George Wehrfritz

Learning From The Student

Ever wonder what makes Japanese financial markets succumb to near-death spasms every six months like clockwork? Why, each March and September, stock prices in Tokyo tumble, bankers sweat the latent losses hidden on their balance sheets, and analysts--sure that a crisis is nigh--issue dire pleas for reform?

Breach Of Faith

When Junichiro Koizumi visited Pyongyang last week, he was hoping in part to lessen the threat of nuclear weapons targeted at Japan. Yet after sealing landmark agreements that halted North Korea's missile tests and could open its secret-weapons labs to international inspections, the Japanese leader returned home to a nuclear crisis of a different sort.

Losing By Winning

Candidate Yasuo Tanaka is a study in perpetual motion. He hugs babies at train stations, delivers poignant sound bites along the banks of gurgling rivers and barnstorms through sweltering mountain villages clad in his trademark Versace suits--often sprinting from soapbox to motorcade to shave seconds off his schedule.

What To Wear?

The hot book among Japan's elite is written as a children's story, "The Lion Cannot Get to Sleep." Penned by the pseudonymous "Samuel Ryder," the allegorical tale about Japan's economic crisis has inspired debates in the national Legislature.


Ranchers know they're in trouble when their sales pitch amounts to: "Our beef won't kill you." Yet that's the message dozens of foreign meat merchants brought to the annual FOODEX trade show in Tokyo last week.

Seoul's Stiff Reed

;South Korea's opposition leader, Lee Hoi Chang, tells the story of a South Korean pastor who set up a free clinic in the North. "Every time he wanted to do anything, bring in pharmaceuticals or whatnot, the [North Korean] authorities would interfere." When the man protested, his hosts ordered him to do things their way or leave.

No Pain, No Gain?

Last week, to mark the lunar new year, several hundred elderly South Koreans trekked northward to pay their respects to relatives they hadn't seen in 50 years.

Trapped In A Chinese Box

The Chinese teapot wasn't terribly impressive. "Cheap and bad," scoffs Jinichi Takahashi, mayor of Tsubame, a small industrial city in northern Japan famed for its precision knives and elegant tableware.

Tales Of Woe And Wariness

Napoleon once predicted that China's awakening would "shake the world." It has certainly rocked the publishing world in Asia, where a slew of tomes obsessed with the economic clout of the People's Republic have been released recently.

Japan As Argentina

It may seem outrageous to compare the gathering crisis in Japan to the chaos of Mexico in the '80s or Argentina today. Japan is so much more modern, wealthy and, one would think, stable.

Southern Exposure

Singapore has long styled itself as a safe harbor for investors in Asia. But after the global-technology downturn and the terror attacks in the United States, says Trade Minister George Yeo, the city-state faces an "almost perfect storm." Its GDP is forecast to shrink by 3 percent this year, down from a sizzling 9.9 percent expansion in 2000. "I would say that the challenges before us are the most severe since our independence in 1965," warned Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong in a speech last week.

Democracy In Fiji

In May 2000, ultranationalist rebels stormed Fiji's parliament and took the country's first Indian leader hostage. For eight weeks Mahendra Chaudhry, a descendant of immigrant sugar-cane farmers, endured beatings and death threats during his country's second coup since its independence from Great Britain in 1970.

Feeding North Korea

Millions of North Koreans depend on Catherine Bertini for their next meal. As executive director of the United Nations World Food Program, she oversees a humanitarian operation that has sent over $900 million in food aid to North Korea since 1995 and currently feeds about one-third of the country's people.

Tune Out, Stay In

In 1997 Haruo resigned from the gas company and stayed in his bedroom for three years. "I closed the rain shutters and listened to music," he says. "I didn't know if it was day or night." Another recluse, a chatty 29-year-old, passed the national bus driver's exam three times but can't muster the courage to sit for an interview. "How," he frets, "should I explain the five-year gap in my resume?"Both men, patients at a pioneering psychiatric hospital outside Tokyo, share a uniquely Japanese...

Death By Conformity

He blends with the salarymen who frequent the Imperial Hotel's lobby bar during cocktail hour in Tokyo. Three years ago he was one of them: a proud, confident corporate warrior who fancied himself a descendant of Japan's stoic samurai.

The Coming Rail Boom

Talk about accidental tourists. Kim Jong Il, North Korea's shadowy strongman, is a homebody if ever there was one. He hates flying. He fears assassins. And when he met South Korean media executives in Pyongyang last year, he quipped: "Why should I go abroad when everyone comes to see me?" So when he set off to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, Kim traveled in a class all his own: chugging along the Trans-Siberian Railway at 40kph in a 21-carriage armored train, accompanied by a...

Japan's Young Slackers

Tadashi Kato works hard for his money. Well, sort of. On fair-weather afternoons he peddles knockoff Nike T shirts (smuggled into Japan from Bangladesh) along Tokyo's swankiest shopping drag, Omotesando, netting about $100 on a good day.

Pow! Sony Gets Hit

Gameplayers from all over Tokyo gathered recently to bash the machine Sony swore would change their lives--and yours too. PlayStation 2 was hyped as a magical device that would realize the promise of the Internet Age, playing games, CDs, DVDs, tapping the World Wide Web.

Korea's Mystery Man

Forget for the moment that we're talking about the world's last totalitarian dictatorship. Imagine instead a small, remote factory town in Asia. The boss--call him Kim senior--is a hardworking patriarch who builds a family company.

Korea's Mr. Sunshine

The people of Kwangju got the news flash at precisely 6 p.m. last Friday, at the height of the evening commute. The Norwegian Nobel Committee had awarded the millennium's first Peace Prize to the city's democratic hero, President Kim Dae Jung.

Traveling Behind Enemy Lines

He wore an olive-drab uniform laden with communist medals. But when veteran fighter pilot Jo Myong Rok, now the second-most-powerful man in North Korea, arrived at the White House last week to greet President Clinton, his mission was to talk peace, not war.

The Secret Files

Shigeo Toyoda's one-man battle against Mitsubishi Motors began last September in the parking lot outside a Tokyo supermarket. The 57-year-old businessman says he was idling there in his new Diamante, with the parking brake on and the transmission in park.

The 'Cunning' Hirohito

Seated on a dais in Tokyo's Imperial Palace, Hirohito watched silently as his ministers planned for war. Below him, civilian leaders and generals weighed their options.

Japan's Art Of War

Shigeo Sasaki remembers the moment Japan started forgetting its past. It happened on Aug. 15, 1945, the day Emperor Hirohito ordered his subjects to "endure the unendurable" and surrendered unconditionally to Allied forces in the Pacific. "Teachers instructed us to tear certain pages out of our textbooks," he recalls. "One day the Americans were animals and devils, the next they were good people." Sasaki was just 14, but the memory of his country's "180-degree turn"--and the subsequent...

Putin Plays His Hand

When Russian President Vladimir Putin landed in Okinawa last week for the G8 summit, he was no doubt feeling good about himself. And why not? Eager to bolster Moscow's stature in East Asia, he'd already made successful stopovers in China and North Korea to cement opposition to a U.S. plan to develop an antiballistic missile shield known as national missile defense, or NMD.

Islands In A Storm

When European colonizers carved up Melanesia in the 19th century, they encountered a dizzying patchwork of indigenous micro-societies. They grouped them into protectorates, which (with the exception of New Caledonia) gained independence in the 1970s.

A New Day' In Korea

Kim Jong Il's coming-out party actually started in Pyongyang on March 5. On that day, NEWSWEEK has learned, North Korea's shadowy "great leader" dropped in at the Chinese Embassy and set out to greet his country's oldest allies.