Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Per a request in the comments of my previous post, let me post a few more of my notes about Yasukuni Shrine.

First of all, it is an independent religions organization not directly affiliated with the government. Over 2 million soldiers are memorialized in Yasukuni. The votes of these relatives have value, but it isn't since the Koizumi days that the media have started picking it up as a big deal. Koizumi ran for office three times before he was successful. The first two times, visits to Yasukuni were never part of Koizumi's campaign, but starting with the third try against Hashimoto, he promised to visit Yasukuni as Prime Minister to try to take this swing vote from the Hashimoto faction. Some believe that this was key to his winning the fourth election. There appears to be some "logic" in domestic politics for his action. However, I think there is a consensus that it makes no sense from a foreign policy perspective and even the US which has been rather neutral on the issue in the past seems to be concerned. On the other hand, some polls show the Japanese public divided on the issue. The Sankei newspaper is currently the only newspaper supporting Koizumi's visits the Yasukuni Shrine. The Yomiuri, which once supported his visits, now criticizes them. Some people believe that maybe there is some secret plan to use this as a bargaining chip with China in the future. However, most people believe that even if this ends up happening it was not particularly planned by Koizumi.

One expert in Japanese religion at this meeting pointed out that the original Nara Buddhism does not memorialize the dead or believe in heaven. He argued that the religious underpinnings of the necessity of memorializing the war dead didn't make sense under real Japanese Buddhism and that we should stop making such memorials in Japan... that Japan should go back to Nara Buddhism where once you died, you were dead. Full stop. Another person commented that there is a division of state and church under the Japanese constitution and these visits are a violation.

This is reiterating the obvious, but the two main point are the class A war criminals memorialized there and probably the war museum. The war museum tries to argue that the WWII was justified.

I'm at a mountain retreat with a 40 or so "leaders" of Japan. I blogged about my first trip and the discussion we had two years ago. It's a cross-sector group of people that get together every year to discuss some big topic. The topic this year is the future of Japan. This is one of the few Japanese meetings of this sort that I continue to attend because of the diversity of the group and the frankness of the discussion. It always feels like I'm peering into the heart and soul of Japan.

We covered a number of issues including Japan's relationship with Asia and the US, the aging population and the decreasing population and the economy. As usual the opinions were all over the spectrum and the debate heated and emotional. As most of you already know, the Japanese economy is recovering, but mostly because of the increase in the Chinese market. Interestingly, it's things like cement and construction in China that is helping to revive the Japanese economy fueling the dying public works industry in Japan. Most people agreed that Japan needed to work with China, but HOW to interact with China and the rest of Asia was a point of considerable debate. I am happy to report that most people thought that we needed to deal with the war history and that it was a bad idea for Koizumi to be going to Yasukuni Shrine. However, many Japanese thought it wasn't the business of China or any other country to tell Japan what to do. In fact, it was the opinion of several experts that Koizumi was going in part to spite China as evidenced by his going to the Shrine right after meeting with the Chinese delegates, etc.

One issue I brought up was how unhappy I was about Tokyo Governor Ishihara's anti-Chinese comments. (I blogged about this before.) One surprising response I got was that at least one person in the group thought he should be allowed to say what he wanted and that they didn't find such comments particularly annoying. I was pretty flabbergasted. Even some of the rather moderate people shrugged and pointed out that he was a net positive because of some of the fiscal policies he has pursued. After my rant at Davos I heard a rumor that he told at least one industry head that I was a "public enemy". I think it's something like pointing to the crazy uncle, and it is clearly unpopular to point out our Governor's faults. I did make the point that we can act as friendly as we want but as long as the two most powerful politicians of Japan were making clearly anti-Chinese gestures, whatever the reason, we would never have harmony with China.

We tried to get down to the reasons. One reason people gave for Koizumi's shrine visits was that the percentage of the population whose family have died in war feel strongly that the government should acknowledge them. There were two people who has ancestors in Yasukuni, but both of them felt the visits were inappropriate and felt that they should remove the war criminals. Various people gave Shinto practices and other things as reasons, but I didn't feel they were very strong arguments.

Then we talked about Ishihara and plain old-fashioned racism. A university professor pointed out that it was a problem, and described his theory on what may be one of the causes. Japan imported single-race nationalism as a unifying concept from Germany during the Meiji period. The Japanese word, minzoku, which refers to its people comes from das volk. Japan forced a national dialect and basically centralized control and stamped out a great deal of diversity in order to empower the central government under this process. Before this, Japan was more diverse and more tolerant. Later, this would blow up as a working philosophy in Nazi Germany and Japan. However, as a strategy of combating the threat of communism in Japan, the US occupation and the Japanese government allowed these nationalists and the sense of racial purity to remain and fester in modern Japan in order to fight the more liberal emerging left-wing of Japan. Most people agreed that Japanese needed to increase immigration to deal with the population and aging problem, but that with this latent racism and intolerance for diversity immigration would not work well.

I realize this post is getting a bit long and I have one more day at this retreat. I'll try to post anything else that comes up in the discussions.

One member of our group pointed out that there was a discussion among G8 members about dropping Japan from the G8. One of the possible reasons is that Japanese foreign minister is often the only one who doesn't speak enough English to participate directly in the conversations. Several of us pointed out that it was bad policy in this day and age to appoint people who don't speak any English as Foreign Minister. One surprising comment was another member asserting that there was nothing wrong with a non-English speaking Foreign Minister. Doh. It's this sort of block headed pride/nationalism that gets us into trouble. English is currently the primary language for international diplomacy like it or not. I think we should have Foreign Ministers who speak English, French and Chinese.

It reminds me of when I was interpreting for the chairman of NHK (The Japanese public broadcast company) in a meeting with Jack Valenti. He told me to tell Jack that "the more English a Japanese speaks, the less power he has." He was pointing out the fact that traditionally people focused their energy on gaining power in Tokyo and people who lost political battles were typically sent overseas as punishment or to get them out of the way. This was over a decade ago and things have changed, but this insular thinking continues in part because as the world's second largest GDP it is still possible to pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. sigh...

10 Most Powerful Women in Blogging


8. Joi Ito of Technorati ( ) has her hands in a lot of Web 2.0 companies, some you might not even know about yet. This makes her damn powerful. Often times the one you don’t know that well is the most powerful. My personal favorite because she seems to help people get shit done.


Sorry about having a ambiguous name, but I'm not a woman. I've been mistaken for a women by various bloggers, but this is the first time I've made it on a 10 most XYZ Women in ABC list. ;-P

via Jeff via Gothamist


On Monday the Tech editor and I will pitch the blog column idea to the top editor of the International Herald Tribune.

Great suggestions when we discussed it here earlier.

Current thinking:

The Column: Of about 700 words will appear occasionally (until we can be sure quality is high enough) in the tech pages of the newspaper.

The Title: Lessons Learned; Digital Conversation; Any other ideas? (Actually, any other ideas might be a good name!)

The Form: Could be broken into three sections of roughly 200 words or one long column if interesting enough.

The Content: Would come from you. Best, I think, to ask people to submit 100 words on a given topic. That would enforce tight writing and avoid the impossible task of trying to summarize a blog discussion. People could submit multiple items, but none longer.

The Ideas: Would come from you. But the topic would need to stay relevant to the issue of technology, since that is where the column appears.

Any thoughts? I need a strong pitch for Monday morning!!!