We began with a welcome session from the special assistant to the president of JICE. Following orientation, NEC toured the Edo-Tokyo Museum where we learned about the history and lifestyle of Japan during the Edo period and the hierarchical system between the Emperor, shoguns, daimyo, and commoners. We also saw replicas and models of the cities and carrying vessels of the times. The group played musical instruments used for Kabuki theater sound effects. In the afternoon, we toured Waseda University and enjoyed seeing a university pep rally. Lectures by professors at Waseda and government officials covered energy security, defense, and foreign policy issues. These were focused on general background information that helps motivate discussions during the remainder of the study tour. We were treated to delicious shabu shabu for dinner.
Day 2 Thursday, October 15, 2015
We began with a welcome session from the special assistant to the president of the Japanese International Cooperation Center (JICE). Following orientation, NEC toured the Edo-Tokyo Museum where we learned about the history and lifestyle of Japan during the Edo period and the hierarchical system between the Emperor, shoguns, daimyo, and commoners. We also saw replicas and models of the cities and carrying vessels of the times
Day 3 Friday, October 16, 2015
We began Friday with a visit to the Canon Institute for Global Studies, a Japanese think-tank funded by the Canon Corporation. While there we participated in a Q&A with experts on Japanese healthcare, agriculture, the economy and foreign policy with a particular emphasis on cultural and political challenges to reform. After lunch at a traditional restaurant popular with local office workers and some time spent walking around the Ginza district (Japan's version of 5th Avenue), we visited Keidanren, the Japan Business Foundation. This was a valuable opportunity to hear major Japanese companies' opinion on the effectiveness of Abenomics and the federation's position on regional development issues, energy efficiency targets, and labor reforms.
Meetings for the day finished at the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) for a talk on the energy policy of the Japanese government in the aftermath of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear tragedy. Only 6% of the country's energy requirements are met with native resources (compared with 75% in the U.S) and this fact has important implications for energy security and affordability. METI officials stressed the need for a continued partnership with the United States to gain access to affordable Natural Gas.
Day 4 Saturday, October 17, 2015
On Saturday the group headed to Yamanashi Prefecture, a landlocked prefecture that is roughly a 2 hour drive west of central Tokyo. We stopped at the Maglev (short for magnetic levitation) train exhibit, where we learned about the technology involved in levitating a multi-ton train as it picks up speed. Every ten minutes or so, the group and hundreds of other tourists viewed the maglev test train whiz by at over 500 kilometers per hour. It is hoped that this Maglev train will be the future of Japan’s high speed rail network. Currently, the Shinkansen (bullet trains) travel at speeds of roughly 240 to 320 km/hr but the Maglev train has been tested at 603 km/hr.
We continued the day by driving through the area’s misty forests until we reached the highest visitor station of Japan’s most famous mountain, Mount Fuji or ‘Fuji-san.’ With the mountain’s peak obscured at first by clouds, we learned about the mountain and some of the history of the surrounding villages. As the clouds started to clear we enjoyed the mountain’s diverse flora and geological features as we hiked partway around the mountain.
Our next stop was the Kitaguchi Fuji Sengen Shrine. This beautiful Shinto shrine, located in the town of Fujiyoshida not far from Mt. Fuji, is the starting point for many pilgrims who climb the mountain.
Our final bus ride of the day took us to our nearby hotel, where most of the group unwound in an onsen, or public bath, followed by dinner. The evening was rounded out with socializing with members of the other two research groups traveling with us, and later with several dozen Japanese resort-goers who warmly welcomed us into their group – a delightful way to end a great day enjoying the natural and cultural beauty of Japan.
Day 5 Sunday, October 18, 2015
After a few days of policy-intensive lectures and site visits in the bright, loud, super-modern metropolis of Tokyo, the chance to immerse ourselves in the well-preserved, adamantly traditional side of Japanese culture created a more holistic experience for us first-time visitors. This was a common theme throughout our trip: the fascinating and almost paradoxical dichotomy of a futuristic, flashy, technologically advanced society and its deep reverence for its centuries-old cultural practices. Sunday was a day to engage fully in traditional Japanese culture. We began the day at a local festival where we were able to sample traditional food, walk the grounds of a reconstructed traditional village in the shadow of Mt. Fuji (photo 1), help make mochi, a gelatinous rice cake made from pounding cooked rice that is used in many traditional Japanese desserts (photo 2), and some did this while dressed in a traditional kimono or Samurai armor.
Shortly thereafter, we visited a traditional sake brewery that had been family-owned and operated for hundreds of years (photo 3). Everything from the ingredients to the brewing process to the conditions of the facilities were imbued with elements of Japanese culture that had been observed throughout the week. After a traditional meal near the brewing facility, we were able to walk through the festival grounds to see (or purchase) local craftsmen sell things like hand-carved chopsticks, porcelain tea sets and other traditional Japanese household items (photo 4).
That evening, we stayed at a traditional resort-hotel that involved groups of six sleeping in very space-efficient conditions, in tight quarters, on plain, thin mats called tatami. Before bed, after another traditional Japanese meal (photo 5) we had another opportunity to experience a traditional Japanese bath. This, too, is a cultural practice that contains within it many quintessentially Japanese values: cleanliness, respect for others, and personal conduct that is cognizant of what is best for the collective community. While as economists, we are interested primarily in Japanese policy and its impact on the global economy, it is impossible to fully understand Japanese policy without understanding the underlying values and cultural norms that inform policy decisions. There is a tremendous difference between awareness of policy and understanding; bridging that divide was the enormous value of our cultural immersion experiences on Sunday.
Day 6 Monday, October 19, 2015
Monday began with a visit to Yamanashi University where we heard a presentation about Japan’s research into alternative energy, namely fuel cells. In order for the technology to be commercially viable, a more cost effective catalyst is needed. Students showed us around labs where they test the effectiveness of various metal catalysts used in the fuel cell technology. The presenters at Yamanshi were quite proud of their alumnus, Satoshi Omura, who had recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his research in therapies against parasitic infections.
From Yamanashi University, we returned to Tokyo where we met with two junior officers from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). These trade experts discussed the economic relationship between the United States and Japan, and through dialogue, we sought to better understand important aspects of Japanese trade policy while the MoFA officers inquired about United States trade priorities and how domestic political considerations affect those priorities. In addition to discussing policy, we were able to learn about the MoFA officers’ experiences with issues targeted for reform in the third arrow of Abenomics. Long working hours and daycare shortages in Tokyo were cited as anecdotal hurdles to young workers’ considering raising a family.
From there, the group drove to Miraikan, the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, where we explored exhibits on cutting edge science research and technology as well as viewed exhibits that were ongoing experiments in which we could participate. A highlight of the visit was a demonstration by ASIMO, a robot designed to move and interact with humans. ASIMO encouraged those of us watching the demonstration to consider the engineering accomplishments that underlie his ability to balance on one foot, run forwards and backwards, and even hop around.
After touring the exhibits, the Kakehashi researchers gathered in a conference room above the museum to share our findings with each other and with a representative of the president of the Japanese International Cooperation Center (JICE). Each group had gained valuable insights into the social and cultural norms of Japan, and these insights enabled a more complete understanding of many Japanese policies which we understood only superficially before arrival. Most importantly, cross-cultural relationships were cemented. Kakehashi literally translated is “bridge” and the program’s goal of building bridges of understanding between participants and Japan was clearly achieved.
Day 7 Tuesday, October 20, 2015
After an evening in Yokohoma, the second largest metropolis in Japan, we headed back to Tokyo for a few last cultural highlights. We visited Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa Shrine. This urban temple and shrine was much more crowded than the one we had visited in Yamanashi. We toured Nakamise-Dori picking up last minute souvenirs. As we headed to the Narita airport, reflecting on the lessons of the trip, we concluded that we would continue to use the bridges built during participation in the Kakehashi program. The United States and Japan are economic super powers with many common advantages and common challenges. Our culture and norms will shape how we respond to these challenges, and what works in Japan will not always work in the United States and vice versa. Yet we have much to learn from each other, particularly as our governments and societies confront the challenges of an aging population, a shrinking work-force, tepid economic growth, and a social safety net stretched to the limit as a result. As a forum for the exchange of ideas, the National Economists Club is an ideal partner with the Japan International Cooperation Center (JICE) in the Kakehashi program, and we plan to invite our new friends to be a part of our discussions on potential solutions to these shared challenges at our regular meetings in Washington, DC.
Please join us in congratulating the ten applicants who were selected as our Kakehashi Scholars for 2015. Their names and work affiliations are listed below.