George Wehrfritz

AN END OF INNOCENCE

Twenty visitors is all the home of Syngman Rhee, South Korea's first president, rates on an average day. The few who explore the traditional courtyard residence, set beneath a hillside in downtown Seoul, find relics of a young man's heroic anticolonial activism.

Rockin The Boat

North Korea isn't the only country able to vex both the United States and China these days. Indeed, it may be a fellow democracy and not the Hermit Kingdom that has America and the region most on edge in early 2004.

Losing Faith

A Sony watcher recalls the moment he lost faith. It happened more than a year ago, at a Tokyo gathering for analysts and portfolio managers called to present the company's latest performance numbers.

The Last Tycoon

The companies that make up South Korea's sprawling Samsung Group did something unexpected in May: they suddenly embraced the five-day workweek. The move came shortly after the country's newly inaugurated president, Roh Moo Hyun, had called for an end to working Saturdays, and when other companies followed suit, it forestalled a brewing showdown between the Blue House and major manufacturers.

Subterranean City

Forget concrete jungles. Think glass-and-steel icebergs--huge, complex structures largely hidden beneath the surface. That, say urban planners in Tokyo, is the future of the city.With 27 million residents, Tokyo is both the world's most populous metropolis and, in many places, one of its most densely packed.

At The Top

Shintaro Ishihara is an inveterate showman. But the flamboyant governor of Tokyo deserves headlines for more than bashing North Korea every chance he gets.

Theater Of The Absurd

South Korean politics can be a theater of the absurd. Just last week 37 loyalists bolted the ruling Millennium Democratic Party. They had been considered staunch supporters of President Roh Moo Hyun, and analysts interpreted their defection as a prelude to Roh's own abandonment of the MDP ahead of legislative elections next April.

Japan's Ruthless Recovery

Haruko Sakaida has dressed Japanese beauties for half a century, but these days the 75-year-old kimono maker frets that a critical accessory--her favorite brand of crisp white socks, called tabi--might soon vanish from the shelves.

Chugging Along

Don St. Pierre sr. can recall the first Western deals in revolutionary China, which is why his perspective on today is so striking. As manager of the first major U.S.-China joint venture, Beijing Jeep, he arrived in 1985 when most Chinese still wore Mao suits and commuted on black bicycles.

The Next Quake Is Close

The form it will take is hard to forecast--an oil-price spike, perhaps--but a shock is bound to expose Japan's bond market as a huge bubble, says John Alkire, chief investment officer at Morgan Stanley Asset & Investment Trust Management in Tokyo. "I don't know the date of the earthquake, but I sure think it's close."A growing cadre of Japan analysts predict upheaval in the world's second largest bond market.

Holding The Border

Call them what you will. For decades GIs deployed along the demilitarized zone in South Korea were collectively known as a "tripwire" force--units whose main objective was to shed blood in the first moments of a North Korean attack, thereby committing the United States to the South's defense.

The Perils Of Paranoia

SARS has turned Michael O'Keefe's business upside down, but not for the reasons you might think. As a risk consultant at Kroll International, he normally plays the voice of caution.

Driving A Hard Bargain

It's never easy divining Pyongyang's intentions from its pronouncements--especially when it's talking out of both sides of its mouth. Late last week North Korea's Foreign Ministry indicated it might consider multilateral talks over its nuclear ambitions, if the United States were prepared to make a "bold switch-over" in its policy toward the North.

An Asian Contagion

Something is missing at Korea Ginseng Chicken Soup: hungry diners. Until recently, tourists from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan thronged the popular Seoul eatery to savor its signature dish.

Japan's Hidden Gems

There are many potentially lucrative little secrets hidden in Japan, and Exedy Corp. may be one of them. It's come up with a new technology for lightweight transmissions used in hybrid and fuel-cell-powered vehicles.

What Is Missing?

Carlos Ghosn wasn't welcome in Japan. When Renault bought a $5 billion stake in Nissan four years ago, it sent Ghosn to run the struggling carmaker--and to become the first foreign head of a major Japanese company.

Diamonds In The Rough

There are many potentially lucrative little secrets hidden in Japan, and Haruo (Hal) Shimizu is happy to show off one. He guides visitors through a labyrinth of hissing hydraulic presses and oily assembly lines at the Exedy Corp., where workers with mallets pound together transmission components used in cars, trucks, forklifts and cranes.

Where's The Red Line?

North Korea delivered its latest dose of bluster last week through an unlikely conduit: British journalists. Speaking to visiting reporters in Pyongyang, Ri Pyong-gap, deputy director of the North's Foreign Ministry, warned, "Pre-emptive attacks are not the exclusive right of the U.S." His statement--the latest in a steady stream of vitriol from the Stalinist bastion--implied that North Korea might escalate its nuclear standoff with the United States by striking first against American targets.

The Luxury Bubble

Shoppers lined up outside Tokyo's glitzy boutiques would seem to signal that all is well in Asia's pre-eminent luxury market. Unless, that is, the crowds have turned out to cherry-pick overstock items at cut-rate prices--as they did on Jan. 17, when bargain hunters mobbed an invitation-only Gucci sale at Tokyo's Isetan department store.

Playing Mind Games

Senior Bush aides say they were almost relieved when North Korea finally made its move. For weeks they had been quietly predicting that Pyongyang would quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Angry At The Yanks

Like thousands of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, Lt. John Stone opted to live among the locals. After landing in June, the airman and his wife rented an apartment near Osan Air Base, an hour's drive south of Seoul, then set about making friends and sampling their landlord's cooking.

The Two Koreas

The bickering started during the evening-news hour. Lee Seung Jae, a 39-year-old banker, sat watching TV with his father when center-left presidential hopeful Roh Moo Hyun's image flashed on the screen. "He was looking at Roh and shouting, 'People like him are unstable.

Better Luck The Second Time

Hot rods, sexy women... and Lee Hoi Chang? For Chang In Chul, a 28-year-old junior executive at Ssangyong Motors, neither his youth nor his lifestyle will keep him from voting for the most conservative of South Korea's three presidential hopefuls in next month's national elections.

Weak For Exports

It would be easy to mistake Miyata for a boomtown. Located on Japan's southernmost main island of Kyushu, its major employer, a 10-year-old Toyota Motor Corp.

Flat On Its Back

Something fundamental has changed in the way the world sees Japan. Last Friday, at the close of a nail-biting week in which Japanese stocks plunged to levels not seen in a generation, the Bank of Japan, led by outspoken governor Masaru Hayami, sounded an alarm about the nation's deteriorating financial health.

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