Tuesday, June 20, 2006
One of the biggest disappointments of my trip to Japan was that I couldn't catch a glimpse of Mt Fuji. I was planning everything alright, specifying that I wanted to take my seat at the north side on the Tsubame from Hiroshima to Tokyo at the midori-window. What I saw instead was a horrible trail of grey, grey concrete along the journey. I realized that the Mountain was hidden in air pollution, which they call "mist" anyway. I have always thought that the Japanese love the nature, and that they were one of the most environmental-conscious counties on this planet; I was only half right.
What I saw was a land sacrificed for industrialization, the Japanese were so good with their propaganda that they can still put welcoming signs on Dams and open water sports centers there so that kids can learn to live in "nature". They can use photoshop to remove wirelines in front of the mountains, or they can expand a small part of a picture to give you the illusion that "We love nature". In fact, Japan is the only developed countries that still believes in damming projects.
The traditional Shinto-ism encouraged coexistent of human and nature, because the Goddess can take the form of a tree, or the mountain, anything that’s natural, everything natural that is all sacred and clean. Today, who cares about Shinto, you go to the temple, clap your hands twice, close your eyes, wish that you're gonna pass the entrance exam, go home and study- that's about it. Buddhism in Japan sells another form of human-nature-coexistent, the exertion of complete control over every single branch of a tree and every single grain of sand. This is called Zen, botany, art. The word Kirei in Japanese can be vaguely translated as beautiful, but it’s so much more than that. Kirei displays the concept that order is attractive, a street with fallen leaves is not kirei because it's messy, that explains why most Japanese streets have no trees or otherwise super clean-cut trees. The Kirei-concept is much more accepted in modern Japan today. Paved roads, cut mountains, dammed rivers, anything shiny and grey and utopic-looking is kirei, it is much more preferable than the "dirty" nature. People don't complain about the train noises at night they only want to kill all the frogs that make the slightest burp.
The Japanese are conscious of the nature... the down side of it. Traditionally they live under fear. The overwhelming redundancy of water fountains at Marunouchi and Hibiya lines in Tokyo Metro speaks loudly of the remembrance of the Sarin attack. The lack of break for economy prior 1990 was a post-war fear, that Japan must not be defeated again. The continual expanding public expenditure on infrastructure is essential so that the people can "feel rich". Japan was a rich country, but the people didn't feel rich until they can see that they upgraded their bullet trains every 3 years with an improvement of 15 minutes between Shin-osaka and Tokyo. (that's approximately Tsubame vs Hikari, if you are familiar with the railway system) a lot of the policy drawn up were 50 years-old, the environmental ministry is still in the mindset of post-war reconstruction. Laying roads in the middle of Kyushu where nobody lives, damming all rivers in Japan in case they cause flooding once every 2 centuries, paving slopes and spending money in researching the latest technology for shooting concrete onto plants in different patterns.
There are a number of areas that demonstrate the fatigue of the Japanese political system. The number of members of greenpeace and other similar NGOs are exceptionally low in Japan comparing to other developed countries. The working population was trained to be absolute followers of the government, return-less projects are funded because of a small group of retired bureaucrats that sits at the board of directors of the Project Contractors! If anyone wants to challenge the authority legally, their lawsuits will be drag on until they die (as seen from the Itai-Itai and WWII claimants), who says the legal system in Japan is independent? Government budgeting is horrible when all ministries try their hardest to spend ALL of the money, because if you don't, less money will be available next year. The "rivers ministry", a pretty unheard of and redundant ministry in other countries, is now receiving as much funding as the Education ministry. Yay, more dammed rivers and more roads leading to nowhere.
The stock market is worth noting. Where most parts of the world the value of a listed stock is determined by the P/E ratio, the Japanese works the other way round. Back in the good ol'80s, the average P/E ratios on Nikkei listing was way over a hundred (comparing to 20? max in other countries), in otherwords corperations can suck in liquid at the cost of almost nothing, nobody will be chased for dividends that were not expected at first place. The "stability" policies forces large corperations to hold each other stocks. Financing becomes a dirty business where by the creation of credit rolls like a snowball, a scenario you think will only appear in High-school exam papers. Stocks will go up without surprise, the amount of capital will increase, their prices will increase, the industry will expand. The saving nature of Japanese shareholders and bookvalue-accounting of large corporations and the financial system that is built to force small companies to merge or leave all contributed to the largest economic bubble in human history. How did the government try to save the financial institutions? By merging banks, merging unprofitable loans into a larger black pool of water, which, in bookvalue-accounting still managed to be one of the largest banks in the world.
To be honest, I worry for the country, with what's underneath all that shiny packaging.
trapped in the maze of time..8:03 AM