Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

David Sifry writes about growing pains at Technorati. He apologizes for the slow response, but assures us he's on the case.

Dan Gillmor writes about how censorware blocks his site. It's blocking mine too.

Dan Gillmor
Simon Phipps alerts me that one of the big censorware outfits, SurfControl, is blocking this and other blogs as a default setting for some customers. He points to Jon Udell's report of a surrealistic conversation with a company salesdroid upon his own such discovery. Good grief.

SurfControl puts all blogs under Usenet, a fairly bizarre characterization of the genre, but par for the course for the censorware mavens. They tend to sweep big categories into their filter, and then let you try to find your own way to escape.

Yesterday's discussions opened with a speech by Murata-sensei about the US. Here are some of my notes.

His main point was that the Japanese do not understand the US and should study more before making assumptions and decisions about the US.

There are notes that I took during the talk. Some of the figures and statements may have been misheard. If anyone has better stats or knows the sources of these stats, please let me know.

There are basically three ways to look at the strength of a nation. It's military force, the economy and the values. Values include information and culture. The US clearly the military leader, is 1/4 of the world economy, 80-90% of the Net is still in English and Hollywood is 75% of the world cinema market.

Bush has shifted a great deal from his original position of focused alliances and not sending troops to a "coalition of the willing and able" and sending troops.

Before Bush there was a great deal of focus on the Blue Team/Red Team (Anti-China/Pro-China). You rarely hear these terms these days.

The Japanese talk a lot about American Neo-Conservatism without really understanding it. The Japanese don't realize that it's specific term referring to people like Leo Strauss.

US nationalism, unlike most any other country is focused on the political system and system of government which makes it quite unique.

The US is quite religious. (not sure if I got these numbers right) 72% of Muslims polled think religion is "important" whereas 85% of Americans thought religion was "important".

18% of people in a poll thought they they were "Religious Right Wing". 12% of Americans are African-Americans. Approximately 9% of Japanese are Soka Gakkai which back the Komeito Party. His point was that even at 9% the Komeito Party is able to exert a great deal of influence over policy in Japan and this shows how powerful a force religion is in US politics.

Some people clump the neo-cons together with the religious right, but that's not very accurate. The neo-con's are rather elitist and focused on foreign policy and military issues. Most religious right are populist and more concerned with guns, religion and domestic issues.

There are approximately 6 million Jews in the US, approximately the same as the population of Israel. However, most Japanese over-estimate the influence that Jews have on US politics.

There are around 5 million Muslims in France and Germany compared to 60 million total population putting them at around 6-7% of the population. This affects their differences in opinion about the Middle East.

The US thinks there is a great deal of anti-semitism, whereas the EU and Japan feel that the US is too pro-Israel.

In a recent European poll about who was the greatest threat to world peace, 59% said Israel. Second place was a tie between the US, Iraq and Iran.

He felt that the Bush administration was changing in a positive way to adapt to the current issues.

Many well known people in Europe predicted that such a diverse country as the US would never be able to conduct global diplomacy or become a super-power because of the lack of culture, diplomatic tradition and diversity. They were obviously wrong.

If Japan today at the power that the US had, would Japan be as humble as the US is today? Historically, military might was abused during WWII and during the bubble, Japan abused its economic power. Therefore, the US is handling its power better than Japan would. China is still not ready to wield super-power. The only other country that MIGHT be able to handle itself is the UK.

Regarding the US/Japan relationship. it is asymmetrical and regardless of what the Japanese think they are not equal. There is nothing in Japan's power that will reverse the relationship regardless how well Japan does. The only chance that it would change is if there is an internal failure in the US system. This asymmetry is understood logically by Japan, but not emotionally and causes a great deal of frustration. One risk is that even if Bush stays for another term, Powell will probably leave, taking Armitage. There will be no obvious Japan expert on the team. Also, there is no obvious Japan expert on the Democratic side either. This could hurt relations between the two countries.

The Japanese understanding of the US is shallow. Most Japanese law students haven't even read the US constitution. Most of Japan's understanding of the US is economic or cultural.

"People who know only one country could not even understand their own country."

Japan is maybe lucky because the bubble burst at the end of the cold war. There was a risk that Japan could be cast as the next enemy, but the new weaker Japan did not become a target.

People complain that the US has too much power, but if it had total power, it would also be able to control the UN, which it does not.

The EU looks at the US and Middle East as immature nations which have not been able to separate the Church and the State. Europe had many bloody years of history to achieve this and the US and Islam are still coming to terms with this.

It's likely that Japan will send troops to Iraq. 60% of the people are against it, yet 60% of the people support Koizumi who has vowed to send the troops. It's likely that some of the soldiers will die. The question that is on everyone's mind is how many dead Japanese soldiers will it take before Koizumi's cabinet unwinds.

Just had an interesting lunch conversation about the Japanese military. There is a famous Japanese military head. (I didn't catch the name...) who wrote a book about the retreat from China. In it he remembers the military leaving all of the Japanese civilians behind. Okinawa was similar, where the military used the civilians as shields and ran away. This is in contrast to the image from the US where the battle of Iwo Jima and others cast the Japanese military is tough and stick-to-your-guns type. I think Iwojima was a anomaly because the tunnel network required on the island caused the US to underestimate the strength of the resistance.

The Japanese remember the military as a cowardly and powerful and remember the police state during wartime Japan and do not want to relive it.

I asked another question that came up during the Japan Society meeting about why the Japanese have so much difficulty accepting war responsibility compared to Germany. Japan was united under the Emperor and at the end of the day, all Japanese are guilty whereas in Germany they could blame it on the Nazis. Also, Japan was never invaded so people don't remember the war much, whereas Germany and other countries who were invaded with land forces remember family being killed, etc. There are other reasons, but these were rather interesting.

I will post my notes the main session in a bit.