JIN-236 -- Blair's Despair in Tokyo

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T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R

Commentary on the Week's Business and Technology News

Issue No. 236
Wednesday, July 23, 2003


++ Viewpoint: Blair's Despair in Tokyo

++ Noteworthy News
-- Japan's Bill Gates Gives it Away

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++ Viewpoint: Blair's Despair in Tokyo

British Prime Minister Tony Blair is a man with plenty of headaches
at the moment, but the suicide death of Britain's top WMD expert, David
Kelly, has turned into a debilitating migraine. What's making it many
times worse is that Blair's little gambol around East Asia was supposed
to be a breeze.

When Blair left Washington -- with 19 US congressional ovations still
ringing in his ears -- he thought his Eastern sojourn was going to be
smooth sailing, with Japan as the easiest ride of the bunch. Britain
and Japan have no bilateral squabbles at all, and apart from some
lip-service on nukes in North Korea, the agenda was as simple as they
come: focus on the benign topic of tourism, a topic so benign that
Blair's lethal coterie of press advisers peeled off home to the UK
before their prey deplaned.

But by the time Blair landed in Tokyo, it was a different story.

On Saturday morning we went along to watch him address a collection of
Japanese and British business brains. The whole gang was there, from
the president of the Tokyo Stock Exchange to the bosses of the big
auto firms.

But within ten minutes, it was hard to keep our eyes open. An other-
wise charismatic speaker, Blair was so distracted and distant that he
turned a talk that would have been bland enough anyway into an
emotionless dirge. In a rare moment of PR failure, at one point he
even lost his place in his notes.

Later in the day, having shaken ourselves awake, we happened to be
sitting in the Harajuku branch of the British-owned Pizza Express,
gnawing on some excellent garlic bread and toying with a Pepperoni Hot.
Who should drop by but the suddenly ubiquitous Blair and his wife,
Cherie, ready to show their support for a thriving home-owned business.
From our pre-booked vantage point, we munched away watching the
beleaguered PM as the rest of the world's press corps pounded
vainly on the doors.

Pizza Express was packed with parents and their young children,
and we spoke to a number of them after Blair had gone. The
father of four children, one of whom is only three, Blair is
considered a master with kids. On Saturday, however, he was a mess.

"He had so many opportunities," noted young mom Makiko. "But he
didn't smile once."

After his lunch stop, Blair headed off to Hakone to doff his shoes
and chat with the Japanese Prime Minister. Again, the pre-arranged
calm of the visit was churned-up by Blair's domestic turmoil. The world
looked on as Blair stood surrounded by glorious Japanese countryside
-- and suffered an inglorious grilling from the British press-pack.

As we sat with our cappuccinos musing on all of this, a worrying
thought struck. Why on earth should Blair, or Koizumi, for that
matter, have ever considered the British Prime Minister's visit
an easy jaunt?

Apart from his domestic miseries, Britain's leader should have had
plenty of tough issues to discuss with his Japanese counterpart. They
head two G8 countries with serious economic troubles. In their own ways
and to varying degrees, they both supported a now massively controversial
war in Iraq, and could both be drawn into some severe nastiness in
North Korea. They have mutual concerns over oil, the Middle East and

On the financial front, they have plenty to cover with Britain's
failure to adopt the Euro, Japan's bank crises and their role as the
world's second- and fourth-largest economies. On the social level,
Blair should properly have raised the case of Nick Baker (the
imprisoned British national who may have been wrongly accused and
now languishes in a Chiba jail) and the general iniquities within
the Japanese justice system.

As it was, however, Blair's chat with Koizumi was indeed shoeless and
straightforward. Blair may not have wanted to get into a conversation
about the death of his WMD adviser -- but surely there is more at stake
between Britain and Japan than the future of tourism. This is a critical
juncture for both nations. Their leaders ought not to sail smoothly...

-- The Editors

Times of London
(requires registration)

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** Japan's Bill Gates Gives it Away

In Brief: A recent Reuters report describes the plight of Ken Sakamura,
dubbed "Japan's Bill Gates" for his development of the TRON operating
system -- used to run everything from digital cameras to car engines,
and in fact now more widely used than Gates' Windows OS -- yet earning
billions less than his celebrity American counterpart. You see: TRON
was, and remains, totally free.

Commentary: This is another one of those iconic stories about brilliant
yet humble Japanese who either fail to get it (i.e. the capitalist money-
mind), or get it only via archaic Japanese cultural values -- which prize
group solidarity and sharing over self advancement, and read to Westerners
like socialism. But it was the US who stopped TRON's proprietary spread
in 1989, with a ridiculous trade barrier. "It's not good to charge
people for using something which is like a social infrastructure," says
Sakamura now, a man who earns about $125,000 per year. Our Windows software
crashes and burns as often as yours does, we guess. TRON's mobile phone
software systems never crash. Guess what? We agree with Sakamura.


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Written and edited by J@pan Inc staff (editors@japaninc.com)


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