Lost, Without a Trace

The 13-year-old girl was on her way home from badminton practice when she disappeared. Every night for five years, her mother kept the porch light on, hoping against hope for Megumi Yokota's return. That was almost 30 years ago. Then in 1996, Sakie Yokota and her husband learned that the North Koreans had snatched their daughter as part of a bizarre abduction program that had kidnapped scores of Japanese, perhaps as many as a hundred, in the 1970s and '80s.Ever since, Megumi Yokota's story has been a sensation in the Japanese press. In 2002, North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, admitted to Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that North Korean agents had been abducting Japanese nationals. The ruler of the Hermit Kingdom offered, along with his apologies, a list of eight Japanese who North Korea claimed had died in captivity and five who were still living. The Yokotas were initially informed that Megumi had committed suicide in 1993; the elderly couple was handed a jar supposedly...

Born To Run

The prime minister calls a snap election, he wins by a landslide and his party returns to Parliament with a huge majority. What happens next? Certainly not a public struggle over who's going to succeed the leader, right?Wrong. Japan's political elite is already reading the tea leaves, trying to figure out who's going to become the next prime minister in September 2006, when Junichiro Koizumi, the man who guided his ruling Liberal Democratic Party to a momentous victory at the polls three months ago, must step down. The move is mandated by the LDP's internal rules, which say that Koizumi has to relinquish his post as party leader after the second of his three-year terms expires next fall. To be sure, with all the political capital he's amassed, Koizumi could probably get away with gaming the party regulations. But, given his past record of actually doing what he says he'll do, few in Tokyo doubt that the country will soon have a new leader.And right now the smart money says it will...

Heizo Takenaka

Heizo Takenaka has long been Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's point man for economic reform in Japan. After Koizumi was overwhelmingly re-elected in September, he appointed Takenaka minister for Internal Affairs and Communications. In the new position, Takenaka will shift the reform battle from banks and the privatization of Japan Post (which is now assured) to other fronts, like the consolidation of eight state-run banks into a single institution. Last week NEWSWEEK's Fareed Zakaria, Christian Caryl and Hideko Takayama spoke with Takenaka in his Tokyo office. Excerpts: ...

Periscope

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's announcement last week that he had decided to shake up his cabinet caught Japan's political class off guard--and set the country on a potentially risky foreign-policy course. Shinzo Abe, a Liberal Democratic Party stalwart who has made a name for himself as a harsh conservative critic of North Korea, was named the government's chief policy spokesman--marking him as the leading contender to succeed Koizumi next fall. Despite Abe's stature as an LDP grandee (he is the son of a minister and the grandson of a prime minister), he had never held a cabinet post, so the new job is a prerequisite to becoming P.M. Taro Aso moved up from his previous role as Communications minister to become foreign minister. That, too, raised eyebrows: back in 2003, Aso claimed that the humiliating policy of forcing Japanese names on Koreans under Japanese colonial rule "originated from Korean people's requests for [Japanese] surnames."The ascent of two proven conservatives...

The Good Life

It's the kind of first-class pampering that execs have come to expect from their favorite airlines. A chauffeur collects them from the office and delivers them--just 10 minutes before departure--to the terminal, where the business-only lounge offers all the amenities of a well-stocked boardroom. Once they're onboard there's a power socket for every passenger, breakfast is served at the seat and segregation keeps out those noisy leisure travelers. Nothing to do but sit back and wait for takeoff.Except that this is the scene at London's Waterloo train station. Earlier this month, the international rail operator Eurostar (eurostar.com) launched its new Business Premier service in a bid to capture still more of the cross-channel market from the airlines. "Our approach has been to deliver long-haul [airline] standards on short-haul travel," says Paul Charles, a director of Eurostar, which operates trains from London to Paris and Brussels. "That's something that the short-haul carriers...

Drilling To The Core

In Jules Verne's classic 19th-century novel "Journey to the Center of the Earth," Professor Lidenbrock travels to a mysterious subterranean world. Now a Japanese ship is aiming to replicate his adventure, striking out on its own quest to explore the earth's depths. In August, the massive 57,000-metric-ton Chikyu ("Earth"), a cutting-edge deep-sea drilling vessel, left Nagasaki on a test run. Though the Japanese venture may not reveal the prehistoric monsters or hidden oceans that Lidenbrock's journey did, it is hoping to reach unprecedented depths.The ship faces a daunting task. Over the past few decades, scientists have managed to dig only 2,111 meters into the earth from the ocean floor--a mere scratch, given that the distance to the earth's core is about 6,400 kilometers. But the Chikyu is far better equipped than its forerunners. Operated by Japan's Center for Deep Earth Exploration (CDEX), the vessel measures 210 meters long and is capable of drilling 4,000 meters underwater...

WAR WITHOUT MERCY

James Bowell, signalman third class, was standing on the bridge of his ship when the kamikazes came. "The sky was full of airplanes," he recalls, flown by pilots bent on killing as many Americans as possible at the sacrifice of their own lives. It was April 6, 1945, and Bowell's ship, the minesweeper Defense, was part of a picket line protecting the American invasion fleet off Okinawa. A kamikaze plane came right at the Defense, but at the last instant it tilted its wings and flew right behind the ship's smokestacks. "I was staring right at the pilot," recalls Bowell. "He had a look of absolute terror. It was 'Errr, what am I doing?'" One wing of the Japanese plane clipped a gun tub amidships, sending the plane cartwheeling into the water. Miraculously, the pilot bobbed to the surface. "I want that pilot alive!" shouted the captain, Cmdr. Gordon Abbott. "Don't shoot!" cried the officer of the deck. But machine gunners had already opened up, blasting the pilot as he floated in the...

TIME TO DEAL

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korea's deputy foreign minister, Kim Gye Gwan, had a private dinner meeting in Beijing on July 9. Three hours later, North Korea's state television network interrupted its 10:45 p.m. weather forecast to make a special announcement. A broadcaster in a dark blue suit declared that Pyongyang was returning to the six-nation talks on its nuclear-weapons program, which the North has boycotted for the last 13 months. "The U.S. officially stated that it recognizes North Korea as a sovereign state, has no intention of invading and will have bilateral talks [with Pyongyang] within the six-party-talk framework," the announcer intoned, explaining why the country's fuzzy-haired dictator, Kim Jong Il, had decided to resume negotiations.Pyongyang's decision to rejoin the talks, scheduled to commence in Beijing around July 27, followed what U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called an "intense" period of diplomacy. American, Chinese...

Corporate Culture: The J Factor

Not long ago, Toyota Motors president Fujio Cho welcomed 1,700 new employees at a traditional Japanese "joining-the-firm ceremony." Last year was stellar for Toyota, but Cho skipped through the rosy stats, including record overseas production for the 13th straight year, to dwell on an almost apocalyptic vision of rising competition, particularly from South Korea and China. "Toyota's lead is growing smaller," he warned. "If we stop and relax, we could soon find ourselves facing a threat to our survival as a company."Sure, in public, Toyota now looks and sounds increasingly, confidently American as its sales center shifts to the United States. But its spiritual center is Toyota City, a huge company town of 400,000 people outside the industrial city of Nagoya. Employees from all over the world come here for indoctrination in the "Toyota Way." This phrase is repeated like a mantra, and embodies a deeply Japa-nese ethic of constant self-improvement and fear of complacency. This near...

SONY IS NOT JAPAN

When Sony last week announced that it was naming Welsh-born American Howard Stringer as its new CEO, the faltering share price jumped. With a stroke, Sony joined the tiny club of Japanese companies with foreign bosses. Market watchers compared Stringer hopefully to Carlos Ghosn, the Brazilian-out-of-France who turned around Nissan Motors. Only look closer: all Stringer and Ghosn have in common is little or no grip on the Japanese language. Ghosn is a brash engineer, imposed on Nissan when Renault took over the company. Stringer is a corporate diplomat and media guy who charmed outgoing CEO (and former PR man) Nobuyuki Idei into promoting him over Ken Kutaragi, a brash engineer and bad team player. Idei explained that a truly global company like Sony ignores nationality, but that misses the point. So what if Kutaragi is Japanese? He was the real outsider and consensus rattler, the real Ghosn.One gets the sense, listening to all this, that investors are still desperate to believe in...

SURVIVAL MODE?

You have to give credit to Kim Jong Il for one thing--he knows the score. The North Korean leader's subjects may be largely ignorant of the bleak situation in their country, owing to the country's all-encompassing propaganda machine, but Kim himself clearly has no illusions. Shortly after the revolutions that toppled half-a-dozen communist dictatorships in Eastern Europe back in 1989, according to Japanese journalist and North Korea watcher Ryo Hagiwara, Kim informed members of his ruling circle that he and they could easily end up like deposed Romanian leader Nicolae Ceausescu if they didn't watch their step. For a full week in early 1990, Kim forced North Korean officials to watch multiple video showings of Ceausescu's bloody death at the hands of an angry mob and warned his colleagues of the dangers of losing control. One defector told Hagiwara that he recalled Kim obsessively repeating, "We will be killed by the people."The North Korean dictator remains isolated and obsessive,...

THERE IS NO TURNING BACK

Junichiro Koizumi spoke with NEWSWEEK's Christian Caryl and Hideko Takayama in a special reception room in the Kantei, the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo. Excerpts: On George W. Bush as a leader:President Bush has been showing leadership in fighting a new kind of war. I have great respect for him for doing that. The decision to embark on a war must be a most agonizing one. It is about sending young men and women to a faraway battlefield with the possibility that they will have to shed their blood. But, of course, there is no way he could give in to terrorism as leader of the world community. So he's been engaged in continuous efforts to establish a democratic government in both Afghanistan and Iraq.That said, I think there is a need for the U.S. to engage in greater cooperation with the international community. Japan would never wish to become an irresponsible country that would advocate international cooperation while doing nothing itself. Japan would not--unlike the...

A $3 TRILLION GAMBLE

When 83-year-old Tsuma Miyagawa wants to get her pension money or deposit cash in a savings account, there's only one place for her to go--the local post office. Most people in her hometown of Otaki, a remote village high up in the mountains northwest of Tokyo, do the same thing. For millions of elderly Japanese like Miyagawa, having access to one of Japan Post's 24,700 branch offices isn't just about sending the odd piece of mail; it's their only gateway to the country's financial system. "If I didn't have the post office, I don't know what I'd do," says Miyagawa. "It's my lifeline."Until recently, there wouldn't have been any reason to worry about losing it. For more than a hundred years now, the Japanese postal system, with its banking and insurance arms, has been an economic and financial pillar in a risk-averse society. Now Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, the country's self-styled crusader for reform, wants to change that. Three years into his term, Koizumi has just shaken up...

JAPAN'S UNKNOWN SOLDIERS

Etajima, The Officer Candidate School of the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), is a demanding military academy. Awakened by a bugle call at 6 a.m., midshipmen throw on uniforms and race outside to form up and be corrected by "discipline officers." Midshipmen, in fact, run everywhere. "We steal their time," says an assistant discipline officer. The midshipmen study not only social science and English, but navigation, ship-handling and even infantry tactics. Before they are commissioned as officers, midshipmen must swim--breaststroke, in formation--more than 12 kilometers in the waters of Etajima Bay. The grueling nine-hour ordeal is broken only for lunch, when the swimmers are handed rice balls from a boat. "We are trying to educate future leaders with the spirit of sea warriors," says Capt. Taisei Tamai, the deputy superintendent of Etajima.But when they leave for a five-month cruise after a year of training, the men and women of Etajima are not joining a real navy--not...

The Man In Charge

Japanese have a saying about angling for mudfish. "You may catch one under a willow tree," it holds, "but not a second at the same spot." Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi characteristically ignored that folk wisdom last week--and hauled in a second catch every bit as tasty as the first. On Saturday he repeated the risky one-day trip to Pyongyang staged in 2002 to free five Japanese citizens abducted in the 1970s, returning this time with five of their children in a deal that could improve ties with Kim Jong Il's isolated regime and bolster Koizumi's already impressive job-approval ratings. "I came here to change hostility into friendship and opposition into cooperation," he declared during a press conference in Pyongyang.Critics say he went there to change the subject. The trip was suspiciously well timed to divert attention from a troubling pension-funding scandal that has forced his chief cabinet secretary to step down. Even the prime minister's allies acknowledge that, in part,...

Made In Japan

The story unfolding in Tsuruoka seems to defy an iron law of the postindustrial age: that factories and jobs will flow from rich nations to poorer ones. In 2002 Kenwood built a portable mini-disc (MD) production line in Malaysia to take advantage of low wages, but last year moved production back to this small city 460 kilometers north of Tokyo. Kenwood realized that it could run the line with four workers in Tsuruoka, versus 22 in Malaysia. It could deliver orders to stores in two days, rather than five weeks, and lower the average time materials spent in factory stockrooms from 18 days to three. In all, it's 10 percent cheaper to make mini-discs in Japan. "The consumers seem to be happy that we are back," says Kazuhiro Sato, managing director of the Kenwood subsidiary that makes MDs. "Just like many other people in Asia, the Japanese like to see the words MADE IN JAPAN."The Tsuruoka story and others like it are rallying Japanese spirits. One Tokyo daily recently headlined THE...

TIP SHEET

TRAVELLIVING LA VIDA LATINABy Malcolm BeithSo you wanna salsa? Join the club. Salsa--the music and dance, not the condiment--derived from the traditional Cuban son in the 1950s. It later underwent various stylistic changes in New York, Miami, Puerto Rico and Colombia, among other places. In recent years salsa has undergone a second revolution, becoming the hottest hobby to take up from Seoul to Seville. (There's now even a blossoming salsa scene in Beijing.) Aspiring salseros around the world are signing up for lessons in droves, then hitting newly opened salsatecas to dance the night away. But if you want to experience the real thing, head to one of these salsa hot spots to learn from true masters.Havana: This year's Festival Caliente, a salsa extravaganza held every March, has already come and gone. But there are still plenty of good clubs where you can practice your moves or just watch the best in the business. For tourists and richer locals, the Casa de la Musica clubs (the...

TREASURE ISLAND

HOW A FORGOTTEN ISLE BECAME A MAJOR PORT OF CALL IN THE UNOFFICIAL TRADE BETWEEN THE TWO CHINAS

TIP SHEET

BUSINESS TRAVELRitzy Rooms For LessBusiness travelers used to be the cash cows of the hotel business. Armed with corporate credit cards and expense accounts, they'd happily lay down hundreds of dollars per night for the privilege of a Godiva chocolate on their pillow and a sunken whirlpool tub in their bathroom. But just as prolonged corporate belt-tightening has forced road warriors to use budget airlines, more and more of them are now eschewing five-star lodging in favor of cheaper accommodations. "Top executives used to be able to spend whatever they liked on a room," says Alex Kyriakidis, managing partner in charge of travel and tourism for Deloitte & Touche. "Now even the top business-travel spenders like IBM or Goldman Sachs are putting stricter controls on where their employees stay." Indeed, earlier this year the U.S.-based National Business Travel Association released figures showing that 61 percent of corporate travel managers planned to book their people into lower...

THE LIFE OF THE PARTY

The red flag flew briefly over an idyllic patch of Shizuoka prefecture last week. At a hot-spring resort nestled amid tangerine orchards, the Japanese Communist Party staged a congress aimed at reversing its declining performance in national elections--a gathering it billed as a "historic" break from the past. In a 12-page platform, the 82-year-old party ceased to describe itself as a "mass vanguard," dropped overt criticisms of Japan's imperial system and Self-Defense Force (two institutions previously branded "reactionary") and advised members to "begin by sharing the common concerns and needs with politically uncommitted voters."The party's recent setbacks do not, as outsiders might assume, stem from its espousal of Marxism in one of the world's most enthusiastically capitalist countries. Rather, the party has fallen victim to its own success. By the late 1990s communist candidates were garnering unprecedented national victories and attracting nearly one in 10 voters in recession...

Koizumi's Children

The political stars have come out for Hideo Tanaka, a 59-year-old newcomer to the national stage who is stumping to win Kyoto's fourth district in critical Diet elections Nov. 9. Until a few weeks ago, the lower-house seat he covets belonged to Liberal Democratic Party stalwart Hiromu Nonaka, a curmudgeonly old warrior who, after reformist Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi maneuvered him into retirement in September, vowed to "throw out" his nemesis for betraying the party's ideals. Yet barely a month later Nonaka is back on Kyoto's streets doing just the opposite--campaigning alongside one of Koizumi's new ministers for a candidate he now endorses.It matters little that Tanaka is a bit player in his own campaign. With LDP luminaries like Nonaka delivering the traditional vote and Nobuteru Ishihara, a 46-year-old minister with pop-star appeal, preaching reform at the same rallies, Tanaka need only recite platitudes and bow frequently to be a contender. He has stuck so closely to that...

Jumping Into The Fray

Ritual was meant to command the day. Japan's newly appointed Land, Infrastructure and Transport minister, 46-year-old Nobuteru Ishihara, stood in his office last Thursday afternoon as some 60 public-corporation chiefs entered, one after another, to intone the formal salutation, Yoroshiku-onegaishimasu. The script called for mutual bowing and a quick exit; in and out in 30 seconds for each gray-suited man in line. Yet with Haruho Fujii, president of the quasi-governmental Japan Highway Public Corp., the young minister broke protocol briefly to discuss pressing business. "We have to talk," Ishihara told the veteran company boss, who turns 67 this week. "I want to hear your side of the story."Fujii has been accused by a whistle-blower of trying to derail the planned privatization of the highway corporation by inflating its net worth a staggering $50 billion, lying to Parliament and purging reformers who opposed his leadership. Those charges, first leveled in July, have so far failed to...

Entering The Sumo Ring

Of all the fresh faces in Japan's new cabinet, Sadakazu Tanigaki's is the most likely to sport a black eye or two sometime soon. As head of the powerful Ministry of Finance, he's fighting to shore up Japan's shrinking tax base, fund a massive pension scheme saddled with a staggering $4 trillion shortfall, support corporate restructuring and rationalize social-welfare spending--all from within a bureaucracy that built Japan's failed economic system and traditionally has opposed radical reforms. He knows the challenges, both from his stint as a parliamentary finance vice minister in the mid-1990s and more recently as head of the new Industrial Revitalization Corp., which rehabilitates weak companies. He spoke with NEWSWEEK's George Wehrfritz and Hideko Takayama in Tokyo last week. Excerpts:NEWSWEEK: "Convoy capitalism" has long been your ministry's trademark. Are the days when Tokyo supported banks and industry by preventing large-scale bankruptcies over?TANIGAKI: When I served as a...

Koizumi's Big Step

Hiromu Nonaka, the 77-year-old liberal democratic Party stalwart, was arguably the most powerful man in Japan. As a leader of the ruling party's largest faction, which controls 100 seats in Parliament, Nonaka was a political kingmaker. He pulled strings to sway government policies, banged heads to maintain internal order within the LDP, exploited allies who owed him favors in order to bring down political foes. He used all of his clout to stymie the reform efforts of his party rival, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, 61. But after losing a power struggle with Koizumi, Nonaka last week announced his retirement from politics with an uncharacteristic public outburst."I'd like to devote my remaining energy to the struggle to throw out the Koizumi administration!" he railed at an impromptu news conference in Tokyo.Nonaka's comment was much more bluster than threat. Indeed, his exit may prove to be a seminal event in Japanese politics--and a huge opportunity for Koizumi. When he took...

BREAKING OUT OF JAPAN

Few Japanese novelists--and fewer of those women--have been widely read in English. Natsuo Kirino looks set to change that with "OUT," her controversial six-year-old best seller, just released in the United States (368 pages. Kodansha International. Translated by Stephen Snyder). The novel tackles disturbing themes: the subjugation of women, domestic abuse and a woman's murder of her husband. Yet Kirino, 51, one of Japan's most popular crime and mystery writers, says she wrote "OUT" to create a vision of normality. "I wanted to read a novel about an ordinary, middle-aged housewife, but there weren't any," she says. "The only ones I could find were about wives in rather well-off families or housewives fretting about their husbands' infidelities. So I decided to write one for myself. Every character in my book would have some flaw in her makeup; everyone would have something on her mind."That's putting it mildly. "OUT" is the story of four women who work nights in a box-lunch factory...

How To Deal With Kim

In 1997, Hwang Jang Yop, former secretary of North Korea's Workers' Party, startled the world by becoming the highest-ranking official ever to defect from the Hermit Kingdom. The architect of North Korea's ideology of juche, or self-reliance, Hwang was once a close aide to the late Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il. Six years since his defection to the South, he may visit the United States for the first time this fall to testify before Congress. His counsel may be especially valuable now. Last week Washington and Pyongyang announced that they had agreed to hold six-way talks--China, Japan, Russia and South Korea will also be included--over the nuclear standoff. In an exclusive interview Hwang met with NEWSWEEK's Hideko Takayama in Seoul to discuss the tensions with Pyongyang. Excerpts:Can North Korea be persuaded to give up its nuclear program?The present Sino-American relationship doesn't seem to me to be firm enough. Their ties need to be strong enough to pull China away from...

Mother Knows Best

Even by Pyongyang's bizarre standards, the military directive is a strange one. Instead of laying down new orders or repeating old ones, the 16-page internal document, circulated by the People's Army, sings the praises of a woman identified only as Omonim ("Respected Mother"), "the most faithful of the faithful, who devotes herself to our beloved supreme commander." Respected Mother is quoted as acknowledging the North's "difficult" situation and asking the country's 1 million troops if their soap ration is sufficient.The directive's apparent triviality almost disguises its serious message. The exact meaning is a controversial topic among analysts who have studied the document, leaked from North Korea and published in the latest issue of the South Korean opinion journal Monthly Chosun. But by all accounts the basic thrust is that a power struggle is emerging in Pyongyang between Kim Jong Nam, 32, and Kim Jong Chol, 22, the sons of North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Il. The half...

Heirs To The Kingdom

For the experts who ponder North Korea's future, reading tea leaves is part of the job description. But soap bubbles? Suds were among the clues contained in a cryptic, 16-page internal military document leaked from North Korea and published in February in the South. In it, a beatific woman described only as Omonim--or "Respected Mother"--displays boundless compassion for Pyongyang's massive Army. She acknowledges her country's "difficult" situation and asks soldiers if their soap ration is sufficient. The document calls her "the most faithful of the faithful, who devotes herself to our beloved supreme commander," meaning North Korea's reclusive "Great Leader," Kim Jong Il.The subtext, in case you missed it, is a simmering North Korean power struggle. That's clear when the missive is decoded: Omonim, analysts agree, must be Kim's own wife. He's had two or three--depending on how one counts--but from the context Respected Mother is alive and at his side today. Thus, she isn't the...

Warriors From The North

lt;P>When Japanese investigators raised a North Korean spy ship from the ocean's depths last September, they found more than they'd bargained for. The vessel, which sank after a fire fight with the Japanese Coast Guard in December 2001, had an arsenal worthy of Arnold Schwarzenegger: rocket launchers, an 82mm bazooka, an antiaircraft machine gun and two surface-to-air missiles. But the carnage within the ship's hull revealed a second battle: when all was lost, North Korean commandos onboard executed the few surviving sailors and scuttled the ship to avoid capture. One of them, perhaps in his last act, scribbled a short message on a wooden board that was later found by the Coast Guard. It read: "To the Party, this child shall be your loyal subject forever." ...

Japan's Military Complex

The students met secretly to avoid the campus radicals. Outside the gates of Kobe University, they boarded two minibuses last month and rode to an underground parking garage guarded by members of Japan's de facto Army, the Self-Defense Force. Inside this makeshift classroom, SDF officers and two Kobe University lecturers held the school's first-ever seminar on a topic shunned since 1945--the national-security implications of Japan's pacifist Constitution, a document imposed on the country by Gen. Douglas MacArthur's American-led occupation government in 1947.After NEWSWEEK first reported on the course's sensitive theme in October, leftist groups went on a rampage. They raided the dean's office, besieged the law school and, holding banners reading stop homicide and don't force our students into war, demanded the class be canceled. "The seminar's aim is to recruit our students to commit the same horrors as the Americans have," shouted one activist. "They want Japanese to hunt human...

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