Is Trump pressing Japan to take up nuclear arms?


This week, I joined a discussion of experts on East Asia, which included speculation on whether Japan would, in future, acquire nuclear missiles.

I said on the broadcast that it has absolutely no plans to do so. But the other radio panellists expressed the view that one day, Japan might decide to develop its own deterrent, rather than shelter under America’s so-called “nuclear umbrella.”

Tong Kim, a distinguished columnist for The Korea Times, said: “Donald Trump has made it quite clear that America will not play the role of world policeman for much longer and the US is therefore retreating from established global security arrangements.

“But ironically, Mr Trump is beefing up America’s own military capabilities and even modernising its arsenal of nuclear weapons. He is not doing so not to protect its allies or to maintain global security but in order to protect the mainland of the United States.

Dr Kim asked the question: “If Trump pursues his policy of isolation, will it make the world a safer place?”

Chinese perspective

Our discussion was broadcast live on China Radio International. Professor Wang Yiwei from Renmin University was in the studio in Beijing.

“No country can be the global policeman anymore because of a shift in power. Partly due to new technology, the world has become more horizontal, less vertical. And many people in the United States seem to think it’s unfair for them to pay for security for the rest of the world,” said Professor Wang.

Abe’s enthusiasm

For my part, I said that I saw little fundamental change in the security alliance between Japan and the United States. There are still 55,000 American troops stationed in Okinawa and Tokyo and Prime Minister Abe has enthusiastically cultivated his relationship with Mr Trump.

However, there is a financial imbalance to the arrangement. The US Defence Department puts the total cost of maintaining the US presence in Japan at $5.7 billion but the Military Times estimates that Japan’s support only amounts to $1.7 billion.

Mr Abe’s government has never challenged the value of the alliance although some Japanese people resent Mr Trump’s call to pay more.

Nuclear Issue

On the nuclear issue, I said that Prime Minister Abe spoke clearly following the Pope’s recent visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

He told Pope Francis. “As the only country to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan is a country with a mission of leading the international community’s efforts to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons.”

After the debate on Chinese radio, I did a little more research and I discovered that during his 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump did suggest that South Korea and Japan should have their own nuclear weapons to defend against North Korea.

The threat from North Korea
“At some point,” he told Anderson Cooper on CNN, “we have to say, you know what, we’re better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea, we’re better off, frankly, if South Korea is going to start to protect itself…. Wouldn’t you rather in a certain sense have Japan have nuclear weapons when North Korea has nuclear weapons?… Wouldn’t you rather have Japan, perhaps, they’re over there, they’re very close, they’re very fearful of North Korea.”

Presidential orders

The Commander-in-Chief of the United States cannot order an independent democratic ally to arm itself with nuclear missiles – especially as that would have such enormous political and constitutional implications for Japan.

But on reflection, I wonder, given the America First approach of Mr Trump and his supporters, whether the suggestion that Japan could one day become a nuclear-armed country might not be quite such a shocking idea, after all.

Welcome, Your Holiness, we share your values in Japan

We learned this week that a man who uses the name “Francisco” – the same name as the Pope – is the Deputy Prime Minister of Japan. This remarkable fact about Taro Aso, who is also Japan’s finance minister, was revealed by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, when Pope Francis visited the political elite in Tokyo.

In a charming speech, which had all the hallmarks of his special advisor Tomohiko Taniguchi, Mr Abe said: “I have learned that Pope Francis has had a strong desire to visit Japan since he was young. A great many people have come in hopes of meeting you, your Holiness, including Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso, who is sitting right there.”

Media star

The media coverage of the Pope’s official visit made a refreshing change from the political squabbles about how many people Mr Aso and Mr Abe have invited to cherry blossom viewing parties in Tokyo. It also eclipsed discussions about corruption, which the leaders would like to push into the background. Like a good priest’s sermon, Mr Abe’s speech, which he delivered in front of the Pope, was designed to direct people’s attention to higher matters.
It suggested that in terms of ethics, Japan and the Vatican aim for the same goals. And it implied that Christians, such as Mr Aso, are helping to set the national moral agenda.


Yet Japan is not a Christian country. When I last wrote about this topic for the BBC in 2008, I noted that only about one percent of Japan’s population identifies as Christian. My guess is that since then there has been a decline in the proportion of Christians, although there has probably been some growth in the congregations of a few lively churches.

The press does not care about the distinctions between spiritual and secular. The Pope’s visit generated enormous media interest. This was mainly a visual story and the highlight for TV was when Pope Francis held a

Mass at Japan’s largest venue, the Tokyo Dome, attended by 50,000 people. The Pope’s official translator, Father Renzo De Luca told Vatican News that he was amazed at how much coverage Pope Francis’ visit generated.

“So many people are really interested. They are following what the Pope says and where the Pope goes. People are wondering what Pope Francis will have to say to a non-Catholic country like Japan and also what he’s going to say about peace, atomic energy and nuclear disarmament, topics that are very crucial in Japan,” said Father De Luca.

Nuclear sin

Inevitably, the nuclear issue was high on the agenda when the Pope visited Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His words resonated across the globe. Pope Francis said in Nagasaki: “Peace and international stability are incompatible with attempts to build upon the fear of mutual destruction or the threat of total annihilation.” He suggested that the nuclear arms race wastes resources which could instead improve people’s lives and protect the environment.

“In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered and the fortunes made through the manufacture, upgrading, maintenance and sale of ever more destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven,” he said.

Prime Minister Abe had appropriate words when Pope Francis visited his office in Tokyo a few days later. “As the only country to have experienced the horror of nuclear devastation in war, Japan is a country with a mission of leading the international community’s efforts to bring about a world free of nuclear weapons.”

According to the PM’s advisor Taniguchi’s website, Mr Abe said: “For seventy plus years since the war, we in Japan have single-mindedly and unwavering pursued peace and freedom. At the same time however, when we enjoy peace, we recognise that there are people being persecuted. There are people imprisoned without cause, waiting for release.”

Prophetic resonance

That may have prompted the Pope to think about the issue of religious freedom in other parts of Asia. Just as Mr Abe was speaking in Tokyo, the BBC ran a report about the lack of freedom for Muslims in some parts of China. It suggested that up to a million people are being held in detention camps.

This issue has provoked much anguish in both in Muslim and Christian countries. The Vatican has limited influence over China’s approach to Muslims but it has tried to support Christians in Asia, including those in Taiwan, the breakaway island state which follows a pluralistic approach to religion, as well as politics. As things stand, the Vatican is the only state in Europe to recognize Taiwan diplomatically.

Rome and Beijing

However, there is much speculation that it may change its position. The theory is that the Pope will do a deal with China, which will see see the Vatican relinquish its special relationship with Taiwan, in order to become an official church on the mainland.

John L. Allen Jr, who is the editor of religious website Crux, writes “it seems reasonably obvious that one day, sooner rather than later, they’ll downgrade the Papal mission in Taipei in favor of diplomatic recognition by Beijing.”

Mr Allen, who has written eleven books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs, says: “Rome wants the ability to help shape the international agenda that comes from full diplomatic relations with one of the world’s economic and military superpower and a nation whose population represents almost one-fifth of humanity.”

Dramatic yakuza scenes in my favourite hotel


I was shocked the other day when I saw a group of hardcore criminals lurking in the lobby one of my favourite hotels in London.

I was even more appalled when I watched a gunfight in one of the hotel’s bedrooms, which led to a double murder.

The hotel where these scenes played out – the Kimpton, in London’s Russell Square – is a real place. But fortunately, the crime and violence were part of a fictional TV show on the BBC. The show will air on Netflix internationally.

Prime location

The Kimpton is actually a lovely, safe hotel and I’ve never heard of any real crime taking place there. Yet it was intriguing to see it turned into a set for a TV show.

The programme starred actors from Japan and the BBC used Japanese words in the title: Giri/ Haji. You can watch the trailer here.

According to BBC’s synopsis, Giri/Haji (“Duty/Shame”) is a soulful thriller that explores the butterfly effect of one murder across London and Tokyo, which sees Kenzo and Yuto, once devoted and now estranged brothers, driven to opposite sides of the world.”

Gang and family

Giri 義理 is a powerful idea. In the drama, it suggests a sense of obligation which drives the members of the yakuza gang to sacrifice their own lives or kill other people.

Another way the word giri is used in Japanese is to explain the link between a person and the family of their spouse. There is a strong sense of obligation towards one’s in-laws, who are known as giri no ryoshin – “duty parents.”

This may surprise people from western cultures, where the rivalries between a man and his wife’s parents have generated a lot of unkind humour.

Deeper insight

For a deeper understanding, I turned to the entry on giri, which was written by Julien Levesque for the book Japanese Business Concepts You Should Know.

The book explains that giri applies to a set of ethical and moral principles which set out the ways in which one should fulfil one’s obligations within society.

Apparently, there is no close equivalent term in English, although giri is variously translated as “duty, moral and social obligation.”

This idea runs deep in the Japanese psyche and affects family connections – such as with the parents of one’s spouse – and working relationships, including, it would seem, the ties between the members of yakuza who’ve been pestering the customers of one of London’s best hotels.

You can read the whole entry on giri, and indeed get the book for free, by following the link from Parissa Haghirian’s LinkedIn profile.

I am looking forward to reading it further and learning more about Japan.

Five million for a crab? It’s not really a crazy price


The world’s media have been fascinated by a Japanese crab this week.

Reporters were amazed that someone paid five million yen ($46,000 USD) for a large snow crab at an auction.

The price was a world record. This type of crab is a winter delicacy that can only be caught only between November and March.

A lot of the reports suggested the buyer must be wildly eccentric and prone to wasting money. However, I think they overlooked some important points which reveal the true value of the deal.

Fishy business

Firstly, the person who bought the crab has raised his personal profile and promoted his business. The winning bidder was Tetsuji Hamashita, who is the president of a fishery wholesaler called Hanashita Shoten.

So the record breaking auction provided a bit of a publicity stunt for Mr Hamashita and his business, which is focussed on selling seafood.

CNN said the crab’s meat “will end up on a few lucky diners’ plates at an upscale restaurant in Tokyo’s posh Ginza neighbourhood.” I think that if the restaurants are selling it in small portions of sushi or sashimi – or putting parts of it in bowls of soup – they could earn quite a lot of money from the crab, especially if they use it promote customer loyalty among people with expense accounts.

Putting Tottori on the map

The sale of the crab was also a way of raising international awareness of the small prefecture of Tattori on Japan’s northern coast. Tottori uses the name Kani Tori Ken – which means “crab catching prefecture” – to promote itself.

Following the auction, the governor of Tottori, Shinji Hirai, travelled down to Tokyo for a crab themed party at Yebisu Garden Place in Shibuya.

“This is a sekani record” he said, playing on the words sekai for “world” and kani for “crab.”

Places like Tottori hope that their traditional industries, such as fishing and farming, can help them cope with serious economic challenges caused by an ageing and shrinking population.

The Japanese government supports this plan and aims to increase exports of agricultural and fisheries products worldwide. In fact, the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga recently visited Sakaiminato in Tottori to encourage its export effort.

Tender beef

Tottori is also promoting its cattle farms by selling high quality beef in other parts of Japan. Governor Hirai went to Osaka in July to open a restaurant which sells high quality Tottori beef in the busy district of Shinsaibashi.

In an interview with The Japan Times, Mr Hirai explained that the beef’s fat makes it unique and tender.

“Its fat is quite different. It features a high oleic acid content, the melting point of which is 16 degrees Celsius. It’s as if the fat melts in your mouth,” he said.

“We have hoped that high-end restaurants will use our foods,” the governor said. “We’d like to test out our potential on discerning international guests in the Shinsaibashi area, which is often compared to Ginza in Tokyo.”

The Japan Times points out that the restaurant in Osaka sells high quality Tottori crab, too. So, although the price of a big snow crab seems surprising, as a promotional tool for a proud community, perhaps it represents good value for money.

“Watch out China!” – A warning from the top of a new Tokyo tower

There’s a fabulous new location to get a view of central Tokyo.

It’s on the viewing platform of Shibuya Sky, high above a famous pedestrian crossing known as “the Scramble.”

The observatory is on the 45th floor of the skyscraper, 230 metres above the ground. It offers a breathtaking 360-degree view of the capital’s landmarks.

The designers say the tower aims “to embody the future of a dynamic, international and ever-changing city.”

Yet such projects are enormously expensive and depend on borrowed money.


This week, I was fortunate to join an excellent conference in Tokyo, at which the experts discussed some of the economic risks the world is facing.

In Japan, the end of the so-called bubble era of the economy preceded a long recession.

At one point, a panel discussed whether China faces similar trouble.

The Chief Economic Commentator of the Financial Times Martin Wolf said China is keen to avoid a property bubble, followed by an economic slump.

He said that the government is tightly controlling credit by placing restrictions on the amount of money which people and firms can borrow.

Mr Wolf claimed that “a lot of money which China has invested has been wasted” and he said that he often meets Chinese experts who express anxiety about the sustainability of economic growth.

Mr Wolf said: “It’s pretty clear that the Chinese economy has slowed dramatically from the heady days of ten percent growth, marking a downturn which is almost certainly much more severe than the numbers which are officially recorded.”

Watching carefully

China is the biggest destination for Japanese exports.

Toshitaka Sekine from the Bank of Japan said that Japanese companies are “watching carefully” what is happening there but have not yet fundamentally changed their approach.

His view is that companies around the world are postponing investments in their operations and this impacts many firms which supply them with goods and services.

Investing money into trophy buildings like the Shibuya Sky is one way in which the Japanese government often tries to stimulate the economy.

Such projects provide business opportunities for Japanese corporations and investors get a good return if the buildings rise in value.

According to the Nikkei newspaper, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will soon offer lucrative government contracts to firms which repair damage caused by the recent strong typhoon, Hagibis.

Such an approach would be broadly in line with Mr Abe’s policy of Abenomics, which is designed to put an end to deflation and boost economic growth.

At the conference I attended, which was titled the FT Commodities Tokyo Summit, the newspaper’s Tokyo’s Bureau Chief, Robin Harding, asked the principal economist from the Institute of International Monetary Affairs, Kikuko Takeda, if Abenomics is finished.

Ms Takeda acknowledged that there are no simple answers to Japan’s economic challenges.

“We need a lot of incremental small steps towards big solutions,” she said.

She replied: “We can see very clearly what we need to do to help Japan thrive in the global economy. We need to help people prepare for an ageing society and we need to help businesses increase their productivity.”

Japan is generally held to have a low level of productivity, although this seems surprising to me, especially when I look down from the top of the city and the busy hard working people scurrying across the famous “Scramble” in Shibuya.

“Honourable Madame monkey! I am big loving your thing!”

This week, I’ve been learning more about Japan’s language of affection.

The Japanese don’t have words that are direct equivalents to “honey” or “darling” but they have some nice alternatives.

For example, o-saru-san お 猿 さん means literally “Honourable Madam (or Mr) Monkey”. It’s a term of endearment, meaning something like the English phrase “You little monkey!”

Similarly, one may tease someone by saying お馬鹿 さん o-baka-san – literally “honourable idiot.”

The implication is that the other person is a lovable fool.

Intriguingly, the Japanese word for idiot combines the symbols for horse 馬 and deer 鹿 – suggesting that a person with the characteristics of both animals will behave idiotically.

Your special thing

Provided the other person is not a hybrid beast, you might want to tell them that you like them.

好きですsuki desu will cover you for that, or if you really like them, you can add a 大 big character to the like symbol 大好きです daisuki desu, which lifts your declaration up to the level of love.

Higher still is 愛しています aishite imasu, an unequivocal declaration of romantic love.

Who are you?

At this point, I should warn you of a trap.

Foreigners often carelessly use the word あなた anata which is normally translated as “you”.

But my language sensei tells me this word also means “darling” or “dear” and is used by women as a sign of affection towards men, especially when they are speaking to middle-aged or older gentlemen. So this is a word I would like to hear more – but I will hesitate before speaking it!

Pet name

The blog Fluent-U claims that as you establish a romantic relationship with a Japanese person “you’ll probably receive a pet name from your partner.”

For example, a man may call his girlfriend o-hime-san“my princess” or a lucky fellow might be regarded as 白馬の王子様 (はくばのおうじさま – hakuba no ojisama – “a prince on a white horse.”

If you really want to stir the emotions of a Japanese person, you may with to deploy the metaphysical into your declaration of love.

You could declare  that you greatly love their “thing” as in the phrase あなたのことが大好 き anata no koto ga daisuki.

This suggests that your love is centred on their soul rather than their physical being. And that could be useful if they are a wonderful human being but no longer a vision of youthful beauty.

Happy anniversary

Happily, in a country where many people live long lives, marriages often last decades, so here’s a sweet phrase which should you set you up for the long term.

一緒に年を重ねよう。(いっしょに としを かさねよう issho ni toshi-o kasneyo means “Let’s grow old together.”

And if you really want to up the drama, you could ask this profound question:

俺と一緒のお墓に入らないか?(おれといっしょの おはかに はいらないか?) Ore to issho no ohaka ni hairnaika? “Will you share my grave with me?”

No-one’s likely to say yes to that on a first, or even second, date.

But on reflection, I think it’s quite a quite wonderful suggestion.

After all, the ultimate goal in Japanese society is to spend eternity in a communal tomb – a space which banishes loneliness forever.

And to be invited to join a family group in there is surely a sign of deep love, trust and acceptance.

No more skirts or heels for the proud railway women

People who work on Japan’s railways are understandably proud of their jobs.

Passengers admire the courtesy and efficiency of the railway staff and this is reflected in their smart uniforms.

This week, the East Japan Railway Company revealed a new look for its staff uniforms and it includes some interesting changes to the women’s attire.

The Japan Times explained that “skirts have been abolished from the women’s uniforms and replaced by pants.”

New shoes

The paper also says that the new uniforms will allow flat shoes for women, perhaps in response to the recent backlash against high heel shoes in the workplace.

As I mentioned in a blog back in June, some frustrated women submitted a petition to the Japanese government, asking for relief from uncomfortable footwear.

The domestic Japanese media gave the campaign a name: KuToo.

That has a strong echo of the MeToo campaign which highlights harassment in the workplace. KuToo is a play on two Japanese words; kutsu, meaning shoes, and kutsuu, meaning pain.

But the women who appear in the rather blurred photographs of the 2003 version of the railway company’s uniform look as though they were wearing rather gentle heels, even if their shoes were not entirely flat.

Practical shoes are surely required by people who jump on and off trains and work in all weather conditions.

Typhoon Hagibis

And the extremes of the Japanese weather were very much in the news this week, as typhoon Hagibis unleashed torrents of rain and strong winds.

I was particularly shocked by the picture Kyodo news released of bullet trains belonging to the East Japan Railway Company submerged at their base in Akanuma in Nagano Prefecture, after the the Chikuma River overflowed because of the typhoon.

Inevitably, many train services were suspended but only for a fairly short period of time.

It’s thanks to the hard work of the railway staff that the problems caused by the storm were not much worse.

JR East says its blue and grey outfits help “instil a feeling of trust and security in our customers, while being a symbol of pride and comfortable for our employees to wear.”

That seems to me an important and positive message to send to passengers and staff of Japan’s famous trains at a time of national crisis.

Communist Kyoto and the Hair Museum of Gion

The Communist Party of Japan challenges the mainstream.

For example, it boycotted a ceremony to commemorate the Emperor, complaining that the government was using him for political purposes.

Sometimes the media focus is on a Communist politician named Keiji Kokuta, 72, who leads the party in the parliament, or Diet, in Tokyo.

He recently challenged the government over its handling over the diplomatic dispute with South Korea. His comments were translated and reported sympathetically in the Korean media.

Mr Kokuta also took up the cause of LGBT people in Japan, following discriminatory remarks about same-sex couples made by a politician close to Shinzo Abe.

Firm opposition

Mr Kokuta has made it clear where the Communist Party stands on the most pressing political issue of the current era.

He says that it firmly opposes any form of revision to Japan’s constitution and wants to keep the current one as it is because – in his words – it “reflects the will of the people.”

There are around 300 thousand members of the Communist party in Japan. Because of the proportional representation system, it has a total of 25 representatives in the Japanese parliament, or Diet, led by Mr Kokuta.

That’s not a large number out of a total of around 700 MPs, but it does give the Communists a voice. Mr Kokuta sits on the influential Foreign Affairs and Defence committee.

He has become skilled at asking awkward questions to the Defence Minister and former Foreign Minister, Kono Taro.

In particular, he challenges signs of Japan’s animosity towards Communist China.

Keynote issue

The issue of constitutional reform is the main focus of the current session of parliament, which began in Tokyo this week.

Mr Kokuta and his fellow Communists will vote against Prime Minister Abe’s plan to change the part of the constitution which relates to defence.

Mr Abe wants a new clause which would enable the Self Defence Force to operate more like a regular army, with the capacity to fight abroad in support of foreign allies, such as the United States.

To change the constitution, Mr Abe requires a two thirds majority in favour of reform in both the upper and lower houses of the Diet, before the issue is put before the public in the form of Japan’s first ever referendum.

And the Japan Times points out that as things stand, the pro-revision camp does not have a two-thirds majority in the upper house.

Other small parties may shift their position in return for political favours from the prime minister but Mr Kokuta’s camp will no doubt stand firm.

Kyoto’s advocate

Mr Kokuta has represented people from Kyoto in the national parliament since the early 1990s.

He’s a popular figure and nurtures friendships in the ancient city. For example, last week he spent the day having his picture taken with elderly people who had been drawing pictures and doing calligraphy.

His website also contains a charming report about the Japan Hair Museum in the Gion district of Kyoto, established by a hairdresser called Tetsuo Ishihara.

Mr Ishihara is one of the few men who has mastered the skill of tying hair pieces for geisha.

I don’t suppose that Mr Kokuta and Mr Ishihara share the same commitment to left wing politics.

But in Japan, friendships between people often develop due to mutual respect, even if their perspectives on politics differ significantly.

Amazon’s banned PowerPoint. What a wonderful rebel idea!


The Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has banned PowerPoint in meetings.

This strikes me as a brilliant move, as there are so many better ways to communicate ideas than using a clunky, outdated tool which most viewers regard as inherently boring.

PowerPoint was launched by Microsoft in 1987, long before the internet became massively popular. At that time, mobile phones – such as the Nokia Cityman 900 – were so expensive and heavy that they were only used by army generals and presidents.

Stangled professors

Yet strangely, Powerpoint retains a stranglehold on millions of people, not because it is good but because it’s familiar.

I have noticed that university teachers seem to think it’s the clever person’s method of explaining complex data. And unfortunately, this sends a signal to their students that it’s the best tool for business, too.

Yet most professors and business people use PowerPoint slides in exactly the same way as their Eighties ancestors, despite all the recent advice on how to freshen up the visuals and make them interesting.

If I were to ask you to recall the highlights of any PowerPoint deck you saw recently, I am pretty sure that your mind will go blank.

And if you used your phone to take a picture of a slide, I doubt you’ve ever looked at it again. Although if you have a brilliant slide you’d like to share, do please message with me it so we can celebrate it together!

Asian issue

I’m sorry to say that in Japan, dull PowerPoint presentations dominate the education system and they also waste millions of hours of people’s precious work time.

People in China tell me that the problem is even worse there.

So I support decision Jeff Bezos’ plan to ban PowerPoint. I doubt anyone at Amazon misses it. They have Alexa now. And the company made a record profit of ten billion dollars last year, largely due to its creative ideas in cloud computing.

Rebel ideas

Amazon’s move is not new but I learned about it by reading a book which has just been published, called Rebel Ideas by Matthew Syed.

“For more than a decade, meetings at the tech giant have started without a PowerPoint presentation or banter but with total silence. For thirty minutes, the team read a six page memo that summarises, in narrative form, the main agenda item,” writes Syed.

He says that Jeff Bezos wants people to use a narrative to explain their ideas, because this helps listeners understand the most important points.

Syed also says that asking people to sit quietly and think about an issue ahead of a discussion encourages them to delve deep mentally, before they hear the opinion of others.

Great presenter

Actually, I didn’t buy Matthew Syed’s book from Amazon. It was given to me as a present by my friend Iris Cai, who joined me at a presentation the author gave at the RSA in London last week.

I was thrilled that Iris asked Matthew Syed to sign a copy of his book for me personally. What a wonderful incentive for me to read it and to work on “the power of diverse thinking” with my Chinese friend!

Stimulating thought

I noticed that Matthew Syed didn’t use any slides or graphs. He didn’t need them. His stories were interesting and each one carried a thought-provoking idea.

But was he actually following his own advice? After all, his talk began with him throwing ideas towards the audience, without inviting us to think the issues through for ourselves.

Of course, I’d have resented it if he’d asked me to sit in silence for thirty minutes before he said anything important.

But I wonder if a really rebellious gesture like that would have been a powerful way to reinforce cognitive diversity in preparation for solving complex problems?

I’d have certainly have remembered it longer than another dull PowerPoint event.

Can Japan trade out of trouble?

I appreciate it when readers of my blog share their thoughts on what I’ve written.

I want to thank Ziv Nakajima Magen, who’s based in Fukuoka, for his feedback and ideas.

Ziv makes an interesting podcast called Japan Real Estate, which I recommend.

We’ve been communicating about Japan’s economy; in particular the comments I reported last week by the chief economist at TS Lombard, Charles Magnus.

Symptoms of a “disease”

I explained that Mr Magnus believes that Japan has a “disease” and he described the symptoms as:

Bloated budget deficits
Falling wages
Zero to negative interest rates
Price deflation
Rising government debt
Hobbled banks
And a “docile” labour force

What is Japanisation?

I asked my readers a question: what do you think Mr Dumas means by “Japanisation”?

Here’s the reply I received from Ziv Nakajima Magen:

“Japanisation is an economic and social policy which is meant to reduce the reliance on imports. However, simply trying to reduce the reliance on imported goods and thereby attempting to reduce trade deficits won’t be enough to solve the country’s financial woes, the causes of which run far deeper.”

The China factor

The value of goods and services which Japan imports is significantly higher than its exports, so it has a significant overall trade deficit.

In July this deficit totalled about 250 billion yen, ten percent more than a year ago.

China accounted for most of it but Japan also booked a trade deficit with the European Union.

America is different

However, the situation with the United States is quite different because Japan runs a large trade surplus with America.

I think that has important implications in two areas.

Double challenge

Firstly, it raises the question of whether “Abenomics” is working.

Reuters reporter Daniel Leussink says an improvement in domestic demand is helping to drive economic growth but warns that this could be upset by a new higher rate of sales tax which will be introduced soon.

The other issue is how Japanese businesses can continue to make money by exporting to the lucrative US market without upsetting President Donald Trump.

He’s repeatedly complained about the trade surplus that Japan has with America and has threatened to slap tariffs of 25% on imported Japanese cars.

This week, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet Mr Trump in New York and they’ll try to agree a deal which satisfies both sides.

But avoiding a trade war with America would only be a minor victory for Mr Abe.

Real success would be achieved if he can reignite Japan’s economy by reforming the way its companies and institutions operate.

And that’s why I tend to agree with Ziv that “attempting to reduce trade deficits won’t be enough to solve the country’s financial woes, the causes of which run far deeper.”