Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Gave a talk at the American Chamber of Commerce of Japan yesterday. Americans living in Japan are the most fun to speak to because they generally agree with what I say. ;-) It's a bit like preaching to the choir and obviously, I'm not adding as much value as when I'm debating with my opponents, but the Q&A session after my talk was good and there were a lot of good comments and thoughts. In addition to my "ad hoc society of Japanese revolutionary wannabes" maybe I should try to participate in more meetings about democracy with foreigners living in Japan...

I was at the lunch table with Thierry Porte and Kumi Sato, both vice presidents of ACCJ who told me that I have to become a member of the ACCJ. ;-)

Anyway, I talked about Democracy, Weblogs, Risks and Japan. It was a slightly modified and improved version of the talk I gave at the MIT Forum. Here is the 32MB PDF file of my Keynote presentation.

Update: Here's the 12MB Keynote file.


Joi, as an fervent member of the choir ;) I don't find too much to argue with here.

Many friends have asked me what Tokyo/Japan is like in the few weeks that I've been here and the thing that strikes me most profoundly, (which is plainly obvious to all) is the homogeneity of the population. While I realize that changing that aspect of Japan may take decades, I think that it is the heart of the issue (in many different ways) for Japan moving forward. A more heterogeneous population would create demands for alternative news, alternative politics, alternative perspectives, etc. The implications are enormous, but so are the challenges to that level of reform. I still don't know if it is possible.

So even little pieces of news like Anthony Bianchi, who's running for office in Japan is a step in the right direction, but Japan's insular immigration policy ought to be tossed out with the recycling. For every step that there seems to be towards a more open society in Japan, we have conservative politicians and their supporters keeping the status quo intact. We all know that systems as large as nations are happiest at rest...

One small related vignette: I was lunching with new friends in NYC before I left for Japan. They were bankers who were returning from a number of years overseas with US and European banks in Asian offices. Out of all of the major financial centers in Asia and SE Asia, expat bankers like Tokyo the least, I was told. Other cities in Asia are more foreigner-friendly, had a larger English-speaking populations, and are easier to work in, to do deals in, and live in. "Japan is for the Japanese," was the phrase they used, and it really rang true to me then and now. That is one of the key problems to solve for Japan to get out of it's own way and re-emerge upon the global stage as a true partner, and not just as a bank to borrow money from.

Gen Kanai writes: "Out of all of the major financial centers in Asia and SE Asia, expat bankers like Tokyo the least, I was told."

Interestingly enough, the recent Economist survey of South Korea says the same thing about Seoul. Judging from too much time spent listening to them in Tokyo pubs, I suspect that expat bankers just like to complain about the places in which they live.

I just read the Bianchi link and it occurred to me how it seems foreigners (or at least, those who look like, since Bianchi was nationalized as Japanese) have a better chance of being elected outside of Tokyo. I don't know what the statistics are for this country, but I would guess that the largest foreigner population exists in Tokyo (discounting US military holdouts). So, what does this mean? That there are still too many geezers at the top :) It's definitely old news to hear that Japan has homogeneity issues, and what's more interesting is that the Japanese are probably the least represented of the Asian race in other nations around the globe (again, another unscientific guess, but with some damn good exposure to back it up). Look at your thousands of colleges, even boarding high schools, and you see more Chinese and Korean nationals. Sure, a lot probably has to do with issues those two countries have had that essentially ran their citizens out (and yes, I realize they're not the only Asian races), but aside from tourist season, how often do you really see Japanese in other countries? They're too content in this country; only a disaster will get citizens moving. It also doesn't help that these things happen. That's hardly resolving the real issue, and only furthers the bad rep foreigners get in this country. Have they never heard the practice of treating the habit, and not just reprimanding the accomplice? This country is so far from being enlightened, it makes me sick.

actually, i meant to add a question/request for Joi -- for those of us who are at least interested in testing the waters on how to institute change in this country, what do you suggest? It might help during future discussions about "...democracy with foreigners living in Japan" (which I definitely hope you'll follow up on), to give possible avenues down which those interested might take to make a difference. Only problem is, I myself am rather pessimisstic about the possibility; the political network at the top is not only very old, but it's hard enough to get certain Japanese corporations with serious global breadth and influence to change, and who really gives two shits about Japan these days anyways (besides all those annoying candidates creating more noise pollution)? There's a reason the biggest come-backs by Japanese companies was because an 'outsider' was placed at the top. When I asked how you would change Sony, Joi, it was a bit of a downer to hear your take (i.e. the external group). Is there really no way from inside?....

Enjoyable talk Joi, really succinct about the problems of "thin" democracy, and at least not completely depressing about the opportunities. Today I went to Alice Walker's speech at the FCCJ, which was, in some interesting ways, complementary to yours: her theme was the practice and results of exclusion, and how the world suffers from it. Her potential solutions to the mass of suffering and insanity that current military/industrial/governmental systems have perpetuated leans heavily on the creation of circles of support, specifically, but not limited to women's "councils" (with a heavy emphasis on the wisdom of grandmothers that's largely ignored). Funny, I thought of blogging as a kind of circle.
In the end both Alice and you came to the overlapping conclusion that unless people are motivated in their own right, significant, lasting change isn't viable. The change that's needed is a change in consciousness. One person asked her when America would have a Black female president, and her response was basically that it doesn't matter; what if it was Condoleeza (ugh!). Yeah, those are tatemae, not honne solutions, I thought to myself.

You're more than welcome to join in our Democrats Abroad experiment: meetings are the 3rd. Tuesday of each month at the Pink Cow the pink cow
It's a pretty active, impassioned group of everyday people, with lots of debate and information with many diverse viewpoints.

Hey Joi! you forgot to mention that you met Cecil Howell!...a landmark event, if not more!
You said that everone agreed with you....many of the your comments were on point:), but others lifeted my left eyebrow a few centementers;). For example, (racial) diversity may be a catalyst for deomocracy, but is not a prerequisite (assuming that there is an actual democracy somewhere in this world!) (check the caribbean). It was definately a good event and great information.
Re: the issues of why Japanese people don’t take actions to curb such pressing social ills...I believe the last time the Japanese as a people took extreme action, they paid a very heavy price indeed, and that is a mistake that (fortunately? unfortunately?) they have decided never to make again. nuff said.
C! (with luv)....and I`m out!
PS. Yo jo! thanks for the PDF, I was going to ask you for the PPT slides.
P.P.S. Crazy sista Terry...check your email.
PPPS. Matt, we didnt meet formally, but I understand the basis for your skeptacism...but if there is one thing that history has taught me is that where there is hope there is possibility. So...dont give up hope!
Ok...i am REALLY leaving now. (I will not get addicted to blogging...I will not get addicted to blogging!)
oh, i forgot to wish everyone a happy golden week! people do that in Japan?

Joi, post the native XML Keynote file in addition to the PDF.

Matt: Re Sony. (And this relates to the diversity issue)... If you take a scientific look at genetic drift and evolution, you find that in large populations, mutations and change are overwhelmingly damped by the influence of strong genes in the gene pool. The "edges" do not flourish so to speak. When you get smaller populations or physically isolated groups, mutations can be adapted into the gene pool more easily. Take a look at the galapagos Islands. Same with the idea of excitation of neuronal columns in the brain. They think that it is the edges where the "new ideas" get formed to come back in influence the rest of the cerebral cortex.

Sorry about the strange metaphors, but when you think about emergent behavior, it is interesting to note that most new ideas start in small groups which our in some way protected from the sustained influence of the large body of the main stream yet have the ability to come back and try to influence the main body with an idea that resonates with everyone.

Diversity is important in politics just like diversity is important in genetic stability. You need to have a diversity of ideas to have a competition of ideas. Without diversity everything become brittle and fragile and monolithic.

Cecil. I think you might be referring to the War. If you are, I don't think it is a good example. There were a few people in power who wanted to take Japan to war. The obedient Japanese just followed. I have heard that most of the Japanese who flew on the Kamikaze missions actually did not want to go. That is why Japan so easily became pacifist. It was not a uprising of the people, but a coup by the military.

When I speak of diversity, I mean it broadly. Not just racially. You can have diversity without racial diversity, but racial diversity is a VERY good way to create cultural diversity.

Terri, I would love to attend a meeting!

Spencer: done.

Hmmm, when I try to download the Keynote format file, I'm only getting a 2.1 KB file that doesn't open in Keynote.

OK I tried zipping it. Please try downloading it again...

Joi wrote:
> If you take a scientific look at genetic drift and evolution, you find that in large populations, mutations and change are overwhelmingly damped by the influence of strong genes in the gene pool.

I wonder if a similar phenomenon applies to family names, where "strong" -- by which I mean "prevalent" -- names tend to drive other more minor family names extinct. I heard a rumor that in China, you can cover half of the population with a handful of family names -- e.g. 王,黄,李 I wonder whether that observation is in fact true, and whether it would also apply e.g. to Korea - 金,朴 etc.

"Cecil. I think you might be referring to the War. If you are, I don't think it is a good example. There were a few people in power who wanted to take Japan to war. The obedient Japanese just followed." -

True, but is this not the case with most wars? Looking at the major US polls right up until the war, most Americans, even though they agreed on the fact that Mr. Hussein had to go, they did not agree on US unilateral action....yet and still when U. Sam blew the start whistle....they were off!

So, within the context of my previous statement, the last time the Japanese government, made a collective decision to correct what they felt (what I will call in a very broad sense, a "wrong") they paid for it. I do think that this singular event had and continues to have a profound effect upon the Japanese socio-political such an extent that what you call "pacifism” towards (armed) conflict morphed into in activism on social/economic/political fronts as well. The differences between post-war Japanese culture and pre-war Japanese culture, even though not entirely a direct result this event, are inextricably intertwined with it.

Now, having stated this, my perspective on Japan is limited to the X hundred Japanese that I have met, and the X tens that are my friends. I also am fully aware that Tokyo does not represent the entire Japanese populace. In this perspective, I would say that my insight is limited.

But!....maybe if I picked up some farm land in Chiba....and get some of that fresh !いなか(inaka) perspective, I might see things a bit differently!!

Peace to all, and have a great week.

(no I am NOT addicted to blogging.)


...better chance of being elected outside of Tokyo. I don't know what the statistics are for this country, but I would guess that the largest foreigner population exists in Tokyo

Tokyo is pretty sparse, actually. Foreign nationals make up only about 2.3-5% of the population (a bit more if you add in undocumented). In other areas they account for more than 10%.

Hi Joi:
Thought you'd want to know that your talk inspired a discussion, detailed at: Seeds of Change? Very Freeform Discussion of a Slice of Democratic Life in Japan

"During the holiday, my Japanese partner and I spent some time with friends, a Japanese couple in their mid-50s who live in Chiba. We had an interesting discussion about the local citizen (shimin) movement. (They want to be anonymous, so lets call them Yoko and Yasujiro). The catalyst was the PDF of Joichi Ito's "Weblogs, Democracy, Entrepreneurship in Japan"
talk at the American Chamber of Commerce on 4.18.03. I told them about the speech and they talked about local everyday peoples activism in Chiba. Yoko's experience came from a twenty-year old co-op organization called Shimin Network, a loose group of women's circles devoted to making it easier to access healthier food and lifestyles, and to getting their agenda to be part of the local political process. Yoko was very involved in creating and nurturing Shimin Net..."

The full article is on my first blog (yayy!), Tokyo Progressive Forum
I haven't figured out trackbacks, pings and things yet (and it's only been up a few hours so it's a monolog at the moment). But it feels good to do it. I should chronicle the experience for Movable Type for Dummies (MT is hard!)

& FYI:
Tues., May 20th – Democrats Abroad
Tokyo's best political salon, Democrats Abroad Japan, will meet at 8:00 p.m., 3rd Tuesday of the month at The Pink Cow: May Events

for details email


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