Introducing our new video podcast series: Tokyo on Fire!

In early January of this year, someone told us that we should start a podcast. We followed their advice.

With the coming 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, and other major internal and external events abound; the world is becoming increasingly interested in Japan. As Japan specialists, we at Langley Esquire are constantly sensitive to the gap of perception in the actions of Japan’s legislature between those on the inside and those commenting from overseas. Tokyo on Fire aims to bridge that gap in an informative and entertaining way. Whether we actually achieve such a lofty goal, however, is left to be seen.

This is what we have in store:

Tokyo on Fire!

Tokyo on Fire is a new video podcast series by the team at Langley Esquire. It focuses on news and (our) views on the politics of Japan. Each week, Langley Esquire Advisors Michael Cucek and Dr. Nancy Snow join host Timothy Langley in discussing a particular Burning Issue. With weekly updates from our Tokyo-based team, our aim is to deliver our audience a snapshot of Japan’s latest political developments.

At Langley Esquire, our mission is to excel in facilitating success in Japan. With Tokyo on Fire, we hope to give the global audience another venue from which to obtain more in-depth information on Japan’s political environment. It is our hope that more businesspeople and scholars will develop a greater understanding and appreciation for Japan, while also encouraging a greater global debate on Japan’s politics and foreign relations.

Tokyo on Fire is available to watch on YouTube, and is coming soon to iTunes as both a video and audio podcast. Our audience is encouraged to reach out to us on Twitter using #TokyoonFire or by sending us your comments at

We hope you enjoy this series; and if you don’t, tell us what we could be doing better!


2015: The Year for Nation-led Brand Japan

2015: The Year for Nation-led Brand Japan

The snap election results of December 14th might make one think that Abe 2.0 has secured a new and reliable update. It was a landslide for the ruling coalition, but featured a twist in the record low voter turnout.

There is currently no credible opposition to Abenomics and little, if any, chance for voters’ concerns to be heard, which is why nearly half of the electorate stayed home. For those who voted, it may have been to follow the political standard: “You got to dance with them what brung you,” and the Abe-lead slow dance of recovery from the Bubble.

Japan’s internal politics aren’t likely to change anytime soon, but an area that needs rapid improvement is its soft power and image abroad—nation brand Japan. In this realm, Abenomics may have been a starting point of publicity but should not be the end point of results. I have met countless numbers of Japanese who express frustration with what is a predictable democracy here—a democracy in name but with little surprise and cookie cutter candidates. In such a system there is slow movement to change and a veritable lack of creativity.

In nation brand Japan, it’s long overdue time for the people to lead the politician.

You can’t manage a nation’s brand through a political leader’s capital that waxes and wanes like the phases of the moon. Just ask Obama or Putin. A much larger number of Japanese people need to take the lead in engaging with the world. Enough of the steady drip of world headlines about the yen’s rise and fall, adult versus baby diapers, the robot restaurant or cuddle cafe. Japan is anime, manga, and cat café, and it is so much more that doesn’t have cute or weird taglines.

Japan hosted a record 13 million international visitors in 2014, majorities of who were neighbor tourists from Taiwan, South Korea and China. How many of these visitors had a chance to experience an interpersonal encounter outside of a shopping transaction or hotel restaurant? Too often, visitors see Japan through an economic or commercial lens (e.g. Abenomics, Womenomics, yen’s rise and fall) but the real asset to life here is the culture. An authentic culture means people, their habits, beliefs, and ways of life passed down from one generation to the next. Those collective stories aren’t being heard because the people aren’t being asked to help shape Japan’s narrative in the global media environment.

Right now the people of Japan have the best opportunity to make 2015 the kick-off year for telling Japan’s full story to the world. Cool Japan, which launched November 2013, is a public-private partnership driven by successful status quo industries working with the government to expand their market share overseas. That’s just one business-as-usual approach, but it’s not enough to improve Japan’s story to the world.

2015 marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the normalization of relations with South Korea. Anniversary periods generate a lot of emotion—both good and bad—about a country’s history, present and future. There is no guarantee that everyone can come together in a spirit of mutual understanding but I’m sure about one thing: I’d rather rely on the people of Japan to promote this country than the government or industry alone. Right now the government and industry are working together to promote Japan; which is simply insufficient and inefficient. This isn’t just one outsider’s opinion, but the opinion of many of my well-intentioned friends who are working in the areas of international public relations and public diplomacy. They tell me that they cannot do this work in a vacuum and need more domestic engagement.

The advantage that the Japanese public has, is freedom from the burden of a hidden or official agenda. As a former government official, I know all too well that governments have to deal with litmus tests on their credibility, depending on who is in power and for how long. Likewise, industries rise and fall with the marketplace and use their own public relations to maintain a good corporate image in support of the bottom line.

As I’ve often told my Japanese counterparts: your nation brand is only as good as you make it. If you want to improve it, embrace 2015 as the year to begin to tell a fuller, people-driven story about Japan to the world.

Dr. Nancy Snow will publish a bilingual (Japanese & English) book on nation brand Japan in 2015.

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for public relations, media relations, public diplomacy, and leadership branding. Dr. Snow is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, as a Fulbright student in the Federal Republic of Germany, and as Fulbright professor of international relations at Sophia University. She is an Abe Fellow at Keio University’s Institute of Media and Communications Research, where she is conducting research for a forthcoming book on Japan’s nation brand global image and reputation. Dr. Snow also completed the two-year Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) at the United States Information Agency and U.S. Department of State.

When she’s not seeking out hidden meanings and spreading Southern hospitality, Dr. Snow can be found on Twitter at @drpersuasion

Read more about Dr. Snow

2014 Sydney hostage crisis

Save the Humans: From Sydney to Tokyo

On Monday, December 15th, 2015, I gave a guest lecture on media and politics at Sophia University. The three-hour lecture didn’t require any notes, since media and politics were playing out in real time. CNN International was airing live coverage of an ongoing hostage situation in Sydney, Australia. In an unprecedented move, Prime Minister Tony Abbott took to the airwaves to urge calm, given the overtones of political violence given off at the Lindt Chocolate café by hostages pressing Islamic flags up against the windows.

I discussed the power of the media in shaping agenda—in this case, a lone wolf with a history of political grievances, and his ability to grab world press coverage by seizing holiday shoppers and morning caffeine addicts. His message: no one is safe this holiday season. The United States State Department (@TravelGov) subsequently issued a rare, 90-day worldwide travel alert stating that terrorists may be targeting ‘soft’ (unguarded, low security) areas such as hotels, places of worship, and schools.

Coverage of the hostage situation immediately usurped news of the elections here in Japan that had taken place only a day before. Prime Minister Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party won by a landslide, as everyone (Okinawa excepted) assumed it would, but without a real mandate, seeing that the single-seat voter turnout dropped from 69% in 2009 to 52% in 2014—the lowest in post-WWII history. A poll taken by Japan’s leading newspaper, the Yomiuri Shimbun, showed that 65% of respondents chose the LDP because it was the “best of the worst.” In other words, outside of party cheerleaders and zombie politicians, the Japanese people are not thrilled with the LDP but feel that they have to let Shinzo Abe steer his boat away from the political and economic rocks (low fertility, aging populace, underemployed women) that continue to plague the country.

One Japanese lady from whom I buy an occasional sandwich bumped into me on the way to the train station and declared that the election was ‘pure B.S.’; or, rather, she spelled out the universal word for it being a giant waste; signifying that the snap elections meant more to the viability of the LDP than to any voter.

Politics-as-usual and public apathy are the greatest threats to an otherwise safe, clean, and pleasant country.

Abe gave a victory speech at LDP HQ the same day as the Sydney Siege, and it appeared that the world didn’t take notice how ramped up his rightist rhetoric was. Declaring a renewed opportunity to update the Japanese Constitution, he also promised to make schoolchildren learn more about Japan’s history and retell Japan’s wartime stories from a pro-Japan perspective. Abe 2.0 postures as being more attuned to the will of the people, as he pledged to “work hard to deepen people’s understanding and receive wider support from the public.” Being attuned, however, does not mean that he truly cares for voter concerns about the rising inequality gap, stagnant underemployment, rising food prices, or any other social condition that cause people like my sandwich lady to tune out and turn off.

Abe has secured his place in history as one of the few Japanese prime ministers to garner global name recognition. The question remains if Abe’s ability to hold power in this snap election will embolden his nationalistic tendencies, or if he will make a genuine effort to listen to a divided populace that seems to be ‘just holding on.’

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for public relations, media relations, public diplomacy, and leadership branding. Dr. Snow is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, as a Fulbright student in the Federal Republic of Germany, and as Fulbright professor of international relations at Sophia University. She is an Abe Fellow at Keio University’s Institute of Media and Communications Research, where she is conducting research for a forthcoming book on Japan’s nation brand global image and reputation. Dr. Snow also completed the two-year Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) at the United States Information Agency and U.S. Department of State.

When she’s not seeking out hidden meanings and spreading Southern hospitality, Dr. Snow can be found on Twitter at @drpersuasion

Read more about Dr. Snow

Japan National Diet Building

A Brief History of the Japan National Diet Building

One facet of working in the world of Japan Public Affairs is being a frequent visitor to Japan’s National Diet Building. The hustle-and-bustle of politics never feels closer than when you’re dining with a Councilor in the sushi restaurant in the basement of the Main Building or passing through phalanxes of megaphone-blaring protestors as you meander between the three office buildings behind the Main Building that house 722 offices, one for every Diet Member.

The National Diet Main Building kokkai-gijido is both one of Tokyo’s most recognizable buildings as well as one of the least accessible. Since I am fortunate enough to have been able to walk the halls extensively over the years, first in 1982 when I was a secretary for Senator Taro Nakayama, and later as it became a component of my business, I thought a firsthand review of the Japan National Diet Building might be interesting.


The boulevard approaching the National Diet of Japan

The boulevard approaching the National Diet of Japan

Buildings that house Parliaments, Congresses, and other such bodies around the world are commonly designed with a focus on nation branding. In the days before GDP figures and nuclear warheads, mammoth imposing buildings were one important way of showing the power, influence, and importance of a country and its government. Japan’s National Diet Building closely follows this narrative.

Designed to be massive and commanding with no expense spared, the construction of the National Diet Building was so expensive that it nearly bankrupted the country during the 16 years of construction that led up to its completion in 1936. This is endemic of the strategy employed by Japan’s leadership in the prewar Showa Era to mold Japan into a world superpower. This was the third parliamentary building; the first two were built in the adjacent area that is now known as Hibiya Park and were wooden structures that both burned to the ground in massive fires that were unfortunately commonplace in Meiji era Tokyo. The first one, in fact, burned down within a year of its completion!

With this background, one of the most splendorous parts of the building is the Main Approach with the massive circular driveway. And what an entryway it is! To paraphrase a particularly apt quotation, “From the beautiful avenue of gingko trees running from Ginza to Sakuradamon, the National Diet of Japan stands on a hill keeping with the Diet’s position as the political center of the nation.

Original elevation for the Japan National Diet Building by German architects Hermann Ende & Wilhelm Böckmann

Original elevation for the Japan National Diet Building by German architects Hermann Ende & Wilhelm Böckmann

Made almost completely from Japan-sourced materials, from the dominating columns at its front, to the distinctive façade that was purposefully simplified from a design done by a pair of German architects in the Italian Renaissance architectural style because it looked “too Western,” the National Diet Building is a resplendent beauty of the few pre-WWII buildings that still exist in Tokyo. In fact, while all of Kasumigaseki, including Shinagawa all the way to Nihonbashi and beyond, stood an ashen heap in August 1945, the grounds of the National Diet and Imperial Palace were left intentionally untouched.

The massive bronze doors that guard the building’s Central Entrance are only used on a few rare occasions: the arrival of the Emperor, State Guests on official visits, and convocation day for newly elected Diet Members. Approximately 8% of the construction cost of the entire complex was devoted to areas for exclusive use by the Emperor, and facilitating these rare special occasions.

Roll Call

Diet Members are not without their duties. Upon entering the Diet Building, they are tasked with “signing in” by pressing a button underneath their name on a large signboard. You may notice signs of age on some of the longer-serving Members’ name placards, but that is a story for a different time. Also of interest is the gilded chrysanthemum lapel badge that each Member wears: if they are not wearing the badge when signing in, they cannot enter the Main Building.

While there are multiple entrances into the building, separate for Members of the House of Councilors and House of Representatives, one will find these backlit boards in predominant areas and all Diet Member entrances. These are wired to ensure that any Member’s presence or absence is known throughout his or her House.


There is nothing subdued or even remotely subtle about the building’s interior design. The Central Hall features murals of Japan’s four seasons, extensive use of stained glass, and all marble floors. In a sense, it almost seems un-Japanese due to the flourishes of uncompromised and grand opulence throughout. To replicate this building in the present day would be impossible: the raw materials and master craftsmen no longer exist in enough quantity in Japan.

Stained glass in the Main Building of the National Diet of Japan

Stained glass in the Main Building of the National Diet of Japan

Another interesting feature of the Central Hall are the statues that mark each of its four corners directly under the pyramid-shaped central roof. Four pedestals stand, but only three statues stand atop them. The fourth pedestal stands permanently empty as a reminder of the potential for the future.

The Emperor of Japan's throne in the House of Councilors

The Emperor of Japan’s throne in the House of Councilors

The Chambers of the House of Representatives and House of Councilors both feature semicircular seating facing toward a main podium. In both houses, the Prime Minister’s seat is notably below that of the main podium. Yet the two houses are not completely the same: in the (Upper) House of Councilors there exists an elaborate throne. This throne is to be occupied only by the Emperor, and only during the convocation ceremony. This is because the Emperor, though constitutionally the ceremonial head of state and the symbol of the Japanese people, is restricted from participating in politics according to the Japanese Constitution.

As an aside, the Emperor of Japan is the world’s only reigning monarch bearing the title “Emperor” and is also the head of the longest surviving unbroken hereditary monarchy in human history, far surpassing even that of Egyptian pharaohs!

Combined with the always-surprising nature of debate and intrigue swirling about the place, every visit to the National Diet of Japan is one with a uniquely fresh and invigorating flavor. There is tremendous history and tradition ensconced within the walls and in the way that business is conducted in this house of democracy. I love to give first time visitors a guided tour through it whenever I get the chance.

Frank Sinatra

Context in Media Relations

“We do not first see, and then define; we define first and then see.”
– Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (1922)

In the fall of 2001 I was working as Associate Director of the UCLA Center for Communications and Community. The Center was a service, research, and training institution working at the intersection of communications, race, and community transformation. Dr. Frank Gilliam, now Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, was Director of the Center. Many of the communities we worked with (Oakland, Des Moines, Hartford, Inglewood) faced challenges in how they were covered by their local media.

For instance, the “inner city” has certain connotations for many in the media—often negative, driven by pictures of crime scene yellow tape and disaffected minority youth. So-called “bedroom communities” connote something entirely different—tranquility, affluence, and drug-free zones. Whether accurate or not, these “pictures in our head” that Walter Lippmann first wrote about over ninety years ago still persist in our media minds today.

We sought to address these media stereotypes head on with training programs whereby we brought together community leaders with media research scholars, working journalists, and policymakers. We tried to create an atmosphere of trust-building and mutual understanding.

Thirteen years later I still believe in the power of communications and the personal power to communicate. Despite the rise of the Internet and Social Media, we are still tethered to mainstream media influence, particularly our local television news. We are susceptible to the agenda-setting process of the news media—not having the power to tell us what to think, but certainly having the power to tell us what to think about and find important.

The news media provides a lens through which we frame or interpret issues. One of the media frames in Japan this November is that Abenomics is in trouble. Two months ago in September, the media frame had not only Abenomics holding steady but also Abe’s Womenomics in vogue. Media power anywhere in the world sounds a lot like Frank Sinatra singing “That’s Life”:

“You’re riding high in April, shot down in May.” – Frank Sinatra – “That’s Life”

The media as a whole seems to love to build up personalities but also bring them down. That’s why media relations management for a company or individual is so important. It cannot be neglected. There are just too many opportunities for the media system (sometimes we call it the “media beast”) to set the agenda and control the message. Add to that power the reality of our limited carrying capacity: all of us who consume media live in a world of mental shortcuts.
In order to take in increasingly larger amounts of data and information, we often resort to certain scripts, stereotypes or prototypes in our memory that are efficient go-to measures but also incomplete pictures. We never complete the picture because we are easily distracted or left inattentive by our day-to-day responsibilities.

A good media relations advisor can help you make sense of a media environment filled with clutter and noise. The best piece of advice that I learned from my years at UCLA is to seek out media engagement over media confrontation. It’s easy to “blame the media” for the world’s ills, but there are better ways beyond the blame game.

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for public relations, media relations, public diplomacy, and leadership branding. Dr. Snow is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, as a Fulbright student in the Federal Republic of Germany, and as Fulbright professor of international relations at Sophia University. She is an Abe Fellow at Keio University’s Institute of Media and Communications Research, where she is conducting research for a forthcoming book on Japan’s nation brand global image and reputation. Dr. Snow also completed the two-year Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) at the United States Information Agency and U.S. Department of State.

When she’s not seeking out hidden meanings and spreading Southern hospitality, Dr. Snow can be found on Twitter at @drpersuasion

Read more about Dr. Snow

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

The Japan That Can’t Say No

The confines of Nagatacho, the neighborhood of central Tokyo hosting the Diet Building and the offices of legislators, are currently bubbling over with speculation about a snap House of Representatives election. Aided and abetted by reporters willing to broadcast and publish virtually any insider’s assertion or speculation, the nation’s news organizations are blasting the public with regular updates on the progress of forces, pro-election and con- in their struggle for control of the popular imagination and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s mind while he is out of town attending the APEC, ASEAN, and G20 meetings.

Only problem is, there is no real reason to have an election. The major decision the prime minister will be making, whether or not to delay a rise in the consumption tax from 8% to 10%, is written into the original legislation on the timetable for the rise. He has full authority to make the decision to delay the implementation, without limit, if he judges the Japanese economy too weak to absorb the jolt of a further rise of the consumption tax, the major reason the economy decelerated at a -7.1% annual rate in the second quarter of this year.

Furthermore, while delaying the consumption tax rise violates international commitments made on Japan’s returning to a path of greater fiscal stability and ostensibly defies a quid pro quo with the Bank of Japan of fiscal consolidation in return for ultra-loose monetary policy – a policy stance the Bank of Japan reaffirmed on October 31 through its announcement of an additional 10 trillion yen per year expansion of their balance sheet – the decision to delay is in no way unpopular. In the most recent public opinion polls, public support for a delay in the rise of the consumption tax ran between 65% and 75% in favor.

It is not as if a chastened Abe has to ask the public for its understanding. He already has that understanding.

Most egregiously, some in Nagatacho are insulting the public’s intelligence by intimating that an election is something of a mid-term referendum on the Abe Cabinet’s policies. If Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party does well in the election, it can come roaring out of the blocks in next year’s regular session, secure in having given a chance for the public to render a verdict on Abe’s economic and security policies.

Generally speaking, a referendum is a way of asking the voters yes-or-no, do they support the government’s plans and actions or not.

However, given the dilapidated status of Japan’s opposition parties, there will in many instances be no alternative “no” to an LDP “yes.” In the district elections, perhaps as many as a third of LDP candidates will be running unopposed, or at least unopposed by a non-Communist candidate. The largest party of the opposition, the Democratic Party of Japan, currently has only 134 candidates ready to run in the 295 district seat races The DPJ projects being able to field only about 150 candidates, if the election is held in mid-December. The second-tier Japan Innovation Party promises to field around 110 candidates but currently has only 67 lined up.

In the proportional half of the votes, the voters will have a chance to vote for parties other than the LDP. They may indeed split their ballots, voting for the LDP district seat holder they know and can influence but voting for a non-LDP party in the proportional half of the ballot, to send the Abe Cabinet the message that voters are not amused at Nagatacho’s sudden electoral fever.

However, with the opposition crippled in the districts, what right will the LDP and the Prime Minister have to claim the government has received a mandate to continue as it has been doing? Only a cynic would portray the electoral result as the public’s verdict on the Abe Cabinet’s performance and promises.

Michael CucekMichael Cucek

Michael Cucek (known to many as simply “MTC”) is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for issues related to Japanese politics and social issues. An Adjunct Fellow at the Temple University Japan Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, he is well-known as the author of Shisaku, one of the foremost blogs covering politics in Japan. A two-decade resident of Tokyo, you can listen in on Michael’s (often irreverent) take on Japan news and international affairs on Twitter at @MichaelTCucek

Read more about Michael

Anti-nuclear group members protest against the Kagoshima prefectural assembly's vote to restart the Sendai plant.

Nuclear Power in Japan: Turning On But Tuning Out

On Friday, November 7, the Kagoshima Prefectural Assembly voted to approve the restart of the Sendai #1 and #2 nuclear reactors. A few hours later, the governor of the prefecture, Ito Yuichiro told reporters he would be signing off on the restart of the reactors.

The action by the prefectural assembly and governor cleared the last political hurdles for the restart of first Japan’s nuclear power generation reactors under new guidelines, more than a year after the last shutdown. Supporters of nuclear power in industry and government circles are heaving a sigh of relief, as the Sendai experience could provide a template for a revival of the generation of nuclear power around the country.

A closer look at the environment in which the Sendai reactor restarts occurred leaves less sanguine about the prospects of nuclear power retaking a prominent position in the provision of Japan’s electricity.

The town of Satsumasendai in which the Sendai reactors are located is almost entirely dependent on the plant. Without the jobs and subsidies paid by Kyushu Electric Power for the inconvenience of hosting an operating nuclear power station, the town was moribund, in budgetary and economic terms. So the vote of Satsumasendai’s mayor for a restart was never in doubt.

The assembly votes and the governor’s approval were also never in doubt. Kagoshima Prefecture is an unshakeable bastion of the LDP, with the party providing 70% of the assembly seat holders. Add in the handful of Komeito legislators and members of the two parties of Japan’s ruling coalition together control nearly 75% of the seats in the assembly. Governor Ito, for his part, ran in 2012 on a pro-Sendai restart platform, with the full support not just from the ruling coalition parties but the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan.

The economic conditions surrounding the Sendai reactors were also highly favorable for approval of the restarts. The island Kyushu has retained many of the power-hungry heavy industry and assembly plants that the rest of Japan has lost to industrial hollowing out. These heavy power users have been clamoring for the steady, high volume, low cost power only nuclear plants can provide. Furthermore, the former regional power monopoly Kyushu Electric Power, which prior to the shutdown of Japan’s reactors relied on nuclear power for 40% of its generating capacity, was the only one of Japan’s 10 big regional power providers to declare a loss in the most recent half-year. Even the severely challenged Tokyo Electric Power, the operator of the doomed Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, and Shikoku Electric Power, which prior to 3/11 depended upon nuclear reactors for 50% of its power, managed to book profits. Only Sendai plant operator “Kyuden” could make the case that the continued shutdown of its nuclear facilities was killing the company. Kyushu Electric Power also looms large in regional affairs, holding the #1 position of Kyushu companies in terms of sales – with total sales three times the size of the #2 company, Toyota Kyushu. Its executives also dominate regional business forums.

Even geography was on the side of the Sendai restarts, the plants being located at the tip of the southwesternmost point of Japan’s main islands, further away from the disaster at Fukushima Daiichi than any nuclear power station.

As attention now shifts to restarting reactors in areas closer to the Fukushima Daiichi power station, where refugees from Fukushima are more of a presence, where the local municipalities have larger and denser populations and where the dominance of the LDP is less, the cakewalk in Kagoshima will be harder to replicate. The #3 and #4 reactors of the Takamatsu power station, in nuclear industry dependent Fukui Prefecture, are seen as the most likely next pair of reactors to win approval for a restart, to be followed over the next 12 to 18 months by the Oi #3 and #4 reactors (Fukui), the Genkai #3 and #4 reactors (Saga Prefecture), the Ikata #3 reactor (Ehime Prefecture) and the Tomari #3 reactor (Hokkaido Prefecture). Public relations in favor of a restart of Tomari #3 will be considerably aided by Hokkaido Electric Power’s recent move on November 1 to hike the cost of electric power for consumers by a whopping average 15.3%, with further rises planned.

After this initial wave of 10 restarts, the path forward gets tougher for the nuclear industry. As the numerals after the above plant names indicate, it is only the very newest reactors that are seen as viable entities. The industry has indeed asked the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry to simply condemn the 7 oldest of Japan’s 48 operable nuclear power reactors, based upon the likelihood the reactors, all of which are approaching their originally projected 40 year operational lifespans, cannot be brought up to code in an economical way. Furthermore, of the 20 reactors under active review, only the 12 pressurized water reactors – as in the above listed reactors plus the Tomari #1 and #2 units – are seen as being on the fast track. No timetable exists for bringing any of the nation’s boiling water reactors back on line, even the relatively advanced and young #6 and #7 reactors Tokyo Electric Power has at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa complex in Niigata Prefecture.

So even under the most benign of political environments – which the Kagoshima restart process enjoyed – Japan’s march back into nuclear power will be stunted. Given the further pressure the industry is feeling to go into renewables as a result of the feed-in tariff system, passed in the final days of the Kan administration, which thanks to its generous payment schedule for solar-generated power has resulted in the submission of 70 nuclear power plants’ worth of large-scale solar power project proposals – the outlook for public support of nuclear power plant restarts beyond the first dozen reactors is dim indeed.

Michael CucekMichael Cucek

Michael Cucek (known to many as simply “MTC”) is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for issues related to Japanese politics and social issues. An Adjunct Fellow at the Temple University Japan Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, he is well-known as the author of Shisaku, one of the foremost blogs covering politics in Japan. A two-decade resident of Tokyo, you can listen in on Michael’s (often irreverent) take on Japan news and international affairs on Twitter at @MichaelTCucek

Read more about Michael

Autumn Leaves

Media Relations 101: A Personal Journey

While in a Ph.D. program in international relations at the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C., I wasn’t in demand as a news source. Graduate students aren’t considered ‘newsworthy,’ defined as subjects of interest, importance, excitement, or sensation; we are in the process of becoming something, but not yet finished. The news media system prefers doers, not those who are still in the process of becoming.

Once I was out of graduate school and working for the United States Information Agency (USIA), my supervisor asked me to monitor the news media coverage of our flagship Fulbright educational exchange program, and then to figure out how we might get some of our grantees covered by the media. This was no small task. Government programs aren’t considered very interesting unless something is going wrong, is unusual, or is costing too much; in government speak we call it waste, fraud and abuse. Now that’s newsworthy. A Fulbright grant is good for the personal and professional growth of that individual, but it generally doesn’t have a news angle of interest to a larger national or international audience. Perhaps tellingly, when I was awarded a Fulbright grant to the Federal Republic of Germany, I received a meager write-up in my hometown newspaper, the Greenville News, two years before a columnist at the same newspaper wrote about my trip to the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). In the 1980s, the Cold War was still of notable interest. A first person account by a young college kid experiencing life behind the Iron Curtain was, undoubtedly, newsworthy.

But at the USIA, trying to garner interest about Fulbright exchange scholars beyond the hometown pride angle was slow going.

One person who broke the media silence on sponsored exchange programs without uttering a single word was 26-year-old Stanford University graduate, Amy Biehl. Her Fulbright scholarship didn’t go as planned. She never returned from her exchange to South Africa. She was murdered in a township in an atmosphere of suspicion and rage fueled by apartheid. Because of the macabre details of Amy’s death, Amy Biehl became a household name among Fulbright scholars and received international news media coverage.

I was working at USIA in the Academic Exchanges Division when we received the news of Amy’s death on August 25, 1993. For us, it started out as a scandal and soon became a media sensation. My co-workers were very concerned how we should manage our relations with the news media. As an independent foreign affairs agency that focused its efforts on influencing global publics, we weren’t used to answering calls from domestic media. It wasn’t the story we wanted told about the great benefits and prestige of the Fulbright brand. It could have been a total setback for our program if it weren’t for the courage of the Biehl family. In their sorrow they returned to South Africa to continue the work that Amy wasn’t able to complete. Her legacy continues to this day with the Amy Biehl Foundation.

The takeaway lesson from my USIA experience is that sometimes you become a story with no prior planning. You have to prepare for surprises, some bad, and others life-changing.

Never take your media relations for granted. Call it what you want: strategic communications, public relations, or advocacy. Your company’s narrative told and handled well in crisis will be a boon in times of chaos or peace.

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow

Dr. Nancy Snow is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for public relations, media relations, public diplomacy, and leadership branding. Dr. Snow is a two-time recipient of the Fulbright Fellowship, as a Fulbright student in the Federal Republic of Germany, and as Fulbright professor of international relations at Sophia University. She is an Abe Fellow at Keio University’s Institute of Media and Communications Research, where she is conducting research for a forthcoming book on Japan’s nation brand global image and reputation. Dr. Snow also completed the two-year Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) at the United States Information Agency and U.S. Department of State.

When she’s not seeking out hidden meanings and spreading Southern hospitality, Dr. Snow can be found on Twitter at @drpersuasion

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Association of Diet Members Visiting Yasukuni Shrine Together 2013 Autumn visit

Feeling Festive

In the calendar of political events of this month, October 17th has loomed as a red-letter day. It is the opening day of Yasukuni Shrine’s Autumn Festival, when scores of members of the Association of Diet Members Visiting Yasukuni Shrine Together (Minna de Yasukuni ni sanpai suru kokkai giiin no kai) pay their respects en masse. These mass visits are always the subject of intense scrutiny by international and domestic news media, if only for the chances to take pictures of grim-faced, dark-suited Japanese parliamentarians filing in and out of a shrine where “14 Class-A war criminals are honored.”

While these events are always a source of enervation in Sino-Japanese and Japan-South Korean relations, this autumn’s festival threatens to be especially provocative. Three members of Abe Shinzo’s first Cabinet — his ministers of Internal Affairs, Public Safety and Administrative Reform — would attend Yasukuni’s festivals on a regular basis. However, these ministers avoided participating in the mass march of Diet members, choosing to pay their respects either early in the morning as individuals or later in the day with a handful of loyal associates.

It seems unlikely that the current crop of Cabinet ministers, eleven of whom (by at least one scholar’s count) are members of the ‘Minna de’ group of regular Yasukuni visitors, might pay their respects in a low-key way. The new Minister of Internal Affairs Takaichi Sanae, for example, has been in the #1 lead center position of the ‘Minna de’ marches for many years now. Several of the new members of the new Cabinet, most interestingly four of the five female members, have been identified as militant defenders of the right and indeed the responsibility of Cabinet members to visit Yasukuni.

More Cabinet members than ever are making a show of visiting Yasukuni on the first festival day since the inauguration of the second Abe Cabinet, of course bodes ill for the Abe government’s efforts to improve Sino-Japanese and Japan-ROK relations. A mass visit of ministers would seriously undermine the energetic attempts to secure first summits between Prime Minister Abe and the leaders of China and South Korea.

In a surprise development last month, however, one of the four female Cabinet members, generally considered certain a shoo-in to stop in at the autumn festival, Minister of Justice Matsushima Midori, told journalists that she did not foresee visiting Yasukuni at any point during her service as minister.

This bold announcement, made in response to an ambush question at the end of a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, overturns the image of the current Abe Cabinet as more militant and radical revisionist than its predecessor. If Matsushima, who in her answer reasserted her firm belief that Diet members should visit Yasukuni, can see her obligations as a Cabinet Minister as requiring a special caution as regards international perceptions of Japan, then the all-important issue of whether Prime Minister Abe Shinzo himself is willing to forego a Yasukuni visit comes into play. More pessimistic observers like myself have always felt that there was zero chance of the politically resurrected Abe ever trading his annual pilgrimage to Yasukuni for a political advantage, even if the prize was dramatically improved relations with both China and South Korea. Matsushima’s detailed explanation of why she will not be going to Yasukuni, a response to a question put to her well after the scheduled end of a press conference when some in the audience were rising from their chairs to leave, suddenly throws the pessimistic scenario into confusion.

Pessimists about Abe’s intentions are not lacking in signals to the contrary. Close Abe confidant Koichi Hagiuda, in an exclusive interview with Bloomberg published on September 30, indicated that he believed Abe would be paying a visit to Yasukuni this year. Hagiuda heretofore has been a reliable indicator of the direction of the Prime Minister’s thinking. During the first 18 months of Abe’s premiership, Hagiuda’s pronouncements and predictions were so often on the money that many in the news media considered him Abe’s private news and public relations service.

Hagiuda’s credibility can, however, be questioned. His simultaneous pronouncements on Yasukuni, the Kono Statement, and the casino legalization bill last month undermined the Abe government’s negotiating positions with the Chinese government, the South Korean government, and LDP coalition partner Komeito, respectively. In the case of Yasukuni, nothing would guarantee a negative outcome for upcoming bilateral negotiations between Prime Minister Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of Beijing APEC more than Abe’s purported oracle stating that Abe will visit Yasukuni before the year is out.

Hagiuda’s being under orders to torpedo not just negotiations with the Chinese, but negotiations with South Koreans and New Komeito, seems implausible. The alternate explanation is that he is running interference for the Prime Minister, shooting off his mouth in a manner so as to disguise the progress Abe and his party have made in accepting the erroneous demands of the most important counterparts.

I believe the surprise Matsushima announcement should probably be read as a sign of increased, and not decreased, sensibility, self-control and flexibility in the post-Reshuffle Abe government, carrying a possibility that Abe will forego the matsuri sawagi (“festival madness”) he so stubbornly indulged himself in last year.

Michael CucekMichael Cucek

Michael Cucek (known to many as simply “MTC”) is Langley Esquire’s chief advisor for issues related to Japanese politics and social issues. An Adjunct Fellow at the Temple University Japan Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies, he is well-known as the author of Shisaku, one of the foremost blogs covering politics in Japan. A two-decade resident of Tokyo, you can listen in on Michael’s (often irreverent) take on Japan news and international affairs on Twitter at @MichaelTCucek

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End of War in Okinawa

Maybe because I grew-up on this tortured tropical island, the reminder today of the Okinawa_turtle_back_tomb70th anniversary of the fall of Okinawa to US forces jumped-out at me like a punch.

This 90-day battle was epic even among truly epic battles elsewhere in the three WWII theatres (Pacific, Europe, Africa).  Ninety-days!  What this could have possibly been like?  Simply, it had to have boggled… even now with hindsight, it must even now boggle the mind and shock one’s sensibilities.

Today … we too are confronted with global trends and aspects of the economy, the human-condition that we cannot quite grasp.  Things are underfoot that we cannot quite accept as reality.  We in fact refuse to believe: they are too huge, too incomprehensible. They run counter to everything that our society, our religions and our training have guided us to conclude about the world and how things “work”, i.e., the financial collapse, drone-surveillance, the bail-outs, NSA big data vacuuming, the encroaching death of the US Constitution, the black-shirted TSA, the US war-machine. But back then, too, alien concepts were thrust upon Americans.

With this reference, try to put yourself back in time, after the Marco-Polo Bridge Incident, then Pearl Harbor, the fall of Singapore.  Not so long ago… consider this:

Guadalcanal was a shocker.  America for the first time was confronted with the ferocity of those Jap fighters, the concealment of nests, the tactics employed, the tunneling, the inhumane treatment of prisoners, the preference of death-over-capture, reverence for the Emperor.  Only afterwards and with the benefit of hindsight spanning 7 decades is anyone able to appreciate any of this at all.  While astounding, we would not be mesmerized today if kamikaze-type fighters plunged into ships in a far-off war.  Back then, this new tactic in fact had soldiers and sailors frozen in place, so new and incomprehensible a sight it presented.  Comparably, it would be as if watching an authentic star-fighter warship, replete with hieroglyphic symbols and bearing obvious scarring / discoloration from an ageless trip, landing today, just there, a stone’s throw away!

Similarly, when sleepy, countrified, insular & agrarian America joined the world community and was confronted by something equally incomprehensible (the Japanese), we too were dumbfounded.  Honestly, people on decks of aircraft-carriers already on fire stood frozen in fear as plane after plane struggled to crash INTO them (kamikaze), or waves of Jap soldiers with bayonets fixed charged foxholes and usually being successful!, having wrapped each other tightly in gauze so that even if hit, they could continue.  This tactic created the absolute necessity for the deployment of the .45 calibre sidearm which would drop an elephant.  They just couldn’t kill these other-worldly Japs.

Unfathomable.  Yet, just like us today: lost in our training, schmeared in the lie that is consumerism controlled by mass-media, (and thinking it is “natural”), pursuing money… never getting “there”.

My teenage pals and I came to know all the battlefields in Okinawa by exploring caves in jungle fatigues, crawling like tunnel-rats, outstretched arms holding candles, probing into the damp, heavy darkness, waving away cobwebs, squealing like little girls at monstrous bugs, centipedes, spiders… always forward.  Reading topography for possible jungle-swallowed sniper-nests; being rewarded with discoveries of bones, ordinance, undiscovered cache, discarded bodies, hidden tunnel openings.  And this insatiable appetite was not just generated by a terrain burdened with raw, recent and abundant scars.

We would dive in turquoise colored waters that sometimes dropped suddenly hundreds of feet, hovering like skydivers over bombed-out wrecks.  The battle of Okinawa, the gashes in the landscape, pill-boxes and gun-emplacements, rusting wrecks were all daily reminders to us and the Okinawans, only 2/3 of whom were fortunate-enough to have survived this hell a mere 20 years earlier. Wounds everywhere were gaping, though healing very slowly.

During this very brief battle, one third of the 300,000 Ryukyuan population were annihilated, most of the children, all the young men.  All livestock, chickens, pigs: gone.  Agriculture came to a complete halt months before the campaign.  Ryukyuans who spoke in their native dialect were killed as potential spies, not even a second-consideration given: “just do it”.  Entire villages were regimented, 100% of them!  Tunnels were dug everywhere: into sacred tombs, into naturally occurring limestone caverns (lots of these!), double-backs formed into the hills, concealments in water-wells, inside ponds, under floorboards of houses.  Ninety-days!  And every inch intended to be a bloody, hand-to-hand battle.

In any conflict, to suffer a double-digit loss is a catastrophe: a 5% attrition guarantees a courts-martial. Historically, casualties will normally be three times greater than fatalities.  But civilians?  For Japan, Okinawa could simply not be lost.

Soldiers from all over Japan poured into the islands.  Eventually 100,000 soldiers occupied the island and conscripted the locals.  Fewer than 8% of these soldiers survived (!).  The largest battleship ever built (even today) was the mighty Yamato with a crew of 3,000.  In transit, on a one-way kamikaze mission to “rescue” Okinawa (to be purposefully beached in Buckner Bay), it was sent to the bottom with all-hands.  The US forces lost 12,500 soldiers suffering an astounding 5 time multiple in casualties.  Even more sobering is the fact that as bad as it was on land, the Navy suffered more deaths than the army or the marines.  In fact, the Navy suffered more deaths than casualties, a rare reversal generated from the successful plunder of kamikaze attacks.

The most lasting impact of the battle is vivid and well-preserved.  I’ve visited Okinawa and outlaying islands endlessly since departing Okinawa, then returning to focus my career on this marvelous, insanely-difficult-to-master country & culture.  The final days of the battle focused on the southern tip as defensive-position after defensive-position fell (none “surrendered”) and as a smaller and increasingly more decimated bands of soldiers retreated, eventually carving-out a last-stand on the Mabuni hills of the Itoman peninsula.

Clean-up lasted another month as the beachhead at Buckner was expanded and mopping-up increasingly centered around the Cliffs area. At this time, caves everywhere were packed with the wounded remnants of decimated forces.  Ammo was almost all spent, little water, few rations. US Piper planes (spotters) identifying pockets while Japanese soldiers ordered Okinawan kids to crawl out to the lines to do damage and keep the GIs at bay. Caves given-up still contained wounded and soldiers, who each took turns killing themselves. The terror in the south had civilians killing one another after taking turns ‘taking care of’ their parents, infants, then their beloved children last.  This insanity just escapes description.

The last remaining unified bands of survivors were nurses, all Okinawan teenagers who straggled from shelter to shelter dragging or carrying, and caring for the wounded who might be saved… but eventually giving-up even on them.

With so, so many, and not enough grenades to go around, they tried to tightly huddle in groups of five or so, pull the pin… struggle with each other in these last desperate seconds to hold the device closer to their chests … but this always left most just mortally wounded … and absolutely terrifying even more the 14 year-olds who watched, or came across piles of withering bodies afterwards.  This went on for days: too afraid to die, not knowing how, no easy methods, and always the pounding of aerial bombs, mortars, pillars of black smoke rising into the sky.  The verdant vegetation now long gone, the sea can be seen beyond.  But this only conveys more horror as it is absolutely, impossibly, covered to the horizon with ships of every imaginable shape: the devil-amerika-jin G.I. are here.  Panic.

As the noose tightened and the GIs approached on foot, and with no self-defense and no IMG_9617 IMG_9642 IMG_9643soldiers to protect them or even order them around, the cliffs preventing further escape beckoned them as their only escape. In droves they just leapt … Japanese-speaking G.I.s pleading with them, begging them with canteens of water, pleas and promises.  Reports from spotters in the piper airplanes were ghastly, reporting the final dash, girls in white, in pairs or just perched on a craggy edge, sometimes approaching soldiers only yards away,  pleadingly … a brief hesitation, then falling to the coral 200~300 feet below.

Very, very few didn’t leap and survived in inerasable shame, guilt, exhaustion… maybe less than two hundred?  In the twilight of their lives now (as of this writing), these beautiful girls now take turns walking tourists through the quiet, preserved caves… and thereby honoring their friends by being the echoes of such a wretched, wretched story.


One of the coolest things that ever happened to me occurred in high school just after I moved to Atlanta in 1969.  I haven’t spoke of it until now, even among friends, because it always seemed so self-aggrandizing… still, it is admittedly a pretty cool thing to befall someone:

This was after spending my formative years growing-up at the height of the Vietnam War on the island of Okinawa, an American-controlled tropical island.  Okinawa is a necklace of islands strung-out between Japan and Taiwan.

That a war was ongoing was evident everywhere. Okinawa was a beehive of activity related to this effort: thousands of soldiers, huge hospital complexes and military vehicles of every description on the roads and in the sky.  The air thumped throughout the day with Huey helicopters crisscrossing each other and landing nearby.  As kids, we’d sit on a boonie-grass knoll and watch lines and lines of B-52s lumber down the tarmac and takeoff for bombing runs five hours away.  These grey beasts looked like they would never possibly get airborne, so huge and obviously overburdened they were.  Especially after watching squadrons of Phantoms

SR-71 Blackbird super-secret spy plane.

rocketing on takeoff, these behemoth Stratofortress super weapons seemed to taxi down the runway, miraculously lifting off at the very end as if screamingly lucky; SR-71 spy planes would cruise in, still glowing from the friction heat their speed produced.  Incredible.

Kubasaki Junior High School, west side of the island of Okinawa facing the South China Sea. 1969.

After finishing the ninth-grade in a POW-type campus comprised of Quonset huts, sitting right on the turquoise colored South China Sea, a WATTS call from my father in Vietnam announced we would be moving to Atlanta where he would retire.

My ’65 Corvair; had a nasty habit of just clunking-down: uncool.

“Where is Atlanta?” my baby sister squealed; “who cares?” we all sang in unison, “we’re going HOME!”  After a military life with 7 siblings, on 2~3 year tours here / there / everywhere, picking-up, starting again only to leave again once best-friends were found, and repeating over and over… well, this was a joy beyond description.  Finally, after a life as transients, Home.

Entering an established community of civilians in NE Atlanta was a strange experience, precisely because it was soo…..Americana.  My brother and I joined the football team as nobodies, purchased a passable jalopy Corvair from money we earned working as deckhands on a Merchant Marine ship; we attempted to blend in.

Briarcliff cheer squad… really, the only true reason anyone would actually play football.

That was a tall order: the cute girls were already spoken for, the in-groups already firmly established, we were outsiders in the truest sense: our hair and our clothes were all wrong, our lingo grating… we didn’t blend.  To make matters worse, fighting for slots on a team populated as well with fathers on sidelines who had participated for years and years in practices, team events, summer sessions… well, we were worse than just nobodies: we were interlopers.

This all changed after school had been in session for a month or so.

An announcement crackled over the speakers throughout the school in mid-class one day… something almost unheard of…. instructing all the students into the huge gymnasium for “an assembly”. Everyone quickly, gleefully packed into the hallways for a class-by-class march to the gym.

Once inside, it was surprising that the entire floor was already

decked-out in folding chairs, bleachers reaching into the floorspace from both sides. The entire school from 8th Grade to 12th would completely fill this void.  In 10 minutes, the place was packed to the rafters, huge floor fans circulating the muggy air.

The stage was populated with the Administration seated at an angle off to the side.  The Principal stood and watched, nodding every once in a while into the audience, maybe to a teacher or some pet student; he alone occupied center stage as if basking in some new-found insight.

I followed my classmates to one of the side bleachers… to the right and closer to the stage than the baby 9th graders but miles away from the god-like Seniors who naturally, even now in this cavernous auditorium, threw their weight around with aplomb.  Rank has its privileges; I already knew that.

The Principal cleared his throat into the mic and the din slowly subsided.  Something was definitely up.

The Principal further calmed the room by beginning with: “I have an important announcement to explain the reason for this Assembly but first, some preliminary items of school-business…” and as if on que, the beefy Vice Principal stood from his seated position and replaced the Principal.  This fellow, in a too-forced stern voice, began with something about keeping the lockers clean, that the parking in the lot was reserved only for Seniors (and undeserving underclassmen were violating this), a word about the upcoming Pep Rally planned before Friday’s big game, and on-and-on, drone-drone-drone… the natives were getting visibly restless.

Finishing-up, the Principal leaped to the podium again, rising to his full height.  I noticed for the first time that he was wearing a three-piece suit, bright blue tie.  He begins: “Students, Administration, Staff – we’ve been called together today because I received a phone-call yesterday informing me that in our midst are two shining examples of heroism that need to be acknowledged.” The room fell suddenly quiet.  Over the summer, there had been a terrible car wreck in which a favorite student was killed, so this resonated immediately.  He paused for dramatic effect, looking around the audience.

Then from the back of the auditorium, the center double-doors sprung open nosily.  A number of people in the crowd physically jumped in their seats as all heads turned in unison to see what was the intrusion.  From the unseen foyer beyond the doors, a crisp shout echoed through the packed cavern… “Forward… MARCH!”

Into this fully packed auditorium marched a military procession, replete with flags on pointed, spear-like lances, two lines of six soldiers fully decked-out in military regalia, led by some guy who looked like General Patton.

I cannot even begin to describe the impact this had on the audience.  Awe, fear… as if a group of aliens had suddenly appeared in our living room… “poof!” like that.

This group marched in practiced unison down the wide middle aisle, boots shining, rifles on the shoulders of the rear four, flags pointed at an angle to display the full colors.  Clomp-clomp-clomp echoing and reverberating off the walls.  A feeling of dread consumed me.  I shot a glance at my brother sitting in the Senior’s section; his eyes were already riveted on me.

The color guard divided similar to liquid hitting a divider, splitting in front of the stage in military precision, one file to the stairs on either side, up the stage and poured, as if into a mold, as a backdrop behind the podium… without missing a single beat… totally in unison and in perfect cadence.   This alone, the only sound as they made this procession, was mesmerizing and somehow mystical.  The Principal watched with a grin beaming on his face.  By now my stomach was in my throat and I had difficulty breathing.  I held my brother’s gaze.  Trepidation gripped the two of us.

The Principal introduced the medal-festooned officer, a four-star General with literally light ricocheting off his chest.  He stood ramrod straight in front of the mic until the Principal sat-down, dusted-off his pants leg self-importantly and straightened his tie.  The General did not even bother to look… he just knew… and when he was ready, he started:

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began, a tone conversational yet seeped in power and confidence, his first words echoed into a silence where even a pin drop would be noticed. “Five months ago, there was a tragedy, a fire and an explosion, where several people were trapped inside a burning house.  What makes this incident so remarkable is that this occurred not here in Atlanta but far away on the island of Okinawa, a place where the US military maintains a dominant presence.” He paused, looked left, right, and then down at the Seniors. I was praying this would be a “We Want You” speech for recruitment though I already knew better.

He continued, “This presence is not without problems…. soldiers get into trouble, there are riots for the return of the islands to Japan, the Vietnam War effort is largely centered on our presence in Okinawa. The relations between the Okinawan civilians and the United States are constantly under attack in the media and by elements against the war and against the United States occupation of Okinawa since the end of the Pacific War.”

As he continued, I nervously looked around, seeking a hole to escape into.  I noticed all the eyes in the auditorium, those of my classmates, focused exclusively on the stage in front as this scene unfurled.  I was invisible, as if secretly observing and no one noticing.  I realized that that Thing I so desperately wanted, even after months of attempting to have someone notice me, to remember my name, to welcome me warmly into a gathered crowd after school as were many in a daily, predictable ritual… well, I wanted to just remain anonymous again. I knew this wasn’t to be and it was unfolding far too rapidly, too unstoppably.

After describing the explosion and the breaking into a flame-engulfed house, the first-aid, the deaths involved… and pregnantly refraining from mentioning any names, he finally concluded by saying, “… and in recognition of the heroic efforts of these two young men seated in this auditorium, the Commander-in-Chief of Pacific Forces has commissioned the following citation.  I would like to read this citation but first, I would like to ask brothers Joe and Tim Langley to come up.”

As if it’d been holding it’s collective breath far too long, the entire auditorium exploded in applause and cheer!  Had I not been better trained, I am absolutely certain my pants would have been covered in my own urine.  I stood-up, surprising those seated around me, and maneuvered through a suddenly constricted pathway made all the more narrow with outstretched hands and claps and remarks hurled from every direction.

My brother, closer to the stage, waited for me on the gym floor and, like a big brother, pushed me up the stairs first, in front of him.  What a guy, I thought to myself as I checked quickly to see if his front was wet (it wasn’t) and mounted the stairs.

As appeared in the ’70 Senior Album, sent by a classmate after reading this article… completely forgotten photo. Wow. (credit: Amy Watkins Rhodes)

I honestly don’t remember much about standing up there surrounded by a crisp color guard, their eyes steely glued forward, or of the General reading directly from the frame-enclosed citation, or the words spoken thereafter.

I do remember, however, the awe and the magnificence of standing there, identified and singled-out, surrounded by those whose mere acknowledgment I had craved, and feeling the anxiety of being an outsider magically melt away. My high school life was forever transformed after that… and for a new kid, that’s a pretty big deal.

To this day I don’t know how such an event was conceived or organized but I am so grateful that someone took the time and the interest in acknowledging something that anyone would have done in a similar circumstance.  Honestly, it is just by a twist of fate that it was my brother and me who were placed in a unique situation and where, fortunately, some lives were saved.

The Duke Victory, a merchant marine cargo ship that brother Joe and I worked on as our way to get back to the United States from Okinawa, summer of ’69.

This is the first time I have ever revealed this story or how it impacted me.  Even pals in Okinawa never knew of this since it happened just weeks before we finagled work on an underhanded Merchant Marine ship in Naha Port and sailed away the next morning from that time in space… without even saying “goodbye”.  Even now it feels like I am writing about someone else, so far and long ago that era seems now.

Anyway, standing there on that stage next to my brother, receiving an ovation from all these strangers in this very strange place we tumbled into… well, you can imagine: for me,  I was forever touched by and still remain eternally grateful for that.

Citation for Patriotic Civilian Service

Of all the interesting and remarkable things that have happened to me, this is by far the coolest.

Four Months Afterwards…

It has been a long while since my last post; let me update you on what’s been going on.

While most of the foreigners who fled due to the nuclear reactor situation in Fukushima have returned, there are plenty of lingering aftereffects. In most cases, foreign and Japanese families returned to Tokyo in April/May, finished schooling, then departed for summer vacation (Japanese school system runs year-round April-to-March, summer break in August).  Tokyo as a result is full of abandoned husbands.

The impact of radiation leakage has spread pretty seriously however.  Just this week, it is announced that beef contaminated by irradiated hay has been shipped throughout the archipelago and entered the food chain; this is for sure and without doubt.  Recall is not mentioned, suggesting a collective “oooopps!” from the Japanese government as the only manageable English translation for what should be a major “gomen-nasai” and the unsheathing of the short blade.

The rebuilding – if it can be called that – in the north is going strong but slow; it is just so massive.  Since the triple disasters, there have been two major vacations here (Golden Week – 10 days, 3-day weekend last week)(yes, even a 3-day-weekend is cause enough for celebration in this country of workaholics).  Yet, what happened then and continuously in fact since mid-March is almost unfathomable: the steady stream of people to volunteer.  There are one-day trips, weekend trips, one-week forays… the whole nine-yards. Schools send soccer teams up, companies organize to distribute product or erect temporary-shelter, people arrange to take their vacation-time to go … the list is as endless as is the proliferation of this sense of duty throughout the entire country.

Everyone comes back with similar stories of the stench, the mind-numbing magnitude, the herculean effort being devoted.  It is truly astounding.

In addition to just getting down on your knees to scrub walls or spoon-up sea-salt contaminated dirt in neighborhoods or parks, people understand that simply spending money at hotels, grocery markets, restaurants is a good way to help, too.  So in Sendai they organized a festival this weekend (3-day-weekend).  Anticipating 50,000, organizers had to cancel when more than 130,000 showed-up along the festival route!  The same thing with volunteers: waiting in line, registering, getting an assignment, situating yourself (and being fully self-sufficient in the process by bringing your own food, water, tools, gloves, steel-bottomed shoes, cookware, etc. and etc.), the logistics is itself a challenge.  But people stoically soldier on, make friends, wait without frustration, put-on-a-good face, exude a good attitude.

For me, though not even Japanese, I feel pride and awe (and this was before the tremendous women’s soccer victory of yesterday!).

As unbearable as the situation is, the people who lived through this ordeal must continue to maintain in their damaged houses, live in shelter nearby or risk losing their land and house.  Essentially, the Japanese government will exercise eminent domain at any suggestion that the property is “abandoned” (and there is PLENTY of that: many areas effected by the tsunami lost 40% of their population, some even more).  In most cases, the records of ownership have all been destroyed and they STILL have not figured-out who is alive / who is dead / whose is what.

So thousands of women devote their energies to cleaning and scrubbing inside waterlogged houses to make them livable (the men assigned more physical, manual labor).  In the meantime, flies and bugs are everywhere and making, for the queasy, everything just that much more difficult. And this is on “holiday” time? And you might get a shower after a hard day but then again you might not?  And the whole time the earth continues to shake and you are at or near sea-level?  And a steady uphill sprint of 2~3 km. may or may not save you?

Incredible video runs on the television from time-to-time show soldiers still digging through mud chest-high in catch basins for accumulated parts of bodies.  They trudge, collecting and preserving articles of clothing, wallets, wrist-watches, and claw their way forward. Armies of volunteers clean and preserve these artifacts, tag them with notes, and display them for bereaved to view.  Warehouses devoted just for this are full – row-upon-row; a steady stream of visitors come-in all day long, walking quietly up one aisle, down another.

In the meantime, a massive, major typhoon approaches from the south, scheduled to strike Tokyo on Wednesday / Thursday before kicking-out to sea again.

So how am I taking all this?  When the swarms of locusts arrive and the rivers run red, I guess then I will be ready to call it quits.  Until then, surrounded by all this stoic beauty it is difficult to walk when others continue.

More to follow…  clicking “like” or volunteering encouragement to continue with a comment would be warmly welcomed.

Battle of Okinawa

Like many of my pals who grew-up and were indelibly touched… even infected by time spent on Okinawa, we have ‘a thing for’ the island.  We know where the significant battles were, have extensively explored the gun-emplacements (now mostly removed and consumed again by jungle), the sunken wrecks, the tunnels that hid soldiers, villagers, provisions, the wounded. The vast fields of tombstones where final stands were made are familiar sites.  When I stumbled upon this book, I was immediately moved to share it with others simply because it is so profound and physical; I don’t think it is just me.

Published this month is Author Jeff Shaara’s moving & revealing book on a truly epic battle entitled

The Final Storm: A Novel of the War in the Pacific. The book is currently on the NYT’s Best Seller List.

Jeff Shaara describes his motivation for writing the book:

Though Hollywood has given us countless ways to dramatize the Second World War in the Pacific, the challenge for me was to bring to the reader a story that isn’t simply a rehash of everything you’ve heard before. And, where Hollywood is often less concerned with keeping the history accurate, I have always felt that if I’m going to tell any story like this, “getting it right” is key. When dealing with World War II, my research often included conversations with living veterans, and ignoring their truth just to “beef up” the tale, does an incredible injustice to what those veterans accomplished.

In the Second World War, the Japanese were unlike any enemy we had ever faced, a very different enemy than the Germans. We had very little understanding of their culture, of how seriously they took their loyalty and obedience to their emperor, and we were completely unprepared for their willingness to die rather than accept the dishonor of surrender. For young soldiers and Marines who faced this determination, the fights often became a slaughter on a scale no one could have imagined. To put a nineteen year old boy into that position, and hope that he responds appropriately is not a typical method of training our young troops.

In researching The Final Storm, I was surprised to find a significant amount of humanity among the Japanese commanders whose voices became a vital part of this story. Okinawa was the last great stronghold that held the American wave away from Japan itself, and the Japanese troops assigned to defend the island country knew that there could be no retreat. The Americans who confronted them had to fight not only this extreme dedication, but the weather and the geography as well. A fight that was scheduled to last a month, took three. How and why are far more interesting to me than a simple history lesson.

If this story is not a history lesson, it is also not an exercise in blood and guts. That kind of story would get old very quickly. What has always drawn me to these stories are the characters. I am not concerned with giving you every detail of the numbers of casualties or the positions of troops. There are historians far more qualified to do that. My job as the storyteller is to find the voices that will carry you (along with me) into the story itself. My search is to find a story beneath the history lesson, to feel it, hear it, smell it, to explore not only the horror, but the laughter (and yes, there is laughter. There has to be.) What kind of thinking and agonizing goes into command decisions? What makes a nineteen year old Marine rise up from a muddy hole to drive forward into the enemy he cannot even see?

While much of The Final Storm focuses on the great struggle for Okinawa, this story does not end there. One more extraordinary drama must be played out, the story of how the Second World War actually ends: the dropping of the first atomic bombs. Through characters such as Paul Tibbets and General Curtis LeMay, I try to show just how much tension and how much mystery surrounded the bombs themselves. Consider that, to the young crews of the aircrafts that were to carry the bombs over Japan, none had any idea what would happen when the bombs were actually exploded, whether their own planes would disintegrate, along with the targets they were seeking. On the ground, the Japanese civilians had already experienced massive bombing strikes from American planes, and so, on that morning of August 6, 1945, the sight of a single B-29 bomber high in the clouds above causes no real concern. That point of view is here as well, a Japanese doctor who is weary of the war, of what he knows to be the propaganda being fed to the people by their military. And yet, he has his own duty to fulfill.

There are debates ongoing today about whether the United States did the “right thing” by ending the war the way we did. The decisions made by President Harry Truman are controversial even now. My job is not to anguish over morality, or debate what is politically correct. Ultimately I have one goal: to bring you the best and most accurate story I can, as told by those who were there. With so few veterans of World War Two remaining with us, I believe we must be reminded just why we owe them our thanks, and why their legacies must be remembered. I hope you enjoy the story.

Whether you visit Okinawa or not, read this book and reflect on what happened.  While most chose to downplay it, beyond the turtleback tombs, the sandy beaches, the coral reefs that stretch far off into the surf, this place is sacred.  Incredible, indescribable sacrifices were made; we all benefit from this legacy.

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