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The Only Lesson Americans Can Learn from Japanese: How to Sink

The art of losing isn't hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster. Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master.
- from One Art by American poet Elizabeth Bishop


You don't have to be a good physiognomist to tell the Japanese can expect absolutely nothing from the new State Minister in charge of national strategy (国家戦略担当大臣) or the prime minister who has appointed the bastard to fill the key cabinet position

At first their arrogance made them learning-disabled. Then, as a result, they grew helplessly ignorant. Or it may have happened the other way around - I'm not sure. But that doesn't really matter.

Time and again the Americans have failed to learn their lessons given everywhere they have been.

In 1945 they attempted to transform Japan into a sound and viable nation just by hanging seven Class-A war criminals - if you don't subscribe to the conspiracy theory, that is. They virtually acquitted the Emperor of his responsibility for driving more than three million people to death, while in fact the bastard in the palace was the first one to have climbed the thirteen steps to the gallows. They thought it was enough to time the seven executions to the 15th birthday of the heir to the throne.

Sixty five years later they still refuse to admit that what their parents and grandparents did to Japan hasn't brought about any change at all. They certify Japan as a democracy.

Then they applied more or less the same method to Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, sometimes decapitating the regime, some other times showering defenseless peasants with defoliant. But they invariably ended up in equally disastrous results.

Still defying the obvious fact that their assumption is fundamentally wrong, they cling to the delusive idea that they have magical power to change foreign countries either by removing the upper layer of the existing regime or incinerating civilians.

If they have learned something from past failures, they have understood it in the wrong way.

In 2008 they thought that at least they should be able to change their own country by ousting Bush from power. Based on the same invalid assumption, they sent a man with a permanent sun tan, as the outspoken Italian prime minister named Obama, to the White House for the first time in U.S. history.

To their dismay they saw the same outcome when the black messiah proved unable to walk on the water, especially when it was covered with spilled oil.

The only thing they can do today is to look away from it all.

On the other side of the Pacific, Japan keeps struggling as if it still deserves a viable statehood.

After the four consecutive prime ministers left office through its revolving door in less than four years, Naoto Kan was automatically promoted from the deputy premiership in the Hatoyama administration.

As usual, initial indications are that Kan will serve out his term with the media fully determined to manipulate public opinion in favor of him.

Small wonder that self-styled Japan experts in the U.S. insist in concert that the country is quickly getting back on the right track with its health miraculously turning around overnight. To them the chaotic political situation before and after the transition of power from the Liberal Democratic Party to the Democratic Party of Japan was nothing but a spell of hiccups.

Breathtakingly stupid.

True, Kan will most probably withstand longer than his predecessor's. In fact, though, the longevity of an administration does not serve as an indication of the stability of a regime or the viability of a nation.

The overall quality of people does.

American pundits, who have quickly jumped at Kan on the pretext of his soaring approval rating, should explain why then they don't praise Mao Zedong, Joseph Stalin and Fidel Castro as great leaders.

To that end they are determined to downplay the fact that in a matter of a week since its launch, the new administration was faced with formidable problems cropping up one after another.

For one thing Shizuka Kamei resigned as Minister in Charge of Banking and Postal Services in Day 4 of the Kan government, because of the feud between his People's New Party and Kan's Democratic Party of Japan. Kamei complained that Kan had made him lose face over the re-nationalization of what used to be the Japan Post.

Aside from Kamei's departure, a couple other scandals have surfaced in the meantime.

One of the small-time thieves involved there is Satoshi Arai, State Minister in Charge of Civil Service Reform and Declining Birthrate (photo on the top,) whose expense statement was found filled with the vouchers for purchases of "NANA," manga (a cartoon) said to be popular among girls in grade schools, lingerie items such as a sexy camisole and many other filthy and/or kiddie stuff.

As usual the media are trying to trivialize the revelation by asking their favorite legal "experts" and morons from law schools a false question: whether or not these expenditures are legally reimbursable with taxpayers' money in the light of Political Funds Control Law.

But actually nothing like that is really at issue. The real issue with Japanese policymakers lies in the fact that not a single one of them has integrity.

Kan's inaugural address of June 4 was an unmistakable sign that Arai's case is just the tip of the tip of the iceberg. It lacked integrity and was filled with empty and wornout words. If there was something not so banal there, it's a weird phrase with which he described his goal; he said he will bring about 最小不幸社会, or "a least unhappy society."

Needless to say, American pundits have shrugged off the series of revelations as something for my Japan Trivia series on the pretext that these irregularities pale before the unscrupulous crime committed by former Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa.

Incidentally, Ozawa's resignation as Secretary General of the DPJ means nothing. The "Shadow Shogun" is just sitting out until the dust settles.

Despite all these fallacies we hear on both sides of the Pacific, I see yet another evidence that the terminally ill nation is further sinking into the bottomless abyss.

The Japanese should know that they can't do anything about that anymore.

But at the same time they should ask themselves why on earth the American people cling so desperately to the same old delusion that the U.S.-Japanese strategic alliance is still functioning.

My answer:

You have to sink yourself to keep pace with a sinking partner.

Even though pundits have difficulty agreeing to the law of physics, a kindergarten kid can easily understand it.

The progress of the decline of the U.S. is also irreversible now. And the Japanese should feel responsible for that.

Ironically enough there's something the brain-dead Japanese still can do for the Americans in that respect: the United States can find an important lesson in its failing ally.

Whether or not the Americans feel like learning something there is a different story. I'm just tipping them off because I owe them so many things I've learned in my lifetime. Maybe I'm only talking about their parents or grandparents. They were people who had high self-esteem, and yet were open-minded toward new ideas. Among other things, I admired their inventiveness.

The lesson I am talking about is how to sink, certainly not how to avoid sinking deeper.

There is a universal truth about the beginning of an era and its end which can be summarized like this:

You can do it in your way when you are on the rise, but you can't when you are on the decline.

Another way to say the same thing is that you know when to rise, and how, but you can't tell when to sink, and how. As a matter of fact, though, the Americans have grown too arrogant to admit they are no longer entitled to tell when and how the final curtain should fall on them.

These days not a few Americans admit they are living in the twilight years of the American century. But nobody is ready to accept the idea that their nation's collapse is at their doorstep.

Take a look at the GDP race between the U.S. and China. If you apply rules of thumb and assume nominal GDP of the two nations to grow at an annual rate of 3.5% and 9.5%, respectively, you will know China will catch up with the U.S. by 2030. The American people think they still have twenty years to pull away from China.

In fact, though, you never know from statistics whether China rises while America stands still or America sinks while China stands still. That's basically why I wrote we should forget the showings in the Economic Olympics when talking about the real standing and fate of a nation.

And who knows if America's downslide will not accelerate as was the case with Japan? All we can tell for sure is that it is very unlikely that the progress will decelerate. This is another law of physics.

If there is a little more comprehensive and relevant measure to quantitatively gauge nations' vigor, it's the showing in International Competitiveness.

There seem to be two or more different ways to indexize a nation's competitive edge. But apparently the method employed by IMD World Competitive Center based in Lausanne, Switzerland is considered the most reliable one.

Take a look at the following ranking table based on the IMD Yearbooks:

1990 2009 2010
United States Not Available 1 3
China Not Available 20 18
Japan 1 17 27

NOTE: I could not locate on the web the 1990 data for the U.S. and China.

Japan was an indisputable No. 1 back in 1990, just on the eve of the burst of the bubble economy in the country. But by 2009 it had fallen to No. 17 and the latest IMD Yearbook further downgraded it to No. 27.

Some savvy economists here have termed what has happened in the lost 20 years "Japan's Galapagosization."

Actually, Japan's dramatic decline shown here holds two important lessons for the Americans.

Lesson 1:.All along the Japanese didn't realize that their relative position to other countries was plummeting so rapidly. It's as recently as a couple of months ago that they became aware even the Thais had outperformed them.


To them this was something too unpleasant to look at.

No other people are more concerned about their international standings than the Japanese. Because of, rather than despite this pathological obsession with rankings, they tried hard to look away from their sagging competitiveness until their dismal showings became too apparent to ignore - which is when it was too late.

Lesson 2: Equally important to note is the fact that Japan has not sunk this deep without a reason. It's inevitable that a marathon runner slows down in the last half of the race, but man's economic activity is not a marathon.

Pundits are foolish enough to cite the burst of the bubble economy in the early 1990s as the reason. But the burst is the result, not the cause. Moreover, there is no such thing as a bubble that does not burst.

I don't want to elaborate on the particular reason for Japan's failure because that's what I have done time and again in the last six years.

The only thing I want to stress here is that it's not figures, but something to be measured qualitatively, that really count. All these showings in the Economic Olympics don't tell the whole story about a nation and its people. Numbers are nothing but the results from something else.

In its June 12-18 issue, The Economist editorializes about problems facing the U.S. today under a long title that reads: "What's wrong with America's right - too much anger and too few ideas; America needs a better alternative to Barack Obama." In that article the editors of The Economist observe: "For most of the past half-century, conservative America has been a wellspring of new ideas - especially about slimming government."

So far, so good.

But the editors conclude Britain's centrist prime minister David Cameron can be a model for a new America. I think they are mistaken because there won't be a new America in the first place - at least until Civil War II possibly breaks out.

Now that both conservatives and liberals look to have run out of new ideas, the Americans had better look eastward, instead, because the only relevant lesson for them is not how to straighten out the mess Obama has caused in a matter of 18 months, but how to bow out from the center stage of the international community while minimizing the pains to be involved there.

I'll give you one example: If and when the U.S. withdrew from the United Nations, the international organization would instantly fall apart. Needless to say, the world would be much better off without the holdover from the days before Mao Zedong expelled Chiang Kai-shek from the Chinese continent.

Let me summarize; the two lessons all come down to this:

The Americans should be modest enough to accept the fact that they have lost control over their own fate, let alone other peoples', solely because of their unparalleled ignorance and arrogance. There won't be any graceful exit for them anymore. Yet at least, they still can avoid looking unnecessarily ugly if they learn to look at America's longtime ally as it really is.

Once upon a time the Americans really outshone other peoples in the world. Just for their name's sake, they should not choose to linger on as disgracefully as the Japanese.

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[FEATURE] The Only Lesson Americans Can Learn from Japanese: How to Sink
Authored by: samwidge on Wednesday, June 16 2010 @ 12:23 AM JST

We have a few Bill Clintons over long periods of time. You have many Bill Clintons over short periods of time.

It works out.

You, Mr. Yamamoto, are one blogger who has vast experience in international affairs. Americans have many bloggers of minimal experience at anything. Ours are running things.

Honestly! I read 20 to 30-newspapers each day. The bloggers are most interesting because our bloggers have only one intention and that is to be rude to each other and to the people elected. These same bloggers have big control over our government.

We shouldn't be surprised. We should be riveted. The democratic process is a careening monster. It always has been.

I find one thing about each of us. You and I occasionally change a mind or two. You and I in our separate spheres cause several people each year to reassess their views of political and military should-be and should-not-be moves.

Certainly! It is disappointing that the great masses of little people and the small microcosms of "big" people must be more busy at getting attention than at succeeding at work.

On the other hand; There are billions of them and just a few of us. That we change any minds at all is remarkable.

Take your good friend, Doctor Gordon Chang for example; Unlike us, he has spent much of his life dealing with these problems. He has a little more success in this, his own specialty. You and I, without his credentials, do well enough.

I was reminded of two famous politicians who spent much time in Montana near my home. Each was a senator. Each was a Democrat. Each had a straight shot at becoming president. Each is respected by both parties. They are Mike Mansfield (who became Ambassador to Japan) and George McGovern (who became Ambassador to Italy).

They come from a happier time when protagonists from the two parties spoke well of each other. That was when our politicos campaigned on the idea that they were good, not that their opponents were bad.

The change here is startling. Though we all make mistakes, it is hard to believe that our leaders are such losers.

It is true that the people in office and those anticipating office must spend more effort in public relations than in doing effective work.

Public relations is like the wrapper on a loaf of bread: When the world first learned to preserve bread with a weak layer of paper, we consumed the bread with little concern. Now bread wrappers are heavy, non-porous plastic and the plastic never decays because it is a better product than the bread it protects. The bread lasts longer so we eat more stale bread because, well... just because.
[FEATURE] The Only Lesson Americans Can Learn from Japanese: How to Sink
Authored by: Y.Yamamoto on Wednesday, June 16 2010 @ 05:14 PM JST


samwidge:

I always find it heartening to hear from an American who has first-hand knowledge about the two different countries: America in the good old days and America as it is today.

I may sound as if I am a doomsayer, but actually I still see a ray of hope that someday a handful of realistic as well as idealistic Americans, like you, may be able to ignite people's enthusiasm toward a viable America beyond these pointless disputes between liberals and conservatives, or unilateralists and multilateralists.

In the meantime I still believe Obama should keep his hand off Japan, Afghanistan and Iraq because the man should really focus his efforts on the Gulf oil spill.

Yu Yamamoto