Tokyo, Japan—Back in 1976, I worked as an English teacher in Sendai, the large city closest to the epicenter of Friday’s horrendous earthquake. Once a week I would go to the campus of Tohoku University—the city’s pre-eminent university—for an afternoon of “English discussion” with a group of professors and grad students. Their research involved the effects of earthquakes on buildings.
Here in Tokyo this week it would be easy (and expected) to write about how the United States lags when it comes to infrastructure. From rapid and reliable transit, to renewable energy production, to modern gleaming airports, the evidence is literally all around. Most Americans probably suspect this is true but until you see it firsthand it is hard to appreciate how wide the gap is between our two countries. But just as amazing is how highly integrated Japanese infrastructure is. Executives from Hitachi, Ltd.
Each year, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and its affiliated organizations hold hundreds of meetings, at which officials from countries across Asia come together to issue bland, verbose communiqués about everything from agriculture management to the handling of spiny dogfish and to listen to interchangeable speeches by government officials. Along with an inevitable level of boredom, the meetings feature exaggerated, affected displays of courtesy that would not have been out of place at the Tudor Court.
If you've ever seen "Airplane 2 -- and, to be sure, I am not recommending that you do so -- there is a funny complication of television news coverage from around the world of an impending shuttle disaster: Buffalo Anchorman: Our top story tonight, Four-alarm fire rages through Downtown Buffalo. Also in the news, Lunar Shuttle heads for the Sun, and certain disaster. Tokyo Anchorman: Our top story tonight, Four-alarm fire rages through Downtown Tokyo.
I Was Born, But... (IFC Center)Wild Grass (Sony Pictures Classics)Alamar (Film Movement) A smart distributor, on whom be peace, has decided to give a theatrical premiere to an early film by Yasujiro Ozu. This is good news, not just because the film itself—I Was Born, But...—is endearing but because it draws further attention to this Japanese master. Much of Ozu is available on DVD, including this film, but more theatrical recognition may increase this country’s care for a wonderful artist. Ozu (1903–1963) began to direct in 1927 and made a total of fifty-four features.
Japan has a new prime minister, Naoto Kan, but he comes from the same party—the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ)—as Yukio Hatoyama, who resigned last Wednesday. He will almost surely want to continue Hatoyama's policies of strengthening Japan’s political democracy and forging an independent foreign policy that is allied with the United States, but not subordinate to it. If Kan follows that course, he will undoubtedly displease much of Japan’s establishment, which still identifies with the defeated Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that Hatoyama's party trounced in last year's election.
As President Obama’s bipartisan fiscal commission gets set to convene, the Greek budget disaster has triggered the predictable flood of cautionary notes about how we’re spending too much and heading toward a debt crisis. Should these concerns illuminate the commission’s work—or are they merely alarmist? Paul Krugman harbors no doubts: “Despite a chorus of voices claiming otherwise,” he writes, “we aren’t Greece.” But that’s not as encouraging as it sounds, he adds: “We are however, looking more and more like Japan. ...
Kevin Drum asks why China's visitors are invariably blown away by the changes taking place in the country: "China is big on a macro scale. It's big on a statistical scale. It's growing fast. But on a ground level scale? It's just a place. It's no bigger or denser or busier than lots of other places. So why is everyone always so awe-stricken about it?" Having been in China for a few days, I'd say the size of the place is less impressive than the sheer rate of change.
In the Los Angeles Times, Marla Dickerson takes a look at Tokyo's efforts to become one of the most eco-friendly cities in the world: In addition to reducing solid waste, Tokyo over the last few years has unveiled a slew of environmentally conscious initiatives.