that kept Genghis from succeeding in his attack. (Two other words in English came from Japan with their meaning fully intact: hobo and bon fire.)
As a consequence, today the Japanese see the Chinese playing a central role in subduing North Korea. They worry that China, over the next few decades, may expand its influence over the whole Korean Peninsula.
Two corporate notes. Mitsubishi Trust is wasting too much of the national resources propping up the disastrous Mitsubishi Motors. There is a national consensus that the big trusts are not good for the society and need to be broken up.
The opposite is also a problem. Honda, the new postwar innovator, is on the verge of becoming the biggest U.S. car seller as GM sinks into the mud. Honda doesn’t want to be the number one car seller. All Japanese remember Japan bashing from America when Japan did too well. Honda stopped Formula One racing when they won five years in a row. They are looking for a way out of the top U.S. auto position.