Sunday, October 22, 2006

Sport as a social lubricant; the Japanese security debate; readings; and my father, the "trading god"?

I would like to take a brief time out from observing Japan to provide a link to a profile of my father in the current issue of Fortune Magazine, in which he relates his insight on markets and trading. For the most part it is a brief snapshot of the in-depth interview he did with Steven Drobny in Inside the House of Money , although in this profile the author quotes another trader oddly referring to him as a "trading god" -- but at least the picture is good.

Meanwhile, I've been making my way through the September / October issue of The American Interest. The American Interest was the product of the "secession" of Francis Fukuyama and others from The National Interest. I found the quality of the magazine during its first year somewhat uneven -- some issues read like "Fukuyama and friends" -- but in this issue it seems that AI has found its voice. I, of course, found the series of articles on Asia interesting: Michael Green on democracy promotion in the region, Mike Mochizuki on contemporary Japanese nationalism, John Ikenberry on American strategy in Asia, and an extraordinary academic essay by Waseda University's Norihiro Kato on the Japanese phenomenon of かわいい (kawaii, or cuteness). Beyond this "Asiaplex" -- AI's word -- several articles on religion and politics definitely merit a read. I particularly enjoyed Carl Schramm and Robert Litan's essay "Capital Ideas," which dissects the types of capitalism present in the world today and suggests that it might be more useful to make foreign policy decisions based on the type of capitalism found in the relevant country. Their categories could prove more useful than the blanket characterizations of "democracy," "autocracy," etc. Unfortunately these articles are available online to subscribers only.

As for Japan, the current debate now is on what Japan is legally allowed to do to enforce UN sanctions on North Korea. The debate fixes around the 1999 周辺事態法 -- the Shuhen jitai hou, known in English as the Law Concerning Measures to Ensure the Peace and Security of Japan in Situations in the Area Surrounding Japan (link for Japanese readers) -- which was passed to give substance to the 1998 revision of the Guidelines for US-Japan Defense Cooperation. Members of the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have argued, including Foreign Minister Aso Taro (link in Japanese), that the law, which has yet to be used to provide a basis for Japanese security activities, enables the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force to participate in interdiction at sea; Ozawa Ichiro, head of the opposition DPJ, staunchly opposes acting on the basis of the law. For now, Prime Minister Abe has demurred from revealing whether Japan will act based on the 1999 law or whether it will pass a new enabling law (Japan passed laws that enabled the Japan Self-Defense Forces to contribute to the Afghanistan Campaign and the reconstruction of Iraq). I am not going to go into this too much further, because I have an inkling that I might write an article on this question, but it seems that Japan has come to the point when it has to decide when the "normalization through law" that it has undertaken since the aftermath of the Gulf War will become "normalization in deed." This is the question upon which the current debate hinges.

Meanwhile, the crisis appears to have abated somewhat, with indications that Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan was told that North Korea isn't planning any more nuclear tests. One wonders, though, what Mr. Tang told Kim Jong Il on his visit to Pyongyang. I applaud Condi Rice's world tour -- it's nice to have a secretary of state willing to travel when the situation requires it -- but this little episode reminds us all once again that the outcome of this crisis will be decided in Beijing.

I've made progress on Barnett's book but I am waiting to finish it before I comment. Don't worry -- I'm sure many of you were -- I have plenty to say.

Life at Kaiyo Gakuen remains pleasant. The students have overcome their shyness and they now energetically address me with their newly learned English. This afternoon I played (American) football with another member of the staff and a horde of students this afternoon. I felt like I was back at Lincoln Hall, playing football at recess -- except this time I was twice as old and at least a head taller than most of the other players. I also played catch for a while. I am continually surprised at how sports enable one to communicate with nearly anyone. The kids are baseball crazy, and with my knowledge of Japanese baseball, baseball is a popular topic of conversation. (The Chunichi Dragons of Nagoaya, located a few train stops away in Aichi Prefecture, won the first game of the Japan Series last night against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters [no, they're not Ham Fighters -- the team is sponsored by the company Nippon Ham, and located in Hokkaido].) (Oh, and as I write this, a few boys ask if I have a girlfriend -- so I guess there's always that as a topic of conversation.)

So things are good here. The weather may be starting to turn; it was cool and threatening rain most of today.

If anyone reading this has any questions for me about my life here, Japanese and Asian politics, or any other topic, fire away. I will be happy to answer them in future posts.

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