Chapter 17: Fanning the Friction
Chapter 17. Fanning the Friction
Japan bashing/America bashing
The term “Japan bashing” was credited to Robert Angel in the 1980s while he was the president of the Japan Economic Institute in America, a think-tank in Washington, DC and funded by the MOFA. The term was coined to counter-act anti-Japanese sentiment in the US regarding Japan’s trade surplus with the US and the USTR’s demands to Japan to commit to numerical quotas on its exports to the US.
The three Japanese automobile manufacturers (Honda, Toyota and Nissan) agreed in 1981 to limit the number of cars exported to the US but by 1985, they had opened production facilities in the southern United States to produce larger models where workers were not members of labor unions. As the American auto industry was losing market share to Japanese car imports, American auto workers, fearful of losing jobs, protested by physically bashing Japanese cars with sledge hammers and burning Japanese flags, despite the fact that the cars parked in the staff parking lots of US car manufacturers were packed with Toyotas and Hondas.
When he was interviewed the NHK correspondent maintained that, although there had been good coverage by America media on Japan, there had also been articles by American commentators who appeared to have no fundamental knowledge of Japanese culture. Exaggerating one tiny aspect, they insisted that it represented Japan and connected these issues to trade friction.
Bill Whittaker agreed with me: “I don’t think that we know beans about how Japan works or what’s going on with Japanese politics. Americans are grossly ignorant about that incredibly important country.”
The United States Trade Representative: who is the fairest of them all?
Japanese ministry officials grumbled that due to the end of the Cold War, the US no longer considered Japan vital in terms of a military alliance in the Pacific and that the USTR was taking a much tougher stance at trade negotiations by demanding numerical quotas. Officials also complained that one of the ways that the US was reducing the trade deficit was by selling older models of military aircraft to Japan for its self-defence forces, but not the state-of-the art models to limit technology transfer.
In 1993 the USTR was pressuring Japan again to open up markets to more processed foods, home electronics, automobiles and car parts, and to the finance, insurance and pharmaceutical industries. The automobile and car industries that were well represented by powerful lobby groups and labor unions were relentlessly pursuing the members in Congress whose constituents were businesses engaged in these industries. Trade deals seemed to relate to political need rather than to reducing America’s trade deficit.
I received a call one afternoon in the Reference Library from a reporter at Business Week who was covering the trade talks. He began the conversation with the remark that the Japanese had a penchant for American pop culture, spending millions of dollars on movies, MacDonald hamburgers and Coco Cola. I agreed, emphasizing that there were many other American products which Japanese consumers also purchased. Suddenly, the reporter’s voice darkened, “But why don’t YOU people import OUR automobiles?”
The fact that the reporter identified me as a Japanese momentarily struck me as odd. I replied “That’s because YOUR cars are TOO BIG for our narrow streets and the steering wheels are on the WRONG SIDE!”
Although Japan’s inward investment was the second lowest among the OECD countries, importing American cars that did not suit the Japan market was not a logical solution to lowering the trade deficit.
The NHK correspondent admitted that mass media reported news in a way that it thought the public wanted to hear, putting the emphasis on trade friction rather than on the efforts by both sides to reach a compromise. He repeated the same claims made by Japanese government officials that Japan was not as important to the United States as the United States was to Japan. He was amazed at the paucity of information Americans received about Japan, including staff in President Clinton’s administration, and was critical of the fact that there were no representatives in the USTR who spoke Japanese or understood Japanese culture and psychology. The correspondent expressed concerns that since Clinton regarded China as America’s future market pro-Japan representatives would be absent at the negotiation table.
Bill Whitaker had a similar view. He admitted that media hype sold papers and raised ratings but because television news reported the news as it was happening the reports could be inaccurate and, at times, false. But he also thought that there was a real danger of overemphasizing the role the press played in fanning the friction between the two societies and that the people themselves should assume responsibility for the state of affairs.
The president of the North American corporate headquarters of a Japanese trading company put it in a realistic context:
I hate mass media! The Japanese press does not transmit correct information about the US to Japanese. For example, Prime Minister Hosokawa came here a few months ago and stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. President Clinton also stayed there. There was very tight security. The heavy police protection was for Clinton, not for Hosokawa. This is not done to such an extent in Japan. The Japanese press reported that the police blocking off the street didn’t give Hosokawa adequate security like it did to Clinton. The newspapers from other countries in attendance didn’t complain. I wasn’t there, but wherever President Clinton goes, security is always tight and very disruptive. This unimportant news became fodder for criticism.
However, things that happen in Japan are very important. Everyone knew that Mr. Kanazawa [Kanazawa was a top official in the MOC] accepted large bribes from the construction industry but no one wrote about it! Everyone writes about the Waldorf Astoria and Clinton! However, the Washington Post did write about the scandal.
I don’t feel that Japan and the US are equal. The interest and concerns that the Japanese have for Japan are completely different. Japan is not important to the United States. It’s all right that ABC doesn’t report news about Japan. But for Japan, America’s very big. Trade with America is tremendous because the population in the US is tremendous and America takes huge amounts of imports. America’s need for news about Japan is much less than Japan’s need for news about the US.
In both countries inaccuracies in reporting are made on various economic facts. There is the excuse that reporters want to report on things as fast as possible and, therefore, cannot get the complete facts. Because of this, I don’t like to read the reports. I have not seen much news on Japanese culture here. Even though Japan is the US’s leading trading partner, Japanese companies produce cars and electronics here. If America’s markets disappear, Japan could not exist. It would be a pitiful state. It would be ludicrous to be angry about the degree of interest Japan has for the United States and the degree of interest that the US has for Japan!
Don’t Bash Us Bureaucrats!
The Japanese resented being America’s whipping boy because they felt that America’s economic problems were of its own making and were unrelated to Japan’s economic rise and clout in international markets. An interview in January 1994 with a MITI ministry official illustrates how, not only the Japanese but, also, people in many countries consider Americans and the United States. It also reveals Japan’s defensive stance regarding the US-Japan relationship.
Wherever one goes in the world, English is understood and, therefore, Americans do not have the desire to learn about other foreign countries. That’s because America’s bounty, America’s words and America’s system supports the world. It’s just the way things are, I guess. America is vast, the great supporter, America, the great provider, America. We are always aware of its presence. I think that the recognition of whatever relationship Japan has with the United States is within this context.
Without referring to Japan’s protectionist policies, the same official related his government’s stance at the time of the negotiations:
The latest pronouncement of the US Trade Representative is that the reason for the continuing huge trade surplus is because of Japan’s position as a nation. This problem, really in terms of numbers [quotas], clearly must be solved. But if you turn things around and look at it from Japan’s perspective, the United States had a huge trade surplus up until 30 years ago. Americans worked very hard and made excellent products. The trade surplus was natural. If the Japanese wanted a trade surplus, they had to develop excellent products. When comparing how open the door is to Japanese products and American markets, America’s markets are far more open than Japan’s. Compared to the present time, there are far more American products in Japan than before because American products are excellent. When Americans during negotiations negotiate with the contention that Japan is devious, from our point of view, it is Puritanism. Big decisions based on one standard!
A ministry official also interviewed in January was concerned that because of the trade friction the United States would abandon Japan in favor of China due to China’s economic expansion, potential vast markets and its growing influence in global markets:
Concerning America’s request to Japan about the trade imbalance, America has so much it only has to think of itself. The US is now looking at China instead of Japan because it’s easier to enter the market. The Chinese language has more similarities to English than Japanese. Chinese resembles English in grammar and communication is easier between Chinese and Americans. Chinese resemble English because there are many phrases and sayings that are common in both languages. In Japanese, special terms must be invented in order to communicate. Also, Chinese and American preferences are more similar than Japanese and American preferences.
Does Every Little Bit Help?
My article for the April 1994 issue of paper “Jamaica Jives in Japan” concerned a press conference held at JETRO on 26 January sponsored by the New York State Department of Economic Development (NYSDED), the National Minority Business Council and JETRO to announce the formal presentation of New York State’s Global Export Market Service (GEMS) grants to ten members of the council. The grants for the members were aimed to help the small businesses engaged in the production of apparel, accessories and tableware production export to Japan. The event was orchestrated by JETRO to promote JETRO as Japan’s primary promoter of foreign small business exports to Japanese markets.
The GEMS companies had already exhibited their products at the JETRO Business Support Center in Tokyo the previous October. Hiranobu Sekiguchi, the owner of a boutique in a popular, youth-oriented section of Tokyo, visited the center one day, liked what he saw and promised to place an order in January when he would be in New York. He also attended the news conference at JETRO New York, courtesy of JETRO who covered his travel expenses.
The president who hosted the event spoke briefly about the JETRO Senior Trade advisors who were posted at 19 state governments “…in order to help small firms export to Japan by, for example, introducing their products in JETRO’s Import Frontier.”
The president also talked about the Business Support Center in Tokyo and its role in encouraging companies to explore Japanese markets. He told his audience: “The huge trade imbalance between the United States is real, but, it is these small but practical steps that helps reduce the U.S. trade deficit…”
Among the small businesses receiving grants the craft ware company Monoco Design was chosen for a gallery exhibition in Kobe:
Inside/Outside Japan was enraptured with the street-scene ceramics of the craft ware company Monoco Design, and especially with the owner, Noel Copeland, a Jamaican with dreadlocks, who had been spotted earlier that afternoon. Reggae is the current rage in Japan and one look told us that Tokyo would definitely take to his Rastafarian motif plates, mugs and tea pots. Mr. Sekiguchi had already reserved eight pieces for his shop. Over a breakfast of French toast the following day, Noel graciously gave us a little low-down on a life which originally included no plans of going to Japan. “I have been told that the quality of what I have to offer is most important and my race is secondary. The Japanese love the music and they love the looks so I’m expecting them to be curious about me as a person, a Rasta man with dreadlocks.”
According to the artist upon his return to New York, the exhibition was well attended and he managed to sell some of his work. However, USTR representatives may have questioned whether a few pieces of pottery exported to Japan could be considered a step to reduce the US trade deficit.
The president took a more aggressive stance in his Special Supplement for the March 1994 issue of Inside/Outside Japan. For a Better U.S.–Japanese Relationship protesting the Clinton administration negotiation tactics at the meeting between Clinton and Hosokawa in February when Hosokawa refused to agree to set numerical targets on certain Japanese imports. While defending Japan’s position in the US–Japan trade talks, he was also defending his fellow bureaucrats and protecting MITI’s territory. From the president’s point of view, the meeting a month earlier between President Clinton and Prime Minister Hosokawa who mutually agreed to postpone decisions about numerical quotas amounted to a “breakdown” in negotiations.
His diatribe is currently relevant to: (i) the fundamental reasons for Japan’s current political economic conditions; (ii) Japan’s continuing reluctance to open markets to foreign competition and inward investment; and (iii) the ministries’ use of their corporations to promote their interests.
The president attacked two well-known journalists who pointed to Japan’s bureaucrats for inhibiting social and economic change in Japan:
…Rather than succumb to yet another agreement to paper over the obvious differences, Mr. Hosokawa told Mr. Clinton that he could not and would not agree to something Japan was bound to find impossible to carry out, both philosophically and practically. In this, Messrs. Karel van Wolferen and R. Taggart Murphy completely missed the point when they asserted, in their joint OP-ED article in the New York Times (20 February) that it was the bureaucrats who stopped Mr. Hosokawa from going along with specified trade targets.
The president also condemned the USTR’s attitude toward Japan:
Evidently, American negotiators have come to believe in two things. One is that “Japan is the odd man out.” In this view, the stubborn persistence of the trade imbalance between Japan and the United States derives directly from the nature of the Japanese market that is radically different from other industrialized countries. The other is that Japan’s market liberalization cannot be achieved because of Japan’s “entrenched bureaucracies” and wayward corporate practices.
The president bemoaned the United States’ tendency to impose sanctions on countries “whenever it fails to achieve its own goals.” He requested more understanding about Japan’s position in trade relations and the role of Japan’s bureaucracy which he felt was maligned in the American press and by the USTR. The president avoided addressing the reasons for Japan’s protected markets and trade surplus, but offered:
In the decades since [Japan’s post-war rapid economic growth period] Japan has had a trade surplus. This is mainly the result of the stupendous efforts of its manufacturing sector to improve itself and excel – although there have been macro-economic factors such as the high savings rates that enabled Japanese industry to maintain high investment levels …
The president stated the obvious:
Today, U.S. industry has regained competitiveness through restructuring and bold innovations, whereas Japanese industry has stumbled badly – in part as a result of what American industrialists call “overinvestment.”
No one knows as yet whether this reversal of fortune is extensive enough to reverse the trade-balance positions of the United States and Japan. But with the compounding factor of the high yen continuing and Japanese corporations continuing to invest overseas, the trend is evidently toward a reduced imbalance. It certainly will be helped by U.S. industry’s seriousness in exporting to Japan – as evident, for example, in the production of compact cars with the right-side steering wheel.
But if there was a honeymoon period between business people and bureaucrats, it was becoming a thing of the past by the early 80s … I think that it is a mistake to say, as some Americans do, that the bureaucrats are the roadblock to any social and economic change in Japan … I must emphasize that Japan has dismantled a range of barriers against imports.
The president promised:
But it is necessary to keep making these efforts, for Japan must reduce its persistent and large trade surplus. Keenly aware of this, the Japanese government is pursuing important programs: further deregulation, an aggressive implementation of antitrust statutes, large-scale public investment to enrich people’s lives and promotion of imports and investment from abroad.
He concluded the article by going for the jugular:
In all these efforts, change must come from within. Short-sighted and self-serving pressure from the United States can be counterproductive. This is because it only breeds mistrust and discontent on the side that gives pressure and alienation and resentment on the side that is [being] pressured.
To ensure that JETRO’s role as the government-funded promoter of inward investment and imports was duly publicized the president declared:
JETRO has various arrangements for promoting the importation of U.S. products into Japan. To mention only two, the trade agency at present maintains a total of nineteen senior trade advisors throughout the United States who identify products with potential in Japanese markets and guide their producers every step of the way. Not long ago, it opened a Business Support Center in Tokyo which provides free space and business equipment to business people who wish to explore Japanese markets. It plans to open another such center soon.
The Executive Director of Research and Planning also took offense in a letter to the editor of the New York Times a week after the van Wolferen article was published:
The “failure” of the latest round of United States–Japanese trade talks shows the simplistic and self-centered approach the United States often takes toward its “most important” international trading partner; unrealistic demands such as numerical targets, failure to obtain agreement or fulfilment, followed by threats to retaliate or a retaliatory action.
The director accused the United States of not understanding:
…the complexity of economic mechanisms and the workings of Japanese society … Take one administration official’s pronouncement to the effect that Japanese bureaucracy is now the “enemy of the United States” … It is naïve to assume, as the Clinton Administration apparently does, that by reshaping Japan’s bureaucracy to its own liking, the United States can eliminate its deficit with Japan.
I asked him to autograph the article!
My contribution to the paper was based on my experiences in Mishima. “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” concerned Konosuke Matsushita’s early years and his devotion to Zen Buddhist practice which he promoted to his employees.
In the April Inside/Outside Japan the president’s Perspective “Mr. Hosokawa’s Sudden Resignation” dealt with Prime Minister Hosokawa’s resignation after only eight months in office which the president explained “…was to take responsibility for the irregularities allegedly found in financial transactions that he had long entrusted to his personal aide.” The president praised Hosokawa for his efforts to reform the political system and to deregulate Japanese markets.
Hosokawa had been implicated in the Sagawa Kyubin scandal, which had ended Prime Minister Takeshita’s chief fundraiser’s political career. Shin Kanemaru, the LDP major-domo, was enveloped in a series of corruption scandals. In October 1992, he publicly admitted that he had received $4.1 million in illegal contributions from Sagawa Kyubin, a trucking company that had relations with construction companies and the underworld. However, he avoided public questioning through behind-the-scenes politicking and escaped prosecution with a small fine.
Kanemaru, who was seventy-eight, was arrested with his secretary and indicted for tax evasion in March 1993. When public prosecutors raided Kanemaru’s residence they discovered in his safe-deposit box gold bars and $50 million in cash and securities. Public outcry and the continuing media attention on the collusion scandals involving politicians, bureaucrats and big business forced Kanemaru to relinquish his seat and tender his resignation as LDP vice-president. A prison sentence was suspended because of his age. The governor of Niigata Prefecture also resigned from office amid allegations that he received $2.4 million in unreported campaign contributions from Sagawa Kyubin.
Hosokawa, who had received a loan from Sagawa Kyubin for ¥100 million yen, claimed that he had repaid the loan but LDP members did not believe him. Furthermore, there were problems within Hosokawa’s administration, which had been weakened by political infighting among factions
Ichiro Ozawa, like Hosokawa, aggressively pushed for more autonomy for local authorities for the reform of the electoral system that would encourage fairer representation in the Lower House and result in a true two-party system which was achieved when the reform bill was passed during Hosokawa’s administration. In order to preserve the Hosokawa coalition government, Tsutomu Hata, who had served as deputy prime minister, stepped in as Prime Minister.
Ozawa represented Japan’s mainstream ultra-conservative political environment during Japan’s post-war period that evolved through interpersonal connections between politicians and businesses to become a tangled web of vested interests, collusion and corrupt practices. In October 1992 Ozawa was also implicated in the Sagawa Kyubin scandal.
Although ministry officials were not concerned that Ozawa would be a serious threat to the ultra-conservative LDP, he was very involved in shaking up the political status quo and busting the bureaucracy. On the other hand, he was not a team player. Known as the “shadow shogun” he was regarded as a key political strategist, back-room deal-maker and a fund-raiser in the same mode as Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka (1972-74), his mentor. Tanaka taught Ozawa the importance of establishing strong relationships with smaller firms that were trying to compete with big established companies for a share of tight markets. He also taught Ozawa that a close relationship with the construction industry was essential to a politician’s purse.
A right-wing reformer, Ozawa transferred to the Takeshita–Kanemaru faction after Tanaka left office in 1974. As was also the case for the Tanaka faction, construction companies who wanted to expand their operations (e.g. contracts for public works projects) contributed the major share of political contributions to the Kanemaru–Takeshita faction. Ozawa learned how to garner the support from local electorates and grass-roots politics.
Ozawa, who had been implicated in the Recruit scandal in 1988 for his involvement in insider-trading sanctions, was interrogated in October 1992 when Kanemaru was arrested over the Sagawa Kyubin affair. He was questioned about escorting Kanemaru to meetings with Sagawa management. His retort to prosecutors was that he was merely going along to act as barman. In December 1992 when he was still an LDP member Ozawa was implicated in a money scandal which involved Kajima Construction, one of the big six general contracting companies that had been charged with bribing numerous politicians in order to win contracts. Ozawa called a press conference to deny reports by the Asahi Shimbun that the contributions were illegal.
A Farewell Message
The president’s Perspective in the May issue of Inside/Outside Japan mourned the loss of Japanese values from the Meiji Period, “…encountering the West and deciding on rapid modernization and, again, in the mid-20th century…”
Although the president considered that there was no longer a need to catch up with the West and that the Japanese would regain their “age-old sensibility.” I recognized that the younger generation could not relate to Japan’s past “sensibility.”
My article “I Know Where I’m Going” was about Kazuo Inamori the founder of Kyocera Corporation, one of Japan’s most sophisticated companies. Inamori was the last of the great industrialists and, like Matsushita, was a devout Zen Buddhist. He also travelled internationally to present his corporate creed which was similar to Matsushita’s. The vice president of Kyocera America Corporation in San Diego visited me at JETRO on his way to New York to prepare for Inamori’s arrival. He confided that Inamori enjoyed gambling and would stop over in Las Vegas on his way to the East Coast and drop into Donald Trumps’ casino in Atlantic City.
In June, the president passed the gauntlet to his successor, a MITI official who had come from San Francisco where he had served as the president of JETRO San Francisco. During that time he secured Green Cards for himself, his wife, and his daughter, allowing them to stay in the US and thus, his transfer to JETRO New York.
The title of the president’s farewell Perspective “America, America” was taken from the movie by the American film director Elia Kazan. The President exited JETRO on the upbeat, lauding the US system of government, the interaction between academia “which includes think tanks and community volunteerism,” and:
Above all, I have been moved by what must be a cliché about the United States: its ability to create a milieu where people from different backgrounds can mingle with equality – regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin. This fundamental characteristic translates into the American people’s spontaneous goodwill, tolerance for diversity, and the profound sense of responsibility to the world.
By sheer coincidence, my article “Struggles and Success” regarded a documentary about African Americans’ experiences in Japan. Struggles and Success was an 85 minute documentary concerning the positive experiences of African-Americans who had lived in Japan from three to twenty-five years and who had achieved successful careers equal to the Japanese. The documentary was partly finance by the Japan Foundation, a MOFA corporation. The film won awards and was shown twice on NHK.
I interviewed the African-American director who gave a glowing account of his time in Japan making the documentary. He previously had gone to Japan for six months in 1991 as an Artist Fellow funded by the Japan-United States Friendship Commission and the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs to observe the work of the director of a popular television program. Although blacks are less popular than Koreans or Chinese in Japan, the article was written to support the objectives of Inside/Outside Japan.
In 1986, the then Prime Minister Yasujiro Nakasone made the unfortunate pronouncement that black and Hispanics were valuing education downward. In 1988, Michio Watanabe, a ranking official of the Liberal Democratic Party, stated that blacks spend more money on credit cards and then declare bankruptcy because they don’t care….Any African-American who had not been to Japan would have naturally assumed that the Japanese were racist and that blacks who visited the Land of the Rising Sun will be greeted with disappointment and perhaps danger.
I happened to be writing the piece on a Friday in early April. I was still at the office at 7pm when the weather suddenly turned wintry and snow started falling. I decided to return home before the snow piled up. Carrying a heavy briefcase and an umbrella and shoulder bag which contained my wallet, I trudged the half-block to the 49th Street and Sixth Avenue subway to catch a train. A 300 pound African-American was in front of me as I descended the stairs into the station. The man descended at a snail’s pace and I was unable to pass him because of his breadth. I felt a tug at my shoulder bag and, turning around, I saw that a young African American man was taking my wallet out of my bag. He began to run up the steps to the exit holding my wallet.
I dropped my briefcase and umbrella and ran after him to the top of the stairs disregarding the warning, “Lady, he has a knife!” When I exited I was greeted by two African-American men in their thirties and well-dressed. I could tell that they were involved and pleaded with them politely to return my wallet which contained, besides $20, a credit card, my McGraw Hill security card and my driver’s license. When they asked me if I could recognize the culprit, bowing my head respectfully in the Japanese manner, I replied that I had not.
I retrieved my briefcase and umbrella. Since I had no cash for a ticket I walked home in the snow, going first to my neighbourhood police station to report the theft. The officer on duty directed me to the police station in the precinct where the theft had been committed. He added that I probably would not see my wallet again because the perpetrators were black.
I had to wait until the following Monday to report the mugging to the 49th Street precinct. After taking the details the woman officer on duty who was a Hispanic asked me if the men were black. When I replied that they were, she said that the wallet would never be returned.
When I reported the mugging to one of the JETRO management staff he automatically asked me, “Were they black? You won’t see your wallet again.”
I went to the DMV for another licence and the following morning to the McGraw Hill security office for a new security card. That afternoon, the JETRO manager came to my desk to hand me the driver’s licence and security card which had been in my wallet. He told me that a man had passed them to a security guard in the lobby. Although the credit card was missing, I was relieved that the incident had not been an entirely negative experience.
Request from the CIA
On 21 June the blond receptionist transferred a call to me. The female caller identified herself as a staff in the Central Intelligence Agency Library. She requested that I send two copies of Inside/Outside Japan to the CIA. I worried that if the telephone call had been directed to other members of the paper, the president, the editor or to the executive director, there was a good chance that the paper would be discontinued. Recovering my composure, I replied that I would be pleased to do so. The woman told me that she would FAX the addresses to me within a few hours. However, the only FAX machine for the general office was located in the JETRO management division. Every fifteen minutes I casually visited the FAX machine to see if the CIA FAX had come through. After an hour of anxious waiting I finally recovered the FAX from the CIA before anyone had seen it.
The FAX had the CIA letter head with the date and the sender’s name. It was addressed to me at JETRO New York with the message: “Thank you for your cheerfulness and help. Please send 1 copy each of: Inside/Outside Japan to the following addresses.”
I posted two copies to two divisions at separate addresses that afternoon without informing anyone. The FAX indicated that the copies were to be sent only once but to be on the safe side I continued to send copies each time the paper was published in order to ensure that the CIA would not contact JETRO again.
The president returned to Tokyo at the end of June to assume the post of deputy director for global environmental issues. The new president was the antithesis of his predecessor in terms of his career path at MITI and his cultural preferences. His predecessor was a cultural bon vivant who had been seconded by MITI three time overseas. The new president had not been sent overseas until his three year tour at JETRO San Francisco.
After graduating from the Law Faculty at Tokyo University the officer entered MITI. He was “loaned” to JETRO Tokyo headquarters in 1986–89 where he was in charge of planning policy. After returning to MITI for a two-year stint he was seconded to JETRO San Francisco.
I interviewed him for my August article “Hello-Goodbye,” bidding a welcome to the new president and a fond farewell to the outgoing president. The new president who perceived me to be under the aegis of the outgoing president was guarded. He revealed very little of himself, preferring to concentrate on his tour at JETRO San Francisco. He spoke fondly of his “new American friends” and his exposure to wine tasting, a hobby he indulged in while in California. He was skilled at creating the image of a president who was very open to new experiences:
And in New York, the president plans to practice what his predecessor preached: “I want to enjoy the real life in New York, in the United States, and try to find the meaning of life in this country. Of course, I will continue the efforts my predecessor to be understood, to get the American people to understand what the Japanese like or what they hate, how they act and how they react. Maybe that will be my personal agenda as president of JETRO New York.”
I gave a good send-off to the outgoing president:
But the inner circle at JETRO New York knows that MITI is not what the fates have in mind for his next life and can imagine him as a music critic for the New York Times, realizing his dream to be forever at the MET. After all, he likes to refer to movies to prove a point, thinks that Andrew Lloyd Weber and Puccini are kindred spirits and is considered by some to be a little bit off the beaten track.
The new president requested a copy to check before it went to print. He returned it to me with a “thank you.” I was relieved that I would continue to contribute to on the paper. I was determined to stick-it-out until I understood the real situation concerning the ministries’ corporations. As far as I could tell, the corporations were a waste of human resources and a disgraceful waste of public funds.
Japanese Style Politics
Hata held office for only three months because of Ozawa’s habit of alienating colleagues by pressuring them to accept policies he vigorously promoted like raising the consumption tax to 10 percent and more devolution for local authorities. After failing to convince the Socialists, whose party was a member of the coalition, to agree to certain policies, they left Hata’s coalition and the LDP regained seats in the Lower House general elections forcing Hata to resign the following June.
In July 1994 Tomiichi Murayama, a Socialist, assumed the post, forming another coalition cabinet composed of members of the Socialist Party of Japan, the New Japan Party and the LDP. He began to push for the reform of the administration system in order to eradicate the relationship between politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen. This movement prompted a power struggle between politicians and bureaucrats, who were intent on maintaining control over the regulation of the economy.
What an Assay!
The new president requested that the title of the editorial page be changed from Perspective to “Assay.” His inaugural Assay for the August issue. “The Matter of Article Nine” put on the record the ultra-conservative nature of Japanese politicians and bureaucrats and the effort which persists to this day to amend the Pacifist Constitution.
At the end of July, the executive committee of Japan’s Socialist Party agreed to drop its unconditional opposition to the Self-defence Forces as unconstitutional. If adopted by the emergency party congress in early September, the decision would mark one of the most important steps for the post war Japanese psyche.
For over four decades now, the ‘war-renunciation’ clauses of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and the actual existence of military forces have cast a duplicitous shadow on the minds of the Japanese people. Like many of my generation, I have had some painful experience in this regard.
As a law student a quarter of a century ago, I knew I faced a dilemma when the time for taking the test on the Constitution came. The professor who administered it was a constitutional authority well-known for his unadorned view that the Self-Defence Forces were unconstitutional. What if a student had, as I did, a different view? Given in the first term, the test was regarded as the first hurdle to be cleared. After pondering the thought, I decided to hold on to my view.
The president reported that his test result was a disappointing “B.” He blamed the Socialist Party, which occupied one-third of the house seats since the 1950s, for its opposition to any constitutional change:
Once this irrational opposition is lifted, we might be able to secure more dispassionate, realistic debate on a wider range of security issues. More important, the removal of blind opposition of a party representing a sizable segment of Japanese people should usher in a new age in which similar debate is extended to all issues. If this comes to pass, Japan can claim to have changed in one crucial way.
The president was more reserved and more in the mode of a JETRO New York president than his predecessor. The executive secretary told me that she did not like him, perhaps because she did not regard him as elite as his predecessor nor did he have an outward charm. When she confided that he had removed the Apple PC from his office and replaced it with an IBM so that he could practice on it, based on my experiences at Mercian, I envisioned that his post-retirement career could be on an IBM board either in Japan or in the US. He was very savvy and used his long-term relationship with JETRO and the ministries’ reemployment system to his advantage.
The president had a sharp analytical mind and made some revealing comments at meetings for the paper. When one of the contributors remarked that the news about Japan in American newspapers was subsiding, the president retorted that he thought that this was a good thing. In other words, no news about Japan’s dispute with the USTR was good news.
The president’s Assay in September “Japan’s Industry in Peril” concerned large Japanese industries’ moving production overseas due to the appreciation of the yen (¥100=$1), which was resulting in “industrial hollowing-out.”
My article was another attempt to put a positive spin on the African-American experience in Japan. “A Conversation with J.B. Cole” was based on an interview I conducted with Johnnetta Cole the first African American female president of Spelman College, the first college for black women in the US located in Atlanta, Georgia. Cole spoke about the Spelman College Japan Studies programme, which was funded by twelve Japanese companies and the Japan Foundation. Her son had lived in Japan for six years where he taught English.
She considered that the Japanese were very comfortable with Southerners and that Japanese corporations would do well to establish operations in the South.
Assays Stick to MITI Territory
The president remained close to home with his editorials for the paper’s last three issues for 1994. His message in the October issue “Trade Talks as Game-Playing” defended Japan’s rejection to accept numerical targets of American imports. He emphasized that European and Asian nations had also stated that numerical targets were unacceptable:
Similarly, Japan held on to its proposition that the areas for negotiations and agreements be limited to those “within the reach of government.” Indeed as a whole, US strategy this time was a failure. Relying on a dubious “lesson” that was professed to have learned from the 1986 semiconductor agreement, the United States pursued a “results oriented” approach in earnest, itself outside the common understanding of international trade.
The president accused the USTR of “game-playing” at the negotiation table, claiming victory every time Japan accepted US requests. Even though his defensive stance was unsurprising, I was convinced that Japan would continue to postpone deregulation partly because ministry officials would lose post-retirement positions in the industries under their ministries’ territorial jurisdiction.
On January 17, 1995 Japan suffered the worst earthquake disaster in its post war period. The president who was brought up near Kobe, the center of the earthquake, used his January Assay to criticize his government’s response:
The government was slow in dispatching the Self-defence forces on the rescue mission; so was it in responding to the generous offers of assistance from abroad. The delays and hesitation along with the bureaucratic wrangling that was exposed through them, were heart breaking, seriously compromising Japan’s vaunted ability to manage things. The fault lines in Japan’s half century old institutions were exposed.
Since the president was near retirement age, his position in MITI was secure despite his hard line. For my article “Before/After: Jamaica Artist conquers Japan” I interviewed the Jamaican artist again to find out how he had fared in Kobe where his exhibition was held. Although the piece painted a very positive picture about his experiences, I purposely withheld his following remarks about his treatment by the customs officials:
I felt stereotyped when I went through customs. I was in a long line and many people just went through without their luggage being checked and mine was thoroughly checked. The guy mentioned drugs to me. I asked why and they said that they were looking for drugs. I found that a bit strange. I found that my first experience going to Japan was rather racial. I don’t know why I was singled out. Maybe it was my hair. They were expecting that because of my color I had drugs. I was almost late for the bus. I was practically the last one out because of the search.
I did not mention to him that when I went through Japanese customs at Haneda Airport in the mid-seventies carrying a Japanese pillow, a customs official grilled me shouting, “Hash? Hash?”
I also purposely did not include in the article the artist’s assessment of the JETRO’s Business Support Centers (BSC) which had been conceived by the Executive Director of the Trade Promotion Division. The BSC offered exhibition space, temporary office facilities and consulting free of charge. The artist who visited the Tokyo BSC, told me:
The JETRO Business Support Center is a good idea but it needs some PR work. The location is not ideal. It’s in a big office building and there is not a lot of traffic outside the building. The entire third and fourth floors have different boutiques. I was there around lunchtime and there weren’t a lot of people about, only two or three people walking through. The owners who were exhibiting their works were just standing around. I spoke to two of them and they felt that they were losing money because there was not enough traffic. They were frustrated. One, I think, was from Morocco. One was American. I think that JETRO has to either publicize the place more or find a different location for the center to be successful.
I could hardly believe it when in January the Japanese dailies reported Prime Minister Murayama’s efforts to pressure the ministries to consolidate some of the smaller Special Status Corporations. The former Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries balked at dissolving its Raw Silk and Sugar Price Stabilization Corporation and Livestock Industry Promotion Corporation. The ministry contended that the corporations would continue to protect consumers by planning strategies that would stabilize prices. However, it was willing to merge the two corporations and in 1996 the entities were united and named the Agriculture and Livestock Industries Corporation (ALIC).
The opinion page of the Asahi Shimbun ran an article on January 9, 1995 reporting that when Murayama’s administration conducted hearings on the restructuring of Special Status Corporations, MITI was reluctant to participate and wanted to know if the restructuring concerned the number of corporations or if the discussion was related to the financing of the corporations. The article also claimed that the ministries were changing the objectives of the corporations by contriving new roles. The paper called this “skill at disguising” (henshin no gijutsu), pointing to JETRO as an example of a Special Status Corporation that had been established in 1956 for the purpose of promoting Japanese exports: “Now when you phone JETRO headquarters the receptionist answers, “JETRO, import promoter.”