Christian Caryl

Stories by Christian Caryl

  • A Risky Game Of Chicken

    It's a glorious late-summer day over the East China Sea, cobalt blue ocean beneath a warm and hazy sky. But this mission is all business for the crew of a P3-C Orion flown by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Forces (as Tokyo refers to its Navy). Dropping down to a mere 200 meters above the waves, the plane slowly banks to peek at a yellow-and-white drilling platform anchored in the sea below. Suddenly the radio loudspeaker in the plane's cockpit crackles, and a rapid burst of Mandarin Chinese attests that the men on the rig have taken notice of the visitor. "Sometimes you can even see the Chinese flag down there," says one of the pilots.Not that either side needs a reminder of who's who. The Chunxiao gas fields in the center of the East China Sea--where Beijing is hunting for energy in waters hard against the boundary line of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) claimed by Japan--are a long way from the back rooms of Tokyo. But there's no question that events in this lonely corner of...
  • Unwelcome Visits

    It's that time of the year again. "It is a matter of individual freedom as to how one offers condolences to those who died at war," wrote Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in an e-mail to his supporters last week, thus fueling speculation he may be preparing for yet another of his controversial visits to the Yasukuni Shrine--the Tokyo war memorial that honors the souls of a century's worth of Japanese war dead. Some believe that he might even make the trip on August 15, the day that marked the end of World War II 61 years ago. That would undoubtedly infuriate foreign onlookers yet again, especially in China and Korea where Yasukuni is perceived as a symbol of unrepentant militarism because the souls of a group of high-ranking war criminals are enshrined there.Koizumi's shrine visits have long provoked controversy and debate within Japan, too--and for the first time opponents may be poised to win the highly charged argument. For one thing, Koizumi himself will step off the...
  • High Convenience

    Noritsugu Miyazaki is a clerk in a convenience store. Slacker job, right? Not. Miyazaki works for Family Mart in Japan, where the seemingly mundane task of running such stores has been raised to the level of a high and demanding art. Miyazaki, 22, does more than sell drinks and snacks. He also helps patrons with dry cleaning, package delivery and DVD rentals. He can accept payment for utility bills and issue tickets to Tokyo Disneyland, baseball games or movies. And when it's time to restock inventory, Miyazaki transmits his orders with the help of a tablet computer he carries with him as he walks the aisles. The computer's touchscreen can summon up details of individual products, sales data going back for weeks, even weather reports. "Stock up on plastic umbrellas," the computer admonishes him. "Rain is on the way." "It's pretty difficult," says Miyazaki. "I'm looking for a different job, to be honest."Welcome to the demanding world of Japanese convenience stores. In other parts of...
  • Clouds on The Horizon

    Talk about open secrets. For weeks now, North Korean technicians have been preparing a site for the launch of a ballistic missile. In Washington, national-security adviser Stephen Hadley warned Pyongyang that launching a missile would expose North Korea to the unspecified wrath of the United States; in Tokyo, a senior Japanese politician echoed the vague threat.And what about South Korea? Most people there have completely ignored the launch, opting instead to cheer their team through the World Cup. Oh, yes, and then there was the celebration in Kwangju, where delegates from the two Koreas gathered to celebrate the sixth anniversary of a historic summit between their leaders that marked the beginning of the "Sunshine Policy" --the South's program of proactive support for its economically prostrate communist sibling. Meanwhile, the South's radical university-student association, in a directive to student councils, called for "escalation of the wave of anti-American struggles."Seoul...
  • Keeping in Touch

    For the past 13 years, Scotsman Mark Devlin has been building up a miniature publishing empire targeting English-speaking foreigners in Tokyo. His flagship has been Metropolis, an 80-page glossy magazine that delivers its menu of program listings, stories about life in the city and ads to some 67,000 readers each week. Lately, though, the real growth in Devlin's business is coming from his company's Web site, crisscross.com, which uses news stories to lure expats into dialogue with each other. Devlin's strategy is to transform that budding social network (100,000 registered users at last count) into a powerful tool for getting to know his readers' interests and desires. "It's all been driven by demand from our readers," he says. "People ask you for something, and you say, 'Oh, that matters'."In the old days it was hard to figure out what global nomads wanted. Thanks to the Internet, it's gotten a whole lot easier. As Devlin's experience suggests, one way of flogging goods and...
  • Japan: A Delicate Balance

    For most of the past century or so, Japan has enjoyed remarkable popularity within the Muslim world. In stark contrast to European countries or the United States, Japan has no burdensome history of colonial-style intervention in the region's affairs (with the possible exception of Tokyo's brief wartime occupations of Malaysia and Indonesia). And if there was ever a time when Japan needed to maintain that good will, it's now, when spiking oil prices are threatening to undermine its economic recovery.Japan needs lots of oil--it's the world's second largest importer of petroleum. But much of the increasingly costly commodity--which hit a high of $75 a barrel last week--comes from countries that have poor relations with America, which just happens to be Japan's foreign-policy mentor, protector and chief ally. That's creating problems for Tokyo, which may soon find itself forced to decide which is more important--its energy security or its relationship with the United States. "Until now,...
  • The Endangered Inn

    Traditional Japanese inns, or ryokan, are small, family-owned specialists in old-fashioned comfort and cuisine. And that's the problem. Today, Japanese consumers do not necessarily want to navigate complex ryokan pricing (which ranges from $50 to $1,000 per head) to lounge around in a yukata , the cotton kimono that is standard ryokan attire, or soak in a communal bath. They are ditching ryokan for Western-style hotels or cheaper thrills in Thailand or Bali.As Japan opens to competition, it's often traditional businesses that lose out. During the 1980s bubble, Japanese corporations would sponsor ryokan-hopping tours of Japan for employees, but not anymore. Though no one keeps careful count, the Japan External Trade Organization estimates that ryokan revenue fell from about $30 billion in 1991 to $17 billion in 2003. And Katsuo Tobita of the Japan Ryokan Association says many thousands of inns have closed in recent years, leaving some 45,000 today.Hope for the ryokan may lie with...
  • The Box Is King

    The city of Busan, South Korea's largest port, feels like a room crammed with oversize furniture. Apartment buildings and hotels crowd into a narrow strip between steep hills and a deep harbor. There is no view of the water from the claustrophobic main street, even though it follows the harbor's edge, because the road is blocked on both sides by steel shipping containers in basic red, green and blue, stacked two or three high like children's blocks.One's car is surrounded by tractor-trailers hauling containers, and occasionally traffic grinds to a halt as long railway trains creep across an intersection hauling--you guessed it--still more containers.In Busan (population: 4.7 million), there's not much question about what rules trade: the Box, as they call it, is king. The city's livelihoods depend on the 24/7 conveyor belt that in 2004 handled 11.4 million TEUs--"twenty-foot equivalent units," the basic unit of measurement in the container trade--up from 2.3 million in 1990. That...
  • Pocketbook Policing

    Swiss businessman and Asian-art collector Jakob Steiger never figured in headlines before last month. But his low profile ended with a bang when the U.S. Treasury announced that it was imposing sanctions against his firm, Kohas AG, for acting as a "technology broker" for the North Korean military. The Bush administration claims that the company, based in the university town of Fribourg, is half-owned by a North Korean firm that was named on a previous U.S. blacklist of entities suspected of involvement in "the proliferation of goods with weapons-related applications."On its own the action against Kohas might seem like a sideshow in the much larger U.S. effort to eliminate Kim Jong Il's nuclear-weapons program. But in fact, the move is just the latest twist in an intense American offensive against North Korea--one that experts believe is finally beginning to squeeze the regime. Numerous U.S. government agencies, including the FBI, Treasury, State Department and CIA, have been working...
  • Lots of Room at the Inn

    Japan's traditional inns--called ryokan --are generally small, family-owned establishments that specialize in sumptuous, old-fashioned cuisine. Guests are encouraged to lounge around in yukata, or traditional cotton kimonos. But for all their charms the ryokan--some of the last vestiges of old Japan--are facing hard times. For one thing, they can cost as much as $1,000 per night. And even many Japanese don't feel like swapping their jeans or business suits for kimonos. Indeed, Japanese tourists are largely forsaking ryokan for the predictable comforts of Western-style hotels inside the country, or more-attractively priced accommodations abroad. No wonder the ryokan market shrank by 40 percent between 1991 and 2003, to what Katsuo Tobita of the Japan Ryokan Association estimates are about 45,000 inns.Now some ryokan owners are looking to foreign tourists to keep their business alive. Many have begun advertising on the Internet. Isao Sawa, who runs a famous inn in downtown Tokyo, says...
  • Northern Exposure

    International EditionA musical set in a concentration camp? Even Lim Jae Chung, the 33-year-old South Korean actor starring in the production, admits it's a tough sell. He plays a camp warden who rapes and impregnates a young female prisoner in "Yoduk Story," a musical about North Korea's gulag, showing in Seoul. "This musical is neither funny nor light," Lim says during a break from rehearsals. "It's heavy. But it has a message of love and forgiveness powerful enough to touch southern youth."They are not easy to reach. The majority of South Koreans evince a vague sense of good will toward their cousins in the North, and few know or care much about the actual conditions under Kim Jong Il's totalitarian regime. That's partly because the center-left administration of President Roh Moo Hyun has been aggressively pursuing reconciliation with Pyongyang--even if that means downplaying the regime's human-rights abuses. "I suspect this is going to give the [Roh] government some heartburn,"...
  • Dubai Inc.

    How does Dubai Inc. work? Back in early 1985, the prince of the then little-known Arab sheikdom was stewing after an airline canceled his flight at the last minute. He called in the Englishman who managed the Dubai tourism authority and asked how much it would cost to start an airline. "Ten million dollars," replied the Brit, Maurice Flanagan. The prince told him to get started, and the first plane took off that same year. Today Emirates airlines has been growing at 20 percent a year for 17 years, and is the world's second most-profitable airline, flying to 80 destinations in 55 countries.Its founding father, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is now the ruler of Dubai, and his managerial style has suddenly come under the microscope in Washington. One of the companies his family controls, DP World, agreed last week to put on hold its purchase of container terminals in seven U.S. ports, pending a security review. With U.S. President George W. Bush calling Dubai a loyal ally in the...
  • Turning Un-Japanese

    To someone who has lived for long periods of time in the West, there is nothing particularly challenging about Japan, not anymore
  • Revenge of the Doves

    In a conference room across the street from the imposing Diet building, a Tokyo history professor in a black sweater is holding forth on the role of war memorials. Listening to him is a respectful audience of several dozen politicians, who occasionally interrupt with polite questions. Among them are leading members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party--men with graying temples and stern black suits. It's not exactly the stuff of headlines--until you consider that the LDP elders at the meeting, including former vice president Taku Yamasaki and former chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda, might be called foreign-policy rebels, plotting an insurrection against a man whose name is never mentioned in their deliberations: Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.According to LDP rules, Koizumi must step down from his party leadership post in the fall of this year--and in doing so relinquish his position as prime minister. And so the race to succeed him is on. The front runner is Chief...
  • Price Chopper

    These days there is no product that embodies the ruthless, near-frictionless manufacturing machine of global capitalism more perfectly than the flat-panel TV. Sales are skyrocketing and prices plummeting in a market dominated by consumer-electronics giants like Sharp, Samsung, Panasonic and cut-rate newcomers from China and Taiwan. Now into this chaotic field drives Katsumi Iizuka, a Japanese entrepreneur who recently put 18,600 miles on his rented Opel, flogging flat-panel TVs put out by his new company, Byd:sign, on a weeklong tour of Germany, France and Britain. Iizuka recalls with a laugh how startled Europeans would tell him: "No new Japanese company has come here selling TVs in the past 15, 20 years."Iizuka represents a new wrinkle in manufacturing, and not only in Japan. In a world where high-tech gadgets are becoming high-volume commodities at an increasingly fast pace, a tech company has two basic strategic choices: come up with new products faster than rivals, or cut...
  • End of a Rebel Culture?

    All the elements of scandal were present. Grim-faced prosecutors marching past the television cameras; frantic investors, betrayed believers, exultant enemies. The horror of a suicide. And at the center of it all a crass crusader--a risk-embracing reformer who might also be a crook.No question about it, Japan has had its share of corporate scandals before. But this past week's story--the latest twist in the colorful career of 33-year-old Takafumi Horie--promises to join the ranks of those select few that end up defining an era. The affair broke upon an unsuspecting Japanese public last Monday night, when Tokyo prosecutors staged a carefully choreographed raid on the headquarters of livedoor, Horie's diversified Internet-services company. In an instant the man whose precipitous corporate rise had transfixed his compatriots, and whose audacious attempt to stage Japan's first true hostile takeover last year changed the country's business culture forever, was yanked unceremoniously off...
  • DVD Cold War

    Las Vegas isn't the sort of place usually given to premonitions of the apocalypse. But at the Consumer Electronics Show, the world's largest trade fair of electronic gadgetry, the talk earlier this month was of total war. The headlines said it all: gloves off in digital war. two tribes go to war.The casus belli is about who will define the format of high-definition video-discs--a technology, some claim, that will determine who reigns supreme in the world of video for at least a decade to come. The contest is already splitting the tech world into opposing camps. One leader is Toshiba, which is pushing its HD DVD format as a low-cost alternative that "stretches" current DVD technology to accommodate the data loads required by high-definition video. It's opposed by Sony's Blu-ray Disc Association, which is betting on a more radical (and costly) departure that, it claims, will create far greater data capacity and what Sony chairman and CEO Howard Stringer has hailed as a "revolutionary"...
  • The Last Battle?

    Headlines from the consumer Electronics Show in Vegas screamed: gloves off in digital war. Electronics makers choose sides in battle. The contest is over the $15 billion DVD industry, with the winner to set the standard for the next generation of high-definition discs and, some say, rule the video world. One side, led by Toshiba, is pushing its HD DVD format as a low-cost means to "stretch" the digital capacity of current discs. The other, led by Sony, is touting Blu-Ray, a more radical (and costly) departure that CEO Sir Howard Stringer hails as a "revolutionary" new viewing experience.No question, stakes are high. All the big players have been taking sides, with Intel and Microsoft behind Toshiba, and most major film studios behind Sony. Virtually every discussion of this battle compares it to the landmark format war in the 1970s. Panasonic's VHS format prevailed, leaving Sony's superior Betamax machines to gather dust. VHS vs. Betamax became a classic B-school case study on the...
  • The Graduate Moves On

    These days no product embodies the ruthless, near-frictionless manufacturing machine of global capitalism more perfectly than the flat-panel TV. Sales are skyrocketing, dominated by consumer-electronics giants--Sharp, Samsung, Panasonic--that are busily plowing billions of dollars into R&D, new factories and marketing. Prices are plummeting as more and more players jump into the game, many of them unknown names out of Taiwan and mainland China. Now into this chaotic field drives Katsumi Iizuka, a Japanese entrepreneur who recently put 30,000 kilometers on his rented Opel, trying to flog flat-panel TVs put out by his new company, Byd:sign (pronounced "by design"), on a weeklong tour of Germany, France and Britain. Iizuka recalls his reception with a laugh: "I'd tell people I'm from a Japanese venture company, making flat-panel TVs, and they'd say, 'No new Japanese company has come here selling TVs in the past 15, 20 years. But the Chinese, Taiwanese, Koreans--they're showing up...
  • Using Color Codes To Browse the Web

    It's an advertiser's dream. Imagine you're sitting in your favorite cafe when something in the business pages catches your eye. That company you're reading about sounds intriguing. So you take out your mobile phone and focus the camera lens on a small splotch of color embedded in the corner of the article. Suddenly the phone's screen is displaying real-time stock prices and up-to-the-minute company headlines.It's become a truism that the Internet is transforming the way businesses reach their customers. But among advertisers there's a nagging sense that the online world is still too disconnected from more traditional media, like print. For most users, gaining access to the Internet still means sitting in front of a computer and hammering away at a keyboard--a setup far removed from the experience of reading the morning paper or thumbing through a magazine. Advertisers would instead like to give print readers immediate access to the full range of Web-based information. Colorzip Media...
  • Ghosts in the Machine

    For 2006, the Tokyo stock exchange has decided to supplement its computer systems with an exotic new backup technology: people. In December an employee at the Japanese investment firm Mizuho entered a mistaken sell order into the TSE's computerized trading system, which didn't allow the trade to be canceled once the mistake was noticed. The result: a transaction that ended up costing the company about $346 million. Earlier, on Nov. 1, another computer glitch had shut down the entire bourse for four hours. Hence the announcement, just before Christmas, that a group of select officials who monitor trading at the exchange would henceforth be allowed to suspend transactions that look like mistakes--something that wasn't permitted under earlier rules.You might think that a technological snafu of such proportions is a rare event in Japan. Remarkably, though, the TSE is just one of a host of institutions that ran into software-related problems during the past year. Glitches around the...
  • Building Blocks

    Just imagine: it's a sunny winter's day in 2045, and you're arriving in Bangkok airport on the 1:15 from Shanghai. The flight is considered internal, so there's no customs check; you can keep that dark red Asian Union passport in your pocket. No need to pick up any cash, either--you've still got plenty of yuen (the single Asian currency) left over from your previous stops, including Tokyo and Seoul. After your business meetings you head over to the magnificent glass-and-aluminum building that houses the AsianParliament. You dodge the cheerful, prosperous-looking tour groups from Laos and Burma and find your way to an exhibition commemorating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the East Asian Community, back in the momentous year of 2005. "It was," reads a sign, "the first sign of light after the long dark years when no one thought that Asians had much of a chance of emulating the European Union."On Dec. 12, when leaders from 16 Asian countries gather for three days in the...
  • Homegrown

    You get the feeling that Nobuo Matsuki never expected to find himself in the sock business. He started his career as a corporate planner at Toyota, went on to get an American business-school degree, then found himself, in the 1980s, a member of that rare breed known as the Japanese venture capitalist. When the asset-price bubble popped at the beginning of the 1990s, though, Matsuki began to see big opportunities on another front--companies that had fallen on hard times.That's how he found himself snooping around Fukusuke Corp., a 123-year-old apparel maker on the verge of bankruptcy. At first the idea seemed like a nonstarter: how could a Japanese clothing manufacturer possibly hold its own against low-wage China? Still, something about the company caught Matsuki's interest. Socks and underwear, he learned, are the biggest-selling clothing items in Japan, and Fukusuke manufactured high-quality socks and underwear. "You can make mass-market products in China," Matsuki, 57, argues, ...
  • Putting On The Brakes

    Japan's economy is looking rosier than it has in years. Corporate profits are up. The stock market has been zipping along. Even households have been doing their part by buying more consumer products. And Tokyo real-estate prices recently moved into positive territory for the first time in years--just possibly signaling an end to the deflationary misery that has characterized Japan's economy for more than a decade.You'd think that Japanese economic policymakers would be celebrating. Instead, they're at each other's throats. The reason for the fight is the normally austere topic of monetary policy, and at stake is nothing less than the continued health of the world's second largest economy. On one side is Bank of Japan (BOJ) governor Toshihiko Fukui and some of his central-bank colleagues, who have been signaling that, given the imminent end of deflation, it might soon be time for the bank to start raising interest rates, which were lowered to zero about four years ago to stimulate...
  • A Very Lonely Japan

    The Japanese tend to expect diplomatic bouquets from even the most insignificant of their foreign visitors. So imagine the audience reaction when German ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt, invited to give a lecture in Tokyo last month, treated his hosts to an exercise in bluntness. He accused the Japanese of soft-pedaling their country's responsibility for its wartime past--and came to a devastating conclusion: "Sadly, the Japanese nation doesn't have too many genuine friends in the world outside." It was a syndrome he blamed on "the ambiguity of the Japanese public when it comes to acknowledging the conquests, the start of the Pacific war and the crimes of the past history." His listeners didn't appear to find much consolation in Schmidt's concession that his own country had committed "even worse crimes within Europe."Small wonder, perhaps, that no Japanese media picked up on the content of the speech. But the Japanese had better get used to dire verdicts on their handling of history,...
  • RISING AGAIN

    Haruhiko Okamoto is visibly enjoying his visit to the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Beaming, he lifts his 7-year-old daughter Yuriko off the ground. The little girl, clad in a blue and white school uniform, swings a hammer against an old steel bell--and rings in the first day of trading in the shares of her father's company. "I think I'm a lucky man," says Okamoto, declaring that his flourishing Create Restaurants chain has chosen just the right moment to go public. "After the long stagnation, I think we are seeing a different psychology from the consumers. They're feeling liberated."And how. On the day Okamoto's company had its initial public offering, Sept. 28, the benchmark Nikkei index finished at its highest level in four years. Investors have been flocking to Japanese stocks in the wake of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's resounding electoral victory on Sept. 11, when his Liberal Democratic Party won an overwhelming mandate from voters responding to Koizumi's strong pro-reform...
  • Not Turning The Corner Yet

    At first, Koichi Kato was elated. Exit polls on the afternoon of Sept. 11 showed a decisive lead for his Liberal Democratic Party--and vindication for LDP leader Junichiro Koizumi, who had called Japan's snap general election a little less than a month earlier in an audacious gamble to silence opponents within his own party. Kato was re-elected to his seat in the lower house of the Japanese Parliament with a thundering 70 percent of the vote, and the LDP's nationwide tally was no less overwhelming. The ruling party achieved an absolute majority with a breathtaking 296 seats in the 480-seat chamber--far exceeding any of the pundits' predictions and marking one of the most decisive victories in the party's 50-year history. Still, Kato felt uneasy. "It was a surprising victory, amazing, an unexpectedly large margin," he says. "But I couldn't help wondering if we had swallowed too much."The LDP's landslide victory not only wiped out Koizumi's critics within the party, who were forced...
  • Tom Lantos: A 'Promising Process'

    With the latest round of talks on the North Korean nuclear issue ready to resume on Sept. 13, California Congressman Tom Lantos--the ranking Democrat on the House International Relations Committee--recently made a four-day trip to Kim Jong Il's increasingly isolated nation. The aim of his visit: to outline the U.S. position on North Korean nukes to the country's most senior officials, including the foreign minister and representative to the upcoming negotiations. Upon his return to the United States last week, Lantos spoke with NEWSWEEK's Christian Caryl. Excerpts:CARYL: Why did two high-ranking U.S. congressmen [Lantos and Republican colleague Jim Leach] have to travel to North Korea for talks above and beyond the established negotiating process? Have the Six-Party Talks reached a serious impasse? ...
  • Political Theater

    So how does it feel to be an assassin? "I totally reject the word," says Kuniko Inoguchi. She's campaigning for office, she says, because she wants to revitalize Japanese democracy, and democratic political culture has no room for assassination. She might be taking things a bit literally. After all, the "assassin" tag that's been attached to her and some of her colleagues in Japan's parliamentary elections merely refers to the fact that they've been hand-picked to vanquish competitors who dared oppose the reform plans of their political patron, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. But Inoguchi, 53, insists the campaign isn't personal. "The core philosophical element of democracy is the nonviolent resolution of conflict," she declares, sounding every bit the political-science professor and former diplomat that she is.Worthy sentiments. Too bad that she can't get the Japanese media to listen. And for that she has Koizumi to thank. The prime minister has deftly redefined the country's...
  • GOING SLOW

    This is an extraordinary moment in the relationship between the two Koreas. Last week, for the first time since 1945, North and South Koreans jointly commemorated their liberation from Japanese colonizers at the end of World War II in Seoul. The North Korean delegation visited the South Korean Parliament, another first. The two countries also staged a joint football match where 50,000 spectators chanted, "Unified Korea, Unified Korea." The lovefest doesn't stop there. Trade is reaching new heights. Cooperation across the demilitarized zone is proceeding at dizzying speed.Good news for the future of peace on the Korean Peninsula? Not necessarily. Nowhere in the lavish speeches and statements of mutual affection was the thorny issue of Kim Jong Il's nuclear aspirations mentioned. The omission was glaring, given that the North Koreans were in town as part of the Six-Party Talks, the multilateral negotiations designed to convince Pyongyang to relinquish its weapons. The Beijing talks-...