Lesson 6: Views of Japan from the Washington Post Newsroom 2
(Citation from gViews of Japan from the Washington Post Newsroomh Kodansha International, 1996)
Just a couple of years ago, Japanfs huge investment in American real estate was portrayed by some as a threat to American sovereignty and a blow to U.S. pride. As well-heeled Japanese bought up such national treasures as Rockefeller Center in New York City, there seemed to be no end in sight.
But in this desert playground of the rich and famous near Palm Springs, as Well as in Los Angeles, Hawaii, and other centers of the now-busted real estate boom, some Americans are emerging as the wily horse traders while the Japanese appear to have been snookered.
American land owners and developers, it now appears, profited from the Japanese buying spree, unloading their excess real estate to the Japanese, often at inflated prices.
gI expected much more out of the Japanese than they in fact showed,h said Christopher Mead, a Phoenix consultant who has tracked Japanese investment in U.S. real estate. gWe thought that because they beat us in one field after another. They were going to win in real estate too. But they didn't. It wasn't the Japanese who took advantage of the Americans; it is the other way around.h
A new aristocracy appears to be taking shape in Japan, to ancestral elite that is replacing the titled gentry of prewar days and challenging the meritocracy that has underpinned the nation's postwar success.
The rising new establishment, like the old, is based on wealth, inherited power, and strategic marriages linking the two. It is most evident in the Diet, or national parliament, where about one-third of ruling party members\and almost all the party's youngest legislators\are sons or sons-in-law of former politicians.
@gA new aristocratic class is being formed,h@said Takayoshi Miyagawa, a political consultant. gIf this trend continues, it will be not just a political problem, but a social problem. It will sap our social energy.h
But the emergence of new class structures in any society usually is gradual and relative. Japan remains an overwhelmingly middle-class society, with universal high-quality education, no real underclass, and ample opportunity for individual initiative. In some sectors, notably big business, the trend is away from inherited authority, most observers agree. But in many areas, the egalitarian, open system created by the U.S. occupation after World War II appears to be constricting.
The phenomenon of power and prominence among the second generation, or nisei, stretches from this seasonfs most popular television show to the field of medicine.
More and more bureaucrats in the foreign or finance ministries are sons or sons-in-law of former bureaucrats.
Kabuki actors train their sons to succeed them; the masters of sumo stables many their daughters to their strongest wrestlers.
The gradual concentration of power is such, Jin said, that the families of all but three of Japan's seventeen postwar prime ministers by now have linked themselves to the emperor himself, through marriage.
@Graduation from Tokyo University's law faculty remains a passport into the elite, and entrance into the university has traditionally offered a gnarrow ladderh for smart and hard-working young people with no connections.
Jin said the emergence of a new aristocracy may indicate that post-war democratic reforms did not fully take root. While zaibatsu families of prewar days never regained their power, he said, a new generation is emerging to replace them\with no protest from the public.
Others take a less gloomy view, noting that a free press and other essentials of democracy seem irreversibly ensconced. Second-generation politician Shiina said that, gI think the sense of values is changing. There are more people who don't believe that that is the best way to achieve happiness. They are interested in that closed society. I think it's healthy.h
@New Year's is the most important and widely observed day of the year in Japan. There is no Times Square countdown, no champagne-tinged kisses at midnight. It is a quiet family time of reflection and renewal, and a showcase of the Japanese emphasis on group behavior.
American New Year's celebrations fade quickly after mid-night, but that is when things get started here.
Red-cheeked and bubbling with a ten-year-old childfs energy, Yoji Otsubo stood before the altar, tossed a few coins, and clapped his hands. Then he energetically bowed, his hands together in front of his Donald Duck ski hat.
gThis is fun,h he said.
gEvery year, the cycle is repeated,h said Tomoharu Fukunaga, the shrine's chief priest, watching the old and the young together to mark the new year. gThere's some sense of eternity there.h
@Rather, the Christian wedding has caught on here for the same reason so many other aspects of American culture have been absorbed into Japanese life: If it's Western, it's cool. It's glamorous. It's romantic.
@The aisle of a Christian church\or, for that matter, of a hotel meeting room designed to look like a church\is known n Japan as gthe Virgin Roadh (a term people here think they learned from Americans!).
@The latest technology from Japan: money laundering.
@Newly installed bank automated teller machines here sanitize and press bills before customers withdraw funds. The gClean ATMs,h as they are known, dispense yen notes that, while not quite as crisp as newly minted ones, are nearly wrinkle-free. Customers can even insert bills and get them back laundered. In certain ways, Japan is obsessed with cleanliness.
Japanese are known for scrubbing their bodies two or three times during their daily hot bath ritual. Young women keep kits in their office restrooms stocked with cosmetics, lotions, and toothbrushes. There are bathroom ceramics said to fight bacteria, as well as germ-combating socks and slippers.
Bug museums, bug zoos, bug exhibits in department stores, street-corner vendors selling crawling, flying and creeping creatures: Much of Japan may have been paved over, but the Japanese retain a special fondness in their hearts for the insects of yesteryear.
These days, Japanese schools still often assign summer homework to collect a certain number of beetles or butterfly species. But Tokyo children often do their collecting at the nearest department store.
Mrs. T. became so upset that she recently wrote a letter about her problem to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper's Jinsei Annai (Guide to Life) column\Japan's version of Ann Landers. But the answer she got was hardly in the Ann Landers style.
gPlease, be patient with your husband,h the newspaper replied.
The most common piece of advice offered to the long-suffering questioners is that they practice the stoic virtue Japan Does must: gaman, a word that means endurance, tolerance, and bearing pain without complaint.
Japan has tackled crime, illiteracy, unemployment, and other social ills with a success envied in the rest of the non-Communist world. Yet homeless people, their possessions bundled into shopping bags, still walk its streets, a reminder that in some cases, Japan is as impotent as other nations.
Some older people see them as proof that the ethics that made Japan great are on the decline.