Thursday, February 15, 2007

Japanese notes I, II

Japanese notes I: written by Vaclav Klaus in Tokyo, February 13th, 2007

Original source in Czech:
The first surprising impression from Japan are the high and extended mountains beneath us as we approach Tokyo. A person with a superficial knowledge of geography only expects the holy Fuji mountain and nothing else. But the reality is different.

The second impression, one that is not surprising, is the "density" with which every piece of land must be used in this country filled with unhabitable mountains. Japan's population exceeds the Czech population by a factor of 13 even though the territory is only 5 times larger. The absence of any free space and the squeezed buildings and roads are hardly understandable for a Czech tourist. They bring you feelings of claustrophobia. Tokyo squeezes a population that matches the whole Czech nation into a very small area.

The Japanese prosperity is another slight surprise. We have accepted all the catastrophic reports about the economic stagnation of the 1990s (that continued until the mid 2000s), about many years of deflation, and about the chain sequence of collapsing large corporations. But none of it can be seen. Although Japan is no longer the East Asian "tiger" that is supposed to become the #1 economy soon, it remains the #2 largest economy of the world (after the U.S.).

The problems of the last decade have made Japan somewhat unfashionable. What was behind the previous Japanese boom or miracle remains unclear. It had to depend on their life philosophy, discipline, modesty, their refusal to fight for shorter work shifts and longer vacations, and their effort to maximize their output. However, other important factors include the habit to rely on the help from the government - something that has reduced the household consumption and increased the public debt that is currently at 1.7 times their GDP. Note that the Maastricht criteria require 0.6 GDP and the Czech public debt remains at one half of this number - despite the socialist governments that liked to waste money in recent years.

Something about the Japanese behavior seems "dragging". As a Czech proverb says, different regions have different habits. But there seems to be another piece of the story in Japan. A Czech person who has lived here for years told me that the horizontal relations dominate over the life in Czechia but Japan is based on vertical relations. Such a proclamation may sound too fancy but the point is that the difference between bosses and employees is taken very seriously in Japan, unlike the Czech Republic.

Local newspapers have informed us about the statements of the French presidential candidate, S. Royal, that were made during her election campaign. She denounces "crazy capitalism and wild liberalism", she wants to increase both pensions as well as minimal salaries, and she wants to eliminate "fiscal and social dumping" from Europe. On the other hand, she wants French companies to pay fines for outsourcing. It's very important to know about these plans and one should be ready to face them.

Japanese notes II: written by Vaclav Klaus in Tokyo, February 14th, 2007

Original source in Czech:
The weather in Tokyo is much warmer than the weather at home but it's raining. At any rate, Tokyo is a supermodern, extremely organized and clean city: a true prototype of a 21st century city. Two weeks ago I visited Chicago whose skyscrapers are a bit taller than those in Tokyo. But the whole city of Chicago can't be compared to Tokyo in size - Tokyo is much larger.

The meeting and lunch with the Japanese imperial couple [thanks, John] and other members of their family was very pleasant and friendly. Our country means quite something for them. They don't travel abroad too frequently (once or twice a year) and their visit to Prague in 2002 was a very impressive experience for them. The first lady knows Smetana and Dvořák and - which surprised me - she also knows Komenský and she has read many books by Čapek. All of them are ready for the meeting and take it seriously, unlike many other politicians we have met in the world. However, we've had a similar experience with other royal and emperor families.

The imperial palace in Tokyo, rebuilt after the destruction of the old one during the Second World War, is a prototype of Japanese architecture - it's simple, its details have been carefully designed, the number of features is not overblown, and the palace is smoothly embedded into the highly artificial landscape around (where is the environmentalists' dream about their primordial Nature?).

It's strange to discuss with Japanese businessmen. A priori, I would expect that the strong Czech currency will be a great news for the Japanese exporters. However, they're mostly investors in the Czech Republic who want to export what is being produced in our country which is why they find the strengthening of the Czech crown inconvenient. I often see Czech exporters who complain about that but it was unexpected to see the same complaints in Japan. We should do something about the crown, they say. I couldn't promise them anything. Its value is dictated by the market, not by politicians.

It's interesting that our cell phones don't work in this technologically and especially electronically advanced country. It must be their deliberate intent to protect their differences from others and their enigma. Whenever something like that occurs in China, it is blamed on ideology. How can you justify the same policy in Japan? Our hotel apartment has eight TV sets. I didn't have time to try a single one. It's quite an experience to live without a cell phone for a couple of days. A good experience.

I am getting a lot of reactions from the U.S. to my Friday interview in "Hospodářské noviny" where I talked about global warming, among other things. Someone has distributed the interview to many internet servers and I have pleased many American non-Al-Gores by my statements because they feel as a minority that is under the pressure of a terrifying political correctness in the U.S. It is crucial to call things by the right name.

And that's the memo, I almost forgot to say, but I hope that the translator will fix it.
A dramatic update: the rechargers of batteries of the Czech government's aircraft, TU-154M, don't work. Klaus' visit to Hiroshima where he will visit the Peace Memorial will be delayed. He will be forced to take a Shikanzen train. If he can make it, he will be awarded some more PhD degrees.

Later, I added this link to a few photographs of Klaus from Japan e.g. Hiroshima.

Meanwhile, the Prague International Airport has strengthened security after a paranormal woman called them that she had a telepathic vision that the airport would be attacked by the terrorists. Would you believe that this is how they determine the security measures?

See also Japanese notes III.

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