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'Kerr has produced what will be a very controversial work and

many are likely to brand him anti-Japanese. Nothing could be furrher
from the truth ... Dogs al1d Delllom is a passionate cry for help by a
man who cares very deeply abourJapan and ordInary jap,mese peop!.:'
Eric johnston , japall Tilllcs

'A rough book, but one that can tell us a huge amount about
contemporary japan' Jan DaUey, Fillallcial Til/lcs (Loudon)

'Kerr plunges headlong into the s('lf-destructiou that is thn.·atening

to leave once-beautitul Japan in the dot-com dust of the 2 Jst century
... His honesty in describing delicate intem.ll issues is a refreshing
change from the myriad "experts" who have published prescriptive
and predictive books on Japan in the past 20 ye,lrs' Nina Kahori,
japall magazi ne

'Unlih some Japan watchers ... Mr KelT docs not blamc japan's
cconomic and cultural malaise on its attempts to "catch up to the
West". To thc contralY, he argues - with style and wit - thatJapdn
is floundering precisely because it has !".lIled ro ad'lpt, both
technolOgically and ,>, to the demands of the "modem"
world' Michael Judge, /Vall Street jO",.,IIII

''"'ne of the reasons Ithel book deserves attt'11tion from a Western

readership is precisely how different it sounds from the run of
general reporting about Japan ... I do hope people will ger and read
tbe book. It's gracefully written and well-infollm:d. It'S full of
riginal obset"Vatio\lS' James Fallows (trom Fallo/lis @IIl~lie,
Ilalll;( U,I1)(llll7d website)

'If you are the type who gets angry at bureaucratic stupidity and
injustice, Dogs lllld D('1II01lS wiU give you a heart 'lttack ... this is a
gripping read. Kerr is a gifted writer who tells his story through
many astonishing anecdotes not previously known outside Japan.
These tales of bureaucratic wrong-headedllt'ss w(lllld be even
more comical and entertaming if they weren't ultimately so sad'
Urian Mertens, AS/all Bllsilless

Alex Kerr grew up in Japan, and now lives in Kyoto and Bangkok. He
was educated at Yale, Oxford and Keio universities. His last book, L>51
Jara/I, which he wrote originally in Japanese, was the first by a foreigner
to win the Shincho Gakugei Literary Prize for non-fiction. Dogs

The Fall oj Modern Japan


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EXl(.'pt III lI11.' UnitL'd Surt.'\ (If Anll'ril.':l, till' !>.llJk i\ \Ol...l \Ubjl.'CI

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Acknowledgments IX

IIthor's Note xiii

Prologue 3

The author gratefulJy acknowledges the invaluable assistance of 1 The Land: The Construction State n

Bodhi Fishman, who was both chief researcher for and ongoing 2 Environment: Cedar Plantations and Orange Ooze 51

editor of Dogs and Del/lol1S' many drafts over the years. Withom 3 The Bubble: Looking Back 77

his collaboration the work could not have been completed. 4 Information: A Different View of Reality 103

5 Bureaucracy: Power and Privilege 132

6 Monuments: Airports for Radishes 145

Old Cities: Kyoto and Tourism 161

8 New Cities: Electric Wires and Roof Boxes 19

9 Demons: The Philosophy of Monuments 218

10 Mallga and Massive: The Business of Monuments 236

11 National Wealth: Debt, Public and Private 25

12 Education: FolJowing the Rules 282

13 After School: Flowers and Cinema 307

14 Internationalization: Refugees and Expats 335

15 To Change or Not to Change: Boiled Frog 358

Conclusion 380

Notes 387

Index 421


When I began work on this book in 1995, I expected to com­

plete it in about a year. I had no idea that it would turn into
one of the biggest challenges of my life and, in the end, take
over five years to complete, with constant rethinking and revi­
sions. The issues examined in the book are among the most
knotty and perplexing in modern Japanese history-and many
of them had never been covered systematically. It took an enor­
mous amount of research and conceptualization to bring the
story into focus, and I could never have done it without the
help of my friends and colleagues.
It began with Merit Janow, with whom I first had the idea
for the book, and who gave me constant support and advice.
My greatest thanks are reserved for Bodhi Fishman, whom I
have credited chiefly with having researched the book but
whose contribution was far greater than that. For five years,
Bodhi hunted down thousands of clippings, books, interviews,
and articles, reflecting the ever-shifting focus of my writing. In
addition, he went over the manuscript countless times and sat
with me over the years as we talked over and rethought difficult
issues. Bodhi was my true collaborator, and I could not have
written the book without him.

.4ckllolVledgmellts Ackllowledgments XI

In addition, I would like to thank my friends and colleagues de; the writer and philosopher Shiba Ryotaro showed me how
in Japan, with whom I have spent many hours discussing these far modern Japan had wandered from its own ideals; William
subjects and who urged me to keep writing despite the diffi­ Gilkey, a longtime resident ofJapan and China, was the source
culty of the work. The flower master Kawase Toshiro's and of many anecdotes of old times; the psychiatrist Miyamoto
the Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo's views on traditional cul­ Masao brought conceptual power and humor to the subject of
ture were guiding lights to me. Architects Shakuta Yoshiki and the Japanese bureaucracy; and Andy Kerr, my father, advised me
Kathryn Findlay filled in my knowledge of architecture, zon­ concerning the book's overall tone.
ing, and city planning. The banker Matsuda Masashi gave me With respect to the Japanese translation of the book, Kazue
information about the banking crisis. Chida, friend and former secreta.ry, did the early work; Kihara
Karel van Wolferen was a fountain of ideas and advice about Etsuko later translated the manuscript in its entirety. I used Ki­
Japan's economy and its political dimension; R. Taggart hara Etsuko's work as the basis for writing my own version in
Murphy offered me insights into the financial system; Gavan Japanese, which was corrected by Nishino Yoshitaka. Through­
McCormack was a mother lode of information on the "con­ out this process-resulting in years of delay-my publishers at
struction state." Donald Richie heard my analyses of Japan's Kodansha showed unending patience and support.
cultural trauma and offered pithy comments concerning cin­ Julian Bach, my agent in New York, guided the book fi-om its
ema. Mason Florence, guidebook author and my partner in a inception; Alice Quinn at TIle New Yorker introduced me to
project to revitalize the remote Iya Valley in Shikoku, was a Elisabeth Sifton at Hill and Wang, who became my stern but
sounding board for issues about rural life and tourism. Gary brilliant editor. The book benefited tremendously from her
DeCoker provided academic resources concerning the Japanese wisdom and professional rigor.
educational system. The painter Allan West shared his experi­ Many others ofiered advice and help while I was at work on
ences as an artist and a cultural adviser. The garden designer this project: Dui Seid in New York, at whose apartment great
Marc Keane counseled me on the ups and downs of Kyoto's stretches of the book were written; my secretary, Tanachanan
preservation movement. David Boggett read the manuscript "Saa" Petchsombat; and my partner Khajorn Khamkong.
and made suggestions concerning education. Chris Shannon As for typing the manuscript, I did that myself. The rest I
taught me about the Internet in Japan. The writer Brian owe to Bodhi, to my friends and advisers-and to the hundreds
Mertens brought a journalist's eye to the process, and was one ofJapanese whom I have never met but who have \witten or
of my most loyal listeners as well as a source of information on spoken publicly about these issues during the past few years and
many subjects. The Malaysian artist and cultural manager Zul­ whose work I consulted. This book belongs to them.
kifu Mohamad helped me to think about Japan's issues from a
wider, Asian point of view.
Some of my advisers did not live to see the completion of
the book: the essayist and art critic Shirasu Masako told me the
story of "Dogs and Demons" from which the book takes its ti-
Author's Note

All Japanese names are shown Japanese style: last name first.

The yen/dollar rate has fluctuated widely over the past decade,
but for purposes of rough estimation, the rate is about ¥1 05 to
$1 at the time of writing.

As ofJanuary 8, 2001, many ministries and agencies of the Jap­

anese government are being merged and retitled. The names I
give are those in use at the time of writing.

What I am about to communicate to you is the most

astonishing thing, the most surprising, the most marvellous,

the most miraculous, most triumphant, most baffling, most

unheard of, most singular, most extraordinary, most

unbelievable, most unforeseen, biggest, tiniest, rarest,

commonest, the most talked about, and the most secret up to

this day.


The idea for this book came one day in Bangkok in 1996, as I
sat on the terrace of the Oriental Hotel having coffee with my
old friend Merit Janow. ft was a colorful scene: teak rice boats
plied the great river, along with every other type of craft from
pleasure yachts to coal barges. At the next table, a group of
German businessmen were discussing a new satellite system for
Asia, next to them was a man reading an Italian paper, and
across the way a group of young Thais and Americans were
planning a trip to Vietnam. Merit and I had grown up together
in Tokyo and Yokohama, and it struck us that the scene we were
witnessing had no counterpart in the Japan we know today:

Dogs alld Demons Prologue 5

very few foreigners visit, and even fewer live there; of those, the world in 1989, was capitalized at little more than a fourth
only a handful are planning new businesses-their effect on of New York's; meanwhile, GNP growth in Japan fell to a mi­
Japan is close to zero. It is hard to find a newspaper in English nus, while the United States, Europe, and China boomed.
in many hotels, much less one in Italian. That Japan's economy stumbled is old news. But the media
The river, too, presented a sharp contrast to the drab same­ have reported very little about the distress that afflicts other as­
ness of Japanese cities, where we could think of no waterways pects of the nation's life. Few have questioned why Japan's sup­
with such vibrant life along their shores, but instead only vi­ posed "cities of the future" are unable to do something as basic
sions of endless concrete embankments. Japan suddenly seemed as burying telephone wires; why gigantic construction boon­
very far away from the modern world-and the title for a book doggles scar the countryside (roads leading nowhere in the
came to me: Irrelevant Japan. Japan kept the world out for so mountains, rivers encased in U-shaped chutes); why wetlands
long, and so successfully, that in the end the world passed her are cemented over for no reason; why the movie industry has
by. collapsed; or why Kyoto and Nara were turned into concrete
However, as I researched this book, it became clear that jungles. These things point to something much deeper than a
Japan's problems are much more severe than even I had mere period of economic downturn; they represent a profound
guessed. Far from being irrclevant,Japan's troubles have serious cultural crisis, trouble eating away at the nation's very soul.
relevance for both developing countries and advanced econo­ In the process of researching this book, it became clear to me
mies, for the simple reason that Japan fell into the pitfalls of that Japan's problems have their roots in the 1860s, when the
both. So the title changed. country first opened to the world. At that time, the nation set
The key question is: Why should Japan have fallen into any out to resist the Western colonial powers, and later to vie with
pitfall, when the nation had everything? It reveled in one of the them for dominance-and even though Japan succeeded in be­
world's most beautiful natural environments, with lush moun­ coming one of the world's most powerful nations, the basic
tains and clear-running streams pouring over emerald rocks; it policy of sacrificing everything for industrial growth never
preserved one of the richest cultural heritages on earth, receiv­ changed. Over time, a wide gap opened up between the goals
ing artistic treasure from all across East Asia, which the Japanese of this policy, instituted over a century ago, and the real needs
have refined over the centuries; it boasted one of the world's of Japan's modern society. Distortions and hidden debts have
best educational systems and was famed for its high technology; accumulated, like water dripping into the bamboo poles that
its industrial expansion after World War II drew admiration can often be seen in Japanese gardens, until finally one last
everywhere, and the profits accumulated in the process made it droplet causes the bamboo to tip over, the water spills out, and
perhaps the wealthiest nation in the world. the other end of the bamboo drops onto a stone with a loud
And yet, instead of building the glorious new civilization bonk. How Japan went bonk-falling so quickly from being
that was its birthright, Japan went into an inexplicable tailspin the economic and cultural darling of the 1980s into a pro­
in the 1990s. At the start of the decade the stock market col­ foundly troubled state in the 1990s-is one of the strange and
lapsed, and by the end of it the Tokyo exchange, the largest in terrible tales of the late twentieth century.
Dogs ,wd Demons Prologue 7

The external view of Japan differs vividly from its internal present Japan attractively to others, and a high proportion of
reality. "A man seeing an X-ray photograph of his own skele­ them depend, in one way or another, on Japan for their liveli­
ton," wrote Marcel Proust, "would have the same suspicion of hood. Let the Japanophile say the wrong thing, however, and
error at the sight of this rosary of bones labeled as being a pic­ he may not be invited back to address a prestigious council; his
ture of himself as the visitor to an art gallery who, on coming friends in industry or government back in Tokyo \vill cease to
to the portrait of a girl, reads in his catalogue: 'Dromedary rest­ funnel information to him. So self-censorship rules.
ing.' " The Japan that I have described in this book will be Even stronger than censorship is the power of nostalgia.
equally unfamiliar to many readers. The "land of high technol­ Japan experts long for the beautiful, artistic, efficient Japan that
ogy,"lacking the know-how to test for or clean up toxic wastes. they continue to believe in, and the unhappy reality makes
The society that "loves nature" concreting over its rivers and them cling even more to a vision of utopia. Incurable nostalgia
seashores to feed a voracious construction industry. An "elite rwes this field, and this is why Zen and tea ceremony experts
bureaucracy" that has so mismanaged the public wealth that the recite to us many an exquisite haiku demonstrating Japan's love
health system and pension funds are failing, while the national of nature but do not speak of the concreting of rivers and
debt has soared to become the highest in the world. seashore. Similarly, economics professors lavish praise on Japan's
It is an incongruous picture, shockingly alien if one is famil­ industrial efficiency without mentioning that factories are free
iar only with the seductive outer skin ofJapan's manufacturing to dump carcinogenic chemicals into neighboring rice paddies.
success. How could the winsom.e Portrait oj a Girl, presented to A few writers have raised these issues in recent years, but they
the world for forty years by Japan experts, have turned out to were mainly journalists. American academics and cultural ex­
be Dromedary Resfiug--ravaged mountains and rivers, endemic perts have uttered not a peep.
pollution, tenement cities, and skyrocketing debt? Why have This brings me to a personal confession. This is a passionate
writers and academics never told us about this? book, and the reason is that I find what is taking place in Japan
Since the 19505, Western observers have come to Japan as nothing less than tragic. Of course, there is much that is won­
worshippers to a shrine. When I majored in Japanese Studies in derful in Japan-I would never say that foreigners conversant
college in the 1960s and early 1970s, I learned, as did most of with Japan must attack and criticize it. Nevertheless, we must
my colleagues, that it was our mission to explain Japan to an certainly take off the emerald glasses and see modern Japan for
uncomprehending and unsympathetic world. Japan did every­ what it is. To do othervvise is to condone and even become
thing differently from the West, and this was terribly exciting­ complicit in the disaster.
for many Japanologists, it seemed to be an ideal society, a People writing about Japan make a big mistake if they be­
utopia. Even the revisionist writers of the 1980s, who warned lieve that to gloss over its troubles is to "support Japan" and to
of a Japanese economic juggernaut, spoke largely in terms of point out difficulties is to "attack" or "bash" Japan. Japan is not
awe. a monolithic entity. Tens of millions ofJapanese are as disturbed
Many of my colleagues remain convinced that their job is to and frightened by what they see as I am. American friends have
Dogs a"d Demons ProloPlle
8 9

asked me, "What drove you to write a book that portrays Japan questioning the status quo. Commentators in daily newspapers,
in such a disturbing light?"The answer is an almost embarrass­ magazines, and television talk shows here are obsessed with the
ingly old-fashioned Japanese answer: duty. idea that something is wrong. The title of an article in the in­
[ came to Japan as a young boy, and spent most of the next fluential opinion journal Shincho 45 sums up the mood: "In the
thirty-five years in Tokyo, Shikoku. and Kyoto. As someone 1990s, Japan Has Lost the War Again 1" Another opinion jour­
who loves this country, it is impossible for me to remain un­ naL Gendai, devoted an entire issue to a series of essays by
moved by Japan's modern troubles, especially the doom that has prominent economists and journalists headlined "As Japan
befallen the natural environment. During the past decade, I Sinks-How to Protect Your Life and Possessions."The subtitle
have spent untold hours with unhappy Japanese colleagucs, was "This Country Is Rotting on Its Feet." Unhappy and dis­
who deeply deplore what they see happening to their nation's tressed people number in the millions-and they are Japan's
culture and environment but feel powerless to stop it. Halfway hope for change.
through the writing of this book, I took a trip to Ise Shrine,
Japan's most sacred site, with two old fi'iends, both of whom are For ftfty years after World War II. a favorite theme of writing on
prominent cultural flgures. As we walked through Ise's primeval Japan was "modernization"-how quickly Japan was changing,
groves, I asked them, "Please tell me honestly whether I should catching up with, or even advancing beyond other nations.
press forward with this book. It's hard work. I could easily let Over time, Japan became Exhibit A in various theories of mod­
this subject go." They answered, "No, you have to write it. In ernization, with writers fascinated by how traditional education
our position, with our every move scrutinized by the media, we and culture had contributed to making Japan a successful­
aren't free to speak out publicly. Please write it, for us." some thought the world's 1110st successful-modern state. How­
So this book is for my two friends, and millions of others like ever, it is a central thesi, of this book that Japan's crisis of the
them. There is a great irony here, for while many foreign ex­ 1990s springs from exactly the opposite prohlem: a failure to
perts remain emotionally attached to present-day Japan's way modernize.
of doing things, a growing and increasingly vocal number of Japan's ways of doing things-running a stock market, de­
Japancse emphatically are not. They, too, feel nostalgia, but it's signing highways, making movies-essentially fi·oze in about
for an older, nobler Japan, one that today's Japan denies at every 1965. For thirty years, these systems worked very smoothly, at
step. As we shall see, much that parades as hallowed tradition is least on the surface. Throughout that time Japanese officialdom
actually new contrivances that would be completely unrecog­ slept like Briinnhilde on a rock, protected by a magic ring of
nizable in Edo days or even as recently as the 1960s. People in fIre that excluded foreign influence and denied citizens a voice
Japan grieve because they know in their hearts, even if they in government. But after decades of the long sleep, the advent
cannot always express it in words, that their country is n of new communications and the Internet in the 19905 were a
longcr true to its own ideals. rude awakening. Reality came riding on his horse through the
A strong streak of dissatisfaction runs through every part of ring of fire, and he was not a welcome suitor. In the world of
Japanese society, with even a few highly placed bureaucrats business, the stock market and banks crumbled; on the cultural
10 Dogs and Demons PrologUE 11

front, citizens began to travel abroad by the tens of millions to that path until it reaches excesses that would be unthinkable in
escape drab cities and ravaged countryside. most other nations.
The response by the bureaucrats who run Japan was to build Led by bureaucracies on automatic pilot, the nation has car­
monuments, and this they are doing on a scale that is bankrupt­ ried certain policies-notably construction-to extremes that
ing the nation. It was the only thing they knew to do. Hence would be comical were they not also at times terrifYing. In
the new title of this book: Dogs and Demons. The emperor of recent years, lI1anga (comics) and anime (animated films) have
hina asked his court painter, "What's easy to paint and what's come to dominate major portions of Japan's publishing and
hard to paint?" and the answer was "Dogs are difficult, demons cinematic industries. The popularity of /lLaI1,{?a and allime derive
are easy." Quiet, low-key things like dogs in our immediate from their wildly imaginative drawings, depicting topsy-turvy
surroundings are hard to get right, but anybody can draw a visions of the future, with cities and countryside transformed
demon. Basic solutions to modern problems are difficult, but into apocalyptic fantasies. One might say that the weight of
pouring money into expensive showpieces is easy. Rather than mat/ga and anime in modern Japanese culture-far out of pro­
bury electric wires, officials pay to have telephone poles clad in portion to comics or animation in any other nation-rests on
bronze; the city of Kyoto spent millions on building a Cultural tlle fact that they reflect reality: only manga could do justice to
one in its new railway station, the design of which denies the more bizarre extremes of modern Japan. When every river
Kyoto's culture in every way; rather than lower Internet con­ and stream has been re-formed into a concrete chute, you are
nection fees, the government subsidizes "experimental Internet indeed entering the realm of sci-fi fable.
cities," and so forth. Extreme situations are interesting. Physicists learn the most
One of the recurring ideas in this book is the concept of from accelerated particles colliding at high energy levels not
"Japan at the extremes." As Karel van Wolferen documented in usually found in nature. What happens when bureaucrats con­
Ie En(~nla ifJapanese Power, in Japan's political system the ac­ trol fmancial rnarkets? One could do no better than study
tual exercise of power is mostly hidden and widely denied, Japan, where one may view firsthand the crash at the end of the
people dare not speak out, and the buck is passed indefinitely. road for the most elaborate vehicle of financial control ever de­
The "Enigma" lies in how smoothly Japan Inc. seems to work vised. What happens to cultural heritag~ when citizens have
despite a lack of strong leaders at the helm, and many an ad­ been taught in school not to take responsibility for their sur­
miring book tells of how subtle bureaucrats gently guide the roundings? Although temples and historical sites have been pre­
nation, magically avoiding all the discord and market chaos served, the destruction of traditional neighborhoods in all of
that afflict the West. But while the experts marveled at how Japan's old cities makes a good test case.
efficiently the well-oiled engines were turning, the ship was Destruction of all old cities? The words come easily, but the
headed toward the rocks. Japan's cleverly crafted machine of fact that such a thing is occurring strikes at the very heart of
governance lacks one critically important part: brakes. Once it everything Japan once stood for. "Cultural crisis" is not, in fact,
has been set on a particular path, Japan tends to continue on the best description of Japan's problems, for "crisis" implies a
Dogs atld Uemons Ti,e Land: Tile COllstructioll State 17

dramatic landscape and a romantic history going back to the Iya has become addicted to dams and roads. Stop building
civil wars of the twelfth century, Iya had a golden opportunity them, and Mrs. Omo and most of the other villagers are out of
to revive its local economy with tourism and resorts in the work. Without the daily pouring of concrete, the village dies.
1980s. Yet in a pattern that repeats itself in countless regions The most remarkable paradox is that Iya doesn't need these
across Japan, Iya failed to develop this potential. The reason was roads and dams; it builds them only because it must spend the
that the village suddenly found itself awash with cash: money construction subsidies or lose the money. After decades of
that flowed from building dams and roads, paid for by a na­ building to no particular purpose, the legacy is visible every­
tional policy to prop up rural economies by subsidizing civil­ where, with hardly a single hillside standing free of giant slabs
engineering works. Beginning in the 1960s, a tidal wave of of cement built to prevent "landslide damage," even though
construction money crashed over Iya, sweeping away every many of these are located nll1es from any human habitation.
other industry. By 1997, my neighbors had all become con­ Forestry roads honeycomb the mountains, though the forestry
struction workers. industry collapsed thirty years ago. Concrete embankments
Most foreigners and even many Japanese harbor a pleasing line Iya River and most of its tributaries, whose beds run dry
fantasy of life in the Japanese village. While driving past quaint a large part of the year because of the numerous dams siphon­
farmhouses or perusing lovely photographs of rice paddies, it's ing water to electric power plants. The future? Although traffic
tempting to imagine what bucolic country life must be: one­ is so sparse in Iya that in some places spiderwebs grow across
ness with the seasons, the yearly round of planting and harvest­ the roads, the prefectural government devoted the 1990s to
ing, and so forth. However, when you actually live in the blasting a highway right through the cliffs lining the upper half
countryside you soon learn that the uniform of the Japanese of the valley, concreting over the few ~cenic corners that are
farmer is no longer a straw raincoat and a hoe but a hard hat left.
and a cement shovel. In 1972, for example, my neighbor Mrs. If this is what happened to the "Tibet ofJapan," one can well
Omo farmed tea, potatoes, corn, cucumbers, and mulberry for imagine the fate that has befallen more accessible rural areas. To
silkworms. In 2000, her fields lie fallow as she dons her hard support the construction industry, the government annually
hat every day to commute by van to construction sites, where pours hundreds of billions of dollars into civil-engineering
her job is to scrape aluminum molds for concrete used to build projects-dams, seashore- and river-erosion control, flood con­
retaining walls. In Iya Valley, it makes no sense to ask someone, trol, road building, and the like. Dozens of government agen­
"What line of work are you in?" Everyone lives off dobokl/, cies owe their existence solely to thinking up new ways of
" construction." sculpting the earth. Planned spending on public works for the
More than 90 percent of all the money flowing into Iya now decade 1995-2005 will come to an astronomical ¥630 trillion
comes from road- and dam-building projects funded by the (about $6.2 trillion), three to jOl/r tillles more than what the
Construction, Transport, and Agriculture ministries. This means United States, with twenty times the land area and more than
that no environmental initiative can possibly make headway, for double the population, will spend 011 public construction in the
18 Dogs and Demons The Land: Tile COlIstTlletiOIl Stale 19

same period. In this respect, Japan has become a huge social­ Japan, however, armoring of the seacoasts is increasing. It's a
welfare state, channeling hundreds of billions of dollars through dynamic we shall observe in many different fields: destructive
public works to low-skilled workers every year. policies put in motion in the 1950s and 1960s are like unstop­
It is not only the rivers and valleys that have suffered. The pable tanks, moving forward regardless of expense, damage, or
seaside reveals the greatest tragedy: by 1993, 55 percent of the need. By the end of the century, the 55 percent of shoreline
entire coast ofJapan had been lined with cement slabs and gi­ that had been encased in concrete had risen to 60 percent or
ant concrete tetrapods. An article in a December 1994 issue of more. That means hundreds of miles more of shoreline de­
the popular weekly Shukan Post illustrated a ravaged coastline stroyed. Nobody in their right mind can honestly believe that
in Okinawa, commenting, "The seashore has hardened into Japan's seacoasts began eroding so fast and so suddenly that the
concrete, and the scenery of unending gray tetrapods piled on government needed to cement over 60 percent of them. Obvi­
top of one another is what you can see everywhere in Japan. It ously, something has gone wrong.
has changed into something irritating and ordinary. When you The ravaging of the Japanese countryside-what the writer
look at this seashore, you can't tell whether it is the coast of Alan Booth has called "state-sponsored vandalism"-is not tak­
Shonan, the coast of Chiba, or the coast of Okinawa." ing place because of mere neglect. "State-sponsored vandalism"
'Tetrapods may be an unfamiliar word to readers who have not is the inexorable result of a systemic addiction to construction.
visited Japan and seen them lined up by the hundreds along This dependence is one of Japan's separate realities, setting it
bays and beaches. They look like oversize jacks with four con­ apart from every other country on earth.
crete legs, some weighing as much as fifty tons. Tetrapods, At ¥SO trillion, the construction market in Japan is the largest
which are supposed to retard beach erosion, are big business. So in the world. Strange that in the dozens of books written about
profitable are they to bureaucrats that three different min­ the Japanese economy in the past decades, it is hard to find
istries-of Transport, of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries, even a paragraph pointing out the extent to which it depends
and of Construction-annually spend ¥500 billion each, sprin­ on construction. And even fewer observers seem to have no­
kling tetrapods along the coast, like three giants throwing jacks, ticed the most interesting twist: that from an economic point of
with the shore as their playing board. These projects are mostly view the majority of the civil-engineering works do not ad­
unnecessary or worse than unnecessary. It turns out that wave dress real needs. All those dams and bridges are built by the
action on tetrapods wears the sand away faster and causes bureaucracy, for the bureaucracy, at public expense. Foreign ex­
greater erosion than would be the case if the beaches had been perts may be fascinated by Sony and Mitsubishi, but construc­
left alone. tion is not a sex}' topic tor them, and they have largely ignored
It took some decades for this lesson to sink in, but in the it. Here are the statistics: In the early 1990s, construction in­
1980s American states, beginning with Maine, began one by vestment overall in Japan consumed 18.2 percent of the gross
one to prohibit the hard stabilization of the shoreline; in 1988, national product, versus 12.4 percent in the United Kingdom
South Carolina mandated not only a halt to new construction and only 8.5 percent in the United States. Japan spent about
but removal of all existing armoring within forty years. In 8 percent of its GOP on public works (versus 2 percent in the
Dogs a"d Demons Tlrt Land: The COllstruction State 21

United States-proportionally four times more). By 2000 it over to an agency called the Water Resources Public Corpora­
was estimated that Japan was spending about 9 percent of its tion (WRPC), many of whose directors are retired officials of
GDP on public works (versus only 1 percent in the United the River Bureau. The WRPC, in turn, with no open bidding,
States): in a decade, the share of GDP devoted to public works subcontracts the work to a company called Friends of the
had risen to nearly ten times that of the United States. What Rivers, a very profitable arrangement for the WRPC's direc­
these numbers tell us is that the construction market is drasti­ tors, since they own 90 percent of the company's stock. Hence
cally OLlt ofline with that of other developed countries. The sit­ the ever-growing appetite at the River Bureau for more dam
uation is completely artificial, for government subsidy, not real contracts. When it comes to road building, the four public cor­
infrastructure needs, has bloated the industry to its present size. porations concerned with highways annually award 80 percent
The construction industry here is so powerful that Japanese of all contracts to a small group of companies managed by bu­
commentators often describe their coLlntry as dokl!ll kokka, a reaucrats who once worked in these corporations. Similar cozy
"construction state." The colossal subsidies flowing to con­ arrangements exist in every other ministry.
struction mean that the combined national budget devotes an Thus, with the full force of politicians and bureaucracy be­
astounding 40 percent of expenditures to public works (versus hind it, the construction industry has grown and grown: by
8 to 10 percent in the United States and 4 to 6 percent in 1998 it employed 6.9 million people, more than 10 percent of
Britain and France). Japan's workforce-and more than double the relative numbers
Public works have mushroomed in Japan because they are s in the United States and Europe. Experts estimate that as many
profitable to the people in charge. Bid-rigging and handouts as one in five jobs in Japan depends on construction, if one in­
are standard practices that feed hundreds of millions of dollars cludes work that derives indirectly from public-works con­
to the major political parties. A good percentage (traditionally tracts.
about 1 to 3 percent of the budget of each public project) goes The secret behind the malaise of the Japanese economy in
ro the politicians who arrange it. In 1993, when Kanemaru the 1990s is hidden in these numbers, for the millions of jobs
Shin, a leader of the Construction Ministry supporters in the supported by construction are not jobs created by real growth
National Diet, was arrested during a series of bribery scandals, but "make work," paid for by government handouts. These are
investigators found that he had garnered nearly $50 million in filled by people who could have been employed in services,
contributions from construction finns. software, and other advanced industries. Not only do my
nstruction Ministry bureaucrats share in the takings at neighbors in Iya valley depend on continued construction but
various levels: in office, they skim profits through agencies they the entire Japanese economy does.
own, and to which they award lucrative contracts with no bid­
ding; after retirement, they take up sinecures in private firrns The initial craving for the drug of construction money came
whose pay packages to ex-bureaucrats can amount to millions from the profits made by politicians and civil servants. But for a
of dollars. The system works like this: the River Bureau of the craving to develop into a full addiction, there needs to be a rea­
Construction Ministry builds a dam, then hands its operation son why the addict cannot stop himself at an early stage--in
Dogs and Demons The Land: The Construction State 23

other words, some weakness that prevents him from exercising of even a single project means a smaller budget for the whole
self-control. In Japan's case, addiction came about through the department. The director is going to take a dim view of that,
existence of a bureaucracy that was on automatic pilot. since it affects his career prospects."
Bureaucracy by nature tends toward inertia, for left to them­
selves bureaucrats will continue to do next year what they did Tme to their reputation for efficiency, Japanese Immstries
this year. In Japan, where ministries rule with almost no super­ have done an extremely good job of enlarging their budgets by
vision or control by the public, bureaucratic inertia is an irre­ meticulously observing the principle that each ministry should
sistible force. The world of official policy functions like a get the same relative share this year that it received last year.
machine that nobody knows how to stop, as if it had only an The allowance for construction in the general budget for 1999
"On" button, no "Off." was thirteen times larger than it was in 1965, around the time
With essentially no accountability to the public, Japanese of the Tokyo Olympics. Although more than thirty years have
ministries know only one higher power: the Ministry of Fi­ passed since that time, when small black-and-white television
nance, which determines the national budget. Whatever origi­ sets were common and most country roads were still un­
nal purpose each government department may have had, over paved-years during which Japan's infrastructure and lifestyles
time its aim has devolved to the very simple goa] of preserving have changed radically-each ministry continued to receive
its budget. Dr. Miyamoto Masao, a former official in the Min­ almost exactly the same share of construction money it has
istry of Health and Welfare (MHW), relates the following ex­ always had, down to a fraction of a percentage point. "Bureau­
change with a superior in his book Strai~iacket Society: crats are very skilled at spending it all. It is a fantastic waste,
done in a very systematic way that will never stop," says Diet
Miyamoto: "You mean that once something is provided for in member Sato Kenichiro.
the budget you can't stop doing it? Why not?" Budgets that must be spent and programs that must expand
in order to maintain the delicate balance among ministries­
lVJHW q[ticial: "In the government offices, as long as a certain
such is the background for the haunting, even weird aspect of
amount of money has been budgeted for a certain purpose, it
Japan's continued blanketing of its landscape with concrete. The
has to be used up."
situation in Japan enters the realm of manga, of comic-strip fan­
"Surely it wouldn't matter if there was a little left over." tasy, with bizarre otherworldly landscapes and apocalyptic vi­
sions of a topsy-turvy future. This is what the Construction
"It's not that easy. Returning unused money is taboo." Ministry is busy building in real life: bridges to uninhabited is­
lands, roads to nowhere honeycombing the mountains, and gi­
"Why is that?"
'gantic overpasses to facilitate access to minute country lanes.
"Leftover money gives the Finance Ministry the impression
that the project in question is not very important, which The story of Isahaya Bay is a good example of the "unstop­
makes it a target of budget cuts the following year. The loss pable" force of bureaucratic inertia. In the mid-1960s the Min-
Dogs ami Demons Tire Land: The Construction State 25

istry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) drew up a from the sea. By the time the villagers began to question the
plan to reclaim this bay near Nagasaki, Japan's last major tidal project, it was too late.
wetland. The tides in lsahaya can rise to five meters, among the Enter the Environment Agency, whose role shows how the
highest in Japan, and they nurtured a rich sea life in the bay's Construction State has led to strange mutations in the shape of
wetlands, where about three hundred species lived, including the Japanese government, rather like those crabs that grow an
rare mudskippers and a number of endangered crabs and clams. enormous claw on one side while the other side atrophies.
On April 14, 1997, everything began to die when officials While the River Bureau of the Construction Ministry, origi­
closed off the waters behind the first part of a seven-kilometer nally a minor office, has burgeoned into a great empire with a
embankment. budget surpassing those of many sovereign states and with al­
The original idea was to provide new fields for farmers in most unlimited power to build dams and concrete over rivers,
the area. But the number of farmers, which had begun to drop the Environment Agency has shriveled. Starved of a budget and
in the 1960s, fell rapidly thereafter, and was reduced to almost without legal resources, it has ended up a sleepy back office
half between 1985 and 1995. That nobody would farm these with a dusty sign on the door and very little to do, having been
new fields posed a serious problem for MAFF, because the Isa­ reduced to rubber-stamping the projects of its bigger and
haya drainage project, at ¥237 billion, was a very large civil­ stronger brother agencies.
engineering program, a keystone of the ministry's construction In 1988, only a year before construction of the Isahaya dikes
budget. So it relabeled the plans a "flood-control project," even was to begin (but decades after MAFF began planning and ne­
though experts believed that the last flood, in 1957, had been of gotiating the payoffs), the Environment Agency made a "study"
the sort that comes only once every hundred years. of it all, followed almost immediately by approval with a few
Major projects involve decades of bargaining with vested in­ minor restrictions. When MAFF closed the dikes in April 1997,
terests as to the amount of their payoffs, or "compensatIOll," and it was clear that the Envirorunent Agency's study had been a
at Isahaya tlus long preparatory period ended in the early cursory travesty. Assailed by the media, the only comment of
1990s. The fishing and farming groups in Isahaya could not agency chief Ishii Michiko was this: "The result might have
refuse a largesse that amounted to hundreds of millions of yen. been different if the assessment had followed today's environ­
But this compensation was the gold for which such local mental standards. . . . But it is unlikely that we will ask the
groups sold their souls to the devil, for once they received the Agriculture Ministry to re-examine the project."
payoff they could never refund it. Many towns in Japan, having In other words, although the Environment Agency was
decided to reconsider a dam, nuclear plant, or landfill they have aware that the drainage of the Isahaya wetlands was a disaster, it
agreed to, learn to their sorrow that the citizens have received did not move to stop the project. And why should it? Allow­
more money than they can possibly repay. In the late 19805, a ing Japan's last major wetland to die shouJdn't concern anyone.
group of environmentalists began to object to the Isahaya MAPF chief Fujinami Takao commented, "The current ecosys­
drainage project. Opposition grew, but MAFF went on steadily tem may disappear, but nature will create a new one."
building the seven-kilometer dike that shut the wetlands off And so it stands. The tideland is dead now, and for no better
Dogs and Demons The Lalld: The COIIsrrucriot, Slare 7

reason than the necessity for MAFF to use up its construction Aichi prefectures. The cost of this facility (¥1.5 trillion, roughly
budget. When asked what Isahaya would do with the drained $12 billion) makes it one of the world's most expensive civil­
land, the town's mayor, its most strenuous supporter, had no engineering projects. The Ko;:::(), or "concept," of the dan'l took
clear idea. "We are using the reclaimed land for shape in 1960, but while water needs changed completely in
growing crops, raising dairy cows, or breeding livestock," he the ensuing decades, the plan did not, for too many bureaucrats
replied. But apparently there are even better uses for land that and politicians stood to gain from the construction money. By
no one knows what to do with. He added, "We have also stud­ 1979, new water-use projections showed that the three prefec­
ied setting up a training center for farmers from Southeast Asia tures would have more water than they needed for at least thir­
or conducting biotechnology research." teen to twenty years-possibly forever.
The governor of Mie, well aware of the water surplus, was
Having seen how Japan !ciUed its largest wetland, let's take a concerned about the tremendous expense that his prefecture
look at the mechanisms behind the attack on it~ rivers. One of would have to shoulder. At the same time, he was afraid to can­
the biggest businesses spawned by the Construction State is the cel the project because the Ministry of International Trade and
building of dams and river-erosion levees. Under the name of Industry (MITI) was subsidizing its construction, and if the
flood control, Japan has embarked on what the British expert prefecture turned down the dam MITI would deny it money
Frederick Pearce calls a "dam-building frenzy." This frenzy costs in the future. In 1979, Mie dispatched Takeuchi Gen'ichi, the
¥ZOO billion per year, and by 1997, 97 percent of Japan's ma­ director of its Office of Planning, to present the new figures to
jor rivers were blocked by large dams. This figure is deceptive, MITI and to beg for a delay in construction. But MITI's man­
however, because concrete walls now line the banks of all ager of the Office of Industrial Water Use dismissed Takeuchi,
Japan's rivers and streams; in addition, countless diversion canals saying, "You can't just teU us now that there will be too much
have brought the total of river works to the tens of thousands. water!" MITI couldn't allow the fact of water surplus in 1979
The Construction Ministry justifies the dan,s and canals on the to interfere with the inexorable concept adopted in 1960. En­
pretext that Japan faces a water shortage. Yet it is a well-known vironmental groups loudly protested the damming of Japan's
fact that this is not true. The River Bureau uses projections for last major river in its natural state, but their voices went un­
population and industrial growth that were calculated in the heard. Construction began in the 1980s, and today the central
1950s and never revised, despite drastic changes in the structure dam stands complete while work goes forward on a vast web of
of water use since then. The estimates are so far out of line that, canals and subsidiary flood works spanning the three rivers.
according to Sankei Silimbull newspaper, the additional demand Once a concept, always a concept. As in the case of the IS<1­
projected by the River Bureau is 80 percent above and beyond haya wetlands, no opposition and no change in outward reali­
all the water used in Japan in 1995. ties would affect the concept. Students of Japan's bureaucracy
An example of the construction bureaucracy's modus ope­ must understand this simple truth: A bureaucratic concept is
randi is the Nagara Dam, an enormous facility spanning the like a Terminator robot progranul1ed with commands that no
Nagara River, where three river systems meet in Mie, Gifu, and one can override; the Terminator may stumble and lose a leg or
Dogs alld Demons Tile Land: The COllstrlletioll Slate 29

an arm, but it will pick itself up and go forward relentlessly un­ around it will remain in pristine condition. For one thing, 40
til it has fulfilled its mission. It is beyond the power of any man percent of the reclamation has already been completed; mean­
to stop it. while, on learning of the news of cancellation, local govern­
An old poem reads: "Though the mills of God grind slowly, ments scrambled to present new proposals for roads, and even
yet they grind exceeding small; / Though with patience He for reclamation of other parts of the lake to "revitalize the local
stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all." So grind the mills economy." Shimane governor Sumita Nobuyoshi told reporters
ofJapan's government agencies. In August 1998, public opposi­ that he would do everything in his power to make sure the
tion forced Kyoto's city office to cancel plans to build a bridge replacement proposals get funded. The Concept at Lake
that would have altered the ambience of the old street of Pon­ Nakaumi will live on, although under different names.
tocho, but when the dust settled it became clear that the city
had canceled only the present des(1?11 of the bridge, while re­ The roots of Japan's environmental troubles go much deeper
serving the right to build another bridge with a different design than the mere greed of bureaucrats and politicians. Japan is a
at the same location later. No matter how misguided or un­ sobering case study, for it calls into question what may befall
popular-give it five, ten, or twenty years-the bridge at Pon­ the landscape of other countries in East Asia or across the
tocho will be built. world. What happens if" developing countries" never become
Across Japan, gigantic earthmoving projects-among the "developed countries"? The great modern paradox of Japan is
largest and most costly in the world-continue to advance, the mismatch between its present-day economic success and its
many long after their original purposes have disappeared. There governing mentality, which is that of a still-undeveloped coun­
is hope, however, in new citizens' opposition movements that try.
are beginning to stir, such as the one that stopped the Pontocho Japan suffers from a severe case of "pave and build" men­
bridge. Other projects are being canceled or "extended indefI­ tality. "Pave and build" is the idea that huge, expensive, man­
nitely" because their costs have run too high even for Japan's made monuments are a priori wonderful, that natural surfaces
profligate ministries. One such example is Shimane Prefecture's smoothed over and covered with concrete mean wealth, prog­
plan (dating back to 1963) to create new agricultural land by ress, and modernism. Nakaoki Yutaka, the governor ofToyama
filling in part of Lake Nakaumi at a cost of $770 million, even Prefecture, summarized this attitude when he argued, in Sep­
though the number of farmers in the area, the people for tember 1996, for the construction of a new railroad line to
whom the plan was intended, has dropped. The few farmers rural areas, although there was no apparent need for it. Building
who remain vigorously oppose the landftll because of the dam­ the new line, he said, "is needed to develop the social infra­
age it will do to the water quality of the lake, but the project structure so that people can feel they have become rich."
continued on course-until recently. In August 2000, the gov­ Before World War II, Japan was a poor nation, with industri­
ernment, as part of a review of the most notoriously wasteful alization limited to its cities. The war devastated the cities, and
public-works projects, decided to halt the landfill. While this afterward the pave-and-build mentality took root. Although
is progress, it does not mean that Lake Nakaumi or the area today Japan is wealthy-by some measures, the wealthiest na­
ogs mId Demons The LaPld: The CO/lslruclioPl Slate 31

uon in the world-and every tiny hamlet has "developed," the visible in every art and industry. The kala were set in their pres­
postwar view that progress means building something new and ent shape almost forty years ago and are now out of step with
shiny remains unchanged. the modern world.
President Dwight Eisenhower once remarked that when he Pave-and-bllild involves another mismatch-with Japan's
was growing up his fam.ily was very poor. "But the wonder of own tradition. In their historical culture, the Japanese have all
America," he said, "is that we never felt poor." The wonder of the ingredients necessary to counter or, at least, to temper trus
Japan lies in precisely the opposite feeling: though rich, people mentality. "Love of nature" is a cliche in the standard literature
do not feel rich, and hence need a constant supply of new train about Japan, and there was much truth in it, as can be seen in
lines and freshly cemented riverbanks to reassure them. the haiku poems of Basho or the intensively cared for gardens
Kala is an important Japanese word that means "forms," a of Kyoto. Japan was once the land of love of autumn grasses
term that derives from traditional a.rts and refers to fixed move­ and mossy hillsides covered with the falling leaves of gingko
ments in dance, the tea ceremony, and martial arts. Once the trees and maples; Japanese art is almost synonymous with the
kala of an art take shape, it is nearly impossible to change them words restrai/lt and millia/llre, with the use of unpolished wood
fundamentally, although practitioners may make slight adjust­ and rough clay. Yet modern Japan pursues a path that is com­
ments and embellishments. In the tea ceremony, kala require pletely at variance with its own tradition.
that the tea master first fold a small silk cloth and wipe the tea Shigematsu Shinji, a professor at the Graduate School of In­
container with it. Followers of the Urasenke school fold the ternational Development at Nagoya, discovered this to his sur­
cloth in thirds, while those of the Mushanokoji school fold it in prise when he did a survey of the sacred groves ofJapan's local
half, but the essential kala is the same tor both schools. shrines, stands of trees preserved even in the middle of large
Kala apply to modern life in Japan as well. Japan's school sys­ cities, wruch Shintoists hold up as the very essence of Japan's
tem, established in the 1880s, took as its model the Prussian sys­ love of nature. People complained, he learned, that "the forests
tem, complete (for the boys) with black military uniforms with are a nuisance because the trees block the sunlight and fallen
high collars and brass buttons. Today, even though the boys leaves fr0111 extended branches heap up on the street and in
have dyed hair and wear earrings, they must continue to wear front of their houses." That fallen leaves have become a "nui­
these uniforms-a kala that never changed. In general, most of sance" goes straight to the heart ofJapan's present-day cultural
Japan's modern kala do not go back as far as the Prussian uni­ crisis, and it raises sobering questions about what the future
forms; they can be traced to the early postwar years, roughJy may bring to other developing nations in East Asia.
1945-1965, the period during which Japan experienced its If we were to divide modern cultural history into the three
highest growth rate and its modern industry, banking, and bu­ basic phases-pre-industrial, industrial, and postindustrial life­
reaucracy took shape. The mismatch between the realities of we might say that in the fmt phase, wruch ended about two
the 1990s and ways of thinking established in the decades be­ hundred years ago in the West and as recently as twenty years
ore 1965 is the keynote ofJapan's modern troubles-and it is ago in many countries of East Asia, people lived in harmony
Dogs al/d Uemons The Lalld: The COl/struct;OIl State 33

with nature. For Japan, the primal linage is that of a peasant divine; it would be hard to exaggerate the extent to which the
family living in a thatched house nestled in the foothills at the public now dislikes them. Most cities, including my own town
edge of the rice paddies. of Kameoka, near Kyoto, lop off the branches of roadside trees
The second industrial phase is marked by a rude awakening. at the end of summer, before the leaves begin to change color
Because the contrast between unheated, dark old houses and and fall onto the streets. This accounts for the shadeless rows of
sparkling new cities is too great, a rush to modernism takes stunted trunks lining the streets in mmt places. 1 once asked an
place in which people reject everything old and natural as dirt)· official in Karneoka why the city continued this practice, and
and backward in favor of shiny, processed materials as symbols he replied, "We have sister-city relationships with towns in Aus­
of wealth and sophistication. The world over, the paradigm is tria and China, and when we saw the beautiful shady trees on
well-dressed salaried workcrs commuting from their concrete their streets, we considered stopping. But the shopkeepers and
apartmcnt blocks to new factories and offices. homeowners in Kal11coka objected. For them, fallen leaves are
In the third, postindustrial state, most people have reached a dirty and messy. After receiving a number of angry telephone
certain level of corn fort-everyone has a toaster, a car, a refrig­ calls, we had no choice but to continue."
erator, and air-conditioning-and societies move on to a new In 1996, NHK telcvision produced a documentary reporting
view of modernism, in which technology recombines with cul­ on the difficulties of growing trees in residential neighborhoods
tural heritage and natural materials. In the United States, the in Tokyo. One ncighborhood had a stand of keaki (zelkova),
image is that of young people gentrifYing nineteenth-century which grow tall, with graceful soaring branches resembling the
brick town houses in Brooklyn, or of Microsoft computer stately elm trees that once marked the towns of New England.
nerds dwelling in solar-heated houses in tbe mountains of Residents complained that the trees blocked the sunlight, shed
Washington State. In the first phase, man and nature live hap­ too many leaves in autumn, and obscured road signs. Many
pily as one family; in the second, they divorce; and in the third, wanted the trees chopped down altogether, but after discussion
they are reunited. the city of Tokyo reached a compromise in which it cut down
What about this third phase in East ASIa? In the case of some of them and pruned the taU, arching branches off the rest,
Japan, although all the elements that can propel the nation into reducing them to the usual pollarded stumps found along
a postindustrial culturc are present, the process seems blocked. streets ill other parts of the city.
Instead, Japan i~ speeding forward into a culture where the di­ Nor is it only fallen leaves tlnt earn angry calls to city of­
vorce is final and irreparable, in which everything old and nat­ fices. In May 1996, the Yomiuri Dllily News reported that the
ural is "dirty" and even dangerous. city of Kyoto received only four calls during the previous year
Someone once asked Motoori Norinaga, the great eighteenth­ objecting to the noise from sound trucks chartered by rightist
century Shinto thinker, to define the word kallli, a Shinto god. fringe groups, which circulate through the city year-round,
True to Shinto's ancient animist tradition, he answered, "Kami blaring nationalist diatribes and martial anthems so loudly that
can be the Sun Goddess, the spirit of a great man, a tree, a cat, the noise echoes on hillsides nllies outside town. On the other
a fallen leaf" Yet in modern Japan, fallen leaves are anything but hand, there were a number of complaints about frogs croaking
Dogs a"d Demons The La"d: Ti,e COIlSlmerio" Slate 3S

in the rice paddies in the suburbs. ltakura Yutab, the chief of must be paved, lined with concrete borders, and fenced with
Kyoto's Pollution Control Office, reported, "They say, 'Please high chrome railings. To give some sense of the sterility of the
kill all the frogs.' " new Japanese landscape, here is an image from close to my
The stigma of being "messy" extends beyond trees and ani­ home: in Kameoka, a walkway goes alongside a pond that used
mals to natural materials in general. The writer and photogra­ to be the moat of the local castle, and on the other side is a
pher Fujiwara Shinya witnessed once, in the 1980s, a mother in small park that until a few years ago was a shady, grassy hide­
Tokyo guiding her son away from handmade crafts in a shop away, where people sat on the lawn and boys played soccer. The
because they were "dirty." This was an example of "how Japa­ grass and the shade were hopelessly "messy," though, so the city
nese women had come to prefer shiny, impeccable plastic with recently redid the park, paving over the grass and cutting down
no trace of human labor to products made by hand from nat­ the trees. Now few people linger in the park's empty expanse
ural materials," he wrote. The idea that nature is dirty, that shiny of masonry edged with neat borders of brick and stone. In the
smooth surfaces and straight lines are preferable to the messy middle stands one official cherry tree, with a granite monu­
contours of mountains and rivers, is one of the strangest atti­ ment infi:ont engraved with calligraphy that reads "Flowers and
tudes to have taken root in modern Japan, given the country's Greenery."
traditions. Japan's traditional culture sprang from a oneness with nature,
But take root it has. The Japanese often use the word kirei, but it is sterile industrial surfaces that define modern Japanese
which can mean both "lovely" and "neat and clean," to describe life. It's a stark contrast, but a rea] one. The gap between Japan's
a newly bulldozed mountainside or a riverbank redone with traditional image of itself and the modern reality has riven the
oncrete terraces. The idea that smoothed-over surfaces are kirei nation's present-day culture. Artists must make a hard choice:
is a holdover from the "developing country" era of the 1950s try to re-create a vanished world of bamboo, thatched houses,
and 1960s, when most rural roads were still unpaved-one can and temples (but in a cultural context in which sterility rules
imagine people's joy at having rutted dirt lanes overlaid with and all these things have become irrelevant) or go with the
smooth asphalt, and rotting wooden bridges replaced by rein­ times, giving in to dead, flat industrial surfaces. Cut off from
forced steel. That feeling of joy has never faded; the nation the latest trends in Asia or the West, designers find it hard to
never stopped to catch its breath and look back, and the result conceive of natural materials used successfllily in a modern way,
is that Japan has become a postindustrial country with pre­ or of modern designs that blend happily into a natural context.
industrial goals. This unresolved cultural conflict is a secret subtext to art and
It's a dangerous combination, and the effect is sterility. Drive architecture in Japan today.
through the countryside and you can see the sterilization It is not, of course, only the Japanese who find flat sterile
process everywhere, for the damage lies not only in large-scale snrfaces attractive and kirei. Foreign observers, too, are seduced
projects that flatten the curves of beaches and peninsulas but in by the crisp borders, sharp corners, neat railings, and l11achin~­
many an aluminum or asphalt detail: be it a trail in a national Polished textures that define the new Japanese landscape, be­
park or a humble path through the rice paddies, every track cause, consciously or unconsciously, most of tiS see such things
DOlls mId Demons Tire Laud: Tire COtlstYllct;Otl State 37

as embodying the very essence of modernism. In shoft, for­ sults when married to the powers of modern technology and
eigners very often fall in love with kirei even more than the then applied to the natural environment.
Japanese do; for one thing, they can have no idea of the myste­ Writers on Japan commonly lament the contrast between
rious beauty of the old jungle, rice paddies, wood, and stone the nation's contemporary ugliness and its traditional beauty.
that was paved over. Smooth industrial finish everywhere, with Discussion focuses on the conflict between modernity and tra­
detailed attention to each cement block and metal joint: it ditional values, but this is to neglect one of the most thought­
looks "modern"; ergo,Japan is supremely modern. provoking elements of japan's twentieth-century disasters: the
In this respect, as in many others, japan challenges our idea problem is not that traditional values have died but that they
of what modernism consists of. Kirei, in Japan, is a case of in­ have mutated. Maladapted to modernity, traditional values be­
dustrial modes carried to an extreme, an extreme so destructive come Frankenstein's monsters, taking on terrifying new lives.
to nature and cities as to turn the very concept of modernism As Donald Richie, the dean of Japanologists in Tokyo, points
on its head. An inability to let anything natural stand, a need to out, "What's the difference bet\¥een torturing a bonsai and tor­
sterilize and flatten every surface--far from being comfortable turing the landscape?"
with advanced technology, as japan is so often portrayed, this is In 1995, the citizens ofKamakura woke one day to find that
a society experiencing profound difficulties with it. the municipality was felling more than a hundred of the city's
famed cherry trees-Kamakura's official symbol-in order to
The cultural crisis might be easier to resolve if it were simply a build a concrete support barrier on a hillside. The reason?
matter ofJapanese tradition versus Western technology. But the Some residents had complained of rocks rolling down the
situation is made more complex-and also chronic and se­ slopes, and officials had condemned the hill, which was within
vere--by the fact that the roots of the problem lie in tradition temple grounds, as an "earthquake hazard." In modern Japan, it
itself. People who admire the Japanese traditional arts make requires a surprisingly small threat from nature to elicit this
much of the "love of nature" that inspired sand gardens, bonsai, "sledgehammer to a mosquito" reaction. Every bucket of sand
ikebana flower arranging, and so forth, but they often fail to re­ that might wash away in a typhoon, every rock that might fall
alize that the traditional Japanese approach is the opposite of a from a hilltop is a threat the government must deal with-us­
laissez-faire attitude toward nature. These arts were strongly in­ ing lots of concrete.
fluenced by the ll1.ilitary caste that ruled Japan for many cen­ Quietly, almost invisibly, a strong ideology grew up during
turies, and they demand total control over every branch and the past fifty years to support the idea that total control over
twig. every inch of hillside and seashore is necessary. This ideology
Indeed, total control is one ofJapan's exemplary traits, father holds that nature is japan's special enemy, that nature is excep­
of some of its greatest cultural marvels and of its high quality tionally harsh here, and that the Japanese suffer more from nat­
on the assembly line. The kind of sloppiness that is taken for ural calamities than do other people. One can taste the flavor of
granted in the West has no place in Japan. But a trait like total this attitude in the following excerpt from a publication of the
control is a double-edged sword, for it has cruel and deadly re- Construction Ministry's River Bureau:
Dogs and Demons Tile Laud: Tlu COllstruction. State 39

Earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and droughts have periodi­ "stasis." Any sudden change, whether in politics or the weather,
cally wreaked havoc on Japan. For as long as Japanese history is an insult to Wa. Hence the fear of and fascination with "im­
has been recorded, it has been a history of the fight against permanence."
natural [actors.... Although Japan is famous for its earth­
quakes, it is perhaps water-related problems which have been One of the persistent myths about Japan held by many Japanese
the true bane of Japanese life. In the Japanese islands, where and accepted unthinkingly by Western observers is that in the
the seasons are punctuated by extremes, extremes which have golden age before Commodore Perry arrived, the Japanese
required p{'oplc to take vigilant precautions in order to as­ dwelled innocently in harmony with nature and that only with
sure sUfvlval, water is a constant issue. the arrival of Westerners did they Jearn to attack and subdue
the environment. The romantic in all of us would like to be­
The idea that the nation's history is one of a "fight against lieve this. "It was only when Japan modernized (and therefore
natural factors" goes back a thousand years, and the tradition is Westernized) that it learned the ambition of conquering na­
that the main work of government was C/zisal1 CI,isl/;, "control ture," writes Patrick Smith in Japal1: A Reinterpretation. Accord­
of rivers and mountains." An extensive literature bemoans the ing to Smith,Japan regrets what it "has taken from the West: its
damage done by natural and man-made disasters, typified by excessive corporatism and materialism, the animosity toward
the Record q{ tl,c 'Tell-Foot-Square Hut by Kamo no Chornei nature that displaced the ancient intimacy."
(1153-1216), a classic ofJapanese philosophical literature. In his That is the myth. Now the reality. Where is the "animosity
Record, Kamo no Chomei dolefully relates a series of disasters to nature" that is supposedly such an inbred feature of the West?
ranging from fires, wars, and whirlwinds to famines and earth­ Obviously, modern technology has led to environmental de­
quakes. His point is that life is impermanent, that "the world as struction allover the earth. Yet in the West this destruction has
a whole is a hard place to live in, and both we and our dwellings been tempered in local communities, where people have fought
are precarious and uncertain things." to preserve their villages, houses, and fields. Nothing remotely
As a matter of historical fact, Japan has suffered far less from like what is happening in' Japan has occurred in Europe or the
wars, famines, and floods than China, for example, where these United States. In England, France, Italy, and even industrial
disasters have resulted in the loss of millions of lives and the Germany, thousands of square miles of lovingly tended fields,
destruction of much of China's perishable physical heritage. picturesque thatched villages, un-dammed rivers and un­
Many more :mcient wooden buildings and artworks on paper concreted seashore are preserved. Europe and the United
and silk remain in Japan than in China, despite China's far States, not Japan, are in the forefront of environmental move­
greater size. Italy, likewise, has endured volcanoes and earth­ ments; in case after case-from the logging of rain forest in
quakes tar more severe than Japan has ever experienced, yet Malaysia and Indonesia to drift-net fishing-Japan fights these
"impermanence" is not the abiding theme of Italian or Chinese movements with every political and economic tool at its dis­
literature. That it so dominates Japanese thought may have posal. Where are the Westerners who are teaching Japan to de­
something to do with the ancient desire for H~l, "peace" or stroy its landscape? From Lafcadio Hearn in the early 1900s to
Dogs alld Demons Tile Lalld: Tile COils/maio" State 41

Donald Richie's The Inland Sea in the 1970s and Alan Booth's wild plains. Another spate of civil engineering took place at the
LJoking fOI the Lost in the 1980s, Western observers have been end of the M.uromachi period, in the late sixteenth century,
lamenting what they saw as Japan's destruction of its natural when warlords mobilized hundreds of thousands of workers
heritage. They have certainly not been urging Japan toward through the corvee to dig moats and build gigantic castles, the
further destruction. walls of which can still be seen today. Hideyoshi, one of the
The key to the misunderstanding lies in the telltale words generals who unified Japan at this time, changed the course of
"modernized (and therefore Westernized)." If there is one un­ the Kamo River in Kyoto, moving it somewhat to the cast of
portant contribution that the so-called revisionist writers on its former channel. During the Edo period (1600-1868), cities
Japan of the past fifteen years have made, it is in their recogni­ poured so much landfill into their harbors that the livable area
tion that Japan is modern but defmitely not Western. Its financial of ports like Hiroshima, Osaka, and Tokyo nearly tripled. His­
world, its society, and its industry function on surprisingly re­ torians cite landfill as an exanlpJe of a technology ill which
silient principles, with roots set deep in Japanese history. Japan had long experience before Perry arrived.
When Japan opened up to the world in 1868, the slogan of With the advent of modern technology, every society made
Meiji-period modernizers was TtVakon Yosai, "Japanese spirit, mistakes. The United States, for example, embarked on enor­
Western technology," and Japan has never diverged from this mous civil-enguleermg programs, such as the Hoover Dam
basic approach. That it managed to become modern without and the Tennessee ValJey Authority. Intended to address urgent
losing its cultural identity is an achievement of which it can be needs for water and electric power, some of these programs
very proud, and writers on Japan have universally seen this as a were not wholly beneficial, although it had been claimed that
great success. On the other hand, Wakorl Uapanese spirit) did they would be. After a certain point, however, Americans re­
not always adapt well to Yosai (Western technology), and some­ considered these projects. In other East Asian nations, environ­
times the mix has been extremely destructive. The Wakon of mental destruction, serious as it is, slows down when it ceases
militarism led to the disaster of World War II, and the T%koll of to be profitable. Not so in Japan. It is tempting to blame this
total control is leading Japan to ravage its environment today. on an evil Western inBu·ence, but that does not explain Japan's
Yosai was only the means; Wakon was the motive. rampant and escalating assault on its rivers, mountajns, and
The impulse to subdue natural forces arises in every tradi­ coasts. which is so at variance with anything to be found in th
tional society, from the Egyptians and the building of the Pyra­ West.
mids to the Chinese and the construction of the Grand Canal. In this, Japan teaches us a lesson abollt a cultural problem
In China, legends teach that Yu, one of the mythical first em­ that every modern state faces: how to rise above antiquated cul­
perors in 3000 B.C., gained the right to rule because he tamed tural attitudes that have dangerous consequences for modern
the Great Flood. Japan, too, has a long history of restructuring life. Another case in point is the "frontier mentality" that still
the landscape. It began in the eighth century, when the capitals makes so many Americans cherish the right to possess firearms.
of Nara and Kyoto were laid down according to vast street The right to bear arms enshrined in the Second Amendment
grids, tens of square kilometers across, on what had been semi- made sense for poorly protected frontier communities, but in
Dogs alld Demons The Lalld: The COllstructioll State 43

modern America it leads to the slaughter of thousands of peo­ sands of additional sites to be covered in concrete in the near
ple every year. No other advanced nation would tolerate this. future.
Yet Americans still find it impossible to legislate gun control. Everywhere in Japan, one encounters propaganda about the
From this we may see that Japan is very unlikely to rethink its rivers being the enemy. Typical of the genre is a series of adver­
environmental policies, for the very reason that channeling tisements written in the guise of articles called "The Men Who
small streams into concrete chutes is something learned not Battled the Rivers," which ran every month from 1998 to 1999
from the West but from Japan's own tradition. As with other in the influential opinion journal Slzit1c11.O 45. Each article
tubborn cultural problems, change will come when enough features antique maps and paintings or photographs of the
people become aware of them and demand solutions. Unfortu­ tombstones of romantic personalities in history, such as the
nately, as we will see throughout this book, change is the very sLxteenth-century warrior Takeda Shingen, who subdued dan­
process that Japan's complex systems work to prevent at all gerous rivers. The message was that fighting against rivers is
costs. traditional and noble.
Agencies with names like the River Environmental Manage­
In Kamo no Chomei's time, changes caused by nature seemed ment Foundation, whose money comes from the construction
to be irrevocable acts of karma. There was simply no alternative industry and whose staff have descended from the River Bu­
but to submit to impermanence. With the help of modern reau, pay for "nature as the enemy" ads, and cultural figures
technology, however, it seems possible to banish impermanence happily lend their names to these ads. In the West, we are so ac­
once and for all, and thus the concept of impermanence has customed to seeing and hearing "save the earth" preachments
mutated into a relentless war on nature. The self-pitying per­ in magazines and on television that it may be hard to believe
ception that Japan, punished viciously by the elements, is "a that the media in Japan are following a different tack, but it is
hard place to live in" features in the media and in school cur­ indeed different. Here is an example of what the Japanese
ricula, and serves as the official reason that Japan cannot afford public reads every day in popular magazines and newspapers: a
the luxury of leaving nature alone. long-running river-works series printed in Shukan Shincho
A 1996 editorial in the major daily newspaper Mainichi magazine was called "Speaking ofJapan's Rivers."The Septem­
Shimbun says it well: "This country is an archipelago of disas­ ber 9, 1999, issue features a color spread of the award-winning
ters, prone to earthquakes, typhoons, torrential rains, floods, writer Mitsuoka Akashi standing proudly on a stone embank­
mudslides, landslides, and, at times, to volcanic eruptions. There ment along the Shirakawa River in Kyushu. In the first
are 70,000 zones prone to mudslides, 10,000 to landslides and few paragraphs, Mitsuoka reminisces about his childhood
80,000 dangerous slopes, according to data compiled by the memories of swimming in the river; then the article gets to the
Construction Ministry." In the numbers quoted at the end of point:
the editorial, the reader may experience a true Lovecraftian
"thrill of ghastliness": these official figures tell us that the It was in 1953 that this Shirakawa River showed nature's
Construction Ministry has already earmarked tens of thou- awesome power and unsheathed its sword. It was on June 26,
Dogs alld Demons The Lalld: The COllstructioll State 45

1953. That natural disaster is known as the June 26 River it's in their culture. Whatever they do, they carry it out to the
Disaster. At the time, our house was near Tatsutaguchi Sta­ apex, whether it's making samurai swords or computer chips.
tion near the riverbank. At about eight o'clock at night there They keep at it, improving, improving, improving. In any
was a loud rumble. The steel bridge had been washed away. endeavor, they set out to be No.1. If they go back to the
We rushed to the station platforms but the water level kept military, they will set out to be No. 1 in quality, in fighting
rising, so we took refuge at Tatsuyama hill just behind. I spirit. Whatever their reasons, they have built total dedication
could hear people in the houses along the riverbank scream­ into the system, into the mind.
ing "Help!" and before my eyes I saw one house and then
another washed away. But there was nothing we could do. Total dedication drives Japan's self-sacrificing workers, and
underlies the quality control that is the hallmark of Japanese
Mitsuoka concludes: "For me, Shirakawa River has much production. But the tendency to take things to extremes means
nostalgia, for [I remember] the surface of the water sparkling that people and organizations can easily get carried away and
when I was a little boy. At the same time, it was a terrifYing ex­ set out to "improve" things that don't need improving. Re­
istence that could wipe out our peaceful lives in the space of cently, driving home fi-om Iya Valley, I passed a small mountain
one night. With regard to Shirakawa, I have very complicated stream, no more than a meter wide, which the authorities had
emotions in which both love and hate are mL'XCd." It's a sophis­ funneled into a concrete chute, flattening the mountain slopes
ticated message relninding the public that Japan has no choice down which it flowed and paving them for fifty meters on each
but to hate its rivers, that they are dangerous and need to be side. One could See the "fail-safe" mentality of the Construc­
walled in or they will unsheathe their feadLII swords. Similar tion Ministry's River Bureau at work: if ten meters of protec­
warnings of nature's destructive power, issued by respected in­ tion will prevent a landslide for a hundred years, why not ftfty
tellectuals, flood the media. meters, to make sure there will be no landslide for a thousand
The media campaign is related to Japan's special law ofIner­ years?
tia as it applies to bureaucratic policy. Newton's law is that an Take the ideology of "An Archipelago of Disasters" and
object will continue to move in the same direction at a con­ marry it to "Total Dedication." Sweeten the match with a
stant speed unless it is acted on by an outside force. In Japan, dowry in the form of rich proceeds to politicians and bureau­
the rule has a special and dangerous twist, for it states that if crats. GlorifY it with government-paid propaganda singing the
there is no intelference the object (or policy) will speed up. praises of dam and road builders. The result is an assault on the
Former prime minister Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore once com­ landscape that verges on mania; there is an unstoppable extrem­
mented: ism at work that is reminiscent of Japan's military buildup be­
fore World War II. Nature, which "wreaks havoc" on Japan, is
One particularly outspoken chap told me, "I don't trust us, the enemy, with rivers in particular Seen as "the true bane of
the Japanese people. We get carried away to the extreme. It Japanese life," and all the forces of the modern state are made to
starts off small. It ends up by going the whole hog." I think focus on eradicating nature's threats.
Does alld Uemons The Lalld: The COlis/ruction State 47

than decreasing, humanity's impact on its mountains and seas.

In the coming century, under pressure of population, erosion, Even as Japan fell deeper and deeper into recession during
and climatic changes, nations will be making crucial decisions the 1990s, it continued to provide more funding for civil­
about the proper way for people to live in their environment. engineering works than ever before. In 1994, concrete produc­
Two opposing schools of opinion and technology will influ­ tion in Japan totaled 91.6 l11illion tons, compared with 77.9
ence these decisions: the natural-preservation group (which at million tons in the United States. This means that Japan lays
its extreme includes the "tree huggers," who fight to preserve about thirty times as much per square foot as the United States.
the environment at all costs); and the pave-and-build group, In fiscal 1998, spending on public works came to ¥16.6 tril­
represented at its most far-reaching by the planners of massive han (about $136 billion at 1999 exchange rates), the kind of
dam systems on the Yangtze or the Mekong River, who seek to money that dwarfs the cost of building the Panama Canal and
dominate nature with big man-made structures. far surpasses the budget of the U.S. space program. It meant an
In the West, most governments are trying to chart a middle almost incalculable quantity of concrete and metal structures
course, with environmental protection given high priority. overlaying rivers, mountains, wetlands, and shoreline, in just one
They are decreeing the removal of shoreline buttresses and year-and a "poor" year at that, since Japan was mired in a re­
funding vast projects to undo mistakes already made. In Flo­ cession. One can only imagine what heights the expenditures
rida, for example, there is now a multibillion-dollar program to may rise to when the economy begins to grow again.
remove some of the drainage canals in the Everglades and re­ Meanwhile, through its Overseas Development Assistance
store them to their natural condition. "If someone's got a dam (ODA),]apan is exporting the building of dams and river works
that's going down," U.S. Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt to Asian countries such as Indonesia and Laos, where cash­
told his friends, ''I'll be there." But Japan's Minister of Con­ starved governments welcome ODA largesse regardless of need.
struction will very definitely not be there. He's busy planning Through ODA-funded projects, Japanese construction firms
Japan's next monster dam system, similar to the one at Nagara, profit during a time of economic downturn at home while
this tirne on Shikoku's Yoshino River, another mega-project de­ establishing themselves abroad at ODA expense. Igarashi Ta­
signed to protect against a flood that comes only once every kayoshi, a professor of politics at Hosei University and the
few centuries. The majority of registered voters in the area author of a book on Japan's construction policies, commented,
signed a petition requesting that the project be put to a refer­ "They are exporting the exact same problems Japan has at
endum, but it moves forward regardless. So weak is Japan's home to the rest of the world."
democracy in the face of officialdom that in twenty-five out of At international forums, Japanese participants are usually to
thirty-three such cases, between 1995 and J998, legislatures be found speaking warmly in favor of environmental protec­
have refused to conduct referendums. tion. And while these individuals are often sincere-even trag­
So Japan has staked its position at the far end of the pave­ ically sincere--their speeches and papers should not blind us to
and-build spectrum. Redressing old mistakes is not on the the path that Japan as a nation is following. Projects such as the
agenda; the momentum within Japan is for increasing, rather destruction of wetlands at Isahaya, the damming of river sys­
ogs mId Demons The Lalld; The COllstruetioll State 49

tems at Nagara, the blasting of forest roads; and the armoring reputation with his images that capture in black and white the
of the seashore are not marginal ones. They lie at the core of interplay of cement textures laid down over Japan's newly
modern Japanese culture. Bureaucrats educated in the best uni­ molded mountains and seasides. Shibata is documenting the
versities plan them, consulting with the most respected profes­ haunting visual results of this disaster, and his work is very
sors; the frnest engineers and landscape artists design them; top ironic. Yet foreign critics, faithful converts to what they believe
architects draft far-reaching civil-engineering schemes for the is "Japanese aesthetics," and ignorant of the ongoing calamity
future; companies in the forefront of industry build them; lead­ on the ground, fail to get the point. Art critic Margaret Loke
ing politicians profit from them; opinion journals run ads in enthused, "For the Japanese-who seem to bring a graphic d~­
their pages in support of them; and civic leaders across the na­ signer's approach to everything they touch, from kitchen uten­
tiOIl beg tor more. Building these works and monuments con­ sils to food packing to gardens-public works are just another
sumes the mental energies ofJapan's elite. chance to impose their exquisite sense of visual order on na­
This means that Japan's money, technology, political clout, as ture." Japan is indeed imposing its exquisite sense of visual or­
well as tht: creative powers of its designers, academics, and civic der on nature, on a scale almost beyond imagining.
planners, will be exerted in favor of pave-and-build-on a mas­ At the far reaches of the Construction State the situation
sive scale-during the next few decades. Scholars and institu­ reaches Kafkaesque extremes, for after generations of laying
tions seeking to predict the way the world is going have concrete to no purpose, concrete is becorning a purpose in its
overlooked aile simple truth: the world's second-largest econ­ own right. The River Bureau prides itself on its concrete tech­
omy-Asia's most advanced state-is set firmly on this path. nology, the amount of concrete it lays down, and the speed at
One can already see the effect on Japan's intellectual life. which it does so. "In the case of Miyagase Dam," one of its
While expertise in the technologies of protection of wetlands, publications brags, "100,000 m 3 of concreting was possible in
forests, and seacoasts languishes at a primitive level, land one month. While this record numbers third in the history of
sculpting heavily influences the direction of study both in the dam construction, the other records were set through seven-day
humanities and in engineering. The design of land-stabilizing workweeks. So this is the best record for a five-day workweek."
material has become a specialty of its own. Gone are the days At times, the fascination with concrete reaches surreal heights.
when the Construction Ministry simply poured wet concrete In June 1996, the Shimizu Corporation, one ofJapan's five larg­
over hillsides. Today's earthworks use concrete in myriad inven­ est construction companies, revealed plans for a lunar hotel­
tive forms: slabs, steps, bars, bricks, tubes, spikes, blocks, square with emphasis on new techniques it has developed for making
and cross-shaped buttresses, protruding nipples, lattices, hexa­ cement on the moon. "It won't be easy, but it is possible," said
gons, serpentine walls topped with iron fences, and wire nets. the general manager of the company's Space Systems Division.
Projects with especially luxurious budgets call for concrete "It won't be cheap to produce small amounts of concrete on
modeled in the shape of natural boulders. the moon, but if we make large amounts of concrete, it will be
Land sculpting has also become a hot topic in contemporary very cheap."
art. The photographer Shibata Toshio has built an international The Ministry of Construction, like many businesses and
Dogs a"d Dcmom

public institutions in japan, has its own anthem. The lyrics 0

this Utopia Song, unchanged since 1948, include "Asphalt
blanketing the mountains and valleys ... a splendid Utopia."
japan will not have long to wait for Utopia. At home, the
Construction Ministry is well on its way to blanketing all of Environment
the country's mountains and valleys with asphalt and concrete.
The next challenge will be the natural landscapes of Southeast Cedi Plantations and Orange Ooze
Asia and China, which are already destined for numerous dams
and roads paid for by aDA money.
And then-it shouldn't take many more five-day work­
weeks-the 11lOon!
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.


In the construction frenzy described in the previous chapter,

we can see that Japan's economic woes arc linked with deep
cultural trouble. The s.terility of Japan's new landscape. so far
from everything the nation once stood for, denotes a true crisis
of the spirit. Something has driven this nation to turn on its
own land with tooth and claw, and simplistic reasons like
"modernization" do not explain it.
In seeking the roots of today's crisis, we need to take another
look at what happened in the nineteenth century, when Japan
first encountered the West. Japan woke from centuries of isola­
tion to fwd itself a poor and weak nation in a world where
many ancient kingdoms were rapidly being swallowed up by
European colonial powers. Shocked at the nation's precarious
position,japan's new rulers set out on a crash program to build

Dogs and Demons Environment: Cedar Plantations and Orange Ooze 53

up the economy and the army, first to resist the Western powers replanted 43 percent of all its woodland with a monoculture of
and later to challenge them for dominance. From the begin­ coniferous trees, mostly .'lug;, or Japanese cedar.
ning, this meant making industrial output a top priority to In the process, japan's rural landscape has been completely
which almost everything else had to be sacrificed. transformed. Today; across the country, tall stands of cedar
Japan's defeat in World War II had the effect of intensifYing planted in regimental rows encroach upon what remains of the
the emphasis on manufacturing, for it burned into the national bright feathery greens of the native forest cover. It is nearly im­
memory the desire to build power so that japan could never be possible to find an undamaged view of the scenery that for mil­
defeated again. In the process, the environment, quality of life, lennia was the essence of traditional japanese art and literature: a
legal system, financial system, traditional culture-everything­ mix of maple, cherry trees, autumn grasses, bamboo, and pines.
suffered. It was all part of a "poor people, strong state" policy, Apart from the aesthetic and cultural damage, the cedar
which gave japan's economy tremendous competitive strength. monoculture has decimated wildlife, since the cedars' dense
However, the sacrifice of all to achieve an ever-expanding shade crowds out undergrowth and destroys the habitat for
GNP spawned policies that in many ways harmed the coun­ birds, deer, rabbits, badgers, and other animals. Anyone who has
try's mountains, rivers, and seas. One such policy is the state­ hiked these cedar plantations will know how deathly silent they
sponsored stripping of native forest cover and the planting of are, empty of the grasses, bushes, and jungly foliage that charac­
commercial cedar; another, which has had even more serious terize japan's native forest. Stripped of ground cover, the hill­
etTects, is the deliberate turning of a blind eye to industrial pol­ sides no longer hold rainwater, and mountain streams dry up.
lution. In Iya Valley, droughts have affected streams in my village so
Foreign analysts have admired a population trained to obe severely that many of them are dry for months at a time. The
bureaucracies and large corporations as the source of japan's villagers call this ".'lugi drought." Erosion from the cedar plan­
industrial might. But it also means that the country has no tations also leads to landslides and to the silting up of rivers,
brakes. Once the engine of policy begins to turn, it moves for­ bringing these slopes and streams into the fatal purview of the
ward like an unstoppable tank. One might say this inability to Construction Ministry.
stop lies at the root of the disaster of World War II, and it is also That is not all. Allergy to .'lug; pollen, an ailment almost un­
behind the environmental destruction of postwar japan. known a few decades ago, now affects 10 percent of all Japa­
nese. Dr. Saito Yozo, an allergy specialist at Tokyo Medical and
Soon after the end of the war, Japan's Forestry Agency em­ Dental University, observes that there is no medical treatment
barked on a program to clear-cut the mountainsides and plant to eliminate pollen allergy, though he recommends wearing
them with commercial timber. The aim was to replace the na­ protective gear such as masks and goggles. And, indeed, masks
tive broadleaf forest with something more profitable that would and goggles are what you see on streets in the springtime in
serve Japan's industrial growth. Tens of billions of dollars flowed Tokyo. Some of the mask-wearers are trying to avoid contract­
to this ongoing project, with the result that by 1997 japan had ing or spreading the common cold, but hundreds of thousands
Dogs (/lid Demons Envirallment: Cedar Plantatiolls and Orange Ooze 55

of others are trying to protect themselves against the man-made from harvesting shiitake mushrooms, collecting wild herbs, fir­
plague of slIg; pollen. ing charcoal, and hunting the wildlife of the native broadleaf
The fmal touches in this picture are the roads that the forest.
Forestry Agency builds to bring the cedar plantations within One might expect the Forestry Agency to have second
easy reach of vehicles for harvesting. The agency has spent bil­ thoughts. This is what happened in China after a similar refor­
lions of dollars on forestry roads in every remote wilderness, estation program: in 1996, its Forestry Ministry made a dra­
including national parks-and tbey have involved a degree of matic U-turn, requesting that the State Council layout new
damage to steep hillsides that one must see to believe. In Ya­ logging and timber regulations to make conservation "more
magata Prefecture, the government-backed Forestry Develop­ important than production." But in Japan the program goes on.
ment Corporation put forward a plan in 1969 to build 2,100 Today, logging of virgin forest and replanting with cedar con­
kilometers of roads in the mountains, costing ¥90 billion. Res­ tinue at a heightened pace. The Forestry Agency has promised
idents and environmental groups opposed the project, and en­ to develop a new "low pollen" cedar, although even with such
gineering problems plagued it for decades. "If we had this kind an innovation it will be decades, perhaps centuries, before
of money at our disposal," says the mayor of Nagai, a town in pollen levels begin to drop. And in place of human labor, the
Yamagata, "we'd do something else with it-but if the national government is introducing mammoth "all-in-one deforestation
government insists [on building forestry roads\, we're happy to machines" that fell, log, and haul out lumber. Eight hundred of
cooperate." Fat government subsides drive the program on. these are already at work.
All this for an industry that contributes less than a fraction of What is in store for the future is mechanized mountains­
1 percent to the GNP! For economically, reforestation has been with giant machines marching across the land via concrete
a total washout. The Forestry Agency is about ¥3.5 trillion in strips of forest roads that have been gouged through the hill­
debt as the result of decades of its subsidies to support refor­ sides. It is a scene from the movie The VYar of the Worlds. The
estation and to build roads. Lumber prices have been declining social critic Inose Naoki comments, "We've passed into another
for years, and Japan's dependence on foreign wood is now 80 dimension altogether. It hardly matters what people say: so long
percent (up from 26 percent three decades ago). Back in the as the present system remains unchanged, the forests will disap­
1940s, when the reforestation policy was set in motion, plan­ pear, like rows of corn mowed down by bulldozers." Shitei
ners expected mountain dwellers to prune and log the sugi Tsunahide, a forestry expert and the former president of Kyoto
trees, but today nobody wants to do the backbreaking labor re­ Prefectural University, adds, "The reforestation policy was a
quired to harvest timber on Japan's hillsides. Villages are depop­ failure. During the high-growth years of the economy, the
ulated, and the Forestry Agency has reduced its workforce from Forestry Agency was dragged into this fast-growth atmosphere
a peak of 89,000 in 1964 to only 7,000 by March 2001. A re­ and focused only on commercial concerns. . . . They com­
cent survey found that the few Japanese mountain villages that pletely ignored the fact that a forest involves considerations
have not suffered severe depopulation are those with a low per­ other than business. A tree does not exist just for economic
centage of cedar plantations, where villagers can make a living gain." Alas, Professor Shitei has put his finger on the very crux
56 Dogs alld Demons Ellvirollmelll: Cedar Plantalions and Orause Ooze 57

of japan's modern cultural malaise: not orily forests but every­ trial and to elicit confessions with methods verging on torture.
thil/g W,lS sacrificed for eCOl1OllliC gain. An incredible 95 percent of lawsuit~ against the state end in
rulings against the plaintiffs.
The story ofJapan's poisoning of its environment is not a new The primary tool of the government is delay. Legal cases
one. It dates to the two famous cases of Minamata and ltai-itai in Japan, especially those filed against the government, take
disease in the L~50s and 1960s. Minamata disease takes its name decades to resolve. A citizen suing thl: government or big in­
from a bay near Kumamoto, Kyushu, where more than a thou­ dustry stands an excellent chance of dying before his case
sand people died from eating fish that were contaminatl:d with comes to a verdict. This is precisely what happened at Mina­
mercury discharged into the bay by the Chisso Corporation. mata. In July 1994, the Osaka District Court finally passed
Ttai-itai, which means "it hurts, it hurts," was a bone disease judgment on a later suit filed in 1982 by fifty-nine plaintiffs. In
contracted by farmers who ate rice from cadmium-tainted pad­ the meantime, sixteen of them had died. The verdict: the court
dies in Toyama Prefecture. The buildup of cadmium made the found no negligence on the part of either the national govern­
bones so brittle that they disintegrated inside the body, causing ment or Kumamoto Prefecture for failing to stop Chisso from
excruciating pain. discharging mercury into the bay. The court turned down
Industry :lI1d government collaborated for forty years to twelve of the surviving plaintiffs because the statute of limita­
lude the damage and prevent compensation from being paid tions had, due to the long court case, run out. The judge or­
to the victims of these disasters. At the outset of the Minamata dered Chisso to pay surprisingly small damages of ¥3-8 million
scandal, Chisso hired gangsters to threaten petitioning vic­ to each of the remaining plaintiffS. Only in 1995 did the main
tll11S; goons blinded Eugene Smith, the pioneering photogra­ group of Minamata sufferers, representing two thousand plain­
pher who documented the agony and twisted limbs of the tiffS, accept a mediated settlement with the government-al­
Minamata sufferers. Doctors investigating at Kumamoto Uni­ most forty years after doctors detected the first poisonings.
versity had their research money Cllt off As recently as 1993, In two separate cases, in October 1994 and December 1996,
the Ministry of Education told a textbook publi~her to delete courts resolved air-pollution suits that were more than ten years
the names of the compapjes responsible for Minamata, [(ai-itai, old by stipulating that damages should be paid to nearby resi­
and other industrial poisonings, even though they are a part of dents, while rejecting demands that the responsible companies
the public record. be required to halt toxic discharges. In other words, according
Despite harassment, groups of victims managed to file their to japanese law, you may-after a lapse of decades-have to pay
first suit for compensation in 1967, yet it was in the courts that for the pollution you are causing, but the courts rarely require
the government had its ultimate victory. As has been eloquently you to stop.
described by Karel van Wolferen, Japan does not have an i.nde­ One might be tempted to put down what happened in the
pendent judiciary. The secretanat of the supreme court keeps 1950s or the 19605 to haste and ignorance on the part of a
judges strictly in line, and they dare not rule against the gov­ newly developing country. But japan enters the new millen­
ernment; the police have broad powers to imprison withom nium with only the most primitive regulation of toxic waste.
Dogs dlld Demons Envil"OlIl/Ient: Cedar Platltat;cIIlS and Orall.lie Uoze 59

There are more than a thousand controlled hazardous sub­ Japan begin to draw up standards concerning dioxins, which are
stances in the United States, the manufacturing and handling of anlOng the most lethal poisons on earth. In August 1997,
which fall under stringent rules that require computer moni­ driven by a popular outcry after the discovery of shockingly
toring and free public access to all records concerning storage high concentrations of dioxin around incinerators, the govern­
nd use. In Japan, as of 1994, only a few dozen substances were ment finally approved new regulations to monitor dioxin,
subject to government controls-a list that has changed only adding it to the list of controlled substances. However, so un­
slightly since it was established in 1968-and there is no com­ prepared were othcials that the first study, made in 1996, had to
puterized system in place to manage even these. In July of that rely on foreign data to judge toxicity, and the new regulations
year, the Environment Agency announced that it was consider­ affected only steel mills and large-scale incinerators. Operators
ing creating a registration system like the American one-but of small incinerators (the vast majority) would need to control
computer monitoring and public access to records were not on dioxin only "if necessary," according to the Environment
the agenda. And it would be too much to ask companies to Agency. The situation in Japan is especially urgent because, un­
stop dumping these materials. They would merely be required like other developed countries, Japan burns most of its waste
to report to the agency the amount of these chemicals they are rather than burying it. In April 1998, researchers found that the
disposing of. ground near an incinerator in Nosecho, near Osaka, contained
Japanese laws do not call for environmental-impact studies 8,500 picograms of dioxin per gram, the highest recorded con­
before towns or prefectures approve industrial projects. In hav­ centration in the world. It was only in November 1999 that
ing no environmental-impact assessment law, Japan is alone Japan brought its dioxin soil-conta.minant regulations in line
among the twenty-eight members of the Organization for with those of the rest of the developed world-and the nation
Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), though is still years away from putting them into practice.
such assessments have been proposed eight times dming Why the long delay on dioxins? "To single out dioxin as a
the past quarter century. In October 1995, the U.S. air base at toxic substance, we needed more data," a manager of air­
Atsugi complained to Tokyo about cancer-causing emissions pollution control at the Environment Agency claims. Yet it's
from nearby factory incinerators, only to find that there are no hard to see why the agency needed more data when research
cancer-risk regulations in Japan. "It's difficult to deal with the worldwide bas so clearly established dioxin toxicity that in
case if there is no violation ofJapanese legislation," an Environ­ 1986 the state of California ruled that there is 110 safe threshold
ment Agency official said. for dioxin emissions, and state law there requires incinerator
Despite serious incidents such as the arsenic poisoning of operators to reduce emissions to the absolute lowest level pos­
hundreds of farmers in the 1970s in Miyazaki Prefecture, the sible, using the best technology available. The real reason for the
government has no controls for arsenic, either. The few toxic­ delay in Japan was simple: the dioxin problem was a IWII' one,
waste regulations that do exist have hardly been revised since and Japan's bureaucrats, as we shaU see, are woefully ill equipped
1977, and the new regulations have no teeth. Only in 1990 did to deal with new problems. Dioxin disposal had not been bud­
Dogs twd Demons Environment: Cedar Plal/tatiol/s and Oral/ge Ooze 61

geted within the Ministry of Health and Welfare, and there Section chief: No, we have not.
were no officials profiting from it or business cartels pushing Interviewer: Do you plan to?
or it, so the ministry felt no urgency to pursue the matter.
The Japanese tradition of hiding disadvantageous facts means Section c1lirif: No.
that it is impossible to discover the true extent of toxic waste in Interviewer: Do you have controls on dioxin emissions?
Japan. On March 29, 1997, Asahi Television did a special report
on dioxin contamination in the city of Tokorozawa, outside Section chirif: No.
Tokyo. Studies had shown that dioxin levels in the milk of
mothers there were twelve to twenty times the level that even It is remarkable that the section chief gave this interview at all.
Japan considers safe for infants. The news team showed a The interview was granted before public concern over the
videotape of waste-disposal techniques there to experts in Ger­ dioxin situation became so strong that the Ministry of Health
many, who were aghast. One commented that the techniques and Welfare was forced to listen to it. If the section chief had
were "pre-modern," and the program made it clear that these had any inkling that the dioxin situation was embarrassing or
were standard across Japan. A study in Fukuoka revealed similar scandalous, the television crew would never have gotten in the
levels of dioxin, and there is every reason to believe that the sit­ front door. The MHW was so unconcerned about dioxin that
uation is the same throughout the country. the section chief exuded an air throughout of "Why are you
The piece de resistance was the following interview with a asking me this stuff-how should I know?"
section chief at the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW): Only scattered accounts give a shadowy sense of the scale of
the vast, unstudied problem of toxic dumping in Japan. In Sep­
Interviewer: Does the Ministry of Health and Welfare have tember 1997, the media revealed that the city ofTokorozawa
any policy for dealing with dioxin? and its prefecnlre had colluded in concealing data on dioxin
discharges fi-om local incinerators and that the levels for
Section chief: There is no policy whatsoever. 1992-1994 were more than 150 times the legal limit. In one
Illterviewer: Has the MHW conducted any investigation con­ notorious case, the Yatozawa Waste Water Cooperative, a public
erning dioxin? agency representing twenty-seven municipalities in the Tama
area outside Tokyo, continues to withhold data on water con­
Sectioll chief; No idea. ductivity, a measure of contamination, despite being ordered by
Interviewer: Do you have any idea how much dioxin is out a court to release the data. In December 1995, the Environ­
there? ment Agency announced that spot surveys had found carcino­
genic substances exceeding allowable levels in well water in
Section chiif: No, we have not. forty-one ofJapan's forty-seven prefectures. Among the serious
1Il1erviewer: Have you set any guidelines for dioxin? cases was a well in Tsubame, Niigata Prefecture, that contained
Dogs "lid Demons IIvjrolllllelll: Cedar Plalllaliolls a/ld Ora/lge Ooze 63

trichloroethylene (a metal solvent) at 1,600 times the safe level. were in a great hurry, because we thought that removal of the
Although trichloroethylene is a known carcinogen and has rubble would lead to reconstruction," he said.
turned up in 293 sites across the nation, no regulations to con­ While the cleanup continued during the next two years, the
trol its use or disposal existed at the national level. amount of asbestos in the air rose to fifty times the normal
level, and more than two hundred grams of cancer-causing
The issue of toxic waste brings up the larger issue of "modern dioxin (enough to kill millions of people in concentrated form)
technology;' in which japan is reputed to be a world leader. entered the soil and atmosphere in quake-hit areas. The Geo­
Unfortunately, the cutting-edge techniques studied by the ex­ logical Survey of japan set up a task force that found carcino­
perts have almost exclusively to do with manufactured goods. genic chemicals in 55 of the 195 Kobe sites studied. "We are
In the meantime, japan has missed out on a whole world of astonished at the results. The situation is very bad," said Suzuki
modern technology that has been quietly developing in the Yoshikazu, the chief of the task force. Yet the official survey of
West since the 19605. This world includes the science of eco­ the quake-hit area, made by the Hyogo prefectural govern­
logical protection. Although it flies in the face of the estab­ ment, found carcinogens in only six sites; Kawamura Kazuhiko,
lished image of an "advanced Japan," the nation limps along at a in charge of soil protection at the Environment Agency, dis­
primitive level in this science, decades behind the West. missed Suzuki's concerns about chemical seepage into the soil
From 1987 to 1989, I was involved in a joint development with the comment, "Even if underground water in Kobe is
between Trammell Crow, a real-estate company based in Dallas, contaminated by chemicals, few people drink the water."
Texas, and Sumitomo Trust Bank in building a fashion mart in
Kobe. The designers from the United States were astounded It's time to take a little tour of the countryside, as reported by
to find that the local contractor's plans called for asbestos­ the weekly journal Friday in May 1995. We begin at the small
containing plastic tiles for the hallways. "There is no law against town of lwaki, in Fukushima Prefecture, with a pile of 3",
asbestos flooring:' the architect said. "In fact, these tiles are oil drun1s rusting and l~aking behind a sign that says A,/zeit
standard. Most buildings in Japan use them." Daiichi, "Safety First." In 1989, this cheap disposal facility had
The results of continued use of asbestos materials became reached the point where it had a seven-year backlog, after
evident after the 1995 Kobe earthquake, when the collapse which the operators began dumping excess sludge into an
of tens of thousands of buildings released asbestos and other abandoned mine south of town in the dead of night. By 1992,
carcinogens into the environment. Waste-removal operators when the illegal dumping ended, the waste pile came to more
rushed to Kobe to sign lucrative contracts, which encouraged than 48,000 drums. The owner could not pay the $6 million
them to dispose of the rubble quickly-witl1Out shields or bill for the cleanup, and the prefecture, unwilling to set a prece­
other health safeguards. Although the national and Kobe gov­ dent, has cleared away only 17 percent of the mess. Near the
ernments provided much of the money for cleanup. they of­ mine, only a few yards from the closest house, a landtill contains
fered almost no guidance. A Kobe city ofIicial recalls that he radioactive thorium. In response to residents' complaints, the
approved a thousand disposal contracts in a single day. "We company responsible spread a thin layer of dirt over the landfill;
Dogs atld Demons E,,,,irOllme'lt: Cedar Plalltatiolls alld Orallge Ooz 65

after this there were no government studies or legal follow-up. director of the National Waste Association, said, "Almost all
From Iwaki, we travel to the mountains of Nara, where we waste disposal facilities are very small-scale operations. Enter­
can see Shoum Shinzal'l, "The New Mountain of Showa." This prises are not prepared to foot the bill for proper waste treat­
fifty-meter hill takes its name from its origin in the late Showa ment. If consumers are not prepared to pay for waste disposal,
period (1983-1989), when an Osaka construction company il­ tllen the job won't get done."
legally dumped refuse there. The president of the company It is not consumers who are to blame, of course, for in Japan
later sold the land and disappeared, and since then neither Nara they have little say in national industrial policy. The problem
refecture nor the national government has dealt with it. Re­ lies with government policy that favors industry at all costs.
cently, farmer~ have noticed a strange orange ooze on their "Why do we have to shoulder the cost of removing illegally
rice paddies. Friday reported that in 1992 the police uncovered dumped waste while the government seems to go easy on li­
l,788 cases of illegal dumping amounting to 2.1 million tons of censed agents who dump illegally?" asks Ohta Hajim.e, the di­
waste in Japan. Even so, the arrest rate for illegal dumping is no rector of the industrial affairs bureau of Keidanren, the Japanese
better than 1 percent, with as much as 200 million tons going Federation of Economic Organizations. "Japan's economy is
undetected each year. Fines are ludicrously small, as in the case supported by illegal dumping," the operator of one disposal fa­
of Yoshizawa Tamotsu, who was found guilty of cutting down cility concludes. And it is true that central and local govern­
3,000 cypress trees and then dumping 340,000 cubic meters ments consistently support industrial polluters by means of
of construction-site wastes in a state-owned forest. Although cover-ups and lies. A typical example is the town of Nasu, near
Yoshizawa made about $6 million from the business, he paid a Utsunomiya (the site of ninery-four landfills for supposedly
fine of only $5,000. nontoxic waste). When animals started dying in Nasu, the vil­
Scenes like these are repeated by the thousands :lCroSS the lagers requested a survey, and the government insisted there was
length and breadth of Japan. Ohashi Mitsuo, the executive di­ no problem with tlle water. A private research firm then found
rector of the Japan Network on Waste Landfills in Tokyo, notes high levels of mercury, cadmium, and lead in the water supply.
that cities have been dumping industrial wastes in rural areas This accumulated mess-and the lack of expertise to deal
for decades. "[f this continues, local areas will be turned into with it-arose because those in charge of framing national in­
garbage dumps tor big cities," he cautions. dustrial policy factored waste treatment out of the equation.
In one celebrated case, the Teshima Sogo Kanko Kaihatsu There are few legal or monetary costs for poisoning the envi­
company dumped half a million metric tons of toxic waste on ronment, and Japanese companies have consequently felt no
the island of Teshirm, in the Inland Sea. For this the company need to develop techniques for handling wastes. And they
paid a fine of only $5,000, and the island's inhabitants were weren't the only ones who overlooked this problem. Foreign
left to deal with fifteen-meter-high piles of debris filled with conunentators, as they lauded Japan's "efficient economy," never
dioxin, lead, and other toxins. As is the common refrain in such stopped to ask where the factories were burying sludge or why
cases, for a decade Kagawa Prefecture refused to take responsi­ the government couldn't-indeed wouldn't-keep track of
bility for or dispose of the waste. Suzuki Yukichi, the managing toxic chemicals. One would think that waste disposal and man­
Dogs arId Demons ""v;rotlmeut: Cedar Plantations and Orange Ooze 67

agement of industrial poisons have an inti~ate bearing on the CO 2) has been in standard use as a means of cleaning up oil
true efficiency of a modern economy; and the evidence of run­ spiJls in other parts of the world since the 1980s, the Japanese
away pollution was there to see. It's a case of what some econ­ government had not yet approved its use. The Environment
omists call "development on steroids," for a high GNP achieved Agency therefore did not apply microbes to the 300-meter oil
without strict controls on toxic waste is fundamentally different slick, and untold damage to marine life in the region resulted.
from one that has such controls. Finally, a group of fishermen took matters into their own hands
Unquestioned at home, and basking in the praise lavished on and used a smaJl supply of American-manufactured microbes
them abroad, the bureaucrats in Japan's Ministry of Interna­ on what they said was "an experimental basis."
tional Trade and Industry (MIT!) and the Environment Agency Besides bloremediation, another common technique to con­
have sat back and taken it easy. They have only the haziest idea tain oil spills is to have surfactant sprayed by airplanes and ves­
of the many techniques for testing and controlling hazardous sels or to have the oil that reaches the surface burned. Neither
waste that have become the norm in many advanced countries. of these technologies was available in Japan. Although the
The central and local governments simply have no idea how to tanker ran aground in an established tanker lane, there were no
test for or dispose of toxic chemicals. The reason that waste dis­ disaster plans in place and no large oil-recovery vessels stationed
posal after the Kobe earthquake took place in such confusion in the Sea of Japan. One had to sail all the way from Japan's
was that the agencies in charge didn't know anything about Pacific coast, which took days. The actor Kevin Costner was
waste incineration; they didn't know about shields; they didn't moved to donate $700,000 of high-tech cleanup devices to the
know how to monitor toxic discharges. ,rtfected areas. And in the end farm women scooped oil off the
In September 1994, the Environment Agency announced beaches with hishaku, old-style wooden ladles. As Yamada Ta­
tightened regulations on industrial-waste-disposal sites. Current tsuya reported in the Asahi EVeIling News, "This time the old­
rules, unchanged since 1977, did not cover chemicals produced fashioned lJishaku ladies-something of a museum piece in our
in the 1990s, and disposal sites were still mostly unprotected modern society----5uddenly became a symbol of the cleanup ef­
holes in the ground, without waterproofing, and with no de­ fort."
vices to process leachate. There are 1,400 such unprotected In April 1997, the Maritime Self-Defense Force discovered a
disposal pits, representing more than half of all reported giant oil slick forty kilometers long and ten kilometers wide
industrial-waste sites in Japan. (There are tens of thousands of that threatened to reach the west coast of Tsushima Island
unreported sites.) What were the Environment Agency's "tight­ within two days. Two destroyers rushed to the scene--carrying,
ened regulations"? A study of twenty sites over several years. according to the newspapers, "a large number of blankets used
This lack of environmental technology became vividly clear to soak up oil, as well as plastic buckets and drums." In techno­
on January 2, 1997, when the Russian tanker Nakhodka, carry­ logically advanced modern Japan, this is how you clean up an
ing 133,000 barrels of oil, ran aground and split in half otT the oil spill: with old ladies using wooden ladles, blankets, and plas­
coast of Ishikawa Prefecture, west of Tokyo. Although biore­ tic buckets. This raises a fundamental question of what we
mediation (using microbes to break oil down into water and should include in our definitions of modern technology. [n
70 Dogs and Demons Environment: Cedar Plantations and Orange Ooze 71

nese schools are made to memorize huge numbers of facts, far propaganda, at public expense, to support their programs, as we
more than is required of students in other countries, and they have seen in the case of construction. In October 1996, news­
lso learn to be docile and diligent workers. The system" that papers revealed that the River Bureau of the Construction
teaches students so many facts and such unquestioning obedi­ Ministry collected ¥47 million from ten nationally funded
ence has been the wonder and envy of many writers on Japan. foundations under its own jurisdiction to pay for public rela­
But there are huge liabilities. Items of low priority on the na­ tions that included magazine advertisements warning of the
tional list for manufacturing success, such as environmental risk of massive rains and floods, a series of events commemorat­
consciousness, do not appear in the Japanese curriculum. And ing the centennial of modern river-control methods in Japan,
what is the result? Mason Florence, an American resident of and two international symposiums on water resources and
Kyoto and the author of Kyoto City Guide, says, "In the States flood control. Needless to say, it was not revealed that retired
there is a negative buzz to litter. If you drop a cigarette pack or River Bureau bureaucrats served on the boards of those foun­
a can out the window, there is a good chance of having a guy dations. Nor was it mentioned that the same officials hold
or girl next to you saying 'Hey, man!' " Not so in Japan. Dis­ stock in the companies that have the contracts to manage dams,
carded bottles and old refrigerators, air conditioners, cars, and channeling billions of yen directly into their own pockets.
plastic bags filled with junk line country roads. Plastic bottles A full-color advertisement sponsored by the Electrical Re­
clutter the beaches. As Mason says, "Drive through the hills of source Development Company, in the popular weekly Slmkan
Kitayama [north of Kyoto]' and you see garbage everywhere. It Shincho in December 1995, was typical of the propaganda ef­
would be unthinkable, for example, in Colorado." Or in the fort. In front of a photograph of a large hydroelectric dam
countryside of most nations of Europe. Or in Singapore or stands the attractive Ms. Aoyama Yoshiyo, who is traveling in
Malaysia. the mountains of scenic Wakayama. "Ah," says Ms. Aoyama in
Another subject that Japanese schools very definitely do not the text. "What lovely cedar trees. They're so nicely tended, and
teach is social activism. Citizens' groups in Japan have patheti­ their trunks, shorn of branches, grow up tall and straight to the
cally low memberships and budgets. For example, Greenpeace sky. And there is such abundant water here, of course, the result
has 400,000 members in the United States, 500,000 in Ger­ of this being a region of high rainfall. Why, it's just perfect for
many, and only 5,400 in Japan. The World Wildlife Fund has an electrical generating station!" When she reaches her destina­
fewer than 20,000 members in Japan, versus millions in the tion, Ikehara Dam, she exclaims, "My, there's no water in the
United States and Europe. This adds up to powerlessness. As river on the other side of the dam. When I asked where the
Professor Hasegawa Koichi of Tohoku University stresses, water went to, I found that it now takes a shortcut via a wind­
"Japan's nature conservation groups are not powertul enough to ing river on the other side of the dam. Where the old river
influence the policy-making process, unlike their Western was," she cries with delight, "is now the area below the dam
counterparts." Where there is a sports garden and places for relaxation." One of
On the other side, government agencies keep up a barrage of these places for relaxation is a golf course, which the electric
Dogs alld Demons Environment: Cedar Plantations and Orange Ooze 73

company kindly contributed to the village when it built the and Greenpeace, but they dare not, for fear universities and
dam. "If I'd known about the golf course, I would have come a companies will learn of it and turn them down when they ap­
day earlier," Ms. Aoyama concludes. ply for jobs. Citizens' groups such as those that fought the Mj­
You can hardly pick up a major magazine without coming narnata and Itai-itai cases for four decades truly deserve to be
across tl1is sort of thing-the public-relations barrage is nearly called heroic.
overwhelming. In contrast, scattered citizens' groups bravely Millions of Japanese who do not have a clear sense of the
take on the government or companies in certain isolated cases, mechanisms involved nonetheless grieve at the steady disap­
but there is no strong movement on a national scale. pearance of all that was once so beautiful in their environment.
Japan's schools are instilling a mind-set i.n children that ac­ Since I began writing in Japanese ten years ago, my mailbox has
cepts every dam as glorious, every new road as a path to a been full of letters from people who share my concern: One
happy future. This locks Japan permanently into its "developing tells me how his hometown has become ugly, another de­
country" mode. When the u.s. Department of the Interior or­ scribes how she came home to find her favorite waterfall
dered the dismantling of Maine's Edwards Dam (which was buried in a concrete coffin. The letters frequently say, "I feel as
more than a century old), church bells chimed and thousands you do, but [ never dared to voice it before." In a typical letter
cheered at the sight of their river regaining its freedom. In to me, Ms. Kimoto Yoko writes: "I have come to realize that
Japan, where civic organizations continue to raise flags and beat Japanese themselves do not realize how ugly their surroundings
drums to announce the latest civil-engineering monuments, have become. I was of course one of these people that didn't
such a reaction would be unthinkable. "Welcome to Hiyoshi realize it. When I talked to people around me about the sorts of
Dam!" proclaims Nillomacfli, the local citizens' magazine of my things discussed in your book, I found I was speaking to people
town of Kameoka. We see glossy photos of concrete-flattened who had no idea of these things. While the place I live in is not
mountainsides, and learn that Hiyosbi is a "multipurpose" dam Iya Valley, it is still a rural village. And yet here too, I've seen
providing not only flood control but a visitors' center that al­ that what was ugly already is becoming increasingly ugly."
lows the public to learn and to play:"We expect that it will play People feel that beauty in their surroundings is doomed and
a large role in improving local culture and activity not only in that they are powerless to stop it. The landscape artist Harada
the hometown of Hiyoshi but also in the surrounding regions." Taiji, interviewed in the NillOn Keizai Shill1bun newspaper, said,
Dams like Hiyoshi are precisely where Japanese children go "Whenever I fmd a smaJl village I rush to it on my bad legs. It's
to learn and play, and they certainly contribute to culture-in­ not quite that the scenery is running away from me, but I feel,
deed, they are rapidly becoming the culture, with schools, courts, 'I've got to capture this quickly or it will disappear. When I
and industry all functioning as one closely knit whole. Allan find a wonderful place, I worry that someone will come and
Stoopes, who teaches enviromnental studies at Doshisha Uni­ take it away from me.' "
versity in Kyoto, told me that his students want to subscribe to The decline of domestic travel in Japan and an explosive
journals published by "green" groups like Friends of the Earth growth of foreign travel in recent years indicate a large measure
Dogs a/ld Demons /ll,iro/lment: Cedar Plallfa/iollS alld Oran.lIe Ooze 75

of national malaise. I believe it is possible that most Japanese Well-selected words and photos remind the Japanese daily
know, somewhere deep in their hearts, that they are despoiling that they live in a be~llltiful country. They also impress upon
their own country, but what they know in their hearts they find foreigners who buy books on gardens, flowers, architecture, and
difficult to think about consciously, given the array of govern­ Kyoto that Japan is blessed above all nations in the world with
ment ideology and misinformation pitted against them. Other its exquisite "love of the four seasons." No country in the world
factors, too, make it unlikely that environmental destruction has so rich a heritage of symbols and literature extolling nature.
will become a mainstream political issue. One is the deep­ Signs for restaurants and bars read "Maple Leaf," "FireAy," "Au­
rooted Japanese concentration on the instant or small detail, as tumn Grasses"; a major bank, formerly Kobe Taiyo Mitsui
in a haiku poem. This is beautifully expressed in the paintings Ginko (Kobe Sun Mitsui Bank), even changed its name to
on the sliding doors at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto: a few parrots, Sakura Cinko (Cherry Blo~som Bank). Myriad ceremonies
their feathers brightly painted in red and green, sit on gray such as Mizufori, the Bringing of Spring Water, at the Nigatsu­
branches in a landscape drawn in stark shades of black ink on do Temple in Nara, SUtvlve from traditional culture, and people
white paper. The Zen message of the painting is that the par­ perform such rituals in private homes and at temples or watch
rots are the focus of our attention-hence we see them in them broadcast in some form or another almost daily on televi­
color, while the background black-and-white trees are nearly sion. From the emperor's ceremonial planting of spring rice on
invisible to the mind's eye. The architect Takeyama Sei says that the palace grounds in Tokyo to moon-viewing parties in au­
it is this ability to "narrow their focus" that leads the Japanese tumn, millions of people celebrate the passing of the seasons.
people to ignore the ugliness in their environment. You can Shopping arcades hang branches of plastic cherry blossoms in
admire a mountainside and not see the gigantic power lines the spring and plastic maple leaves in the fall. But this wealth
marching over it, or take pleasure in a rice paddy without being of seasonal reminders obscures the devastation taking place
disturbed by the aluminum-clad factory loonung over it. throughout Japan. It is easy to forget, or never even to notice,
While human beings may color in what we want to see and that the Fon:'stry Agency is replacing Japan's maples and cher­
leave the rest in black and white, this is not an easy task for a ries with sugi cedar, that fireflies no longer rise from concrete­
camera. Photographers and moviemakers in Japan must care­ encased riverbanks.
fully calculate how to frame each shot to preserve the illusion It is impossible to get through a single day in Japan without
of natural beauty. The Japanese are surrounded by books and seeing some reference-in paper, plastic, chrome, celluloid, or
posters that feature precisely trinuned shots of nature-mostly neon-to autumn foliage, spring blossoms, flowing rivers, and
close-ups of such details as tile walkway into an old temple seaside pines. Yet it is very possible to go for months or even
grounds or a leaf swirling in a mountain pool-with accompa­ years without seeing the real thing in its unspoiled form. Cam­
nying slogans praising the Japanese love of nature, the seasons, ouAaged by propaganda and symbols, supported by a compla­
and so forth. Often the very agencies whose work is to resculpt cent public, and directed by a bureaucracy on autopilot, the line
the landscape have produced and paid for such advertisements. of tanks moves on: laying concrete over rivers and seashores, re­
Dogs alld Demons

foresting the hills, and dumping industrial waste. Advancing as

inexorably as the "Moving Finger" of Omar Khayyam, the bu­
reaucracy carves its "concepts" upon the Land, and neither our
Piety nor our Wit shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, nor all
our Tears wash out a Word of it. 3 The Bubble
~king Back

Naturam expelles jurca, tamen usque recurret.

If you drive nature out with a pitchfork, she will soon hnd a
way back.

We are ready to take a look at the long financial travail Japan

has been experiencing since 1990, the aftermath of wild specu­
lation known as the Bubble. The meltdown of the stock market
and property prices has wiped away assets worth $10 trillion,
with another $3 trillion likely yet to go. These vanished assets
are not trivial, for they make up one of the most grievous de­
clines of wealth experienced in human history, the sort of loss
that usually happens in war or at the fall of an empire. To see
how Japan could have got itself into this incredible situation, we
must go back to the heyday of Japanese financial power more
than a decade ago.

When, toward the end of 1987, black limousines began lining

up each afternoon ill front of Madame Onoe Nui's house in
Dogs atld Demons Tire Bubble: Looki,,)! Back 79

Osaka, the neighbors thought little of it. The cars disgorged Madame Nui was also the world's largest individual bank
blue-suited men carrying briefcases who disappeared inside, borrower. "From the mouth of the toad," she proclaimed,
sometimes not to emerge until two or three the next morning. "comes money," and she seems to have called considerable Chi­
Nui operated a successful restaurant, and it appeared that she nese and Indian sorcery into play, for she parlayed a small initial
had expanded her dinner business into earlier daylight hours. set ofloans made in 1986 into a vast financial empire. By 1991,
Only later did the neighbors learn that Madame Nui's visitors in addition to IEj, which lent Nui ¥240 billion to buy illJ
were not coming for the good food. The men in blue suits bonds, twenty-nine other banks and financial institutions had
were coming to pay homage to a shadowy resident of Nui's extended her loans totaling more than ¥2.8 trillion, equal to
house, a figure later revealed to be the single most important about $22 billion at the time.
player in the Japanese stock market at the time. He was Nui's Onoe Nui was riding the success of the so-called Bubble,
pet ceramic toad. when Japanese investors drove stocks and real estate to incredi­
Toads, as is well known, are magic beings that like badgers ble heights in the late 1980s. In 1989, the capitalization of the
and foxes are adept at weaving spells, especially those involving Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) stood slightly higher than that of
money. People like to have as charms in their gardens ceramic the New York Stock Exchange; real-estate assessors reckoned
statues of badgers with a jug of wine in one paw and ledgers that the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo were worth
of receipts in the other. Toads, though less popular, are more more than all of California; the Nikkei index of the TSE rose to
mysterious, as they can transform themselves into demon 39,000 points in the winter of 1989, after almost a decade of
princesses, and they know ancient 'iorc-ery from China and India. continuous climb. At that level, the average price-to-earnings
The blue-chip Industrial Bank of Japan (II3J) , Japan's J. P. ratios for stock (about 20 to 30 in the United States, th
Morgan, especially favored Madame Nui's toad. Department United Kingdom, and Hong Kong) reached 80 in Japan. Yet
chiefS from IEJs Tokyo headquarters would take the bullet train brokers were predicting that the stock market would soon rise
down from Tokyo to Osaka in order to attend a weekly cere­ to 60,000 or even 80,000. Euphoria was in the air. Japan's
mony presided over by the toad. On arriving at Nui's house, unique financi:.u system-which is based on asset valuation,
the TEJ bankers would join elite stockbrokers Ii-om Yamaichi rather than on cash flow, as is the norm in the rest of the
Securities and other trading houses in a midnight vigil. First world-had triumphed.
they would pat the head of the toad. Then they would recite When the crash came, it hit hard. In the first days ofJanuary
prayers in front of a set of Buddhist statues in Nui's garden. Fi­ 1990, the stock market began falling, and it lost 60 percent of
nally Madame Nui would seat herself in front of the toad, go its value over the ne}.'t two years. Ten years later, the Nikkei has
into a trance, and deliver the oracle-which stocks to buy and still not recovered, meandering in a range between 14,000 and
which to sell. The financial markets in Tokyo trembled at the 24,000. When the stock market collapsed, so did real-estate
verdict. At his peak in 1990, the toad controlled more than $10 prices, which fell every year after 1991 and are now abollt one­
billion in fmancial instruments, making its owner the world's fifth of Bubble-era values or lower. Many other types of specu­
largest individual stock investor. lative assets also evaporated. Golf-club memberships, which
80 ogs altd Demons TIre BI/bble: Lookillg Back 81

dUring their heyday could cost $1 million or more, today sell economic realities? The answer IS simple. It applies not only to
for 10 percent or less of their Bubble price, and bankruptcy this question of finance but to questions in almost every area in
looms over many golf-club developers, who must return tens of which Japan is presently suffering: Japan's flllancial system rests
billions of dollars taken in as refundable deposits from mem­ on bureaucratic flat, not on something that has intrinsic value.
bers. What occurred in Japan is an elegant test case, better even than
Despite the best efforts of Madame Nui's bankers and the that of the U.S.S.R., of what happens when controlled markets
toad, her empire crumbled. In August 1991 the police arrested defy reality. For fifty year" the Ministry of Finance (MOF), the
her, and investigators found that she had based her first bor­ most powerful ofJapan's govermnent agencies, has set levels for
rowings on fraudulent deposit vouchers forged by friendly stocks, bonds, and interest rates that nobody has dared to dis­
bank managers. Nui's bankruptcy resulted in losses to lenders obey. The financial system was designed to enrich Japan's man­
of almost ¥270 billion, the resignation of the chairman of the ufacturing companies by providing cheap capital, and in this it
Industrial Bank of Japan, and the collapse of two banks. The succeeded spectacularly well for thirty years. Money from sav­
"Bubble Lady," as the press called her, spent years in jail, along ings flowed to the big manufacturers at very low rates-in the
with her bank-manager patrons. late 19805, the cost of capital in Japan was about 0.5 percent.
Banks, which lent heavily to speculators like Madame Nui to (In contrast, American and European companies paid rates
buy stock and land, found themselves saddled with an enor­ ranging from 5 percent at the lowest to more than 20 percent.)
mous weight of nonperforming loans. For years the Ministry of And while in other countries investors and savers expected re­
Finance claimed that bad loans amounted to ¥35 trillion, only turns and dividends, in Japan they did not.
grudgingly admitting, in 1999, that they surpass ¥77 trillion. In the West, financial gurus sometimes lament that Wall
Even so, most analysts believe the figure is much higher-per­ Street holds corporate earnings captive to shortsighted demands
haps twice that. Taking the more conservative figure favored for profit, whereas in Japan, rather than paying dividends to
by many analysts, ¥120 trillion, Japan's bank fiasco dwarfs th greedy stockholders, companies retain most of their earnings
savings-and-Ioan crisis of the 1980s in the United States. The and pour them back into capital investment. Even though they
S&L bailout, at $160 billion, came to about 2.7 percent of didn't pay dividends, stocks kept climbing throughout the
GNP at the time, but the cost of rescuing Japan's banks could 1970s and 1980s. Thus arose the rnyth that stocks ill Japan were
reach as much as 23 percent of GNP, a crushing burden. By the different from those in other countries: they would all/IGYs rise.
end of the century, despite a decade of rock-bottom interest When in 1990 Morgan Stanley began issuing an advisory that
rates maintained by the government to support banks, and de­ included warnings of which stocks to sell, MOF viewed this as
spite a massive ¥7.45 trillion bailout in 1999, Japan's financial an ethical lapse out of tune with the moral tradition of the
institutions had written off only a fractiol1--perhaps 20 per­ Japanese stock market.
cent-of the loan overhang. Concentrating only on the benefits to companies that need
What were the policies that caused a supposedly mature fi­ not pay dividends leaves out several important factors. We all
nancial market to fall prey to a mania completely askew with know there are various standard ways to value stock. Most im­
Dogs "nd Uemons Ti,e Bubble: Looking Bark 83

portant of these is the price-to-earnings ratio (PIE ratio), "stable stockholding," by which companies bought and held
which tells you what percent of your investment you can ex­ each other's stock, which they never sold. The purpose, as with
pect a company to make as earnings. A PIE ratio of 20 means many of MOF's stratagems, was not economic (which is why
that in one year the company will earn onc-t\ventieth, or 5 Japan's system bafRes classical Western theorists) but political, in
percent, of the price of the stock, some or all of which it will the sense that it was a means of control. It prevented mergers
payout to you, the shareholder, in the form of dividends. These and acquisitions, which MOF could not allow: the threat of a
dividends will be your basic return on investment. takeover forces a company's management to manage assets to
Calculating the true value of a stock gets complicated if you produce high returns, and this would go against the govern­
expect the company's earnings to grow dramatically in the fu­ ment policy of building up industrial capacity at any cost.
ture-which is why investors have snapped up Internet stocks In order to restrict the stock available to the public, MOF
in America even though many dot-cams have never made raised high barriers for new companies coming to market.
profits and have even suffered losses. But the general principle Only long-established firtns could ever consider a new listing
still applies; that is, the investor expects to be paid dividends, on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Even japan's over-the-counter
now or in the future, on earnings. market (OTC), equivalent to the NASDAQ exchange in the
This has not been true in Japan, where the accepted wisdom United States, followed this "bigger and older is better" ap­
held that stocks needn't payout earnings; before the Bubble proach. The average review period for a company to list Oil the
burst, PIE ratios reached levels undreamed of elsewhere in the OTC was 5.7 years, and typically companies listing on the
world. The Dow jones average, at its most inflated in early OTC have been around for decades, not a few years or months,
2000, averaged PIE ratios of about 30, at which point analysts as is the case with NASDAQ. "It's a cold, hard fact that in Japan
screamed that it was overheated. In contrast, average PIE ratios newly launched companies have had 110 way of raising direct
in depressed japan reached 106.5 in 1999, more than three times capital. In Am.erica ,they can; in Japan they can't," ~ays Denawa
the American level. A PIE ratio of 106.5 means that the aver­ Yoshito, the founder of an over-the-counter Internet stock
age earnings per share of companies listed in the Japanese mar­ market for unlisted venture companies.
ket is essentially zero. Matters began to change only in 1999, when, borne on the
A situation like this is paradise for industry, because it means crest of a new wave of Internet euphoria, the OTC spurted up­
that companies can raise money from the public for practically ward, its index quadrupling in just one year. Even so, the OTC
nothing. It works for investors, however, only if stocks always remains so dysfunctional, so far from the Internet-friendly mar­
magically rise somehow, despite producing no earnings. That is ketplace that Japan's new entrepreneurs will need, th,lt in the
to say, it works only as long as the stocks continue to fUid eager summer of 2000 Son Masayoshi,Japan's Internet wizard, set up
buyers. As part of the recovery after World War II,Japan's Min­ a Japanese version of NASDAQ ("Jasdaq"). In addition to eas­
istry of Finance engineered just such a system, and it was a ing the way for Japanese investors to buy American NASDAQ
modern miracle. It worked partly because there was then rela­ stocks, Jasdaq envisions Iisting promising Japanese ventures in
tively little stock available to the public, given a policy called New York, where they can source funds denied to them in
84 Dogs alld Demons rile Bubble: LlIOkill,e Back 85

Japan. The Tokyo Stock Exchange meanwhile set up its own high as 15 to 25 percent, and rents were half or a third of what
emerging stock market, named Mothers. The pieces would they had been in 1988.
seem to be in place for a brand-new form of stock investing. At The "magic of assets" leads to a distorted view of Japan's
the same time, all the old rules still apply over at the Tokyo strengths, since so much energy has gone into making banks
Stock Exchange, where PIE ratios are still astronomical. It re­ and securities houses bigger but not necessarily better. In 1995,
mains to be seen whether Mothers, the OTC, and Jasdaq can when ranked by assets, the top-ten banks in the world were all
nurture stock that pays dividends and rewards investors-or Japanese, with twenty-nine banks in the top one hundred (ver­
whether they will follow the pattern of the Tokyo Stock Ex­ sus only nine U.S. banks). However, when Moody's Investors
change in the 1980s and merely engineer another big Bubble. Service quantified liabilities, it found that only five of Japan's
During much of the past half century, money poured into eleven city banks had assets in excess of bad loans; no banks
the Tokyo Stock Exchange, driving stocks relentlessly upward. rated A, only one rated B, three C, and twenty-six banks D. By
After decades in this hothouse atmosphere, Japan's financial early 1999, the average rating of major banks had slid to E +,
cOlmnunity came to believe in the "magic of assets": assets meaning that they were essentially bankrupt. Obviously, size
would always rise in value, especially when calculated by a alone is not a good measure of financial health, since liabilities
technique, dear to MOF's heart, known as "book value ac­ may equal or even exceed assets, and the truest measure 0
counting." According to this system, owners of stocks, bonds, health is profitability, in which case not a single Japanese bank
and property do not need to assess their holdings at market got into the top one hundred.
value. Instead, balance sheets show stock at the price pur­ Lack of profits sapped the energy ofJapanese banks, so that
chased-the stock you bought at 100 seven years ago, though in time foreign banks outstripped them through profitable
now worth 200, still appears on the books at 100. growth and mega-mergers. By July 1999, only two Japanese
This is a complete fiction, and it spawned a concept known banks had made it into the world's top ten. One had a negative
as "latent profits," which is the difference between purchase return on assets, the other nearly zero-at a time when Citi­
value and current value. The concept of "latent losses" did not group and BankAmerica, the top two on the list, were making
exist. Investors have ignored dividends and looked exclusively more than 1.3 percent returns on much larger asset bases.
at "asset value" and "latent profits." In Japan's asset-based system, size meant everything; in time,
The same principles have ruled in real estate, where returns therefore, MOF mandated a wave of mergers so that Japan's
have averaged 2 percent or lower; even minus returns were banks could reclaim their position as the world's largest. Mori­
common. The crash came even harder for real estate than it did aki Osamu, the director of the Restructuring Agency, is re­
for stocks, and by 1996 official land prices for Japan as a whole ported to have said, "In order to preserve the financial system
had dropped to half their 1991 peak (real prices were 88 per­ we have to shut our eyes [to unprofitable banksJ. But, since
cent off or lower at auction) and stayed low for the rest of the they can't survive on their own, we've ordered them to merge."
decade. Vacancy rates in Tokyo's commercial sector grew as In other words, Japan's bank mergers simply combined small
86 Dogs a"d Demons The Bubble: Lookillg Back 87

hills of losses into larger mountains of losses. In August 1999, industrial power. Since then the South Koreans have copied
three banks-DKB, illj, and Fuji Bank-merged to create the japan's credit ordering and so to a greater or lesser extent have
world's largest bank by asset~, yet the merger did nothing to most of the so-called Asian Tigers.
n.ake the resulting behemoth profitable. The well-known con­ This new paramgm of capitalism once appeared to have tri­
sultant Ohmae Ken'ichi compares the bank to the Yl.1l11alo, umphed over old-fasmoned Western values such as the law of
japan's giant warship in World War II that sank before it had supply and demand. There was just one little flaw. As Nigel
cbance to fire its guns. By mid-2000,japan once again had four Holloway and Robert Zielinski wrote back in 1991, "The
of the ftve largest world banks-all of them huge money-losers. competitive advantages that Japanese compatlies gain from their
TIlls did not disturb MOF, however, because in japan's credit stock market depend on a single factor: share prices must go
system losses and debt have no consequences. Banks rarely up." The Ministry of Finance patched together an intricate ma­
make unfriendly recalls of debt within their keiretsu (industrial chine to support this market: stocks that yielded no dividends,
groupings), allowing companies within their grouping to bor­ real estate that produced no cash flow, debts that companies
row safely £1r more than their counterparts in the rest of the never needed to repay, and balance sheets that legally hid losses
world. It has been in a company's best interest to borrow as and liabilities. In tills market, no Japanese company could ever
much a, it Can so as to acquire more and more capital assets and go wrong. It was the envy of the developed world.
never to sell them. A company would borrow against assets It was a powerhouse, but it also was a Ponzi scheme. Ponzi
such as land, and then reinvest that money in the stock market. schemes work well as long as money keeps flowing in; when
The market would rise, and the company would then have "la­ the flow stops or slows down, trouble ensues. During the pe­
tent profits" against which to borrow more money, with which riod of high growlli that lasted until the late 1980s, Japan's fi­
to buy land. And on to the next round. nancial system seemed invincible. The economy grew at an
Thjs cycle of assets-debt-assets is the background for the annual rate of 4 to 6 percent for so long that everyone took jt
madness that seized japan during the Bubble. It explains why for granted that tms would continue indefinitely. When, in the
IBj lent Madame Nui money to buy IBJs own bonds in a deal early 1990s, it slowed to 1 percent or less, the system began to
that cost her $30 million the moment she signed the contract. fall apart.
illj knew well why she wanted those bonds. She took her The aim of the contraption the Ministry of Finance had
bondholdings to other banks, wmch were glad to lend her rigged up for japan's financial world was peace or, rallier, stasis.
more billions because she had such blue-cmp collateral. No bank could ever fail; no investor could ever lose by playing
Tllis system flies in the face of Western econonlic theory, but the stock market. Everywhere, cartels and monopolies ruled,
it worked brilliantly in japan for the first years after World gUided by the firm hand of bureaucrats. Tms desire for peace,
War II, allowing japan to pull itself up by its own bootstraps. for no surprises, is such a strong factor in traditional japanese
Karel van Wolferen calls the system "cremt ordering," and it is culture that the Law of No Surprises comes first in my personal
irnportant to remember that it really did achieve great success, Ten Laws ofJapanese Life. There is no better paradigm for tms
turning Japan in a few decades into the world's second-largest than the tea ceremony, where detailed rules deternline in ad­
Tire Bubble: Look;u!! Back
88 Dogs a"d Demons

vance every slight turn of the ~rist, the placement of every ob­ does; inflexibl.;jsystems grow increasingly removed from reality.
ject, and virtually every spoken word. No society has ever gone Small losses accumulate into torrents of red ink, as Daiwa Bank
to such extreme lengths to rein in spontaneity. In the industrial and Sumitomo Trading discovered. A beautiful stock exchange,
arena, employees rarely change companies; small start-ups do lovingly engineered with a thousand clever devices so that
not challenge established large finns. Concrete slabs armor river­ prices will always rise, results in the biggest banking fiasco the
banks and seacoasts to guard against any unwelcome surprises world ha~ ever seen,..With a twist: in banking fiascos elsewhere,
from nature. banks typically go under; in Japan, with a few exceptions, the
he Law of No Surprises means that people find it difficult government cannot allow that-so the nation has paid the
to let go of failed policies and cut their losses-a process that price in other ways.
we will see at work in many fields in japan. The inability to cut There is a moral to the story, and it strikes at the root of
losses is what underlay the Daiwa Bank scandal of july 1995, authoritarian societies everywhere. The Soviet Union under
when the U.S. Federal Reserve discovered that Daiwa had hid­ Brezhnev,Japan under its bureaucracy-each is an example of a
den $1.1 billion of trading losses from federal authorities, and society that believed it had achieved eternal balance: central
also the Sumitomo Trading scandal of October 1996, in which planners had everything under their control. S:han~and-<ill
a copper trader for Surnitomo Trading in Great Britain ran up the social chaQs tQ which jt gives rise, had be~11 banished. But
$2.6 billion in secret losses. Both cases involved a spiraling se­ alas, we can never banish change. Machiavelli writes: "If a man
ries of bad trades that lasted years-in the case of Daiwa, for behaves with patience and circumspection and the time and
more than a decade. Neither the traders nor their parent com­ circumstances are such that this method is called for, he will
panies were able to call a halt at an early stage. prosper; but if time and circumstances change he will be ruined
Traditionalists hold the hallowed word rM1 (peace, or har­ because he does not change his policy.... Thus a man who is
mony) as japan's ultimate ideal, even going so far as to use Wa circumspect, when circumstances demand impetuous behavior,
as an alternate name for Japan itself. The nation's first constitu­ is unequal to the task, and so he comes to grief." _
tion, promulgated by Prince Shotoku in 604, began with the
words "Harmony rWa] is to be valued, and an avoidance of One aspect ofJJapa~j.l..!JLc .tQ. kee~ in ~ouch with reali!=)1 was
wanton opposition to be honored."To update this to the twen­ that tbe Mimstry of Finance and Japan's banks and brokerage
tieth century, read "market forces" for "wanton opposition." firms fa~o acqui re the technology.used in financ~ial I11<trkets
There is a hankering after a peaceful golden age, when every­ elsewhere. This may be one of the most surprising aspects of
one knew his place and all human relations worked like clock­ the Bubble, for it run~ aj?;ainst the common wisdom about
work-the quiet harmony of the feudal era. In the words of l~'pan's alleged gift for high t~cllnalagy.
the seventeenth-century novelist Ihara Saikaku, japan is the If debts need never be repaid and stocks produce no yields,
land of peace, with "the spring breezes stilled and not a ripple what is the measuring rod of value? There was none, aside from
upon the four seas." Madame Nui's toad. In the 1980s japan's securities houses,
The trouble is that the world does in fact change, and as it dominated by Nomura, towered over all competitors and many
Dogs and Demons The Bubble: Looking Back 91

believed them to be practically invincible. But traders at No­ banks just withdraw. But japanese banks lend even when the
mura and other brokerage houses did not learn the mathemati­ price isn't so good."
cal tools that Wall Street brokers developed in the 1980s, and And lend they did. Asian countries modeled their markets
that led to the complex computer trading and new financial in­ on japan: under the leadership of strongmen such as Indonesia's
struments that dominate the market today. Since 1991, they Suharto and Malaysia's Mahathir, governments set values, and
have seen one long series of retrenchments, with Nomura con­ told large investors what to buy, and they obeyed. Fronl MOF's
sistently losing money, or barely scraping by in the United point of view, Southeast Asia was one last blessed corner of
States and Great Britain. Daiwa cut its foreign branches from Eden that was still free of dangerous wild animals like PIE ra­
thirty to eighteen in 1999; Nikko reduced its overseas opera­ tios and cash-flow analysis. From the mid-1990s on, japanese
tions; and Nomura is closing foreign desks. By January 1998, banks doubled and tripled their loans to Southeast Asia, provid­
japanese securities firms had fallen completely out of the rank­ ing the lion's share of loans to Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia,
ing for the world's top-ten bond dealers. Nomura made it only and more than half of all foreign money lent to Thailand.
to No. 13; the other firms did not get into even the top There is an old Yiddish joke that asks: Question: What does
twenty. And by then foreign brokerage houses were handling the saying mean, Though he slips and falls on the ice, the
almost 40 percent of all trades on the TSE. In the fall of] 997, Avenging Angel will still catch up with you? Answer: He's not
Yamaichi Securities, one of the Big Four brokerages, declared called the Avenging Angel for nothing! Alas for MOE In the
bankruptcy when more than $2 billion in losses surfaced in faU of 1997, the Avenging Angel arrived in Southeast Asia
hidden offshore accounts. And then there were three. "just as waving the flaming sword of "real value." The Korean, Thai,
the U.S. brokers toppled England's largest securities firms, the Malaysian, and Indonesian currencies collapsed overnight.
same thing is happening here in Japan," said Saito Atsushi, No­ Suharto and Mahathir watched in helpless rage as the markets,
mura's executive managing director. long used to obedience, went their own way: down. The mis­
However, there was to be one last mission for MOF's finan­ take of the Asian nations was to lower the waUs around their
cial machine to accomplish, albeit a suicide mission. MOF de­ credit systems, something Japan would never do-hence when
cided that it should expand into Asia, which it considered the crash came they could not control it as MOF did in Japan.
japan's natural sphere of influence. Land prices had been rising A massive financial meltdown of the sort that had been tak­
in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia for decades-all the old ing place slowly in Japan over seven years happened within a
Bubble rules still seemed to apply there. So Japan in effect ex­ few months. japan's banks, whose loans to the region were four
ported its Bubble to Asia, lending heedlessly to build office tinles those of U.S. banks, are writing off tens of billions of dol­
towers, shopping centers, and hotels, as was done in Tokyo and lars of bad debt. The results for Japan, however, are not entirely
Osaka years ago. "We are just asset eaters," says Sanada Yuki­ negative, for while the banks lost heavily, japan's manufacturers
mitsu, an associate director at Tokyo Mitsubishi International in benefited from the Asian crisis to snap up businesses and prop­
Hong Kong. "The Europeans and Americans consider prof­ erties at bargain prices. Much is at stake in MOF's new offen­
itability, they manage their assets. If there is no profit, those sive in Asia. Japanese banks and stockbrokers are in such trouble
90 Dogs and Demons T/,e Bub/lie: Looking Back 91

believed them to be practically invincible. But traders at No­ banks just withdraw. But Japanese banks lend even when the
mura and other brokerage houses did not learn the mathemati­ price iSI1 't so good."
cal tools that Wall Street brokers developed in the 1980s, and And lend they did. Asian countries modeled their markets
that led to the complex computer trading and new financial in­ on Japan: under the leadership of strongmen such as Indonesia's
struments that dominate the market today. Since 1991, they Suharto and Malaysia's Mahathir, governments set values, and
have seen one long series of retrenchments, with Nomura con­ told large investors what to buy, and they obeyed. From MOF's
sistently losing money, or barely scraping by in the United point of view, Southeast Asia was one last blessed corner of
States and Great Britain. Daiwa cut its foreign branches from Eden that was still free of dangerous wild animals like PIE ra­
thirty to eighteen in 1999; Nikko reduced its overseas opera­ tios and cash-flow analysis. From the mid-1990s on, Japanese
tions; and Nomura is closing foreign desks. By January 1998, banks doubled and tripled their loans to Southeast Asia, provid­
Japanese securities firms had fallen completely out of the rank­ ing the lion's share of loans to Korea, Malaysia, and Indonesia,
ing for the world's top-ten bond dealers. Nomura made it only and more tban half of all foreign money lent to Thailand.
to No. 13; the other firms did not get into even the top There is an old Yiddish joke that asks: Question: What does
twenty. And by then foreign brokerage houses were handling the saying mean, Though he slips and falls on the ice, the
almost 40 percent of all trades on the TSE. In the fall of 1997, Avenging Angel will still catch up with you? Answer: He's not
Yamaichi Securities, one of the Big Four brokerages, declared called the Avenging Angel for nothing! Alas for MOE In the
bankruptcy when more than $2 billion in losses surfaced in fall of 1997, the Avenging Angel arrived in Southeast Asi
hidden offshore accounts. And then there were three. 'just as waving the flaming sword of "real value." The Korean, Thai,
the U.S. brokers toppled England's largest securities firms, the Malaysian, and Indonesian currencies collapsed overnight.
same thing is happening here in Japan," said Saito Atsushi, No­ Suharto and Mahathir watched in helpless rage as the markets,
mura's executive managing director. long used to obedience, went their own way: down. The mis­
However, there was to be one last mission for MOF's finan­ take of the Asian nations was to lower the walls around their
cial machine to accomplish, albeit a suicide mission. MOF de­ credit systems, something Japan would never do-hence when
cided that it should expand into Asia, which' it considered the crash came they could not control it as MOF did in Japan.
Japan's natural sphere of influence. Land prices had been rising A massive financial meltdown of the sort that had been tak­
in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia for decades-all the old ing place slowly in Japan over seven years happened within a
Bubble rules still seemed to apply there. So Japan in effect ex­ few months. Japan's banks, whose loans to the region were four
ported its Bubble to Asia, lending heedlessly to build office times those of U.S. banks, are writing off tens of billions of dol­
towers, shopping centers, and hotels, as was done in Tokyo and lars of bad debt. The results for Japan, however, are not entirely
Osaka years ago. "We are just asset eaters," says Sanada Yuki­ negative, for while the banks lost heavily, Japan's manufacturers
mitsu, an associate director at Tokyo Mitsubishi International in benefited from the Asian crisis to snap up businesses and prop­
Hong Kong. "The Europeans and Americans consider prof­ erties at bargain prices. Much is at stake in MOF's new offen­
itability, they manage their assets. If there is no profit, those sive in Asia. Japanese banks and stockbrokers are in such trouble
92 ogs atilt Demons The Bub1Jle: Looking Back 93

at home, and have lost so much business in the United States 1999, has turned out to be anything but a Big Bang. Speaking
and Europe, that if their Asian policy does not succeed they on the subject of japan's reforms in 1996, Sakakibara Eisuke,
may languish permanently as second-class citizens in world fi­ the director of MOF's International Finance Bureau, an­
nance. "What's left if this fails?" asks Alicia Ogawa, the head of nounced, "We bureaucrats are giving Lip all of our power." This
research for Nikko Salomon Smith Barney. "That's a good was followed, according to The Wall Street Journal, by "a quick
question." outline of how Mr. Hashimoto's Big Bang program would un­
leash market forces. But then Mr. Sakakibara made an impor­
Meanwhile, what about the size of the stock exchange? In tant qualification. 'Of course,' he said, giggling, 'we can't allow
1989, the New York and Tokyo stock markets stood very nearly any confusion in the markets'-a phrase bureaucrats often in­
equal in market value (Tokyo's was slightly larger). Eleven years voke to justify a go-slow approach to reform."
later, IJ1 August 2000, the New York exchange had reached a to­ The go-slow process began immediately. The insurance in­
tal capitalization of abollt $16.4 trillion; Tokyo's had $3.6 tril­ dustry, due to open to newcomers in 1998, won a reprieve un­
lion, making it less than vne-jlllrth the size of New York's. Even til 2001-or later. The Ministry of Finance announced that
more sobering, while japan's aTe market for emerging stocks banks must set aside capital against bad loans under a system
fizzled, NASDAQ grew to be a giant in its own right. Indeed, known as "prompt dnd corrective action" but quickly began to
NASDAQ, with a market cap of $2.9 trillion, came within water down the standards, phasing in the rule piecemeal, apply­
striking reach of the Tokyo Stock Exchange; when the TSE ing it first to large banks and only later-if ever-to small
dipped in June 1999, NASDAQ even surpassed it! Together, banks, where most of the trouble lies. As japan entered the
monthly turnover at NASDAQ and New York exceeded Tokyo twenty-first century, the hype about the Big Bang had died out,
by eleven times. and it was consigned to dusty shelves as just another govern­
One of the more puzzling aspects of post-Bubble Japan has ment report. It was business as usual in Tokyo.
been the unwillingness to reform a market that has obviously This brings us to a striking feature of japan's post-Bubble
failed. By 1996 it was clear that drastic changes would be nec­ trauma: paralysis. Instituting a real Big Bang is simply out of
essary, and MOF came up with the idea of a Big Bang, a de­ the question, for the whole edifice of Japanese finance might
regulation modeled on the market-opening of the 1980s in crumble if MOF allO\:ved economic rationalism to infiltrate. It
London, when the "Big Bang" sparked dramatic growth in the has been said that the Bubble losses were not as severe as they
London financial world. seem because they were merely "paper losses"-but for Japan,
The problem is that japan's banks and securities firms rely paper losses are a serious issue because the very genius of
for their very life on unreal values. Like Japan's rural villages MOF's system was its ability to inflate assets on paper: japan's
and their dependence on dam building, the banks are hooked rapid postwar development depended on it. So when troubles
on the narcotics of these umeal values, and kicking the habit began to appear, Mor trod very gently, afraid to make any sud­
wil1 bring about severe withdrawal symptoms. Deregulation in den moves.
Japan, scheduled to take place over several years starting in The concept of "latent profits" has come home to roost in
94 Dogs and Demons The Bubble: Looking Back

the form of "latent losses." Banks lent heavily to real-estate Remarkably, in spite of all this, very little has changed in
companies that own land now valued at a 6.fth or a tenth of the Tokyo. It is important to realize that as Japan enters the new
price they paid for it a decade or two ago. As the real-estate millennium its financial system remains essentially intact, with
companies go under, these properties become the problem of only a nod to what Americans and Britons would consider uni­
their lenders, but rather than write down the losses year by year versal reality. Banks and real-estate companies continue to keep
on a present-value basis, the banks have kept these properties properties on their books at exorbitant values; the stock market
on their books at purchase value; the moment they sell, they remains high when measured by PIE ratios, and the big play­
must suddenly report huge losses. So the market came to a ers stay obedient to the system and never blow the whistle. It
near-complete stop in the 1990s: banks didn't sell because of might seem that Japan has gotten away with it. Western theo­
"latent losses," and few bought because not enough transactions rists, convinced of certain invariant laws of money-like the
occurred to lower the prices to profitable levels. laws of physics-find themselves baffled.
Paralysis also rules in the stock market. The amount of The paradox lies in the fact that money is to a great degree
money raised by new stock offerings in 1989 was ¥5.8 trillion; determined by society and its belief systems. If everyone agrees
by 1992, it had fallen to ¥4 billion, a shocking 0.07 percent of that Japan's failed banks are still functioning, then they func­
what it had been three years earlier. By 1998 this 6gure had tion. If everyone agrees that unrealistic land and stock values
crawled back up to ¥284 billion, still a tiny fraction of its earlier are acceptable, then this is indeed so. And this explains the
height. Another telling statistic is the number of companies paralysis, because all these artiflcial values are linked, each prop­
listed on the exchange. In Tokyo, that number remained almost ping up the other.
flat during the 1990s, while that of the New York Stock Ex­ One must also remember that the collapse of the Bubble was
change rose by 45 percent. slow, not fast. When it began to deflate, MOF officials took the
Overall, the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges raised about situation in hand and did their best to manage events, and so
¥1.5 trillion (about $13 billion) in initial and secondary public controlled was the deflation that some have even speculated
offerings in 1995-1999; the equivalent for the same period on that MOF itself initiated and directed the entire crisis. While
the combined New York and NASDAQ exchanges was consid­ the theory of MOF invincibility is unrealistic-during most of
erably more than $600 billion, a truly staggering difference. To the 1990s the ministry was fighting one long rearguard ac­
get a sense of the scales of magnitude involved, consider that in tion-the fact remains that Japan escaped with remarkably little
the first three months of 2000 alone the NYSE and NASDAQ apparent pain.
raised $92 billion through public offerings, far more than the Or did it? Japan's success over several decades shows that the
total raised in Tokyo and Osaka over the entire past decade. The laws of money are not immutable; they can be altered to a great
original purpose of a stock market is to provide a forum for degree by such systems as Japanese-style credit ordering. How­
companies to sell equity to the public, but the TSE abandoned ever, post-Bubble paralysis shows that the laws will reassert
this role for ten years; for most intents and purposes, it was shut themselves if such systems are carried to an extreme. Most in­
terestingly, the pain may come in unexpected places. Japan pro­
96 Dogs a"d Demons Tlte B"I,ble: Looki"g Back 97

teeted its system on the surface: bankrupt banks kept their keystone that props it all up. So, on goes the mole game, fast
doors open for busin~ss, and the stock nurket appeared to have and furious.
stabilized-but the trouble, driven underground, surfaced else­
where. One unexpected consequence of the Bubble was the discovery
The authorities are in a position similar to a player of the that Japan's financial community "vas becoming irrelevant to
Whack-a-Mole game in arcades a few years ago. In front of the developed world. The barriers raised by MOF were so high
you is a big box punctured with little portholes out of which J that when the crash came, others could hear the sound of
mole pops up now and then. You grab a rubber hanuner, and crumbling columns and smashing glass, but it had very little
your job i~ to hammer the mole. As the game goes on, the impact on local economies elsewhere. Japan lost more money
mole moves faster and faster-when you hammer the mole than any nation had ever lost in all of human history, from the
over here, it pops up over there. One of the busiest mole games Sack of Rom.e to the Great Depression of 1929, but it affected
played by MOF goes by the name of the Bank of International the United States and Europe not a jot, and the bourses in
Settlements. BIS, the world's central banks' central bank, pre­ London and New York went on to flourish as never before.
scribes that banks must maintain a minimum "capital adequacy The Ministry of Finance assumed that Japan's national bor­
ratio" of 8 percent of capital to outstanding loans. This means ders are absolute barriers, and within them it did indeed com­
that in order to lend $100, I need to have at least $8 of my own mand absolute obedience for decades. But with money now
money as supporting capital. If a bank's capital falls too low, it flowing in an instant fi·om one country to another at the news
will face restrictions on its international lending abili.,. that interest rates have shifted one-tenth of a percentile, old
The Japanese mole game began in the early 1990s, when ways of controlling the market no longer work. MOF discov­
stocks began to fall. Banks, which own large stock portfolios, ered this when it tried to restrict the tutures market in Osaka,
found their BIS ratios sinking below the 8 percent cutoff point, only to find that Singapore and Chicago had grabbed the lead
so MOF ordered insurance companies and pension funds to in Osaka's absence.
buy stock to support the market, pounding the BIS mole back There is one important area in which Japan's financial system
into its hole. But soon other moles were popping up in unex­ may not be globally irrelevant, and this is the nation's enor­
pected places: insurance companies and pension funds, after mous dollar holdings. This brings us to another artificial fi­
years of investing in low-yield stock, are receiving near-zero, or nancial system, one that has perhaps the most far-reaching
even negative, returns on their assets. Save the stock market, repercussions of all: Japan never took the dollars earned over
and you bankrupt the pension funds and insurance companies. decades of trade surpluses and exchanged them back into yen.
Relieve them, and the banks have to curtail international lend­ The economist R. Taggart Murphy and Mikuni Akio, a pio­
ing. Allow the Nikkei to fall below 10,000, and PIE ratios neer of independent rating agencies in Japan, have examined
would return to health, attracting domestic and foreign in­ this issue in some detail, and the gist of their analysis is as fol­
vestors, but at that level it would no longer be possible to pre­ lows: For Japan to repatriate all the dollars earned abroad (net
tend that the banks are solvent-and belief in the system is the holdings came to a colossal $1.3 trillion by the end of 1998)
98 Dogs all/I Uemons 'rill' I!JI/bble: Lookillg Back 99

would put pressure on the yen and drive it upward, increasing ily e-xert the determining influence on what happens to the
imports and weakening Japan's ability to export, and the point doJl:nr. The very existence of so many dollars abroad is also a
of MOF's financial system was to repress imports and alJow plus for the United States, because it makes the dollar the de
]ap:m to keep exporting at all costs; so manufacturing firms and (Jcte> world cutTency-so there is less need for foreign nations
the government left these dollars abroad, while funding their to trade their dollars in for local money. Perhaps the United
external balance with "virtual yen"-that is, yen borrowed at Statl::."s will turn out to have practiced a bit of financial magic of
almost no interest from domestic lenders. This system worked its o~vn, holding those dollars hostage indefinitely-or, at least,
well for decades, but by the 1990s it had come under huge until a time beyond the horizon when economists can make
strain. It is now more difficult than ever for Japan to repatriate predictions.
its foreIgn reserves, since if it did, the dollar would drop like a eanwhile, Japan continues to keep most of its dollars
stone, which would drive up inflation in the United StJtes, raise abroad, diverting ever niore "virtual yen" at home to fund its
interest rates, and put an end to America's long economic ex­ huge external surpluses, and this is getting harder and harder to
pansion; at tbe same time, it would result in a shockingly high do. Uncontrolled bank lending in the 1980s (the Bubble) could
yell, bringing Japan's exports to a crawl. So it is not only Japan be sceen as an early attempt to inflate the domestic money sup­
that wields power over the United States; it goes botb ways. ply ....,ithout bringing the dollars home. We have seen what the
Murphy says, "Japan and the United States have realized tbe fi­ cf}ects of the Bubble were. In tlle 1990s, the government tried
nancial equivalent of the nuclear balance of terror-mutually anor-her approach: pumping money into the economy through
assured destruction." public works, paid for with a burgeoning national debt. This,
It's sobering to realize that the supposedly "rational" United too, cannot go on forever. Another crash may be coming, and
States, too, relies on an artificial system to support its economy, this one could drag Japan down-and with it the entire world
persistently ignoring the mountain of dolJars piling up in for­ economy_
eign ownership-it has been called America's "deficit without It might seem incongruous that while a great sword hangs
tears." For the time being, foreigners continue to finance the ovel- the world's head in the form ofJapan's external dollars, its
U.S. economy with money earned from America's huge trade donnestic markets are becoming irrelevant. The paradox, how­
deficits, but sooner or later they will cash in those dollars and ever, lies in the fact that each is the complement of the other:
the American economy will sutTer severe pain. Japa:n's external reserves exist only because domestic n'larkets, in
r maybe not. IfJapan suddenly sold off its dollars, it would order to preserve MOFs system, are cut off from the world.
hurt the U.S. economy but damage Japan's far more. Further­ e most vivid demonstration of the irrelevance of domestic
more, Japan is not the only country to hold dollars; all of mar1lCets to world finance is the collapse of the Tokyo Stock Ex­
America's partners do, wd China, running the largest change's foreign section, launched in the 1<Ite 1970s in a bid to
trading surplus with the United States, is building up the make Tokyo an international capital market. At its height in
biggest reserves of all. In coming years, Japan may not necessar­ 1990, the TSE's foreign section boasted 125 companies. How­
100 Dogs a"d Uemons "bble: Looking Back 101
ever, the rules hedging in foreign firms were so restrictive that fUtwP'e of the market, brokers at Nomura were still using aba­
fees far outweighed the anemic trading in foreign stocks. By cus~~, on which they knew how to do only one operation: .add.
the spring of 2000, the number of companies had dropped to Th::tt is why Madame Nui's toad held such sway over the In­
43. Average trading volume shrank nearly to the vanishing dus trial Bank of Japan. The toad's utterances were as good a
point: during the week of June 1-5, 1999, only 19 of the re­ pre dictor as any of which direction the market would go.
maining companies traded at aU on an average day. In an era of be lesson of the Bubble is not that Japan should be casti­
international fmance, such a foreign section goes beyond failure gateCl for departing from Western norms. Credit ordering,
to farce. Jap::tnese style, was a huge success, and it has helped other Asian
In the meantime, foreign listings on other stock markets sky­ nat:loms to expand their industrial bases with great speed. To
rocketed. By April 2000, London listed 522 foreign firms, the SOlL1t= degree, the Japanese system is still providing benefits to
three American stock exchanges featured 895 foreign firms, and the ::nation, just as America's "deficit without tears" aids its
even Australia (60 foreign listings) and Singapore (68) had sur­ eCCln-,omy. Both these systems, however, stretch underlying laws
passed Tokyo. Foreign stocks in New York accounted for just of :n.. oney and have the potential to become dangerous when
under 10 percent of all trading, while trading volume on the canri ed to extremes. For the United States, the danger of sur­
TSE's foreign section came to a fraction of 1 percent of the plu s dollars abroad is a real one, but the threat is not total: mar­
trading on NASDAQ's foreign section alone. ket Eorces do rule large segments of the U.S. economy, thus
Embarrassed by the TSE's poor showing, MOF relaxed some len ding stability to the structure. In Japan, on the other hand,
of the restrictions and lowered costs in 1995, but this failed to inll.ated assets, "virtual yen," and imaginary balance sheets rule
stem the withdrawals. Starting in 1994, the listing department all, rI:1aking the structure much more fragile. The issue is one of
began sending delegations to Asian capitals beating the drum, bal;ance. As in the case of the construction industry, Japan's fi­
and after almost two years of soliciting, it managed to persuade nallc-ial world carried things to extremes, pushing credit order­
Malaysia's YTL Corporation to debut on the TSE's foreign sec­ ing; 'f,eyond reasonable limits. In the process, the Ministry of
tion, which it did with great fanfare in February 1996. YTL's Fir-.a:nce, Nomura, bank executives, and pension-fund managers
offering raised $44 million (versus the $700 million raised by lost oil idea of what a healthy financial position really consists.
Korean Mobile Telecom and more than $1 billion raised by Il1Ideed, in following Madame Nui's toad, the IEJ deserves
Telkom Indonesia in New York around the same time). A year ere d:J.t, for in the never-never land of late-twentieth-century
later, only one more Asian firm joined the Tokyo exchange, and Jap aLlese finance, toad magic and spells from ancient China
in 1999 none did. we'"re the best available predictors of the market. The toad told
M:ncflame Nui sometimes to buy and sometimes to sell, and as a
Once known as the "land of technology," Japan is now out of res~It she lost only $2.1 billion out of combined loans of $22
touch with the times. While Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs bilIion, fairly respectable damages of about 10 percent; MOF
were developing elaborate computer algorithms to predict the and Nomura, on the other hand, advised investors only to
102 Dogs a"d Demons

buy-and never, ever, to sell-and as a result those who stayed

in the market squandered 50 to 60 percent of their investments
between 1989 and 1999. The Ministry of Finance is still order­
ing pension funds and insurance companies to buy. Japan might
be in better shape today if the banks had gone on listening to 4 Information
Madame Nui's toad.
A Different vzew if Reality

Men take their misfortunes to heart, and keep them there. A

gambler does not talk about his losses; the frequenter of

brothels, who finds his favorite engaged by another, pretends

to be just as well off without her; the professional street­

brawler is quiet about the fights he has lost; and a merchant

who speculates on goods will conceal the losses he may suffer.

All act as one who steps on dog dung in the dark.

-IHARA SAIKAKU, "What the Seasons Brought to the Almanac­

Maker" (I 686)

A cOLlntryside of legendary beauty is ravaged, and \-"hat was

once reputed to be the richest nation in the world runs out of
money. To understand how such things can happen, we must
come to grips with an issue that disconcerts writers on Japan so
badly that when faced with it they ordinarily set down their
pens and look away. It is the quality of sheer fantasy.
We have entered a twilight zone where dams and roads carv
their way through the landscape without reason and money
comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. We cannot dismiss the

104 Dogs mul Demons I"forlllatiall: A Differelll Viel/l of Reality 105

air of unreality in Japan's public life lightly, as it is the very air real is far-reaching, and one may see it at work in the play be­
that its officials breathe. The facts about much ofJapan's social, tween tatel/lae and hOl/l/e that dominates daily life in Japan. Peo­
polirical, and financial life are hidden so well that the truth is ple will strive to uphold the tatemae in the face of blatant facts
nearly impossible to know. This is not just a matter of regret for to the contrary, believing it is important to keep the IWI//le hid­
academic researchers, for a lack of reliable data is the single den in order to maintain public harmony.
most significanr difference between Japan's democracy and the 'fatelllae requires an element of reserve, for it presumes that
democracies of the West. Why have so many students ofJapan not everything need be spelled out. It relies on communication
and conUllentators by and large ignored the issue of how the through nonverbal means, and in interpersonal relations there is
nation handles iniormation? I believe it is because our cultural much to be said for t£1tel1lae, for from it springs the flower of
biases run much more deeply than we think. While eA-pelts on harmony. 'fatcmae helps to make Japanese society peaceful and
Japan know all about the commonly encolllltered difference cohesive, with a relative lack of the aggressive violence, family
between tatemae (an official stated position) and hOlllle (real in­ breakups, and lawsuits that plague the West. The statistics pro­
tent), they tend to view the discrepancy as a negotiating ploy. fessor Hayashi Chimio puts the case for tatelllae very elegantly:
It hasn't occurred to them that the fundamental Japanese atti­
tude toward information might differ from what they take for When people say "There's no communication between par­
granted in the West. But it does differ, and radically so. ents and children," this is an American way of thinking. In
Traditionally, in Japan "truth" has never been sacrosanct, nor Japan we didn't need spoken communication between par­
do "facts" need to be real, and here we run up against one of ents and children. A glance at the face, a glance at the back,
the great cultural divides between East and West. We can see and we understood enough. That was our way of thinking,
the two approaches clashing in the Daiwa Bank scandal of and it was because we had true conullunication of the heart.
1995, when the Federal Reserve ordered Daiwa's American It's when we took as our model a culture relying on words
br:lllches closed after finding that Daiwa, in collaboration with thar things went wrong. Although we live in a society replete
the Ministry of Finance, had hidden more than a billion dollars with problems that words cannot ever solve, we think we can
oflosses from u.s. investigators. MOF reacted angrily with the solve them with words, and this is where things go wrong.
comment that the Fed had failed to appreciate "cultural differ­
ences" between American and Japanese banking. The cultural Discreet reliance on latemar is one of Japan:~ truly excellent
difference goes back a long way, to a belief that ideal forms are features, infusing daily life with a grace and a calm that are rare
more "true" than actual objects or events that don't fit the ideal. in the fractious West. The problem arises when tatemae goes be­
When an Edo-period artist entitled his screen painting A Tnle yond its naturallirnits. As we saw earlier, when Japan began to
View qf MOll/lt Fuji, he did not mean that his plinting closely modernize after 1868, tlle rallying cry was Wakol/ Yosai (Japa­
resembled the real Mount Fuji. Rather, it was a "true view" be­ nese spirit, \Vestern technology). Jatemat', the idea that an un­
cause it captured the perfect shape that people thought Mount ruffled surface takes precedence over stating the tacts, is an old
Fuji ought to have. This principle of valuing the ideal above the bit of J;f/akO/l, of Japanese spirit, and, like the Wakon of "total
106 Dogs and Demons lI!(ormalio,,: A D( 1/ I View of Reality 107

control," it runs into trouble when it does not adapt to modern chase value, altho ug::;:h they may be worth much less today than
systems. 'Iatel1lae is a charming attitude when it means that what was paid tClr them. Or unsightly liabilities are simply
everyone should look the other way at a guest's faux pas in the brushed away, su cb as pension-fund deficit~, which Japanese
tearoom; it has dangerous and unpredictable results when ap­ companies have mcot had to report, even though they face huge
plied to corporate balance sheets, drug testing, and nuclear­ exposure to theit!" ~nderfunded pensions. When all else fails,
power safety reports. outright falsificat::i 0'Tl comes into play-with encouragement
from the Ininistr~e-:" of Finance and of International Trade
As we saw earlier, Japanese finance companies lend money to and Industry. In t:b~ Jusen scandal of 1996, when Japan's seven
bankrupt borrowers or subsidiaries so that they can continue to housing-loan corpc> rations (known as Jusen) went bankrupt,
pay interest and make bad loans fly off the books. This is to­ leaving bad debts at'- ¥8 trillion, former MO F men (all1aklldari,
bashi, "flying"-one popular technique for which is to have a or "descended fr()'rn heaven," because after retirement they de­
bank sell a troubled property to a subsidiary, to which it then scend to the man:a..g,ement of companies under MOF's control)
loans the money to pay for the property: real-estate problem ran six of the sev~ Jusen, which together had extended loans
solved! The docile Japanese press meekly reports tobashi transac­ of which an astomi:.shing 90 to 98.5 percent were nonperform­
tions as if they were real ones; one must learn this in order to ing. In the years before the fmal collapse and exposure. the
understand how to read a Japanese newspaper. A headline an­ alllaklldari executiw· e~ guided the Jusen banks in a game of elab­
nounces "Nippon Trust sells choice Kyoto site" or "Hokkaido orate trickery. At J ~lS 0, for example, the bank showed investiga­
Bank sells assets to write off loans," and one might imagine that tors and lenders three different sets of figures for the total of
the banks were disposing of assets. However, in both cases the bad loans: ¥1,254 bi.l1.ion, ¥1 ,004 billion, or ¥649 billion. MOF
banks were selling to their own subsidiaries in tobashi transac­ was aware of the s-cal e of the Jusen disaster as early as 1992, but
tions. The headlines shouJd have read "Nippon Trust fails to sell it must have chose-nt:o work only with the C List, because a re­
choice Kyoto site" and "Hokkaido Dank finds no bona fide port at that time c-un eluded that the Jusen were "not approach­
buyer to help it write off loans." ing a state of dang e-r_' 'This decision to put off the reckoning led
The National Land Agency accepts tobashi sales as real ones, to the public's ha\.--:iin.g to pay hundreds of billions of yen more
which further distorts land-value statistics. Hence while the in 1996 to clean u::p t:he mess.
agency estimates that land prices have dropped in half from obashi and "c()oS:ILLetic accounting" are endemic; one could
their peak, the results at actual auctions show that the fall is say they are definrimg features of Japanese industry. As embar­
more than 80 percent. This is a classic example of an official rassing as revelatio.::n~ of serious abuses are when they come,
statistic based on skewed data, but, unfortunately, we have even MOF cannot do ""ri thollt either, because Japanese banks are
less to go by in estimating the true situation in most cases. addicted to them. Only with such techniques can the banks
10bashi is only one of several techniques of fill1shokll kessan, maintain the capit;;L1-t:o-assets adequacy ratio of 8 percent man­
"cosmetic accounting." Another technique is, as we have seen, dated by the Banlc.. of International Settlements (BlS) , failing
"book accounting," whereby banks value their holdings at pur- which they cannwt: L end abroad. Nakamori Takakazu of Tei­
108 Dogs and Demons Injorlllation: A Dijferent View of Realily 109

koku Databank estimates that ifJapanese banks were to disclose cials denied that they had any records of AIDS-contaminated
the true state of their finances, their BIS ratios would fall to 2 blood products which had infected more than 1,400 people
to 3 percent at best. with HIV in the 19805. In March 1996, however, when Health
As the Japanese economy sank lower and lower during the Minister Kan Naoto demanded that the "lost" records be
1990s, each year the government announced rosy predictions found, they turned up within three days.
for growth. Likewise, MOF has consistently downplayed the fi­ The writer Inose Naoki describes an encounter he had with
nancial crisis, with Vice Minister Sakakibara Eisuke announcing officials of the Water Resources Public Corporation (WRPq,
in February 1999 that the crisis would be over "in a week or the special government corporation that builds and maintains
two." The wolf is at the door, yet the govermnent keeps crying dams. Inose inquired about a company called Friends of the
"Sheep!" It is indeed precisely because MOF has been the Lit­ Rivers, to which the WRPC had been awarding 90 percent of
tle Boy Who Cried Sheep that experts estimate bad loans to be its contracts and most of whose stock was owned by WRPC
two or three times higher than the gbvernment admits, and the ex-directors, and this is what the WRPC official told him:
true national debt to be as much as triple the official numbers. "Contracts are assigned by local units across the nation, so we
Ishizawa Takashi, the chief researcher at Long Term Credit have no way of knowing how many go to Friends of the
Bank's research institute, says, "Even if we told the truth people Rivers. Therefore 1 cannot answer you." "But isn't it true that
would think there is more being hidden. So we put out lower many of your employees have transferred to Friends of the
numbers on the assumption people believe the true figure is Rivers?" lnose asked. "Job transfers are a matter for each indi­
higher." vidual employee" was the reply. "If someone transfers in order
Nevertheless, there is much to be said for tobashi. 'Tobashi is a to make use of his superb ability and expertise acquired while
form of make-believe in which Japan's banks pretend to have at the Corporation, it is his individual decision. The Corpora­
hundreds of billions of dollars that they don't have. But, after tion can say nothing about these individuals' choices."
all, money is a sort of fiction. If the world banking community The Corporation "cannot answer you," "can say nothing."
agrees to believe that Japan has these billions, then it essentially There is no recourse against this. In 1996, newspapers reported
does. that auditors at government agencies turned down 90 percent
For the time being, tobashi seems to be working just fine. of the public requests for audits during the decade from 1985
In any case, Japan's ministries have at their disposal a further to 1994. And if a citizens' group presses too hard. documents
"management of information" technique, perhaps the strongest: simply vanish: this is what happened when citizens of Nagano
denial. Shiramt) zonsenu, means "I don't know, I have no knowl­ demanded to see the records of the money (between $18 and
edge," and it is the standard response to most inquiries. We saw $60 lllillion) the city spent courting the International Olym­
an example of this when Asahi TV questioned a section chief at pic Committee in 1992. City officials put ninety volumes of
the Ministry of Health and Welfare about dioxin pollution, and records in ten big boxes, carried them outside town, and
he responded, "I don't know, 1 have no idea." A similar process torched them. Yamaguchi Sumikazu, a senior official with the
was at work in the same ministry when for seven years its offt- bidding committee,' said the books had taken up too much
110 Dogs alld Demons Illjarlllalioll: A Different Vie", of Reality 111

space and contained information "not for the public," such as deceit." A few examples w1l1 show how deeply rooted this cul­
"who had wined and dined with IOC officials and where." ture is. and how the policy of hiding unattractive facts prevents
Neither the tax office nor the city administration asked an citizem fi·0111 learning the true depth of tbeir nation's problems
questions. Case closed. or doing much about them.
One reason for the vast waste and hidden debts in the "spe­ Ladies and gentlemen, step right this way to a junior high
cial government corporations," tvkl/sJII/ llOjill, is precisely that scbool in the town of Machida, outside Tokyo. In 1995, the
they don't need to open their books to the public. The WRPC school board commissioned a study of J large crack that had
does not publish its balance sheets; neither does the New Tokyo opened up on the school grounds, since local residents were
International Airport, nor dozens of other huge special corpo­ cOllcerned that the landfill on which the school was built
rations, alI of which function in near-total secrecy. For those might be sinking. It was, but no need to panic: the board in­
who believe that reform is on its way to Japan, it was sobering structed the consulting firm to alter its report. Where the orig­
to learn of a law proposed by the Ministry ofJustice in 1996 inal had read, "It is undeniable that subsidence could re-occur,"
that would tighten, not loosen,. the bureaucrats' hold on infor­ tbe revised version stated, "The filled-in areas can be thought
mation. According to the new law, agencies n~ed not divulge to have stabilized." To prove this was so, the consultant set up
information about committee meetings and may even refuse to meters at a school far away, in Yamanashi Pretecture, calibrated
disclose whether requested information exists. them to show no tilt, and attached photos of those meters to
This brings us to the critical factor in MOF's delay in closing the report. So, although the Machida crack was 120 meters
down the Jusen: the Jusen hid their debts so weU that they long, IOta 20 centin1eters wide, and up to 3 meter~ deep-and
fooled everybody. A high-ranking MOF official admits "it was growing-the land was, according to the report, magically ceas­
impossible at the time to get a handle on the scale of the situa­ ing to sink. This fiction troubled very few people, for the
tion." This was true not only of the Jusen companies but of school board granted another large contract to the same con­
other banks that went belly-up in the mid-1990s, such as mltant immediately after it was revealed that tbe report had
Hyogo Bank and Hanwa Bank, which turned out to have debts been doctored. A company representative conU11ented, "We just
ten or twenty times larger than their stated liabilities. Today, the want to avoid misunderstandings and make the phrasing of the
Ministry of Finance cannot fInd its way out of the labyrinth it text easy to understand."
created when it encouraged banks and securities firms to cook Government officials work hard to make sure that reports are
their books, bribe regulators, and consort with gangsters. It is easy to understand and eyesores pleasant to look at. Here is an­
lost in its own shell game. other example. At Suishohama Beach in Fukui, on the Sea of
japan, a large nuclear power plant regrettably detracts somewhat
Kawai Hayao, a leading academic and government adviser, says, fro111 the beach's picturesque charm. So while preparing its
"In Japan, as long as you are convinced you are lying for the tourist poster, officials simply air-brushed the plant out of the
good of the group, it's not a lie." It's alI part of what Frank Gib­ picture. "rWe did it] believing the beauty of the natural sea can
ney,jr., a former japan bureau chief at Time, calls "the culture of e stressed when artificial things are removed," they said.
112 Dogs nud Demons l"jorlllntiou: A Dijferel" View oj Reality 113

Police departments provide special training materials to edu­ In the old days, the populace waited for their feudal masters
cate officers in how to shield the public fi'om situations that to issue the O-sltl1litsuki, the Honorable Touch of the Brush, a
they would be better off not knowing about. In November written proclamation against which there was no recourse. Th
1999, on the heels of a scandal in which Kanagawa police de­ function of the press today is to publicize modern O-srwlitstlki
stroyed evidence in order to protect an officer who was taking issued by major companies and bureaucrats. It means that you
drugs, newspapers found that the Kanagawa Police Department must read the newspapers with great care, as it's easy to mistake
had an official thirteen-page manual expressly for covering up official propaganda for the real thing. Okadome Yasunori, the
scandals, entitled "Guidelines for Measures to Cope with Dis­ editor of the controversial but widely read monthly Uwasa I/O
graceful and Other Events." Shinso (Trtlth of RUl11ors), says, "With such a close relationship
All this should come as no surprise-it's the natural conse­ between the power and the media,journalists can be easily ma­
quence of Japan's political structu~e, which puts officialdom nipulated and controlled. Just study the front-page articles of
more or less above the law. What is surprising is that the media, major Japanese dailies. They are almost identical. Why? Because
in a democratic country with legally mandated freedom of the they just print what they are given."
press, collude in these deceptions. It comes down to the fact For example, Nihol1 Keizai Shimbrw (Nikkei) is Japan's lead­
that the press is essentially a cartel. Reporters belong to press ing economic journal. Nikkei gives out technology awards
clubs that specialize in police or finance or politics, and so forth every year, and in 1995 its winners included, along with Win­
(which do not admit foreigners), and these clubs dutifully pub­ dows 95, NTT's PHS handphone and Matsushita's HDTV.
lish handouts from the police or the politicians in exchange for Though both were notoriously unsuccessful-PHS is an enor­
access to precious information. If a reporter shows any true in­ mous money-loser, and one could fairly say that HDTV (high­
dependence, the agency or politician can exclude him from definition television with an analog rather than digital base)
further press conferences. ranks as one of the biggest technological flops of the twentieth
Shinoda Hiroyuki, the chief editor of Tsukuru magazine, says, century-both are favorites of the Ministry of International
"Investigative reporting isn't rewarded." In fact, it is often pun­ Trade and Industry, so Nikkei dutifully celebrated them.
ished. Kawabe Katsurou is the reporter who in 1991 led TBS The most entertaining rooms in the press wing of the Hall of
Television to investigate the trucking company Sagawa Kyu­ Mirrors are the television studios where producers cook up
bin's connections to gangsters and politicians. By 1993, prose­ documentaries. So conU11on is the staging of fake news reports
cutors had filed charges against Kanemaru Shin, one of the that it has its own name, yarasc, meaning literally "made to do
nation's most powerful politicians, and soon thereafter the gov­ it." Japanese television is filled with faked events. In a mild ver­
ernment fell. But far from rewarding Kawabe, TBS transferred sion of yarasr, villagers dress up in clothes they never weJr to
him to the accounts department in 1996, and eventually he enact festivals that died out years ago. For truly sensational ef­
quit. Today, he survives precariously as a freelance journalist. fect, television producers will go much further, as in reports of
"Many journalists have become like salarymen," Kawabe says. young girls tearfully admitting to being prostitutes-in what
"They want to avoid the difficult cases that wiII cause trouble." turn out to be paid acting stints. In November 1999, one of the
114 Dogs and Demons [llformatiw: A Different View of Rea/ity 115

longest-running and most elaborate yarase came to light when The camera follows him as he comes up to the bar, and sits
it was revealed that Fuji Television, over a period of six months, down. then moves in for a close-up on his tcars. He looks up
had paid prostitutes and call girls ¥30,OOO per appearance to act and c.)nfesses that he has just been mugged.... Making it
as wives on its supposedly true-life series, Loving Cor/pIes, Di­ even more suspicious was the man's claim to have been
vorcing Couples. Nor is yarase limited to television. In 1989, the beaten, struck several times in his face, which had not a mark
president of Asahi ShimbuH newspaper resigned after it came to on it. His face was as clean as a baby's behind. Then we learn
light that a photographer had defaced coral in Okinawa in or­ he had had his money and clothes and Amtrak [train] ticket
der to create evidence for a news story on how divers were stolen even though he is carrying a beautiful new bag that
damaging the reef. wasn'naken. And Amtrak doesn't come through Missoula. It
The most elaborate yarase often involve foreign reporting. doesn't come anywhere near Missoula.
Here's how Far Eastern Ecollomic Review describes a report on
Tibet by NHK, Japan's national broadcasting company: "[In Yarase documentaries and government misinformation do SllC­
1992] an NHK documentary on harsh living conditions in the ceed to some extent in quelling people's misgivings about their
Tibetan Himalayas featured a sand avalanche, footage of a monk country, but unfortunately some pretty scary skeletons are hid­
praying for an end to a three-month dry spell, and an explana­ den in ]lpan's bureaucratic closets. At a sinister agency called
tion that his horse had died of thirst. NHK later admitted that Donen, the hiding of information becomes downright terrify­
a crew member had deliberately caused the avalanche; it had ing. Donen, a Japanese acronym for the Power Reactor and
rained twice during the filming; and the monk, whom it paid, Nuclear Fuel Development Corporation, manages Japan's
did not own the dead horse." nuclear-power program.
The common thread in the }'arase for foreign documentaries At Monju, the fast-breeder nuclear reactor near Tsuruga,
is to show how poor, miserable, seedy, or violent life is else­ which suffered a major leak of liquid sodium from its cooling
where, with the implied message being that life in Japan is re­ system in 1995, Donen offtcials first stated that the leakage was
ally very nice. For reports on the United States, scenes of low "minima.." It later turned out to be more than three tons, the
life and violence are obligatory, and a practiced producer can largest accident of its type in the world. But they could easily
manage to set these up almost anywhere. In 1994, NHK did a remedy 6e trouble by hiding the evidence: Donen staff edited
special on the city of Missoula, Montana, a state famed for its film takeJ. at the scene, releasing only an innocuous five min­
natural beauty and national parks. Most of the program, how­ utes' wonh and cutting out fifteen minutes that showed serious
ever, took place in a seedy bar, which offered just the atmo­ damage, :ncluding the thermometer on the leaking pipes and
sphere NHK felt was right for America. Here's how the icicle-like extrusions of sodium.
program was filmed, according to a Missoula citizen: Donen's attitude to the public at the time of the Monju
scandal says much about officials who take for granted that they
The camera is focused on the door, waiting for a man to can always hide behind a wall of denial. The day after the acci­
come in. He looks nervous and is squeezing out some tears. dent, the .:hairman of the Tsuruga city council went to visit the
116 Dogs a"d Derraons I"forlllatio,,: A Dif[ewl/ Viell' of Rea/it), 117

Monju plant-and Donen officials siinply shut the door in his even visiting one building only a hundred meters from the site
face. Kishimoto Konosuke, the chairman ofTsuruga's Ator-ni of the fire-and nobody ever informed them of the accident.
and Thermal Energy Committee, said, "Don elL was more CC)I1­ Several weeks later, Donen revealed that it waited thirty
cerned with concealing the accident than with explaining to us hours before reporting a leak of radioactive tritium at an ad­
what was happening. That shows what they th5nk of us." vanced thermal reactor, Fugen. This was an improvement,
Still, there was widespread public anger ;u::ld concern over though, because in eleven cases of tritium leaks during the pre­
Monju (which remained shut down for the resot of the decaode), vious two and a half years, Donen had made no reports at all.
yet the same scenario repeated itself in Marcb 1997, this t:ime Reform, however, was on the way: Donen was "disbanded" and
when drums ftlled with nuclear waste caught Fire and expl<>-ded renamed Gellden in May 1998, supposedly to appease an angry
at a plane at Tokai City north of Tokyo, releas~g high levels of public. Today, under this new name, the nuclear agency contin­
radioactivity into the envirorunent. In May .. 994, newspa pers ues to operate with the same staff, offices, and philosophy as
had revealed that seventy kilograms of plur:onium dust and before.
waste had gathered in the pipes and conver 'ors of the Tokai Nor is it onJy government agencies such as Donen-Genden
plant; Dooen had known of the missing pluto nium (enoug;;h to that are falling behind in nuclear safety. The sanle problems be­
build as many as twenty nuclear bombs) but aid nothing a"out set private industry. The troubles at the Tokai plant came to a
it until the International Atomic Energy Ag eocy (lAEA) de­ head at 10:35 a.m. on September 30, 1999, when employees at
manded an accounting. To this day, Donen claims to hZlv.e no a fuel-processing plant managed by JCO, a private contractor,
idea where the plutonium is clustered or h ow to remm.JC it. dumped so much uranium into a settling basin that it reached
"We know that the plutonium is there," an ofEicial said. ''It·".5 just critical mass and exploded into uncontrolled nuclear fission.
held up in the system." It was Japan's worst nuclear accident ever-the world's worst
Given that several nuclear bombs' worth IDf plutonium dust since Chernobyl-resulting in the sequestration of tens of
were lost somewhere inside the Tokai planl1:, there was great thousands of people living in the area near the plant. The ex­
public concern over the Tokai fire. Yet Donen's initial roeport plosion was a tragedy for forty-nine workers who were ex­
was a shambles, in some places saying, "Ra..dioactive ma..terial posed to radiation (three of them critically) but at the sanle
was released," and in others, "No radioactivce material W...:lS re­ time a comedy of errors, misinformation, and mistakes. It
leased"; claiming that workers had reconfirm_ed in the 0'10 rning turned out that Tokai's nuclear plant had not repaired its safety
that the fire was under control, though they had not (managers equipment for more than seventeen years. The workers used a
had pressured the workers to change their stories); miss tating secret manual prepared by JCO's managers that bypassed safety
the amount of leaked radioactive rnaterial, which turned aut to regulations in several critical areas: essentially, material that
be larger than reported by a factor of twenty": Incredibly, on the workers should have disposed of via dissolution cylinders and
day of the explosion, sixty-four people, incJuding science and pumps was carried out manually with a bucket.
engineering students and foreign trainees, toured the cor:nplex, Measures to deal with the accident could be described by no
118 DOg! altd ns Informatio/!: A Differel/t View of Reality 119

other word than primitive. Firefighters rushed to the scene af­ to remove the drums from the pits and to build sheds for tem­
ter the explosion was reported, but since they had not been porary storage. So far so good. Four years and ¥1 billion later,
told that a nuclear accident had occurred they did not bring Donen still had not taken the drums out of the pits or built the
along protective suits, although their fire station had them­ sheds. Nobody knows where the money went-semipublic
and they were all contaminated with radiation. In the early agencies like Donen are not required to make their budgets
hours, no local hospital could be found to handle the victims, public-but the suspicion was that Donen secretly spent it do­
even though Tokai has fifteen nuclear facilities. There was no ing patchwork waterproofing in the pits to hide evidence of ra­
neutron measurer in the entire city, so prefectural officiafs had dioactive leakage. There is no problem, the agency said. One
to call in an outside agency to provide one; measurements were official remarked, "The water level has not dropped, so radio­
finally made at 5 p.m., nearly seven .hours after the disaster. active material is not leaking outside."
Those measurements showed levels of 4.5 millisieverts of neu­ Donen went on to request lTlOre money for 1998, stating
trons per hour, when the limit for safe exposure is 1 millisievert that renovation was going smoothly, and asking for ¥71 million
per year, and from this officials realized for the first time that a to remove the sheds it had never built! It even attached draw­
fission reaction was still going on! Many other measurements, ings to show how it was reinforcing the inner walls of the stor­
such as for isotope iodine 131, weren't made until as many as age pits. The Donen official in charge of technology to protect
five days later. the environment from radioactive waste said, "It's true that the
The accident at Tokai came as a shock to other nucIear­ storage pits will eventually be reinforced. So I thought it would
energy-producing nations. The director of the China National be all right if details of the project were different from what we
Nuclear Corporation commented, "Improving management had stated in our request for budgetary approval."
techruques is the key lesson China should learn from the Japan When Donen gets money from the government to remove
accident, since the leak happened not because of nuclear tech­ sheds it never built and shore up the walls of pits it never
nology but because of poor management and human error." drained, we are definitely moving into the territory of Escher
And, indeed, poor management, combined with official denial, and Kafka. A final surreal touch is provided by an animated
was at the root of the disaster. "Oh no, a serious accident can't video produced by Donen to shaw children that plutonium
happen here," a top Japanese nuclear official declared some isn't as dangerous as activists say. "A small character named Pu
hours after the fission reaction at Tokai had taken place. (the chemical symbol of plutonium), who looks like an extra
The level of sheer fiction in Japan's nuclear industry can be from 'The Jetsons,' gives his friend a glass of plutonium water
gauged from the story of how Donen misused most of its and says it's safe to drink. His friend, duly impressed, drinks no
budget for renovation work between 1993 and 1997. The less than six cups of the substance before declaring, 'I feel re­
problem lay in 2,000 drums of low-level radioactive waste freshed!' "
stored at Tokai, which began rusting in pits ftIled with rain­ There is a lesson to be learned from Donen's madness, and it
water. Records show that the problem dated to the 1970s, but is that if you disguise the truth long enough you eventually lose
. only in 1993 did Donen begin to take action, asking for money touch with reality yourself. This happened at MOF, which can
120 Dogs and Demons b'formatio,I,' A DijJerelll View of Reality 121

no longer figure out the true state of bank finances, and it hap­ blaze by looking in the window-they used no other monitor­
pened to the nuclear industry, which doesn't know the standard ing devices and did not check again. A team of three people,
techniques of nuclear-plant management common elsewhere including an untrained local fireman, entered the building with
in the world. Why invest in technology when with a stroke of no protection and proceeded to seal it up-with duct tape!
the pen an official can bring fires under control and make leaks Dozens of other workers were sent into or near the site, unpru­
dry up? At Tokai in 1997, so unconcerned were Donen officials tected by masks, and inhaled radioactive fumes. In the 1999 fis­
that seven maintenance employees played golf on the day of the sion incident at Tokai, rescue workers were not warned to wear
fire-and went back to play another round the day after. protective suits, neither measuring devices nor hospital care was
Japan is like the spaceship in 2001: A Space Odyssey. The readily available, and national authorities had no disaster plan t
computer Hal runs all life systems aboard the ship with benev­ cope with the emergency.
olent wisdom, speaking to the crew through the public-address What is in the manual for nuclear facilities in Japan has been
system in a resolutely calm and cheerful manner. Later, when duct tape or, in the case of the nuclear plant in Han13oka, in
Hal goes mad and starts murdering people, he continues to Shizuoka Prefecture, paper towels, which were used to wipe
placidly assure crew members in an unwaveringly upbeat voice up a hydrogen peroxide solution that had been spilled dur­
that all is well, wishing them a good day. In Japan, articles in mg cleaning of radioactively contaminated areas there. So many
magazines paid for by the bureaucrats who cement over rivers paper towels accumulated by January 1996 that they spon­
and lakes assure the public that their natural environment is still taneously combusted. This is reminiscent of the situations con­
beautiful. Bureaucrats at Dom'n instruct children that pluto­ cerning waste removal after the Kobe earthquake (no shields or
nium is safe to drink. Every day in Japan we hear the soothing other safeguards), dioxin (no data), leachate from chemical
voice of Hal telling us not to worry. Since 1993, the govern­ waste pools (no waterproofing), and oil spills (cleaned up by
ment has predicted economic rebound every year, despite an women with bamboo ladles and blankets).
ever-deepening recession. In February 1999, as the nation pre­ Since the 1970s, Japanese quality has become a byword, and
pared to inject $65 billIon into the banks, with the prospect of many a book and article has been penned on the subject of
even larger bailouts ahead, Yanagisawa Hakuo, the chairman of Kaizen, "improvement," a form of corporate culture in which
the Financial Revitalization Committee, announced, "By th employers encourage their workers to submit ideas that will
end of March, the bad loans will be completely cleared and we polish and improve efficiency. The writers on Kaizen, however,
will have confidence at home and overseas." Problem over, have overlooked one weakness in this approach, which seemed mi­
a good day. nor at the time but has seriously impacted Japan's technology.
While it runs against the conventional wisdom that Japan is a Kaizell's emphasis is entirely on positive recommendations;
technological leader, there is no question that Japan has fallen there is no mechanism to deal with negative criticism, no way
drastically behind in the technology of nuclear-power manage­ to disclose faults or mistakes-and this leads to a fundamental
ment and safety. Let's examine what happened at the Tokai problem of information. People keep silent about embarrassing
plant in 1997 more closely. Workers checked the state of the errors, with the result that problems are never solved. Kato
122 Dogs alld Demons 1"lorlllalioll: A Dijj €rCIII View oj Rcalily 123

Hisatake, professor of ethics at Kyoto University, argues that inside, an accre·!tion of bad information is gumming up the
the Tokai fission disaster CJme about because although people works.
knew for years that the wrong procedures were being followed,
nobody said a word. In the United States, he said, "in the case On February 17, 1996, the Maillichi Daily News ran an article
of the Three-Mile Island accident, \Vhi~tle-blowing helped pre­ headlined "DA r :Defense Agency] chief richest among Cabinet
vent a far worse disaster." ministers," and then listed his and other ministers' assets. How­
The problem is endemic in Japanese industry, as is evidenced ever, they were J~ ot valued at actual market prices, ministers are
by a survey made by Professor Kato, in which he asked workers not culpable if t1-,:aey give false reports, and the assets did not in­
111 Tokyo if they would disclose wrongdoing in their company; lude business ir.::lterests. In other words, the ofricial numbers
99 percent said they would not. A major case of such a cover­ had near-zero cr.-edibiJity-yet the newspaper diligently com­
up surfaced in July 2000, when police found that for twenty­ puted rankings ar:ld averages for the group, and publishes similar
three years Mitsubishi Motors had hidden from investigators rankings every ye:-ar.
most of its documents on customer complaints. At first Mi­ These small bi -r::s of misinformation pile up into mountains of
tsubishi kept its records in a company locker room, but after nusleading ~tatisti: cs, which le3d government planners, business­
1992 it created a state-of-the-art computer system for storing men, and journa!.=Lsts to very wrong conclusions. Journalists, be­
dual records: those to be reported to regulators, and those to be ware-reporting on Japan is like walking on quicksand. Take an
kept secret. Only after inspectors discovered the ruse did Mi­ innocent-looking; number like the unemployment rate. With
tsubishi begin to deal with suspected problems, recalling over unemployment h avering around 3 percent in Japan for most of
700,000 cars for defects including bad brakes, fuel leaks, and the 1980s and ea..::rly 19905, it would seem that Japan's unem­
failing clutches. A similar scandal arose in June 2000 at giant ployment has bee n far below the 5 or 6 percent reported for
milk producer Snow Brand, whose tainted milk poisoned the United States_
14,000 people, as the result of careless sanitation procedures But \Vas it rcall:- ,? Japan uses its own formula to calculate un­
that had gone unchecked for decades. employment, wi~ several important differences. For example, in
At Tokai's nuclear plant, Mitsubishi Motors, and Snow the United States :you are unemployed if you were out of work
Brand, no worker or manager ever drew attention to a situatlon for tlle previolls n:'lonth; ill Japan, it is for the previous week.
dozens or even hundreds of people must have been 3ware of for While economists differ on the exact numbers, everyone agrees
Ulany years. Meanwhile, complacent officials meekly took the that the Japanese r..:Jte would rise by 2 to 4 percent if it were Cdl­
information they were served and never bothered to investi­ cub ted in the An:l erican way. Japanese officials publicly admit
gate. Multiply these stories by the tens of thous:mds and one that employment data are as unreliable as corporate balance
begins to get a shadowy view of slowly accumulating dySfi.lOc­ sheets; in early 19~ 9, Labor Minister Amari Akira, when pressed
tion affiicting almost every field in modern Japan. From the to provide realistic information, responded, "It's my corpor3te
outside, the machine of Kaizen still looks bright and shiny, but secret." And yet-a.:m1d this is the notable part of the story-jour­
124 Dogs 111111 Demons I"jormatiolt: A Different Vie'" of Reality 125

nalists continue to use the Japanese unemployment fIgures and in 1996, ~O trillion in 1997, and ¥77 trillion in 1999-and even
to compare them with the American ones without warning then MO'F was far from admitting the true figure, which might
their readers that they are comparing apples and oranges. Karel be double that amount. The national budget, as solemnly an­
van Wolferen writes: "Systematic misinformation is a policy tool nounced every spring by the press, is not all that it seems. There is
in Japan. Unsuspecting foreign econornists, especially those of a "second budget;' called Zaito (or HLp, Fiscal Investment and
the neo-classical persuasion who must be reassured that Japan, Loan Program), out of which MOF distributes funds indepen­
after all, is not embarrassing evidence contradicting mainstream dently of :parliamentary control. Zaito, which is almost never re­
theory, are easy targets.... We simply do not know, even ap­ ported in ""the newspapers-indeed, many people have never even
proximately, the level of unemployment, the amount of problem heard of i.t-amounts to as much as 60 percent of the official
loans, assets and debts in most corporate sectors." budget. Wie shall have more to say about Zaito in chapter 6.
Suppose you were a delegate at the Third UN Convention In the c-..ase of medical costs,Japan's expenditures appear to be
on Climate Control, which was held in Kyoto in December far below those of the United States-but that's because pub­
1997. You would have been deligh.ted to learn that according to lished cosr:-s do not include the payments of ¥100,000-200,000
a report issued by its Environment Agency, Japan spent a total that patiemts customarily hand to their doctors in plain white
of¥11 trillion for projects aimed at averting global warming. envelopes -when they have surgery. There is no way to calculate
However, if you took a closer look at the agency's report, you how much.. under-the-table money boosts Japan's national med­
would have discovered that of ¥9.3 trillion labeled "finding ical bill. Lndeed, medicine is a statistical Alice in Wonderlal1d
ways to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide," ¥8.35 trillion where the numbers verge on comedy. As for drug testing, the
went into the construction and maintenance of roads. The Nat­ Ministry Oo·f Health and Welfare has never enforced scientific
ural Resources and Energy Agency spent an additional ¥400 protocols, and payoffs from drug companies to doctors are
billion promoting nuclear energy. Of ¥1.2 trillion listed as commonplace, with the result that Japanese medical results have
spent for "preservation and enhancement of forests," about half become a Laughingstock in world medical journals.
went into labor expended in stripping the native forest cover It is no exaggeration to say that no technical or academic
and replanting it with sl/gi monoculture and paying the enor­ fIeld in Japan stands on firm factual ground. In November
mous interest on debts piled up by the Forestry Agency in this 2000, Mai/l'ichi Shimbul1 revealed that Fujirnura Shinichi, Japan's
ill-fated project. Money spent on solar- and wind-power gen­ leading arc haeologist, had been caught red-handed burying
eration came to only ¥90 biLlion. "The report is not ideal in prehistoric artifacts at an excavation site. He later "discovered"
terms of representing the current state of affairs," an Environ­ these artifacts and used them as evidence that human habitation
ment Agency official admitted. Indeed, the agency's report in­ in Japan occurred one hundred thousand years earlier than pre­
flated the true numbers by a factor of 120. viously thought. Fujimura had worked on 180 site$; the scandal
Skewed numbers are endemic in every field, and as we have undoes much of the work of prehistoric archaeology in Japan
seen, the discrepancies can be huge. Official estimates of the bad over the las""! fifteen years. No one knows how the mess can
debt crisis went from ¥27 trillion in the early 1990s to ¥35 trillion ever be cleamed up.
S" i
126 Dogs a"d Demons 1,rjormaliol/: A Difjerellt View oj Reality 127

In short, everywhere you look yon find that information in abroad only on short-term contracts. Foreigners who had lived
Japan is not to be trusted. I will admit to a twinge of fear my­ in Japan for a decade or more, yvho could speak the languag~
self, for this book is filled with statistics whose accuracy I can­ and who wen:familiar with local issues could,presumably teach
not gauge. their studc:;nts dangerous foreign knowledg~. This policy is still
Sapia magazine calls Japan J01l0 Sakokll, "a closed country for in force as Japan enters the twenty-first century. Even so, aca­
information." This blockage--or screening-of infonnation demia is wide open compared with medicine, law, and other
about the rest of the world happens not just because of overt skilled professions. No foreign architect of stature, such as I. M.
government controls but because of systemic bottlenecks en­ Pei, resides in Japan. Foreign architects come to Japan on short­
countered everywhere. News arrives in Japan, and then, like a term contracts, erect a skyscraper or a museum, and then leave.
shipment of bananas held up at port, it rots on the dock. With But subtle and sophisticated approaches to services and de­
the exception of a few industrial areas where it is vitally impor­ sign-the core elements of modern building technology-can­
tant for Japan to acquire the latest techniques ti-om the West, in­ not be transmitted in this way. Japan is left with the empty
formation rarely makes it into daily life, beyond the television shells of architectural ideas, the hardware without the software.
screen or the newspaper headline. This is because for new con­ The second requirement for making use of information is a
cepts fi'om abroad to be put into practice, certain prerequisites hungry public. As taught in the ancient Chinese classic I Chino,
must be met. the symbol of education is a claw over an egg: the parent taps
One is the active involvement of foreigners. When Shogun on the egg from outside at the same moment that the chick
Hideyoshi imported new ceramics techniques to Japan at the pecks from the inside. In Japan, the chick is not pecking. In or­
end of the sL"\.1:eenth century, he shipped entire villages of der for a business or a government agency to use information,
Koreans to Japan and settled d1em in Kyushu. In early Meiji the people in charge must realize they need it. But, soothed by
(1868-1900), Japan brought over hundreds of yatvi gaikokt!jill, the reassuring voice of Hal, surprisingly few executives recoo-­
"hired foreigners," who designed railroads, factories, schools, nize that their businesses or..agencies. are jn a state of criii~.
and hospitals, and trained tens of thousands of students. Indeed, The third requirement is a solid statistical base. New data
the very term used by Sapia magazine, sakokl/ ("closed coun­ make sense only if they stand upon solid old information. For
try"), is an old one, dating to the shogunal edict that closed example, foreign dioxin studies can be useful onJy if the Envi­
Japan in the early 1600s; despite the opening in the Meiji pe­ ronment Agency has done its homework and knows which
riod, the tradition never died. Mter the yatoi ,Il.aikokl~jil/ served neighborhoods are contaminated and to what degree. Lacking
their purpose, the government sent 1110st of them away, and this information, once you've brought in the foreign studies
for a good century foreigners have not been permitted to have there is little you can do with them. It made sense for Hide­
influence in Japanese society. yoshi to bring Korean potters to Japan because there was a de­
In the J 990s, the Minisrry of Education forced national uni­ mand for Korean pottery. Not so for much of the information
versities to dismiss foreign teachers, including those who had Japan receives from abroad today. What use, for example, does
been in Japan a long time, and to hire new teachers from Japan have for number-crunching techniques developed by
128 Dogs aud Demons l'~for",afjou: A Differeut Vie", of Rea/if)' 129

trading houses in New York when the numbers that Japanese that. One journalist, praising the Japanese for their efficiency in
companies put in their financial statements are largely fictional? ke~in~ secret~ commented, "Patents are only for a time; a se­
This attitude toward information has proved to be an obsta­ cret is forever." But in the new economy people don't have
cle to Japanese use of the Int~rn~t. Log on to the Internet time to wait forever. Time moves too fast; today's secret is to­
home pages of important Japanese entities and you will find a morrow's failed idea. The explosion of software and new In­
few meager pages, as poor in quality as in quantity, consisting ternet technologies bursting out of Silicon Valley has been a
mostly of slogans. From ulliversity home pages, tor example, cQllaborative effort in which a young engineer calls up his
you would never get a clue to any serious data, ~uch as Tokyo friend and says, "I have these parts of the puzzle, but I'm miss­
University's budget, Keio University's assets, the makeup of the ing other parts. What do yOll think?" His friend listens, supplies
faculty, a cross section oCths.:-~tu lt body, and so forth, only another piece, and everyone benefits. In Japan, such free and
"What Our Universi Stands For.' Most serious information easy give-and-take is nearly inconceivable. Hobbled by s~y,
about these schools is secret not available in any medium, new ideas inJapan will continue to come slowly-andi; the
much less on me Internet. n the end, you would find it difri­ new economy th~e is no greater sin than to be slow.
cult-perhaps even impossible-to put your hand on any prac­ One could say that Japan poses a fascinating challenge to the
tical information about mese universities. In doing research for vcry idea of tbe modern state at the start of the twenty-first
this book, I have found a striking contrast between the avail­ century. Information-its processing, analysis, collection, and
ability of information in Japan and in the United States and distribution-stands at the core of postindustrial technology.
Europe. Visit the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Web site, for Or does it? Japan has made a big bet otherwise. Wisdom in the
example, and you will find yourself deluged with so many West has it that lugh quantities of precision data and the ability
pages of data that you can hardly process it. Japan's Construc­ to analyze them are what make banks and investment houses
tiQ.Jl Ministry
and, th~ R.i~er Bureau provide a few pages of succeed, nuclear power plants run safely, universities function
slogans)nd some(~ad link~ weU, archaeologists build up a credible picture of the past, engi­
As of summer 2000, botll the Tokyo and Osaka stock ex­ neers design cthciently, doctors prescribe drugs properly, facto­
cbange sites failed to offer all)' information of substance (for ex­ ries produce safe cars and hygienic milk, and citizens play a
ample, the value of new or secondary listings) and did not even responsible role in politics. From that perspective, one would
have something so rudimentary as a ticker with current index expect that the lack of such information-a preponderance of
levels. By contrast, the Sin~apore exchange's Web .P-~ fuzzy information-would become an increasing liability.
ljgbt-yearsahead. The fal1ur.e .Qfth~ Internet to bring.oQenness The value of factual data would seem to be only common
to Japan bodes ill for the nation's future. Take, for example, the sense, and for all that traditional Japan valued the ideal above
concept of "industrial secrecy." In the old manufacturing econ­ the real, canny merchants in Edo days well understood the im­
omy, it was in every company's interest to patent its techniques portance of keeping their accounts straight. The seventeenth­
or, even better. to lock them up in a vault and keep them ab., century novelist Saikaku comments, "I have yet to see the man
solute1y hidden from outsiders. And Japan was very good at who can record entries in his ledger any wh.ich way or ignore
130 Dogs aud Demons [,if0l'/lla/ioll; A Diflerell/ View of Reality l.31

details in his calculations and still make a successful living." the emphasis was on japan's "efficiency." It is now becoming
One could argue that the modern Japanese bureaucracy's utter possible to see what happens to a nation that develops without
disdain for facts is something new-a tenet from traditional the critical ingredient of reliable information.
culture that was carried to extremes. It could result from some­ Much money and millions of words have been spent on the
thing as simple as the fact that ofrlcials got away with it. In question of ~hether Japan will catch up with the West in new
Saikaku's day, sloppy accounting soon dragged a shopkeeper information industries. But few have even noticed that Japan
into trouble. In present-day japan, bureaucracies with unlimited has a fundamental problem with information itself it's often
funding and no public accountability can hide their mistakes lacking and, when it does exist, is fuzzy at its best, bogus at its
for decades. worst. In this respect, Japan's traditional culture stands squarely
Nevertheless, authoritarian leaders in East Asia favor the at odd~ with modernity-and the problem will persist. The is­
modern japanese model of development. They see merit in sue of hldden or falsified information strikes at such deeply
having the bureaucracy keep informdtiol1 secret and manipulate rooted social attitudes that the nation may never entirely come
it for the national good, not letting the public get involved in to grips with it. Because of this, one may confidently predict
wasteful disputes over policy. For these leaders, freedom of in­ that in the coming decades Japan will continue to have trouble
formation is chaotic, controlled information more efficient. digesting new ideas from abroad-and will find it more and
Until now, the dialogue on this issue has been carried on be­ more difficult to manage its own increasingly baroque and
tween Asian authoritarians and Western liberals largely in polit­ byzantine internal systems. The nation is in for one long, ongo­
ical terms: whether people deserve or have a human right to be ing stomachache.
informed. In Japan's case, it might be helpful to disregard these For the time being, bureaucrats and foreign academics alike
political aspects for a moment and question whether such con­ are tiptoeing around embarrassing situations, "as one who steps
trol of information really does make government and business on dog dung in the dark." This is comfortable for those in
more efficient. Those who favor information managed by the charge, since it relieves then! of any urgency to solve Japan's
bureaucracy assume that while the general public stays in the pressing problems. Defaulted bank loans, unemployment, rising
dark, all-knowing officials will guide the nation with an unerr­ national debt, lost plutonium, out-of-date analog televi~ion,
ing hand. waste dumps in the countryside, tilting schoolyards, ugly beach­
For Japan, the results of such a policy are now coming in, fronts, global warming, defective cars, poisonous milk-Japan
and they indicate that, far from being all-knowing, Japan's bu­ has them firmly under control. There is just one little problem
reaucracy no longer has a clear understanding of the activities with this approach. Abraham Lincoln pointed it out once to a
under its control. What we see is officialdom that is confused, delegation that came to the White House urging him to d
lazy, and behind the times, leading to incredible blunders in the something he felt wasn't feasible. He asked the members of the
management of everything from nuclear plants to drug regi­ delegation, "How many legs will a sheep have if you call the
mens and pension funds. Until a decade ago, very few people tail a leg?" They answered, "Five." "You are mistaken," Lincoln
noticed that there was anything going wrong in Japan; rather, said, "for calling a tail a leg don't make it s "
B'lreallcracy: Power a"d Privilege 133

Not so in Japan. A largely rituahstic form of democracy in

force since World War II has given the bureaucracy far-reaching
control over society. Ministries not only are shielded from
foreign pressures but function outside Japan's own political sys­
5 Bureaucracy tem. Schools teach children not to speak out; hence activists
are rare. The police investigate only the most flagrant cases of
Power and Privilege corruption and courts rarely punish it; cozy under-the-table
give-and-take between officials and industries has become in­
stitutionalized. It is no exaggeration to say that government
officials control nearly every aspect of life from stock prices to
tomatoes in supermarkets and the contents of schoolbooks.
Therefore a wise prince must devise ways by which his horn this point of view, too, Japan is a test case: what happens
citizens are always and in all circumstances dependent on to a country that chooses an extreme form of bureaucratic
him and on his authority; and then they will always be rule?
The bureaucracy's techniques of control have a strong bear­
faithful to him.
ing on what is happening to Japan's rivers, cities, schoolyards,
-MACHIAVELLI, The Prillce (1513)
and economy, especially because of the al/takudari, "descended
from heaven," the retired bureaucrats who work in the indus­
tries that ministries control. MOF men become bank directors,
Japan's bureaucracy has been much studied, mostly with admi­ onstruction Ministry men join construction firms, ex­
ration, by Western analysts, who marvel at its extreITlely subtle policemen staff the 0t&.a~~1Js that manage pachinko parlors,
means of control, its tentacles reaching downward into industry and so forth. The pickings are fat: a retirin&.high-Ievel all1aku­
and upward into politics. And there is no question that Japan's dari bureaucrat can earn an annugl officiilialarY-2t; ¥20 millio!}
bureaucracy can lay claim to being the world's most sophisti­ plus an unofficial ¥30 million i~'offic~':':andJaft~r~ix
cated-several rungs LIp the evolutionary ladder from the weak, years, a retirement of ¥20 million, which adds up to about
o. _ ..... ___

constrained officialdom in most other countries. Bureaucrats in ¥320 million in six years!
the United States or Europe arc hedged in by politics, local ac­ The ministries meet any efforts to restrict al11aklldari with
tivism, and above all by laws that mandate freedom of informa­ vigoroLls resistance. "It's because we are assured of a second ca­
tion as well as punish their receipt of favors from businesses reer that we are willing to work for years at salaries below those
under their control. In Communist countries, such as China, in the private sector," says an official at the Ministry of Agricul­
bureaucrats may be corrupt, but in the end the Party rules, and ture, Forestry, and Fisheries. The result is an incestuous system
officials can see their most elaborate schemes overturned in a where businesses hire and pay ex-bureaucrats, and in exchange
minute by the stroke of a Politburo member's pen. receive favors from government ministries.

134 Dogs a"d Demons Bureaucracy: POlller a"d Prit,;{ege
... T..::A \ I
While al1lakf/dari in private industry have garnered 1110st me­ wai, "industry associations." Groups such as the Electronics
dia attention, there is another, even more influential type: Communications Terminal Equipment Testing Association and
al11akudari who run the vast web of semi-government agencies the Radio Testing Association administer standards and recom­
through which subsidy money trickles downward. The largest mend new policies. This helps to explain why Japan's industry
and most powerful of these are the 10k/151m hoJil1, "special gov­ is so slow to update technical standards, for as one journalist has
ernment corporations," almost half of whose directors are observed, "When you seek to abolish certain regulations, a
alnaklldari. After these directors retire from lokllsl", IlOjill, they stone \.va11 is immediately erected. Abolishing regulations trans­
descend another rung, becoming directors of a second group of lates into destroying these cushy post-bureaucratic careers."
agencies, kocki "ojil1, or "public corporations." These agencies Politicians exert influence through their relations with bu­
function with hardly any public scrutiny, and they are protected reaucrats, and the press call the latter zoku gUll, "tribal Diet
by ministry colleagues who look forward to enjoying olllaklldari members," according to which ministry tribe they belong to.
benefits when their own time comes. Former prime minister Hashimoto, whose prime area of influ­
Comider the Japan Automobile Federation (JAF). Theoreti­ ence lay in the Ministry of Health and Welfare, derived his
cally, JAF exists to provide road' service for Japan's drivers. power from being a member of that ministry's tribe. Industry
However, JAF spends only 1() percent of its :mnual ¥48 billion pays vast sums to tribal members who can secure contracts for
budget 011 road service, p3ying much of the rest to amakl/dar,' them through their associated ministries. Construction Min­
officials fr0111 the Transport and Police ministries who draw, istry tribalists sit at the top of the heap, as was illustrated in a
double incomes from JAF and its shelJ subsidi3ries. Where the major scandal of the 1990s in which it was found that Diet
lion's share of JAP's money goes nobody knows for sure. and kingmaker Kanelllaru Shin had made more than $50 million.
this is typical of the secret jugglings and cooked books of the
tokllslllt hojill. "Power," said Mao Zedong, "springs from the mouth of a gun."
OkllS11l1 I/(~;itl are the very keystone of Japan's bureaucratic In Japan, even greater power springs from the issuing of rules
state, and they represent yet another economic addiction. Al­ and pernlits. Rules exist in every area and in a bewildering va­
though there has been much talk of reducing or abolishing riety, most of them in the form of unpublished "administrative
their largely anachronistic activities, they and their subsidiaries guidance." How do you know what the rules are? Only by
employ 580,000 people; if you count the families and depen­ ma1l1taining close ties with government QfI;icials through the
dents, they support more than 2 million people. The govern­ practice of settai, "wining and dining.'1S~f(ai)neans giving ex­
ment can no more afford to suddenly cut back on lokl/sllll llOjill pensive meals, but it extends into a gray area that most other
than it can atford to reduce the construction budget, since such advanced nations would call bribery at high levels: free golf·
a large percentage of the worktorcc depends on income from lub memberships, use of corporate cars, and gifts of money.
these agencies. Departments lower in the food chain need to curry favor
Other soft landing sites for al1lakl/dari bureaucrats with with those higher up, which requires that officials practice serrai
golden parachutes an~ gOYerJU11ent advisory councils and kvo- with one another as well. Government bureaucrats spend bil­
136 Dogs alld Demons BI/reol/crac}': POlver and Privilege 137

lions of yen every year to wine and dine functionaries from study sessions-at a cost of ¥170,000-before obtaining a per­
other agencies. In this rich stream of slush funds, they have mit to be either a "health-care trainer" or a "health-care
found ways to pan for gold-overbilling and charging for ficti­ leader." In short, if you want to teach aerobics, you must run
tious trips and nonexistent functions that cost prefectural gov­ the gamut offour agencies and pay for six permits. No laws ex­
ernments millions of dollars a year. plicitly require them, but nobody dares do business without at
Bureaucrats alone have the power to issue permits, and per­ least some of these permits. The fees do not go back to the
mits do not come cheap, as may be seen in the following ex­ public purse but straight into the pockets of the ul1Iakudari who
ample from the sports-club business. In the 1980s, although run the permit agencies.
relatively new to Japan, sports clubs attracted the interest of With regulations earning so much money for bureaucrats, it
men working in the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MHW) is no wonder Japan has become one of the most heavily regu­
and the Ministry of Education. They saw ways of enriching lated nations on earth-former prime minister Hosokawa
themselves through the time-honored techniques of giving Morihiro once said that when he was the governor of Ku­
mandatory lectures and study sessions, issuing facilities permits, mamoto he couldn't move a telephone pole without calling
and creating credentials and "levels" for sports-club profession­ Tokyo for approval. Yet these regulations have created a strange
als; agencies staffed by al1lakudari would administer the study paradox: they are a priori and exist solely on their own terms­
sc:ssions and permits, as the social critic Inose Naoki has de­ they do not necessarily make business honest and efficient,
scribed. Nothing better illustrates the baroque structures of products rdiable, or citizens' lives safe.
Japan's bureaucracy. The key to the paradox is that the regulations control but do
First, the MHW created the Foundation for Activities Pro­ not regulate in the true sense of the word. Industries in Japan
moting Health :lnd Bodily Strength, which licensed two cate­ are largely tmregHlated. There is nothing to stop you from selling
gories of workers: "health exercise guides" and "health exercise medication that has fatal side effects, dumping toxic waste,
practice guides." The MHW and the Ministry of Education building an eyesore in a historic neighborhood, or giving in­
then jointly sponsored a Japan Health and Sports Federation, vestors fraudulent company statements. But just running a
which granted permits to the first category, while the MHW noodle shop requires you to fill out lots of forms in triplicate,
alone founded a Japan Aerobics Fitness Association, which with ~tamps and seals. The point ofJapan's red tape is bureau­
granted permits to the latter category. Not to be outdone, the cratic control-the restriction of business to routine path
Ministry of Education set up a Japan Gymnastics Association, along which officials may profit.
which devised two credentials for Sports Programmer at the Just as there is no environmental-assessment regulation, there
First Level and Sports Progranuner at the Second Level. To gain is no product-liability law, no lender-liability law, very few rules
a First Level cerrificate, an aerobics instructor has to pay against insider trading or other market manipulations, few test­
¥90,OOO, for the Second Level ¥500,OOO. In addition, some­ ing protocols for new medicines-and no cost-benefit analyses
thing called the Central Association for Prevention of Libor for the gigantic building schemes of government agencies.
Disabilities requires the instructor to attend twenty days of Banks and securities firms routinely falsity financial informa­
Q£..G. '-.)L AT I Q N")
138 Dogs and Demons Bnrea'icracy: Power and Privileg 139
":>c t
tion at the direction of the Ministry of Finance. When Ya­ While bureaucrats get the lion's share of the profits £i'om con­
maichi Securities went belly-up in late 1997, investigators struction work, a goodly percentage flows to political parties.
found that MOF had instructed it to hide more tha..'1 $2 billion The rule of thumb has been that contractors pay 1 to 3 percent
of losses in offshore accounts. Hamanaka Yasuo, the trader who of every large public-works project to the politicians who
cost Sumitomo Trading $2.6 billion through his dubious com­ arranged it, in which practice the Tax Office colludes by recog­
modities dealing, violated no Japanese law. While home nizing "unaccounted-for expenditures" (i.e., bribes to politi­
builders must contend with a welter of ordinances that happen cians and bureaucrats) as a corporate-expense line item, which
to keep construction-company profits high, there is no city in the case of the construction industry amounts to hundreds of
planning in the true sense of the word. millions of dollars annually.
Because of the paradox of control versus regulation, the In Mito Koman, a long-running Japanese television series set
world of rules in Japan has a ThrOl~glz the Lookillg- Glass quality. in the Edo period, Lord Mito, the uncle of the Shogun, travels
A store must wait three years aft~r getting a liquor license be­ around the country incognito righting wrongs done to inno­
fore it can sell domestic beer-but vending machines sell beer cent people. The scene changes with each episode, but the vil­
freely, even to minors, everywhere. The supermarket chain lain is invariably a corrupt samurai IIlMhi bugyo, or town
Daiei had to apply for two separate licenses to sell hamburgers administrator, whom we see seated in his spacious mansion be­
and hot dogs if it displayed these products in different sections fore an alcove decorated with rare and expensive art, counting
of the same store--but meat-processing standards for food gold from ill-gotten gains. His victims have no recourse against
manufacturers had not changed since 1904. If a supermarket him. Only at the climax of each episode does Lord Mito's at­
sells aspirin, a pharmacist must be present and have medical tendant raise high his paulownia-flower crest and reveal his true
tools on hand-yet nowhere else in the developed world are identity, whereupon the administrator falls to the ground in
physicians free to dispense drugs the1115elves, and as a result the obeisance and is carried off for punishment.
Japanese use far more drugs, of dubious efficacy, than any other The difrercnce between Edo and modern Japan is that today
people on earth. The Through the Looking-Glass nature of Jap­ we have no Lord Mito. The public suffers from chronically ex­
anese regulations goes a long way toward explaining such pre­ pensive goods and services, while bureaucrats and politicians
posterous prices as $100 melons and $10 cups of coffee. The prosper to a degree that verges on the fantastic, nowhere more
aggregate cost to the economy is simply incalculable. These than in construction, where amakudari reap post-retirement for­
outrageous prices, absurd regulations, weird and inexplicabl tunes. With more than 500,000 construction firms in Japan, no
public works-all the ingredients of a manga-like world-exist ex-official will ever fmd himself out of a job. Their personal fu­
for the simple reason that bureaucrats profit from them. ture income at stake, Construction Ministry bureaucrats sup­
Officials have devised many ingenious ways of channeling port and encourage bid-rigging, which is endemic in Japan's
funds into their own pockets. The River Bureau, as we have construction industry, inflating the cost of public construction
seen, has made a particularly lucrative franchise of its work. by 30 to 50 percent. (According to some estimates, inflated bids
140 Dogs a"d Demons Bureal/erac)': Power aud Privilegt' 141

provide 16 to 33 percent of the industry's profits, which is be­ other countries? Nevertheless, the greedy machi bu,R),o of the
tween $50 an~ $100 billion every year.) Lord Mito series, sitting in his embroidered kimQno eating off
fine gold lacquer, represents a cold fact of bureaucratic life: cor­
Just as leftist writers in the 1930s were so in love with the" dic­ ruption. It's a genteel, smoothly organized, even institutional­
tatorship of the proletariat" that they were unwilling to admit ized, form of corruption, so endemic as to be called "structural"
the brutal reality of Stalinism, so mainstream Western commen­ and thus not usually seen as corruption as \""e ordinarily under­
tators have kept up a long love atTair with Japan's bureaucracy. stand it.
As recently as 1997, Ezra Vogel of Harvard University, the au­ The sad reality is that the Japanese bureaucracy thrives on
thor of Japan as Nllmber OIlC, described Japan's "elite bureau­ shady money: in small ways by cadging extra expenses with fal­
cracy" as one of its distinctive strengths, which "compare vel)' sitied travel reports; in larger ways by acc~pting bribes from
favorably around the world." "Japanese civil servants enjoy the businessmen and as favors from organized crime. Shady money
priceless advantage of the moral high ground," Ea1110nn Fingle­ is the oil that greases the wheels ofJapan's smooth-running re­
ton wrote in his book BUm/side, which aimed to show "why lationship bet\'I1een the bureaucracy and business, and that fea­
Japan is still on track to overtake the U.S. by the year 2000." tures in the expensive practice of sl'ttai.
"Tbeir actions," he continued, "will be judged only in terms 0 The bureaucratic scandals that periodically rip through the
how well they serve the overall national interest. Their objec­ Japanese media are efforts, as van Wolferen points out, to rectifY
tive is to achieve the greatest happiness of the greatest number outrageous excess, but they do nothing to address the structur~
of people. Moreover, they take an extremely long-term view in corruption that js the normal stat~-ef·af~!fs. In 1996, for ex­
that they seek to represent the interests not only of today's ample, newspapers revealed that Izui Jun 'icl1i1 the owner of an
Japanese but of future generations." Osaka oil wholesaler and a "fixer~ tlie Japanese oil busines~,
In the 1980s, the Ministry of International Trade and Indus­ had spent n1.o~than ¥75 million on wining and dining gov­
try (MIT I) was the darling of foreign commentators; today, that ernment officials, including forty-two from MITI ~nd thirty
honor goes to the Ministry of Finance. "MOF men truly are from MOF, reachil").g all the way up....l2-MI1T~ vice minist~,
Nobel caliber," continued Fingleton adoringly. MOF men are Makino Tsutol11u, and_MOF's vice minister. Ogawa Tadashi.
"brilliant, creative, tenacious, public spirited." They have "not MITI, stung by these fierce press reports, investigated 138 em­
only grit and technical brilliance but an uncommon sense in ployees and reprimanded six top officials. A former vice min­
reading people and their needs." Unlike the "greed-is-good" ister of the Transport Ministry, Hattori Tsuneharu (in the
West, "MOF today is living proof that top officials can be alllakt/dari position of president of the Kansai International Air­
'rightly oriented in their own minds and hearts.' "This is due port), had ·received from IZl1~ ¥4.9 million in cash) gift coupons,
to "pride in a distinctive (and distinctively masculine) way of a bar of gold, and an e~ensive p.ainting. (Paintings, easy JO hig
life, a concern to earn the good opinion of comrades, satisfac­ and difficult to value, are .gifts.,2f choic~.) Izui was also reported
tion in the largely symbolic tokens of professional success." whave g~ a painting worth several thousand dollars to
What could be more attractive, more worth emulating in Wakui Yoji, the chief of the MOF Secretariat-in exchange for
Dogs alld Demons Bureaucracy: Power Qlld Privilege 143

which lfavoJnewspapers speculated that Wakui Inay have pres­ Where in the past decade, in Europe, America, Malaysia, or Bureau officials to relax their investigation of Izw's Singapore, could we find a bureaucrat convicted of the ¥100
tax evaSIon. million garnered by MHW vice minister Okamitsu? Or the
Part of1'V10F's admirably "masculine way oflife" involves en­ $600,000 paid by Takahashi Harunori, the president of real­
joying the fun at hostess bars and other sleazy venues that are estate company EIE Corporation, to Nakajima Yoshio, thc for­
paid for by banks' sctfai budgets. In September 1994, Dai-Ichi mer vice director of MOF's Budget Bureau in 1991? Such are
Kangyo Bank treated Miyakawa Koichi, the chief of MOP's In­ the takings of those who have the "priceless advantage of the
spectors' Office, to an evening at a "no-pants shabll-shavu" moral high ground" and stand as "living proof that top officials
restaurant, featuring waitresses in the nude from the waist can be 'rightly oriented in their own minds and hearts.' "
down. Miyakawa was so grateful that he let the bank people One feature of MOFs superior moral quality is its links with
know about a surprise inspection due to take place the next organized crime. Under MOP's guidance, gangsters playa large
day. A cartoon in a weekly magazine showed a devil at the gates role in japan's financial system. In 1998, another scandal broke
of hell consulting his notebook and commenting, "For a bu­ with the news that Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, one of japan's top­
reaucrat from japan's Ministry of Finance to sell his soul for no­ tcn commercial banks, extended collateral-free loans of ¥3
pant~ shavu-slJabu and yakitori, that's really cheap!" billion to Koike Ryuichi in 1989 so that he could buy stocks in
That these scandals are chronic, not mere flukes in an other­ Nomura Securities and other brokerage firms. Koike was in a
wise honest system, is obvious not only from the sheer number business unique to Japan known as sokaiya, which is the distur­
of officials involved but also from their seniority. In the govern­ bance of shareholder meetings by asking difficult questions. In
ment ministries, a politician rakes the largely ritual tOp position other countries, people who ask hard questions at shareholder
as minister, while true executive power lies with the senior ca­ meetings are simply stockholders, but in Japan they are usually
reer bureaucrat, the vice minister. Vice ministers from all major extortionist gangsters. Most large companies try to conclude
ministries have been implicated in recent settai and bribery their annual meetings in less than an hour, so sokaiya is a con­
scandals, and then the takings extend downward in diminishing siderable threat. The answer is to pay the gangsters off. Nomura
amounts. For example, Okamitsu Nobuharu, the vice minister paid Koike as much as ¥70 million to keep quiet, and later it
of Health and Welfare, \\las arrested in December 1996 for re­ was revealed that all the other top stockholders and major
ceiving more than ¥100 million in gifts and favors £i:om banks had paid Koike as well.
Koyama Hiroshi, a developer of nursing homes subsidized by The fact that officials enrich themselves at public expense is
his ministry. At the same time, Wada Masaru, in a lesser position not considered to be more than a minor evil in Japan and the
as the ministry's councilor, received ¥1 million from Koyama, rest of East Asia, because people expect these same officials to
and other officials further down the line benefited in various manage the resources of the state in a wise and efficient man­
degrees fi'om settai. The MHW; am..'ious to avoid further public ner. There is an ongoing debate in East Asia over the virtues of
scandal, carried out an in-house investigation and later fined or open, Western-style bureaucracy versus the paternalistic "crony­
reprimanded sixteen employees. capitalism" found in Japan. Apologists for "crony-capitalism"
144 Dogs Dnd Demons

admire the way that officials can easily and freely channel funds
to pet industries and projects without having to engage in rau­
cous policy debates in public. However, in this very freedom
lies the source of danger.
The muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens, who exposed 6 Monuments
Tammany Hall-style corruption in American cities a centUlY
ago, defined "privilege" as the essential problem of corruption.
What Steffens meant by "privilege" was that those with money
Airportsfor Radishes
get access to government resources; those who don't pay up go
without. This is why corruption has to be taken seriously: priv­
ilege skews the way the state assigns its resources. Herein lies
the key to modern Japan's mismanagement. Official support AUjourd'bui rien.
doesn't go to those who need it but to the privileged-those - LOUIS XVI, writing in his diary on the day the
who pay bureaucrats the most. Looking forward to alllakl/dari
Bastille fell (1789)
rewards, officials lavish funds on building up massive overpro­
duction in one old-fashioned industry after another, rather than
support new business involving services and the Internet. The
pachinko industry hires ex-policemen as alllaklldari, alld Information is unreliable, knowledge of new techniques used
pacbinko parlors overrun the country. River Bureau ofrlcials abroad scarce, and public funds distributed not to the sectors
protlt from dams, so dams go up by the hundreds. Useless that need them but to those who pay bureaucrats the most-in
monuments sprout and the seashore disappears under cement this dim twilight world,Japanese officials are losing touch with
because of the privileged position of construction companies. reality. Govenunent agencies feel they should be doing some­
The shady money flowing into officials' pockets is molding the thing and, unable to see what the basic problems are or how to
very look of the land. address them, they turn to building monuments. Monument
construction is profitable, too. Anyone who travels in Japan will
be familiar with the multipurpose cultural halls, museums, and
communications centers that are becoming the predominant
features of urban life. Even tiny villages have them. Halls and
centers that cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars each go
up across the nation, it is said, at the rate of three a day.
In the ancient Chinese philosophical treatise Han Feizi, the
emperor asked a painter, "What are the hardest and easiest
things to depict?" The artist replied, "Dogs and horses are diffi­

Dogs nlld Demons MO/lII/llellts: Airports for Radishes 147

cult, demons and goblins are easy." By that he meant that sim­ state-of-the-art infrastructure. Time 24, one of its "intelligent
ple, unobtrusive things in our immediate environment-like buildings," boasts fiber-optic wiring and other equipment, and
dogs :lOd horses-are hard to get right, while anyone can draw is serviced by a shiny new train system. The trouble is that there
an eye-catching monster. japan sutTers from a severe case of was no need for Teleport Town. Time 24 has been almost
"dogs and demons." In field after fleld, the bureaucracy dreams empty since it opened, and so has the train. So few tenants
up lavish monuments rather than attend to long-term underly­ moved in that in February 1996 Time 24 tried to lease floors to
ing problems. ConuTIunications centers sprout antennas from the Fisheries Department, to be filled with fish tanks-unsuc­
lofty towers, yet television chanJlels and Internet usage lag. cessfully. Projections indicate that Teleport Town will run up a
Lavish craft~ halls dot the landscape while Japan's traditional ¥5 trillion shortfall over the next three decades.
crafts are in terminal decline. And local history musewm stand From here we move on to Tega Marsh Fountain, built by the
proud in every small town and municipal district while a sea of Chiba prefectural government, northeast of Tokyo. This foun­
blighted industrial development has all but eradicated real local tain, spouting water from the most polluted inland body of wa­
history. ter in Japan, was built to "symbolize the conuTIunity's hopes for
In libraries devoted to Japan, shelves sag under the weight of the future." So poisonous is the spume that operators halt the
hundreds of volumes written abollt tbe gardens of Kyoto, Zen, fountain when the wind is blowing hard or when there is an
Japan's youth culture, and so forth. Yet we must concede, after outbreak of toxic algae. In a newspaper interview, one man
looking at the Construction State, that these are not the areas summed up the view of local residents: "I don't have a good
into which the energies ofJapanese society are really flowing. feeling when I see the fountain."
The real Japan, sadly ignored by travel writers so far, lies in its While Teleport Town is a monument in progress and Tega
many modern monuments; visiting a few of them will give us a Marsh Fountain is in its terminal stages, in Gifu, between Kyoto
taste of the true japan. and Nagoya, we can see a monument at its inception. The town
of Gifu is a dreary conglomeration of little shops, home to
Our first stop is Tokyo's Teleport Town, a waterfront construc­ thousands of low-end manufacturers of T-shirts and cheap
tion project like the ones that almost every japanese city with clothing. This local industry, at a sharp disadvantage to Chim
access to the sea now boasts. These utopian visions of high-tech and other cheap foreign producers, is mired in cm'onic depres­
"cities of the future" are japan's pride, with their e>.-pensive sion, hardly an encouraging sight, but in December 1995 Gifu
landfill in harbors, followed by museums, convention halls, and Prefecture announced that it intended to become the "Milan of
superexpensive "intelligent buildings." The costs are astronomi­ japan." At great expense, it redeveloped the wholesale market
cal, high enough to drag Osaka Prefectme and Tokyo, japan's ncar the train station, raising a gleaming new complex that Gifu
two major metropolitan regions, into bankruptcy. But the local hoped would solve the problem of structural decline in Japan's
governments are pressing on regardless. apparel industry.
Teleport Town was built on bnd reclaimed from Tokyo Bay Northwest of Gifu, the Hokuriku Express, a spur train line,
by the Tokyo metropolitan government and developed with was built for ¥130 billion during the course of almost thirty
148 Dogs alld Demons MOI/umellts: Airports for Radishes 149

years simply to shave fifteen minutes off the rail time between geted, must be spent. MAFF devotes as much money as it can
Tokyo and Kanazawa, and it is now to be overshadowed by a to creating untraveled forestry roads and fishing ports where no
newer monument. In addition to the fact that there was no real boats caJl, but even this isn't enough to soak: up the surplus. To
need for it in the til:st place, it appears no one will ever use the spend it all, MAFF officials have cooked up some truly bizarre
line because Japan Railways is extending the bullet train to schemes, the Illost fanciful among them being rural airports de­
Kanazawa. A Hokuriku Express executive says, "Although no voted to airlifting vegetables. The idea was to improve Japan's
one openly says so, everybody's worried. We hope to attract agricultural productivity by speeding vegetable delivery from
passengers by developing tourist attractions." In other words, rural areas to big cities. The veggie airports are a classic Dogs
more monuments. and Demons project, because the problems in Japanese agricul­
Last, there is the Hakara Bay project, a container port being ture have little to do with delivery and everything to do with
built on mud flats in the harbor off Fukuoka City. When com­ other factors-such as artificially high prices and a declining
pleted, the 448-hectare island, second in size only to Teleport workforce-which MAFF would rather not address.
Town, will destroy bird habitat, the last remaining place in There are four veggie airports already built, and five more
Hakata Bay for migratory birds. There was some opposition to under construction. However, as it turns out, flying vegetables
this project in the early 1990s, but Fukuoka Prefecture claimed costs six to seven times as much as trucking them, and far more
the port would be needed for new commerce with Southeast labor to load and reload them from trucks to aircraft to larger
Asia, though this is unlikely, given the high yen and increased aircraft and back to trucks. Kasaoka Airfield flies vegetables to
competition from other ports in Asia and Japan. Kaneko Jun, a Okayama City, only a few dozen kilometers away, even though
manager at Evergreen, a company that handles the largest vol­ flying them takes just as long as sending them by road.
ume of containers at Fukuoka, said, "As far as our company is Boondoggle fever is infectious. It has expanded beyond gov­
concerned, the island is not necessary." Would Fukuoka protect ernment into endowed foundations and cultural groups. Even
the birds, cancel the plan, and save itself ruinous expense? The the Red Cross, it seems, is not immune. In March 1997, news­
answer is predictable. Although the World Wildlife Fund Japan papers revealed that the Japan Red Cross had secretly diverted
petitioned the national government to review the project, the much of the $10.3 million in earthquake-relief donations that
Enviromnent Agency approved it and construction began in came from Red Cross organizations in twenty-six countries to
April 1996. build a facility called the Hyogo Prefecture Disaster Treatment
Japan's monument mentality is in evidence everywhere. Not "This money was collected for victims of the Kobe earth­
only the Construction and Transport ministries raise monu­ quake," said Vedron Drakulic, the public-affairs manager of the
ments-every department does. One of the biggest builders is Australian Red Cross. "We didn't know about other uses." One
the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries (MAFF) , could hardly blame the Australians for not understanding the
which receives 20 percent of the public-works construction way things work in modern Japan. The socially prominent
budget, tar more than it needs. Nevertheless funds, once bud­ Japanese who sit on the Japan Red Cross board and the mil­
Dogs a"d Demons

lions of contributors across the nation who support it are sin­

MOlllw,ents: Airports for Radishes
asf'o-I {lp~ Jc"{"
the world out of forty-three), and waterproof waste-disposal

cere in their desire to be philanthropic. They, too, are victims, sites. This is not to mention a massive de-construction program to
for they are no match for the bureaucrats who manage the or­ remove the Construction Ministry's worst mistakes-such as
ganization like every other, programmed to make construction the asbestos found in almost every large building in the COUll­
a priority. try. Yet money does not flow to such projects. It flows to muse­
Mitsuie Yasl1o, a Construction Ministry official who has ar­ ums with no artworks, rail lines with no passengers, container
gued in support of higher public-works budgets, makes the ports with no ships, new cities with no tenants, and airports for
claim that "japan is still a developing country compared with radishes. The trillions of dollars poured into construction dur­
Western Europe and the United States." This open admission ing the past decades have been going, quite simply, to the
of the Construction Ministry's ineptitude is, incredibly enough, wrong places.
a truthfi.ll one. Perhaps the single exception is japan's rail net­
work, one of the most extensive and efficient in the world. To understand how the monument frenzy can continue at fever
Railroad building is an example of a policy that grew far be­ pitch, we need to take another look at how these projects are
yond its original aims and becanle one of officialdom's unstop­ funded. Where do the bureaucrats get their money? They get
pable tanks. A high priority in the postwar years, railways took it from Zaito, or FILP (Fiscal Investment and Loan Program).
on a life of their own as the ultimate pork barrel beloved of aito is japan's second budget, the shadow budget, through
politicians, with the result that gigantic new lines continue to which MOP's Trust Fund Bureau draws on a huge pool of ~
expand across the nation regardless of economic need or envi­ posits in the postal-savings system to fund its agencies and ro­
ronmental impact. As Richard Koo, the chief economist for the grams-with almost no par lamentary overVIew. aito is the
Nomura Research Institute, puts it, "Good projects are a lux­ bllrea17cracy's private piggy bank.
ury. Recovery is a necessity. How money is spent is not impor­ aito works like this: The government grants t!X exemptio~s
tant. That money is spent is importam." and other preferential treatment to ostal-savings accounts
That so much money has brought so little real improvement managed by local post offices: interest on post -savings deposits
to life is an aspect of Japan's modern development that most is consistent! higher than in the private sector. Lured by these
defies comprehension. As boondoggles burgeon madly over the hig er interest rates and by the convenience of banking at pQ;t
landscape, the sorely needed improvements that would really ..9fficc~, the Japanese people have put more and more of their
enhance life remain in the future: burial of power and phone !2.0ney int'?J'0~al savings, to the extent that by the end of the
lines, construction of sewage lines (still lacking for a third of twentieth century they accounted for about a third of all bank .
japan's homes), provision of good public hospitals and educa­ deposits in ~1.
tional institutions, cheap and efficient air travel (Japanese do­ This enormous pool of capital-trillions of dollars' worth­
mestic air travel is the most expensive in the world, and N<\rita is handed over to MOP's Trust Fund Bureau to manage. With
Airport in Tokyo features such poor design and management the funds from postal savings, pension funds, and other special
that travelers recently voted it the forty-second worst airport in accounts combint;d, the Trust Fund Bureau has, in effect, b·-­
152 Dogs and Demons Monllllletlls: Airports Jor Radisltes 153

corne the world's largest government bank. It invests much of loans on to subsidiaries, thus causing them to "fly" off the
the money in Japanese government bonds, which helps to ex­ books. In the case of Zaito, MOF lent more money to Zaito
plain ,,,,hy these bonds, which paid interest of only 1 to 2 per­ borrowers to cover the interest payments. By 1997, troubled
co::nt or less for mOst of the 1990s, still found buyers-or, at Zaito loans were estimated to be as high as ¥62 trillion, al­
least, one large buyer, the government itself, using captive sav­ though even this is a conservative figure. These Zaito obliga­
ings deposits managed by the Trust Fund Bureau. tions, added to the cumulative deficits of the central and local
With money like this at its disposal, how could MOF resist governments, the "hidden debts" (such as ¥28 trillion for the
the temptation to dip into the honey pot? It didn't take long. old Japan National Railroad Resolution Trust), and the juggling
In 1955, only three years after the American Occupation of inter-governmental accounts, raise Japan's real national debt
ended, MOF borrowed a little money from the Trust Fund Bu­ to a level higher in absolute value than the U.S. national debt,
reau to support certain items for which there was not enough equal to as much as 150 percent ofJapan's GNP.
allocation in the general budget; the purpose was obviously to To see where all the Zaito money went, one must step
get around the official budget process in the National Diet. boldly into the swamp of bureaucratic finance. The breeding
It worked all too well. By 1999, Zaito borrowings bad sky­ lubits of tokusfw hojin are remarkable: ninety-two tokl/shl/ hoj;'1,
rocketed to ¥52.9 trillion annually, including ¥39.4 trillion grouped under various ministries, have spawned thousands of
overseen by the Trust Fund Bureau and another ¥13.5 trillion koch h~jjll, of which the central government oversees 6,922
lent by the Postal Life Insurance system. In 1999, the ¥52.9 tril­ and regional governments 19,005. Amakudari run most of
lion Zaito program amounted to two-thirds of the money dis­ the koch hojill associated with the government, while ex­
bursed in the official "fIrst budget." The beauty of Zaito, from officials and employee welfare fWlds of the various ministries
MOF's point of view, is that it flows from an inexhaustible pool own a major portion of their stock. The koeki ho)jll in turn
of public savings and is largely invisible to politicians and the breed grandchildren, owned by the same people: full-fledged
press. So far so good. The problem is that the people who mall~ private profit-making enterprises that, without having to make
age Zaito are the same "brilliant, creative, tenacious, public spir­ public bids, gain a large share of public-works contracts. The
ited" MOF men who have run Japanese banks into the ground. various corporations fall under the jurisdiction of different
With an endless supply of money at their disposal and no pub­ ministries, which use them like cattle to be milked. MITI
lic accountability, the fifty-seven fokl/shll hojil1 and other agen­ sponsors a herd of 901 hojill, the Ministry of Education 1,778.
cies on Zaito support have racked up debts as they have spent All these hojjn feed on Zaito money. Their breeding ground is
trillions on aU these wasteful monuments and shell agencies the ministries that oversee them. They have no natural preda­
supporting ex-bureaucrats. tors. Their droppings take the form of huge pellets known as
When these corporations and agencies found themselves un­ monuments.
able to repay their Zaito borrowings, the fohashi started. At the top of the list is the Highway Public Corporation,
ohashi, or "flying," is a word we have met before as the tern; Doro Kodal1, the largest of all the swamp creatures, king of the
used by banks co describe the method whereby they pass bad jungle. To build and manage Japan's highways, it has an operat­
154 Dogs and Demons Moul/fIIents: Airports for Radishes 155

ing budget of¥4.4 trillion, roughly half of which comes from annually, a large part of which is pure profit, since the Highway
road tolls and other highway receipts; Zaito borrowings supply PC awards cushy bloated contracts with no public bidding.
the rest. (The Highway PC is in fact Zaito's single largest bor­ What all these numbers tell us is that the retired bureaucrats
rower.) Over the years, the Highway PC has sunk into a quag­ from the Construction and Transport ministries who run the
mire of umepayable debt; its cumulative red ink had come to Highway PC have neatly removed the profits in road manage­
well over ¥20 trillion by the end of the century. At this level, it ment from the Highway PC's budget and funneled them into
rivaled even the notorious Japan National Railroad debt (¥28 their own pockets. Every tin1e the Highway PC builds a new
trillion) and by 2002 might even surpass it. This desperate fi­ highway, the public pays high tolls, shouldering the burden of
nancial situation lies behind the high tolls, such as the ¥1, 700 paying off the Zaito debt, while the bureaucrats profit from
charge to drive for three minutes over the bridge to the New new service- and parking-area concessions. Therefore it is im­
Kansai Airport. perative to build more and more highways.
The management of highways has' its erofitable side, how­ Everywhere you look, you find parasitic tendrils sucking
ever-the operation of service and parking areas along the free­ nourishment from the flow of Zaito money. The favorite tech­
ways, with their attendant food and drink concessions, as well nique is /IIanmage. "tossing it on," by which an agency midway
as telephone and car-radio monopoli~s. These monopolies lend in the food chain receives a contract from the government :md
themselves to schemes whereby bureaucrats make money for then tosses the project on to a subcontractor. The :tgency re­
- 4
themselves. Here's how it works: T~e Higllway PC create,La ceives hefty fees in spite of not having done any work.
koeki hoe known as the Highway Facilities AssoCiation, which An example of I/ltlntnage is the New Development Materi­
owns- and manages the thousands of service and parking areas als Company, an enterprise in the purview of the Ministry of
and has annual revenues of ¥73 billion, making it Japan's Posts and Telecommunications (MPT). Anyone who has been
seventh-largest real-estate company. For this it pays the High­ awarded a contract to build a new post office must order mate­
way PC only ¥7 billion in fees (less than 10 percent of rev­ rials through this company, although its business is entirely
enues); the rest goes to the amaklldari who run it. In turn marl/l1age--it simply channels orders to the suppliers that the
it contracts out the work of operating the service areas and builder would have used anyway. The contractors who design
parking areas to agencies whose qualifications are that ex­ new post offices do not particularly mind, however, as there are
bureaucrats fi'om the Highway PC and the Construction only four of them and MPT employee funds own most of their
Ministry employee-welfare funds own most of their stock. stock. MPT has dozens of other profitable lIIartlllagc sub­
These companies havc combined sales of ¥545 billion and em­ sidiaries, such as Japan Post Transport, which subcontracts the
ploy 26,000 peopk, almost three times more than the number job of collecting letters from n"lailboxes and delivering thern to
employed by thcir grandfather, the Highway pc. Add in the post offices. This explains why the post office charges some of
sales earned by the Highway Facilities Association, and. the the world's highest postage rates. In recent years, postage rates
earnings of these subsidiaries come to more than ¥600 billion have risen so steeply that people send letters to Hong Kong in
:I.NT.'L MA\L., is
Dogs alld Demons Monumellts: Airports for Radishes 157
rl/AAJ ~M&T, (, Mil (L .

bulk and have them re-posted to Japan one by one. Interna­

evening the king wrote in his diary: "Aujourd'lwi rien," "Today,
tional airmail from Hong Kong is cheaper than the domestic
The Japanese bureaucracy does not realize that the Bastille
The shell game goes on. Just as MOF found a way, via Zaito has fallen. When a reporter from the Nikkei Weekly pointed out
borrowings, to remove much of the budget from the overview that the value of the collateral on which banks granted their
of the Diet, individual ministries have found ways to raise bad loans-mostly land-had dropped to the point that the
money on their own account, thus bypassing MOE A favorite banks can never recover the principal, a senior official at the
technique is to establish a ebling venue from which the Banking Bureau scoffed that it was, after all, "just collateral." He
ministry takes a shal!. of the e:,oceeds via a kocki hojil1. Thus the went on to say, "There is enough cash flovv for most companies
Transp~t Minimy has 39.6 billipn at its disposal earned from to make payments on these loans, especially with current low
~at raci~, while MIT! rakes in ¥16 billion from auto and bi­ interest rates."
cycle racipg. The 'police, meanwhile; n1.ake sums that dwarf As we have seen, corruption in MOF is widespread and well
those of all other ministries combined fi'om their involvement
with Dachinko.
documented. Scandals in 1997 and early 1998 resulted in a
public raid of MOF's offices by police investigators, and two
What happens to all this monel is a mystery-l In the case of suicides, not to mention lots of salacious details about no-pants
MITI, the .subsidiaries that handle the ",gambling earnings do shabu-slzahu. Yet, in an interview by the Mainichi Daily News in
not ublish f the a endes to which the distribute February 1997 concerning the bribery scandal of Nakajima
the mon . he official reason is that the United States might Yoshio, the recipient some years earlier of $600,000 from the
sue Japan at the World Trade Organization if it learned that EIE Corporation, Sakakibara Eisuke (then vice minister of
ITI was subsidizing certain industries. e rea reason is tha.t MOF) responded that this had been "emotionally magnified,"
most of the money flows to comfortable amakHdal'i nes$s, such "an anomaly." In February 1999, as the government was about
as the Industrial Research Cell!.¥r-t!.:e recipient of roughly!l to infuse ¥7 trillion into the failing banking system, he claimed
million a year tor each of its twen2'-three amakudari employ­ that the financial crisis wouJd end "in a week or two." This de­
~-for no work that anyone has been able to discover. A spite the fact that admitted bad loans (at that time) amounted
disgruntled MOF official remarked, "[Racing money] is. not to ¥49 trillion, seven times the amount of the government
checked by MOE It's MITI's £?cket money. It's a w;rm bed....Q.f bailout.
Privilege that MIT! will guard to the death." Alas, the crisis will not end in a week or two, because the
world has changed. For MOF, no harkening after the old days
On the day the Bastille fell in 1789, Louis XVI went hunting of protected local markets Vlrill save Japan's depressed stock mar­
and had a rather nice day; the news of the fall of the Bastille ket, bankrupt pension funds, banks submerged in red ink-and
meant very little to him. In hindsight, we know that it \;>,'as one a national debt that is the highest in the world. Fundamental
of the pivotal events in world history and that it cost the king problems beset other ministries as well. And yet the bureaucrats
his head. But on that day hunting took priority, and in the have still not been called to account. When the official at the
158 Dogs a"d Demons MOII"IIImts: Airports for Rlldishes 159

Environment Agency remarked, "Even if underground water in iricians, the press, and the public consigned their fate to bureau­
Kobe is contaminated by chemicals, few people drink the wa­ crats, allowing them near-dictatorial powers and asking no
ter," he was essentially responding, "Ric,,:' Dioxin in the water questions. For a while, the system worked reasonably well. But
table? Not to worry. As for the destruction ofJapan's last great ill the 19705, things started to get out of hand. Government
wetlands at Isahaya, well, said the chief of the Ministry of Agri­ agencies began to bury cities and counu'yside under ever more
culture, Forestry, and Fisheries, "The current ecosystem may aggressive building schemes, piling dam on top of dam and
disappear, but nature wil1 create a new one:' landfill on top of landflil. The tempo of the music sped up.
For those looking to what the future is likely to bring to Agencies started muJtiplying. First there were toktlshtl hojill.
Japan during the next few decades, the answer" Ric/l" is an im­ then there were koeki /tojill, and finally there were companies
portant one to understand. It rules for a simple rea;;on: the like Fdends of the Waters-all dedicated to building more
Zaito piggy bank is still flush with postal savings. No force on dams, more roads, more museums, more harbor landfill, more
earth can stop the forward march ofJapan's bureaucracy for tbe airports for vegetables. By the end of the 1990s, there were
simple reason that there is ample money to support it. thousands of brooms fetching water, most of it the color of red
"Ricll" does not mean just business as usual. As we have seen ink.
earJier from the Law of Bureaucratic Inertia, it means gradual In Japan's case, unlike that of the sorcerer's apprentice, there
acceleration: more of the same business, and faster. Most readers is no wizard who knows the charm that will stop the brooms.
will be familiar with Dukas's music for T/te Sorccrcr~ Appfenficc, The scale of public works on the drawing board for the next
which was featured in a famous animation sequence in Walt two or three decades is mind-boggling: 500 dams planned, be­
Disney's Fantasia. The story is that a sorcerer asks his apprentice yond the more than 2,800 already built; 6,000 kilometers of
to fetch water while he is away, but the boy is too lazy to do it expressways beyond the 6,000 already managed by the High­
himself. He uses a bit of magic stolen from his master by which way PC; another 150,000 kilometers of mountain roads on top
he empowers a broom to fetch the water for him. For a while, of the 130,000 kilometers already built by the Forestry Bureau.
all goes well. But the water keeps accumulating, and the ap­ Nagara Dam, which resulted in three large river systems being
prentice realizes that he doesn't know the spell that will make concreted, was just for openers. "Why not go and connect
the broom stop. The broom multiplies. Soon hundreds of those systems to Lake Biwa?" asks Takasue Hidenobu, the chair­
brooms are pouring torrents of water. The music builds to a cli­ man of the Water Resources Public Corporation. For yet an­
max-there is no the flood now-but finally the other Lovecraftian thrill, one need only look at a map ofJapan
sorcerer returns, and in an instant the brooms stop and the wa­ to see what he is suggesting-nothing less than the demolition
ters recede. of J mountain range, as Lake Biwa sit.'> on the far side of one, in
Japan's bureaucracy is like this. Before World War II, the bu­ a completely different prefecture from that of the Nagara Dam
reaucrats had already consolidated power but had to share it river systems. Mea.nwhile, Osaka Prefecture has plans to fill in
with the armed forces and the big zaibatslI business cartels.' all of Osaka Bay to a depth of fIfteen meters. The music is
After the war, with the army and the zaibatsu discredited, pol- building to a crescendo.
160 Dogs al/d Demons

The process has the insistent quality ofJapan's march to war

in the 1930s. lnose Naoki writes:

At the moment, our citizens are waiting again for the "End
of the War." Before World War TT, when Japan advanced OLd Cities
deeply into the continent, it was like the expansion of bad
debts [today], and unable to deal with the consequences, we yoto nd l5m
plunged into war with the United States. We should have
been able to halt at some stage, yet even though we were
headed for disaster, nobody could prevent it. At this point,
lacking an "Imperial Decree," there is absolutely nothing we
MOt'f6(ll~ \S M ~
can do to stop what is going on. To be hapP"'Y at ho:mte is the

u.Jtimatc re:sult of .all ambition.

-DR. SAM UEL JOHNSON, The Rambler (1750)

In the opt::'ning st.Cene of the Kabuki play Ako)'a, the courtesan

koya walks sadl-y along the !lalJal11ic!ti, the raised walkway that
passes thrC'Jugh th e audience, to the stage where she faces trial.
the ers describe her beauty in captivity as "the image of a
v"'ilted peL my in a bamboo vase, unable to draw water up her
'Lem." vcrsit' neatly captures the irony of modern Japan:
tile contr<LSt bct\''Veen its depressed internal condition and the
\\...ealth of industrial capital and cultural heritage it has to draw
11. There is water in abundance, but something about the sys­

t~1l1 prevclI1ts it from being drawn up the stem.

A friend of nune once remarked, "What is modernism? It's
n:Ot the cit"]' but !now you live in the city. It's not the factory but
h ·0\\1 you ll'lanagr-e and maintain the factory." Technology in­
\' olves far more than products running off an assembly line or
~InpL1ter Softwa:re. It could be defined as the science of l11an­
~ing thir~gs properlr How to design a museum exhibit, how

~ CEREIIt1f.JNy 'iris k stsr£1;> C/HN c:,e.,
s~ COo'.l'S"'lll\l LT,Q~
Dogs Qlld Demons Old Cities: K)'oto Qlld Tourism - No -'tI~w Ib~ 163

to manage a zoo, how to renovate an old building, how to build t 998 issue of the Yale Alumni Magazille, describing the renova­
and operate a vacation resort-these all involve very sophi;;'_ tion of Linsly-Chittenden Hall, one of Yale's older but more
cated techniques and fuel m'ultibillion-dollar industries in Eu­ run-down buildings. The $22 million renovation included rais­
rope and the United States. None of them exist in jaean todaX ing the roof to accommodate new faculty ofEces; installing
except in the most primitive form., hj~h-tech devices in the basement; building a new facade to the
Yet managing things properly is what traditional Japan did in main entrance with an attractive handicapped-accessible ramp,
a way that put virtually every other culture of the world to a tiered lecture hall with data ports, electrical outlets for every
shame. The tea ceremony. for example, is nothing but an in­ ~eat, and the latest in sound and lighting systems. At the same
ttnse course in the art of managing thin&S. The way to pick u time, the university stipulated that the renovation "maintain the
or ut down a tea bowl involves sensitivity to man different traditional architectural character of the undergraduate teach­
factors: the armonious angle at which the bowl sits on the ing spaces."
tatami brings pleasure to the eye; turning the bowl is a sym­
bolic ritual that connects us to deep cultural roots; when the To that end, most of the technological improvements are
bowl is set down, the movements of the arm, elbow, and hand tucked out of sight inside floors, walls, and ceilings, while the
~e utterly, even ruthlessly. efficie.nt. Well into the twentieth old chalkboards-which were removed, refi.lrbished, and
century, J~an perfected quality control on the assembly line then reinstalled-provide reassurance that the character of
and built the world's largest and mo~t efficient urban public­ the classrooms remains intact. Where new hallways have been
transpgrtation s~s.lhe care for detail and the devotion.Jo constructed or old corridors have been extended, their new
work are certainly the~e-Japan has all the ingredients ne<;9­ oak-veneer paneling looks practically identical to the solid
Err to become the world's supremely modern country. Yet th!J oak of the original halls. Where windows have been re­
hasn't happened. placed, the new panes recreate the appearance of old.
e reason the flower is unable to draw water up lts s
that lapan has resisted chan~e; and modernism, by definitiol1 What Yale is doing to its buildings-at a cost of $] billion over
:.eguires new ideas and new ways of doing things to keeF....1!. a twenty-year period-involves some very complex processes.
with a chan in world. When the cold gray hand of the b At the Sterling Memorial Library's periodical reading room,
Teau racy sett e on the nation in the mid-l96 s,Japan's way of University Librarian Scott Bennett points out, "We literally tore
doing thi.ngs fi-oze. quality control in manufacturing and pub; the Outside skin of the building off." Yale removed the stone
lic transportation continued to devclQp, but Japan ignored sUrface, installed modern anti-moisture systems, and then reat­
many of the drastic changes that swept the rest of the world in tached the stone.
ensuing decades. Here is how renovation i.s done the Japanese way: Starting
arOund] 990, an heiress named Nakahara Kiiko purchased eight
et's look at the !echnolo~ of renovatin~ old buildilliS' Re­ chateaus in France. She and her husband then proceeded to
cendy, I read an article by Philip Langdon in the November Strip them of their interior decorations, after which they carted
Ike. s~ ""'~~~\tl, SC~'tE.itJf q /I 0\le't'""
164 ogs aud Demons "
Old Cities: Kyoto all·d T OU"Stll VC4.PO\.n. 165

away statues and marble basins from the gardens and cut down roW streets between temples, rows of houses with black
the trees, leaving the properties in ruins. The saddest case Was wooden lattices, glimpsed over tiled roofs the mountains
the Chateau de Louveciennes, in suburban Paris, where Ma­ covered with cherry blossoms, streams trickling at one's feet.
dame du Barry once entertained King Louis XV The New York Well, even if we don't believe such a ciry really exists, nobody
Times reported: can help imagining such things about a town one is about to
visit for the first time. The traveler's expectations must be
Today, the celebrated dining room that the courtesan had high-until the moment when he alights from the Bullet
lined with finely carved oak wainscoting is just a shell of Train.
bricks and plaster, stripped of the paneling. In the salons and He leaves the station, catches his first sight of Kyoto
bedrooms the marble fireplaces have been ripped out of the Tower, and from there on it is all shattered dreams. Kyoto
walls leaving large black hollows. The three-floor chateau Hotel cuts off the view of the Higashiyama hills, and big
seems a haunted place now, with shutters flapping in the signs on cheap clothing stores hide Mount Daimor~ji. Red
wind and dark puddles on the wooden landing when rain \"ending machines are lined up in front of the temples, Nij
drips through the roof. Castle rings with taped announcements, tour buses are
parked right in front of the main halls of temples. It's the
In January 1996, French authorities jailed Nakahara on charges ame nusera e scenery you see everyw ere ill Japan, and th
of "despoiling national heritage." Concerned about her adverse ~ same people oblivious to it all And so the traveler spends his
efrect on Japan's image in Europe, the Japanese press pilloried her day in Kyoto surrounded by boredom.
for her gross insensitivity to history and cultural heritage.
Yet one could argue that Nakahara was treated unfairly. It wasn't alway(iruserable scenerY and boredon~ In fact, the
What she did to the chateaus in France is nothing other than city that the traveler dreams of was still largely intact as recently
standard practice in Japan. It is exactly what businesses, home­ as thirty years ago. When I asked the art collector David Kidd
owners, and civic officials have done and are still doing in ~ he chose to live in Japan, he told me the story of~­
Kyoto, Nara, and every other city, and to tens of thousands of l]val in Kyoto in .122k it was Christmas E;re, and snow was
great houses and temples across the country. In uprooting old falling on tiled roofs and narrow streets lined with wood­
trees and stripping historical buildings, Nakahara was only fol­ latticed shops and houses. It was a dreamlike evening, quiet, a
lowing the customs of her native land. scen~ from an ink painting. (!fyoto-worked its magiD That
In seeking the roots of Nakahara's actions, the best place to ~l1agIC had entranced pilgrims for centuries, and was celebrated
begin is the city of Kyoto. Professor Tayama Reishi of Bukkyo In .scrolls and screens, prints and pottery, songs and poetry. The
University in Kyoto has written: ha1ku poet ~ sighed, "Even when in Kyoto, I long for Ky­
Oto "W· h .
.......... It 1ts refined architecture shaped by the tea ceremony
How must Kyoto appear to one who has never visited here? and the COurt no bil'Ity, an d Its - 0 f weavmg,
. many cratts . paper­
tnaki I
ng, acquer, and others, Kyoto was regarded by people
Passersby clad in kimono going to and fro along quiet nar­
166 Dogs alld Demons Old Cities: Kyoto aud TOflrism 167

around the world as a cultural city on a par with Florence Or m<lchi streets, he sees trucks driving by laden with rubble from
Rome. demolished old houses almost daily.
In the last months of World War II, the U.S. military ColU_ In June 1997, my friend Mason Florence (the author of
mand decided to remove Kyoto from the air-raid list. Although Kyoto City Guide) and I took a week off to drive one of those
Kyoto was a major population center of some strategic impor_ -;lcks ourselves, loaded with timbers fium an Edo-period kuCa
tance, the State Department argued that it was more than just a (storehouse) jn the heart of the old ci'!y. ill. owners were te..aring
Japanese city-it was a treasure of the world. .,. As a result, old itdown to replace it with a new house, and they gave the
Kyoto survived at the end of the war, a city of wooden houses, ~ooden framework to me and m friends. We took it u to I a
its streets lined with bamboo trellises. The first thing an arriv­ Va ey, on the island of Shikoku, where it sits in storage; one day
ing visitor saw as a train pulled in was the sweeping roof of Hi­ we- will rebuild it next to the farmhouse Mason and lawn
gashi Hongartii Temple, like a great wave rising ou t of the sea of
tiled roofS.
To the eyes of city officials, howeve.r, this sea of tiled roofs
-there. In 1998, Mason salvaged another truckload of beautiful
old beams and sliding doors from the wreckage of one of Kyo­
to's largest traditional inns. But Mason's saving material from
~as an embarrassment, a sign to the world that Kyoto was old these old buildings is an exception, for by and large the owners
and impoverisheq. They felt the need to prove to the world of old structures in Kyoto simply discard the material of these
that the city was "modern," and in order to do this, at the time ancient houses and inns as rubbish. At the antiques auctions
of the Tokyo OIY;;;pics ~ t..Q6j, the city administration ar­ there, old cabinets and lacquered doors sell so cheaply (or, more
ranged for the construction of ~oto To~er, a needle-shaped, often, don't sell at all) that dealers pile them up outside in the
garish, red-and-white building erected beside the railroad sta­ rain, hardly bothering to bring them indoors for shelter.
tion. Hundreds of thousands. ofresidents petitioned agaimt this
buildin~, but the city government pushed the project thrOU,gll. Readers may be pardoned for wondering if the situation could
Itwas a symbolic stake through the h~rt. possibly be so bad, since Japan's destruction of its citi$s and
Kyoto's history since then has been one long effort to sweep houses has received very little press abroad. One would have
away its pa~t. Thirty-five years later, most of its old woo~n thought that a book like Ezra Vogel's japan as Number One
houses have been torn down and replaced with shiny tile and Would take these issues into account, for surely any measure­
al~inum. I have seen anci~nt gardens flattened, historic inns ment of being "number one" would include the quality of the
bulldozed, a;d mansions as gorgeous as any Fren~h cha.uau rural and urban environment.
~. The city of Kyoto legislates only the most primitive pro­ Yet it is one of the mysteries of Western experts writing
tection of old neighborhoods, and the national tax bureau al­ about modern Japan that they happily forgive circumstances
lows almost no incentives for prot~cting historic properties. they would never countenance in their own countries. They
The destruction goes on as these words are being written. The Would hardly see the destruction of Paris or Rome or San
Kyoto art dealer Morimoto Yasuyoshi tells me that when he Francisco as praiseworthy, or describe the bureaucrats who or­
takes coffee at a shop on the corner of Kita-Oji and Kawara- dered it as "elite" public servants taking a "long-term view."
168 Dogs and Demons Of'-d Cities: Kyoto and Tourism 169

Could it be that in their hearts they stiU see the Japanese as a.... d where people have gone to the trouble of preserving an old
quaint natives struggling out of poverty, not really entitled to hC1US e, they find themselves submerged in a morass of electrical
the sophisticated quality of life that is taken for granted in the W5res, flashing signs, and pachinko. Professor Tayama of Bukkyo
West? Ulniversity in Kyoto describes how to do away with the beauty
The heart of foreigners' tendency to go soft on Japan is an of an old city:
overlay of two conflicting images: even as they praise the nation
for its economic success, they see Japan with pitying eyes, as a In its scale, and for its natural beauty, this city [Kyoto] had a
struggling, "developing" country. It's a natural mistake, given dose to ideal environment. Now let's see what we can do to
that Japan is essentially a postindustrial state with pre-industrial destroy this environment: First let's chop up the soft line of
goals. Westerners feel some guilt and sympathy for Japan's dev­ e-he hills with high apartment buildings with laundry hanging
astation at the end of the war, and there is also the fact that 0111 their terraces. As for places where we can't build any-

Japan's economic system is configured to benefit industry and ling, not to worry, we can darken the sky by stringing a
not to improve citizens' lives, with the result that its cities and \"D,!eb of telephone wires and electric lines. Let's have cars
countryside really do seem backward and shabby by Western rive through Daitokttii Temple. Let's take Mount Hiei, the
standards. But Japan as "number one" and as a poor "develop­ 1rthplace ofJapanese Buddhism, and turn it into a parking
ing" country cannot both be true. IfJapan is truly an advanced t, and on its peak let's build an entertainment park. . . .
society-even, as some have suggested, the world's most ad­ Let's have gasoline statiom and city buses broadcast electronic
vanced society and a model for us all-then the destruction of n,oise under the name of"music"... and let's paint the buses
heritage and environment that is accepted as a necessity in \vith designs of children's graffiti. If we make sure that all the
newly developing countries should not be happening here. bll.1ildings are mismatched and brightly colored, that will be
The tearing down of the old city of Kyoto was by no means very effective.... And to finish it off, let's fill the town with
limited to the 1950s and 19605, when every city in the world pc....:ople who happily put up with unpleasantness. This Kyot
made similar mistakes. The city's destruction really gathered 1 .1lave described is actually a fairly generous portrait.
speed in the 19905, by which time Japan was a mature econ­
omy, with a per-capita income exceeding that of the Un.ited 10:> the early 1990s, there was a popular movement against the
States. According to the International Society to Save Kyoto, rebu.:llding of the Kyoto Hotel. City Hall next door had waived
more than forty thousand old wooden homes disappeared frO)11 heigl1t limitations so that the rebuilt hotel, as with Kyoto Tower
the inner city of Kyoto in that decade alone. What remains 1S twen ty-five years e:lrlier, would set a precedent for the con­
the temples seen on picture postcards, preserved along the out­ strue tion of more high buildings in the heart of town. Despit
skirts. In the city where people live and work, the bamboo lat­ Vigorous opposition by citizens' groups and temples such as
tices and wood have largely disappeared. With no guidelines to Kiyolilllizu Temple, the hotel went up-and, to everyone's SUT­
ensure that new construction harmonizes with the old, owners ~rise. this grim granite edifice, wholly at odds with the tradi­
have crudely remodeled wooden houses with tin and plastic, tlonaJ scale of the city, ended up looking not particularly out of
170 Dogs and Demol15 Old Cities: Kyoto and Tourism 171

place. For, in the meantime, the city had changed: a grim gran_ haps it is part of their condescension toward Asia-between
ite edifice fit right in. weJl-preserved tourist sites ~md a thoroughly unpleasant city­
Kyoto Hotel was just light introductory music for the tri­ se.lpe. The fact that Kyoto has nice gardens on its periphery is
umphal march that came next in the shape of the New Kyoto enough to make them overlook the unwelcoming mass of glass
Station, completed in 1997. This construction, one of Japan's and concrete cubes in the rest of the city. Yet though gardens
most grandiose modern monuments, built at the cost of¥150 and temples are wonderful things, world-heritage sites do not a
billion ($1.3 billion), dwarfs everything that came before. Strad­ city make. ~tn~ets and houses make a city, and in Kyoto, with
dling the railway tracks along almost half a mile, its massive gray the exception of three or four indifferently cared for historic
bulk towers over the city. True to Kyoto's postwar tradition, it blocks, the old streets have lost their integrity.
aggressively denies the history of the place, almost shouting this In Paris or Venice, travelers do not overlook the city Jnd fo­
denial to the world. A local architect, Mori Katsutoshi, says cus only on its cultural sites. Who goes to Paris just to see the
sadly, "In a historic city like this, you have to think of the qUal­ Louvre, or to Venice only for the Basilica of San Marco? In
ity of the design. This looks almost like some kind of store­ both these cities, the joy lies in walking the streets, "taking the
house, Or a prison." air," L'Jting at a nondescript hole-in-the-wall somewhere on a
Except, of course, there are Dogs and Demons touches. picturesque alley where old textures, worn stone, cast-iron
Tawdry artificial "culture" replaces the real thing. As reported street bmps, lapping water, and carved wooden shutters regale
in Far Easfem Ecol/omic Review, "Visitors can enjoy the classic the senses with a host of impressions. On the other hand, per­
Kyoto image of cherry-blossom petals falling without ever go­ haps visitors to today's Kyoto are to be excused for not expect­
ing outside: A coffee shop features a light show d1at imitates ing much. What they see must seem inevitable. How could
the effect. The Theatre 1200 turns Kyoto's 1,200 years of his­ they imagine that the destruction was deliberate, that it did no
tory into a musical that promises 'first-class hi-tech entertain­ happen because of economic necessity, and that the worst of it
ment.' Afterwards visitors can dine at an Italian restaurant with took pbce after 1980?
frescoes that include a copy of Raphael's 'School of Athens.' " It'~ part of the phenomenon of foreigners' exotic dreams of
A woman named Kato Shidzue, writing on her hundredth japan. Mason Florence says, "People come to Japan seeking
birthday in The Japan Times, lamented: "There must be Illany cl1ch,l11tment, and they are bound and determined to be en­
foreigners who come to japan full of dreams about the coun­ chanted. If you arrived in Paris or Rome and saw something
try's scenery after having read Lafcadio Hearn only to be sur­ like the new station you would be utterly revolted, but for most
prised and upset at the sight of the japanese so heartlessly forelgners coming to Kyoto it merely whets their appetite t
destroying their own beautiful and unparalleled cultural legacy." find the old Japan they know mu~t be there. When they finally
Sadly, Ms. Kato is wrong. One looks in vain in the foreign me­ get to Honen-In Temple and see a monk raking the gravel un­
dia for expressions of surprise or concern at what has happened der maple trees, they say to themselves, 'Yes, it does exist. I've
to Kyoto. fOund it!' And their enthusiasm for Kyoto ever after knows no
It would seem that Western visitors fail to distinguish-per- bounds. The minute they walk out ofHonen-In they're back in
No '5EA.Jrl - WoiU:., HAR..t:> r
IIr I"'~N
Dogs and Demons 173
172 /i: wn •
Old Cities: Kyoto and Tourism
the jumbly modern city, but it doesn't impinge on the retina_ very nearl devoid of architectural or cultural interest. And on
they're still looking at the dream." it goes for hun reds of miles, all the way to Tokyo, which is
Even so, it is true that in the end Kato Shidzue is right: how_ only mildly more interesting to look at than Nagoya. When
ever attached they may be to the dream of old Japan, visitors are Robert MacNeil looked out of the train window during his
in fact largely not happy in Kyoto. There has been a steady de­ 1996 tour ofJapan and felt dismay at the sight of "the formless,
crease in the number of tourists, both domestic and foreign, brutal, utilitarian jumble, unplanned, with tunnels easier on th.e
during the past ten years, and those who do come visit largely ;Yes," he was confronting an aspect of Japan that is key to its
out of what one might call "cultural duty" to do the round of modern crisis.
famous temples; it's rare for visitors to come to Kyoto to rest If the administrators of Kyoto could so thoroughly efface the
or merely enjoy a vacation. A vacation is by defmition a period beauty of its urban center in forty years, one can well imagine
of taking life easy, but in Japan beauty no longer comes easily; the fate that befell other cities and towns in Japan. Kyoto's ea­
you have to work hard to see it. Kyoto, despite its tremendous gerness to escape from itself is matched across Japan. It is not
cultural riches, has not become an international tourist mecca only Edo-period wooden buildings that get bulldozed. Tens of
like Paris or Venice. There are few visitors from abroad, and thousands of graceful Victorian or Art Deco brick schools,
their stays are short. After they've seen the specially preserved banks, theaters, and hotels survived World War II, but of the
historical sites, what other reason is there to stay on? 13,000 that the Architectural Institute ofJapan Ilsted as histori­
For the reader curious to see with his own eyes the reality of cal monuments in 1980, one-third have already disappeared.
today's Kyoto, I advise taking the elevator to the top of the In 1968, the management of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo
Grand Hotel, near the railroad station, which is more or less ge­ tore down a world-renowned masterpiece of modern archi­
ographically at the center of the city. Examine all 360 degrees tecture, Frank Lloyd Wright's Old Imperial, one of the few
of the view: with the exce tion of Toji Pagoda and a bit of the bUildings in that district of Tokyo to have survived the Great
Hon all one sees is a dense jum e 0 din-­ Earthquake of 1924. Wright's fantastical hotel, built of pitted
concrete buildings stretching in every direction, a cityscape that stone carved with Art Deco and Mayan-style decoration, fell to
could fairly be described as one of the drearier si hts of t the wrecker's ball without a peep of protest from Japan's cul­
ern wod t is hard to believe that one is looking at tural authorities. The hotel management was so desperate to
Kyoto. make its point about being ruthlessly indifferent to the past­
Beyond th .~mble· a ring of green hills, mercifully spared the same point made by the erection of Kyoto Tower in 1964­
development, but t 1e urban blight does not stop there. To the that When Wright's widow gave a speech at the hotel in 1967
somh, the industrial sprawl ~tretches "Jlnbroken, to Osaka and ~rotesting its destruction, workers w~re ordered to enter the
the coast of the Inland Sea. Across the hills and to the east lies all and remove bricks even as she spoke.
another jumble of concrete boxes called Yamashina, and the .Here is another example: Fukagawa, a neighborhood of
landScape continues intermi;;ably, past Yamasmna to the WIllOW-lined canals that was one of the ten scenic sights of pre­
drab I metropolis of Nagoya, home to millions of people, but War Tokyo, is today another concrete jumble. As a japanese

DY'o.b CSvY"~J 'bre~1

JvAtlol ~ LO&I\C~~,.. r"b CO
,,~Y'" T"';"Y.
Dogs alld Demons
o,d /(~ 175

journalist reported in The JapalJ Times: "Work has started on the to big cities. It is a simple objective truth that, with the excep­
last remaining canals; soon they will be choked, buried and flat­ tion of a few corners preserved for tourists in showpiece cities
tened with cement. As appeasement or perhaps a feeble attempt such as Kurashiki (and even in Kurashiki, says Mason Florence,
at apology, the Tokyo government turned some of the concrete "travelers must shut their eyes between the station and the
space into playgrounds, equipped with a couple of swings and three preserved blocks"), today not a single beautiful town­
what must be the world's tackiest jungle gyms." and only a handful of villages-is left in all Japan. There is the
The jungle gyms are the obligatory Dogs and Demons occasiollal old castle, or a moat with lotuses, but step ten feet
touch. So important are such monuments to modern Japanese away and you are back in the world of aluminum and electric
culture that I have taken them up as a subject in their own right wires.
in chapters 9 and 10. One could formulate a rule of thumb to
describe the fate ofJapan's old places: whenever something es­
The phenomenon is not, of course, unique to Japan. China,
sential and beautiful has been destroyed, the bureaucracy will Korea, Thailand, and other fast-growing economies in Asia are
erect a monument to COnU1Jemorate it. Perhaps the tacky gyms not far behind. odernity came 0 sla s rapl y t at It
are a form of atonement. It was traditional in old Japan to raise • ,J.. was as I t ere simply wasn't enough time to learn how to adapt
Iw)'o or (sllka, "atonement tombstones," for animals and objects
, its old houses and cities to modern comforts. And old meant
that humans had thrown away or used harshly for their own
purposes. Thus, by Ueno Pond in Tokyo, one will find a stone
monolith, the (sllka for needles, donated by seamstresses who
had used needles until they were worn out and then discarded
dirty, dark, poor, and inconvenient.
The lovely traditional houses ofJapan, Thailand, and Indone­
sia may have been reasonably clean and comfortable when they
were occupied by people who were close to nature and were

them. There are also ku)'o for fish and turtle bones, sponsored tt'mperamemaJJy suited to living in such houses. But for people
by fishermen and cooks, and so forth. In that sense, Kyoto accustomed to modern lifestyles, one must admit that these
ower and the New Kyoto Station are massive Iw)'o raised in
honor of a civilization that was thrown away. Japan's towns and ) houses are often prone to mud and dust, dark, and inconve­
nient; they need to be restored with amenities to make them
villages are littered with Iw)'o monuments donated by an uneasy dean, aJry, and comfortable. Kyoto residents complain, "Why
officialdom, shiny new tombstones for lost beauty. do We have to live in a museum? Do people expect us to go
Decades ago, when the decline of Fukagawa began, the nov­ back to the Edo period and also wear chol1lnage [traditional
elist Nagai Kafu wrote: "[ look at Fubgawa and I see the sad­ :).. hairdos, such as sumo wrestlers wear)?"
ness of a woman no longer beautiful, whom men had Llsed and
abused to suit their needs. She's tired, stripped of her dignity, i The tragedy is that people in Kyoto have equated preserving
the old city with enduring the old lifestyle, when in fact it is

waiting to die." The same sad words could be written about el11i nently possible to restore Asia's old houses in harmony with
most ofJapan's historical neighborhoods, for the burying of the ­ the needs of a modern society. With the right skills, the work
old Japan under slipshod new buildings is by no means limited can even be inexpensive, at least compared with the cost of
176 Dogs a"d Demon~ Old Citirs: Kyoto a"d Tourism 177

building a new house. You don't need to go back in time, fold YOli will hear similar responses from people living in tradi­
yourself into a kimono, and have your hair styled in a (hlJl1l1ln~(' tional ~trllctures almost anywhere in East Asia. Interestingly, in
in order to live in an old house, yet, lacking the experienct: natiom that were formerly European colonies, such as Indone­
(that is, the technology) to combine old and new, people find it sia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Viemanl, the influence of the West
difficult to imagine this. Tlus story, which was related to me by somewhat mitigates the situation. Although this influence is
Marc Keane, a garden designer living in Kyoto, gives a sense of a contentious issue, the West has had centuries of experience
the prevailing ethos: in coping with modem teclUlology. Ex-colonies of European
powers inherited Western-trained civil-service regimcs, and it is
I visited an old couple the other day who live in an old partly due to this that beautiful modern cities such as Hong
house-a magnificent old house with fine wood and work­ Kong, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur have developed.
manship throughout, even a pillar in the (ORal/Oil/a alcove Outside Japan, the demands of international tourism havc
made of rare black sandalwood. We were trying to convince encouraged architects to experiment with designs that success­
the couple, who plan to tear the house dO\',ill, sell half the fully combine Asian art with new technologies. It is common
property and live in a pre-fab house on the other half, that to find foreigners like Marc Keane in Kyoto, who appreciate
their house was very special, an important heritage in fact traditional culture with an enthusiasm that local people have
and with a little fixing in the kitchen and bath. would be forgotten-and who inspire them to rediscover and re-create
the best for them to live in. The lady of the house said ,1l1 in­ their own heritage. Thailand, with its remarkable openness to
teresting l.hing~a horrible thing really. She said that her foreigners, has benefited from the efforts of people such as the
6-iends, and member~ of the local community (you know, the legendary silk magnate Jim Thompson, whose mansion in
loca.l nosy old grandmothers), 011 ~eeiJ1g the way they live. in Bangkok, built in the traditional Thai style, has exerted an in­
an old wooden house with a bath using a wood-stove, and calculable influence on Thai designers and architects. Bali, a
an old earthen-floored kitchen, would say to her, "Mrs. bastion of thriving ancient culture, and with a relatively un­
Nishimura, your lifestyle is so un-cultured." Can you get spoiled environment, likewise owes its salvation partly to gener­
that: "UN-cultured:' Everything Jbout their lifestyle, for me, ations of Dutch, German, American, and Australian residents
is an embodiment of the best of Japanese culture, and yet who loved the isbnd and joined the Balinese in preserving it.
many people (in fact the old couple themselves, I guess) see OccasIOnally one sees foreigners having an impact ill certain
the very same things as "un-cultured." Out-of-the-way niches in Japan, such as lya Valley in Shikoku,
Where thc Chiiori Project, a volunteer movement centered on
Keane suggested a little fixing of the kitchen and bath, ad­ Mason Florence's and myoId farmhouse, is drawing numerous
vising the couple to preserve but modernize the house. Sadly, foreign travelers and exchange teachers. The sight of all these
most Japanese today don't realize that this is possible--at least, ~oreigners trekking to such a remote place is reawakening local
not without ovelwhelnung expense and difficulty. Interest in reviving Iya's natural beauty. Another case is that
180 Dogs and Demons 181
Old Cities: K},/llo alld TOllrislII

new-sterile-and often a combination of the worst of both de­

tor." l'llstructors
of swimming, scuba diving, dance, and lan­
fines the look of modern Japan.
gua g'-,
owners of souvenir shops and restaurants, printers, visual


~rti~ts. PR and advertising firms, and much more. The "anti­

The preservation of vibrant old cities, sophisticated resort man­ scn'ices" theorists also forget that in Japan more than 10 per­

agement, and high-quality residential and furniture design don't cent of th~ workforce is engaged in low-paying, hard-hat

occur in a vacuum. Like all other arts and industries, they l"Ol1structwn work-fmanced by government subsidy-and

thrive only when watered with liberal amounts of money. The there is 110 alternative industry to sop up the excess labor

readiest source of such money would be tourism-an industry

in which Japan has very conspicuously failed. The story of tlus In any case, it is undoubtedly true that Japan succeeded in
failure is one of the most remarkable tales of modern Japan, for repressing service industries. Unfortunately, some of the ser­
it occurred not through accident but as the result of a deliber­ vices, such as software design, conU11Unications, and banking,
ate national policy. turned out to be enormous moneymakers. Tourism, likewise,
During the boom years of postwar manufacturing, Japan's surprised everybody by becoming transformed, overnight, from
industrial leaders considered tourism a minor business, a side­ a lacklmter wallflower into a glamorous starlet wooed by all.
show to the real work of the nation, which was to mass­ Elsewhere in the world, an e>q)losive growth of the interna­
produce things. While Europe, the United States, and other tional tourist industry began in the late 1980s and picked up
Asian nations were developing sophisticated tourist infrastruc­ pace in the 1990s. By the nun of the century, international
tures, Japan was trashing Kyoto, concreting lya Valley, and de­ tourism accounted for about 8 percent of the world's total ex­
signing resorts out of chrome and Formica. POrt earnings, ahead of autos, chemicals, food, computers, elec­
Some economic writers have seen the lack of attention paid tronics, and even oil and gas. The dramatic growth of tourism
to tourism as a great success, for it was part of what has been didn't tit into Japan's strategies, for it is based on mobility, a
called the "war on service-ization." According to such views, concept not dear to Japan's bureaucrats, whose complicated op­
ny work except that of producing objects on an assembly line erational structures depend on borders being sacrosanct and
or building things is a waste of national effort. Tourism, accord­ p.c-ople, ideas, and money not traveling easily. When newly en­
ing to this analysis, merely supports menial low-paid jobs, un­ T1ched Populations around the world began to travel by the tens
like manufacturing, which creates high-tech, high-salaried jobs. of ·u· .
1111 10m, It became clear that tourism would be one of the
Such an argument presumes that everyone involved in tourism mo . .
st l111pOrtant mdustries of the twenty-first century. Many
is a waiter or a maid, and neglects the economic activity gener­ states and " . .
.' CIties In Europe and the Ul11ted States, not to men­
ated by architects, landscape artists, makers of furniture and din­ tIon Asian" . d
c' COUntnes such as Smgapore, Indonesla, and Thal1an ,
ing ware, painters and sculptors, electricians, manufacturers of . arn a considerable proportion of their income from tour-
lighting equipment, tour-company operators, hotel managers, ISIll The W, ld ' r •
65' ' . Or ~Ounsm Organization (WTO) estimates that
taxi and charter companies, airline companies, lawyers, accoun­ IS 7
0111110 n tourists visited a foreign country in 1999, spending
tants, travel agents, performers and musicians, interior deco ra - 32 billion.
tvt., f ::c d t!VJ../ ~voj f~
182 J Old Cities: K}'lIto (lIId TOllrism 183
'7J lid.
Dogs (llId Demons

eanwhile, tourism within Japan has been dwindling across Japanese are not able to enjoy their own country. They are not
tile board. In the years ] 992-] 996, the number of people trav­ hapPY at home.
ling in their own country grew by less than 1 percent, and the The number of foreign visitors to Japan, never large, has
a1ue of domestic tours dropped 3 percent every year. For own only sluggishly, from about 3.5 million in 1990 to
many local a.reas the fal1 has been severe, as, for example, on the ~.5 mi1lion in 1999. Japan ranks thirty-second in the world for
lse-Shima promontory of Mie Prefecture. Though it is home foreign tourist arrivals, far behind Malaysia, Thailand, and In­
to Ise Shrine, Japan's holiest religious site, as well as Mikimoto donesia-and light-years behind China, Poland, or Mexico,
pearl culturing, Ise-Shima's tourist arrivals in 1999 dropped to a each of which admits tens of millions of tourists every yea.r. For
twenty-year low, 40 percent below its height decades earlier. .As all the Itterature about Japan's international role, it's sobering to
domestic tourism waned, the number of Japanese traveling realize that Japan has very nearly fallen off the tourist map.
dbroad nearly quadrupled, from 5 million in 1985 to almost wry year more people visit Tunisia or Croatia than visit Japan.
16 million people in 1998, soaring by 25 percent in just two Another way to assess the amount of tourism is the number of
years (1993-1995). By 1999 this had risen' to a record 17 mil­ t<.)reign visitors against national population. In Japan, the ratIO is
lion, with no end to the increase in sight; significantly, a high only 3 percent, ranking eighty-second in the world. (The cor­
percentage of these travelers were what the Japan Travel Bureau respondin!! number for South Korea is more than double:
UTE) calls "repeaters," for whom travel abroad is a "habitual H percent.
j;racri~~ason the Jap:ll1ese are i11aklng a "'li':i"bitual prac": The economic consequences ofJapan's failed tourist industry
tice of travel abroad is that it is cheaper than travel in Japan: it ,Ire serious. In ] 998, when 4.1 million foreign visitors came to
costs roughly the same to fly from Tokyo to Hong Kong as to Japan. the United States had 47 million visitors and France had
take the train from Tokyo to Kyoto. It costs me more to travel () million. The United States earned $74 billion, France raised
for a few days to Iya Valley In Shikoku than to spend a week in about $29.7, and Japan had only $4.1 billion. Looking at it
HonoluJu. from a balance-of-payments point of view, we see that U.S.
raw' ng abroad, the Japanese cannot help noticing that they citizens spent $51.2 billion in tourism abroad but earned
find quality in hotel design and service, in life in general, which $23 billion more than that. Japan, by contrast, spent $33 bil­
they cannot t1nd at home. The contrast is especially strong in lion over\eas but had a $29 billion tourism deficit.
Southeast Asia, where resort design :lI1d management are highly It i\ commonly believed that among the nUl1Y reasons tour­
advanced. :md where hotels have been built with natural mate­ ism in Japan has lost its appeal to both foreigners and the Jap­
rials and J sensitive regard for local culture. aJ~esc people, the most important are the high yen and the cost

Dr. Johnson said, "To be happy at home is the ultimate result 01 travel within Japan. But these arguments are not entirely
of all ambition." In the decline of domestic travel lies the para­ ~ersuasive. Well-heeled foreign travelers think nothing of spend­
dox of modern Japan: After decades of economic growth pro­ mg. thousands of dollars to stay in posh resorts in Phuket or
viding a per capita income many times their neighbors', the Bait. but give Japan a wide berth. The real reason is that the re­
.... Cho..oftC
~YOtSLt 1
Dogs (wd Demons Old Citie,<: Kyoto and TOl/rism 185

wards in scenic beauty and travel amenities are very slim. How­ · . with its lovingly tended lawns, it is much more appealing
ever much tourists enjoy a quiet Zen rock garden in Kyoto than J cluttered and unloved Kyoto. It would seem that Japan's
they confront a chaotic and trashy modern cityscape the min­ prel 111'er tourist
destinations will end up having nothing to do
ute they walk out of the g<1rden. At the hotel, they will seek in with its own culture, becoming watered-down copies of West­
vain for anything to rernind them that they are in Kyoto, and ern originals.
instead be oppressed by an environment of shiny polyester Ohviously, these cannot have much appeal to Westerners, but
wallpaper and garish chandeliers. The visitor to a famous wa­ the hopt: is that they will draw Asian tourists. "For Hong
terfall or stand of pine trees on a beach has to frame the view Kong's Wong Chun Chuen, [neither Mount Fuji nor Kyoto]
very closely to shut out the concrete embankments that are the compares with that hallowed sanctum of the Japanese soul, San­
universal mark of the modern Japanese landscape. No one will rio Puroland," writes Tanikawa Miki. Sanrio Puroland is a
write an idyllic book about Japan like Slimmer ;'1 Provence or mini-medieval Europe 011 the outskirts of Tokyo, built indoors
Under the Tt,scall SUII. with a nymphs' forest, floating riverboats, and cartoon charac­
ters such as Hello Kitty. Samio's 150,000 Asian visitors repre­
With Japan's old-fashioned manufacturing and construction sellted 10 percent of the total number of visitors in 1996, while
economy beginning to stagnate in the 1990s, it came as a jolt to at Huis Ten Bosch, Asian visitors numbered 330,000, about
the government to realize that perhaps services do matter to a H percent of the total.
modern economy, and a few officials began looking at the In JJnU,lry 1999, China ended its ban on visiting Japan, and
long-ignored issue of tourism. It quickly became clear that many in the tourism industry see it as Japan's last great hope.
Kyoto, Nara, and Japan's once lovely rural villages were nearly "China has the potential to become our largest foreign mar­
beyond help, but there was hope: theme parks. Today, the Japa­ ket:' says Shimane Keiichi, the president of Japan Travel Bu­
nese flock to theme parks featuring reconstructed European reau's Mlbsidiary Asia Tourist Center. "China has a population
cities, such as Huis Ten Bosch (Dutch) in Kyushu and Shima of over 1.2 billion. If about 1 percent of Chinese a year come
Spain in Mie, or a replica of Mount Rushmore (at one-third to Japan, we will get about 12 million visitors."The long-term
the scale) under construction in Tochigi Prefecture. These are problem is that if tourism will depend on gimmicky theme
spodess and completely artificial, like the enormous Seagaia parks, there ill competition ahead when Hong Kong, Thailand,
complex in Miyazaki, which, though located on the coast, Korea, and Taiwan jump on dlat bandwagon. It bodes ill that
boasts a fully enclosed artificial beach. The number of adult the Japant:se site that most travelers from mainland China want
tourists visiting these theme parks (close to 8 million touring to see is Tokyo Disneyland, for at the beginning of 1999 Disney
Huis Ten Bosch and Shima Spain as early as 1994) will soon announced that it was negotiating to build a new Disneyland in
surpass the number visiting Kyoto. The designers of Huis Ten Or near Hong Kong.
Bosch used natural materials such as rough bricks, incorporated Since badly conceived development is defacing beyond
sign control, buried power lines, and established design guide- recognition the attractions that were unique to Japan, it is time
186 Dogs alld Demons
Old Cities: Kyo'o alld TOllrism 187

to build new attractions, and this suits the Construction State.

Atsui Dam, everywhere you look, it's huge!" trumpets a public­
The government has announced its plans for another wave of . 'pamphlet frol11 the Constnlction Ministry, urging travelers
halls and monuments. The japan National Tourist Organization to join a bus tour an d come and
It) b'
see cement e1l1g poure.d "I t 's
(a wing of the Transport Ministry) says that its Welcome Plan ;J/JlloSt the last chance to see Atsui Dam while under construc­
21 involves "buildill}? a broad ral~~c of tourist attractiolls [italics tion," the pamphlet says invitingly.
mine]. For example, japan could create I'ekishi kaido, or 'Japa­ There is hardly the need to create fake tourist facilities or to
nese historic highways,' as well as theme districts a.round the rely on cement-pouring at dams for excitement when Japan
COWl try, complete with roads and international exchange fa­
has plenty of the real thing. Still, the modern malaise seems to
cilities." An example is the [se Civil War Era Village, near the h.we creJted an inability to distinguish between what is fake
Grand Shrine of lse, a wholly artificial medieval town that is and wh,lt is real. Kyoto prides itself on being Japan's "cultural
meant to evoke Japan during the civi! wars of the sixteenth capitJJ:' yet for the past fifty years it has put all its energies into
century. dcstroylllg its old streets and houses. The Cultural Zone in the
in the coming decades, we can look fOl"\vard to the raising of New Kyoto Station typifies the confusion; there a tearoom pra­
hundreds of facilities designed specially for travelers Wlder the ndes .1 light show of cherry blossoms instead of the real thing,
banner of "international tourisl11." japan must build these and the restaurant features a copy of a Raphael fresco-"cul­
monuments-that is a certainty, for the construction industry turl''' with no particular connection to Kyoto at all.
requires it. Typical of what the next wave will probably be is Rt:Cl'nt events in Kyoto show that a sizable minority of its
ASTY Tokushil11a, a monument that SItS at the confluence of citizem are angry about all this. In November 1998, olle group
two rivers in the town of Tokushima, on the island of Shikoku. miraculously succeeded in halting a very destructive project.
ASTY Tokushima features a multipurpose hall and the The story began more than a year earlier, when the city office
Tokushima Experience Hall, where, as the prefectural tourism ,1Il1l0Ullced plans for its newest mOllument-right in the mid­
bureau puts it, travelers can discover "passionate romantic To­ dlt' of Pol1tocho, one of the few historic city blocks left, a nar­
kushima." The passionate romantic experience includes the row strect of bars and geisha houses running alongside the
Yu-ing Theatre, where two robots perform traditional puppet­ KI.lI1o River, with the Sanjo Bridge to the n~rth and SlUjo
ballad drama, and a corner where visitors can gaze at pho­ 13ndge to the ~ollth. The city proposed to demolish a segment
tographs ofTokushima's scenery as it changes from season to IJ1 the Illlddle ofPontocho and build a new bridge modeled 011
season. Olk' that spans the Seine--not even one of the famous old
The end of the road for the domestic tourism industry is ridgl's \vl'll .
. ' ., 1 pIcturesque stone arches but a modern structure
when it gives up on natural or historical attractions altogether ot Stee] gird"rs
,. '- an d t u b u Iar concrete p' ilin' gs 0 f' no eli' .
and makes concrete itself an attraction. This is beginning to l() add in Jt "
thO su to lJ1Jury, the city fathers actually proposed to call
happen, for Japan Railways and local towns are sponsoring IS cop\" th • P d A
p . . e om es rts, and enlisted the support of France's
package tours of their dams and cement fortifications. Flyers reSIdent Cl '. h" "
· . 111ac, w 0 111 a claSSIC case of foreIgn mlsunder-
advertising dam tours are often seen in subways and buses. "At .Stan dIn' fJ
g 0 apan endorsed the project because it was French­
188 Dogs alld Demons Old Citit5: Kyoto alld Tourism 189

inspired. For many, this was the last straw. Professor Saino Hi­ telll·
h ost Part , these houses are in a shambles,
. .
their roofs leaking
roshi wrote: and their pillars leaning, or fixed up WIth slapdash Improve­
ments teaturing tin and vinyl. A house or a neighborhood that
Pontocho is part of our cultural heritage, representing Kyo­ . I'n reasonably good repair can be picked out from its un­
to's cityscape based on a wood-based culture. It was built sightly surroundings only with difficulty, but it is still there. It is
as an integral piece of the space along the river. [The new another case of "a wilted peony in a bamboo vase, unable to
bridge] will conflict with traditional architecture such as draw water up her stem."The water-a proud and ancient cul­
Shimbashi [an old neighborhood on the other side of the tlm~exists in abundance.
river], and furthermore [Pol1tocho] has something rarely seen Or does it? The supply of beautiful old places is not inex­
in other cities-traditional architecture ex.1:ending continu­ haustible, and the time may come in the not very distant future
ously 600 meters down it-and one feels a sense of historical when Japan wiJI have damaged its old cities beyond hope.
atmosphere. This will be split in two by a modern European­ Some fear this time is already here. The Japanese realize that
style bridge right in the middle of it, which will greatly de­ something is amiss. Recently, a television dran1a featured the
crease its cultural value. following wry segment:
A hotel manager is entertaining a foreign guest, taking him
This time the protests of Saino and others did not go unheard, to the finest restaurants and hotels. Finally, the foreigner says,
as they had in 1964 with Kyoto Tower, in 1990 with Kyoto "Fine meals, fine hotels, entertainment parks. I can get that
Hotel, and in 1994 with the design competition for the New .1Ilywhcre in the world. But where can I see the Thirty-six
Kyoto Station. The concerned citizens of Kyoto amazed every­ Views of Mount Fuji portrayed by the print artist Hokusai.
one by gathering such overwhelming support for their anti­ What about the Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido, where the
bridge petition that the project was discontinued. feudal lords used to stay on their trips to Tokyo, and which
For now. One must keep in mind that the Law of Concepts teatured in so many prints and paintings?" Of course, the
still applies: once a concept, always a concept. Mter all, the city ~hirty-six Views and the Fifty-three Stations have completely
has been planning this bridge for a long time, perhaps decades, dIsappeared. The hotel manager thinks he must have misunder­
so it canceled only the French design, reserving the option to stood. What could the foreigner be talking about? So at the end
build another bridge at Pontocho later, with a different design. of the ~egl1lent he decides to take English lessons!
Sooner or later, the old street ofPontocho is probably doomed.
Yet some parts of Kyoto could in fact be saved. Hundreds of
temples and shrines and thousands of wooden homes still stand.
The bones of the old city are still there. With well-planned
zoning and design guidelines, some parts of it could be revived.
And this is also true of other cities and towns in Japan, which
still boast numerous wooden houses in the traditional style. For
.\'rl" Cities: Electric ~Vjres a"d Roof Boxes 191

ugly view from the top of the Grand Hotel in Kyoto is less a
consequence of the loss of the old than a result of the lo\,v qual­
it\" of the new.
. Nothing could run more contrary to the trend of Western
8 New Cities commentary on Japan for the past futy years than the argument
ili:rt)apan has failed in its pursuit of modermty. However, th~
{)ectric VVires and Roof Boxes is tilL' truth. Instead of an advanced ne\\' civilization, }Jpan has
tent:ment cities Jnd a culture of cheap industrial junk. Humes
an~ cramped and poorly built; public environments, whether in
hoteb, ZOO\. parks, apartment buildings, hospitals, or libraries,
Jfe sadly lacking in visual pleasure and baslC comfort~, at least
Stricken on a journey compared \\lith those available in other advanced nations. This
My dreams go wandering round lailure to achieve quahty in the new is perhaps Japan's greatest
Withered fields. trJgt.'dy-alld it lies at the very con: of its cultural meltdown
-("unexpected result, a devastating boomerang, of the
,~omists and socia! scientists once believed was
Japan" gr~atest strength: the policy of "poor people, strong
Since the entire thrust of development in Kyoto since its Tower "; the policy of having its citizens accept a low level of
was built has been to escape from the old and build a modern OIlSUl1lptlon and limited outlets for pleasure and relaxation in
city, it seems only fair to measure the place by its own stan­ theIr personal lives so that the nation's resources could be in­
dards. What if Kyoto were to wipe away its ancient heritage en­ \'C'stell in unlimited industrial expansion. That happened, and in
tirely? A dedicated modernist might fed this was justified if it the process Japan nurtured a bureaucracy uneducated in lllod­
tl'e 11 I '
meant creating a city of I~ading-edge contemporary culture. l'T1l
. no OgH~S an d several generatlons . of JapJnese who arc
This is what has happened in Hong Kong, where a tree­ ral1
Igl,10 t of what true modernity might offer-ignorant, one
lined harbor ftIled with quaint junks gave way to a cityscape nllght say, uf the finer things of modern life. And th~' s has had
of dazzling office towers, one of the wonders of the modern !lOt onlv I l b '
__ . ,cu tura ut econonuc consequences.
world. The same may well happen in Shanghai and Bangkok. 0 get some sense of contraSt'"""'lth ueher natio"ns. consider
M a1JVSla As . 0f
where developers have treated the charming old Clty centers M .' . . you d' nve b etween Port Klang on t I1e Stralt
brutally, but where dramatic new buildings are rising from the tI al.lcca and th . 'aI . h
e caplt , Kuala Lumpur, the hlg way passes
dust-hotels, restaurants, office towers, and apartments that vie 1rOllgh spectacular valleys of rocky cliffi. While building this
rOad Mal' .
with the best in Hong Kong or New York. how ' to aYSla called m a French landscaping firm to advise on
k '
111a e It beautifill ;.n ... I•• ..J~·
This did not happen-and is not happening-in Japan. The
(WAN - V.'-f'c) fA I PDllcJ+"t!J.1
Dogs alld Demons Nell' Cities: Electric IVires alld Roof Boxes 193

through which the highway passes. The result of their efforts is board--Hitachi. In Japan, there is so little understanding of sign
that there was no unnecessary destruction, no concrete in sight, control that Hitachi has even made a deal with the Cultural
and the cliffs appear to be natural. It's a classic example of mod­ Agency ro place advertisements beside all buildings designated
ern technology, in the true sense of the word, in road building. 3':National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties. In Kyo­
Such a highway does not exist the length or breadth ofJapan, co, yOll will see scores of metal Hitachi signs placed promi­
for calling in foreign consultants would have been unthinkable, nently in Zen gardens and before the gate of every historical
and road-building techniques froze in about 1970. temple and pavilion. A short walk through the grounds of
In downtown Kuala Lumpur itself, high-rises are springing Daicokuji, the fountainhead of Zen arts, yields a count of no
up everywhere, and the city is beginning to take on the sleek, fewer than twenty-five Hitachi signs, with four in one sub­
elegant look one also sees in Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, temple, Daisen-In, alone.
and parts of Bangkok but rarely in cluttered Tokyo. By looking Other East Asian cities-Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and
closely, one can discern the details that make the difference. Hong Kong-go far beyond Bangkok in regulating advertise­
One is the lack of junk on rooftops. In Japan, electrical ma­ ments; Jakarta boasts some of East Asia's best sign control
chinery and air-conditioning units appear to have been tacked through a taxation policy that makes the raising and mainte­
onto rooftops as afterthoughts. It is possible to pilt wlsightly nance of large ads expensive. In Japan, in contrast, architects
mechanical components inside a building's internal srructure learn nothing about signa n 'versity courses. During
and to integrate them architecturally, but in Japan a regulation the 1980s, the concept "visual pollution " read through the
dating from the 1950s and never altered punishes a builder for internatIonal design community, an attention began to be paid
using internal space for such machinery by subtracting that to observations that bright, flashing lights disturb the peace of
space from his allowable floor-area ratio (FAR). residential neighborhoods, garish signs lower the tone of five­
Japan has no regulations limiting billboards; in fact, its con­ star hotels, ~escell.t lights destroy the romance of parks at
struction laws actively encourage billboards on top of build­ nighttin~c, and towering billboards detract fi'om the beauty of
ings because of another regulation concerning height funits. scenic countryside. The science of avoiding and ameliorating
Builders may increase the height of their structures by a story thi.. sort of visual ollution i(a modern technololOO
or two if the added height is merely empty boxes on the roofs. Visual pollution in Japan has resulted from the same v~'
Naturally, the next step is to mount enormous logos and adver­ eye c we 1ave seen in other aspects of its life: in the case o{the
tisements on these boxes. Back in Kuala Lumpur, you will not environment, construction breeds dependence on more con
see many such signs, and most of the ones you do observe strucl!s>n; in banking, decep~ion leads to greater deception,.;.i!!
urb an deSHm.
' • mdiness g-T;Jdll:l!lv com.euo be taken for lrrant
belong to Japanese-owned businesses and were designed by
Japanese architectural firms that know no other way. Looking
out of Illy apartment window in Bangkok, I can see dozens
of skyscrapers, only one of which sports a large rooftop bill­
fOt (r~
5£()~f~YS +£.t 's Dogs a"d Demons Nell' Citie.<: Eltetric I'Vires a"d Roof Boxes 195
-("MolLo 5o..'iS I
store Sogo was one of the investors. Lucilo tells of acrimonious wall twenty feet high in which construction waste is dumped,
discussions between the hotel operators and the Japanese own­ roWS of vending nlachines with blinking lights, a golf driving
ers concerning signs, for Sogo wanted a huge Aashing sign 011 range half the size of a football field surrounded by wire mesh
the outside of the hotel, and it seemed impossible to convince hung from giant pylons and illuminated at night, a vast number
Sogo's management that in Barcelona this was considered a of signs of every type (pinned onto trees, propped up by the
plan that would damage the ambience of the city and lower the roadside), and, of course, a pachinko parlor, with towers of spi­
prestige of both the department-store owners and the hotel. raling neon and flashing strobe lights. This is the typical level of
Sogo gave in when its representatives realized that in the West \"lsual pollution in the suburban neighborhood of a Japanese
citizens might resort to boycotts of a company that flouts local city, and nobody considers it odd, because every structure
concerns, but it came as a shock. scrupulously obeys the rules: FAR ratios, footprint quotas, al­
In Japan, there are almost no zoning laws, no taxation policy, lowable building materials, location of telephone poles, and so
and no sign control to regulate urban or rur:d development--so orth. It is the Throttgh rhe Lookit1g-Glass world of bureaucratic
giant billboards tower over rice paddies, vending machines management: there is no lack of regulation, yet chaos reigns.
stand In the lobbies of ritzy hotels and Kabuki theaters, and Many of the .regulations exist to protect cartels of architec­
j~ht plastjc sigm bang in even the most stylish restaurants. tural firms and construction companies. Others, such as those
People who are born, grow up, live, and work in such an envi that effectively prohibit residential homes from having base­
ronment know of no alternative; and the result is that the gen ments, are cobweb-covered relics. Their original purpose is lost
eral public, as well as pl:umers and :uchitects, think this kind 0 In tune, yet no one considers changing them. Indeed, the com­

look is an inberent art of modernization. t is thus not sur­ plete inflexibility of these rules and regulations creates more of
prising that Hitacbi would blazon its name Jcross the Bar!,g~ok the clutter and crowding that characterize Japanese cities.
skyline when few American, European, Thdi, or Chinese cor- yoto, for example, had a golden opportunity in the 1960s,
e.0rations fed the need to do so. ......' ):I!V€; 5elbf -f4, S­ when it was working on renovations for the Olympic Games.
Had it zoned the city differently north and south at the train
. .. L;.-f"M1. ~ 4,i"IJ"./.f. 14/" 6Uk­
Zonmg--the pohtH.. al and SOCIal sCll.~nce of'nUking the most station (most of the historic center lies north of the station), the
ffrlclent usc of different types of land-IS a crucial skill that Ja­ old center could easily have been protected and saved. To the
pan's bureaucrats have falled to master. The disrinction between south, where most of the buildings except a few large temples
industrial, commercial, residenrial, and agrIcultural neighbor­ were poor, shoddily built, and ripe for redevelopment, Kyoto
hoods hardly exists. In the residential neighborhood of Kame­ could have created a new satellite city-like La Defense, the su­
oka, neJr KyotO, where r live, r need walk only about five minutes permodern suburb of Paris. But of course this did not happen.
to find-right next door to suburban homes and rice Instead, bureaucrats applied rigid FAR and height limitations
paddies-a used-car lot, a gigantic msting fuel tank filled with everywhere, which led to a cycle of rising land prices, high in­
nobody knows what, a plot surrounded by a prefabricated steel heritance taxes, and destruction in the city center, and at the
PI,(.,'Io Te.~~ C~\e.S
196 Dogs lind Demons 7(11' Cilies: Elerlric IVires and Roof Boxes 197

same time prevented the development of good new architec­ Japan's Sunlight Law also restricts building because on a
ture. Rather than having a truly new city in the south and a iven plot ofland a higher structure often cannot use to the full
beautiful old city in the north, Kyoto today has neither new whatever is allowed by local FAR regulations. As a result, Tokyo
nor old but a conglomeration where everything looks equally has an average FAR of less than 2 to 1, the lowest of any world
shabby. capital, including Paris and Rome. "Low density" sounds at­
The two regulations that have had the most devastating ef­ - unn) one realizC5 hRRt thjs means for the inhabitants
fect on Japan's cities are those concerning the inheritance tax of a metropolis with 30 million people: the highest land prices
and the so-called Sunlight Law. Japan's inheritance tax is one of in the world, cramped apartments and homes (millions of
the highest in the world; as land prices have risen continually Tokyo residents dwell in spaces even smaller than the official
for a half century, inheritors of old houses almost invariably minimum of 6fty square meters), exorbitant commercial rents,
have to sell them in order to pay the tax. For the purchasers, and crowded commuter trains that must transport people sev­
these prices are so high that it is uneconomical to leave single­ £!]l homs from their homes to world With buildable land in
story old wooden buildings standing, so they tear them dOW11 Tokyo expensive and scarce, the Construction Ministry favors
and build apartment blocks. The Tax Office grants very few ex­ plans by big construction companies to build giant cities un­
emptions for buildings in historic neighborhoods, and the tax derground. From their underground apartments, it imagines,
guidelines, determined by the central government, are inflexi­ residents will speed on subways to subterranean office build­
ble, so that local administrations cannot easily structure their ings. So effective is the Sunlight Law that future homeowners
own neighborhood systems. Faced with laws like this, Kyoto in Tokyo need never see the light of day.
didn't stand a chance.
The Sunlight Law was passed in the 1960s as a well-meaning Japan is the world's only advanced country that does not bury
etTort to restrict high buildings that would shroud their neigh­ telephone cables and electric lines. While a handful of neighbor­
bors in shade. It created a formula whereby buildings must fit hoods, such as the central Marunouchi business district of
within a diagonal "shadow line," which means that the higher 1bkyo, have succeeded in laying cables underground, these are
they rise the narrower they must be. This accounts for the mostly expensive showpieces. Even the most advanced new res­
stepped, pyramidal look of most Japanese buildings. Americans idential districts customarily do not bury cables, as Ldiscovered
made a similar mistake in the 1960s and 19705, when "street \}'hen I was working on the Sumitomo Trust Bank/Trammell
setback" was a magic phrase. This had disastrous efFects on Crow project on Kobe's Rokko Island in 1987. Kobe City
thousands ofAm.erican cities, for it turns out that buildings that touted the island-brand-new landfill in the harbor-as a su­
come right up to the sidewalk create an intimacy that setback e.ermodern, futuristic neighborhood. With telephone polps. In
tructures lack. New York City learned this to its cost when the countryside, a "priority policy" dictates that until every large
zoning laws encouraged the sterile office towers on the Avenue city has buried every one of its power lines, which the Con­
of the Americas, which are set back from the street and fronted struction Ministry is. encouraging them not to do, no rural area
by wide vacant plazas. can do the same with support from the central government.
e040r ~~ r -sfl'l:)~ SIa 5c\'V\io ~+~+, k yo +O
Dogs arId Demons Nelli Cities: Elerrr;c Wires aud Roof Boxes 199

Here, in a nutshell, is Japan's bureaucratic dynamic at work. ings for underground cable strong enough to survive the apoc­
The first stage, the starting oint after a an's defeat in World alypse, making it the most expensive in the world.
War II, is the oor eo Ie, stron state rinci I . Central plan­ My friend Morimoto Yasuyoshi recently moved to Sanjo
ners considered the extra effort and expense required to qo Street, in the heart of historic Kyoto. When people in the
such things as burying cabl;s luxurious and wastehl1, drawing neighborhood got together to discuss revitalizing this famous
needed resources away from industry. but now shabby street, he suggested that the city remove the
The second stage, policy freeze, came in the early 19705. clutter of aboveground wires and lines and bury them; He
Unaccustomed to burying cables, Japan's bureaucrats came to learned that this would be close to impossible, because of a rule
believe that the nation shouldn't, indeed couldn't, bury them. that says when a street decides to bury its lines, property own­
They cooked up juStlhcatlOns lor the pohcy, such as the added ers must forfeit their right to a few square feet of space on the
chngers iIi the event of earthquakes. (In fact. a nation that is pavement to allow for electrical boxes every fifty meters or so.
likely to have frequent earthquakes shollld bury lines, as became (Why there must be boxes so close together, and above ground,
clear in the Kobe quake of 1995. Toppled poles carrying live 15 not clear. After all, the basic idea is to put all the apparatus

wires were one of the biggest dangers, blocking traffic and, underground. It would seem to spring from bureaucratic resis­
wreaking havoc with rescue efforts. not ler argument was tance to the very idea of burying wires. Somethillg should be
that apan lad uniquely amp soil, which made it harder to above ground!) Japan's land values being what they arc, no one
bury lines there than in other countries. (This belongs to the can afrord to give up those precious square feet.
"Special Snow" school of thought, made famous when trade Mild addiction results in total addiction when Japan ends 111'
negotiators in the 1980s asserted that "Japanese snow is unsuit­ rrlYing on technologies that actually require tbe existence of,
able to foreign skis.") The inner logic is that japan's uniqueness poles. In the 1990s, Japan began pushing the PHS cellular
forbids it to bury cables. Since burying cables is not what Japan phone as its big contender in the mobile-phone business. Un­
has done, it is un-Japanese to do so. like ot~he. ew systems, which are truly wireless and satellite­
The third stage is addiction. Making concrete and steel py­ lInked PHS ends signals to small relay boxes that must be set
lons has become a profit'lble cartelized business; meanwhile, lip every ew dozen meters on traffic-light or telephone poles.
utilities have a free hand to plan power grids without regard for \£.ith the full weight of officialdom tl1.rown behind PHS,Japan
the look of urban or rural neighborhoods, for the inconve­ will never bury its power lines and phone wires.
nience posed by poles jutting into narrow roads, or for any­ We have reached the final stage: decoration. Since about
thing else. And since the power companies have not learned the 5, the trend has been to replace the old concrete poles in
skill of efficient, safe, and well-designed cable laying and have certain city blocks with fancy ones clad in polished bronze.
never had to factor in the costs, today they simply cannot afford Rather like the "designer concrete" (shaped like hexagons or
them. Meanwhile, the Construction Ministry, driven by the molded to look like rocks) that Japan is developing for its rivers
"uniquely danlp soil" ideology, has mandated protective cover- Clnd mountains, designer telephone poles are now ill evidence.
cJzG.O ..f-\c.. l E)(J It:.. .L...I-OY-

200 Dogs Qlld Demons New Citiu: Eleelric Wires Qlld Roof Boxes 201
v(s~\ <l"'+k'r
It's a classic Dogs and Demons approach to city planning: The planners in Singapore and Malaysia, the most vociferous cham­
city feels it has done something. Each pole, up close, looks pret­ pions of"Asian values," would be surprised to learn that poorly
tier. However, the street, festooned with wires, looks as clut­ reguLlted advertisements and unburied service lines are "identi­
tered as before. fiably oriental."
Clutter is not the whole story. People crave open views and
Combine the Sunlight Law with regulations that encourage clean city lines, so planners respond with monumental "new
machinery boxes and billboards on rooftops, and you get the cities," boasting wide avenues and enormous office towers sur­
haotic look of the typical Japanese cityscape. Add to this the rounded by pavemenred parks and windswept plazas. The pen­
absence of zoning and sign control, and factor in vending ma­ dulum swings in the direction of total sterility. One cannot
chines and electric and phone wires-and you get the visual fail to be struck by the complete inhumanity of the new ur­
clutter that is a defming feature of daily life in Japan. Japanese ban landscape at Kobe's Port Island or Tokyo's Makuhari and
architects have become so accustomed to it that they can imag­ Odaiba. Gigantic office towers are surrounded by empty access
ine no alternative. Despite manifold evidence to the contrary roads, vacant squares, and shadeless rows of pollarded trees.
in garden-filled, neatly organized old Kyoto and Beijing-not There is no middle ground in Japan's cities-only the two ex­
to mention Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, and Jabrta­ tremes of shabby or sterile.
Japanese architects justify shadc1ess trashy cities as somehow "New Japan does not like trees," Donald Richie wrote in
uniquely "Asian." When Baba Shozo, a former editor of Japall T7te III/and Sea back in 1971. In Richie's day, this truth was ex­
Architect magazine, was asked whether there might be some im­ pressed in the tendency to bulldoze parks and plazas; in the
provement in city planning, such as more parks (the average is 1980s it developed into an aversion to falling leaves, which was
14 percent open space [or cities in Japan, versus 35 percent in discussed in an earlier chapter; in the 1990s, it became an attack
Europe and 40 percent in the United States), he is reported to on branches. Until very recently, in Tokyo, shady tree-lined
have responded, "It's absolutely not necessary. Tokyo's popula­ avenues surrounded the zoo side of Ueno Park and Tokyo
tion is totally satisfied with the way things are.... Mter all, we University, but not anymore. A desire on the part of civic ad­
are living in an Asian city. It's natural the way it is. Parks and ministrators to widen the streets and do away with shade has
open spaces are not required. Who needs green space?" led to new rules that require the pmning of all branches that
Foreign writers on Japanese architecture condescendingly extend over a roadway; this policy has been carried out all over
accept this line of reasoning. Christine Hawley writes of a the country.
Tokyo neighborhood: "The scale was distinctly 'sub' urban, and Keats wrote, "the trees I That whisper round a temple be­
architectural grain identifiably oriental. There was of course the Come soon I Dear as the temple's self"-a sentiment dearly
visual compression of space, the use oflow, horizontally defined not in the mind of the Cultural Ministry when it restored
buildings covered in banners, signs, and the ubiquitous web of Zuiryuji Temple in the town ofTakaoka in 1996. In the true
service lines as they run in and around the buildings." City spirit of Nakahara Kiiko, it cut down and uprooted a grove of
202 ogs and Demons NellI Citie.': Elutric Wires and Roof Boxn A

ancient keaki and pine trees that had stood for hundreds of
years in the temple courtyard and replaced them with a wide
expanse of raked gravel. Although the temple's founder had ex­
pressly designed the courtyard to conjure up the cypress groves
of Zen temples in China, the ministry decided that flat gravel
was more Zen to their liking-and certainly more beautiful
than those messy old trees that interfered with the view.
The new war on urban trees is baffiing. I cannot fathom its
causes, but I can proffer a guess. The inconvenience posed by
trees hardly compares with the telephone poles that take up
space on both sides of narrow roads, but perhaps the trees, with
their unruly branches going this way and that, offend the au­
thorities' spirit of order. Perhaps the long decades of sacrificing
everything to industrial growth have had their effect: sterility
has become a part of modern Japanese style. Certainly, if you
travel in Asia you can inU11ediately recognize the Japanese
touch in hotels and office buildings by the lack of trees and, in­
stead, the rows of low-clipped azalea bushes around them.
A curious aspect of the tree war is the primitive level of skill
with which it is waged. Japan is the land of bonsai and is fa­
mous worldwide for its great gardening traditions. Many and
varied are the techniques for pruning and shortening each t\vig
and bough-gradual cHpping over years or even decades to
shape a branch as it grows, props to support old tree limbs as
they droop, canvas wrappings to protect bark from cold and in­
sects, and much more--sensitive techniques developed over
centuries, of which until recendy tbe West knew litde. Yet tree
pruning in Japan today is truly a hack job. No gradual, delicate
work here-just limbs roughly chainsawed off at the base, with
no treatment to protect against insects and rot. "What bothers
me the most," says Mason Florence, "is the brutality of it. The
trees look like animals mutilated or skinned alive in medical ex­
6Q.~~ ~('~ a.~ C'tEo...P.
204 n I J _"'I. 1/ _
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D~s a"d Demons
Nelli Cities: Electric Wires a"d Roof Boxes 205

the winter sun, he explains, so sadly lacking in northern Euro­ place to see this confusion at work is the Arita Porcelain Mu­
pean cities; the lack of sunlight drives Europeans to take those seum, in northern Kyushu, dedicated to the traditional craft of
regrettable long vacations in their lovely holiday homes. In hand-enameled Imari ceramics. The stmcture, designed in the
contrast, sun-drenched Tokyo is so marvelous that "even for­ rocOCO style, is built of concrete covered with plaster to look
eigJlers living in Japan do not want to have holiday homes," and like stone; the dining-room tables are plastic, with printed
in any case, "children born in this high growth era see nothing wood patterns-this in a museum built at great expense to cel­
wrong with concrete buildings." ebrate hand craftsmanship!
Sano is right. What happens to people living in cities like One does not expect this lack of understanding of materials
Tokyo? They get used to it. "Many people of my generation ill Japan, for "love of materials" is one of the most sublime
feel angry," says Igarashi Takayoshi, the author of a best-selling principles of traditional Japanese art-with its unpainted wood,
book on wasteful public works. "We have an id~a of how na­ rough stone surfaces, and unglazed pottery. And yet ~1
ture should be, but the younger generation doesn't. Students Japan is notable for its persistent use of ill-processed plas­
are not shocked by images of environmental destruction the ~, chrome, highly glazed tile, aluminum, and concrete. These

way I am-they got used to it growing up." Recently, Andrew <;;.heap industrial materiaJs are everywhere. At a recent show at
Maerkle, the sixteen-year-old son of an American family in the Idemitsu Museum, famed as Tokyo's greatest museum of
Osaka, and his parents and I had occasion to drive east from Asian ceramics, there was a bonsai at the entrance-in an or­
Kobe, through Osaka, and down the coast of the Inland Sea t ange plastic pot.
the town of lzumi-Otsu, near the New Kansai Airport. For How could a nation that once seemed to have an inherent
hours we drove along elevated expressways, giving us a view to understandin)" of natural material fall into the unquestioning
the horizon of unrelieved industrial horror. In that bleak land­ use 0 . ndustrial junk? s with its destruction of the country­
scape live millions of people, in desolate rows of apartments side, the explanation cannot be simplistic arguments about
barely distinguishable from the factories around them. Andrew "Westernization" or about uniquely '~Asian" value~. It may be
gazed at tlle flashing billboards, the towering pylons for high­ that the very tradition of using plain materials, without treat­
tension wires, the flaming smokestacks, the jumble of buildings ment or processing, underlies Japan's guileless use of plastic and
stretching to the horizon without a tree or a park, and com­ aluminum today;Japanese builders are simply taking what theX
mented, "I read a lot ofJapanese mal/ga comics at school, and I find in their environment and usjng it. as ~. Another factor may
was always impressed by their view of the future. Apocalypti~. be the traditional "love of reflective surfaces," once evidenced

Now I see where it comes from." by gold screens, smooth lacquer, and tlle glint of polished
Just as people get used to bleak cityscapes, they come to feel swords. But the sim ler, robabJ truer ex lanation is tha :lpan
at home with cheap industrial materials. Kyoto art expert _as embraced an old-fashioned idea of modernism. in which
David Kidd once said to me, "The Japanese have gotten so used ~se br~ht shiny surfaces show that one is wealth);, and tedl­
to living with fake wood that they can't tell the difference be­ nolo icall advanced· and uiet low-ke envir st
tween it and real wood. They think they're the same." A good backwardness In any case, the key word i "shiny.' Japan is

M 1'\." /\ -U,., r :'_ ~

5J..u'rt,/ - d u'llec;.tL QIS(;) JIIIMolL ~t ('t'TlC~.ft... Po xe.$ Whl2,y-!- roe r
206 Dogs a"d Demons Nfli'CititSi Eltctric Wirts a"d Roof Boxes Pcz~ l.V£u
(!,ra,"!I.d-, P~yl", bv.'1+ aPo.v-ftv1e-nis
caught in a time warp,}its ~ion of the future derived from sci:­ itary metaphors abound in business, government, and the press.
fi movies of the 1960s. Karel van Wolferen describes Japan's system as "a wartime econ­
omy oper,lting in peacetime," and a crucial part of this econ­
Ther;;oor people, strongyt3 policy has been in effect more or omy is the principle of poor people, strong state. The military
less since 1868, with only a few decades of relief (notably a hJ~ always hated luxury, for it makes people lazy and soft, and
brief cultural renaissance in the 1920s and another in the from this poillt of view poor people, strong state is a classic mil­
1960s). For most of the past century and a half, Japan's leaders itary approach to governance, as we know from the history of
have single-mindedly aimed at foreign expansion, and this has the ancient kingdom of Sparta.
distorted the [latio' dern development. For hundreds of Plutarch reports that Lycurgus, when drafting the laws of
~ars duriu~ the Edo eriod (in fact, for most of its recorded Sparta, began with house design. Lycurgus decreed that ceilings
historv), Taoan did not aim at conouerin{! its neighbors, ei should be wrought by the ax, gates and doors smoothed only
militarily oreconom.ically; instead, it applied its energies to by the saw. "Luxury and a house of this kind could not well be
itself, and the results were not economic poverty or cultural companions," Plutarch comments. "Doubtless he had good rea­
stagnation, as one might suppose. [nstead, Japan flourished, so son to think that they would proportion their beds to their
much so that by the early nineteenth century it was, per capita, houses, and their coverlets to their beds, and the rCst of their
by far the wealthiest Asian nation and boasted some of the goods and furniture to these."
world's most beautiful cities, literally millions of superbly In Japan, likewise, the poor people, strong state policy rests
crafted traditional homes, and an incredibly rich cultural tradi­ on crJlllped ,1Ild poorly built housing. Matthias Ley, a Genn~1I1
tion that has since exerted a powerful influence on the rest of photographer based in Tokyo, told me that once, when he was
the world. takll1g a German publisher from Osaka Airport into Kyoto, the
Commodore Perry's arrival in 1854 set off shock waves publisher looked out at a neighborhood on the outskirts of rhe
whose reverberations can still be felt today. Japan set out on a City, a typical jumble of concrete boxes and electric wires, and
desperate effort first to resist and later to challenge the West, asked innocently, "So this is where the poor people live)" The
and while it achieved spectacular success, it did serious damage answer to that question was, unfortunately, No, this is where
to its own cultural legacy. 'today, the beautiful cities are gone, as everyone lives.
are the superbly crafted homes, and the leisure that Edo peo"Ele A frequent misunderstanding about Japan is the claim that
once had to create a great world cultuLS. Nothing could be there is not enough land to support its large population, that
more ironic: p,ursuit ofJoreign ,gail1•.at all costs ended up il11,­ Japan is "crowded," hence land costs are high. In fact, Japan's
poverishing the nat jOn.. population denSlty is comparable to that of many prosperous
The paradigm established in the late nineteenth century un­ ,lnd still-beautiful) European countries. Another myth is that,
der the influence of European nationalism was one of military given how mountainous much of Japan is, the habitable land
conquest, and it has never really changed: Japan's bureaucratic area is bound to be small. Thls begs the question of what is
leaders still think of economic expansion in terms of war. Mil- "habitable land." Hills did not stop Tuscany from developing
,r, ve 'lbS
208 Dogs and Demons Ne'" Cities: EIN/ric Wires and ROl'I Boxes 209
~q"lt4L /u:Ja)tLS - \/.£.'(""~ ~Y-''1 bv. }f­
beautifully, or San Francisco, or Hong Kong. The problem lies bound by their oath, maintained his laws unchanged for the
in land use. next nine hundred years.
In Japan, there are many laws restricting both the supply of Japan is like this. Lycurgus left in about 1965, and since then
land available for housing and what can be built on it. With nobody has changed anything. Land-use planners, for example,
homes prohibitively expensive--in the early 1990s banks were have never seriously examined the old taboo on mountain
arranging mortgages that would bind families unto the third land, which has been a blessing in part, given the primitive sta£e
generation-the people are forced to save; banks then channel tlfJJpanese city planning and the, lack of el1vironmental-impaft
these savings at low interest to industry. After the Bubble de­ contro!!!.. Although they have been replanted with cedar and
flated in 1990, the government panicked, and since then na­ honeycombed with concrete roads and embankments, at least
tional policy has been to prop up land prices at all costs. the mountains have becn spared thc fate of the plainlands. On
One way thar the government restricts land use is by rigor­ the other hand, this has driven up the cost of residential land
ously enforcing low floor-to-area ratios, unchanged from the elsewhere, which is why Japanese houses are 20 to 30 perccnt
days when Japanese cities consisted mostly of one- and two­ smaller than European homes and about three times more ex­
story wooden buildings. The Sunlight Law and low FAR in big pensive, though they are built of shoddy, flimsy materials-ply­
cities like Tokyo and Osaka results in street after street of low wood, tin, aluminum, molded vinyl sheets-and, as the Kobe
buildings even in expensive commercial areas. Another way in eJrthquake proved, are not designed to be earthquake-resistant
which the government restricts land use is through outdated (the lead in this technology is now coming from the United
regulations that subsidize owners who use their land as rice States). Most houses are almost completely uninsulated; peo­
paddies; large areas of Tokyo are still zoned for agricwture. A ple usually heat their rooms with separate units (commonJy
third major obstacle to effective land use in Japan is that people kerosene heaters) and have no s e -ial ventilation for exhaust
cannot easily convert most mountain land for residential or • It'S. iscomfort-bone-chilling cold in winter and sweaty
comrnercial use. The virtual taboo against it dates to antiquity, heat in summer-is a defining feature ofJapancse life. , /
when mountains were thought to be the domain of the gods, nc Important tren 111 omestlc arc ltecture is quietly
not of people. Given that most ofJapan's landmass is mountain­ transforming neighborhoods across the country: prefabricated
ous, this effectively limits development to the crowded plain­ housing. ':frefab" in Japan means (0((/11)' prefabricateq, with the
lands and valleys. entire structure mass-manufactured by giant housing com­
Mter Lycurgus had fmished laying down the laws for Sparta, panies and delivered to homeowners as one package. Prefab
he gathered the king and the people together and told them homes now account for a majority of new Japanese houses­
that all was complete, except for one final question that he and in this there is some progress, and also a fmal blow to the
needed to ask of the Oracle at Delphi. He madc all the citizens urban landscape. On the plus side, the new homes arc cleaner
take a solemn oath that they would not alter a single lerter of and more conyegient than thS' old homes they rep1a,e. On the
his laws until he returned. Lycurgus went to Delphi and starved minus side, ~v represent tbe victor,y of sterility. Inside and
himself to death there, so as never to return, and the people, utside surfaces consist of s~W processed materials so unnat­
210 Dogs alld Demons Nt'llI Cities: Electric rVires alld Roof Boxes 2t 1

ural as to be unrecognizable. One cannot say whether they are was not only blind, but like a picture, without either life or mo­
concrete, metal, or something else, although for the most part tion."
they are plastic, extruded in various forms, and colored and tex­
turized to look like concrete or metal. Industrial materials have The restricting of the population to cramped, expensive, and
had the last word: people now live within walls and on floors noW characterless prefabricated housing made of low-grade in­
made of material that might as well be in a spaceship. This dustrial materials suited japan's policy of benefiting old-line
might have some futuristic appeal except that the houses are manufacturing industries at all costs. However, new industries
designed with exactly the same clutter and lack of ventilation like interior design can prosper only when people are comfort­
and insulation as before. able and educated enough to develop a higher level of taste.
Saddest of all is the utter uniformity of the prefab houses. The results are evident in hotels and resorts. Whils;..Kyoto is
Neighborhood after neighborhood has seen whatever character famed for its lovely old inns, tbe city has no modern hotel of
it once had disappear before rows of mass-produced homes in international guality. In Paris, Rome, Peking, or Bangkok, one
the shape of Model A. B, or C, all clad in exactly the same gray can find modern hotels that incorporate local materials and de­
shade of hybrid construction material. It's another cycle in sign in such a way as to provide a sense of place, but Kyoto
japan's descending cultural spiral, something that no mere up­ boasts not a single such instution. The big hotels (such as the
turn or downturn in the economy is going to affect. Kyoto, Miyako, Brighton, and Prince), with their aluminum,
In any event, very few people. inclqding the rich. have granite, and glass lobbies, deny Kyoto's wood-and-paper rultur!
homes to which tl~ can invite strangers with pride. ~r in every way. Compare the wooden lattices and tree-lined en­
party in japan means dining Qut. ..A wedding reception in the trance to the Sukhotai Hotel in Bangkok with the wall of dirty
back yard? Unthinkab,k ty!ost Japanese, regardless of wealth, concrete and the narrow cement steps leading up to the
education, taste, or personal interests, pass most of their social Miyako Hotel, Kyoto's most prestigious. Stroll through the gar­
lives in public spac,Q-restaurants, wedding halls, and hotel dellS filled with ponds and pavilions at the J.!!.ter-Cominental or
banquet rooms. Modern Japanese homes are not places whert' the HUton in Ban~kok, and then look at Kyoto Hotel's public
one can commune intimately with one's friends. plaza, a tiny barren area of granite paving surrounded by a yel­
Lycurgus would have approved. One of his most effective low r!f'sric bamboo fe,uce. Drink a leisurely cup of coffee amid
laws was one that forced all Spartan men to eat at the same the greenery under the soaring teak-timbered vaults of th~
conul1unal table, never at home. "For the rich," Plutarch wrote, att in Bangkok and then visit Kyoto's Prince, the hotel wht;.re
"being obliged to go to the same table with the poor, could not most convenrioneers stay, with its low ceilings and almost every
make use of or enjoy their abundance, nor so much as please s~ace of plastic and alumiU1lm. For a nightcap, you cou!£l
their vanity by looking at or displaying it. So that the conmlon ~iew the Bangkok skyline from ~e fiftieth floor of the Westi!;l
proverb, that Plutus, the god of riches, is blind, was nowhere in Hotel-surrounded by polished teak and rosewood paneling;
all the world literally verified but in Sparta. There, indeed, he Or you could enjoy the floodlit rock and waterfall in the garden
DZ.-s; ~n cz..r s-/ Dogs a/ld Demons Nell' Cities: Electric lVires a/ld Roof Boxes 213

of the Royal Hotel in Kyoto-the rock being made of molded Today's younger Japanese designers, who have grown up in
green fiberglass. One finds the same lack of quality in Jhk.¥o, a landscapes sucb as the one the Maerkle family saw when tbey
city with onl'i, two attractive h~ls, the Park Hw and the drove from Kobe to Izumi-Otsu, or the equally horrifying vista
Four Seasons. In the case of the Park Hyatt, the low-key light­ welcoming visitors at Narira Airport when they take the Narita
ing, the elegant use of wood in hallways and elevators-all this express train into Tokyo, work accord.ingly. As Lycurgus pre­
was accomplished by ~utt1l1i out Japanese designeE) "We dicted, people proportion "their beds to their houses, and their
couldn't allow Japanese de~igners to be involved," tbe manage­ coverlets to their beds, and the rest of their goods and furniture
ment told me. "They wanted to fill it with aluminum and to these." Standardized shiny surfaces are what people really like
fluorescent lights." And in the Four Seasons, where I noticed and feel comfortable in. The victory of the industrial mode in
recently that the gold screens on the walls were antiques of Japanese life can be sensed in health spas, which, far from being
high quality, I knew instantly that no Japanese designer would relaxing natural retreats, look rather like clinics, with bright
have chosen them. At the front desk, I asked who did the white corridors and attendants in surgical smocks. Boutique
decor, and was told "designers from the Regent Chain in Hong hotels, even were they to be introduced into Japan, would be
Kong." bound to fail. f1o. t.oV\E:...- ~
So far we have been speaking of big city hotels with hun­ Tokyo and Osaka may boast a handful of attractive inter­
dreds of rooms; when it comes to small garden hotels or bou­ national hotels designed by foreigners, but the Japanese
tique hotels, the contrast with other advanced nations is even countryside remains solidly in the hands of domestic designers.
more striking. There was a brief period in the late 1980s, at the Japanese resorts are so ill designed, so destructive of their sur­
height of the Bubble, when price was no object, when a few roundings, that in May 1997 the Environment Agency reported
brave developers created hotels of striking originality, such as that 30 percent of all those surveyed did not live up to the
Kuzawa Mitushiro's co]orful II Palazzo in Fukuoka, done in agency's assessment criteria. By American, European, or Indone­
collaboration with Aldo Rossi. But with the collapse of the sian standards, that number would rise to more than 90 percent.
Bubble, developers settled back into the convenient old pattern A good example of the sort of thing that happens can be
of '"business hotels," with their cramped rooms, flat decor, and seen in Iya Valley. Iya has Japan's last vine bridge, built by Heike
limited facilities. It would be fair to say that the very concept 0 refugees in the twelfth century and rehung with fresh vines
a boutique hotel has yet to exist in Japan. There is no such regularly ever since. The Vine Bridge is Iya's most famous mon­
thing as New York's witty Paragon or W hotels, nothing with ument, visited by more than 500,000 people every year. What
the minimalist chic of Ian Schrager's creations-just the stan­ happened to it? The River Bureau flattened the riverbanks
dard shiny marble lobbies one sees everywhere, with rooms de­ below with concrete; the Forestry Agency constructed a metal
signed with basic industrial efficiency. "But hotels are not just bridge right next to it; and resort builders then covered the sur­
places to sleep," says Schrager. "You're supposed to have fun rounding valley slopes with concrete boxes and billboards.
there." Travelers who have come from distant prefectures to get a view
lAo\''AQ J~po.Y\ ro.,l~ tt"\. +."ff'«"1\.1
2 I4 f l H 'I Dogs aud Demons N~II' Cities: El~ctri( Wires aud Roof Boxes 215
~~fl"J eckVl 0 () 8
of the romance of the Heike line up on the metal bridge and tend to look like cheap business hotels plopped down in
take photographs, carefully framing the Vine Bridge to screen the countryside or, at best, like bland white-and-gray bank
out the concrete and the bilJboards. The choice of acconuno­ lobbies.
dation is between /II;lls/lIIku (bed-and-breakfast in old homes) It sometimes happens that enlightened owners manage to
or a few big tourist hotels. M;ns/lIIkll in old tbatch-roofed preserve the mood of an old onsen or design an attractive new
houses sound attractive--and indeed would be, except that the one, but nothing can replace the lost rivers, mountains, and sea­
interiors have been redone with synthetic veneer and fluores­ coasts in which the onSet1 stand. Hardly a hot spring the length
cent lights, and yet they still lack modern conveniences such as and breadth of Japan has not been in some way degraded by
cl:.:.:e:,:a:;.n. .:fl;.;u:::;s::.;h_t:;,;;o;.:;:il:.;;;e,;,ot} and heated bathroo!}ls. So a visit to the Vine ugly, ill-designed resorts or civil-engineering projects. Robert
Bridge in Iya is only, and just, that: one has seen the Vine Neff, the head of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan,
Bridge, but there is little in the experience to relax the body or writing about his search for "hidden omen" far from the beaten
please the heart. In this, Iya's Vine Bridge symbolizes the anom­ track, summed up the situation sadly:
alous fate of old cities like Kyoto and of rural scenery through­
out Japan. [ya's mountains and gorges are nothing less than As Japan's countryside gives way before concrete, plastic, au­
spectacular, the Vine Bridge itself a romance. Rich possibilities tomatic vending machines, and pachinko parlors, hidden ot/­
for cultural ex erience and travel are sim ly there for the tak­ sell make us forget the passage of time. It is a joy when 1 can
ing-arid yet a failure of "tourism tech nolo " causes them to report that such places still exist. Alas, tlley are on the verge
be ignored or damaged. of extinction. When 1 visited them some years back, these
. ~ Ill-applied modernity can also be seen at the OIlSetl (hot places were wonderfully untouched. But when I go to visit
~ springs), which were one ofJapan's most wonderful traditions. hidden OIlSeI1 nowadays all vestige of former scenery has been
~ There are thousands of OilSi'll in romantic environments beside removed, and replaced with modern monstrosities totally out
rivers, atop mountains, and along pine-tree-clad seacoasts; they of keeping with the surroundings. Or new highways, dams,
once boasted lovely buildings of wood and baIuboo, exquisite hideous bridges, ski lifts, ropeways, and electrical generating
service, healing hot waters, and the chance to relax amid beau­ stations are built where they can be seen right out the front
tiful natural scenery. You could lie in the hot water by an open door. lTranslated from the Japanese]
window and watch the mist rise from the river or the trees
around you. Om ell were a true cultural treasure, which would have ap­
Well, the Ollsell are still there, the hot water still flows, and pealed to travelers from around the world; if they had been de­
the service is still good. But the ambience that made O/1sen veloped with truly modern design and management, there is
uniquely relaxing is vanishing with the mists. Old Ollsell no doubt that Japan could have based a thriving international
have been restored with lots of chrome and Astroturf, all the tOurist industry on them. Not so now. A few lovely otlsell do
slapdash additions that damaged Kyoto; meanwhile, new O/1se/1 exist, but loveliness in Japan has become a luxury that few can


Q.( aboo-r ~V~(\f'~

J'OtPo...Y) . Dogs a"d Demons NeU' Cities: Electric IVlres a"d Roof Boxes 217

afford. Most of the affordable OIlSet1 have become places "nei­ Slr£ckm on a jot/mey
ther here nor there"-a nux of nice scenery and eyesores­ A1)' d,'cams go wal1derillg rOlmd
places you might visit if you happened to be in Japan and had Withered fields.
some free time, but not destinations you would cross an ocean
or spend a lot of money to see. After the 1960s, fueled by one of the greatest economic
booms in world history, Japan embarked on a journey to a
The l1istorian Gibbon, an expert on the rise and fall of empire, brave new world. During the next few decades, the old world
wrote, "All that is human must retrograde if it does not ad­ was swept away with the expectation that a glorious new world
vance." Thirty or forty years ago, Japan had all the earmarks of would replace it. But somewhere along the way Japan was
modernism: technical finesse in manufacturing, clean cities, stricken on its journey. It is now clear that there will be no glo­
trains that ran on time. For bureaucrats, architects, university rious new, no sparkling extravaganza of the future like Hong
professors, and city planners, Japan seemed to have the perfect Kong, no tree-lined garden city like Singapore, not even a
formula, and it needed only to develop on a grander scale along Kuala Lumpur or aJakarta. Only withered fields-an apocalyp­
established lines. It was so deceptively reassuring that few ob­ tic expanse of aluminum, Hitacl1i signs, roof boxes, billboards,
servers noticed that time had st?pped. Confident in their belief telephone wires, vending machines, granite pavement, flashing
that their country had "got it right," Japan's leaders firmly re­ lights, plastic, and pacl1inko.
sisted new ideas wheth> domestic or forei . Lacking the
critical ingredient chan e, culture in Japan took on mod­ tJ /, gV"J~1
ernism's outward forms but lost its heart. Without new atti­
- ...
tudes and .fr.esh knowledge, the quality of life in cities a£?
c~untrysi~ as Gibbon could have predicted, did indeed retro­
grade. This is the paradox of modern Japanese life: thaf al­
though it is known as a nation of aesthetes, there is hardly a
single feature of modern Japan touched by the hand of m:l11
that one could call beautiful.
In 1694, the haiku poet Basho set out ou l1is final journey,
one that he expected to be his greatest-he was traveling from
the town of Ueno near Nara to Osaka, where he planned to
meet with his disciples, put an end to their bickering, and set
the haiku world to rights. But it didn't turn out that way.
Basho fell sick along the way and died, having accomplished
notl1ing. As his disciples gathered around his bedside, he
granted them one fmal haiku:
()I!«/f I "flirt ~~ (>10
Deli/oris: 'Ole Philosophy of Mo'"'mtllis LD L~S,l/76M~. 219

folks' home. The exodus of young people fQf the Cltles is a

worldwide phenomenon, but in Japan it has been exacerbated
by several factors. One is the centralization of power in Tokyo,
which inhibits the growth of strong local industries. No Japa­
9 Demons nese Microsoft would for a moment consider having its head­
quarters in the equivalent of Redmond, Washington.
erhe Philosophy oj Monuments Other means of recycling the resources of the once agricul­
tural countryside-retrofitted small-town businesses, resorts,
vacation homes, tourism, parks-have not been explored, since,
as we have seen, Japan's bureaucratic structures are aimed
at manufacturing and construction, and little else. Civil­
"My name is Ozym.mdias, king of kings:
engineering projects and cedar plantations have not addressed
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
core issues concerning rural areas in a postindustrial state.
Worse, the new and useless roads, dams, and embankments
-PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY, "Ozymandias" (1817)

make the coumryside less attractive while failing to give it the

advantages of city life. This scarred countryside does not otTer
appealing locations for companies to locate their headquarters
In ancient times, in faraway IZU11l0 on the coast of the Sea or subsidiaries, for artists to set up ateliers, for retirees to build
of Japan, there lived a fearful eight-headed serpent, the Oro­ homes, or for quality resort developers to attract tourists.
chi. He ravaged the mountains and valleys far and wide, de­ What to do? With subsidies from the Construction Ministry,
vouring the daughters ofloca! villagers, and only when the god Yokota took its most picturesque valley and filled it up with
Susano-o vanquished him did peace come. Inside the Orochi, a double-looped elevated highway complete with tunnels,
CSusano-Q} found the sacred sword that still ranks as one of the bridges, concrete supports, and embankments. At one end, a
three imperial treasures; nearby was founded Izumo Shrine, brightly painted red bridge, lit by spotlights, spans the valley.
Japan's oldest. Since that time, the land of Izumo has been holy, The tunnels are decorated with dragon eyes, and eight viewing
so much so that the traditional name for the month of!Qctobed spots (the Orochi's eight heads) feature towering concrete
is (Kal1nazllki l(the month without gods), because it is believed pillars. Yokota proudly proclaims the "Orochi Loop" as Ja­
that in that month all the gods of Japan leave their native places pan's longest highway circle. "An invitation to the world of the
and gather at !zurno. gods," sings the tourist pamphlet, and indeed it is a celebration
Alas, all the gods ofJapan cannot save the town of Yokota. in of the gods of construction who rule Japan today.
Izumo, from an enemy even worse than the Orochi: (depopulad When the Orochi Loop opened in 1994,Yokota hoped that
ftion) In rural areas all across Japan young people are fleeing to the highway would become a tourist lodestone to vie with the
the cities, transforming the coun~side into one giant Qld f:1bled lzumo Shrine itself. But it turned out that city dwellers

222 Dogs alld Demons Demolls: TJ" Philosophy of Morlllmellis 23

the New Kyoto Station (completed in 1998), it attracted atten­ sive denial of.-even attack on-the surroundings, the bombas­
tion worldwide. Here was an opportunity to make up for the tic style, the architectural equivalent of sound coming from
damage done by the Kyoto Tower in 1965 and to re-establish loudspeakers turned up to maximum volume. As Kyoto slides
Kyoto asJ.lpall's cultural capital. The proposed designs split into deeper into mediocrity, the station tries to impress by its sheer
two main categories: there were those who tried to incorporate size. And, last, there are the cheap, function.less decorations. A
traditional Kyoto forms, for example, making the station look plain gray box might not have been so bad, but Hara couldn't
like a large-scale SalljllSal/gClldo, or Hall of the Thousand Bud­ stop himself from adding things: miniature arches are built into
dhas, one long narrow building with a tiled roof. As trains the structure (apparently as a sop to Ando); the back of the sta­
arrived ill such a station, passengers would feel they were tion features external yellow stairways, red piping, and rows of
entering into Kyoto's past. The second category was of resolute porthole-like windows pasted onto the facade; and inside the
modernism. The architect Ando Tadao designed a square arch giant entry lobby, escalators leading nowhere soar toward the
(rather like the arch at La Defense in Paris), using a modern sky. These are all features in which we see the influence of
form but drawing inspiration from Kyoto's history. When Japan mallga,Japanese comic books. The mallga effect is reinforced in
Railways built the old station, which runs east-west for blocks, front of the station, where the first thing an arriving passenger
it cut Karasuma Road, Kyoto's north-somh axis, in two, effec­ sees is the Kyoto Mascot, a totem pole topped by big-eyed
tively severing the northern and southern halves of the city. baby-faced children, molded in plastic. It's the equivalent of ar­
With the proposed arch, Karasuma Road would become whole riving in Florence and being greeted by Donald Duck.
again, reunifying the split city, and the arch would be a re­ The station's crowning glory is its so-called Cultural Zone,
minder that Rashomon Gate, the fabled south gate of the featuring a multipurpose entertatrUllent center. As real culwre
ancient capital, had once stood on this site. disappears, these expressions of artificial culture, in the shape of
Japan Railways and the city authorities turned all these pro­ cultural zones and halls, are a major source of revenue for the
posals down, however, and chose one designed by Professor cOllStruction industry and hence a national imperative. Every
Hara Hiroshi of Tokyo University. It divides the city as before, year billions of dollars flow to such public halls; by 1995,Japan
and does away y.rith every reference to Kyoto's history and cul­ had 2, t 21 theaters and halls (up fi.-om 848 in 1979), and by
ture. The New Kyoto Station is a dull gray block towering over 1997 it had 3,449 museums, the result of a museum-building
the neighborhood. so massive that Kyoto residents have taken rush unequaled by any other nation in the world.
to calling it "the battleship." The pride of the station is a tall Unquestioning foreign observers new to Japan often accept
glass-fronted entrance lobby that resembles an airport building. these halls and museums at face value. But most of these insti­
Professor Hara has a reputation as an expert on ethnic archi­ tutions satisfy no need aside from the construction industry'S
tecture, yet at a glance nothing here would appear to be par­ lI1tention to keep building at public expense. The Kabuki actor
ticularly "ethnic." But there are signs of the monumental Bando Tamasaburo says, "A multipurpose hall is a no-purpose
architecture peculiar to modern Japan, now as ethnic as ki­ hall." At the theaters, events are staged that are planned and
mono. We've seen it all before in the Orochi Loop, the aggres- paid for by government agencies, attended mostly by people
224 Dogs /Iud Demons Demolls; I hI! Philosophy of MOlII/lllel/lS 225
to whom they distribute free tickets. The museums are echo visit the Snow Museum, which keeps samples of snow in
chambers, empty of visitors, with a few broken pots fOlmd in chilled display chambers. In Yamanashi, a Fruit Museum is
archaeological digs or obscure contemporary artworks chosen housed in fruit-shaped glass-and-steel spheres described by the
by the architect. architect as "either planted firmly in the ground or attempting
For Japanese architects, cultural balls are a leading source of to reject the earth, as if they had just landed from the air and
illC01'ne, and designing them is a dream. The buildings need not were trying to flyaway." And in Naruto, Tokushima, the Otsuka
harmonize with their surroundings, nor need they provide a Museum ofArt houses a thousand renowned works of Western
community service or indeed fulfill any recognizable function, art-from the Sistine Chapel to Andy Warhol--duplicated on
and this gives architects a free hand, to put it mildly. The result ceramic panels. In Tokyo, fanciful monuments are legion. Typi­
is a plethora of buildings that are fanciful to the point of being cal of the genre is the Edo-Tokyo Museum, a snouted metal
bizarre. In Fujiidera City, on the outskirts of Osaka, one can body raised high on megalithic legs. The city built it to cele­
find an office building in the shape of a huge concrete boat. In brate the culture of the Edo period. As one commentator has
Toyodama, a town with a population of 5,000, the Home of said, "What this look-alike of a Star TMlrs battle station has to do
Culture is a ¥1.8 billion extravaganza in the shape of a multi­ with Tokyo's past is a mystery. At any moment you expect it to
storied white mosque. The Desert on the Moon Hall (¥400 zap the graceful national sumo stadium next door and reduce it
million), on the Miyado coast, is shaped like an Arabian palace, to galactic dust."
complete with bronze statues of camel riders in an artificial Monuments come in two basic varieties: I/langa and massive. (J)
dunescape. The lIIal1ga approach is typified by functionless decoration-the
One can find many of the architectural wonders of the N~ stainless-steel tubes topped with d:r:ag~ beads atthe ~ord n'Lu~
world in a monument somewhere in Japan. Tokyo boasts a ~m in Y,okoea-d'or-example;:w:!-Asahi's Super Dry Hallill
French chateau at Ebisll Garden Place, a Gaudi-style walkway Tokyo, reported as "what can only be described as an objet, a
with curving mounds inset with broken tiles at Tama New of llolden beet reStlll11 on a black obsidian-like Dedestal....
Town, and a German village in Takanawa, Minato-ku Ward. This is the Flamme d'Or (Flame of Gold) representing, we are \
"However," as the weekly magazine Shukall SlziflcllO says, "just

told, the 'burning heart ofAsahi beer.' Or maybe the head on a
look around you at dle sea of signs in kal~i characters and kana glass of that same product. Or something from Ghosfbl/sters.
alphabets, and in a moment your good mood crashes to earth The flame is hollow, so serves no practical purpose at all. Call it \
in real-life Japan. Alas, however hard we strive to bring in for­ architecture as sculpture." Known locally as the "turd building,"
eign culture, in the end it is nothing but 'foreign-style.' On the Asahi's Super Dry Hall was designed by a French architect, re­
other hand, maybe the inability to do anything for real could be placing what the Tokyo historian Edward Seidensticker believes
called Japanese-style.' " to have been the city's last remaining wooden beer hall, dating
Hanker fur Italy? You can find a Venetian palazzo in Kotaru, from Taisho if not late Meiji. _ - .
or an entire Michelangelo inlaid courtyard re-created at the Into th~assive category fall the supercities being planned ®
Tsukuba Civic Center Building in Ibaragi. In Akita you can for landfill in tbe harbors of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe, as
M i><Z. vc.ble..
226 Dogs alld Demons Demolls: Tile Philosophy of MOllumellts 227

well as fortresses like the Tokyo Municipal Office Complex in ing 500,000 people. The reason for the name X-SEED is that,
Shinjuku. The most lavishly funded monuments, like the New though shaped like Mount Fuji, the monument's height would
Kyoto Station, manage to combine mango and massive in one exceed that of Mount Fuji by several hundred meters, so resi­
structure. dents could enjoy looking down on the mountain.
What both categories of monument have in conunon is ex­ Shimizu Corporation is proposing a far more modest 800­
cess. Braggadocio. In Shelley's famous sonnet "Ozymandias," meter skyscraper (almost twice the height of the Sears Tower in
the poet describes a traveler coming across the ruins of a gigan­ Chicago), on pillars above a city. Kajima Corporation is pursu­
tic statue in the desert. On the base of the statue, an inscription ing a stacked structure, a so-called Dynamic Intelligent Build­
reads: ing, which consists of several fifty-story structures piled on top
of one another. Ohbayashi Corporation, for its part, has an­
"My na/HC is Ozymalldias, king of khlgs: nounced plans for the 2,100-meter Aeropolis 2001, whose
Look 0/1 my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" shadow will darken the environs of Tokyo.
Nothing beside rell/ai/ls. Rotilid tlte decay While these companies have put their plans on hold due to
OJ fllat colossal wreck, bOlmdless alld bare, the bursting of the Bubble, their concept~ are dear to the Con­
Thc lcl/le and level sands stretclt Jar away. struction Ministry's heart, and as we have seen in the case of
Nagara Dam, once a concept, always a concept. Aoki Hitoshi, a
Japan has a bad case of the Ozymandias syndrome. "Bound­ senior specialist with the Construction Advisory Section of the
less and bare, the lone and level sands" of miserable houses, ugly Construction Ministry, says, 'The construction companies put
apartments, shadeless streets, bleak office buildings, and the a great deal of work into developing them, and it seemed a
clutter of signs and electric wires stretch far away. But japan's shanle not to utilize them. Aside from the military, develop­
planners seem to believe that the world will stand in amaze­ ment of such buildings is an ideal frontier in which scientific
ment before these monuments, the larger and more strident the research can be extended. We hope that in the future this can
better. be developed into a national project." How these structures will
Hence the pride that the town of Yokota takes in the fact get around the Sunlight Law is a mystery, but in the case of
that the Orochi Loop is Japan's longest highway cloverleaf. monuments, ministries waive restrictions. Whatever it costs,
Other towns have built the longest stone stairway (3,333 steps" something like these will surely get built.
the biggest waterwheel, the world's biggest Ferris wheel (Yoko­ Mile-high buildings are just the beginning. The grandiose
hama waterfront), the biggest stewpot (six meters wide, able to visions of japan's builders and architects go further-nothing
feed 30,000 people), dle biggest drum, the biggest sand clock, less than reshaping the land itself. The new Comprehensive
and the world's longest beach bench. In Tokyo, monuments on National Development Plan, or Zenso, is considering a net­
the drawing boards include Taisei Corporation's 4,OOO-meter work of expressways across the country, as well as mammoth
cone-shaped building known as X-SEED4000. Its base would tunnels and bridges linking all ofjapan's islands, despite the fact
be six kilometers wide and it would sit above the ocean, hous- that road, rail, and air systems already link them. The jewel in
228 Dogs Qlld Demons D/'IIIOIIS: TIl<' Philosophy of MO/IIIl1lclIls 229

the crown would be a brand-new capital built on land far away written in the early thirteenth century, which describes a life of
from Tokyo; this will provide opportunities for monuments on meditation in a modest natural setting, and which set a pattern
a scale beyond anything yet imagined. Estimated by the gov­ that the philosopher Yoshida Kenko and the poets Saigyo and
ernment to cost ¥14 trillion, it will house 600,000 people in a 13asho followed in later years; it reached its apex in the tea cer­
9,000-hectare site surrounding the National Diet, to be called l'mony. Tea masters designed tearooms to be small, unobtrusive
Diet City. The construction work will essentially involve flat­ structures, made of humble woods and bamboo.
tening an entire prefecture--and eight prefectures have passed The philosophy of pure poverty penetrates every facet of tra­
resolutions urging that this new capital be built in their terri­ ditional japan. Visitors to Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, home of
tory. the famous rock garden, will have seen a stone water basin in
The architect Kurokawa Kisho proposes to expand Tokyo by the garden at the back, whose motto is known to schoolchil­
creating a 30,000-hectare island in the bay, laced with canals dren across the land: four characters are carved in it, surround­
and freeways. This island would be home to 5 million people, ing a square hole in the center of the stone, which is a visual
with an additional million housed in another new city built at pun, since all four have the radical for "mouth," a square, in
the Chiba eud of the bay and connected by a bridge. The cost them. The message--the essence of Zen, one could even say of
of this scheme comes to around ¥300 trillion (twenty times the Buddhism in general--is VTilrc 'Tada 'Tant SlJint, which means "I
Apollo program), and it would require men and machines to know only what is enough." Another translation is "I know the
level an entire range of mountains yielding 8.4 billion cubic limits, and that is enough." Nakano writes plaintively:
meters oflandfill (125 times what builders excavated to cut the
Suez Canal), this on top of the 900 million cubic meters al­ When I speak ofjapanese culture to foreigners, the problem
ready shaved off the mountains of Chiba Prefecture to build the always circles back to the way we live today, which is only
Tokyo-Chiba trans-bay bridge. natural. The reason I began talking about this side of japa­
nese culture is I wanted to say, "The japanese products you
he world knows japan as the land of the miniature, of re­ ~ee and the people making them are not all there is to the

Stl-aint, of quiet good taste, of devotion to the low-key but Japanese! Tilis is what our traditional culture was!" While I
telling detail. Nakano Kiyotsugu wrote a best-selling book know full well that It is being lost in today's japan, it was my
published in 1993 in which he argued that the very core ideal desire to introduce the best, the supreme point of Japanese
of traditional Japanese culture was SeilJill 110 Shiso, the "philosu­ culture.
phy of pure poverty." By pure poverty, Nakano meant the
simplicity of life of the eighteenth-century Buddhist monk If "pure poverty" and "knowing what is enough" were the
Ryokan, famed for living happily in a thatched hut. Ryokan's supreme points of japanese culture, where in the world did
chief pleasure in life was playing with the local children. "Pure japan's modern gigantism. the insistence on the biggest and the
poverty" inspired many of japan's greatest works of literature, longest, the taste for the bombastic, come from? Within tradi­
such as Kamo no Chomei's Record if the "Ten-Foot-Square Hut, tional culture itself, coexisting with pure poverty has been an­
[ero ~
230 Dogs alld Demons Demons: Till' Philosophy of Mill/umfllls ---- --.. 231

other tendency, a competitive streak. When the imperial court

built cities like Kyoto and Nara, it did so with an eye over its
mobib.ation of people 'nd resomees. Notte-D'me, the F~
bidden CIty, the Potala Palace, Angkor Wat, the Vatican took
shoulder at China and Korea. In Nara, the very first order of centuries to complete. Tn contrast, the gigantic office towers
business was to devote all the energies of the state to building and fanciful museums of today are apparently projects that even
the Hall of the Great Buddha. intended to compete with the smaIl and poorly developed nations can easily do. As the
largest temples of the Tang-dynasty capital in Chang-An. To­ twenty-first century dawns, the construction of huge monu­
day's Todaiji, though a much smaller reconstruction, is still the ments is no longer a proof of advanced civilization. ]n other
largest wooden structure in the world. advanced industrial nations, the advent of a new skyscraper.
Later rulers celebrated their reigns with undertakings such as th~se days rarely brings more than a yawn-if not outright op­
the Great Buddha in Kamakura, Hideyoshi's Himeji Castle, and position. But Japan seems stuck in a pre-industrial mode in
the Shogun's Palace in Edo, which are among the larger struc­ which such monuments still invariably astound and amaze. It's
tures of the premodern world. In short, Japan also has a strong Japan's old competitive streak in action, but not updated to
tradition of celebrating its rulers' power through impressive a newer model of development. Therefore Japan must keep
monuments. What is going on today may be a similar affirma­ building more and bigger and higher and grander in order to
tion of wealth and power. impress its citizens that it has "arrived," or, in the words of
Thoreau wrote: "Many are concerned about the monuments Nakaoki Yutaka, the governor of Toyama Prefecture, "so that
of the West and the East, to know who built them. For my part, people can feel they have become rich." Monuments prove to
I should like to know who in those days did not build them­ people that they live in a successnli modern state. But of course
who were above such trifling." The answer is, of course, that the real test of a successful modern state is the degree to which
none were above it. Every state, as it acquires wealth, goes it rises above such trifling.
through a phase in which it enjoys building bigger and taller Why is it that monument building has triumphed to such an
structures. Versailles, the Houses of Parliament, the Empire State extreme in modern times, while Japan's strong tradition of
Building, the Sears Tower-these are all Western monuments. "pure poverty" has been swept away like a straw in a gale? It's a
Newly industrializing Asian countries arc headed one after an­ case of breakdown and imbalance--and this inability to keep a
other in the same direction, with mega-projects scheduled for balance lies at the core ofJapan's modern cultural trauma.
China, Malaysia, and Singapore. From the Pyramids of Egypt A clue to the problem may be found in what I call the the­
to Malaysia's new Linear City (a twelve-kilometer mall and of­ ory of Opposite Virtues. Nations, like people in this respect,
tlce building p!<lnned to straddle the Klang River in Kuala may pride themselv~s most highly on the qualiry they most
Lumpur), monument building would seem to be a universal lack. Hence "fair play" is a golden virtue in Great Britain, the
need, perhaps even a basic human desire. country that attacked and subjugated half the globe. "Equality"
There is, however, one critical difference between ancient was the banner of Soviet Russia, where comrnissars owned lav­
societies and those of today, and it is tl,at raising huge monu­ ish dachas on the Black Sea and the proletariat Jived no better
ments in pre-industrial times was d[ffiCIIIt, involving massive than serfs. The Umted S~ates prides itself on its high "moral
232 Dogs and Demons Demo"s: Tile Pllilosoplly of Monuments 233

stdndard," while perpetuating racial and moral double standards. known as ;:allshill, "leaving behind the heart," after wruch
And then there is ['amour in France tion of cold blooded another cycle begins. A simple English translation of this se­
rationalists Or Canadians pricling themselves most on being so quence would be "slow, faster, fastest, stop." In the context of
distinctivelv"Canadian." • twentieth-century history, one might translate it as "slow, faster,
In Japan we must look at the time-honored ideal of wa, fastest, crash." Japan never rests at Ita but always continues to
"peace." VVtl means security, stability, everything in its proper kyll, and notrung can stop it thereafter but catastrophe. Zan­
place, "knowing what is enough."Yet a persistent irony ofJap­ sllil'l.
anese history since 1868 is that for all the emphasis on peace After recovering from its defeat in World War II,Japan set out
and harmony, they are exactly the virtues that Japan did not to lead the world as a great industrial power. Pure poverty did
pursue. At the end of the nineteenth century, rather than set­ not fit into this scenario; gigantic construction did. With indus­
tling back to enjoy its new prosperity, Japan embarked on a try and construction as the sole national goals,Japan turned 011
campaign to conquer and colonize its neighbors. By the 1930s, her own land, attacking the mountains and valleys with bull­
it had already acquired a tremendous empire in East Asia; trus dozers, sweeping away old cities, fuling in the harbors-essen­
inability to stop led to its suicidal attack on the u.s. base at tially turning the nation into one large industrial battleship.
Pearl Harbor, as a result of which it lost everything. Sometrung Nobody can slow her as she steams full speed ahead toward a
similar is happening again. Perhaps Japan vaJues Tf'tl so highly colossal ~wrec~ - ­
for the very reason that it has such a strong tendency toward Another factor that prevents Japan from coming to its senses \
imbalance and uncontrollable extremes.

is the effect of the damage already done. Gavan McCormack \
Prewar history and Japan's present rush toward environmen­ has written, "The real and growing need is for imaginative
tal and fiscal disaster indicate a fatal flaw in japan's social struc­ projects designed to undo some of the damage to the environ­
ture. The emphasis on shared responsibility and obedience lead'i ment: begin de-concreting the rivers and coast, demolishing
to a situation in which nobody is in charge, with the result that some of the dams, restoring some of the rivers to their natural
once it is set on a certain course, Japan will not stop. There is course." Such a process has in fact begun in the United States,
no pilot, nobody who can throw the engines into reverse once but in Japan it is nearly inconceivable. Consciousness of ~i-
the ship of state is under way; and so it moves faster and faster ronmental issues is so low and heedless devel9Qment has al 1

until it crashes onto the rocks. ~ d'amagea lapan's urban and rural s'cttlngs that what It would
The rhythm is predictable. In studying traditional arts in take to repair them beggars the imagination. It's a self-fulfilling
Japan, one encounters the classic pattern of jo, ha, kyll, zal1shil1 , cycle: as t~ texture of city life and the natural environment de­
which appears everywhere, fi'0l11 the wiping of the scoop in the teriorates, there are fewer and fewer places in which people can
tea ceremony to the dramatic finale of a Kabuki dance. Jo enjoy the guiet, meditative lifestyle of".gyre pmrerty." and fewer
means "introduction," the initial Start of a movement. Ha means and fewer people who can appreciate what it ever me:l;nt
"break"-wben the movement breaks into medium speed. KYIi A child brought up in Japan today may have a chance to
means "rush," the sprint at the end. These all lead to a full stop, travel to Shikoku's Tokushima Prefecture, but the closest he will
234 Dogs and Demons Deli/OilS: Ti,e Philosophy of Monllllftllis 235

come to enjoying its native culture is to see robots dancing in construction of a new island that would involve leveling
ASTY Tokushima's Yu-ing Hall. When he goes on family or 20 percent, or 75,000 square kilometers, ofJapan's mountains
school outings, bus tours will carry him not to famous water­ and dumping them in the sea to create a fifth island about
falls or lovely beaches but to see cement being poured at Atsui the size of Shikoku. He argued that only the contaimnent
Dam. As Japan flattens its rivers and shoreline, and sheathes and focusing of Japan's energies in some such gigantic
every surface with polished stone and steel, it is turning the project at home could create the sort of national unity and
nation into one huge artificial environment-a Starship Enter­ sense of purpose that formerly had come from war.
prise, though not nearly so benign. A Death Star. Aboard the
Death Star, every megalomaniac sci-fi fantasy is a possibility. This is why Yokota had to build the Orochi Loop, Kyoto had to
At the deepest level we fmd ourselves face-to-face with what build the New Station, and Tokyo and Osaka have to fill in
McCormack calls the "Promethean energy" of the Japanese their bays. A demon escaped from the bottle in 1868, and it has
people. With a thousand years of military culture behind them, yet to be tamed.
a mighty energy propels the Japanese forward-to go forth,
to do battle, to vanquish all obstacles. This is Japan's vaunted
Bushido, the way of the warrior. During the centuries of seclu­
sion before Japan opened up in 1868, this energy lay coiled
within like a powerful spring. Once opened,Japan leaped forth
upon the world with a voracious hunger to conquer and sub­
due-as Korea, China, and Southeast Asia learned in the 1930s
and 1940s. And, despite the defeat of World War II, Japan has
still not come to terms with its demon.
Economic analysts have seen the Bushido mentality in posi­
tive terms, as the motive force behind the long hours workers
spend in overtime at their offices, taking few vacations, and de­
voting their lives to their companies. But Japan's un1irnited en­
ergy to go forth and conquer is like a giant blowtorch-one
has to be careful which direction the flame is pointing. In the
past half century, Japan has turned the force of the flame upon
its O\VIl mountains, valleys, and cities. McCormack writes:

One of the more philosophically minded of Japan's post­

war corporate leaders, Matsushita Konosuke of National!
Panasonic, once advocated a 200-year national project for the
Manga and Massive: Tire Business oj Mon"mt"'s 237

in Shikoku depends on construction for more than 90 percent

of its income; government handouts for building dams, roads,
and kOillillkall (community halls) are its very lifeblood.
In the case of halls and monuments, the Ministry of Home
10 Manga and Massive Affairs' Bonds for Overall Servicing of Regional Projects (dliso­
sai bonds) channel much of the subsidies to local entities. Using
erhe Business oj Monuments chisosai bonds, towns can borrow up to 75 percent of the cost
of their mOIlllments from the government, which shoulders 30
to 50 percent of the interest. Subsidies also cover 15 percent of
"ground preparation," including landfill and foundation work,
which is often the most expensive part of construction.
Society is like sex in that no one knows what perversions it can In addition, Japan has a Monument Law. In the 1980s, Prime
develop once aesthetic considerations are allowed to dictate its Minister Takeshita Noboru began with a onetime grant of
choices. ¥100 million to rural areas to use any way they wished. Had
-MARCEL PROUST the money gone to "dogs"-planting trees, beautifying river­
banks-it might have led to real benefits, but it was intended
for "demons," for striking monuments and attention-gatl1ering
events that are much more expensive. So with only ¥100 mil­
lion, small tOWIlS could do nothing much. (perhaps the biggest
The building of monuments is now so important for japan that success story concerned the town of Tsuna, in Hyogo Pre­
it deserves to be studied as an independent sector of the econ­ fecture, which used its money to buy a sixty-three-kilo gold
omy. What follows is, I believe, the fIrst step-by-step outline of nugget, and drew more than a million tourists to see it.)
the business and planning of monuments in either japanese or Takeshita followed up with a full-fledged law that provides sub­
English. sidies to "specially targeted projects for building up old home­
;overnment subsidies underpin it all. With construction so towns (}mlsato zlikuri)," waiving interest on loans for "ground
lucrative to bureaucrats and politicians in charge, building ma­ preparation" and facilitating c/lisosai bond issues. Even with
nia has overrun every part ofJapan. Most of the "pork" goes to subsidies, villages like Toyodama can hardly afFord the expense
the countryside, since the Liberal Democratic Party, heavily de­ of their mosques and museums, but with debt so easy and with
pendent on the rural agricultural vote, has governed japan with bonds matched by government grants, provincial towns have
only slight interruptions for a half century, and it supports a not resisted; during the 1990s, small towns borrowed about a
policy of special rural subsidies, most of which are earmarked trillion yen for their monuments.
for construction. That is why the more remote the countryside, So the money is there (albeit on loan). The next step is to
the greater the damage. A tiny mountain village like Iya Valley plan what sort of hall your town is to have, and planning a

(;.aIler "e,S Af'("~,itc.+uYtA\ S+y(t,S: Mai1.Sot ~hci 'Q?S, _
238 Dogs and Demons Manga aud Massive: Till' Bl/siuess of MOUl/meuls 239

monument isn't easy. The architectYamazakiYasutaka, an expert Takeyama Sei, who proposed a concert hall. While this was far
in civic-hall construction, says, "They are not building these from the original purpose of a meeting place, and though
halls in order to vitalize culture. The aim is, through building Shuto villagers had little need for a concert hall, who were they
halls, to vitalize the economy. To put it strongly, in the name of to argue? The Shuto Cultural Hall (Pastora Hall) opened in
these halls, local governments are simply building whatever 1994, a huge concrete block in the middle of rice paddies, with
they want to build." a rooftop performance space large enough to seat 1,500 people.
The journalist Nakazaki Takashi illustrates how a hall gets The next step after "planning" is "design." Commercial ar-­
planned. When tbe village of Nagi in Obyama decided that it chitecture accounts for most of the new buildings in Japan,
needed a monument, its first idea was a museum of calligraphy, . \~hich is of course true around the world, and in Japan these
but regional authorities pointed out that a monument is not a are designed largely by in-house designers working for giant
monument unless a famous architect designs it. So Nagi ap­ construction firms and architectural agencies. These buildings
proached Isozaki Arata, and Isozaki told yillage officials that if share a common graynes~. uniformi!l' and cheap commercial­
they would allow him a free hand in designing a museum ac­
cording to his own ideals, he would agree to do it. Flattered by
the famous architect's attention and at a loss how to build a
- ism. As for independent architects, their work generally f."llls
into the tv.. .o familiar styles: IIIGl1ga (comic-book fantasy) or
massive (overwhelming office block).
nt otherwjs[Nagi agreed to Isozaki's terms. What the The leader of the massive camp is Tange Kenzo, whose soLid,
village got was a modern museum housing only three artworks, single-piece constructions aim to impress \vith weight and
two by Isozaki's cronies and one by his wife, with a small token majesty. This style dominated in the 1960s, when he designed
calligraphy gallery tacked on at the back. The three artworks the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, and at first it featured tradi­
(valued at ¥300 million) were included as part of the COllStruc­ tional Japanese forms duplicated in concrete, such as pillar and
tion budget, but Isozaki never told the village the details of the post, or jutting roof beams. A turning point came in the 19705,
fees the artists received; the total cost came to ¥1.6 billion, when Isozaki Arata insisted that it didn't matter if a building
about three times the village's annual tax income ~ looked Japanese or Western. Japanese culture, he argued, had 110
Satoshi, the director of the mllseum, said, "There was nobody core, so the architect was free to quote wittily from any tradi­
in the village who could talk back. It could be that those who tion. Tins was the beginning of the mGIl~a style, with its em­
had some idea of what was going on were scared and didn't phasis on curious shapes and fantastic decorations. Architecture
dare raise their hands:' came to be seen as "contemporary art," as a form of sculpture
The town of Shuto in Yamaguchi Prefecture (population The architects Ito Toyo, Shinohara Kazllo, and others took
15,000) set out to build a community meeting place. The town the next step when they invented the term jl/)'I/-sei, "Aoating,"
fathers consulted with the construction-department head at to describe a type of building made of punched metal, colored
the prefectural office, and in a scenario reminiscent of Nagi's, plastic, and glass with a quality of temporariness and imperma­
the department head called in his college buddy, the architect nence. This self-consciously trashy, cheap, shiny look caught on
~("o. {tN-~ ,
Sln,,'bl1'f ~
Dogs alld Demons Manga and Massive: The Bllsiness of MOil II III ill Is ·£;X~A,.U5+S \241

like wildfire, and it dominates mainstream architecture in Japan In Japan, however, there is no "context," only "objects."
today, even inducing a "massive" builder like Hara to add _frql/ Hasegawa Itsuko, the high priestess of the fuyu movement, has
touches to his New Kyoto Station. written: "At the opening [of an exhibition] we were shown a
During the high-growth decades of the 1960s and 1970s video of modern Japan. Scenes overflowing with people, cars,
two developments influenced architects in Japan. Kathryn and comumer goods, scenes of chaotic cities and architecture, a
Findlay, a British architect working in Tokyo, put it this way, confusion of media information, coexistence of traditional cer­
"From the 1970s a number ofJapanese architects felt that it was emonies and people's multi-faceted life of today-after seeing it
necessary to divorce architecture from society, economies, and once even l, who live amongst it, found myself completely ex­
city planning, and become a self-referential art." So in the first hau~ted." The logical direction out of this[Cha5clis escape from
development Japanese architects considered that they should the@rearYJand prosaic Japanese urban landscape. Any touch of
not be constrained by the buildings' environment. They felt no variety, even something hideous, is a welcome release. Upon
need to harmonize their buildings with cities, no requirement seeing the Hinomaru Driving School, a black building with a
to site them vis-a-vis rivers or hills, and no need to take a back­ huge red globe emerging from it, Shuwa Tei, the president of a
ward glance at history. In a sense, lsozaki was perhaps right Tokyo architectural firm, said, "It's so ugly and unexpected it's
when he declared that Japanese culture had no core. endearing." Hasegawa sums it up:" Architecture that fits in with
Of course, when architects sit down in front of their desks the city and leads people into various activities-through these
and start drawing, who knows what extraordinary visions may alone we will not see liberated space.... We must aim at de­
ow from their pens? Dreamillg up casdes in the air is part of veloping a liberated architectural scene worldwide, by concep­
what they are mnnosed tQ dQ. Ilwt ;0 most modern contexts tualizing architecture between time and space."
local history and the natural environment have tempered their What this jargon means is that it is old-fashioned to design
dreams. In the 1930s, Le Corbusier drew up a plan for Paris buildings that actually fulfill a useful purpose or improve peo­
that would have demolished the old urban center and replaced ple's lives, and it is more important to have buildings that are
it with wide avenues fronted by rows of tall rectangular office "liberated" from "time and space." An example of a liberated
blocks. He called this plan Ville Radiel/se, "Radiant City." But building would be Saishunkan Seiyaku Women's Dormitory in
Parisians dismissed Radiant City with horror, and today it is Kumamoto, designed by Sejima Kazuyo and conulussioned by
considered a byword for the misguided schemes of egotistical lsozaki Arata for a project known as Artpolis. This building
architects. The history of modern architecture in America is re­ from the early 1990s, intended to house young women em­
plete with the corpses of similar bizarre ideas. ployees of a pharmaceutical company, won the Japan Institute
A fierce argument rages between atdiltects wnose buildings of Architecture's Newcomer's Prize. Judges praised it for its el­
are meant to stand alone as pure art, "object-oriented," and egant modernism, which Sejima achieved by squeezing four
those whose structures meld into their surroundings "contextu­ Women into each room of the living quarters and having a
ally." Mosdy, city planners try to strike a balance between the large conunon space; she based her concept on the Russian Su­
two points of view. premacist view of housing. Design an uncomfortable, even mis­

d~h.{ / cL1.«:Ao+,te­
Dogs alld Demons Manga all" Massive: Ti,e BI/silless of MOlIl/met/IS 243

erable, apartment block of the sort you might find in Eastern to glorifY her aesthetic. The architect described her Nagoya
Europe in the 1950s, and the Japan Institute of Architecture World Design Expo Pavilion as follows:
will award you a prize for elegant modernism.
FIt}'It, "floating," could not be a better image for the rootless A distant view of this building emulates a misty landscape,
feeling of modern Japanese architecture. And designs abound with byers of perforated metal panels and see-through
for imaginary cities wholly unrelated to the real places where screens reflecting the atmospheric colors of the clouds and
architects live. Recently, Isozaki curated an exhibition called seas. The garden is reminiscent of the spiky rocks in Guilin,
"Mirage City-Another Utopia," featuring fantastical buildings China or a group of chador-covered Muslim women. It is
to be located on the uninhabited island of Haishi, off Hong actually a rest area with custom-designed chairs made of per­
Kong. As Kathryn Findlay has said, "Mirage City sums up the forated plywood and shaded by milky white fabric tents.
attitude that architects here have: detachm.ent and distance £i'om Imaginary trees made with expanded metal sheets and FRP
the places where they build." (Fiber Reinforced Plastic) change their appearance con­
The second important development affecting architecture stantly by reflecting sunlight. A deformed geodesic dome
in Japan was the increase in money flowing to construction. "high mountain" is also clad with FRP and perforated metal
On the crest of the monumentalist wave, Japanese architects sheets. and surrounded with a great sense of nature.
had opportunities to design structures far more bizarre-and
more numerous-than they could have imagined several Let's think aboLlt this. Hasegawa's "great sense of nature" in­
decades earlier. Largesse from the construction industry funds cludes a "misty landscape" made of perforated metal sheeting, a
glossy magazines and pamphlets advertising the work of Japa­ "garden" of brightly painted plywood, and "trees" of aluminum
nese architects to all the world. and plastic cutouts borne on steel columns. Words cannot do
Foreign designers fll1d the wild and wacky fantasies ofJapa­ justice to what this structure really looks like: a jumble of func­
nese architects amusing, even enviable. What fun it must be to tIOnless, pseudo-tech decoration, with colunulS sprouting sheets
throw off the fetters and design as one might for a sciencc­ of metal and plastic cut into squares and ovals. This is nature on
fiction set or a comic book! The international design commu­ the Death Star, not on earth. Pure mOIl,l?a.
nity lionizes architects like Kurokawa and Isozaki. They have And \vhy not? What is the Nagoya World Design Expo Pa­
what architects everywhere desire but ahnost never have the VIlion anyway but another monument with no inherent pur­
luck to find: lots of money and total freedom. pose? A clutter of sterile decoration is as good a deSIgn as any
The structures decorated with sheets or domes of perforated other, although what this has to do with nature is a mystery.
aluminum designed by Hasegawa ltsuko, Queen of Monu­ Hasegawa's masterpiece is considered to be the Shonandai Cul­
ments, dot the landscape from the far north to the distant tural Center, built for the city of Fujisawa. It cOllsist~ of a
south. Her work, which epitomizes the llJaI1,Ra school, also pro­ hodgepodge of huge spheres, littered with bits and pieces of
vides an opportunity to deploy the academic dOl1blespeak used glass and aluminum, with her trademark metal and plastic trees.
!;o/J,.:ts ~ dc_
244 'A' 1. (' JQ"-'.s
v ,"I"
J P"~(tns.
L ..l Dogs alld Demons Manga a"d Massi,//,: TI,e Busilless of MOllllIIIWfs 245

This she calls "architecture as a second nature." She goes on to year. The town of Chuzu (population 12,000) in Shiga is
say, "We thought that if we architecturally recreated a primal burdened with a combined cultural hall and health center
hill (which existed on the site before development) and estab­ (Sazanami Hall) dreamed up by the architect Kurokawa Kisho,
lished vestiges of nature hidden in the urbanity, then we could which cost ¥2.2 billion to build and requires ¥44 million a year
possibly find a new nature in the man-made environment." to manage. In order to maintain Sazanami Hall, the town had
This, she believed, would help us move "from the 20th century to cut its general expenditures from ¥20 million to ¥13 mil­
history of exploitation to a more soft-edged symbiotic unity." lion-amI this was only to cover operations, before it had to
begin repaying its share of the construction budget (¥1.6 bil­
Let's return to our study of how to build a monument. Having lion).
achieved a "soft-edged symbiotic unity" in the design, the next Tokyo has added the biggest behemoth to its extensive stable
step is to build, for construction is the whole point. The bud­ of white elephants. The Tokyo International Forum, beloved of
gets sometimes make this comically clear: in an extreme case, world architectural critics for its curving glass waUs following
the city of Ono in Kyushu had to fill its museum with replicas the train tracks near Tokyo Station and for its tall atrium, was
because no money had been set aside to buy art. The contrac­ completed for ¥165 billion in January 1997. It opened with a
tors, commonly chosen by closed bids, feed a percentage of the high occupancy rate, having rented out its meeting rooms to
profits back to local politicians. ffiureaucratSJarchitects, and la­ municipal agencies celebrating its completion. But within a
borers on the work crew all benefit. few months occupancy had sunk to below 30 percent, with no
Trouble arrives later, when the bills come due. Monuments hope for a revival in sight. Lovely though the atrium is, there
are albatrosses for the cities and towns that commission them. was no need for it in the first place. Although it is labeled an
Osaka has lost so much money on its waterfront projects that "international forum," it is neither much of a forum nor inter­
the prefecture has gone bankrupt and survives financially only national, though its upkeep is world-class: this elephant gobbles
by borrowing from the c~ntral government. The optimistic fodder to the tune of¥4.6 billion a year. And the new Yoko­
prognosis for the new Tokyo Bay projects is that expenditures hama Stadium, constructed at a cost of ¥60 billion, has only
will break even in 2034! Subsidies may cover construction, but one purpose-to host a few competitions in the Soccer World
they do not cover the management of monuments, as small Cup planned for 2002. There is no long-term use in sight, and
towns have learned to their horror. Yokohama expects maintenance fees to run into hundreds of
The operations headache goes back to the fact that most millions of yen every year.
monuments s!9 not satistt. any real nee1. In the case of Shuto's To make matters worse, all these halls and stadiums face
concert hall, the operating cost in the opening year was ¥3 fierce competition from one another. The commuting town of
million. This hall was one of Takeyama's greatest hits, combin­ Sakae (population 25,000), an hour outside Tokyo, opened a
ing architectural interest with high-tech acoustics, but since the multipurpose civic center in July 1995, with a hall that seats
village didn't need a concert hall it stands silent most of the 1,500 people, welfare facilities, and a "community base" called
246 Dogs alld Demons MaL1ga and Massille: The Busilless of MO'lIIl1leuts 247

"Fureai [Get-in-touch] Plaza Sakae." Unfortunately for Sakae, Yet they had taken the trouble to draw up regulations for the
the neighboring, even smaller towns of Inzai and Shiroi opened international room:
similar halls at the same time. Meanwhile, not far away, the
cities of Matsudo, Sakura, and Narita all have big halls of their 1. The room can be used only by groups of at least ten or
own. Sakae can't compete. eleven people.
Small towns burdened with heavy operations fees turn again
2. At least seven of these people must live within a six-block
to mother's breast, the Construction Ministry, £i'om which they
area of Nezu.
can suckle more subsidies if they agree to build new monu­
ments. The town of 19ata is caught in such a cycle of depen­ 3. They must pay ¥3,OOO per person, per day.
dency. Igata agreed to build three nuclear-power generating
4. They are not allowed to leave any materials at the hall.
facilities in its environs in exchange for hefty grants (¥6.2 bil­
lion for the third plant alone). But the town used up all the 5. A majority of a group's members must be present in order
money on multipurpose town halls and other facilities, so it ap­ for them to use the room.
proved expansion of the third plant in exchange for more sub­
siclies. These did not suffice to return the village to financial Allan then offered to buy and donate equipment for the
health, for the cost of Inaintaining its empty monuments was so room, but they turned him down. "It seemed like the building
high that 19ata exhausted the funds by 1995. 19ata now has no administration wanted to make their lives easier by making the
choice but to accept another power station. facility impossible to use," AJlan says.
Managing monuments successfully is largely beyond the ca­ Concerned about the low level of management know-how,
pacity of the bureaucrats who are in charge of them. In some the National Land Agency opened a course of study for peo­
cases, there is no choice but to give up the original purpose of ple in charge of cultural halls in February 1995. According to
the hall and recycle it. The town of Nakanita, in Miyagi Pre­ Kogure N obuo, the cultural-affairs director of the Local Auton­
fecture in Kyushu, led the way in the 1980s with its Bach Con­ omy Unified Center, participants come for one reason: "Their
cert Hall, at the time the most high-tech concert hall in Japan, desperate problem is that they can't make ends meet."
which today is used tor karaoke contests and piano lessons. One thing is dear: an entirely new service industry is in the
The painter Allan West, who lives in Nezu, Bunkyo-ku Ward, making. Every year billions of dollars will Bow nationwide to
in Tokyo, described his experience with a new center that support tens of thousands of directors, curators, planners, office
opened in his neighborhood. The organizers intended to have workers, and sales and custodial staffi. What is remarkable about
an "international room" for crafts use by locals, so he stopped this situation is that it runs counter to the official Japanese view
by to ask what their plans for the room were. They had no idea. that a service economy is not as viable, productive, or profitable
He suggested that they install a printmaking press for public as a manufacturing and construction economy. What, then, are
use, and gave them a catalog of presses. They weren't interested. we to make of the business of managing monuments, which
Mll,hl""'f Cul+vr~s C~,,'~5 ~C2,. o~ lo"d~f(2A~ In iT,,~~
248 Dogs and Demons Manga and Massive: TILe Business of Monuments 249
:>lOSO-vt.S ~
employs so many people to provide for so little social need, cre­ water, greenery and historical places." Alas, Yokohama, where
ates no wealth, and relies almost entirely on public handouts for trains and buses shut down after midnight, is not "24-hour";
funding. nor is the city international (its old foreign community has
largely disappeared); certainly it is not environmentally friendly
Grandiose slogans cover up this tawdry reality ofJapanese cities or particularly cultural; and it is not especially rich in greenery
and their monuments. Slogans have deep cultural roots­ or historic sites. The port does have a lot of water.
words, in ancient Shinto, are magic-and the ideals stated in Imaginary towns liket'Mirage Cit;]--Another Utopia" boast
words sometimes have a greater psychological truth than mate­ even more glamorous sloga11L than real cities.'Mirage City, 1
rial reality. One can see this principle in action daily in the Isozaki tells us, is "an experimental model for the concep­
business or political world, where people will typically state the tualization and realization of a topian city or the 21st cen­
fatel1lae (official position) rather than the, hOtme (real intent); nor tury-the age of informatics.' It eature "inter-activity,
is this seen as duplicitous. The latemae may not reflect objectiv inter-communality, inter-textuali inter-subjectivity, and inter­
truth, but it describes the way things are supposed to be, and conullunicativity." In the 10 an lexicon "twenty-fmt century,"
that is more important. ":onlnlunication," "hub," "center," "cultural," "art," "environ­
Also, in a military culture, slogans are the equivalent of shouts ment," "cosmopolitan," "imernational," )0"0 hasshitl (broadcast­
going into battle. Officials preface public activities in Japan ing of information), II/reai (get in touch), "community,"
with ~attle erie§} In March 1997, the city of Kyoto published "multipurpose," "Asia-Pacific," "intelligent," and words begin­
the results of its Fifth Kyoto 21 Forum, its title trumpeting, "An ning with il/tcr-, il!fO-, or fec!zl/o- and ending with -Hfopia (or
Avant-Garde City at the Turning Point of Civilization." That's variants: -opia and -pia) or -polis are favorites.
the blood-stirring tatemae. The actuality is a blah industrial city Slogans require a certain amount of care in handling, since
that has temples on its outskirts lined with[loud~peake~ their true intent is often far from their surface meaning. Take,
Every monument and new city plan has exciting slogans to for example, the term "symbiotic unity," kyosci, used by Ha­
go along with it. Take Okinawa, one ofJapan's poorest regions. segawa Itsuko to describe her metal-and-plastic trees. Kyosei lit­
We hear that the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications is erally means "living together," and it is a rallying cry for
going to develop an Okinawa Multimedia Zone aimed at cre­ modern Japanese architecture, made famous by Kurokawa
ating an "info-communications hub for the entire Asia-Pacific K1Sho, who used it to justify proposals like the one for filling in
region." Meanwhile, the Ministry of International Trade and Tokyo Bay by razing a mountain range. Kyosci, in other words,
Industry is planning something called Digital Island, and Oki­ is exactly the opposite of "symbiotic unity with the enVlron­
nawa officials are proposing the Cosmopolitan City Formation 11lent."
COl There is a lesson here that has profound implications for the
~cribes itself as "cultivating its image as a way foreign media report on Japan. It is all too easy to accept
--ur international cultural city, a 21st-century information the slogans at face value and not question what is really going
city, and an environmentally friendly, humanistic city rich in on. For example, the city of Nagoya made plans to wipe out
24 ~ovv
.I~-kv-~\~ u\"hxexl C~~
ElI1 v;vevt1l61Q.\'\tA. \\ ~;e.V\d\
250 Dogs and Demons Manga alld Massive: The Busilless oj MO/II/meuts 251

Fujimae, Japan's most important tidal wetland (after the loss the sand garden at Ryoanji Temple pasted OntO the curving
of Isahaya), and use it as a dump site. Faced with local opposi­ walls. "The museum, completed last year," Muschamp infor1ll5
tion, the Fujimae project is now on hold-although the future us, "is one element of a municipal program designed to
of the wetlands is far from secure. Yet Nagoya plans to host strengthen the town's cultural life, partly in the hope of encour­
Expo 2005 based on the theme "Beyond Development: Redis­ aging young people to remain in the town instead of migrating
covering Nature's Wisdom." How many foreigners will attend to the big city." If Muschamp really believes that three works of
Expo 2005, visit charmingly designed pavilions, listen to pious esoteric contemporary art housed in a tube, a crescent, and a
speeches about Japan's love of nature and about "rediscovering block would keep young people from leaving this remote vil­
nature's wisdom," and never guess the devastation Nagoya plans lage, then he might also believe all the other slogans: that Kyoto
for the wetlands right outside Expo 2005's gates? is an avant-garde city at the turning point of civilization, that
Okinawa is an info-communications hub for the entire Asia­
In the case of modern Japanese arc~itecture, foreign cntlcs Pacific region, and that the city of Nagoya is moving beyond
come as pilgrims to the holy sanctuary, abandoning critical fac­ development to rediscover nature's wisdom.
ulties that they use quite sharply at home. Consider the follow­ Observers sometimes find that what is most touching about
ing effusion by Herbert Muschamp, the architectural critic for the Orochi Loop is the naive faith of the people of Yokota in
The New York Times, on the Nagi Museum: the wonders of "technology," and it brings a smile to city
dwellers' lips when we think of how pleased the villagers have
Try to visit the Nagi Museum of Contemporary Art in the been with the Loop's big red-painted bridge, kept lit all night.
rain, when the drops form rippling circles within the square But the same is true of the international art experts who write
enclosure of a shallow pool and the steel wires that rise from about modern Japanese design. What could be more quaint
the pool in gentle loops make it seem as if the drops have than architectural critics' unquestioning acceptance of weird
bounced off the surface back into the air, freezing into glis­ monuments because they stand for that wonderful thing, "art"?
tening silver arcs. Or go when it's sunny, go when it snows. A friend of mine, William Gilkey, taught piano at Yenching
Just go, or try to imagine yourself there. Though Nagi is University in Beijing at the time of the Conu11Lmist takeover
barely a dot on the map, the museum is more startlingly in 1949. He told me that when the propaganda and purges
original than any built by a major city in recent years. started. the professors and intellectuals were among the first to
start mouthing slogans about "liberation of the proletariat" and
The reader will recall that the Nagi Museum is the one that about "sweeping away dissident elements." On the other hand,
cost three times the village's annual budget, with only three the common people of Beijing had better sense: greengrocers
artworks housed in three sections (in Muschamp's succinct in the market simply ignored the political jargon for as long as
description, "a cylinder and a crescent, both sheathed with cor­ they could without being arrested.
rugated metal, and a connecting rectangular solid of cast con­ Likewise, the majority of the Japanese people aren't taken in
crete"). Inside the cylinder, the artwork consists of a replica of hy the slogans of monumentalism. They don't travel to visit ei­
252 Dogs and Demons Mang a and Massille: The Busiuess of MOlluments 253

ther the Orochi Loop or the Nagi Museum. As we have seen, bulldozed hill lined with aluminum trees. What are these things,
domestic travel is dwindling and international tourism is sky­ really? A sand garden pasted on walls-the humor is pathetic. Alu­
rocketing for the Japanese. They are not nearly so gullible as minum trees touted as "new nature"-the pathos is funny. Across
bureaucrats and art critics make them out to be. They know the length and breadth ofJapan, an encrustation of unneeded and
what a real museum is, and they know where to find it. Ac­ unused public monuments tricked up as 19605 sci-fi fantasy-the
cording to gate receipts, the museum most frequently visited by waste of money is indescribable, the slogans are odious, and the
the Japanese is not in Japan; it's the Louvre. academic jargon used to explain and justify it all a crime against
Unaware of the mechanisms of the Construction State that the language.
drive Japan to build monuments, and ignorant of the real his­ Counting these out, what is left is Art. I think we must all
tory behind the founding of the Nagi Museu111, Muschamp admit that.
tells us, "It is peculiar, a century after artists rallied around the
cause of art for art's sake, to find oneself in a museum created - OoMe:s.ff(.. +~V(l.1 I~ rc:..1/''''~
tor art's sake. Strange because for what other sake should art
museums exist?" If Muschamp only knew!
"A work of art?" wrote Mark Twain in his celebrated essay
about James Fenimore Cooper's Trw Deerslayer.

It has no invention; it has no order, system, sequence, or re­

sult; it has no life-likeness, no thrill, no stir, no seeming of re­
ality; its characters arc confusedly drawn, and by their acts
and words they prove that they are not the sort of people the
author claims that they are; its humor is pathetic; its pathos is
funny; its conversations are-oh! indescribable; its love scenes
odious; its English a crime against the language. Counting
these out. what is left is Art. I think we must all admit that.

One could say much the same of the Nagi Museum, the
Shonandai Cultural Center, the Toyodama Mosque, the New
Kyoto Station, and of course the Orochi Loop. They have no or­
der, system, sequence, or result; no reason for being except gov­
ernment subsidies to the construction industry. A highway loop
smashing through a valley, a giant corrugated metal tube plopped
in the middle of a scenic village, "new nature" in the tonn of a
NtJtiollal Wealtlt: Debt, Pllblic alld Private 255

mains to be seen is the results as they manifest themselves on

the bottom line.
In 1990, a cartoon in a Japanese newspaper featured two
couples, American and Japanese. The American man and wife,
I I National Wealth dressed in designer swimwear, were guzzling champagne as
they sat in the whirlpool bath of their large, luxurious apart­
TIebt) Public and Private ment. In the companion cartoon, a Japanese wife was hanging
laundry out on a tiny veranda while her shirtsleeved husband
read the newspaper in a cramped kitchen. Under the American
couple the caption read "World's Largest Debtor Nation," and
under the Japanese "World's Largest Creditor Nation."
These days people borrow without the slightest thought, and Since then, the Americans have gone on living well, and the
fi-om the very start they have no notion of ever settling their Japanese have gone on sacrificing, but by 1996 their country
debts. Since in their own extravagance they borrowed the had become the world's largest debtor nation. Adding in so­
called hidden debts buried in Ministry of Finance special ac­
money just to squander it in the licensed quarters, there is no
counts, Japan, with a national debt approaching 150 percent of
way for the money to generate enough new money to settle
GNP, has no relief in sight, as budgets, set by government min­
the loan. Consequently they bring hardship to their creditors istries on automatic pilot, continue to climb. The Ministry of
and invent every manner of falsehood.... No matter what Finance's support for banks and industry through the manipu­
excuse some malevolent scheme of yours prompts you to lation of financial markets has had high costs. Interest rates of
invent, nothing can save you from the obligation of returning 1 percent or lower have dried up the pools of capital that make
an item you have borrowed. up the wealth of ordinary citizens: insurance companies, pen­
sion funds, the national health system, savings accounts, uni­
-IHARA SAIKAKU, SOllie Final l¥ords oj Advice (1689)
versities, and endowed foundations. The prognosis is for
skyrocketing taxes and declining social services.
Besides the central government, local units across the nation,
Gavan McCormack points out, "Japan is the world's greatest from heavily populated prefectures to tiny villages, are drown­
savings country, but it is also the world's most profligate dissi­ ing in red ink. By 1998, thirty-one ofJapan's forry-six prefec­
pater of its people's savings." Despite five decades of continuous tures were running deficits averaging 15 percent of their total
growth, making Japan the second-largest economy in the budgets; six prefectures had reached the crisis level of 20 per­
world, the nation is living beyond its means. After seeing the cent, at which point the central government had to step in and
civil-engineering and monument fi:enzy sweeping Japan, we rescue them. Of these, Osaka Prefecture, reeling from a string
have a pretty good idea where the money is going. What re- of failed waterfront projects, is basically bankrupt, surviving on

rv<b buf YlI2IJ 1f4{~ ItJ4)
Dogs and Demons

emergency cash infusions from the central government; its cu­

~''';J"'b~S"~t~rt bd't,:;7:4v relvh1- V;W"l'S
t(Sing brought the grand total to 118 percent of GDp, sur­
mulative debt already topping ¥3.3 trillion, Osaka has been passing even the notoriously spendthrift Italy, and making Japan
funning annual losses of ¥200 billion per year since 1997. the most heavily indebted of the twenty OECD nations. And
However, Osaka could still lose in the race to become the that was 1999. By 2002, cumulative debt will have reached pos­
biggest prefectural bankruptcy, for the municipality of Tokyo sibly 150 percent of GDP. David L. Asher, of Oxford Univer­
also met disaster at the waterfront, and its shortfall for fiscal
sity, claims that Japan's real debt could be as high a5 $11 trillion,

2000 is three times larger than Osaka's, and growing.

Quantifying Japan's debt crisis is not easy, because its debts

are so well disguised that nobody knows the exact ftgure. In a

special panlphlet on the national debt, the Y011lillr; SIJi1llb1l11 re­
or 250 percent of GDp, after Zaito loans and unfunded pension
liabilities are added.
Bad as they are, these figures do not take into account dubi­
ous reporting, such as the numbers game the Housing Public
ported: "In addition to the general budget, there are 38 s ecial Agency plays with apartment sales, showing unsold units as sold
accounts and thegaito ~rogram, known as the 'second budget; in its official statistics. Turn over a stone among government
as well as debts of local governments. All of these are mter­ agencie5 and 5trange things come crawling out. The Housing
twined with one another, and have become a bloated monster." Public Agency's subsidiary,Japan Unified Housing Life (JUH) ,
Here is one estimate: In 1999, revenue shortfalls for the official developed a large office tower in Shinjuku that opened in
"first budget" came to ¥31 trillion, an astonishing 37.9 percent 1995. Given that this was a stagnant real-estate market, every­
of expenditures. Measured as a percentage of national product, one was surprised to learn that the building was 95 percent
Japan's deficit came to 10 percent of CDP, jumping right off leased-the tenants turned to be jUH itself and related compa­
the scale when compared with the OECD average of 1.2 per­ nies, which occupied the building at nearly four times market
cent; the nearest competitor for big-deficit spending among ad­ rents. Nobody knows the degree to which the cooked books
vanced industrial nations was France, at 2.-+ percent of CDP. of tokus/w llOji/l and koeki Itojin could drive up Japan's true in­
Adding long-term bonds, by 1999 japan's cumulative debt had debtedness.
risen to ¥395 trillion, amounting to 72 percent of GDP (the
United States' gross federal debt, in contrast, comes to 6.+ per­ japan may have a high deficit but not to worry, economists ad­
cent of GDP). But this is not all. We need to take into account vise us, because the japanese are such high savers that they have
the shortfalls of municipal and prefectural governments, which stored away in the banks more than enough money to pay their
come to ¥160 trillion. Add this to the national debt and the to­ debt. Japan's high savings rate is the glory of its economy. For
tal jumps to ¥555 trillion, approxinlately 97 percent of GDP. decades, American households consistently saved at only about
There is more. "Hidden debt" from d1e JNR Resolution one-third of the japanese rate, leading the economist Daniel
Trust and Ministry of Finance budget manipulations; Zalto Burstein to label the two nations "grasshoppers and bees."
loans to bankrupt agencies such as the Forestry Agency, the What the experts overlooked in the "Large GNp, Large Sav­
Highway Public Corporation, and the Housing Public Agency; ings" formula was that capital in Japan earns consistently low
and additional trillions of yen in off-budget short-term "tlnanc­ returns. For the past decade, japanese government bonds have
258 ogs a"d Demons National Wealtlt: Debt, Public alld Private 259

yielded between 0.2 and 3 percent, far below the United States' ounting out each kall/me and mOil/me (weights of gold and
5 to 8 percent. No feature of the Ministry of Finance's ma­ silver) that his protagonists made from lending at interest. A
gic system charmed financial experts as much as this, for the clever young man
sacrifice by the public for the good of the nationaJ economy
seemed unbeatable. After the Bubble deflated, the Ministry of was able to loan out his one kal'l1me at tv"elve percent annuaJ
Finance, in an effort to prop up the stock market and the interest, and by redepositing his earnings for thirty years, he
banks, lowered interest rates as far as they could go-the lowest found himself in possession of a tidy fortune of twenty-nine
'Jt..1Ievels in world banking since the early seventeenth century­ kalil/tie nine hundred and fifty-nine 1II011lll1e eight )illl four rill
i~uJ which is to say, close to zero: in the latter half of the 1990s, ill­ and one mo. He then withdrew the money from the bank,
I ,.~erest rates on ordinary deposits earned their owners less th:m a put it into a chest, and eventually managed to loan it out
I;~v quarter of 1 percent. himself. Before long he had one thousand ka111me. From then
\(c..~S To get some idea of how such rates affect the lives of onli­ on he made money more and more rapidly until by the time
nary Japanese, consider the case of an average saJaried em­ he died he had accumulated the grand sum of seven thou­
ployee. He retires with a lump-sum pension equaJ to about ¥2 sand kamme, and his name was even entered into the social
million, haJf of which he will use to payoff his mortgage, registry of the thirty-six richest men in the Capital. The way
leaving ¥10 million in the bank. At 0.2S percent, his deposit this man took one shingle and two one-moil coins from his
brings him about.¥2S,OOO in Interest income; that's $200 a year. father and turned them into a millionaire's fortune should
"ft's not worth the effort of taking your money to a bank," serve as an example, just like a mirror, of what a merchant
says Senba Osamu of Daiwa Securities. "In a year, you'll have can do in this world.
earned just enough interest to buy yourself lunch."
Large segments of the public have agreed with Senba, and That was a charming fairy tale of the past. Today, nobody can
banks report unprecedented use of safety-deposit boxes to store dream of retiring and living on interest in Japan. "I look at my
cash, while piggy-bank sales have risen at department stores. By bank account," says Ishigaki Hisashi, a retired auto engineer in­
1996, the Seibu Jkebukuro Department StOre stocked sixty­ terviewed in 771e New York Times, "and you know, we get inter­
eight kinds of money boxes-for example, Paka Paka Kan, a est about twice a year-and I say, 'What on earth is this?' You
container that clacks its lid when you pass, demanding to be fed can't say it's just interest, that it's just a small bit of money. We
¥SOO,OOO in SOO-yen coins. A Seibu spokeswoman said, 'There need it to live on. Jt's a matter of life and death."
has been an increasing number of people who would rather use Until recently, many economists saw the sacrifice made by
a piggy bank at home than a bank after interest rates declined Ishigaki as admirable because low returns for savers meant "free
with the end of the Bubble economy boom." money for industry." The assumption was that an impoverished
They knew much better uses for their money during the lifestyle for the people was somehow morally superior, and
mercantile heyday of the seventeenth century, when Saikaku payouts to the public a vv'aste of national resources. As we have
wrote his novels of city life in Kyoto and Osaka, lovingly seen, the idea derives from the poor people, strong state policy,

260 Dogs altd Demons Natioltal Wealth: Debt, PIlblie alld Prill ate 261

a relic of military-style thinking that dates to the days of the that has fallen to @(the lowest in the world and possibly
samuraI. headed to 1.1 by 2007), the number of young people is shrink­
Oscar Wilde said that the mind of an antiquarian is similar to ~ while ~he number of old peoRle is burgeoninl'. In 1997,
a junk shop in that "it is filled with dust and bric-a-brac, with Japan surpassed Sweden in having the largest percentage of
everything priced above its proper value." Japan is just such a p£2Ple aged over sixty-five among advanced economies-more
shop. When everything is priced above its proper value, it takes than 17 perf-ent. By 2020, this percentage will have soared to
more money to accomplish less; in other words, capital has 25 perce~. (By comparison, the numbers for the United States,
lower productivity. Low capital productivity has surprising re­ China, and Korea will be 15 percent~rcent, and 10 percent,
sults, and one of them is that the Japanese, saving for fifty years respectively.) - ­
at far higher rates than the Americans, now find themselves An aging population translates into trouble for Japan's pen­
with prooortionatel sion funds and health-insurance plans, which must rely on a
I Simple mathematics shows that it takes a very short time for shrinking pond of productive workers to support an expand­
interest gains to equalize the tot115 achieved by a high savings ing lake of old and sick retirees. The figures point to an ever­
rate. Assuming an interest differential of 10 percent, Americall~ increasing burden for the working population: in 1960, there
saving a third of what the a anese save end aft r about two were eleven younger workers supporting each retired person; in
deca es, with exactly the same amount in the bi!!J~! Another 1996, there were four; in 2025, there will be only two.
~0ears, and the Americans now have double the a~ount of Nowhere is the problem so severe as the national health­
the Japanese. While this calculation is very simplistic-the in­ insurance plan, where, on top of the demographic undertow, a
terest gap is narrower for savings accounts and wider for pen­ tide of rising medical costs is dragging funds underwater" By
sion funds-one can see how it was possible for America"ns to 1999,85 percent ofJapan's 1,800 health-insurance societies had
go on guzzling champagne in the Jacuzzi and still come out fallen into arrears, forcing them to take the radical step of halt­
ahead. There is nothing strange about this. It's merely the prin­ ing payments for elderly policyholders because they simply
ciple o~ompounded interes!J an iron law of capital, but one could not afford to pay them.
the Ministrv of Finance overlooked. In 1996, when the national health program reached the
point where collapse was imminent, the Ministry of Health and
While bureaucrats borrow against the future to build more Welfare began raising contributions and lowering benefIts.
monuments, something more serious is taking place behind the Holders of employee health-insurance plans now pay 20 per­
scenes, which threatens the system more than all the combined cent of their medical costs (versus 10 percent before), and
waste and losses to date. The national debt, Zaito, and tokus/w health premiums have risen from 8.2 to 8.6 percent. In addi­
h~jill are mere lizards compared with the real Godzillas: massive tion, the ministry is levying a ¥15 surcharge on each daily
underfunded insurance, health, pension, and 'vvelfare bills. dosage of medicine, which translates into approximately a
The problem arises from simple ~mograph1cD Japan i~ 30 percent tax on medicine.
rmidly becoming the world's oldest country. With a birthrate Even this isn't enough to save the system. In raising premi­
262 Dogs at,d Demons Nllti,mal H/ealclr: Debt, Public and Private 263

Ul11Sby a few tenths of a percentile, the Ministry of Health and in bad loans, but this is only a fraction of the real exposure,
Welfare has taken its first baby step. As one popular daily news­ since (obashi techniques obscure most of the bad debt. The
paper has observed, these measures amount to no more than inistry of Finance did its best to hide the damage (no insur­
"throwing water on a red-hot stone." During the coming ance company had gone bankrupt since the war), but in April
decades, the share of the health bill that a salaried worker will 1997, MOF could no longer cover for Nissan Mutual Life In­
have to bear is projected to rise to 2.5 times the present level. surance, which went belly-up with losses of ¥252 billion. Others
Even so, to fund the health costs forecast for the next decades, followed. By October 2000, Chiyoda Mutual Life Insurance
premiums will have to increase three times, to about 24 percent and Kyoei Life Insurance, Jap:m's eleventh and twelfth largest
of salary by the year 2025. life insurers, had both collapsed, with combined liabilities of a
An aging population is nobody's fault. If anything, it is the whopping ¥7.4 trillion, in Japan's biggest corporate bank­
result of one of Japan's great modern successes-the lowering ruptcies ever, with further bankruptcies and consolidations in
of the birthrate. In less extreme forms, an aging population is a sight. Reliable information about pension funds and insurance
fate that lies in store for all industrialized nations. Japan's real is sparse--so far, only a vague silhouette of the Godzillas 100111­
problem is its failure to plan for this inevitable fate. With a high ing over Japan in the coming twenty-five years is visible in the
GNP and a household savings rate of 13 to 14 percent (two mist. At Nissan Mutual Life, for example, MOF knew that Nis­
and a half times the American rate),japan has the wherewithal san was bankrupt in 1995 but allowed the company to con­
to amass pools of capital with wmch to support its aging popu­ tinue in business without publishing any report of its losses for
lation. Or so everyone believed. two more years.
Nothing comes for free--everything has its price, as the col­ Extremely low interest rates have also heavily affected the na­
lapse of the Japanese insurance industry illustrates. Japanese tion's pension funds. In 1991, pension fimds in the United States
households have turned to life insurance as a way of avoiding made a whopping 28 percent return on their investments;
steep inheritance taxes, among the highest in the world. In­ Japanese pension funds gained only 1 percent. By 1998,japanese
deed, d1e tax system essentially forces people to buy life in­ pension funds had made the lowest returns of pension funds
surance, which accounts for about 20 percent of household worldwide, declining at a rate of millUS 3.2 percent, while U.S.
savings. And, as we have seen, MOF requires insurance compa­ funds garnered 14.6 percent. The year before, the rate for the
nies to buy low-interest government bonds and invest in the United States was a hefty 18 percent. Rates of return like these,
stock market whenever the exchange begins to drop. After compounded annually on immense pools of money, make a dif­
years of investing in stocks and bonds that produce no yield, in­ ference of literally trillions of dollars to public savings.
surance companies are showing zero, or even negative, returns. When japan founded its national pension-fund system in
Even this would not be so serious-just a case of running in 1952, planners set 6 percent as the minimum annual rate of re­
place-but, in addition, life insurers are exposed to trillions of turn for employee savings plans. Pensions have not met this
yen of bad loans extended during the Bubble. In the latter part goal since 1991. One survey, in September 1996, showed that
of tbe 19905. the eight biggest insurers wrote off trillions of yen only 4 percent of corporate pension funds had sufficient re­
264 Dogs alld Demons Natioll al Wealth: Dtbt, P"l,lic and Private 265

serves to make payments to pensioners, and since then the situ­ sobering: in spring 2000, Mitsubishi Electric announced that it
ation has deteriorated further. Dozens of pension funds are owed ¥540 billion; Honda Motors and Toyota Motors were
outright bankrupt, with assets worth less than the cumulative short ¥51 0 billion and ¥600 billion, respectively; Sony needed
money paid in by participating workers. The number of pen­ to make up ¥225 billion. While nobody knows the true num­
sion funds in arrears has become such an embarrassment that ber, the aggregate shortfall for companies on a national basis is
the Labor Ministry lowered the minimum rate of return to estimated to reach tens or even hundreds of trillions of yen.
3 percent in 1995, and then to only 1 percent in 1997. Mean­ Given corporate unwillingness to admit embarrassing facts and
while, since 1998 a record number of companies have resigned the worsening economic situation in the late 1990s, the true
from the national pension system-more than 800,000 com­ situation is probably much worse. To get a sense of scale, the
panies simply don't pay premiums for their employees, even World Monetary Fund estimated Japan's pension liabilities in
though they are leg-ally required to do so. 1997 at roughly 100 percent of GNP. As Jane Austen said, "An
As in the case of health insurance, the pension system cannot annuity is a very serious business." Life will not be easy for
survive without lowering benefits and raising taxes. Pension Japan's future pensioners.
premiums are rising rapidly, growing fro111 14.5 percent of
salary in 1994 to 17.4 percent in 1997, and reports say they A favorite mantra of economics experts is to say that Japan's
may even reach 30 percent by 2020. In addition, in 1994 the debt is of less concern than that of other countries because it
government raised the minimum age for beneficiaries £i-om owes this debt mostly to its own people. While this is true, the
sixty to sixty-five. As many Japanese firms and government fact remains that the Japanese people must repay the debt
agencies mandate retirement at age fifty-five, this leaves workers through taxes, and the burden will be crushing. By 2005,
with a ten-year gap after retirement before they can receive according to Gavan McCormack, government debt will run
their pensions. about "¥1,400 trillion, ¥11 million per head (say, two years'
Private industry faces an exposure to unfunded pensions that salary for an average worker). To repay such a sum with interest
could develop into one huge flat tire for Japan's manufacturing would call for a tax of ¥1. 7 million per year every year for sixty
businesses; for some companies, the cost of funding pension years from every working citizen."
shortfalls is approaching half of their net profits. According to a As McCormack points out, Japan can dispose of its debt in
survey carried out at the end of 1999, 70 percent of Japanese three possible ways: increase GNP (rapidly), tax, or inflate. An
companies did 110t have enough money set aside to cover their explosive growth in GNP is unlikely. So the next alternative is
pension obligations. In fiscal 2000, MOF changed its account­ tl.Xt'S, and over the next twenty-five years taxes could skyrocket
ing rules to better reflect pension liabilities (previously com­ to the point where they surpass notorious situations such
pletely unreported), but the new rules left plenty of "cosmetic as Sweden's. Withholdings that in 1997 took a bite of about
accowlting" techniques in place to veil the true extent of the 36 percent out of the average taxpayer's income are estimated to
danger. Only a handful of large companies have divulged their soar to more than 63 percent by the year 2020--and these tax
pension shortfalls, but the numbers for the few that have are increases do not take into account the burgeoning national debt.
266 Dogs aud Demons Natiollal IVealtil: D~bt, P"bli, a/ld Private 267

The consumption (sales) tax rose from 3 to 5 percent in dog bounding toward them. One of the boys was sly enough
1997-and there is strong pressure to raise it to 10 percent or to climb a tree, but the other ran around the tree, with the
more once the economy recovers. Indirect taxes, such as road dog following. He kept running until, by Imking smaller cir­
tolls, surcharges such as the Ministry of Health and Welfare's tax cles than it was possible for his pursuer to make, he gained
on medicine, and a myriad of fees levied by other distressed upon the dog sufficiently to grasp his tail. He held on to the
agencies will also double and triple. Meanwhile, the level of tail with a desperate grip until nearly exhausted, when be
services will decline, pension payouts will drop, and patients called to the boy up the tree to come down and help.
will be called upon to bear a larger share of medical costs. Add "Wbat for?" said the boy.
the rising consumption tax, and by 2025 the average japanese "I want you to help me let this dog go."
citizen could end up paying up to 80 percent of his income to
the government. Some believe that the Japanese save according to "Confucian
Obviously, this isn't going to happen-such high taxes would ethics." Others point to the fact that high land prices force peo­
strain taxpayers to the breaking point. Hence it would seem ple to save, since they have no alternative if they wish to own a
that "printing money" (having the government buy bonds or home. In any case, Japan's stock of savings is not nearly as se­
deposit money in banks), thereby causing inflation, would be cure as it looks, for mice have gotten into the storehouse. Be­
the obvious ne>..1: step. But this, too, Taggart Murphy points out, hind the scenes, personal and corporate debt is gnawing away at
may not work, since it would undermine the value of govern­ JJpan's savings.
ment bonds; at the same time, banks, grown cautious after the Surprisingly, and this runs contrary to the coounon \visdom
Bubble, might not turn around and lend the money to the about Japan, the Japanese people have an avid aptitude for debt.
public. We're back to the Mole Game: Cut down on govern­ Credit-card use quadrupled from the mid-1980s to the mid­
ment spending, and millions of people (including politicians) 19<)Os. Of course, expanded use of credit cards is not what it
will be out of work. Raise taxes too high, and even the long­ ~eel11S on the surface, for the ami-consumer nature of credit in
suffering japanese public will rise up in anger. Print money, and Japan means that most cards are highly restricted and do not
government bonds lose their value. So what to do? Nobody provide much credit as we usually understand it: most people
knows. must pay their cards monthly in full. Even so, the public has de­
All this comes of supporting an artificial regime so long that Veloped its own form of tobashi, whereby borrowers withdraw
everyone's Livelihood depends on it. So elaborate is this struc­ money on one card to pay for another. "Buy now, pay later,"
ture that to change any part of it threatens the whole; hence it with installment purchases and long-term lease arrangements,
is nearly impossible to make serious reforms. Facing a similar have led to the growth of giant leasing and consumer-credit
situation, Abraham Lincoln recounted the following story: companies. Installment buying is so popular in Japan that by
the mid-1990s the Japanese were carrying more consumer debt
Two boys out in Illinois took a short cut across an orchard. per capita than Americans.
When they were in the middle of the field they saw a vicious While the public pays for its debt with usurious interest
268 Dogs alld Demons National J-Vealtlr: Debt, Public alld Pri,late 269

rates, industry has access to free money. Stocks and bonds pay lokllshu I/Ojin. In the corporate sector, a giant millstone of debt
negligible returns, and banks would never foreclose on busi­ hangs around the neck ofJapanese industry. In short, the Japa­
nesses in their keiretsu grouping. In a world where banks hand nese are anything but naturaJ savers. On the other hand, who
out money for free, it would be easy to predict that companies is? It is human nature to borrow-and here is where the bu­
might begin to pile up debt. That they did. Today (and for most reaucrats guiding Japan's financial system made a mistake that
of the postwar era), corporate debt in Japan has exceeded has had serious consequences for society. They punished non­
equity by an average of 4 to 1 (compared with 1.5 times to 1 in corporate borrowers with usurious interest rates.
the United States). Allowing companies to leverage themselves In Japan, lenders can legally charge interest of 40 percent, the
far beyond what was considered safe in the West was one of sort of rate for which Dante confin usurers to the third rin
Japan's most successful stratagems. It worked well in the high­ of the Seventh Circle of Hell. hile corporations enjoy access
growth era, but when exports reached a plateau and growth to capital at near-zero interest rates, private individuals have no
slowed in the 1990s, these companies found themselves saddled aJternative but to turn to sarakin, "consumer loan companies," a
with huge surplus capacity. Suddenly they began to feel the nice name for loan sharks, who lend at official rates ranging
heavy weight of debt on their shoulders. from 30 to 40 percent, with actuaJ rates sometimes reaching
Judging by history, one could even argue that the Japanese 100 percent. Failure to repay earns a visit from a crew of g:mg­
show a cultural bent toward wild, heedless borrowing. Perhaps sters. he Mil1lstry a mance sm1 es on 1S system, ecause it
it was a result of the traditional intense love of the moment. It believes such high rates dampen consumer borrowing. But de­
is remarkable how many Kabuki and puppet-theater plays re­ spite MOF's best intentions, nothing will stop needy people
volve around debt, or around the misuse of money entrusted to from borrowing money. What consigning the consumer-loan
the hero or heroine. (In contrast, Chinese theater is obsessed business to gangsters did achieve was to drown millions of peo­
with injustice and law courts-the misuse of power rather than ple in usurious debt. Saikaku remarks, "Of all the frightening
the misuse of money.) One of the most famous moments in things you can imagine, surely there is nothing as horrifying as
Japanese puppet theater is the scene known as Fuingiri, "Break­ having one's fortune ruined and being hounded by creditors.
ing Open the Seal," in the play Meido no Hikyaklt. An Osaka Nothing else even comes close."
shop clerk, Chubei, driven by his love for the courtesan Saraki/! are the hopeless debtor's last resort, yet it is estimated
Umekawa, breaks open the seal on a packet of gold coins con­ that in the late 1990s borrowers from loan sharks amounted to
signed to him by his master. He knows the punishment will be 12 million people (one in eight adults). In fact, the only part of
death, but he can't stop himself. Debt owed by daimyo lords to the Japanese banking system to grow appreciably during the
moneylenders in Osaka brought down the Tokugawa Sho­ 1990s was this one, with assets leaping 25 percent in some
gunate in 1868. Debt was the very key to Japan's pre-Bubble fi­ years. Of]apan's 12 million "deep debtors," 1.5 to 2 million are
nancial system, with its cycle of assets-debt-assets. And spiraling "heavy debtors" with no chance of repaying loans. Bankruptcy
debt and misuse of funds intended for other purposes is the is not an alternative for most of them because it carries heavy
hallmark of the bureaucrats who run agencies such as the social disapprovaJ. Also, says Utsunomiya Kenji, Japan's leading
270 Dogs i1nd Demons Niltiollill "Veilltil: Debt, Public i1l1d Prillilfe 271

bankruptcy attorney, "They haven't declared bankruptcy only the late 1980s and early 1990s, banks and insurance companies
because they don't know how." For most of them, however, the colluded in selling these policies to homeowners, claiming that
real reason for not declaring bankruptcy is the fear of gangsters. they would guard against high inheritance taxes. A homeowner
Just as the Yakuza (organized crime) plays a role in japan's fi­ would mortgage his house and invest the proceeds in an insur­
nancial system at the high end, by fixing shareholder meetings ance policy but was not told the meaning of the word "vari­
so that nobody asks questions, it plays an even larger role at the able"; namely, that payouts were not guaranteed. When
lower end, as loan harvesters. No legal bankruptcy proceeding investments made on their policies went south with the col­
will prevent a group of burly crew-cut men from threatening lapse of the Bubble, owners of variable insurance found that
your in-laws, pounding on your door at night, and calling you they owed more on their houses than their policies were
at your place of work twenty-five times a day. As a result, tens worth.
of thousands of people disappear each year in a process known Tazaki Aiko, age sixty-two, was a typical victim. The law pro­
as yonige, "Midnight Run." They discard their homes, change hibits banks from selling insurance, but they got around it as
their identities, and move to another· city, all to hide from the follows: In 1989, a salesman from Mitsubishi Bank began pay­
enforcers ofJapan's consumer loans. ing Tazaki visits, warning her about the high inheritance tax
Traditionally, people must clear all debts by the end of her family would face. Soon she received a call from someone
the year, so New Year's Eve is the premier time for yOllige. The at Meiji Life Insurance (one of the Mitsubishi keiretslI group of
80,000 people who fled in the night in 1996 had nearly dou­ companies), offering her a variable insurance policy. Tazaki
bled by 1999, to 130,000, while estimated sarakin debts quadru­ bought, and seven years later she faced eviction from her home.
pled, from about $45 billion to $200 billion. So popular is the Altogether, insurers issued 1.2 million such policies, leading
Midnight Run that it has spawned a new business, bellriyasan to the public's loss of trillions of yen. In many cases, bankers
("Mr. Convenient"), facilitators who help families flee their and insurance-company salesmen were present together at the
homes and who take care of their possessions while they are on time the contract was signed. Victims have filed hundreds of
the run. In 1999,japanese television featured a new drama, The lawsuits, and some of the plaintiffs have committed suicide.
idnight Run Shop, whose hero devises schemes for people "Suicide is a tempting idea, because the longer you live the
to evade gangster loan enforcers. It's a Mission: Impossible for larger your debts grow. That is the nature of the insurance," says
debtors, with each episode featuring a new clever escape: a disc ishi Satom, the secretary for a plaintiffs' group. Yet to date, de­
jockey goes on the lam during a live show; a florist evaporates spite the damage done to the public, neither MOF nor the
during a wedding. courts have punished a single bank or insurance official.
Sarakin loans are not the only means by which japan's finan­ A system that favors gangster-ridden loan sharks as the estab­
cial system beggars the public. The nation has no lender­ lished means of consumer credit, allows banks and jnsurance
liability laws, leaving the public at the mercy of scam artists companies to practice financial scams with impunity, rewards
who prey on credulous old people and heavy debtors. Most savers with near-zero interest rates, and punishes debtors with
notorious of the scams is so-called variable life insurance. In interest rates of 40 percent and higher-it doesn't take an ex­
72 Dogs and Demolls Natiollal Wealtil: Debt, P"blic alld Private 27

pert economist to predict what will do to public savings share of nonprofit endowment will continue to lie in lokl/sltl/
over time. hl~jil1 and kocki hojitt established as l1/1lnkl/dllri nests for retired
Nor is the damage limited to individuals. When economists bureaucrats and feeding off government money. They are para­
measure "public savings," they tend to concentrate on how sites on the national wealth, not contributors to it.
much individual savers put in the banks, and overlook endowed Canny fund managers in the United States have multiplied
trusts and charitable foundations. Japan's Ministry of Finance, their funds' assets at fantastic rates. Yale University's assets rose
intent on ensuring that labor and money go straight to manu­ from $3.9 billion in 1996 to $7.2 billion in 1998, while Har­
facturing corporations, has discouraged charitable giving :ll1d vard\ rose from $9.1 to $13.3 bilJion during the same period,
volunteerism. Almost no tax deductions are allowed on charita­ the two universities enjoying three-year returns on investments
ble gifts, and severe hurdles have made establishing nonprofit of 84.6 percent and 94.9 percent, respectively. Although these
foundations extremely difticult. years were a bumper season for the stock market, and endow­
Yet trusts and foundations represent national wealth in a very ments do far less well in slow periods, foundation endowments
real sense. In the United States, by 1998 there were more than grew tremendously during the 1990s. Meanwhile,japan's foun­
1.5 million nonprofit foundations with annual revenues of dations, their money invested in bank accounts earning 110 in­
$621 billion, accounting for more than 6 percent of the GDP. terest and in stocks making no yields, withered on the vine. By
Nonprofit organizations are so important that they make up 1997, the Jssets of the twenty largest U.S. foundations came to
their own sector of the economy, known as the "independent twenty-two times the assets ofJapan's twenty Largest.
sector," which employs 10.2 million workers. Assets from these The difference between the United States and Japan is fur­
foundations are the fuel used to fire start-up companies and ther underscored by the existence of something like the Amer­
boost the capitalization of the stock market. The proceeds fund ican Cancer Society, which in 1998 had more than two million
schools, hospitals, libraries, and myriad other institutions. The volunteers, dispensed more thJn $100 million for research, and
IRS grants about $12 billion in tax exemptions to foundations had assets of $1.1 billion. There is no private organization in
al1l1Ually, and an additional $18 billion to individuals as char­ Japan that functions on a scale remotely like this. By the begin­
itable contributions-a total of $30 billion. That $30 billion ning of the twenty-first century, total assets of American non­
makes up part of America's overall savings, even if it does not profit groups could be estimated as approaching $2 mUion-a
belong to individuals or companies. hOJrd of savings that Japan couldn't begin to match. And the
In Japan, charitable giving is negligible. It stems from the ditTerence lies nor only in dollars in the bank but in a legal in­
lack of a philanthropic tradition, an undeveloped legal structure frastructure and the expertise of millions of people in managing
to regulate the work of nonprofit organizations, and tax disin­ such funds.
centives. Only in 1998 did the government pass a law making It's difficult to compare university-endmvment growths,
civic groups eligible for nonprofit status, but the law provided ~ince Japanese university endowments are 0 • of th 's
no tax benefits either to the organizations themselves or to the great secrets-a text ook case of how hard it is to find accurate
people giving to them. For the foreseeable future, the lion's mformation in Japan. In the summer of 2000, an extensive

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274 Dogs and Demons . Il al Wealtlt·. Debt, Pllblic and Private
NatlO 275

search of Web and newspaper databases and more than a dozen only 310 inspectors, most of whom hail from its inept prede­
e-mailstoWebmastersandcollegeofficesatTokyo.Keio. ce~sors. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission em­
Waseda, and Doshisha universities drew a complete blank. ploys 3,000 inspectors, versus about 200 in Tokyo and Osaka,
However, even without hard figures to go by, any visitor to a whose work is mostly perfunctory. In Japan's fmancial world,
Japanese college can see visible evidence-in substandard li­ gangster payoffi, insider trading, juggled books, defrauding of
braries and run-down facilities of the egganng 0 t e uni­ old people by insurance companies and banks, under-the-table
vemtles as a result of low capital returns. In 1995, in the wake payments to bureaucrats, usurious interest, special accounts for
of the subway poisonings by the fanatical religious group Aum officials and politicians at securities houses-anything goes. It's
Shinrikyo, commentators marveled that Aum was able to re­ wild and woolly out there.
cruit elite scientists from leading un.iversities, and its facilities In place of regulation, the Ministry of Finance has drawn
were much better. Trying to explain a piece ofAum machinery rigid boundaries around Japan's financial world in an attempt to
before a television audience, a professor would say, "Well, the limit its range. Rather than clean the sharks out of the lagoon,
one at my university is ten years old, and not nearly as sophisti­ the ministry chose a smaller lagoon. Circling round and round
cated as Aum's, but you can get the idea." inside their little universe, MOF officials neglected to learn the
new techniques of wealth creation that are redefining finance
ne of the myths of the fmancial world is that the United elsewhere in the world.
States is a model of laissez-faire capitalism and Japan is higWy, MOF is dragging its feet in legalizing derivatives, and the red
even overly regulated. Nothing could be further from th tape for granting stock options to employees of start-up firms is
truth. In the United States, regulations elaborated and enforced so lengthy that so far only a handful of companies have applied
by legions of busy lawyers hem in transactions on every side, for permits to do so. In any case, it takes an average of thirty
with ruJes punishing insider trading and mandating disclosure, years to list on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, so stock options are
liability laws protecting investors, and myriad other devices not much of an incentive. Pension-fund management, at the
functioning to make the market more transparent and efficient leading edge of financial sophistication outside Japan, is only in
(and at the same time, of course, enriching the lawyers). It is its most primitive stages, and MOF is still in a position to order
Japan that is unregulated. Where the Federal Reserve has be­ managers to buy nonproductive stocks and low-yield govern­
tween 7,000 and 8,000 banking inspectors, the Ministry of Fi­ ment bonds. With rules of disclosure nearly nonexistent, in­
nance had only 400 to 600, and, according to Richard Koo, a vestors lack confidence in listed firms and, as a result, the
senior economist at the Nomura Research Institute, "Of that, over-the-counter market languished.
only 200 are considered any good." Lack of financial supervi­ To put it simply, Japan failed to develop mature financial
sion became such a scandal that the Diet removed this function m.arkets-anu the expertise that goes along with them. This
from the Ministry of Finance in the late 19905, creating a new means that money does not make money. Another way of
Financial Supervisory Agency (to become the Financial Ser­ putting it is that Japan has very low productivity of capital. It is
vices Agency in January 2001). The new agency, however, has one of the oddest paradoxes of modern Japan that in a nation
:IS 1;','1 t-J4y A'M Al4.C~~t..S 5kvr dO#VYJ O\:~
276 Dogs and Demons ~:t~l:J tealt~li. p~ a"fWl~lfla..ys ! 277

seen worldwide as a paradigm of "capitalism," the bureaucrats When the U.S. Occupation conflscated the zaibatsu assets
in charge basically distrust money. This may result from the fact from their owner families, the bureaucracy as we now know it
that in the early postwar years Japan's bureaucrats found keiretsu took control of the government. Salaried officials feared the
banks effective (and controllable), and in time the Ministry of robber-baron capitalists of prewar times and used every means
Finance became addicted to a system. One might say that in their power to rob them of the power of their money. That
MOF's love of the system is far greater than its interest in fi­ was how the present system got going. Today, the reason MOF
nancial health. fears the free flow of money boils down to a simple question of
Japan's low capital productivity begs another comparison control. Money is power, and the ability to decide how money
with ancient Sparta. Plutarch writes that Lycurgus, the founder is used and invested is what keeps japan's bureaucrats flrmly in
of Sparta, ordained that Spartans must use iron money. Given control. That said, the oddest part of the equation is the amaz­
that iron was of so little value and yet so heavy, the best people ing disdain the bureaucracy shows for money. The figures for
could do was lay up stocks of it in their closets. After a while, debt, bad loans, failed stock markets, and so forth are staggering
they ceased to have much interest in <\cquiring wealth and in­ enough to keep the leaders of most other countries lying awake
stead devoted themselves to military glory. Plutarch points out at night in terror. Yet Japan's government agencies seem curi­
that "being iron, it was scarcely portable, neither, if they should ously unconcerned. Like spoiled society girls who grew up on
take the means to export it, would it pass amongst the other ample trust funds, Japan's officials have never really had to learn
Greeks, who ridiculed it. . . . For the rich had no advantage what money is. When they needed it, there was always more
here over the poor, as their wealth and abundance had no road from Daddy.
to come abroad by but were shut up at home doing nothing." Edo townspeople knew better than to distrust and disdain
Japan has stored up a huge pile of savings, but the money is money. The novelist Saikaku warned:
iron, shut up at home doing nothing, and the nation is paying the
price, with the Tokyo Stock Exchange stagnant for a full decade, Year after year the loss and senseless waste pile ever higher
a crumbling welfare system, and securities firms that lack the ex­ one atop the other: the blossoms of a merchant's flowering
pertise to compete abroad. In this there is a valuable lesson in talents fall, his brocade robes are replaced by ones of paper,
what really constitutes culture and tradition. Entrenched Asian and fmally, in the same way the seasons turn one to another,
elites are very fond of appealing to hallowed "Asian values" as a he is reduced to a faceless beggar. Consider all this and it
means of clinging to power. MOF's distrust of the fi-ee use and should become apparent that for the merchant, in all his var­
flow of money would seem to have all the sanction of Japan's ied activities, there is simply no room for lack of heed.
tradition of control by elite otIicials. On the other hand, it's im­
portant to realize that tor all its bureaucratic background, Japan Michael Phillips, an adviser to start-up compal1les in Cali­
also has a freewheeling mercantile history. Distrust of the free fornia, wrote a classic little volume in 1977 entitled The Sevell
flow of money is actually something new, an aspect ofJapanese Laws of Money. The Second Law was "Money has its own
tradition that was relatively minor until after World War II. rules," which meant that no amount of goodwill or cleverness
278 Dogs a"d Demons National Wealt": Debt, Public and Private 279

gets you beyond the simple laws of supply and demand, income anathema to mainstream economists, which is why you get
and outgo, profit and loss, compound interest, and so forth. He so much certainty where none is warranted.
writes: "The rules of money are probably Ben Franklin-type
rules, such as never squander, don't be a spendthrift, be very There is no doubt that countries can structure the means of
careful, you have to account for what you're doing, you must production and the use of capital in many different ways de­
keep track of it, and you can never ignore what happens to pending on their political structures, with "Russian commu­
money." Yet for a while it became fashionable to believe in a nism," "Japanese capitalism," and" Anglo-American capitalism"
mysterious new Japanese system that somehow transcended the being only three of numerous varieties. In that sense, van
Second Law. As Alan Blinder put it, "The amazing Japanese Wolferen is correct in reminding us that economics does not
economy poses another challenge-one that has been barely have ironclad laws of cause and effect, like physics. By Western
noticed. I refer to Japan's challenge to received economic standards, Japan's banks are almost all bankrupt-yet they con­
doctrine. Stated briefly and far too boldly, the Japanese have tinue to function. Many other aspects ofJapan's unique form of
succeeded by doing everything wrol!g (according to standard credit-ordering also baffle outside economists-and, most re­
economic theory). That should make economic theorists markably, despite the Bubble and all the pain it has engendered,
squirm." the whole system is basically still intact, ready for the next pe­
The question of whether there really are "laws of money" is riod of economic expansion.
one of the most hotly debated topics among economists today. However, the meltdown in Russia and a decade of doldrums
Karel van Wolferen warns against taking this view too far. He in Japan suggest that while cultural factors can make some dif­
says: ference, certain underlying rules of money do exist and will in
time assert themselves. The interesting lesson to be learned
That [there are laws of money] is what neoclassical econo­ from Japan is that the effects of an economy's defying "laws of
mists, in other words, the vast majority of contemporary economics" will not necessarily show themselves as classical
mainstream economists, are telling themselves and want theorists would predict. Instead, they go underground, re­
everyone to believe. Keynes never thought so. And it fits in emerging in surprising forms elsewhere. At a bank in Tokyo,
with American ideology, which is rarely recognized as an you can make 10 plus 10 equal 30 if you like-but somewhere
ideology. What Alan Blinder is referring to is perfectly accu­ far away, at a pension fund in Osaka, for example, it may be that
rate: Japan is definitely a challenge to received economi 10 plus 10 will now equal only 15. Or even farther away, im­
doctrine. Blinder once pointed out to me that the reason plications of this equation may require that a stretch of seashore
why this doctrine has become one, and why it is now rarely in Hokkaido must be cemented over.
challenged, is because it had been made to fit the Anglo­ The Ministry of Finance did not get away with ignoring all
American experience amazingly well. The reason why the classical rules, for the bankruptcy of pension funds, insur­
money does not have its own rules, like physics, is because ance companies, and banks, the stagnant stock market, six years
there is an important political dimension to it. This notion is of zero-to-negative growth, and millions of people in debt to
280 Dogs alld Demons Natioll al Wealth: Debt, P"blic alld Private 281

loan sharks are cold, hard facts that cannot be ignored. The ar­ As for resources, Japan has piled up tremendous industrial ca­
gument over whether there are laws of money has to do partly pacity as well as savings in the bank-and these can support the
with what sacrifices you are willing to take to maintain an "un­ statUS quo for years or possibly decades to come. "The sacri­
scientific" system. Japan is willing to drive its national debt to fice" refers to the fact that a nonclassical economic system can
stratospheric levels, flatten its mountains and rivers, and bleed indeed be sustained, but, when the system strays very far from
its savers dry in order to support its system. So tile system en­ reality, at an ever-increasing sacrifice. The question is: What is a
dures. nation willing to sacrifice? In Japan's case, the answer is: every­
Back in the seventeenth century, when Saikaku permed his thing.
racy stories of townspeople in the cities of Osaka and Kyoto, The process of propping up the system that created Japan's
shopkeepers knew differently. In Saikaku's world, people had to Bubble wreaks untold havoc on society. These days the trend
repay debts, money earned interest, quick-thinking business­ among the more penetrating writers, both Japanese and for­
men prospered, while their competitors went bankrupt. Even eign, is to analyze Japan's financial problems in political terms.
staid Confi.lcianists understood tllese things. In 1813, the Con­ I, on the other hand, see them as part of a "cultural trauma." We
fucian scholar Kaiho Seiryo wrote: "Everything under heaven are probably all talking about the same thing. Japan's financial
and earth is a commodity. And it is a Jaw of nature that com­ system has fallen far, but it has a long way to go before real
modities produce new commodities. From paddies is produced value asserts itself. In the meantime, the distortions of the fi­
rice, and from gold is produced interest, and there is no differ­ nancial markets will continue to manifest themselves as distor­
ence between them. For the forests to produce timber, ilie sea tions in society and as depredations on the environment.
to produce salt and fish, and for gold and rice to produce inter­ "There is a solid bottom everywhere," Thoreau writes. "We
est is a law of the universe." Saikaku's sharp-witted shopkeepers read that the traveler asked the boy if the swamp before him
and Confucian academicians alike would find today's so-called had a hard bottom. The boy replied that it had. But presently
Japanese Model-where debts don't matter, money earns no the traveler's horse sank in up to the girths, and he observed to
interest, and no established company ever fails-absolutely in­ the boy, 'I thought you said that this bog had a hard bottom.' 'So
comprehensible. it has,' answered the latter, 'but you have not got half way to it
This brings us to one of the most profound implications of yet.' ..
the Bubble and Japan's fmancial troubles as ilie nation enters
the twenty-first century: the source of these troubles does /lot
lie in the economy or even in financial weakness per se. I'm
definitely not predicting the collapse ofJapan industrially-or
even financially (although ilie strain is terrific). Neoclassical
Western economists are very wrong if they believe iliat Japan is
about to crumble. The entire system can continue for two rea­
~ons: strong resources, and what one could call "the sacrifice."
EdllCiJti(lfl: Followill,!! tile Rilles 283

classes of society could use in their houses, the shapes of their

gates and doorways, and the materials of the clothes they wore.
Temples and shrines had to join sects registered with the
shogunate, and nonorthodox faiths were outlawed. The feudal
12 Education virtues of loyalty and self-sacrifice became popular and abiding
themes in Kabuki and puppet theater: parents killed their own
CFollowing the RUleS children to protect those of the lord;joint suicide was a favorite
ending of love stories.
No country in the \vorid could have been more fertile
ground for totalitarianism. But control of the human mind is
more difficult than it appears. The provinces boasted dialects
In governing the people the sage empties their minds but fills and character of their own, to the extent that outlying fiefs
their bellies, weakens their wills but strengthens their bones. were almost independent states. (The government did not suc­
He always keeps them innocent of knowledge and free &om ceed in bringing Sffikoku's Iya Valley under control until 192~,
when workers carved the tirst road through its canyons by
desire, and ensures that the clever never dare to act.
hand.) In the cities, class divisions created the stuff of variety:
-LAO- TZU, Tao-Ie Chillg
pompous samurai, meditative monks, soft-mannered craftsmen,
and unruly, sensuous townspeople. Nothing could be more col­
orful and chaotic than the "floating world" of old Edo.
The inability to slow down or turn back from disastrous poli­ With the opening of Japan in 1868, Wakoll ¥osa; (Japanese
cies has been Japan's core problem in the twentieth century, so spirit, Western technology) became the rallying cry of the Meiji
it is natural to wonder why. This brings us to education, which Restoration, and in the case of education Wakon YOsai involved
shapes the way people ask questions of themselves and their en­ a marriage between the old feudal desire for total control
vironment. Neither Japan's system nor the lengths to which it (l'Vttkon) and compulsory education, introduced fi'om the West
goes once it is set on autopilot are conceivable in a society in ()(lsai). Standardized textbooks, uniforms, school rules, march­
which people ask many questions. Plutarch tells us, "King ing in lockstep around the school grounds, bowing in unison­
Theopompus, when one said that Sparta held up so long be­ these regimens were able to achieve what 350 years of isolation
cause their kings could command so well, replied, 'Nay, rather could not: a triumph over regionalism and individuality. It was
because the people know so well how to obey.' " probably Japan's single most serious modern maladaptation.
The fear of speaking one's mjnd in Japan dates to feudal days. Yet the opening up of Japan initially sparked a great out­
Closed to the outside world and ruled by a military class for pouring of creative energy, culminating in the so-called Taisho
350 years, Japan developed far-reaching techniques of social Renaissance. Taisho, strictly speaking, refers to EmperorTaisho's
control. Sumptuary laws prescribed which woods the four reign (1912-1926), but as a cultural term people use it to de­

284 ogs and Demons Educatio": Fol/olVirrg tile Rule.. 285

scribe the years from abollt 1910 until 1930. This was the era Illany other modern Japanese problems, has to do with once­
when Okakura Kakuzo was writing Tile Book of 'Tea; when good ideas carried roo far.
Kabuki, traditional dance, and martial arts were taking the Luckily for us, the psychiatrist Dr. Miyamoto Masao, for­
shape we see now; and when rich industrialists built the art col­ merly of the Ministry of Health and Welfare, has put Japan on
lections that today form the core of Japan's museums. Great the couch, and here he can function as our guide into modern
writers such as Akutagawa Ryunosuke and Izumi Kyoka wrote Japanese education. According to Dr. Miyamoto, foreign ex­
some of the most fascinating and inventive literature in Japa­ perts have gone wrong when they accept the lalf/Hae (officially
nese history. Kimono design, architecture, and music flour­ stated position) fed to them by the authorities rather than the
ished, and a young democratic movement began to stir. !tel/we (real intent) of education as practiced in the schools.
However, only a thin stratum of society breathed the liberat­ Facts memorized for exams are only a by-product, for the real
ing air of the Taisho Renaissance. The great mass of the people purpose of education in Japan is not education but tbe habit
were studying in militarist fashion in the schools, with children of obedience to a group, or, as Dr. Miyamoto puts it more
lining up in rows in the schoolyard and shouting "Banzai!" By ~trongly, "castration":
the 1930s, this generation came into power, sweeping away the
fragile Taisho freedoms and instituting the kenpeitai (secret po­ Driving through the English countryside, you see many
lice), censorship, and the fanaticism that drove Japan to war. ~heep grazing on the hillside, which brings a feeling of
With the loss of the war and removal of military control and peacefulness. This peacefulness is exactly what the bureau-
censorship, it was commonly assumed that Japanese education rats want to obtain in Japanese sociery. But I want to em­
had entered a glorious new era. And, indeed, much of the phasize that they want this peacefulness because their ideal
credit for Japan's remarkable rebirth after the war can be laid to image of the public is one where people are submissive and
its well-organized educational system. This system is second subservient. With such a group people are easy to control,
only to the nation's elite bureaucracy in its appeal to foreign and the system does not have to change. How do the bu­
experts, who have devoted many books and articles to the skills reaucrats manage to castrate the Japanese so effectively? The
that Japanese children master-so many more, it seems, than .school 'ystem is the place where they conduct this process.
Americans or Europeans. Th~re is no doubt that Japan's educa­
tional system produces a dedicated workforce, 'and that these lesson One is the importance of moving in unison. The
"corporate warriors" are the engine behind Japan's tremendous British writer Peter Hadfield describes accompanying his
industnal strength. Obedience to authority, instilled in people daughter Joy on her first day to a Japanese kindergarten, which
from the time they are small children, makes Japanese society began, as many kindergartens do, with a roll call. After tbat
work very smoothly, with f..1r less of the social turmoil and vio­ came a class when an the students had to sit quietly while the
lent crime that have pllgucd other countries. All this is on the teacher taught them how to fold pieces of paper. Only then did
plus side of the balance. But there is a minus side, which, like s she allow the children to go outside:
286 Dogs and Demons Educatio/l: Following tile Rilles 287

They scattered outside in different directions, and Joy ran phobia. The idea that foreigners are aliens and should not be al­
~traight for the swings. But no sooner had the children lowed to mix with the Japanese is an idea for which schools I
started playing than a barrage of piano music C,Ulle through a the groundwork very early. There are many examples of this,
set ofloudspeakers, and they all ran like soldll:~rs on parade to but I'll offer just one: In January 1996, the Iwakuni City Office
the center of the playground. They then went through a se­ banned children of u.s.
military personnel from the city's nurs­
ries of a~robic eXerc.L~es to the accompaniment of the music. ery schools, because, it explained, the facilities were "getting
In other words, they were getting all the exercise they had full." Yet at that time only three American infants could be
been getting on the swings and climbing frames, but to­ found in Iwakuni's sixteen schools.
gether, and in response to a set of rules. Fmally, the kids were After kindergarten, students enter Japan's compulsory­
allowed to run around-but not just anywhere. They ran education system proper, where schooling takes on the milita
around together, in a circle, m a counter-clockwise direction. cast it will have until the end of high school. "Attention!" was
the first word that my cousin Edan, age nine, le:lrned in pri­
But not all of them. Consternation ensued when Joy started mary school in 1993 in Kameoka. At the beginning of each
running in the clockwise direction: class, all students must stand up, hands at their sides, "at atten­
tion." Walking in unison, with announcements from loud­
The teachers gently encouraged her to run the "right" way, speakers, continues throughout the day, and as the children
and silently appealed to me for help. I was proud of my grow, new rules about dress and hair are added, and often uni­
daughter for taking a stand, and proud of her for not just fol­ forms are required.
lowing the crowd. But in the end she has to be part of the Teachers assign children to a kumi, or "group," a unit the
~ystelll or she will suffer for it. "Turn around, Joy," I said in child will stay with until graduation. "Students of the same
the end, coaxing her with my hand. "Go the same way as kumi usually play together during recess, study together during
everyone else." the long class time, and even eat together during lunchtime in
their assigned seat, all within the four walls of the kumi for two
Lesson Two is to learn thnt it is a crime to be different. Dr. years in a row," writes Bertiamin Duke, the author of The Japa­
Miyamoto reports that when one of his fi-iends put her child in nese School: Lessons Jor Industrial America. He continues:
kindergarten, the teacher advised ber to bring steamed rice for
her child's lunch. "Why?" the mother asked. The teacher an­ The kumi mentality obviously builds within its members a
swered, "If children brmg fried rice or sandwiches, some other strong feeling of "we and them." Them, the outsiders, are
child may want to have that, and it is not a good idea for chil­ just that, those outside the group. Japanese children often use
dren to feel they want something different. If everyone brings a special phrase during play, lIakal/la "azure [cut off from the
steamed rice, then nobody is going to wish for something they group], to distinguish between those outside the group and
cannot have." those inside. Ndkama "azure has the special feeling of not be­
The natural corollary of Lesson Two, unfortunately, is xeno­ ing part of the intimate group and, therefore, of being re­
2118 Dogs and Demons 289
£dncafio,,: Folloll'in.~ ti,e R"les

jected by it. It is often used in a taunting manner. Few chil­ cars, to impress upon children that the Japanese suffer from ir­
dren want to be rejected by their peers. Most make maxi­ otional foreign hatreds.
mum dIems to be accepted by the group and remain Nevertheless, in view of their power in the international
securely within it. economy, the Japanese learn that they must get along with
these difficult foreigners. "At first, because of differences in lan­
The kl//Ili system is certainly a lesson for future workers in in­ guage and culture, work didn't go well," a character in a text­
dustrial Japan, perhaps the biggest lesson they ever learu. As the book states, referring to a Japanese factory abroad. "When we
noted scholar Edwin Reischauer has written: tried to have morning assembly before work, or radio calis­
thenics [exercising in unison to recorded music!, they said,
Their emphasis is on the individuals' own groups-the "we" 'Why do all of us have to do this?' When we tried to cut tardi­
of the classroom, company, or nation as opposed to the neS~ and waste, they said, 'You're too strict.' " One little girl in a
"they" of all other groups. It is somewhat frightening [Q te:-..1:bOok cartoon series concludes, "Working with foreign peo­
realize that in the uniformity of Japanese education all the ple is awfully difficult." The undercurrent: foreigners are lazy
children of a given age group are learning precisely the same and unable to understand our advanced Japanese ways-dealing
lesson in much the same way 011 the same day throughout with them is a painful trial. Perhaps this is not the message that
Japan, emerging with the same distinctive and often exclusive was originally intended, but it is the message that comes across,
ideas about their own little groups or the large group of not only in this example but consistently in Japanese class­
japan. Broader world interests are given lip service, but in re­ rooms.
ality very little emphasis is given to the essential "we" group There is one more important lesson to be learned: schooling
of humanity. in Japan involves a surprising amount of pain and suffering,
which teaches students to ,~ambare, a word that means "to perse­
In grade school, subtle distrust of foreign people and things vere" or "endure." On this subject Duke writes: "To survive,
becomes a part of the curriculum. It's not intentional; the the japanese people have always had to gall1bare--persevere, en­
schools do not consciously set out to teach xenophobia. Butso dure-because life has never been, and is certainly not now,
ilillocent are Japan's educationalists of the real issues of racism easy nor comfortable for most japanese." Definitely not. Even
or ethnic bias that they end up teaching a condescending, if not when suffering is not naturally present, ~chools add it artifi­
fearful, attitude toward foreigners anyway. Textbooks depict for­ cially. Elementary-school students must adapt their bodily
eign products as dangerous and Japan as the victim of interna­ functions to the rules-or suffer. The city of Kyoto, for in­
tional pressures. A typical lesson reads, "Chemicals prohibited in ~tance, did not provide toilet paper to elementary and junior­
our country have been used on some of the food imported high schools during most of the 1990s. Morihara Yoshihiro, a
from foreign countries. It would be terrible if chemicals that member of the Kyoto Municipal Board of Education, said,
harm humans would remain on the food." Many textbooks fea­ "Students should carry tissues with them, and if they use the
ture photos of angry American autoworkers bashing Japanese toilet in the morning at home, they won't have to do so at
290 Dogs a/ld Demons EJl/catilJII: FolIlJlIJ;II~ ti,e RIdes 291

school." Students may not change out of their winter uniforms Corporal punishment is illegal, but this is often a case of lalelllar
even if the weather is hot-everyone must sweat until the ap­ ratber than !/()//l1e. For one thing, teacher violence carries no le­
pointed day comes for the change into spring clothes. bral penalty. So widespread is teacher violence that at the trial of
Life in grade school is wild, heedless abandon compared Miyamoto Akira, a teacher in Fukuoka who kiUed a girl by
with what follows in junior high and high scbooL Hair codes striking her on the head and shoulders, the line of defense was
and uniforms become nearly universal, with everything pre­ th,lt the court should not single Miyamoto out because teach­
scribed, right down to the socks. Boys wear military-style uni­ ers everywhere commonly strike pupils. Pupils in the regular
forms with brass buttons, and girls wear a sort of sailor suit. l'ducJtional system fare better than those who are sent to spe­
In 1996, Habikino City, near Osaka, introduced uniforms for cial schools :ll1d seminars (boot camps, ba.~ically) whose purpose
teachers as well. is to toughen them up. These schools are known for their
The uniforms and dress codes are intended to enforce har­ ,hourings, beatinbrs, and physical privations; indeed, parents send
mony. "In my mind," Dr. Miyamoto writes, "the concept of their children to them expressly so that they will undergo such
harmony means an acceptallCe of differences, but when the privations. The severe discipline at these schools often leads to
japanese talk about harmony it means' a denial of differences injury, and sometimes to death.
and an embrace of sameness. Sameness in interpersonal rela­ While teachers sometimes resort to physical punishmcnt,
tionships means a reflection of the other, the basic concept of most of thc violencl' in the schools is among the students
which derives from narcissism." tht:lllsdves, Thc acceptance of violence against those who are
Punishment for dress- and hair-code infringements can be weaker than you is a part of japan's educational process, as it
severe. In one case, teachers stopped a student in Fukuoka Pre­ enforces group unity. Given the intense pressure to conform
fecture at the school gate and ordered him to go home after he from kindergarten onward,japanese students frequently turn to
refused to get the regulation buzz haircut. Later, they allowed bullymg, known as ijillle. Ijime is a national problem, and it re­
him back, but he was separated from other students and made sults in several much publicized suicides of schoolchildren
to study by himself in an empty room-in solitary confine­ every year. With a girl, it starts with being called kl/sai (smelly)
ment. "Psychologically speaking hair symbolizes power," says r haikilJ (bacteriJ), and eventually takes the psychologically
Dr. Miyamoto, "and at the same time it is an expression of one's lTu~hing form of not being talked to, or being shunned when
thoughts, emotions and conflicts. . . . As you may recognize, she ~~pproaches. One girl interviewed by a reporter said that she
through hair, the educational system demands that students thought what she had dOlle wrong was to be outspoken-or
share the illusion that all Japanese are the sanIe." perhaps she was too tall.
From hair and dress, the rules extend in the hundreds to As the writer Sakamaki Sachiko has said, "An odd nuance of
issues that go beyond the schoolyard. Many schools require 'pecch or appearance is enough to invite ostracism, and in a so­
children to wear uniforms on weekends; others decree that stu­ Liety where conformity is everything, no stigma weighs heavier
dents may not buy drinks from vending machines on their way tban the curse of being difFerent. Too fat or too short, too smart
home from school. And often violence enforces these rules. Or too slow-all make inviting targets. Many Japanese children
292 Dogs and Demons £dll(Oril",: Followil/}! rite Rilles 293

who have lived abroad deliberately perform poorly in, say, En­ universities not to admit students who bad graduated from them.
glish classes so as not to stand out." With boys, ijimc can result Far more effective than violence or overt Ministry of Educa­
in severe hazing. In the case of Ito Hisashi, a thirteen-year-old tion pressure in enforcing obedience and group identity are be­
in Joetsu, a city north of Tokyo, (jime began when his fi-iends havioral patterns of walking, talking, sitting, and standing in
ignored him; later they stripped him naked in the school bath­ unity, which are instilled tl1Tough drills and ceremonies, typi­
room, doused him with water, and extorted money fi'om him. ally to the sound of broadcast music and announcements.
His father found him swinging by the neck from a basketball These begin in kindergarten and continue in ever more elabo­
hoop. rate form right through to graduation from high school. Many
There is very little recourse against this kind of bullying, of the drills involve the repetition of stock phrases known as
since in Japanese schools it is the one who is bullied who is (/, usually translated in English as "greetings," a ritualistic
considered to be at fault. While teachers take an official stand round of hellos, thank-yous, and apologies. These make up an
against ijirne, they tend to encourage it indirectly, through their important part of japanese etiquette, and are one ofJapan's at­
own emphasis on obedience to the group, In a nationwide tractive features in truth, smoothing the flow of social life and
conference of the Japan Teachers' Union in 1996, most teachers contrasting sharply with curt New York and rude Shangh3i. At
agreed: "It can't be helped that in severe cases of buJJying the the same time, aisatsl/ are the ultimate tool in teaching confor­
bullied student skips school for a while." l3ut only 11 percent mity, for their refle>..'ive use makes it unnecessary for students to
thought it was appropriate to suspend the bullies. Kodera Ya­ think up original responses by themselves.
suko, the author of the best-seJJing book HOl/l to Fight Agai/lSt The effect of the violence administered by their peers and of
Bullying, found that when she complained about her daughter's the broadcast round of drills and rituals is to make Japanese stu­
having been bullied, school authorities and the other parents dents very good boys and girls indeed. Dr. Miyamoto compares
dismissed the problem as hers, not theirs. Dr. Miyamoto says, Jap311ese schools with the chateau in the famous sadomasochis­
"Bullying the weak is considered psychologically abnormal and tic novel Story of 0. In the chateau, where ° is locked up, she
a sign of immaturity in the West. l3ut in Japan it's accepted." learns to become J good sex slave by following every little rul
Students who have studied abroad are obvious targets; so to avoid being whipped-and she learns to cherish the reward
alien is their upbringing to that of tbeir classmates that edu­ for good behavior, which is also a whipping. "0 became a pris­
cationalists have created a new word for them: kikokushijo, oner of the pleasure of masochism .... Now let's replace the
"returnees." Kikokushijo attend special schools to reindoctri­ chateau with japan's conformist society, 0, with a salaryman,
nate them into japanese society. Foreigners are another matter. and masochistic sex with work."
For decades, the Ministry of Education refused to accredit
the special schools attended by many of the children of Ja­ So far, I have dwelled on the ways in which schools teach chil­
pan's 680,000 resident Koreans; these schools teach the same dren to behave and conform, not on the curriculum, and that is
subjects that are taught in other high schools, in the Japanese lan­ because obedience is largely what Japanese education is about.
guage, yet umil 1999 the ministry pressured high schools and "I n some sense it appears that Japanese schools are training
294 Dogs and Demons Education: Foll/ll/lin~ II,~ Rilles 295

students instead of teaching them," Ray and Cindelyn Eberts pJpers but l1lal/~~a comics? Ma11ga now account for a huge share
wrote. (Dr. Miyamoto goes so far as to call the Ministry of Ed­ ofJapanese publishing-as much as half of the magazine mar­
ucation the "Ministry of Training.") Nevertheless, what of the ket. The point is not that Japanese schools fail to make their
curriculum that teaches so much mathematics and science­ students literate-clearly, they do--but that they are not neces­
the envy of foreign educational experts? sarily doing it better than schools in other countries.
It is true that Japanese children score consistently higher on To pass examinations in Japan, students must learn facts, facts
mathematics tests than students in 1110St other countries. How­ that are not necessarily relevant to each other or useful in life.
ever, they have only a middling rank in science, and even in The emphasis is on rote memorization. The Ministry ofEduca­
math their scores drop as soon as tests diverge from application tion reviews all textbooks and standardizes their contents so
of cookie-cutter techniques and focus on questions that involve that pupils across the country, both in public and private
analysis or creative thought. schools, read the same books. Unfortunately, the "facts" are not
Literacy itself is a famed accomplishment of the Japanese ed­ necessarily the facts as the world sees them-especially the­
ucational system, and Japan's high percent of literacy is often tory of World War II. The 1970s and 1980s saw frequent
compared with low numbers in Europe and the United States. protests from China and Korea, for example, when the ministry
But, according to recent studies, absolute illiteracy-the inabil­ tried to insist that all textbooks describe Japan's "invasion of the
ity to read and write-accounts for 0.1 to 1.9 percent of the continent" as an "advance into the cominent." Officially ap­
American population, and it is very nearly the same percentage proved texts teach that the facts of the Nanking Massacre are
in Japan. Experts have never properly defmed "functional illit­ "under dispute"; recently, they finally mentioned "comfort
eracy," and researchers take it to mean all sorts of things, from women" (women who were forced to serve the Japanese army
the ability to read and write well enough to do a job to the as prostitutes) but did not say what they did. There is no infor­
ability to fill out an application form or understand a bus mation about the infamous kenpeirai (secret police), who ad­
schedule. (If the test is how well a person understands forms ministered a reign of terror before the war, no description of
and bus schedules, then I, for one, would definitely rank as a Japan's colonial rule in Korea, and so forth. The authorities
functional illiterate.) Based on such criteria, people have come have effectively removed from students' education the period
up with figures for functional illiteracy in the United States 1895-1945, a crucial half century in world history. Courts have
that range from 23,000,000 to 60,000,000, or 40 percent of the ruled that the purpose of the ministry's textbook review is
population. strictly to check facts, but it has become another unstoppable
In Japan, on the other hand, functional illiteracy is not a con­ process that officials hold dear. In recent years, textbook review
cept. There is no way to know what the results would be if it has gone beyond war issues to other matters: the ministry
were measured in ways similar to those used in the United scratched a sixth-grade textbook because the onomatopoeic
States. One can only hazard a guess. For example, what is one Sounds that a poet used to describe a rushing river differed
to make of the fact that the favorite reading material of wage from the officially recognized sounds. Textbooks may not men­
earners coming home on evening trains is not books or news- tion divorce, single-parent families, or late marriage. Or pizza.
296 Dogs aml Demons
'.dIlC.,f;Ol/: Fol/ol/1;lIg the Rilles 297

The ministry commented, "Pizza is not a set menu for a fam­

United States would have the majority of American high­
school students studying for SAT tests and nothing besides this:
they would go to cram school in the afternoon, memorize
It is bad enough when bureaucrats in Tokyo start telling fami­ every word and fact ever asked on an SAT, and strictly avoid
lies what they may think about eating for dinner, but there is everything else. They would stay up until 1:00 a.m. every night
another, more serious problem: the facts taught in school are memorizing these words and facts.
not the ones that university entrance exams test for! Students In the jl/kl/, students are learning another important lesson:
must therefore attend cranl schools (jl/ku) after schooi-two­ the hard work, the sacrifice, the exhaustion, the resigning of
thirds of all students aged twelve to fifteen attend juku, which one's inrel'ests and personality to the demands of impersonal
accounts for between two and four hours each day. In addition, rules-this is what jukl/ really teach. The American Ray Eberts
extracurricular activities like sports or music clubs function rdates the following exchange with his friend Mr. Uchimura:
along the lines of paramilitary organizations, with a host of ex­
tra duties that exhaust both students and teachers.
"Jf jJpan's schools are so very good, why do you have to
This brings us to another vital and distinctive rule ofJapa­
spend so much money for extra education?"
nese education, which sets Japan apart from every other nation
in the world (with the possible exception of North Korea). It is "The children do not learn what they need to know to pass
the principle of keeping a student busy every second. This suc­ the exams for university in public schools."
cessfully eliminates any time for independent interests and re­
"Well, what are they doing in school, then?"
sults in constant fatigue. "Children often tell me, 'I'm tired,' "
says Kanno Jun of Waseda University. "They are busy with "They are learning to be Japanese."
school, cram-school, and other activities-way beyond their
natural limits." Sleep deprivation is a classic tool of military The effect of rules, discomfort, \'iolence both by teachers
training, its use well documented in the prewar Japanese army. and by bullles, boring standardized tcxtbooks,jtlktJ, pJramilitary
Being constantly exhausted and yet exerting oneself to galt/bare sports and music clubs, and sleep deprivation is just what one
is one of the best lessons in masochism. One private poll of would expect: Japanese children hate school. They hate it so
sixth-graders in Tokyo found that one in three students went to much that tens of thousands of students stay away from school
bed at midnight, at the earliest, because they were studying for for at least a month each year in a phenomenon known as lokv
juku. k}111IJi, "refusal to attend school." A poll of fifth-graders showed
One paradox of Japan's educational system is that juku is that, out of six countries, children in Japan were the most rus­
considered necessary: if the school system is as advanced and ef­ satisfied with their homeroom teachers and the least likdy to
icient as its proponents claim, this would not be the case. What find school fun-and by a wide margin. Another poll found
are the real purposes of these institutions? One is obvious: to that only 21 percent ofJapanese students said they were inter­
fill students' heads with more facts. A similar scenario in the e\ted in their classes, versus 78.2 percent worldwide.
OW\r~s K. <h.
298 Dogs al/d Demons Edllcatioll: Following the Rilles 299

These numbers point to the fact that, under the surface, pro­ If tattOOS and pierced tongues meant a liberation of the
found trouble is brewing in Japan's educational system. School spirit, then all this might bode well for Japan. But what we are
in Japan is monochromatic: there's no room, or time, for a stu­ <eeinO' is not necessarily a flowering of individualism. The tat­
" ::>
dent to pour hi111- or herself into a personal hobby (as opposed toOS, the dyed hair, and the pierced tongues all follow more or
to paramilitary club activities), or to read literature, do volun­ less the same pattern; even the rebels remain very true to their
teer work, go to the zoo, get in touch with nature, or learn group dynamics. These youth are unlikely to be the ones who
about other countries. The whole regimen makes sense only if ;ise above the Construction State and give thought to the en­
one is determined to battle through "exam hell," go to college, vironment, or decide to have an impact on local pohtics, be­
and become an obedient blue-suited salaryman or even more come entrepreneurs and set up Internet companies, or break
obedient salaryman's wife. If not, there i~ no place for you. For free of inhibitions and befriend foreigners. Rather, we are see­
the good boys and girls, all goes well. But what of the "bad" ing an unpredictable nihihsl1l, the birth of a new and truly dis­
ones? In an era of relative wealth and leisure, when children do possessed class. What effects this will have in the future on
not feel threatened by poverty as their parents did, students society can only be guessed.
who opt out of the salaryman route tend to opt out of educa­
tion altogether. They reach a point where they simply snap un­ One might think that the gruehng training children undergo in
der the pressure-the Japanese word is kiren/-and from then their teens would continue at an even more strenuous level in
on, the only thing that matters to them is the color of their hair coIJege. But in fact the opposite happens. Once a student en­
or the speed of their motorbikes. The result is schoolrooms ters university, the pressure suddenly lets up. There is no need
filled with rebellious, rude, even dangerous kids-the exact op­ to study, because grading is lenient, and companies that hire
posite of what the repressive educational program set out to college graduates pay little attention to grades. When a student
create! starts his first job, no matter what he has learned at college he
Karl Taro Greenfield, author of Speed Tribes: Days alld Nights will have to begin training all over again in corporate orienta­
with Japatl's Next Generatioll, describes his experience as an En­ tion semin,lrs. Since a uIliversity education matters so little for
glish teacher in a high school south of Tokyo, a low-level his future, the next four years spent on it are sheer play.
school whose students were not going to college or aiming at For those who go to college, that is, which is relatively few.
white-collar jobs. "These kids were friendly, jovial, and totally The Japanese educational system does not entice students t
uninterested in learning English," Greenfield writes. "Most of aim for higher education, and less than a third do (versus almost
them slept during class, others kept up a steady stream of jab­ two-thirds in the United States, a proportion that includes
ber, and when I tried to quiet them, they simply walked out. technical schools, however, while the Japanese figure does not).
This was the vaunted Japanese educational system? The condi­ Gary DeCoker, a professor of education at Ohio Wesleyan,
tion I had stumbled upon, a sort of kireru-the nihilism that an­ points out, "The big difference is that U.S. junior colleges lead
imates many lett-behind Japanese kids-was broader than I to four-year colleges or to jobs, but in Japan they are mostly
realized." finishing schools for women."
ne.£.d GJ'\~V-L'<'S\+\~
300 lot; d~ ...J. 10 Jo..l Dogs at/d Demons Edt/catiot/: Followit/g the Rilles 301

And there is a wide disparity between education for men graduates make few important contributiolh to world scholar­
and women: the percentage of men going to college is ship or technology; they go straight into government min­
0.7 percent, versus 22.9 percent for women. This is a prime istries, where they proceed to collect bribes, lend money to
example of the ways in which the Japanese educational system gangsters, falsify medical records, and cook up schemes to de­
perpetuates social backwardness. When the university in my stroy rivers and seacoasts-with hardly a dissenting voice from
town of Kameoka, Kyoto G:lkuen Daigaku, tried to open a their colleagues or professors. Few important schools in ad­
women's college in the 1980s, the Ministry of Education re­ vanced countries can be said to have contributed so little of so­
fused to allow it, since it considered that more women attend­ cial value. As Nihon Keizai Shimbun puts it, the work of the elite
ing four-year colleges would create social disharmony because schools is "to take the finished products of high schools and in­
the women would seek jobs that major cornpanies reserve for dustry, pack labels on them and ship them out. They are like
men. Through "administrative guidance," the ministry forced 'canning factories.' At the 'factories,' they are labeled 'XX Bank,'
Kyoto Gakuen Daigaku to make the women's division a two-year 'yy University,' but they only ship the same standardized prod­
vocational school. uct." Karel van Wolferen points out that Todai graduates have
The odd thing about Japanese higher education is that it become the elite because of a selection process that rewards
seems so removed from the priorities ofJapanese society. Grad­ those with stamina in examinations, not necessarily those with
uate schools are poorly funded and organized and accomplish superior talents. He writes: "There is no doubt that Todai grad­
almost none of the important research and development work uates tend to be 'bright,' but many Japanese with capable minds
tound in European and American universities. Only 6 percent of a different cast are discarded and doomed permanently to
of college graduates in Japan go on to graduate school (versus operate on the fringes. Much capacity for original thinking
i5 percent in the United St:ltes) and, again, men outnumber is wasted. The Japanese ruling class is far more thoroughly
women by two to one. Even the best colleges are run-down schooled than it is educated."
and dilapidated, with shabby, half-deserted laboratories, trasb­ Edwin Reischauer comments, "The squandering of four
littered grounds with uncut weeds, and poorly stocked and years at the college level on poor teaching and very little study
managed libraries. Mori Kenji, a professor at Tokyo Science seems an incredible waste of time for a nation so passionately
University, observes, "Industries were in trouble [in the 1990s] devot<:d to efficiency."What are we to make of this? The situa­
and realized they needed basic science if tbey hoped to develop tion is doubly strange because the Japanese do not usually do
their own original technologies." So industry leaders paid a things by half measures. The only possible answer is that Jap .­
visit to Tokyo University, Japan's most elite institution. "They ncse society functions in such a way that the nation seem~ not
came to see what was going on and were shocked to discover to need universities. "By the time he reaches age 18, the Japa­
that there had been few improvements since their student nese child has become a perfect sheep," Dr. Miyamoto writes.
days." "As sheep on the meadow are not concerned with freedom, to
Tokyo University (Todai), the very pinnacle of the elite, is an ~lOst university students in Japan, fi'eedom as a concept is not
academic shambles by European or American standards. Todai IOlportant." In other words, by the time students arrive at col­

~Gb\' y fvn-JcwV1

~ ~ ~ I,+~ V2-d d,·/c.1 6clo.t£J

~",(.lC\", d~~~ n<i.ed Vl1.iVcz..'Cs;tte 5

Edllcation: FOI/OIVitlg the Rilles 303
302 a.ll fy-o\l'.,tA., fakeA f1a.-CL. Ctf 4 Dogs a"d Demons
C()M POt. 1"11, the lack of independent knowledge that makes these workers
lege, the training process is already complete. Universities are
sO loyal, competent, and diligent. They have not been taught
Japanese universities are one giant (atClIlae erected to the idea analytical thinking, the ability to ask unusual or creative ques­
of advanced education. In the bureaucratic state, where training tions, a sense of brotherhood with the rest of mankind, or cu­
as an adult begins in the company or ministry, there is no social riosity about and love for the natural environment. The blame
for modern Japan's environmental disaster falls squarely at the
need for them. The fact that serious learning takes place not in
feet of the educational system, because it teaches people never
college but in industry goes far in explaining the lack of variety
to take personal responsibility for their surroundings. This
of new technologies developed in Japan. Without the wide­
leaves none but a few rebellious souls to notice or cry out
ranging and inventive research in universities that would lead to
when rivers and mountainsides are paved over.
advanced knowledge of the environment and to new theoreti­
Aware to some degree that the Japanese public suffers from
cal sciences, Japan's best minds devote themselves to one
narrow band of human activity: skills in making, building, and this kind of ignorance, the Ministry of Education has dreamed
up another "demon," the concept of shogai gakllsh~l, or Lifelong
marketing things.
Learning. The idea is that as the number of older retired people
Henry Adams once wrote, "Nothing in education is so aston­ increases, the nation should give them the chance to study in
their old age: English classes, tea ceremony, or other hobbies.
ishing as the amount of ignorance it accumulates in the form of
Lifelong Learning suits the Construction State well, for it justi­
inert facts." Their heads filled to overflowing with facts fed
fies tbe building of countless multipurpose Lifelong Learning
them by the Ministry of Education, Japanese students are
Halls, but there is one little problem that lies in the word "life­
surprisingly lacking in common knowledge. In February 1996,
long." Take people who as children in school were discouraged
Azby Brown, an American teaching at a Japanese architectural
from thinking for themselves. Deny them the time then and
college, noted these results of a study he had done: When he
later, as working adults, to develop interests of their own: how
tested his architectural-design graduate students, he found they
can you expect them suddenly to acquire a taste for learning in
could not read hundred-page Japanese tracts, or sunU113,rize
their old age.
longer books. No one recognized the Guggenheim Museum,
Nothing is more difficult to change than a policy that once
or knew in what century the Phoenix Pavilion, the famous
worked and works no longer. Training people to be corporate
Heian temple featured on ¥10 coins, was built. Only one stu­
drones succeeded in an era when manufacturing was the source
dent knew when World War II had taken place. They didn't
of all wealth, and Japan could easily and cheaply import tech­
know what Islam was and had never heard of MuhanU1ud.
nology. But with a new age of services and information
One student thought Christianity started in A.D. 60".
management dawning, and with software becoming a huge and
Professor Duke is right in arguing that the Japanese educa­
costly industry, flexible and inventive minds are called for, yet
tional system succeeds in producing a "loyal, literate, compe­
flexible and inventive minds are exactly what the Japanese sys­
tent, and diligent worker," but he is wrong in believing that this
tem tends to stamp out.
success lies in how much Japanese students know. It is precisely
£I/I/(Olioll: Pol/oll/illg Ihe Rilles 305
Dogs Qlld Demons
1998 that percentage had fallen to 40 percent and was dropping
Mired ill bureaucratic mertia, Japanese schools have been
very slow to update the curriculum: in 1994, a Ministry of Ed­ rapidly.
Japan, however, must do what the rest of the world does, es­
ucation survey found that t\Vo-third5 of Japan's public-school
pecially if it involves industry-and this means that sooner
teachers could not operate computers, and matters had im­
or later the Internet is conung to Japan. As the millennium
proved only very slowly by the end of the decade. In late 1998,
turned, there were signs that Internet-based businesses had at
Japan ranked fifteenth in the world for Internet users per
last begun to prosper in Japan, with Yahoo! Japan stock rising to
capita, falling far below the United States and some European
stratospheric heights and numerous government programs aim­
nations, and lagging behind Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore.
ing to encourage entrepreneurs. But, for Japanese industry in
It is one of the curious and unexpected twists of modern times
general, change will not come easily, for workers fear to suggest
that Japan, thought to be enamored of advanced science, has
new ideas lest the group ostracize them. The patterns of ijil1l
been so slow to embrace the new world of informarion tech­
extend deeply into corporate life. 'When Dr. Miyamoto an­
nology-for most of the 1990s, it positively spurned it.
gered his superiors at the Ministry of Health and Welfare, his
The reasons tor this curious twist are many, including
boss ordered other employees not to speak to him, and even the
overpriclllg (Internet fees far higher than those in the United
tea girls not to deliver tea to his desk. Childish though these
States or Hong Kong), overregulation, and fear on the part of
techniques may seem, for the average employee, taught from
conservative-minded leaders who foresee that the individualis­
childhood never to offend the group, there is no psychological
tic Internet threatens Japan's social cohesiveness. "It is true that
protection against them. How do you train people to become
multimedia will offer surprising advantages in some fields," an
adventurous entrepreneurs when their education has taught
editorial in Asalri Silill/blll/ said in October 1994. But it warned,
them that this is precisely what they should not be?
"It is, however, still a wild card to our society as a whole. We
his was brought home to me as I was editing this book in
should not be in a hurry."
the spring of 2000, and found myself sitting in Tokyo's Keio
And, indeed, Japan has not been in a hurry. The sluggish
Plaza Hotel coffee shop one day. Next to me was a yOWlg man
growth of its economy in the 1990s is ample proof of this.
interviewing another young man for a position in a start-up
American entrepreneurs built huge businesses centered on in­
company, and I couldn't help eavesdropping. The earnest youn
formation technology over recent decades: an Apple. a Mi­
interviewee, when asked to outline his strategy for a new start­
crosoft, a Netscape, an Oracle, an like
up business, replied, ·'Aisatsu. It's vital for company morale that
these developed in Japan. The two leading Japanese software
everyone say 'Good morning,' 'Good afternoon,' and so forth
developers, Ascii and Justsystem, are tiny in comparison with
regularly and respectfully." It might seem charming that the
their American competitors, and both of them are bleeding red
young man thought this way, that there's a corner of the world
ink as Microsoft gobbles up the Japanese market. ]ustsystem's
where things like aisatsll still matter; on the other hand, while
main product, a word-processing software called Ichitaro, main­
he's busy working on getting his aisatsu just right, the Internet
tained 80 percent of the domestic market lmtil 1996, but by
306 Dogs mId Demons

whizzes of Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bangalore are going to

leave him in the dust.
I saw the interviewer involuntarily move away, and I could
see from his body language that this discussion was over. In
spite of the pressures for conformity, there is a generation of ad­ 13 After School
venturous young Japanese who are well aware of what will be
needed to compete in the big wide world. The great question
is \.vhether there will be enough of them to nuke a difference.
C£lowers and Cinema
As we have seen throughout this book, the Japanese people
see the trouble their nation is in far better than foreign experts
with emerald glasses flrlnly fixed on their noses. The public is
disappointed with the educational system, and the press re­ Tell me, gentle flowers, teardrops of the stars, standing in the
sounds with calls for reform. As Prime Minister Hashimoto garden, nodding your heads to the bees as they sing of the
said in his 1997 New Year's address, "The present education
dews and the sunbeams, are you aware of the fearful doom
system just crams knowledge into children's beads. It values
that awaits you?
memorization too much. The system doesn't allow children to
decide dreams, hopes and targets by themselves." In a report de­ -OKAKURA KAKUZO, The Book 0/ Lea
livered to Prime Minister Obuchi in January 2000, a blue-chip
cOllunission headed by Hayao Kawai, the director general of
the National Research Center for Japanese Studies, concluded The question of how Japan's postwar educational system has
that Japan's society is "ossified," and that adherence to rules and afrccted its culture would make a book by itself. But certain
confonnity have "leached Japan's vitality." The commission trends are clear, as people's adult lives come to mimic the
called for ll1dividuality and more support for risk-takers. Un­ schoolyard, and can be summarized in a general way. Nabno
fortunately for Japan, at tbe very moment when change is neces­ Kiyotsugu has written:
sary, education-and society as a whole---appear to be headed
toward more regimentation, not less. Looking around modern Japan, I don't know why, but invis­
ible rules have grown up everywhere. Lifestyle, human rela­
~\"'1~Vv+~ ( bu((('4.> i~; M <L tions, clothing, deportment-each of these is enclosed in a
(Io1At()Y'....... ~+ V<)<Lle <;<;, \lr1~o!r<!...J tCAc.f-s framework. Just as the audience at a wedding stands up, sits
'f down, and points their camera as directed by the MC, so
Ce(p8Vo·J~ J,IrC~ 5" Rt:;te. tVQ.M~ ~~ la..t ~C()n people are bound up in rules. None of these rules is required
by law, yet nobody dares disobey or they will be cast aside
by the group.. The younger they are the more people seem

r-vo..ryt:JVVb LV ~ Q.'<"s 0-. U>'\: ~Y"VV\
Dogs Uemons Afur School: Flowers and Cinema
308 IV\ -Sc...P<X..V1 alld

~trongly attached to the rul~s, and they follow the others in the obvious signs of sleep deprivation visible in the faces of the
their dress, possessions, hair styl~s, language, and topics of businessmen on trains and buses. The masochism these men
conversation. A foreign~r would probably be surprised at the learned so well at school has carried over into Jdult life.
way they all seem to be dressed in uniform.
When a woman complimented Whistler on his pamtmgs of
Magazines have observed that young wives with their chil­ misty London bridges and remarked on how close they were to
dren in Tokyo parks seem to form in cliques marked by similar real life, Whistler replied, "Alas, madame, real life is catching
clothes, hairstyles, and speech patterns-members of one, for lip." Real life in Japan is catching up with its grade-school
example, will all have dyed hair. The groups even dress their regimen. Trained since childhood to follow orders broadcast
toddlers in identical fashion. One woman, whom the others on loudc;peakers, the Japanese today are addicted to public an­
had initially shunned, later asked, "What did I do wrong?" It nouncements. Japan suffers from a severe case of noise pollu­
turned out to be the way she scolded her child-it wasn't the tion. Hotel lobbies, department stores, and train stations
same way the other women scolded their children. The media reverberate with taped messages advising people not to forget
call these groups Park Moms, as opposed to Park Gypsies, out­ things, to hand in their tickets, to be careful of this and beware
cast mothers who arc accepted by no group. A book published of that, and to walk on the left.
in 1996 entitled Park Debut counsels mothers on how to sur­ Loudspeakers are fitted into every new escalator in public
vive in the parks: "Newcomers should always take a low pos­ places, with tapes advising people on the most rudimentary be­
ture" and "Imitate the elder bosses." havior. The escalators at the Kyoto railroad station say, "When
Once admitted to a Park Mom circle, one can participate in getting on the escalator please hold the belt and stay behind the
its joim activities. The group keeps the women busy with par­ yellow line. For those with children, please hold their hands and
ties, excursions, and kairall-bal1 (revolving registers), in which stand in the middle of the step. If you are wearing boots or thin
they take turns looking after and calling up the others. This is shoes, they can get caught in the cracks, so please take extra care.
an exact repeat of the uniforms, rules, and nonstop busyness It is dangerous to put your head or hands beyond the belt"
these women experienced as students. It also repeats the school There is an announcement at Narita Airport that reminds you to
hierarchy and the bullying. One Western observer notes, "Some keep walking after getting off the escalator, and at the platform
of these women have imposed a rigid hierarchical system not for trains to downtown Tokyo, a taped voice alerts passengers,
so different from that of the Japanese political and business "Your ticket is valid for the train and car shown on the ticket."
worlds. Senior mothers pull rank, signal who is acceptable and People have become so addicted to recorded aisatsl/ and
who is not, and decide what activities will be engaged in and ommands that they feel lonely without them. Nowhere in
when. Some even set a dress code." modern Japan can one get away from a recorded voice thank­
And their husbands? They stay at the office until late at ~ng you for coming, giving you information, apologizing for an
night, even if there is no work to do, and come home ex­ inconvenience, commanding or warning you-all this accom­
hausted. Anyone who spends much time in Japan is struck by panied by a chorus of beeps, buzzes, chirps, and gongs.
310 Dogs and Demons
I1l vJ AN
Ajier School: Flowers and Cinema /'1 1O.1\,.J o.,V) 311

The most conIDlon words you will hear are kiken (danger) is Such-and-Such Police Department." The writer Fukuda
and abuuai (hazardous). Daily life in Japan is filled with peril­ Kiichiro points out that public agencies spend tax money to
unless people follow the rules. A ride on any public con­ broadcast this sort of message because they have misunderstood
veyance-bus, train, or subway-is an endless round of kikel1, tbe concept of "public service." Staffed with al/lakudari officials
followed by orders: Don't leave anything behind; stand back who have no idea how to benefit the public in any real way,
while the train pulls in; don't rush to get in; don't get your fin­ agencies dream up these announcements so that "in the end it's
gers caught in the door; stay in line. National parks, rock gar­ a burlesque comedy put on by agencies such as the Transporta­
dens in Kyoto, ski resorts, university campuses, temples, and tion Safety Association as an alibi so they can say, 'Look! We're
shrines reverberate with recorded messages and sound effects. doing something!' " Another unstoppable tank of officialdom
There is no escape. With the clamor at home on television, the goes rumbling over the landscape. The same spirit of total ded­
ear-shattering fanfare of sounds at the pachinko parlor, and ication that has buried Japan's rivers takes over.
rL'corded voices, beeps, and gongs in all public spaces, the Japa­ This, however, explains only the announcers, not the audi­
nese spend a major part of their waking lives in a sea of noise. ence. The key question is why the Japanese public accepts and
Useless alIDouncements are not, of course, unique to Japan. even craves all these commands and warnings. Fukuda writes:
In New York City, public-address systems in the subway urge vJ(/'Jj(
conUTIuters not to make trains late by holding the doors open; lJ..1 One could say that social control in Japan has come to il1­
taxis broadcast recorded warnings, spoken by celebrities, to fas­ \1) ttv~de the private realm to an extreme degree. Of course I
ten your seat belt and not to forget your belongings when get­ C~·· '~ontrol" does not take place if we have only people wbo
ting in or out-something that even Tokyo's cabs haven't ~ want to 1'CfOf=I?S a necessary cond1rio~0also have a ma- J
got around to doing. Nevertheless, the noise pollution in the IV '\.- .4 tY
0ri f people who wish to be controlle . It's the same
West and in Southeast Asian countries (so far) is mostly limited "<::l : ~'nechanism " ·ll---ll.vol. ntary subjugation.'
to public transit-one would rarely expect to hear loud an­ .~ !'''That is, people who wish to be controlled struggle to brin
nouncements on every escalator, in gardens, parks, and ~~ tAe fact chic .....
churches. And repeated not once but endlessly. In Japan, it's a _~ children in high schools and students in universities never
case of excess, of announcements carried far beyond a reason­ ~ ~ tire of having their teachers advise them what to do. Japanese
able limit. And uncontrollable excess is the defming quality of ~ ) c~ll~ge students are not adults w~o b~ar ri~~lts and responsi­
Japan's modern cultural crisis. ~ ~ blhtles-they should all be called ·chIldren.
In a famous haiku, Basho wrote, "Silence / Into the rocks
seep the voices of cicada." Today, there would be no place tor ~~ The operative word in the above paragraph is "children."
Basho to be alone with his thoughts, for seeping into the Apart from the addiction to sound effects, the most remarkable
rocks would be an alIDOl1l1Cement fi-om a chartered police­ aspect ofJapan's public announcements is their sheer dllldisb­
department Cessna overhead: "Let's remember to fasten our ness. The level of nonsense in what Fukuda calls the Kinder­
seat belts. When crossing the road, let's look left and right. This garten State can strain credibility. Buses at Itami City urge
~7~rres '5 - WfAlI1l/v y~ h~ 1b ferz"1 Ot '}fZ. yePo/j
Dogs alld Uemons After Scllo"l: F!::J.ll W a/ld Ci/lcllla, !{)r11f r;'Vch.'/Jt,.,J~
oet/a ",Ja.,wo.Vt ,-
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riders to use soap. At Hayama, a beach south of Tokyo, a decades of such a system, the end result is a massive national
recorded voice tells bus passengers, "If you have come from a nostalgia for childhood. Comments Merry White, the author of
long way, please rest before entering the sea. If you are drown­ rite Material Child: Coming C!f Age in Japan and America, "We in
ing, please shout for help." the US are said to be a youth society, but what we really are is
he long and the short of it is that japan's postwar educa­ an adolescent society. That's what everyone wants to go back
tional system is turning the japanese into children. That the air to. In japan, it's childhood, mother, home that is yearned for,
everywhere rings with warnings of "Danger!" "Hazardous!" not the wildness of youth:'
cries out for psychological study-it certainly gives insight In this there is a sobering reminder for those who expect
into people's timidity in stepping out of line. Commentators in that the new japanese youth are going to cast off the tran"lmels
japan have discussed the problem of this infantilization at and bring revolutionary change to their country. If wild hairdos
length; the social critic Fukuda Kazuya wrote a book entitled and tattoos meant wild and liberated people, then perhaps there
vVlIy Halle the Japanese Become SlIch I,!f(lIItS? The effects of infan­ might be some hope. But wild is not what it's about; it's about
tilization on Japan's modern culture are far-reaching. As we becoming a baby again.
have seen, lIIallga comics now account for nearly half of japan's If one were to look for the chief influence of japanese mod­
publishing business. The old words that defined Japanese cul­ ern culture on the outside world, it would definitely be in toys,
ture-such as wabi (rough natural materials) or shibui (subdued games, comics, and fashion for children. In the United States
elegance)-have been replaced by a new concept: kawaii (cute). and Europe, Japanese products such as Hello Kitty and Poke­
Japan is awash in a sea of cute comic froggies, kitties, doggies, mon have been huge hits, but they appeal abroad almost ex­
and bunnies with big, round, babyish eyes. clusively to boys younger than twelve and girls younger than
The big eyes are a favorite with young girls-the determin­ fifteen. As they mature, adolescent boys turn from Pokemon to
ing audience for modern Japanese design. One magazine editor games created by Americans and British designers, such as Myst
claim5 that "the limit on eye size comes when they get so big or Doom, girls set aside Hello Kitty and start reading Seventeen
the shape of the face is distorted." You can hardly buy-a house­ or Hie. The same is true of Q/lime (animated films), very few of
hold object-a bar of soap, a pencil, a blanket, a trash can, an which appeal to adults as did Disney's The Prince of Egypt; most
electric fan, or a stereo set-without a big-eyed baby fac series. such as Dragol1ball Z, beloved of nine-year-old boys, and
printed somewhere on it. Gone are the days when the sleek Sailor MOOll, a favorite of ten-to-fourteen-year-old girls, appeal
Walkman defined Japanese industrial style. Today, while Ameri­ to preadolescents.
can and Taiwanese computer makers sweep the world with in­ It's a very different story inside Japan. Cute creations like
novative and elegant designs, the main thrust in Japan is toasters Pokemon are targeted largely at adults, and the manufacturers
in the shape of Hello Kitty. of elite are among the few Japanese companies whose domes­
he educational system has the effect, as Dr. Miyamoto has tic profits actually grew during the 1990s stagnation. Sanrio,
noted, of freezing children's emotional development at the level the maker of the Hello Kitty line (now expanded to more
before they need to take adult responsibility for their lives; after than fifty cute characters), grosses more than $1 billion a
314 Dogs a"d Uemons After School: Flowers aud Ciuellla 315

year through sales and licensing. Since the 1980s, animated with plastic charms of their favorite cllte characters: Thunder
fums have taken first and second position in domestic cinemas Bunny, Cookie Monster, Doraemon the robot cat. Cute is
almost every year, leaving fUms with real-life adult actors dead everywhere. They're soaking in it.
at the box office. Today, about half of all domestic film revenues
come from e7l1;I//C. lapan is indeed soaked in cute, to the extent that it is no
The conquest of cute happened slowly, taking about thirty 10;lger merely an amusing sjdelight-one could fairly call it the
years to sweep all before it. The first step was when cute toys of cultural mainstream, and its influence reaches everywhere, from
the 1970s became cult objects for adult women in the 1980s; cinema to traditional arts.
the next step was when, as Japan sank into recession in the
1990s, young male wage earners developed a taste for big-eyed Ikebana flower arranging provides a good opportunity to see
cuddly creatures, and by the end of the century the conquest how Japan's new environment J.l1d educational system are influ­
was near-complete. )n 1999, a stuffed doll called Tare Panda encing the traditional arts. At the March 1997 official ikebana
with a round face, droopy eyes, and a soft body swept Japan, showing of the Tokyo Branch of lkenobo School, Japan's oldest
selling $250 million worth that year alone; most of the buyers and most prestigious, with a lineage that dates to the sixteenth
were adult men. Takemono Katsunori, a thirty-four-year-old century, it could be seen that about half of each arrangement
company worker in Tokyo, enthused, "A mere glance at it conslsted of plastic. Flower arrangers wrapped petals around
makes me melt." glitter hearts; they stapled stems to wires and rods; they draped
Mary Roach powerfully evokes the extent to which cute has branches with fiberglass mist and hung them with cutouts made
conquered: from sheets of blue and orange vinyl; they painted thorns with
acrylics, and encrusted leaves with Christmas-tree icicles. A life­
To anyone who knows Japan ... the pull of the cute is a time spent in an ugly city surrounded by a degraded country­
powerful and omnipresent force. The Japanese are born into side will have its effect. Nature, for J.apan's new flower masters,
cute and raised with cute. They grow up to save money with is hJlf vinyl, wire, rubber, and paint. The one thing one might
cute (Miffy the bunny on Asahi Bank ATM cards), to pray say in defense of this is that it honestly reflects the environment.
with cute (Hello Kitty charm bags at Shinto shrines), to have yen more thought-provoking in this Ikenobo show was the
sex with cute (prophylactics decorated with Monkichi the techl11cal level of the arrangements. Those stapled and cutoU(
monkey, a condom stretched over his body, entreating, leaves, glitter hearts, and the rest were put together with the am­
"Would you protect me?"). They see backhoes painted to atl'umh zest one might find in a fourth-grade classroom. Flow­
look like giraffes and police kiosks fixed up like gingerbread er~ glued with epoxy mingled with bits of metallic foil and tubes
houses. . . . Teenage boys tattoo themselves with Badtz­ of pink jelly-these are the work of children, not of adults.
Maru, the Sanrio company's mischievous lumpy-headed While we are on the subject of flowers, tllere is no better
penguin. Salarymen otherwise indistinguishable in their gray field than this to study Japan's new "manual approach" to the
suits and cigarettes buy novelty cell phone straps adorned arts, an outgrowth of the educational mode of telling students
316 Dogs and Demons Afler ScllOol: Flowers arId Cinema 317

exactly what to think and do about everything. Flower schools artists have shown a profound understanding ofJapanese tradi­
such as Ikenobo and Hara have taken to diagramming their tion and combined this with a contemporary outlook. The
arrangements. Branch A stands at an 87-degree angle to the world rightly admires these great artists, yet back home inJapan
ground; Branch B turns away at a 32-degree angle to the right; they do not represent the mainstream, and in private they de­
and Branch C leans at precisely 55 degrees to the left. The tips spair at what they see going on around them. For every exquis­
of the branches must end within a triangle, with sides of such­ ite pleated Issey vest sold in Aoyama, youngsters in Harajuku
and-such length. are buying myriad kawaii garments with oversize socks, sailor
Foreigners, and even Jap:mese new to a study of traditional suits fringed in lace, purses embellished with the smiling face of
arts, may assume that this rigid diagrauunatic approach is a part adorable three-year-old Chibi Maruko-chan, and shoes that
of the tradition. But the opposite is true. Ikebana was a medi­ squeak. In the time that Ando completes one pure abstract
tative practice, heavily influenced by Zen, taxing to the utmost structure, Hasegawa Itsuko and her followers have raised dozens
the artist's spontaneous skill and sensitive observation of nature. ofJil)'tt-type monuments across the land, each a kindergarten­
Trying to duplicate a geometric shape was definitely not the style concatenation of fiberglass, metal cutouts, and plywood.
point. Ikenobo Senno, the founder of the Ikenobo School and For every lady pleased by Kawase's simple arrangements of a
the father of ikebana, in the famous preface to his seminal essay few flower petals and branches, tens of thousands of Ikenobo
on flowers in 1542, went out of his way to stress tha t the aim of followers labor on manga-esque creations of foil and vinyl. The
ikebana was not to enjoy a shape but to bring out the basic na­ future belongs to them.
ture of a flowering branch or tree, thereby mystically pointing Well, not completely. I had an interesting encounter at that
the way toward the secrets of the universe. ikebana show that illustrates in a nutshell the difference be­
From this point of view, what we see in modern ikebana tween how the Japanese and foreigners look at Japan's cultural
books is a denial of everything that ikebana once stood for. The crisis. As I was walking down the rows of Rower arrangements,
same goes for the modern tea ceremony, which also has manu­ I came across a young American woman who was studying ike­
als demonstrating how to sit and stand at every instant of the bana in Tokyo and her middle-aged Japanese lady fi'iend whom
ceremony, and where to lay the utensils-exactly so many cen­ she had brought along to see the show "Isn't the Japanese love
timeters fi'om the edge of the tatami, no more, no less. All this of nature wonderfu1?" the American woman commented to
has the look and feel of tradition, but it's defll1itely not tradi­ me. "I guess so," I replied. "But I see here some vinyl, here
tion. The rules in these manuals are newly invented, written es­ SOme fiberglass and leaves stapled to painted cardboard. Wherc's
pecially for adults who have graduated from Japan's postwar the nature?" The American ikebana practitioner grew angry.
schoolrooms. """"reating flowers this way is traditional!" she exclaimed.
All of this is not to say that Japan's culture, modern or tra­ The Japanese woman, who had not said a single word,joined
ditional, has become hopelessly childish. The great fashion in at this point. It turned out that she was not an ikebana prac­
designer Miyake Issey, the inspired flower arranger Kawase titioner herself; she had come along merely to see the art form
Toshiro, the architect Ando Tadao, and other fme contemporary that her foreign friend was so enthusiastic about. She had been
Cb I (\::Q. G:. 6-V- \s w o..\d. @ -bG\, lJe) \;"
3 \8 - Id,(Jl.. <A 'Ntll'~ ,'t:nl1 Zec..lo+ Dogs and Demons Afltr SdIOClI: FlolI/us arId Ci'le'lln 3\9
- ~\Jo-hz.~ - Illo- ~/ h;'b~
walking around feeling vagueTy uncomfortable, but in such a ~hJved and painted eyebrows, and high clunky shoes-plus lots
prestigious location and with her friend oohing and aahing, she of cute Hello Kitty accessories. The impact 011 East Asia is, in a
had not felt confident in expressing her doubts. Hearing me, she sense, a healthy one. in that Asians are finally discovering their
relaxed and gave vent. "Yes!" she exclaimed. "These things are own identities, and the new styles coming out of Japan are in
monstrous. This is environmental degradation, that's what it is!" many ways better suited to their local cultures. Terry McCarthy
The American woman was typical of a phenomenon: the writes: "Despite the marketing muscle of American record
foreigner who converts to Japan, as one might convert to a re­ companies and film studios, there is an inevitable cultural short­
ligion. For her, announcing that flower arrangements of this fall-Asians may watch the American shows, but the bronzed,
type were "traditional" had all the weight of quoting the Bible. butfed bodies of Ba)Il/larch are not something that most Asian
Tragically, she was unaware of how removed such arrangements teens could (or even would) aspire to." Nineteen-year-old fash­
really are from tradition; but she exemplified the many foreign ion student Watanabe Eriko puts it succinctly: "It's stupid for
writers, especially on culture, who continue to purvey modern the Japanese to compete with Western designers .... We should
Japanese arts to the world as unquestioning devotees. It's be­ be selling our own Eastern styles to Asia, because Asians have
cause of the existence of such converts that the real troubles in the tashion sense and bodies to complement Japanese designs.
Japan's environment, design, architecture, and cinema have Why must we go to Europe to dress tall blondes? Our aesthetic
never been expressed in the foreign media. For foreign students matches black hair and slimmer bodies better."
of Japan, it has been a long and chronic case of the Emperor's The question is whether the new fashion means a cultural
New Clothes. renaissance is on its way, as many of its supporters believe, or
The Japanese woman, however, had a healthy and natural re­ whether it is just, well, fashion. Ever since World War II, one of
sponse; she didn't care about tradition: ugly was ugly. Or, at a the favorite themes of Western journalism about Japan is the
deeper level, she instinctively understood what the tradition Ne\v Youth, and regularly, about once every year or so, Time or
should have been, and could feel without knowing exactly why Newsweek devotes special articles to this subject. The youth are
that these arrangements were all wrong. The Japanese are not going to change, they are going to overturn the old order, be­
so nostalgic about their own culture that they have become cause they wear miniskirts, or because they sport nose rings and
blind to its problems. And in this lies the hope for revitalization dye their hair. It's a natural inference to make, because in the
and change. West free sexual and fashion mores have traditionally been
linked to free thinking, viz. Woodstock. However, in Japan the
One of the most fascinating phenomena of the new Japan is the situation is di£l:erent in that such freedoms have always been al­
explosion of wacky youth fashion, which is hugely influencing lowed so long as people toe the line with regard to their fami­
young people all over East Asia, and drawing a lot of attention lies, work, social hierarchies, and so on. In other words, sex and
in the Western press. The "look" is by now familiar from many fashion are delinked from politics. This was true even in the
a magazine article: spiky dyed hair, face entirely smoothed in s~ventcenth century, when Jesuit missionaries fresh fi'om impe­
heavy makeup to a shiny copper or caramel complexion flal Beijing, where most people dressed in drab blue or black,
Dogs a"d Demons AJiu Sf/.oo/: Floll/us a"d Cinema 321

arrived in Japan to find a colorful "floating world" of brilliantly ll1alaise, for it is a tale of nearly unbroken decline over three
dyed silks, incredible towering hairstyles, and long flowing decades. Once boasting masters such as Kurosawa Akira and
sleeves. Compared to that in China, life in Japan looked like OZl1 Yasujiro, Japan has recently produced only a few films of
wild abandon, and yet at the time Japan was one of the most 1l10der:lte world success. The number of good films is so low
tightly controlled societies on earth. that at the 1994 Kyoto International Film Festival the usual
Ian Buruma quotes an essay by movie director Oshima Na­ Japan Fi/Ill 7Or/ay program was replaced by a retrospective of
gisa (known for the fllm III the Reallll of the Senses) in which he older films-the most recent from 1964. "Japanese audiences
describes a meeting with a conservative politician. The politi­ see Japanese art fdms as introverted, gloomy, and sentimental,
cian says mores have the power to change society, but the di­ and J.lpanese entertainment fdms as trash," says Okuyama
rector thinks otherwise. "Here Oshima puts his finger on the Kazuyoshi, a former vice president of Shochiku,Japan'<; largest
sorest point ofJapanese politics-'it is not, as the LDP Dietman film producer. "They've basically given up on them."
said, that mores have more power to change society than poli­ Japanese cinema's golden age, from the 1950s through the
tics; rather the forces unable to change. society through politics early 1970s, coincided with the period of highest economic
shift to manners and mores.' " One could argue that the ex­ growth. In 1960,545 domestic films captured almost four-fuths
treme fashions of the youth represent precisely that: a veiled of the market. Admissions reached a billion people at 7,457
protest against the established order. Whether it signifies real thea ten. Since then, however, the industry has shrunk astonish­
change in the society is still an open question. ingly, losing as much in quantity as in quality. In 1993, a mere
In any case, the youth fashion does underscore the extreme :.!38 domestic 61ms caught less than a 40 percent share. In 1996,
groupism of the young in Japan. Seventeen-year-old girls set the admissions were 120 million people at 1,828 theaters. In other
trend. "It's not how much they spend," says Ogino Yoshiyuki, \Vord~, the number of fums dropped to half, theaters declined to
editor of a teen magazine, "it's that they all buy the same things. one-fourth, and admissions collapsed to one-eighth of earlier
So if someone has a $10 product, they can sell lots of them."Tim totals. Of this drastically shriveled market, foreign films cap­
Larimer writes: "If an item is hot, like pagers-they're called tured a 72.4 percent share in 1998. In the past forty years,
pocket bells in Japan-a manufacturer can get almost 100% Japanese fum has so thoroughly lost its audience that it exists
market penetration and fast. 'If it is really powerful, it can take more as a symbolic industry than as a real one.
less t1lan a week,' says Ogino. Once 5% of the teen girl popula­ Today, Kurosawa's and Ozu's films from the 1950s and 1960s
tion takes a Ii king to something, he says, 60% will join the band­ stand as enduring masterpieces, exerting an incalculable influ­
wagon within a month. A few weeks later, everybody will be on ence on American and European directors. But, unfortunately.
board. The hard part is predicting what the famously fickle cincma followed a pattern similar to what we have seen in other
teenage girls will next anoint as kawaii." arcas ofJapanese life: in the early 1970s, trouble set in, and the
\vlnd mysteriously went out of the sails. Studios found a way to
There is no better mirror of a nation's life than its movies, and take it easy by producing remakes of such comedies as Otoko wa
Japan's cinema perfectly reflects the nation's modern cultural tSllra" yo, known for its star, the lovable vagabond Tora-san-of
322 Dogs at,d Demons Afll'r School: Flowers alld Cillemo 323

which approximately two were produced every year since 1969. made time stop: After all, Kurosawa's and Ozu's great films, far
In 1996, Otoko wa tsurai yo was showing in its forty-eighth from being "contemporary cinema," as they are usually por­
cpisode, but then Tora-san died and everyone thought the series trayed, go back nearly half a century; they belong to the vintage
would finally be laid to rest. By that time, profits from Otoko wa of The Kil1~ alld I and Lawrence if Arabia. When it comes to
(sura; yo accounted, by some calculations, for more than half of more reccnt productions, what gets shown abroad is highly se­
Shochiku's annual movie income. Even though Tora-san's audi­ lective. Foreign art houses screen only the best ofjapan's inde­
ences had been dwindling every year, and the longtime star was pendent filmmakers, and this small but talented group saw a
dead, Shochiku couldn't stop. That year, it announced that a re­ small renaissance in the 1990s. Beat Takeshi's Halla-bi and Ima­
placement had been found and the series would go on as be­ mura Shohei's Ullagi received critical acclaim abroad, UlIagi as
fore--albeit under a different name. Only with the collapse of co-winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 1997 and Hana-bi as
Shochiku as a movie producer, which followed soon afterward, winner of the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Film Festival.
did the series finally come to an end. But independent art films do not a cinema industry make.
In the late 1980s, there was a brief resurgence in japanese While japanophiles at international fllmfests are enthusiastic
cinema with the director Itami juzo's off-beat comedies, no­ about pictures the japanese audiences have shunned--or never
tably the 1986 film rrlll1pOpO. Twelve years later, in 1997, Suo heard of-the domestic industry has continued its downward
Masayuki's Shall f# Dal1ce? achieved some success in the slide. A blg percentage of movies produced in japan today arc
United States, yet in between there were very few films that porno flicks (as much as SO percent in the early 19905, somewhat
have been popular at homc or abroad. Curiously, like the de­ lower today, since porno i~ moving to television, depriving fIlm­
cline in the Japanese environmcnt and the decay of its old makers of even this market), and a high proportion of the rest are
cities, the collapse of Japanese cinema has gone nearly unno­ made for children. In the slimmer of 1998, the top domeslic film
ticed abroad. In general, there is a persistent time lag in the was Pokc/llo/l, aimed at six-to-ten-year-old boys. Tt was the si:\.1:h­
world's perception ofjapan. In the mid-1970s, American indus­ highest-grossing japanese film ever, and in November 1999 a se­
try failed to perceive quality in japanese cars, steel, and elec­ quel grabbed the top of the chans in the United States, grossing
lTOniCS, even though companies such as Honda and Sony had $52 million in its first week-success like this among ten-year­
established themselves as powerful competitors since the early olds blows adult art-house favorites like Hal1a-bi, Ullagi, Talllpopo,
1960s. Michael Crichton's 1992 novel Risillg SlIn (filmed in Shall H,r Dance?, and the rest right out of the water.
1993) depicted an all-powerful Japan about to gobble up a de­ To give japanese cinema its due, box-office success is a con­
fenseless America-by which time the Bubble was burst and tentious issue among film lovers. Cinema critic Donald Richie
japan was headed into a decade of stagnation and retreat from comments, "World success is based on whether the pictures sell
world financial markets. thel1lsdves or not. They are in the category of products­
For manufacturers the gap was about ten years; for Crichton jUdged not by how good they are but by whether they sell.
it was only three years; but for foreign filmgoers the gap ~ince japan's independent films are not intended for that, t
stretches back decades. Nostalgia for a great aesthetic era has judge them by this standard is a f.tlse equation. Every year there
:;f 5~e :S-~G P
'!:~;> Dogs and Demons Afler School: Flowers and Cinema 325

are a few good films that reflect Japanese realities, unlike the experimental films survive as a luxury: the existence of a large
others that reflect no such thing, and a small but highly articu­ moviegoing audience means that there can be art houses that
late audience goes to see those." This brings us to a core ques­ shoW offbeat fums and small groups of dedicated fans who see
tion: What constitutes "art" in film? An argument could be made them. A successful tllm industry can afford ofibeat productions.
that art lies in achieving creativity within the constraints of an Richie notes, "Nowadays an Ozu or a Kurosawa wouldn't be al­
art form: hence it's essential to a sonnet that it have fourteen lowed to make films because the flim studios couldn't get their
lines, to a haiku that it have seventeen syllables. In the case of money back." Thus a decline in the box office has eventually
cinema, which was from its very inception a popular art, one of affected quality. Says Richie, "Thirty years ago, I was on a com­
the necessary constraints would seem to be that it appeal to the mittee to choose the best Japanese fums, and it was an embarrass­
public. From this point of view, winning the hearts and minds of ment, there were so many of them. Now it's equally embarrassing
viewers is not an ancillary issue; it's central. When a director cre­ because there are so few: With the failure of films to make money,
ates a fum that entertains and at the same time establishes his producers tightened the moneybags. Only company hacks were
unique aesthetic viewpoint, he has created a work of cinematic allowed to produce ftlms, because they followed the formulas."
art. Otherwise, his ftlm is lacking a core ingredient. How is it that the nation which gave the world Kurosawa is
Japanese film was not always unpopular. Kurosawa's SCUCI/ now producing Pokelllon and not mucb more? It has partly to
Sallll/rai was one of the box-office successes of all time when it do with the "autopilot" syndrome we have met in other fields,
was released in 1956. This brings us back to "the image of a a dependence on patterns set in the 1960s and never revised.
wilted peony in a bamboo vase, unable to draw water up her Shochiku became so addicted to the Otoko wa tsurai yo series
I r\stem." Every year, according to Ricbie, out of about 250 films, that it couldn't stop making these movies even when the star
. , there are 10 to 12 really good ones. But by and large the public died-and its dependence on the income from the series was
,p-'I. avoids tbem. Obviously there should be room in cinematic cul- so severe that when the series finally ended, Shochiku itself
I ture for small experimental or independent films that appeal to a died. Another reason-perhaps the most important one-was
specialist audience. Nevertheless, a successful fUm industry re­ the abandonment of the adult market in favor of children. In
quires that some films of quality make money. Japan is not unique the 1980s, "studios devoted themselves instead to churning out
in that it produces a number of good independent or experimen­ light entertainment for the mass teenage audience," the film
tal films every year-practically every country in the world does critic Nagasaka Toshihisa says. As cinema expert Mark Schilling
so, including America despite Hollywood, India despite Bolly­ observes, "Mainstream Japanese cinema, which used to mean
wood, and Hong Kong despite kung fu. One could say that Japan classics like Kurosawa's Shichil/il1 I/O Saml/rai (SelJen Salllurai,
is lacking the interface between quality fUm and me marketplace. 1954), and Ozu's Tokyo MOl1ogatari (1Okyo Story, 1953), is now
The quality is there, but the skills of presenting that quality to the primarily entertainment tor children on school holidays."
public in an entertaining and appealing way are missing.
oillillercial succes~ is important for another reason, which is Godzilla is worth looking at because it epitomizes this history.
that for most fum industries, even in the best of times, the more The monster Godzilla debuted in 1954, and by the end of the
326 Dogs ,/lid Demons A.rt~r Sc11001: FloUlers and Cinema 327

1990s, he had appeared in more than twenty fJms. In the West, Godzilla, Arikawa Sadamasu, the cinematographer, recounts,
Codzilla is something of a joke, synonymou~ with campy low­ "director Ishiro Honda saw King Kong as a symbol ofAmerica,
tech effects, but standards in Japan are now so low that critics Godzilla as a symbol ofJapan , and the fighting between the two
polled at the prestigious bimonthly Killellla Junpo (Cillenta Jour­ monsters a representation of the conflict between the two
nal) voted it one of the t\venty best Japanese ftIms ever made. countries." In one striking scene, Godzilla's burning breath se
Each Godzilla film since 1989 has been among the top five fire to King Kong's chest hajr. The theme continues in later
money earners of the year for Toho, the company that produces ftlms such as 1990's Godzilla vs. King Chidora, in which Godzilla
them; Godzilla vs. Destroyer was the top-grossing movie of 1996. battles U.S. troops fighting the Japanese in 1944. Caucasians
It is not only in Godzilla and Otoko wa tst/rai yo that old from the future then capture him and devastate modern Japan
themes are repeated endlessly. Ekill1ae (111 From (if the Station) had with a three-headed dragon-their aim being to force the
t'lVenty-four installments from 1958 to 1969; SfIacllO (Company country to buy foreign computers. Such is the level of "inter­
President) had forty remakes between 1956 and 1971. And there nationalization" in Japanese cinema: filnmlakers cannot get be­
are numerous others, including the popular new comedy series yond the idea that the Japanese are all alone, victims of foreign
Tsuri Baka Nisshi (Idiot Fisher/llall Diary), headed for its tenth in­ monsters.
stallment. Repeats dominate the market: in 1996, thirteen of the There is one bright spot in this otherwise gloomy picture:
top twenty films were installments in series. Hollywood is not al/il1le. In contrast to the independent films, whose self­
averse to series, viz. James Bond, Indiana Jones, Star HilI'S, Lethal conscious artistic inventions do not attract a mass audience,
Hi'apon, and so forth, but generally speaking these are not al/illle have been top grossers for more than a decade. Innova­
cookie-cutter series but sequels based on a successful first tive and visually striking, allime shared the lead box-office spots
movie, with very different stories, casts, directors, and actors. with foreign fllms for most of the 1990s. They tackle taboo
Formulaic series of the Japanese type flourished conunonly be­ subjects rarely seen in mainlin~ film" such_tlS- war crimes and
fore World War II: Westerns, Abbott and Costello, Laurel and unethical business practices. \ The Heisei Badger Wa!J1994))viv­
Hardy, etc., and they exist today at the lower end of the movie idly depicted modern environmental destruction.
market in the horror and high-school genres: A Nightmare 011 One could argue that independent films and the repetitive
'::lw Streef, Friday the 13th, and so forth. But they are sideshows products of the Big Three ftlmmakers are both irrelevant to
to the real business of Hollywood. Outside ofJapan, producers modern Japanese cinema. Porn and ani/lle are overwhelmingl
learned long ago that cookie-cutter series, unless aimed at a where the money and the audiences are. Japanese alli/lle are the
niche market such as teenagers, soon lose their audiences. industry's most profitable export item. Those by the renowned
In light of what we know about Japan's educational system, it producer Miyazaki Hayao (the director of 1997's hit Pril/cess
should come as no surprise that cinema would devolve into this MOl/onoke, the highest-grossing Japanese film ever, and The
endless repetition of old formulas. In Godzilla we can also see Heisei Badger VVt7r) rise to a very sophisticated artistic level, yet
the way in which insularity, another trait perpetuated by the unlike independent ftlms, they are loved by the public-not
school system, manifests itself in film. In 1962's King Kong vs. only the Japanese public but young people worldwide.
McmopOl,'es h{LV{ J~~qVj
328 .- p,'/II-{ ClJ s c: Dogs and Demons Ifle r School: Flowers and Cinema 329

Yet, as great as their success has been, even in alJime we can benefit any branch of officialdom--so they haven't been built.
see the telltale: marks of stagnation. For one thing, allillJe never (n contrast, pachinko is a huge source of income for the police,
devdoped technically: while Japanese studios continued to whose retired officers run pachinko associatIons. (The police
paine pictures on celluloid with skills little changed from the also profit massively from prepaid pachinko cards through their
1930s, Pb<:ar and Disney were inventing brand-new digital Iwnership in the card finance companies.) Therefore every tiny
technology with dazzling visual effects that amazed the world village and hamlet must raise a pachinko parlor.
ill TOy Story, A Bug's L[fe, and Fantasia 2000. Furthermore, Monopoly bred boredom among the public, and this actually
nothing can disguise the fact that in the end (1IIime are essen­ had some good results in that the Big Three ceased to rely on
tially a children's medium. The really big hits, such as Pokel1loll their own products and started to buy independent films and
and Sailor Mooll (a Lworite of the early-teen girl set), have none put their own logos on them. This has been one way that in­
of tl1e intellectual or aesthetic appeal of the famed works of dependents break through. The other way is to find motion
Miyazaki Hayao-tbey are simply cure screenplay for litde kids, picture houses that are unaffiliated, and quiedy these are in­
and their very success underscores the vacuum at the adult end creasing. After 1996 the number of movie theaters began to
of the sp ctrum. In his closin e rs Kurosawa sighed in an iI ­ grow, for the first time in half a century, as American-style mul­
terview, 'There is no hope for Japanese film companies. They ~ tiplexes entered big-city suburbs. Most of these, however, have
have to be destroyed and rebuilt. . . . The people accept only I toreign backing, such as Warner Bros., so it remains to be seen
films they can understand, and what they can understand are what these new theaters will do for the domestic industry.
only films with cats and dogsm them, not the modern world." ( I By the end of the century, the Big Three were quietly run­
ning out of money. The budgets ofJapanese films ran to a few
nema ,proviiks a superb wmdow into Japan's modern trou-:­ million dollars at most, a scale of magnitude smaller than Hol­
hies, because all the patterns that afflict other aspects of~l lywood's. In 1997, Shochiku reached the point where annual
life come together he~. One is monopoly. Three large compa­ receipts from its entire movie division totaled only ¥3.4 bil­
nies-Toho, Toei, and Shochiku-have controlled most of the lion-approximately $30 million, which would hardly produce
theaters and monopolized the business. They are shackled by one modest Hollywood feature. By 2000, Shochiku had given
the same seniority system that rules the rest of corporate Japan, up: it sold its famous studio complex at Ofuna, fired most of its
with the result that producers prefer to work only ill-house or production staff, and retired from filmmaking, keeping only its
with established directors with whom they have long-standing distribution licenses. The Big Three had become the Big Two.
ties. In contrast to tl1e frenzied telephone calling and "pitch­ As funds dried up, technological advance in fum simply ceased.
ing" of new ideas that goes on in Hollywood, a deathly calm There were few inventive minds to spur innovation and no
rules in Japan's studio offices. money to pay for it.
We can sense the dead hand of bureaucracy weighing upon In 1995, I helped prepare the English subtitles for a Sho­
cmerna: for decades, zonmg rules made it hard to build theaters chiku film, and I visited the famous Nikkatsu studios where
in suburbs and newly grown "bed-towns." Cinemas did not so many of Japan's postwar ftlms have been produced. I felt
330 Dogs IIIl1f Demons After 5.11001: Flowers alld illema 331

I'd stepped into a time tunnel: machinery decades old, camera­ Kaig e ; the domestic comedies of Ang Lee; and action thrillers
men standing on old orange crates to get height, piles of wires by Jackie Chan and John Woo. Chinese society, with all its in­
snaking over earthen floors, almost no computerization, no ad­ justices, offers rich ground for the cinematic imagination.
vanced lighting techniques-all in an aluminum Quonset hut. Japan's controlled modern life seems to offer little room for ei­
There are other problems besides lack of money and out­ ther grand drama or action thrills. If there is any hope for
moded technology, notably the degraded envirorunent. The Japanese film, it lies in comedy, as is evidenced by the fact that
cities and countryside are so changed that it is difficult to pro­ the tWO most internationally successful Japanese fll111S of the
duce a film with a beautiful backdrop, which Kurosawa com­ past fifteen years, Tall/POPO and Sltall We Dance?, were both
plained about in his last days. When he directed the van Gogh comedies. When a director like Suo takes Japan's bland society
episode in his Drcams (1990), he had to scour the entire coun­ for his springboard, as he did in Shalil/l!e DaHce?, there are rich
try to find a site with no modern buildings or electric pylons comic possibilities. Unfortunately, very few directors are able to
where he could reproduce a French ~ornfield. Most other make Suo's leap. As Nagasaka has written, "The same narrow,
directors don't have the time, the budgets, or the obsessive insuJar, and complacent attitude that explains Japan's response­
perfectionism of Kurosawa, so they make do with painted or better, the absence of a response-to the gulf war can be
backdrops, close-ups of leaves and running water, well­ seen in the repetitive and unadventurous products of this coun­
manicured temple and shrine grounds-hence the stilted, arti­ try's motion picture industry."
ficial quality of most recent Japanese films that take place in a Finally, there is the problem of insularity. While Japanese di­
natural setting. rectors went on making movies in the vein of self-pity and fear
Willie Japanese fum was slowly sinking into quicksand, the of foreign monsters, the Chinese walked right into the lair of
rest of the world did not stand still. The contrast with the pop­ the Hollywood beast and won him over. Ang Lee and Emma
ular success of Chinese fllmmaking in recent years could not Thompson worked together on 1995's award-winning Sense
be more striking (although when we speak here of China, we .md SCllsibility. John Woo's Broken Arrow, starring John Travolta,
are combining three very different societies: mainland China, and Jackie Chan's Rumble ill tltc Bronx fought tor the lead spot
Taiwan, and Hong Kong). Chinese films not only won awards in U.S. box offices in March 1996, and since then Lee, Woo,
from international juries but packed audiences into theaters and Chan have continued to produce hits. In 2000, John Woo
worldwide. Ang Lee's 1993 The Wedding Banquet received an swept America once more with M:I-2, the Mission: Impossible
Oscar nomination and racked up global profits. Chen Kaige's sequel. So many ambitious Chinese directors and actors have
'arclIJell, My COIlCl/billC took top prize at Cannes in 1994 and followed them that Hollywood now sports a mini-Hong Kong
was named best foreign film in polls of Los Angeles and New in its midst.
York fum critics. hinese contemporary film is notable because it sought a
In contrast to Japan's focus on the under-sixteen market, new market abroad. Hong Kong directors moved to Holly­
Chinese films appeal to adult audiences at three levels: high, Wood because their own film industry declined. As for the
middle, and low. There are the grand historical dramas by Chen tnainland, most of the films by internationally renowned Chi­
332 Dogs "lid Demons After Sclrool: Flowers alld Cillema 333

nese directors have not been popular at home, and the ones but the problem is: Which cultural identity is being preserved?
that had the potential to be were held back or repressed by As we have seen in the case of ikebana and the tea ceremony,
government censors. Chinese directors began, as Japanese inde­ much that masquerades as hallowed tradition today is in fact
pendents did, with niche marketing, aiming their products at brand-new.
foreign festivals. In the next stage, however, Chinese ftlms The uptight manual-bound tea masters of today bear very
parted ways with Japanese. They moved out of the art houses little resemblance to their playful forebears. Now a tea master
and became international lilts. has to consult a reference book to tell him which flower to
By 2000, U.S. studios were producing movies by Tsui Hark place in the tokollOllla alcove during the rainy season. But in
and Ang Lee in Hong Kong. "What makes Hong Kong cinema early Edo, Kobori Enshu, when his guests entered the tearoom
successful is its energy and spirit, and I was mindful to harness after an afternoon shower, simply took a bucket of water and
that," said Barbara Robinson, the manager of Columbia Pic­ splashed it in the tokolloma. Students of ikebana diligently cal­
tures Film Production Asia. Meanwhile, Peter Chan, freshly re­ culating the exact angle of each flowering branch may think
turned to Hong Kong from directing TI,e Love Letter for they are studying "tradition," but the angles and triangles come
Dreamworks SKG, announced in May 2000 that he was found­ from another planet from the mystical world of Ikenobo
ing a company to produce Asian films for Asians-and that he Senno.
would begin by linking up with Thai and Korean directors. When Nakano Kiyotsugu confessed himself baffied at the
As for Japan, there has never been a successful joint Western­ new rules that seem to have sprung up in daily life, he was
Japanese or Asian-Japanese film, or allY highly regarded Japanese telling us that the rigidly conventional lifestyle of today is in
film set in another country. There are no crossover directors or fact something new. Nothing like the strict adherence to rules
producers; and since Toshiro Mifune in the 1960s and 1970s, we see today ever existed in Japan before. For all the shoguns'
there has never been a major crossover actor from Japan, as attempts at control, the Edo period was a riot of variety and
there have been from Hong Kong and China. In recent years, eccentricity. Saikaku and his freewheeling townsmen friends
aiwan-born Kaneshiro Takeshi has made a name for himself in would find today's incessant announcement of aisafSII greetings,
the avant-garde films of Wong Kar-Wai, but he is no match for the rules telling everyone what to do at every moment, very
he big international stars such as Chow Yun-Fat, Michelle much .It odds with their experience.
Yeoh, Jet Li, and Vivian Wu. Thomas McLain, a film-industry Even at the height of mid-twentieth-century militaristic fa­
lawyer in Los Angeles, sums it up: "The Japanese entertainment naticism, there was more room in Japan for characterful indi­
mdustrv is in the dark ages." VidUality than there is today, as one discovers when one meets
older Japanese. People who were educated before the war (now
Education is a subject fraught with emotion, given that it is one in their seventies and eighties) seem to have kept more of their
of the chief means whereby a nation maintains its cultural iden­ humanity than students of recent years. Among this older gen­
tity. Conservative politicians and the Ministry of Education eration, one constantly meets cultured, questioning people, of­
vigorously defend Japan's educational system for doing just that, ten with a sly sparkle in the eye and a wicked tongue. And, of
34 Dogs and Demons

course, in the confused years immediately after World War II,

education was especially relaxed. This relative openness in edu­
cation bore fi'uit in the 1960s and 1970s in a cultural rebirth
similar to the Taisho Renaissance of the 1920s. In business, this
was the era when upstart entrepreneurs at Honda and Sony 14 Internationalization
reated giant international corporations not linked to the large
keiretsl/ groupings. In the cultural sphere, the cinema directors Refugees and Expats
Kurosawa and Ozu, the fashion designer Miyake Issey, the
writer Mishi11la Yukio, the architect Ando Tadao, the Kabuki ac­
tor BanJo Tamasaburo-names that symbolize Japan's modern
cultural achievement-all of whom were educated before the
war or 111 the two decades after it, did their finest work. When the inside had become so solidly inside that aU the
The window of opportunity stayed open only for one gen­ outside could be outside and the inside inside.
eration, about twenty years. Behind the scenes, opposing forces -GERTRUDE STEIN
were at work as the bureaucrats solidified their grip on power
and the cement began CO set on the teaching system. Willie
artists flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, schools were training
the next generation according co a detailed regimen more far­ On the day that Merit Janow and I had coffee on the terrace of
reaching tban anything Japan, or the world, had ever seen. By the Oriental Hotel back in 1996 and the idea for this book first
1980, these students had matured and the story of the Taisho came to me, the thing that struck us most forcefully at the time
Renaissance repeated itself. A gray curtain-or, rather, a color­ was the vibrant international life in Bangkok-the Germans,
ful banner decorated with big-eyed baby faces-descended Chinese, Japanese, Americans, and Thai intermingling in busi­
over Japan. Among the artists who dazzled the world so briefly, ness and social life-and the lack of anything like this in Japan.
few have my successon who can hope to duplicate or tran­ No country is as obsessed as Japan with the word illtemaliol1al;
scend their achievements. From here on in, it's Hello Kitty, and you will find it used as a name for everything from hotels to
ikebana flowers glued to tubes of pink jelly. taxis to soap, and you can hardly get through a single hour in
In the 193(h, the secret police stifled Japan's intellectual and Japan without reading, hearing, or saying il/temafiollal at least
artistic freedom with the help of truncheons and handcuffs. In once. Yct few modern nations have erected such high barriers
the 1980s and 1990s, kindergarten teachers, armed only with against foreign people and ideas.
loudspeaker systems, do the same work much more effectively. Japanese and foreign commentators take it as a commonplace
that with time Japan is becoming steadily more international.
But it could be said that Japan is headed in the opposite direc­
tion-back to a quiet form of isolation. The doors to real access

l,~C ...I JC1 fa.r~jL ! JCfI! L
~ 7OI1oKO Dogs alldDemons lr/lcrnalio/lalizarliJ//: RtJil,f?tes alld Expars 337

( to Japan remain firmly closed to foreigners; meanwhile, young all over the world, all races, all backgrounds," Son says. "And
Japanese men and women with talent and an international they're all doing what they want, many scoring huge successes.
mind-set are leaving their country. TIlls emigration bas been go­ When 1 s~w.JhJt, o> it freed n!V0ul."
ing on for a long time, but it picked up pace in the 1990s. . In the early 1980s, Son returned to Japan and founded
Indeed, escapees from Japan's rigid internal systems have \ Sottbank, which in one decade grew into Japan's largest soft­
been going abroad since the nineteenth century. Often, they I ware distributor and publisher of computer-related magazines.
are from disadvantaged backgrounds and have suffered disap­ Winning the right to use his Korean last name took longer
proval from their families and from institutions in Japan. When (naturalized citizens cannot use their foreign names but must
they succeed abroad, they are lionized as heroes at home, after choose fi·om a list of officially accepted Japanese names), but h
which they can return and engage in activities they could not , achieved t~in -l993,-after-an-extended strtrggle with the
have initiated within Japan. This is how it was with Fukuzawa -ill11111gration authorities. Today, Son is the golden boy of Japa­
Yukichi (1834-1901), the father of modern education, and nese information technology and is frequently in the news as he
with Ozawa Seiji in the 1960s, who moved to America after buys up software and information businesses around the world.
Japan's leading orchestra, sponsored by the national broadcast­ While the phenomenon of escapees from japan is an old
ing company NHK, went on strike against him and refused to one, there is a significant difference between the situation in
play. Ozawa Seiji is one of a number of prominent artists to the late Edo-Meiji period and conditions today. Japan at the
base themselves abroad. Others include the lUusician Sakamoto turn of the century was a poor, bac~;yard nation struggling to
Ryuichi, the composer of the score for the film The Last Em­ throw off centuries of feudal stagnation. It was not fi'ee politi­
peror; lshioka Eiko, who won an Academy Award for her cos­ cally, and few Japanese spoke a foreign language or had much
tume design in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula; and Senju experience of the outside world. For educated people, the only
Hiroshi, the painter whose Wateifall installation won a prize for way to acquire necessary skills was by going abroad, and it was
the Japan Pavilion at the Venice Bieonale in 1995. All of these only natural for farmers and manual laborers to try to escape
artists live in New York. poverty by immigrating to Hawaii or Brazil.
The trend continues. Son Masayoshi, often called japan's Bill But Japan is now a free democracy, has few overt controls
Gates, was born the son of Korean immigrant~, a minority over the media, and is famed for its high technology. All Japa­
group that suffers social ostracism, much of it officially sanc­ nese study English as children in grade school, and tens of mil­
tioned. "Being of Korean background, I thought as a child that lions of them have traveled abroad. In addition,Japan is rich. It
things might be pretty hard," Son says. So while still in school is a situation verging on the incredible that modern Japanese
he moved to the United States. By the time he went to the would lack access to up-to-date inform.ation or business oppor­
University of California at Berkeley, he was already a success­ tunities within Japan. And yet the flow of refugees continues.
ful young entrepreneur; he made a million dollars in his early
twenties when he sold a pocket-translator invention to the It begins with doctors. The National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Sharp Corporation. "In the United States, people come from in Bethesda, Maryland, have more than 350 japanese doctors in
338 Dogs alld Demons llllcmaliolla!izalioll: Refllgees alld Expals 339

residence at anyone time. Each doctor represents the depart­ 'lnd America is basically a one-way street-Japan absorbs
nient of a certain hospital in Japan, and when his three-year knowledge from the United States." Dr. Kimura Shikiko, a
term is over, his department sends a replacement, a system that woman doctor who h3S been with the NIH since 1987, says,
has gone on for decades. The reason is that basic research in ".-r-hc appeal lof 311 American career] is that whether you are a
Japan is understaffed, weakened by bureaucratic inertia, and woman or a foreigner, you will be able to pursue your research
limited by a lack of freely shared and reliable data. based on the merits of your work." In Japan's medkal world,
Not all of these doctors return to Japan. Many of the bright­ young people, women, the outspoken, and the inventive stand
est and most innovative remain in the United States. Dr. no chance of recognition.
Kakere Ken, a specialist in cancer cell division, has been at NIH The problems afRicting medicine apply to advanced tech­
since 1967. "The reason I stayed at NIH is because I could nology in general. Consider Nakamura Shuji, the inventor of
freely pursue basic research [here]," Dr. Kakere says. "Creative important breakthroughs in blue lasers, the Holy Grail of the
work is valued in American medical research. In Japan, I could consumer-electronics industry. Blue lasers allow for far greater
only have researched in one narro~v category. Also, in [Japa­ data storage and for images much superior to those available to­
nese] institutions, with their vertical hierarchies, there is litde day, but nobody had been able to produce a sustained beam of
exchange between people-this is another difference from blue laser light until 1999, when Nakamura developed one that
America." beams light for up to ten thousand hours. His employer, Nichia
Doctors have symbolic importance because they exemplify Chemical, now leases the technology to the electronics giant
the process by which Japan learns from the West. During the Pioneer; this may be one of the finest achievements of postwar
Edo period, medicine alone was officially sanctioned as a field Japanese technology.
of foreign study; scholars flocked to Nagasaki ro learn skills So what happened to Nakamura? Not only was he not re­
from the Chinese and the Dutch. One could say that medicine warded or promoted (he earned $100 each for his five hundred
is the only truly indispensable modern technology. Many of us patents in the 1990s) but when he decided to leave Nichia, no
might enjoy taking a journey to the past for the experience of J3p3nese company even made him an offer. He attributes this
living with candles and traveling by horseback, but who would to the fact [hat he graduated from a minor university and
be willing to forgo modern medical treatment? From that point worked at a small firm in the provinces. In February 2000, he
of view, medicine is the queen of technology, and it was indeed therefore took a job as a researcher at the University of Califor­
the only thing from the West that premodern Japan really nia at Santa Barbara. He says, "No bonus, no big posiuon. This
\vanted. Therefore it is all the more surprising that today, nearly i~ a Japanese company. So [ go to the U.S.A."
one hundred and fifty years since Commodore Perry arrived, Another example of how hard it is for independent-minded
medical advances still do not originate in Japan; they continue inventors or entrepreneurs to get ahead in Japan is Okabe
to come from the West, and Japanese doctors continue to flee Nobuya, who runs a company that makes science-fiction et:'
to the West and stay there. As one Japanese newspaper put it, ects for movies and television. He invented a program that al­
"In the field of basic research, human exchange between Japan lows games makers to vary the background scenery on the
::=:') •.• ~. -:A \""f"l/l \.
340 Dogs liPId Demons /,I/CrIllltionalizlIrioll: Refugees lIlld Expats 341

screen, but he could not interest Japanese manufacturers. "Japan lapsed. Sony's only way forward was to expand in the United
is like the army with everyone in senior-junior relationships," States.
he says. "But it's not manly to stick around complaining, so I'm Today's refugees also include top athletes. Nomo Hideo, a
finding my own solution." He took his program to a conven­ pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers (and later several other
tion in San Diego and soon had multiple orders. abbe has teams), epitomizes this new type of Japanese refugee. Nomo
since moved most of his company to Hollywood. was a very successful pitcher for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, but
Meanwhile, JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) Japan's rigid baseball world limited his prospects. Among other
has set up a fund called Tiger's Gate 2000 to nurture young things, he disliked the "endurance exercises" that are a feature
Internet entrepreneurs in Japan. However, the condition of of Japanese sports. Endurance exercises, such as hasltirikol1li
JETRO's support is that the young tigers move to the United (deep running) or lIagckomi (deep throwing) basically involve
States and I.earn how to do business there. Obbe sells software running or throwing until you drop. It's an approach to sports
in the United States because he cannot find buyers at home; training that has obviously developed from the military-style
JETRO actually requires that young Internet start-ups leave the emphasis on gambare (endurance) taught in the schools, and it is
country! Such are Japan's up-and-coming entrepreneurs: their common in most Japanese athletic programs, though it has little
success depends on the degree to which they avoid Japan. This to do with developing muscle strength or athletic skill.
is true even for Son Masayoshi, whose high-tech acquisitions When in the spring of 1995 Noma quit the Buffaloes and in
were garnered largely in the United States, not Japan. The the summer of that year joined the Dodgers, there was a cry of
source of Son's leveraged money has been Japan, but the outrage from the Japanese press. The newspapers labeled him
growth areas of his business are abroad. an "ingrate" and accused him of loving money, not sports. In
It isn't only individuals who are fleeing Japan but businesses short order, Nomo went on to become a sensation in the
as well. The most celebrated example is Honda Motors, which United States, wilUung the National League Rookie of the Year
in the 1980s quietly transferred its base of operations from Award and being dubbed "the Tornado" by the media. When
Japan to the United States, which now accounts for more than he was asked what he liked about baseball in America, Nomo
half of Honda's production and sales. Honda expects exports explained that Americans really enjoyed baseball, whether they
from Japan to continue to fall in the coming years and is bet­ were players or spectators. The key to Nomo's departure lies in
ting the company's survival on cutting loose from Japan. the word CIUOY, in contrast to elldl/re. Nomo's escape opened the
Hundreds, even thousands of companies are slowly but surely floodgates. In 1997, another star, Irabu Hideki, left Japan to join
moving their base of operations abroad. This is why Sony was the Yankees; and in December 1999 the popular player Sasaki
willing to take massive losses in Hollywood (more than $2.5 "the Devil" Kazuhiro went off to join the Seattle Mariners. So
billion) when it purchased Columbia Pictures: there would be many successful players have left that baseball clubs had to
no purpose in buying or developing Japanese movie studios, hange the rules in order to allow easier departure to the
since the Japanese movie industry has almost completely col­ United States. In October 2000, Japan's most popular baseball
{;ve~ -fl.l. """--~ E'dl.'c",+~~ -fC<.lc'1 teJ
Y)'(\.-. dth'11 l...-hp\.! t-f ezT)
~ ~ I~ J'c.?c.V\
342 Dogs a"d Demons

star ever, Suzuki lchiro, made his farewells, to a standing Ova­

t ;onalizatiol/: Refugees a"d Expats
/P1 te1ll II

ofUrasenke Tea School's International Department, resigned in


tion from 26,000 fans, as he, too, set out for the US. majors. 191)9 and left Kyoto after twenty-seven years. The most com­
The situation in Japanese baseball was like baUet under the mon conversation I have these days is with foreign friends from
US.S.R.-raise a star, and the first thing he wants to do is de­ Japan who are moving to the United States, South America,
fect. Hong Kong, or Bangkok. The second most common conversa­
Many refugees are people who are at the top of their profes­ tion is with the gloomy people who for one reason or another
sions. An inventor like Nakahara Shuji is nothing less than an see no way out.
international technology superstar, and yet he had no choice The elite of fast-track investment bankers who were sta­
but to leave Japan. We are not dealing with the poor and disad­ tioned in Japan transferred to Hong Kong and Singapore in
vantaged here, or with the politically oppressed, such as those the early 1990s, leaving second-string players in Tokyo. Long­
who fled Nazi German or fter the massacre established foreign communities in Kobe and Yokohama, dating
~ua e It must surely be unique in world history that a to Meiji days, have shrunk to nearly the vanishing point, and
free and wealthy society in a time of peace has become unat­ international schools are closing. There is a clear shift among
tractive to the brightest and most ambitious of its own people. Westerners from long-term residents to short-term employees
Hut tfi~vhat the strangleho~crac1es and-ell­ who come to Japan to make some money and then move on.
trenched systems in Japan is achieving. At the same time, the absolute number of foreigners in Japan
nearly doubled in the 1990s. But one must look ~
The flight of native talent abroad is an old story in Japan, almost carefully The largest 640,000 Ko­
f - ---~
a cliche. What is less known is that a significant shift is taking reans, descendants of forced laborers brought over in the 1930s
place in the makeup ofJapan's resident foreign population. Ex­ and 1940s. Many are third- or fourth-generation residents in
pats who have lived there for decades are making a quiet exo­ Japan, speak no Korean, and are indistinguishable from the av­
dus. In 1995, Otis Cary, then seventy-four, the dean of Kyoto's erage Japanese.
foreign residents, announced that he was planning to return to '""""- n n . i a ti ht immi ration olic, accepting fewer
the United States. Cary, who was born in Japan and spent most Vietnamese or other refugees than any other developed coun­
of his life there, received an award from the emperor for a dis­ try, for example, aE.d making foreign spouses wait de~ be­
tinguished career spanning more than forty years as a professor they-are granted permanent Yet there is a need
at Ooshisha University. Among the foreigners in Kyoto, his for unskilled lahor, and the way to meet this is to welcome
name was synonymous with love of the city. Nevertheless, Cary South American descendants of Japanese emigrants. The great
voiced no regrets. "It will be a relief to me," he said. increase in foreign residents in Japan has been in this group of
David Kidd, a legendary art dealer (forty years in the Kyoto nikkei, foreigners of Japanese descent, from Brazil and Peru
area), and Dan Furst, active in the theater world (ten years), (from 2,700 in 1986 to 275,000 in 1997). While this group in­
both moved to Honolulu more than a decade ago-and others clUdes many intelligent and ambitious young people, very few
followed. John McGee, a distinguished Canadian who was head of them manage to surmount Japan's high barriers to joining
10~o ~1~~9 '5o,.kok.. \:
344 C III C" if" fv-y Dogs aud Demons luternatioualization: ReJj,,~ees aud Expats 345
the mainstream and carve out successful careers. Sadly, most of ther and a Japanese mother, joined a large coffee company as a
them are doomed to live their days at the bottom of the social new employee. The personnel department called him in and
pecking order, doing work that modern Japanese shun. It will told him, "We see that you carry a Chinese passport. It is our
take generations for them to assimilate, and it will not be easy: policy not to give management positions to foreigners. Please
in the sununer of 1999, rightist gangs paraded through the change your nationality." As this story makes clear, foreigners in
Brazilian neighborhood in the town of Toyota, home of the au­ Japan culnot expect career advancement.
tomobile company and of a large concentration of Nikkei work­
ers, demanding, "Foreigners go home!" Even Japanese blood There is one niche, however, a "Dejima of employment," that
doesn't count for much, it seems. is specially allotted to foreigners. It is the job of creating
If you remove Koreans and nikkei laborers £I'om South Amer­ and selling propaganda. Japan issues such a massive volume
ica from the statistics, the remainder of the foreign population of advertisement about it"df, for both foreign and domestic
in Japan is minuscule, less than 0.4 percent of the total popula­ consumption, that propaganda production deserves to be con­
tion. There was a time in the late 1980s when there was wide­ sidered an industry in its own right. A surprisingly large
spread debate about allowing foreign workers without Japanese percentage of the Europeans and Americans employed in Japan
blood into the country. But after the Bubble burst, the govern­ are worklllg on selling Japan abroad, ranging from the Westem
ment tightened regulations. Japan turned back at the brink. students of architecture and gardens <;\ hose job is to preach
In the days ofsakokl/, "closed country" (1600-1869), when Japanese culture to the world to thousands of spokesmen re­
the shogunate restricted the Dutch and Chinese to the port of tained by religious foundations, banks, and trading houses. Yet
Nagasaki, Dutch traders lived on Dejima, a small artificial island of the expats I have known over the years who work for Japa­
in Nagasaki Harbor connected by a causeway to the mainland. nese institutions, only a handful enjoy substantive responsibility.
Only with special permits could the Dutch-pass over the c~se­ Most work in "international departlnents," where their assign­
,way, and the authorities usually granted these only during the ment is to polish up speeches or edit newsletters and magazines
~. At night the Dutch had to return to Dejima, where their whose content is largely gloriflcation of their company, indus­
guardsmen locked the gate behind them. Modern-day rules try, town, or art for111.
that restrict foreigners to certain discrete corners of Japanese rhe involvement of foreigners in producing propaganda ob­
society and keep them out of the mainstream can be traced to viou,ly has an important effect on how Japan is seen by the rest
~ And the dream of a physical Dejima for foreigners has of the world, so important that hardly a book on Japan in re­
never faded. During the days when I worked for American cent years has not mentioned it. Patrick Smith (Japal1: A Rein­
real-estate developer Trammell Crow, I ran across many national terpretatioll) and Richard Katz (Japan: The System -D,at Soured)
and local development plans that called for getting all the for­ refer to these conunitted Japanophiles as the Chrysanthemum
eigners to move into special apartment buildings designed just Club.
for them-often on landfill islands. One of the most fascinating questions abollt Japan as a field
Recently a young friend of mine, the child of a Chinese fa­ of study is the deep commitment, amounting to religious con­


346 Dogs aud Demons l11UTl1atiOualizotio7l: Refugees aud Expols 347

vlctton, that is often experienced by foreign experts. It's a ing the striking and beautiful film clips and leaving the rest on
strong testament to the enduring appeal ofJapan's arts and soci­ the cutting-room floor. In any case, one tlung is true: commen­
ety. Typically, a foreigner discovers in Japan something, whether tators on Japanese culture by and large are not dispassionate
it be modern architecture, cinema, or the school system, that he reporters; for better or tor worse, they are in the position of
thinks is of value, and thenceforward makes it his mission to "selling Japan." I believe this goes a long way toward explaining
explain it to the world. When he writes about his fIeld he will why foreign writing on Japan tends to be so admiring and un­
speak about its good points, since these are what attracted him. critical.
What would be the point of criticizing, since the goal is to While the Chrysanthemum Club members' dedication to
open people's eyes to the wondrous thing he has found in Japan is often genuinely felt, it is also true that many of them
Japan? owe their livelihood to Japan. Overseas, propaganda can be ex­
This is what happens: 1 have a foreign friend who is a cinema tremely profitable, especially for Washington lobbyists and Ivy
critic. He is well aware of the meltdown that has taken place in League academics. However, for those toiling in international
Japanese cinema and speaks about it quite bluntly in private. departments within Japan, propaganda is rarely more than a
But when it comes time to pen an article, he sifts through the low- to medium-wage job, a sad substitute for founding one's
dross for a few good filmmakers who have produced something own busincss or rising to an executive position in a Japanese
worth looking at in the past decade and writes about the spe­ company. One needs to be a very committed Chrysanthemum
cial aesthetic qualities of their work. What his foreign readers Club member to stick around.
see is more praise for the wonders of Japanese fllm; the deep
problems of the field never make it into print. During the 1990s, there was an important shift in Japan's place
It's a natural thing to do and, since the goal is to introduce in the world, and it had to do with the renaissance of China
abroad those things that are really praiseworthy in Japan, an ad­ and Southeast Asia. For foreigners coming to Asia during the
mirable one. In that sense, I am proud to number myself a decades following the war, it was nearly impossible to live
member of the Chrysanthemum Club. When it comes time for curely in China, and tor decades Vietnam, Burma, Cambodia,
me to write my book about Kabuki, it's not going to be about and Laos were completely closed. Since the late 1980s, all this
the fact that Kabuki is degrading in quality, losing both its au­ has changed. Southeast Asia, though it suffers from severe
dience and its creative artistry; it will be about the great actors boom-and-bust cycles, is the scene of frenzied economic activ­
I have known and seen, and about their achievements, which ity. There is a wealth of new business opportunities in banking,
rival the best in world opera or ballet. That's what a Kabuki manufacturing, writing, and other fields, and, unlike Japan,
book should be. wherc foreigners are mostly restricted to low-level international­
It's a matter of selectivity. Japan experts are not necessarily as department positions, there are genuine opportunities to ad­
blind or worshipful as their writings may lead us to believe. vance. In Bangkok, I know dozens of foreigners who own and
Rather, as well-meaning introducers ofJapanese culture abroad, operate their own businesses; in Japan, only a handful. Perhaps
they naturally end up in the role of editors and censors, choos­ Japan is to be commcnded for keeping its arts and industry
:]~~I1Q.S<!.- b.v~ "S<.>c..\". ~~~~c... It\r~5
,)o-Pc\1f1 1'\ b4.ct>~~ 1'\ k.s> 1o~l.o-,Y-
Tk V u.t\ ,'vet. 'fs,l:a..s o..~ \1\01­ Co Mj)d-:+,' v e...
348 Plo..Q2.. roy- .r'O~'-~t\ +OI.Lehf Dogs and Demons fpl/(rtI~tjollalizaljoll: Refugees and Expats " , 349
'"h()dl./ CoML'S -fc, Jc..(b..V\-hl 5fvr1'1 f!..<../({c....qIH~ec4
strictly to itself, and not allowing "neo-colonialists" a foothold. Asians in coming to Japan. When he decided to pursue higher
Whatever the right or wrong of it, the bottom line is that Japan education in Japan, his family was bitterly opposed. "Japan i
is not an attractive location for outsiders (or at least individuals, where poor and ignorant people go," his parents said. This
as opposed to big corporations) to set up shop. reminded me of my two groups of friends in Thailand. One
For forty years after the war, Japan was not only "Number consists of farmers in a poor village built on stilts in the rice
One" in Asia-it was the "Only One." Now, although its econ­ paddies of northern Thailand, where I often travel on vacation.
omy is still larger than all the other Asian nations combined A surprising number have a sister in Japan or dream of going to
(including China), the balance is rapidly shifting, and in the work in Japan. My other group of fi'iends are cosmopolitan
process Japan is becoming merely one of many. Foreigners in­ Bangkok dwellers, affluent, and destined to lead Thailand's big
terested in Asia-not only Westerners but Asians themselves­ businesses and banks. They travel to the United States, Hong
now have a much wider field in which to play out their Kong, Singapore, China, or Australia. Japan is almost com­
mbitions. pletely off their horizon.
That it is becoming "one of many" in a revitalized East Asia Why is this? One reason is that Japan, while maintaining a
is a healthy development, and by no· means a discredit to Japan. competent standard in many industries, and intellectual or artis­
However, this does mean that there is competition for brains, tic pursuits, does not lead the way in any single field~ob0.Q
or the people who make international culture spark: bright en­ ~uld com~ JB?an to study the leading edg~. This is espe­
trepreneurs, writers, designers, artists, and so forth. The nation cially true for university education, which, as we have seen,
will find it more and more difficult to draw the best and the has not been a serious priority for Japan. All the effort went
brightest to its shores unless it makes being in Japan more at­ into grade school and high school. As a result, universities d
tractive. At the moment, unfortunately, Japan is following the not offer programs that can compete at an international J
opposite tack. It's becoming harder, not easier, to find an inde­ (
level. When Asiaweek did a cover story in May 2000 on MBA
pendent position in a Japanese company; and nearly irnpossible, schools, only five Japanese universities made it into the top fifty
s before, to strike out on oIlle's own. in Asia, and none into the top ten; they were outclassed by
Japan's shrinking international appeal is visible in many ways, MBA schools in Australia and in Thailand, Sinbrapore, Hong
not least in the sluggish growth of its foreign-exchange pro­ Kong, and Korea. And this was in East Asia, where MBA
gram. In 1983, the Nakasone administration announced a goal schools are relatively new and still at a disadvantage to the West.
of increasing the number of foreign-exchange students to Japan On a world scale, Japan 's graduate schools simply fall off the list.
to 100,000 by the end of the century. By 1999 there were only Nor does Japan's supposedly advanced lifestyle appeal much
56,000 (a number achieved after several years of decline in the to middle- or upper-class Asians. "To many Southeast Asians
1990s), despite a steady increase in Japanese government schol­ liVing here, Japan is the poorest country in the world-in terms
arships. And many of the students are in Japan only as their sec­ oflifestyle," says Yau-hua Lim, an Indonesian of Chinese ances­ 2
ond choice. A conversation with a Taiwanese student in Kobe try liVing in Tokyo. "The Japanese have such pathetic lives.
gave me some insight into the lack of interest on the part of hey may think Indonesia is a poor country, but we have larger "50c.\". Po.~~~c- It'\r~5
,)o..p<:\V\ 1<> bl2.c&>~~ '" \(.5> i0i'O\.o..,Y­
Tk-IV u~ ,'v:cz.; Q.~ "'-01- C£lM,f>d-;t,' v e.... .
348 PICLc.e.. FoY­ r~~'-(\l'\ T",,[eh-f Dogs and Demons ional,za11o ,,: Refugees and Expats
l at fv-d -'-'. I I ,
'"ht'd<J CcMLS f-c Jc..(b.."'1-hJ '} '1 7"'(. (<{4.QlvtJflC{(
strictly to itself, and not allowing "neo-colonialists" a foothold. Asians in coming to Japan. When he decided to pursue higher
Whatever the right or wrong of it, the bottom line is that Japan education in Japan, his family was bitterly opposed. "Japan i
is not an attractive location for outsiders (or at least individuals, where poor and ignorant people go," his parents said. This
as opposed to big corporations) to set up shop. reminded me of my two groups of friends in Thailand. One
For forty years after the war, Japan was not only "Number consists of farmers in a poor village built on stilts in the rice
One" in Asia-it was the "Only One." Now, although its econ­ paddies of northern Thailand, where I often travel on vacation.
omy is still larger than all the other Asian nations combined A surprising number have a sister in Japan or dream of going to
(including China), the balance is rapidly shifting, and in the work in Japan. My other group of friends are cosmopolitan
process Japan is becoming merely one of many. Foreigners in­ Bangkok dwellers, affluent, and destined to lead Thailand's big
terested in Asia-not only Westerners but Asians themselves­ businesses and banks. They travel to the United States, Hong
now have a much wider field in which to play out their Kong, Singapore, China, or Australia. Japan is almost com­
ambitions. pletely off their horizon.
That it is becoming "one of many" in a revitalized East Asia Why is this? One reason is that Japan, while maintaining a
is a healthy development, and by no means a discredit to Japan. competent standard in many industries, and intellectual or artis­
However, this does mean that there is competition for brains, tic pursuits, does not lead the way in any single field~obo.Q
or the people who make international culture spark: bright en­ ~uld come to Japan to study the leading edg~. This is espe­
trepreneurs, writers, designers, artists, and so forth. The nation cially true for university education, which, as we have seen,
will find it more and more difficult to draw the best and the has not been a serious priority for Japan. All the effort went
brightest to its shores unless it makes being in Japan more at­ into grade school and high school. As a result, universities d
tractive. At the moment, unfortunately, Japan is following the not offer programs that can compete at an international I
pposite tack. It's becoming harder, not easier, to find an inde­ (
level. When Asiaweek did a cover story in May 2000 on MBA
pendent position in a Japanese company; and nearly impossible, schools, only five Japanese universities made it into the top fifty
as before, to strike out on one's own. in Asia, and none into the top ten; they were outclassed by
Japan's shrinking international appeal is visible in many ways, MBA schools in Australia and in Thailand, Singapore, Hong
not least in the sluggish growth of its foreign-exchange pro­ Kong, and Korea. And this was in East Asia, where MBA
gram. In 1983, the Nakasone administration announced a goal schools are relatively new and still at a disadvantage to the West.
of increasing the number of foreign-exchange students to Japan On a world scale,japan's graduate schools simply fall off the list.
to 100,000 by the end of the century. By 1999 there were only Nor does Japan's supposedly advanced lifestyle appeal much
56,000 (a number achieved after several years of decline in the to middle- or upper-class Asians. "To many Southeast Asians
1990s), despite a steady increase in Japanese government schol­ liVing here,Japan is the poorest country in the world-in ~erms
arships. And many of the students are in Japan only as their sec­ of lifestyle," says Yau-hua Lim, an Indonesian of Chinese ances­ l
ond choice. A conversation with a Taiwanese student in Kobe try living in Tokyo. "The Japanese have such pathetic lives.
gave me some insight into the lack of interest on the part of hey may think Indonesia is a poor country, but we have larger
Dogs alld Demons llltefl/atiollalizatio'l: RefI4.~ees alld Expals 351

houses, we can afford a car and a n1.aid. It's easy to go to the most seem to advertise Japan's conservative virtues. For all the
beach on weekends. After living in Tokyo, my concept of rich giddy frcedom of foreigners, the disorder subtly recommends
the tranquillity of a uniform society governed firmly by rules
and poor has really changed."
Who comes to Japan from Asia? Menial laborers, less quali­ understood by all." The speeches, advice, and television debates
fied or poorer students dependent on Ministry of Education look and feel exotic, but they have little to do with real in­
handouts, and low- to mid-level employees ofJapanese multi­ volvemcnt by foreigners in Japanese business or culture. It's the
voice of Hal again, reassuring everyone that Japan is indeed in­
nationals sent there to study for a short time. The most promis­
ing students usually do not come to Japan, or if they do they ternational.
soon leave; over time, this will surely have an effect on Japan's
Considering Japan's stalled internationalization, we come back
international role.
Meanwhile, in the place of real internationalization, Japan to the principle of l~kol1 Yosai, "Japanese spirit, Western tech­
abounds with Dogs and Demons-type events and programs de­ nology," the rallying cry of the Meiji Restoration from which
signed to give the appearance that admiring foreigners are Japan has never deviated. Fukuzawa Yukichi, a pioneer early
traveler to Europe in the 1850s, wrote a widely read book
flocking there. Towns and organizations spend huge amounts to
about his experiences, in which he described his puzzlement
host conventions in Japan, and the speeches at these confer­
upon discovering that foreigners were free to buy bnd in the
ences are given prominent space in the media. Japanese maga­
Netherlands. "If a foreigner buys land, doesn't that mean that
zines regularly feature earnest advice from overseas experts.
he could build a castle or a military fort on it?" he asked. That
Living here, one sees token Japanese-speaking foreigners on al­
thought hadn't occurred to his Dutch fi.;ends, but something
most every variety show. Most famous of such programs is the
like it has never faded from the minds of the Japanese public.
wildly popular TV show Strallge Things Abollt tileJapanese, hosted
There is a fear that allowing foreigners entry into the nation's
by comedian Beat Takeshi, in which a panel of foreigners, flu­
life would give them terrifying power. And so they have been
ent in Japanese, debates a Japlnese audience and one another
with a great deal of sound and fury. The program has a positive kept at arm's length.
As we have seen in Japanese education, an attitude of wari­
side in that it introduces citizens from many countries conver­
ness, if not fear, toward foreigners is imparted in the schools.
sant in Japanese--something new to most viewers. On the
Hellce the refusal of many people to rent homes or apartments
other hand, the program is essentially comedy, tending to un­
to foreIgners, or the appearance of signs on bathhouses warning
derscore the position of foreigners as freaks within the society:
them to stay out. The Japanese are so cut off from meaningful
there is no moderation, and the debate consists mostly of vocif­
Contact with people from other countries that they are unaware
erous sound bites shouted by people with plaques around their
of ethnic or national sensitivities, as may be seen in the stream
necks reading "South Korea," "France," "Benin," etc. Reporter
of racial slurs made by leading politicians. In May 2000, Ishi­
Howard French points out, "Although it may open windows
hara Shintaro, the mayor of Tokyo, publicly attacked Koreans,
on other worlds for its viewers, for some the zoolike aspect of
Taiwanese, and Chinese living in Japan, saying, "Atrocious
the program, with its raucous, inconclusive debates, might al­
. £J'1C[ 5 JIL1
lllterll"rioua/izario,,: Refugees and Expars 353
Dogs aud Demons

crimes have been committed again and again by sGngoklljin [a Ie ~s established in Japan during the 1990s, can breathe easy. It
h:S successfully protected Japan against the "pestilence of for­
derogatory term for foreigners] who have illegally entered
eign bad habits." Closing the door to foreign influence on e-du­
Japan. We can expect them to riot in an earthquake." He was
cation is one of the biggest drags on real change, for with
referring to the notorious aftermadl of the Great Kanto Earth­
business and bureaucratic leaders all educated to have exactly
quake of 1923, when in fact the opposite happened: angry
th~ same mind-set, new ideas can rarely gain the ears of those
Japanese mobs rounded up and murdered thousands of Kore­
who are in power. A truly different point of view cannot reach
ans. The important thing to note about dris slur was that Ishi­
hara refused to retract it, and that ¥O II Ii II ri Shimbl/l1, one of the top.
Traditional cultures everywhere face the problem of how to
Japan's major daily newspapers, criticized not the governor but
resist the overwhelming assault of Western, primarily Ameri­
the outcry iu the med.ia. Ishihara remained more popular than
can, civilization. The problem is not limited to Asia or Afi-ica;
ever, with more than 70 percent of the callers to the city office
Europe, too, has agonies over this issue. Some countries choose him.
to erect legal, religious, or customary barriers to the outside
The lack of foreigners in Japan is not accidental; it results
world. For those who are studying how to use this model,
from laws and social frameworks especially designed to keep
Japan provides a good test case. Erecting barriers can have un­
them out, or, if they are allowed in, to hold them on a very
intended eff~cts, for, strangely enough, foreigners can help to
short leash. Bureaucrats restrict the import of goods from over­
preserve the local culture; what was quintessentially Japanese in
seas, the media (newspapers, cinema, and television) portray
its material culture might have sUl~vived better had there been
Japan as the victim of dangerous foreigners, and business cartels
more foreigners and Japanese with a broad worldview to appre­
raise high barriers to prevent outsiders from gaining a foothold.
ciate it.
Internationalization in Japan is a concept at war with itself, for
One could blame the decline ofJapan's countryside and his­
no matter how much lip service is paid to internationalization,
toric towns partly on the lack of foreigners-tourists, of course,
the country's basic policies have been to keep Japan closed.
but also others who might have an impact on design and
Plutarch, commenting on Lycurgus, said, "He was as careful
preservation, such as resort and hotel operators, scholars, artists,
to save his city from the infection of foreign bad habit';, as men
or independent entrepreneurs. In Europe, preservation of nat­
usually are to prevent the introduction of a pestilence." Such
ural and historic beauty did not come about as a means of
is Japan. In the upper echelons of government and business,
pleasing tourists; it sprang £l'om a long civic tradition among
though one might find one or two men who did a stint at
the people themselves, and tourism was a by-product. In Asia,
graduate school at Stanford or perhaps taught at Harvard in an
however, modernization came so quickly that such civic tradi­
exchange program, there is no one in a position of influence
~ions had little time to grow up; instead, rampant development
whose mind was shaped abroad at a young age.
IS sweeping all before it. One of the few forces standing in the
The Ministry of Education, having by the end of the century
Way of the development wave has been tourism. Foreigners
fired all the foreign teachers at national universities who had
hVing and traveling in cow1tries like Vietnam, where the ex­
longtime careers in Japan, and bankrupted the American col-
Dogs lind Demons rrlltrnationalization: Refugees lind Expats 355

plosion of tourism is bringing i.n higher standards of design life for its aging population. But today the emphasis is not on
and service, have directly contributed to the restoration of old land but on opportunity.
nei.ghborhoods and the revival of traditional arts. But by keep­ From one point of view, the pressure on talented people and
ing foreigners at arm's length,Japan never really felt the impact top-notch companies to move out is a strength. It fuels Japan's
of international levels of taste-and thus the conquest of alu­ international expansion. Japanese presence in Southeast Asia
minum, fluorescent light, and plastic was complete. It's an anti­ is massive, with Japanese factories accounting for as much as
intuitive twist, one of the great ironies of modern East Asian 10 percent of Malaysia's GNP. Picking up the Guide to Japanese
history: allowing the foreigners in revives local culture; keeping BI4sil/esses i,'/ Thailand is a sobering experience: the volume is as
them out helps to destroy it. thick as the Yellow Pages of a small American city, listing thou­
sands of companies. Shifting their focus overseas may be bene­
When tile Japanese describe their country, they will often use ficial to Japanese businesses over the long term. But in the
the word sellla;, "narrow," "cramped," "crowded." The idea is short term it bodes even greater stagnation, because it further
that Japan's landmass is too small to support its population reduces business and employment opportunities at home.
properly. Of course, there are many nations with less habitable
land and higher population densities, including some of the
most prosperous countries of Europe and East Asia. Taiwan,
One can glean a sense of the hunger to get out ofJapan from
Newswcek's Japanese edition, August 14, 1996, which offered
its readers a special ten-page feature on the top-ten locations
South Korea, the Netherlands, and Belgium have higher popu­ for living abroad. The headline read "Escaping Japan. Living
lation densities than does Japan; Britain and Germany have Abroad Is Just a Matter of Making Up Your Mind!" "Living
slightly lower but roughly comparable densities. Sel1lai is not a abroad is a dream? No, certainly not," the article begins."There
physical property; selllai is in the mind. It's the emotional con­ are people right now living pleasant lives in lands across the
sequence of Japan's rigid systems, which bind individuals and sea.... A place where just taking a walk in the morning makes
keep out the fresh air of new ideas from abroad. your heart beat faster with excitement. Where the bustle of ac­
The result is explosive. Japan is a nation of people bursting to tivity in town is not tiring but energizing-surely cities like
get out. This has happened before. In the 1930s Fascists in both this exist somewhere in this wide world." There follow photos
Germany and Japan defended their expansionist plans by claim­ and rankings of Edinburgh, Santa Fe, Bologna, Penang, Auck­
ing that they needed Lebensraum. After Japan's defeat in World land, and so on, as places for the Japanese to move and start a
War II, its hunger for its neighbors' land subsided but did not new life, concentrating on an unspoiled natural environment,
disappear entirely. In the 1980s, the Ministry of International large comfortable houses, and a vibrant traditional culture. Sato
Trade and Industry had a pet project that consisted of sending Sachiko, the wife of a Japanese businessman living in Stras­
tens of thousands ofJapan's old people to Australia, where tbey bourg, says, "When I think of returning to Japan, I get de­
could live in vast retirement cities, the presumption being that
Japan does not have the land or the resources to provide a good Why should she get depressed? The word semai gives us a
M; Li"t-e-...'r'; (.}~ C­
Auf/,., or,·.fo..Y,·O\.v\ Dogs al/d Demons r"ur"atio"alizatiou: Rej14gees and Expats 357

E-XclIJSi \/0­
strong hint, and Nomo's use of the word e'~ioy instead of etldHre pure romance, as we can see from the haiku of 13asho and the
brings us close to the answer. The school system, the bureau­ ecstatic tales of foreign travelers until very recent times. Even
during the strictest days of the old Edo Shogunate, there was
cracy, and the oppressive rules and hierarchies to which they
give rise are dampening the Japanese people's spirit. In short, ample time and freedom to enjoy life; indeed, Saikaku's mer­
chants and scholars in the "floating world" refined their plea­
Japan is becoming no fun. Sasaki Ryu, a flfteen-year-old stu­
sures to the point that almost every occupation and amusement
dent who was interviewed in Asiaweek in May 1999, sums up
they touched became high art.
the mood in Japan today:
Nor did the fun die out in the nineteenth century. forty
I dream of going to a college in the U.S. School is so boring ears ago, it was still possible for young entrepreneurs, like the
here. All the kids in my class think alike and everybody wants men who founded Sony and Pioneer, to dream of creating new
to be in a group. I'm quite sick of it. I like baseball, and businesses and of succeeding on a global scale. And there was
when I see how some Japanese baseball players have made it even a time, for several decades after World War Il, when Japan
was a more hospitable place for foreigners; in fact, the nation's
in the States, I really admire them. Japanese players are good
too but somehow the individuality of the American players international reputation coasts on the nostalgia of foreign ex­
draws me. I know it will be tough, but I'm ready to try. perts for this era of relative openness that lasted right into the
1980s. Everyone can remember how much fun it used to be-­
Young Japanese people have no dreams. I don't want to be
one could hardly think of anything less Japanese than being no
like that.
fun. And yet this is what Japan is doing to itself.
This brings us full circle--from the Japanese people's rela­ Whatever the foreigners may do or think, it is far sadder to
tionship with the outside world to their feelings about their see so many Japanese leavillg-or dreaming of leaving-when
own country. Stalled "internationalization" has very little to do their country otfers so much by way of natural and cultural
treasures, as well as one of the world's most affluent economies.
with anything international; rather, the problems spring from
It's another case of "a wilted peony in a bamboo vase, unable
troubles within. As Ian Buruma comments, "The main victims
of the bigoted, exclusive, rigid, rascist, authoritarian ways of to draw water up her stem." The treasures are still in Japan, but
people cannot enjoy them. Saikaku says, "Whether you happen
Japanese officialdom are not the foreigners, even though they
to be a businessman or an artisan, never move from a place that
are at times its most convenient targets. but the rank and file of
you are accustomed to.... There is nothing quite as painful to
the Japanese themselves."
When "young people have no dreams," when a great inven­ Observe as people packing up their belongings while the pots
on the stove are still warm."
tor gets "no position, no bonus," when school, work, and sports
are a matter of "endure" rather than "enjoy," when cities and
countryside are losing their beauty and romance--that's a case
of becoming no fun. And what an incredible reversal ofJapan's
own tradition this is! This nation had a countryside that was
M;lite-..v-; (-t~C x~,,\O rkub ~c...
AV+1-I c::J'n·.fo..vl·o\'V\ Dogs and Demons l"terrrationalizatio" . Refugees and Expats 357
e.Xclvsi VQ..
strong hint, and Nomo's use of the word clljoy instead of mdllre pure romance, as we can see from the haiku of Basho and the
brings us close to the answer. The school system, the bureau­ ecstatic tales of foreign travelers until very recent times. Even
during the strictest days of the old Edo Shogunate, there was
cracy, and the oppressive rules and hierarchies to which they
give rise are dampening the Japanese people's spirit. In short, ample time and freedom to enjoy life; indeed, Saikaku's mer­
Japan is no fun. Sasaki Ryu, a fifteen-year-old stu­ chants and scholars in the "floating world" refined their plea­
sures to the point that almost every occupation and amusement
dent who was interviewed in Asiaweek in May 1999, sums up
they touched became high art.
the mood in Japan todav:
Nor did the fun die out in the nineteenth century. Forty
1 dream of going to a college in the U.S. School is so boring ears ago, it was still possible for young entrepreneurs, like the
here. All the kids in my class think alike and everybody wants men who founded Sony and Pioneer, to dream of creating new
to be in a group. I'm quite sick of it. I like baseball, and businesses and of succeeding on a global scale. And there was
when 1 see how some Japanese baseball players have made it even a time, for several decades after World War 11, when Japan
was a more hospitable place for foreigners; in fact, the nation's
in the States, I really admire them. Japanese players are good
too but somehow the individuality of the American players international reputation coasts on the nostalgia of foreign ex­
draws me. I know it will be tough, but I'm ready to try. perts for this era of relative openness that lasted right into the
1980s. Everyone can remember how much fun it used to be-­
Young Japanese people have no dreams. I don't want to be
one could hardly think of anything less Japanese than being no
like that.
fun. And yet this is what Japan is doing to itself.
This brings us full circle--from the Japanese people's rela­ Whatever the foreigners may do or think, it is far sadder to
tionship with the outside world to their feelings about their see so many Japanese leaving-or dreaming of leaving-when
own country. Stalled "internationalization" has very little to do their country oilers so much by way of natural and cultural
treasures, as well as one of the world's most affiuent economies.
with anything international; rather, the problems spring from
It's another case of "a wilted peony in a bamboo vase, wlable
troubles \vithin. As Ian Buruma comments, "The main victims
of the bigoted, exclusive, rigid, rascist, authoritarian ways of to draw water up her stem." The treasures are still in Japan, but
people cannot enjoy them. Saikaku says, "Whether you happen
Japanese officialdom are not the foreigners, even though they
to be a businessman or an artisan, never move from a place that
are at times its most convenient targets, but the rank and file of
you are accustomed to.... There is nothing quite as painful to
the Japanese thenlselves."
When "young people have no dreams," when a great inven­ ob~erve as people packing up their belongings while the pots
on the stove are still warm."
tor gets "no position, no bonus," when school, work, and sports
are a matter of "endure" rather than "enjoy," when cities and
countryside are losing their beauty and romance--that's a case
of becoming no fun. And what an incredible reversal ofJapan's
own tradition this is! This nation had a countryside that was
To Cllaflge or Not 10 Cllaflge: Boiled J-rog 35'.1

mission is to intelligently allocate the resources of the state. If it

provides that service efficiently, it does its job. japan's bureau­
cracy, riven with corruption and guilty of massive m.isallocation
of funds in alm.ost every area, fails this simple but crucial test.

IS To Change or An indurated bureaucracy is japan's single most severe and in­

tractable problem, responsible for bringing the nation to the

Not to Change brink of disaster in the 1990s. The Ministry of Finance, for all
its mistakes, is just one of many government agencies, and the
damage it has done cannot compare with the Construction
~oiled Frog Ministry's burying the nation under concrete, the Forestry Bu­
reau's decimating the native forest cover, the Ministry of Inter­
national Trade and Industry's needlessly danuning the Nagara
River, or the Ministry of Health and Welfare's knowingly al­
lowing 1,400 people to become infected with AIDS. So angry
If I don't drive around the park, is the public that the last decade has seen bookstores overflow
I'm pretty sure to make my mark. with books attacking officialdom, from Asai Takashi's 1996
If I'm in bed each night by ten, best-seller, Go to Hell, Burealmats!, to Sumita Shoji's 1998 The
I may get back my looks again. mlstifitl Spending of Officialdom. The public is ready for change.
If I abstain from fun and such,
During the past few years, it has become fashionable to speak
I'll probably amount to much;
of japan's "three revolutions." The fmt occurred after 1854,
But I shall stay the way I am,
when Conunodore Perry arrived with his "black ships"and
Because I do not give a damn. forced the opening of japan. Within twenty years, Japan dis­
-DOROTHY PARKER, "Observation" carded a system of feudal rule that went back almost eight cen­
turies, replacing it with a modern state ruled by the army,
wealthy businessmen, and government officials.
After the nation's defeat in WorJdWar II, a second revolution
The question at the beginning of the twenty-first century is:
took place, under the guidance of General Douglas MacArthur
an japan change? The picture is not without hope. Japan has
and the U.S. Occupation. MacArthur dismantled the army and
made abrupt about-faces, to the point of completely reinvent­
broke the power of the prewar capitalists-and in their place
ing itself twice during the past 150 years, and could possibly do the bureaucracy took over, creating the Japan we see today.
so again. But what if Japan cannot change? In seeking an an­ It's now time, many believe, for a third revolution, which will
swer, let's take another look at the bureaucrac). differ from the previous two in one important way: pressure
Bureaucracy is the core institution of govermnent, for its

360 Dogs lII,d Demons or Not to Challge: Boiled Frog 361
To Challg e
from foreign powers sparked both of the earlier revolutions; er within an electorate that was among the world's most
they did not spring from among the Japanese themselves. This :~ile. In 1993, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lost
time around, however, there is no foreign pressure. Nobody its majority for the first time in forty years, and an opposition
outside Japan is concerned about the fate of its mountains and coalition, led by Prime Minister Hosokawa, took over briefly.
rivers; nobody will arrive in a warship and demand that Japan The opposition, however, was no match for the bureaucrats.
produce better movies, rescue bankrupt pension funds, educate When Hosokawa sought financial information from the Min­
its children to be creative, or house its families in livable homes. istry of Finance, the bureaucrats stalled, and there was nothing
The revolution will have to come from within. that the prime minister's office could do. Within six months,
It could. Dissatisfaction is rife, as may be gleaned from the Hosokawa was out, and former members of the LDp, now scat­
many angry and frustrated people who are quoted in this book. tered into a number of splinter parties, took over again. The
Some readers m.ight wonder how I can say such harsh things electorate settled back into apathy, and at present the old LDP
about Japan. But it is not I who say these things. Fukuda stalwarts are firmly back in power, beholden as before to bu­
iichiro calls Japan a Kindergarten State, and Fukuda Kazuya reaucrats and large businesses. In the political sphere, the score
asks, "Why have the Japanese become such infants?" Kurosawa is Status Quo 1, Revolution O.
proclaimed that Japanese fLlm companies are so hopeless they One of the sharpest observations made by Karel van Wol­
should be destroyed. Asai Takashi titled his book Go to Hell, Bu­ feren is that the Japanese bureaucratic system has never relied
real/crats! Nakano Kiyotsugu complains, "I don't know why, but on public approval for its legitimacy and power; it works in a
invisible rules have grown up everywhere," and Professor Kawai separate dimension, far above and removed from the demo­
carries this much further in his report to the prime minister, cratic process. As we have seen, even when voters do oppose
declaring that Japan's society is "ossified," and that conformity ruinous construction projects and sign petitions requesting ref­
has "leached Japan's vitality." Dr. Miyamoto Masao describes erendums, local assemblies are free to ignore them, and usually
Japanese education as "castration"; Inose Naoki compares Ja­ do. Outside observers see criticism in the media and hear com­
pan's environmental ills and bad-debt crisis with the unstop­ plaints from average Japanese, and jump to the conclusion that
pable march to war in the 1930s. The people of Kyoto rose up these feelings will be translated into political action. The dissat­
and fought the construction of the Pont des Arts. In short, isfied Japanese people are going to rise up and take matters into
there is a strong and vocal body of opinion within Japan that their own hands! But so far this has never happened.
recognizes its troubles and is increasingly prepared to fight for Nevertheless, there is movement below the surface. Despite
change. In this lies great hope. The question is whether the what Marxist theory tells us, the masses rarely start revolutions.
mood of dissatisfaction will ever gain enough momentum to The instigators tend to be the educated middle class and dis­
seriously affect Japan's forward course. One can make good ar­ gruntled low-level officials, what one might call "the soft un­
guments for revolution, and--sadly-even better ones for an­ derbelly of the elite"-and the soft underbelly is hurting. Since
other decade or two of stagnation. the publication of Lost Japan in Japanese, I am sometimes ask.ed
In the realm of politics, the early 1990s saw unprecedented to speak on panels or write for specialist publications, even to
362 Dogs alld Demons To Challge 01' Not to Chatlge: Boiled Frog 363

act as a cot1SuJtant to government agencies. What I have found the sheer embarrassment of falling behind. There is consider­
is that the mid-levels of many organizations-mostly people in able chagrin as the gaps between japan and the United States,
their forties-are disillusioned and frustrated by their inability urope, and newly wealthy Asian states widen. The thrust of
to make changes. Mid-level disillusionment is a highly subjec­ the educational system is to make people highly competitive,
tive area. There are no statistics on this subject, and elite-track aIl d the hierarchical social structure gets people into the habit
officials and company employees don't write books and arti­ of ranking ethnic groups and nations as "higher" and "lower."
cles, which leaves me with very little in the way of published Naturally, they would like to stand at the top of the pyramid,
quotable material. 1 have only my own experiences to go by. and this leads to obsessive comparisons between Japan and
In 1994, I wrote an article lambasting the dreary displays and other countries. This is where the frustration comes in.
shoddy interiors of the Ueno National Museum. Soon after­ When millions of Japanese travel abroad and return fi'om
ward, at an opening, I met one of the top officials in the agency Singapore's beautiful and efficient Changi Airport to the grim
that runs the museum. He approached me, and I steeled myself environment of Narita, the disparity is too strong to ignore.
for an angry denunciation of my article--only to hear him The decline of the Tokyo stock market, against a backdrop of
say that he personally thinks the mismanagement of Japanese explosive growth in New York and London, has been an ago­
museums is a disgrace. But despite his lofty position in the nizing spectacle for Japan's financial community. By the end of
hierarchy there is little he can do. At the moment, the "soft the century, Chinese-directed ftlms featuring major Hollywood
underbelly" is hurting, but even elite managers are powerless stars regularly took top spots in American box offices, and Chi­
against the inertia of their agencies. nese stars had become household names; in contrast, japan's
The same official did manage to bring in a team of experts greatest success was POkCIIlOII, a movie for ten-year-olds. The
from the Smithsonian to give advice on modern museum man­ Jlpanese sense the contrast between the bright lights and ex­
agement. To put most of that advice into practice he will have citement outside, and the mediocrity inside. They are embar­
to wait-as enlightened middle-level bureaucrats and execu­ r3~sed.
tives across Japan are waiting-for stodgy seniors to retire, or Yet while the groundwork exists, there is no assurance that
for their department to fall into such disarray that they can fi­ the revolution will come. Against the dissatisL1ction felt by the
nally seize the initiative. This group of would-be reformers are public is arrayed a complex system of bureaucratic control, infi­
like Madame Defarge in Dickens's A Tale of Ti.vo Cifies, a secret nitely more subtle than anything ever achieved in Russia or
revolutionary who sat for years in her tavern quietly knitting Ch1l1a in their Communist heydays. In order to visualize what
the names of hated aristocrats into her shawl. When the revolu­ is involved, let's do a "thought experiment" and ask ourselves
tion finally came, she took her place at the foot of the guillo­ what it would take to dismantle just a few bricks of the bu­
tine, counting as the heads rolled. A lot of people in Japan are reaucratic edifIce-the system of licenses for aerobics instruc­
waiting to count heads. tors, for instance. The mind's screen goes blank, because the
You can hear the drumbeat of coming revolution in the ris­ scenario whereby the japan Gynmastics Association, the Cen­
ing level of anger in public opinion, fueled to a great extent by tral Association for Prevention of Labor Disabilities, and the
364 Dogs and Demons ntl~ or Not to Change: Boiled Frog 365
To Ch a .•
Japan Health and Sports Federation will voluntarily disband of the complexity and power of the system. Seeking to reform
and give up their lucrative permit businesses is simply unimag­ the gigantic structure of the bureaucracy is a project over­
inable. What, then, can be done about the tens of thousands of whelming in its scale, involving nothing less than a radical
other agencies and special government corporations-all work­ change in social mores; the entire country would be turned up­
ing in secrecy and against whose fiat there is no recourse? side down and inside out. That is exactly what Japan's leaders
The public may be able to combat the bureaucracy over cer­ dread: they fear that if they make too many changes the whole
tain high-profile projects such as the Pont des Arts, or well­ jerry-built edifice of bureaucratic management will collapse
publicized scandals such as dioxin contamination. But power and the nation will sink into anarchy. This anxiety acts as a
lies in the details, in the thousands of tiny Pont des Arts-type powerful brake against change. For the moment, Madame De­
monuments rising quietly in every city and hamlet, in the myr­ farge faces a very long wait.
iad unreported dump sites not covered by the media, and deep There has been much talk in recent years of Kaikakll, "re­
in the impenetrable thicket of regulations in the form of un­ form," and while the bureaucracy has made a few timid steps
written "guidance" hemming in the life of the nation. toward reform, especially in finance and trade, Kaikaku is ham­
For those who hope that Japan is headed in the direction of pered by one major flaw: it aims, by and large, to shore up the
greater freedom, it is sobering to see how brand-new industries status quo. Bureaucrats find ways, in classic Dogs and Demons
create cartels in the old pattern. The Internet? Providers estab­ fashion, to make small, nonessential changes, rather than tackle
lished the Japan Network Information Center (JPNIC) as the serious structural problems both in the industries they control
entity that approves new domain addresses. The JPNIC set to and in their own systems of management. The phrase Kisei
work right away, putting up the same barriers to outsiders and Kanwa, used for "deregulation," is higWy symbolic, for it means
upstart businesses that we find in older cartels. For example, the "relaxation of the rules." It does not imply a discarding of the
JPNIC does not approve addresses unless they use Japanese In­ rules.
ternet providers-despite global guidelines worldwide that say Here's how it works. Gas prices in Japan average 2.7 times
local authorities shall show "no preferential treatment for cus­ world levels due to a law forbidding direct import. After 1996,
tomers of a particular data network." It's the old game of using deregulation allowed JAL, the national airline, to buy fuel
a cartel to keep the foreigners out. Meanwhile, the JPNIC abroad-but JAL cannot use this gas on domestic routes, and
raised registration fees to the point where it costs four rimes sulfur- and lead-content standards are designed to exclude
more to list a new domain than it does in the United States. South Korean gas. Contractors, pressured by the cartels they
The result of battening down the windows to the Imernet­ belong to, will not unload shipments bought through newly
the very room that everyone thought was going to bring fresh opened channels. Even after deregulation, foreign ga~ still can­
air into Japanese industry-is that by 1998 Japan had only 0.3 not enter Japan directly.
percem the number of domains in the United States, and In 1997, Jap:.ln finally legalized transplants from brain-dead
ranked twenty-first in the world for domain names per capita. patient~. The "legalization" involved so many compromises and
Multiply this cozy cartel by a million, and you'll get a sense restraints that two years later only one liver transplant and one
\\0+ c/V1 r1 Y5
366 Dogs and Demons To Change or Not 10 CI"IIIge: Boiled Frog K/++'(5 367

heart transplant had taken place. Although the law has changed, briefly step aside fi-om the mechanisms of bureaucracy and pol­
dozens of desperately ill patients contmue to raise money to itics and look at psychology.
travel abroad for organ transplants, as they have been doing for So far, the psychology of reform has been almost exclusively
decades. For all intents and purposes, such transplants remain il­ Epimetheal1: forced by public opinion, bureaucrats make mini­
legal in Japan. mal, often purely symbolic changes, while exerting most of
In response to strong public discontent, the government set their energies to protect the status quo. Reforms look back­
osei kaikaktl, "administrative reform," as a priority for most of ward, toward shoring up established systems, not forward to a
the 1990s, but the real work in dismantling the top-heavy edi­ new world. In general, Japan has settled comfortably into an
fice of Japanese officialdom lags. Instead, in a titanic demon­ Epimethean mind-set, and this is central not only to reform but
stration of latcmae conquering honl1e, much of the effort has to the overall question of how Japan failed to become a mod­
gone into renaming the ministries. As of January 2001, several ern country. Modernity, if nothing else, surely means a love of
ministries have changed their names (and some have disap­ tbe new. However, as we have seen repeatedly in this book, i
peared, subsumed into larger entities). For example, the Con­ new technology was not aimed at export manufacture--like
struction and Transport ministries are being combined with the cameras or cars-it never took root. Society frowns on people
National Land and Hokkaido Development agencies into a who steal fire from the gods. Too much fire too fast would un­
Land, Infrastructure, and Transport Ministry. At tremendous ex­ dermine the role of officials in the Cold Hearth Agency, who
pense, these new ministries will shuffie personnel and depart­ tell people what to do with their flameless hearths, and it
ments between them, setting up new signs and offices to would bankrupt the powerful Hot Stone Cartel, whose exis­
indicate their new functions-and then will go on to do busi­ tence depends on a lack of fire.
ness more or less as before. Halfhearted reforms such as this are At the moment, the trend is toward an increasingly Epi­
endemic, and highly deceptive, if taken at face value. As for the methean bent. Change will get harder, not easier, as the popu­
investigations and scandals in government ministries, once pub­ lation ages. At the very moment when Japan needs adventurous
lic anger dies away, it's back to business as usual. "Reform" of people to drastically revise its way of doing things, the popula­
this nature would be called "stagnation" in any other country. tion has already become the world's oldest, with school regis­
trations on a strong downward curve. Older pt?ople, by nature,
William Sheldon, famed for his studies in anthropometry, drew tend to be more conservative....than young ones, and as they tip
a distinction between two fundamental types of human psy­ the b~anc-e-~ulation, it wlll~hHder to make
chology, inspired by the mythical Greek brothers Epimetheus chd1tges.
and Prometheus. Epimetheus always faced the past, while Pro­ Meanwhile, youths, whom one would ordinarily exp~ to
metheus, who brought fire to mankind, looked to the future. be full of energy and initiative, have been taught in school to be
An Epimethean values precedent; a Promethean will steal fire obedient and never to question the way things are. Young peo­
from the gods if necessary in order to advance humanity's
progress. in thinking about Japan's future, it's a good idea to ~ ple are thinking about shirts printed with bunnies and kitties­
with platform shoes to match, and some really amazing makeup

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