Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

helping plant a tree with Governor Domoto at the Tokyo University Forest in Chiba.
Yesterday, we visited the Tokyo University Forest in Chiba. It was established in 1894 and has been vital in studying forestry issues. In the book Dogs and Demons, Alex Kerr writes about how the national policy to plant Cedar is misguided and is the cause and an example of many of the problems in Japan. He uses it as an example of bad bureaucratic policy and inability to change once something is on track. We talked a lot about the cedar problem. We saw sketches by researchers from the early 1900's trying to think about how to manage forests and increase productivity. This planning didn't look or sound nearly as stupid as it sounds in the book. Also, the problem with forests and big forest projects, is that they are quite difficult to change. The Tokyo University Forest is a multi-generational project and has some research projects that are now almost a century old. It seems understandable that the researchers in 1900 didn't realize that Japan would be aging and importing in 2003... So, the take-away for me was that although Kerr's book captures many of the facts, it didn't seem like the researchers were as ignorant, stupid or evil as you might think after reading Dogs and Demons. They are concerned and are trying to figure out what to do and there is the problem of a bureaucracy with a lot of inertia that they must deal with.

We talked about Japanese animism. In Japan, there is a concept of the Sato Yama which doesn't really translate directly into English. It's the small mountain forest which often has the spring where the river flows from. The community cares for the forest and the river. There is a great deal of Shito ritual involved. People used to make little shrines at the springs where the rivers start. The God of the river was worshiped. (Incidentally, this God is female.) The God makes sure that you don't pee in the river or otherwise taint the source of the water for those people downstream. Very practical. Many people have forgotten these rituals and people are building golf courses on top of springs. Alex Kerr also writes about Japan's "love of nature" being sort of fake. I think that it is quite misguided, but I did sense a real love of nature and a hope that things could change from the forestry researchers that we talked to. As Alex Kerr points out, there was a lot of public works money poured into rivers and forests that caused harm, but the researchers seem to be trying to guide things back on course.

Governor Domoto is creating a new bill to allow people to set up special communities to manage Sato Yama's. A community is in charge of a small forest/mountain/river/spring and they follow many of the Shinto rituals and provide for themselves. This sounds interesting.

The researchers also talked about the extinction of the Japanese Wolf. There is evidence that they were exterminated systematically, although this is not conclusive. There are rumors that meat laced with poison is secretly used in Hokkaido. In any case, there are no more wolves on the main island of Honsshu, so there are a lot of deer and wild boar spreading across Japan. The deer cause wear on the land and also spread the dreaded forest leech. These tiny leeches can spring up your pant leg or through your socks and attach themselves very quickly. They seem to be areal problem for people treking through the mountains these days. They showed us a map of the deer territory in Chiba and how it had expanded. Then they showed up the spread of the leeches which basically mapped the spread of the deer. They also explained how the wild boar usually leads the way creating the paths and the deer follow.

The local farmers have been pleading to the Governor to figure out a way to get rid of the deer. We all decided that systematic extermination was a bad thing. Maybe we should make venison and wild boar a Chiba delicacy and start a trend. We started by eating a wild boar that was caught in the forest. It was good. ;-)

Nobuo Ikeda has recently been attacking me. I wrote about this before. He recently wrote an email to Dave Farber's list attacking me again. This attack seems to have more substance so I have tried to address his points. I wonder if this is the "critical debate" I've been fighting for. ;-p

My comments are in italics.

-----Original Message-----
From: IKEDA Nobuo
To: Dave Farber
Subject: Re: [IP] revolution in Japan
Date: Thu, 06 Feb 2003 20:58:40 +0900

I can't understand what Jo Ito means by "revolution", but I am afraid that he is preventing the evolution of the Internet in Japan. Yesterday we had a symposium titled "E-Governmet for Whom?"

I don't think anyone other than Ikeda-san thinks I'm am preventing the evolution of the Internet so I won't address this point directly. If he would elaborate, I will happily defend my position. (in Japanese)

We discussed the National ID problem, to which Ito is opposing strongly.

His colleague is arguing "I don't want to be a number". We concluded that it was a non-probelm whether people become numbers or not, because they are already numbered and could be searched by their names and addresses. Try Google.

Universal numbers are more dangerous than name/address combinations. Anyone trying to merge databases knows that it is very difficult and much more expensive to merge databases that don't have unique serial numbers. Google is useful, but there is very little information about me on Google that I have not made explicitly available. The government has ID information of whistle blowers, FOIA requesters, people who subscribe to subversive newsletters, face recognition data for blacklists for a variety of government agencies and arrest records (including people who were not charged). This information is often leaked. A universal numbering system will make it much easier for this information to be abused. The numbering system has been passed without clear guidelines about the government use of personal information. Also, privacy enhancing technologies and better architecture could have significantly reduced he risk of personal information being leaked by the government, but such suggestions were ignored and the system set up before thorough public debate. For instance, since the ID cards will be smart cards, why were 11 digit human readable numbers chosen instead of longer non-human readable numbers? Why were static numbers chosen instead of some sort of session key based authentication system?

Ito insists that Japanese govt should strengthen the privacy bill to enforce "self-information control rights" to allow everybody to control all data that contain his/her name. In our symposium, we agreed that it was very dangerous to empower everybody to "censor" the personal data. Even the notorious EU directive is not enforcing such a strong restriction.

I would like to clarify that I think that the privacy bill regulating non-government entities is fine or in some ways too strong. My primary issue with the privacy bill is that it has much weaker restrictions on the use and cross-refrencing of personal information by the government. There is no watch-dog organization which oversees privacy violations by the government, the bill is VERY loose about the government's use of personal information. The Japanese government in notoriously abusive of information about individuals.

Yesterday I discussed it with a Microsoft official, and today I talked about it with an Intel official. They encouraged me to stop such a dangerous "privacy" bill that regulates the Net.

Again, I think that self-regulation and disclosure of privacy policies by commercial enterprises is sufficient. My main concern is the abuse by the government. The government watches us, but who watches them?
Ikeda, Nobuo
Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry

Domoto-san was very excited about find a busy bee in one of the flowers she picked.
Mizuka and I are with a small group of people in Chiba touring the countryside with Governor Domoto for two days. We visited several flower farmers today and had lunch at a restaurant where all of the fish were caught today. We're staying in a small hotel with a... pulse dial phone. ;-) Unfortunately, my PHS wireless Internet doesn't seem to work here. I brought my Hassy with me and most of my lenses. Hopefully I'll get some nice shots...

There is a strange similarity between camera gear and guns & ammo. Every place we stop, I have the trunk open snapping this on, reloading that, etc. Luckily, the bodyguard with Domoto-san is the one who likes to talk to me about cameras...

In September last year, I blogged about the Tokyo Electric Power Co., lying to the government about the cracks in the nuclear power plant. This was a huge scandal where the president and the chairman of Tokyo Electric Power resigned. Asahi had reported that the whistleblower was fired after the whistleblowing and METI had reported that he was fired before.

As you know, I am a strongly in favor of figuring out how to protect whistleblowers. They may seem "unethical" to typical Japanese small group oriented ethics, but when thinking about global ethics, it is essential that people think ethically outside of their groups and speak up when necessary... I've been working on the Japanese whistleblower protection bill. (Although the final version seems quite weak and not at all what I had recommended...)

Sakiyama-san wrote a comment in the entry today about this and also mentioned that Asahi has removed their article about the TEPCO incident. Coincidentally, I have been exchanging email with the whistleblower and just got permission to post the email exchange.
Disclaimer: I have no way to confirm for sure that I am interacting with the real whistleblower, but I can't think of a motive to lie to me and he sounds sincere.I have confirmed the identity of the whistleblower.

Date: Fri Feb 7, 2003 06:52:53 Asia/Tokyo
Subject: Tepco Scandal

To Joi

I saw an article off the Internet that stated the individual who brought to light the Tepco scandal was fired from his job. That is incorrect. I was laid off in June of 1998 and due to GE's overwhelming integrity throughout my career I was compelled to reciprocate in June of 2000. GE Nuclear is rampant with cronyism, riddled with nepotism and racism in my over 20 years of service with them.

Former GE Senior Field Services Engineer

--- Joichi Ito wrote:
To clarify... You were laid off before the scandal, but you participated in the whistle blowing in June of 2000?

When you say, "overwhelming integrity" at GE, what are you referring to?

I'd love to write something about this if possible.


- Joi

Date: Fri Feb 7, 2003 15:37:05 Asia/Tokyo
To: Joichi Ito
Subject: Re: Tepco Scandal


Overwhelming is my sarcastic reply actually meaning they GE have no integrity. I gave GE a chance to show integrity for two years after my layoff but they refused to come to the table.I had no choice but to come forward with integrity. I had no idea it involved so many but I am not surprised.

Date: Fri Feb 7, 2003 15:38:13 Asia/Tokyo
To: Joichi Ito
Subject: Re: Tepco Scandal


I don't want my name released to the public at this time although Japanese news agencies received leaks and contacted me in California last September. No interviews were given. METI will not even release my name or allegation documents. I just wanted to make a correction to the Internet article.

I wonder who leaked the information about him/her to the press. What prevents the same sources from leaking information to other sources? Doesn't sound like very good "protection" to me.

The weeklies in Japan are writing about a scandal at the Nikkei, one of the largest Japanese newspapers. They report that a whistle blower inside of the Nikkei sent email to the management at Nikkei about the 10's of millions of dollars worth of fake checks that were issued by a Nikkei subsidiary. The whistle blower apparently claims that the president of the Nikkei was involved and these funds were used to create dirty money. According to the weeklies, the president is being bumped up to chairman, which is a Japanese way of removing him from operations. It's the talk of the town. The weeklies are notoriously slanderous and the Nikkei is apparently threatening to sue. This is an interesting incident worth following because a scandal by the head of one of the biggest newspapers is going to be difficult for the mass media to report. Currently none of the major newspapers have reported this incident.