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Good-bye, zombies .... and farewell, my Japan

As I wrote in "Ryu Murakami's fictitious scenario is more realistic than media's factual stories" (May 10, 2005, TokyoFreePress), I have made it a rule not to read any book, magazine or newspaper, written in Japanese because my mother tongue is the world's most suitable language to conceal or gloss over the truth. Yet every once in a while I come across a Japanese book, just by accident, whose title somehow makes me feel like giving it a try.

Say Good-bye to Zombies authored by Benjamin Fulford, former Asia-Pacific Bureau chief at Forbes, is one of those books. Basically this is a Japanese book because Fulford wrote it in Japanese (so it seems), his target readers are Japanese and he is now thinking about becoming naturalized here. I think I made a good decision because the amount of undistorted facts and truths presented in this 329-page book is equivalent to, or even exceeds, what little facts and truths you can expect throughout the year from the newspaper you subscribe to.

The first half of the Preface is devoted to an imaginary, but realistic, parting shot Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi delivers when leaving office in September. In the fictitious farewell address Koizumi tells the nation all the truths, for the first time, about his "reform" programs. In the last half of the Preface, Fulford cites a passage from Luke 23-34 of the New Testament. It goes: "And Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." He seems to think the ignorant people are forgivable. But he is not that sympathetic when he quotes Joseph Goebbels immediately following the citation from the Bible. Before he took a dose of cyanide in May 1945, Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister said: "I don't sympathize with the German people because they entrusted [their destiny] with us. In other words, they deserved all this." It seems to me the two contradictory citations are already indicative of the characteristic of this book which starts with merciless revelations of the state crime and ends with a bland and banal appeal for the renovation of Japan out of some sentimental reasons on the part of the author.

Throughout the book, Fulford covers even the most recently revealed scandals such as the massive falsification of earthquake-resistance data by an architect (November 2005) and the fabrication of the financial statements by former Livedoor President Takafumi Horie (January 2006). However, the most distinctive feature of this book is the fact that the author focuses on the root cause underlying the endless stream of these scams so intensively that these small-time crooks, such as Horie, do not distract his attention from what he calls the "iron square" among politicians, ministries, businesses, and yakuza.

Moreover, he even talks about what I would call the "rotten hexagon". Having been stationed in Tokyo as an economic journalist for many years, he is well aware the Japanese media always play a pivotal role to maintain, or even reinforce, this "kleptocracy". And when he cites the Goebbels' last words in the preface, he seems to know that the "ordinary" people in this country have willingly entrusted their destiny to the iron square, which really makes it a hexagon. Apparently this hexagon does not seem to be made of iron because the coalescence among the six parties now looks almost seamless.

Needless to say, the former economic journalist's forte lies with financial matters. When he uses inflammatory words such as kleptocracy, he is not just sensationalizing things. He can not only tell us whose hands the loot ended up in but also give us a rough, or sometimes precise, idea about how many trillions of yen the taxpayers have been, or will be, robbed of, wherever it is measurable from the data available to him. Nobody, therefore, can play down his solidly-founded crystal-ball that unless we drastically change the course of the "train" being pulled by the "Koizumi locomotive" very urgently, we are sunk by as early as 2007 when an enormous amount of the government bond redemption, just for instance, is going to outstrip the tax revenue plus new bond issues currently being planned by the Ministry of Finance.

Fulford also points out that in December 2001, the Financial Times ran an article titled, "Risky Tango in Tokyo". According to him, its first passage went like this: "A grim joke is doing the rounds in financial circles. What is the difference between Argentina and Japan? Five years." And as Fulford observes, the FT article is looking less and less like a joke. So, he sets the deadline somewhere in the early-2007 for Japan to change the course that certainly leads us to hell.

The real question facing the author of Say Good-bye to Zombies, as well as all of us, therefore, is: "Can we really change, in a year or so, our destination we have been heading for in the last one and a half century?" Actually the Fulford's locomotive analogy is more accurate than he may have thought it was. As I wrote in "Have we ever changed our trajectory since 1936?", each individual passenger can change his or her own destiny, e.g., by jumping off the train, if the attempt is more or less suicidal. But of course, the only way for the train to change its course is to get derailed and overturn.

During this "lost decade and a half" quite a few Japan experts and Japanophiles in the West have talked about the future of the "bewildered giant". But to my regret, practically every one of them quickly resort to what I call the "hiccup theory". According to these Western pundits, the bewilderment is only transient. John Nathan wrote in his Japan Unbound: "[The nation] has a long history of discovering in the darkest days of its bewilderment a source of renewal." Perhaps Nathan was implicitly referring to the Meiji Restoration that made Japan the Asia's leader, and the postwar miracle that enabled this country to grow into the world's second largest economy, when he insisted Japan has a proven record for a phoenix-like resilience.

It's inconceivable that these intelligent people fail to realize what the eventuality of the Meiji Restoration in the 1860s was like, and how quickly the Herman Kahn's "Japanese Century" melted down. So I suspect these cherry-picking artists, as I call them, are just trying to avoid talking about this country as a system, or a train, if you prefer the locomotive analogy, simply because they have their own "vested interest" to defend here. In this weird nation, it's only Westerners who are allowed to tell the truth, and still earn money. But there is a limit. They would be overstepping it, if they failed to promise us a rosy future in the last chapter of their books.

Perhaps our Fulford also learned in a hard way to observe this fine line when he was virtually banned from TV Asahi for his outspokenness. So if there is a certain flaw in the otherwise impeccable book, it is the fact that the author, who proclaims in an earlier chapter that "Japan is on the brink of a collapse. And time is running out," all of a sudden becomes upbeat in his final chapter ("A Road to Revitalization"). He now argues we could still change our trajectory before the Judgment Day, if the media and the ordinary citizens wake up in time. In the section captioned "Please wake up, the Media, for Christ's sake", Fulford sounds as though he still believes that these professional liars wake up one morning and say, "Hey, let's start telling the truth." Sorry to say, though, this will never happen, as long as the 116-year-old institution called the "Press Club System" remains in place. Once again, this is not a matter of willingness to change on the part of each individual person. Instead, what's at issue here is the System, and its almost preprogrammed trajectory.

As he writes in the Preface, the author once interviewed the legendary boss of Nissan Motor, Carlos Ghosn. At that time the turnaround artist told him that you are already very close to solving the problem, once you have identified it. The Ghosn's theory is unrefutably convincing because this was the formula he had applied in his successful Nissan Revival Plan of 2003. But as the author of Japan Unbound pointed out, Ghosn would never have succeeded had it not been for the fact that he is non-Japanese. And more importantly, business is an only part of the Fulford's Iron Square. So the Ghosn's saga does not apply to the issue at hand at all. In other words, it's too soon for the maverick journalist to bring up a Nippon Revival Plan only after quickly identifying the root problem inherent to this society which is already rotten to the marrow. If Fulford's revival plan should work out at all, Yasuo Tanaka's more down-to-earth initiative must have borne some fruit by the time the Nagano Governor launched his New Party Nippon toward the 9-11 poll last year, although Tanaka has one big disadvantage: he is a native Japanese.

Despite all the sticking points, however, I still believe the Benjamin Fulford's extraordinarily thought-provoking and daringly revealing book is quite an achievement. All in all, TokyoFreePress would give Say Good-bye to Zombies a 4.5-star rating, where the 0.5-point deduction represents his totally unrealistic and half-boiled propositions for Japan's resurrection. Without the superfluous final chapter, it would have been an indisputable 5-star. But once again, hat off to Fulford for practicing the real investigatory journalism despite all the adversity facing him. That's as far as an uninstitutionalized journalist can do in the nation of something-less-than-127.8-million zombies.

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