Riding The Seoul Train

Ho's long road to freedom began atop a mountain of French trash. Back in 1993, when Pyongyang tried to raise foreign exchange by taking in French garbage for $200 a ton, a curious Ho joined college buddies in combing through the refuse.

'Could You Take Us To South Korea?'

Up near the Chinese border with North Korea, where thousands of refugees ford the Tumen River, I crossed my own line. That was where I first met Park Chun-shik and Park Son-hee, two North Korean orphans, while on assignment in China in 1998.

In Search Of Buried Bombs

Hiroshi Tomita made his name finding potholes. His Tokyo-based company, Geo Search, develops machinery that scans highways with ground-penetrating radar to spot sinkholes in the roadbeds beneath the surface.

Rebel With A Cause

Koichi Kato began his attack on Sunday morning television. As millions of Japanese watched over breakfast, he declared his intention to topple their deeply unpopular prime minister, Yoshiro Mori.

They're Heeere!

Tadanori Tanaka mimics the sounds that convinced him his new home is haunted. "Bam, bam, bam," blurts the 69-year-old carpenter, pounding his fist on the wall of his apartment. "Or 'tchi, tchi,' like the snap of a whip." Noises, he says, have erupted from the walls without warning since he moved into the newest public housing block in Tomika, a hamlet 300 kilometers southwest of Tokyo, in 1999.

In Nukes We Trust

When Toru Ogawa was called to a uranium-processing plant in Tokaimura, Japan, on Sept. 30, 1999, the young firefighter assumed it was a minor emergency. According to the initial call, a worker at the facility, located just outside Tokyo, had fainted.

A Lizard In My Chips

The consumer scandal of the summer in Japan involved neither tires nor cars, but "strange objects." Almost every other day, it seemed, the Japanese were finding foreign matter in their food.

Turning Back The Clock

Kimitaka Kuze was nobody's idea of a crack financial regulator. Yet that didn't disqualify the self-proclaimed novice from taking the helm at Japan's Financial Reconstruction Commission, the cabinet-level agency that oversees "big-bang" financial reforms.

Wanted: College Students

It was a perfect July day in Okinawa -- lots of sunshine, beautiful white-sand beaches and shimmering aqua-colored water. Too bad Koichi Yamamoto, director of student services for Ehime Women's College, a small junior college on the island of Shikoku, was hustling around Japan's southernmost island in a stifling-hot business suit.

Secret Passage To Japan

Sunil Mondal earned barely $100 a month making furniture in Bangladesh. So he was vulnerable to a friend's sweet stories about foreign workers' making fortunes in Japan.

The Japan That Can Say Yes

It began with a journey to earn a few quick bucks. In 1990 Iranian watch repairman Behrooz Kheyri Idehloo planned to work in Japan temporarily, then stock up on watch parts on his way home via Seoul.

Shogun Power

Keizo Obuchi looked exhausted on the evening of April 1. After days in crisis mode following a volcanic eruption in Hokkaido, the prime minister had spent much of that Saturday in fruitless negotiations with Ichiro Ozawa, the mercurial leader of his government's smallest coalition partner, the Liberal Party.

Battling A New Breed Of Criminal

The police who called on Japan's most-wanted fugitive addressed him in low, polite tones. "We would like to speak with you," an investigator implored through a kitchen window. "We want to hear your story." Inside his tiny Kyoto apartment, 21-year-old Hiromasa Okamura resisted.

Dance Of The Utensils

Producer Song Seung Whan worried that polite Japanese theatergoers wouldn't know how to react to Cookin', his original but oddball performance troupe. Who would?

Hype And Hope For A Royal Baby

The Masako frenzy started when the Asahi Shimbun hit the streets last Friday. In a page-one scoop, the mass-circulation newspaper reported that Japan's 36-year-old crown princess has "shown signs of pregnancy" with her first child and potential heir to the ancient Chrysanthemum Throne.

Postcards From The Edge

Hyundai founder Chung Ju Yung met on Oct. 1 with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, winning approval for a $10 billion industrial complex not far from North Korea's border with the South.

Reaching The 'New Youth'

Keiko Okuchi started a school to save kids like her son, Takuo, from dropping out. Okuchi had been a grade-school teacher for more than a decade when Takuo, a teenager, began refusing to go to class.

Japan At A Loss For Words

If you want proof that the Japanese language is in decline, just watch a few parliamentary debates and press conferences on Japanese TV. You won't see politicians talking about what can be done to improve language skills among the country's youth.

Begetting A Best Seller

Raising a child like Boy A is every parent's worst nightmare. In 1997 the Japanese 14-year-old crushed a girl's skull with a hammer, killing her. Two months later, he decapitated a younger boy and displayed his head outside a junior high school in Kobe.

Behind The Closed Door, A Deal Is Born

The dinner party brought old enemies together at a tranquil state guest house on the outskirts of Pyongyang. The host of this thank-you banquet was presidential envoy William Perry, the highest-ranking American emissary to visit North Korea since the end of the Korean War, in 1953.

Smoke Alarm

Parked on a beach overlooking the Sea of Japan, two lovers spot something bobbing in the midnight surf. At first it looks like a capsized fishing boat, but as they move closer the vessel reveals itself to be a tiny submarine.

Japan's Mini Invasion

THE CORPORATE MUSEUM AT Japan's Suzuki Motors is a monument to smallness. On display are old models like the 1955 Suzulight, a two-cylinder sedan named, according to an old shop-floor joke, after the "light" (bald) head of founder Michio Suzuki.

Cars As Toys

FOG BLANKETS THE CAPITAL Sports Land race circuit. Slick dew coats the track. Yet the weather hasn't dampened enthusiasm in Kasuga, 650 kilometers west of Tokyo, where drivers are out at dawn on a winter Sunday to race their beloved minicars.

Big Bang Or Bust?

AFTER GOING ITS OWN WAY FOR decades, Tokyo badly wants to be a big player in the global financial system. The reason is plain: it's good business. The Japanese may own nearly half the world's investable savings, by some estimates, but much of it is funneled into the thriving markets of New York and London.

The End Of The Miracle Era

For the 168 workers at Sanritsu Denki Co. in Southwestern Japan, there is no doubt: the postwar era is over. As one of the thousands of obscure subcontractors who supply Japan's famous corporate giants, Sanritsu has played its part in a four-decade economic miracle.

Who's Better Off?

This is a tale of two countries that could not be more different-and two men who once were very much alike. By the end of the 1980s, the United States and Japan were headed in opposite directions.

A Kingmaker on the Line

Three and a half years ago, the prime minister of Japan looked his questioners straight in the eye and said, "In order to restore the people's trust in the government, I have made the decision to resign." Noboru Takeshita, disgraced by the Recruit scandal, in which he admitted receiving $1.2 million from a Tokyo company, was finished.

Scenes From A Bust

Standing in the winner's circle last month at New York's Belmont Park, Tomonori Tsurumaki looked as if he didn't have a care in the world. A. P. Indy, the horse the Japanese real-estate developer purchased in 1990, had just won the prestigious Belmont Stakes going away.