Christian Caryl

LIGHTING A FUSE

In the end it all came down to a moment of near absurdity between two of the most powerful men in Japan. On the evening of Aug. 6, Yoshiro Mori, a senior parliamentary leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, sweating in the muggy summer heat, arrived for a parley at the residence of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.

SAMPLING THE SAKE

Fumio Kamiya lifts the lid from a metal vat and a sweet, yeasty smell wafts up. Inside, an ivory-colored mash seductively bubbles away--a fermenting mixture of rice, water and the special rice malt known as koji, the ingredients that have been used for centuries to make sake, Japan's national drink.

THE GHOST OF MR. TOJO

Yuko Tojo, sitting at a table in a Tokyo cafe, unpacks a small box and removes a set of family mementos: two pencil stubs, an improvised paper cigarette holder, a few locks of hair in an envelope--relics of her famous ancestor's final days in prison.

Is Three a Crowd?

President George W. Bush and his South Korean counterpart, Roh Moo Hyun, exchanged diplomatic pleasantries at their summit in Washington last Friday. Bush noted that both countries "share the same goal" of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear-weapons program, and that both agree that the long-stalled six-party talks are "essential" to that process.

OFF BALANCE

Japan and China just can't seem to kiss and make up. When Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Wu Yi arrived in Tokyo on May 17, the visit was billed as part of a new move toward reconciliation after recent feuding between Asia's two biggest economies.

DANCES WITH ROBOTS

Norihiro Hagita recently put a 3-year-old girl and her mother into a room with a robot and kept them there for two hours. At first, the girl and the robot chatted and played.

CULTURE SHOCK

On a warm spring day, a small boat is maneuvering down a narrow tributary of the Yalu River that marks the border between China and North Korea. The sightseers in the craft are in search of an unusual quarry. "Look, there they are," says the boat's Chinese owner.

HOMEBOUND JAPAN: THE RISING SONS

If anyone is going to change Japan's stay-at-home investment culture, it's probably Shinsei Bank. In 2000 the U.S. boutique investment firm Ripplewood Holdings bought the remains of Japan's Long-Term Credit Bank and revived it as Shinsei, which means "new life." Since then Shinsei has been leading a quiet revolution in Japan's staid retail banks.

The Kid V. the Man

Japan's establishment has many reasons to hate Takafumi Horie. He wears T shirts, not ties. He is 32, and voices disrespect for his elders. He's written best-sellers that preach a gospel of greed.

NORTH KOREA: RELUCTANT PARTNERS

The White House emissary was packing heat. As Michael Green, senior director of Asian affairs on the U.S. National Security Council, made the rounds in Tokyo, Beijing and Seoul last week, he confronted his counterparts with the diplomatic equivalent of heavy weaponry--a handwritten note from U.S. President George W.

Law of the Land

Japan's twentysomethings don't have much of a reputation for caring about politics. But Mitsunori Shigeno, 27, is a fine example of how that's beginning to change.

INSIDE THE HERMIT KINGDOM

Call me crazy, but I've always wanted to go to North Korea. Impenetrable, enigmatic, a tantalizing blank spot on the map. As a longtime correspondent in Russia, I had watched the old Soviet Union open up.

An Army Adrift

Two decades ago, South Korea's military had a clear enemy. Stalinist North Korea had triggered a fratricidal war that led to the death of millions. The South's cold-war-era leaders, all staunch anti-communists and former generals, painted the Hermit Kingdom as paranoid and bloodthirsty.

THE TWISTS OF FATE

The Indian port of Chennai (formerly Madras) stood in the path of the wave, and disaster beckoned. The city is both the nation's second largest container terminal and an automaking capital known as India's Detroit.

NATION OF MISERS

A couple of weeks before Christmas you'd expect Yukie Ushijima, 38, to be gearing up for some serious holiday shopping. She's not hurting for cash, after all, since her husband is a successful architect.

HE'S THE ANSWER

Two questions loom large in the minds of Japan's political class in 2005. One concerns the economy. Recent indicators suggest that a full-scale recovery remains elusive, and whatever happens, it's clear that the year to come holds plenty of nerve-racking moments in store.

COMING OUT OF THE COLD

For the past 30 years Hiroaki Kushioka has languished in corporate Japan's equivalent of Siberian exile. In 1974 he put his own conscience above company loyalty by going public with revelations about his employer's involvement in a price-fixing cartel.

EVERY REASON TO BE AFRAID

In October 2001 the White House found itself scrambling to respond to a threat that could have made 9/11 look like a pinprick. Just weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the Bush administration received a tip from a CIA source that Al Qaeda had smuggled an atomic bomb into the United States.

TYCOON TAKEOVER

It's no secret that a handful of "oligarchs" dominate the Russian economy, but until now the details have been murky. No one knew all the names in the oligarchy, exactly what they own, how many industries they dominate or to what effect.

NO MORE EXCUSES

In the halcyon days when Vladimir Putin visited his aunts and uncles here, the tiny village of Pominovo was a place of hope. "There was a store, a bar, a club," recalls Vladimir Kuvarin, himself once married to a now deceased cousin of the Russian president. "We were clothed and shod and well fed.

PULLING FOR PUTIN

In most countries, presidential candidates tend to have the same concerns. How to formulate a program, raise money, get the voters' attention. But Vladimir Bryntsalov, a millionaire businessman, has something else on his mind.

Iraqi Vice

The trip from Ali's village to Baghdad takes an hour and a half by bus. As soon as he arrives, the 21-year-old Iraqi heads straight to Abu Abdullah's, just off Sadoun Street in an alley with a number instead of a name. "I don't have a wife," he says. "I don't have enough money to get married.

With The Ghost Squad

A boom echoes through the Iraqi city of Ar Ramadi, bringing the men of Bravo Company out of their bunks. "Mortars!" yells one soldier, and the members of Third Squad, First Platoon--they call themselves the Ghost Squad--ride out into the night, looking for the attack's source.

Bad Days In Baghdad

It was Baghdad's bloodiest day since the end of the war. But for Tofan abed Al-Wahab, Oct. 27 turned out to be a moment of perverse good luck. Al-Wahab, who works for an Iraqi humanitarian organization, had just finished a meeting with a friend in the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Real Sufism

Enter Baghdad's leading Sufi mosque on a recent evening and the first thing that catches your eye is a man, sitting cross-legged in a corner of the courtyard.

Another Bomb In Baghdad

It was another searing Baghdad day, and Mohammed Yassim was hoping to reap a better-than-average profit by selling cold drinks at a spot where there are plenty of Iraqis desperately needing refreshment: the police headquarters of the Iraqi capital.The 20-year-old Yassim was heading out the gate of the headquarters building when he noticed a police officer gesturing to him, an old friend by the name of Isam. "He wanted to buy something," said Yassim.But before Yassim could react, both he and his...

'We Just Want to Live'

Yusuf Gatta woke in confusion in the early morning darkness of July 13. Helicopters were thundering over his house. Loudspeakers mounted on jeeps issued booming commands.Stumbling outside, Gatta found himself confronting dozens of U.S. soldiers engaged in a search for Iraqi guerillas.

Tycoon Takedown

If anyone embodies Russia's transformation from financial pariah to new economic star, it's 40-year-old Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Not long ago he was just another post-Soviet business tycoon, getting rich quick in dubious privatizations and trampling on minority shareholders.Then he gave himself a makeover.

The Invisible War

Suicide bombings are now threatening to become a fixture of Russia's war against the Chechens. Two weekends ago two suicide bombers killed 14 and wounded dozens of others at a Moscow rock concert.

The Two Russias

Five years ago, Moscow's Gorbushka Market was a window on the lawless Russian economy. Merchants trafficked pirated CDs under the trees or peddled smuggled stereos from the backs of trucks--dodging cops and tax inspectors.

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