The Philosophy of Monuments
«My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!»
– Percy Bysshe Shelley, «Ozymandias» (1817)
In ancient times, in faraway Izumo on the coast of the Sea of Japan, there lived a fearful eight-headed serpent, the Orochi. He ravaged the mountains and valleys far and wide, devouring the daughters of local villagers, and only when the god Susano-o vanquished him did peace come. Inside the Orochi, Susano-o found the sacred sword that still ranks as one of the three imperial treasures; nearby was founded Izumo Shrine, Japan's oldest. Since that time, the land of Izumo has been holy, so much so that the traditional name for the month of October is Kannazuki (the month without gods), because it is believed that in that month all the gods of Japan leave their native places and gather at Izumo.
Alas, all the gods of Japan cannot save the town of Yokota, in Izumo, from an enemy even worse than the Orochi: depopulation. In rural areas all across Japan, young people are fleeing to the cities, transforming the countryside into one giant old folks' home. The exodus of young people for the cities is a worldwide phenomenon, but in Japan it has been exacerbated by several factors. One is the centralization of power in Tokyo, which inhibits the growth of strong local industries. No Japanese Microsoft would for a moment consider having its headquarters in the equivalent of Redmond, Washington.
Other means of recycling the resources of the once agricultural countryside-retrofitted small-town businesses, resorts, vacation homes, tourism, parks – have not been explored, since, as we have seen, Japan's bureaucratic structures are aimed at manufacturing and construction, and little else. Civil-engineering projects and cedar plantations have not addressed core issues concerning rural areas in a postindustrial state. Worse, the new and useless roads, dams, and embankments make the countryside less attractive while failing to give it the advantages of city life. This scarred countryside does not offer appealing locations for companies to locate their headquarters or subsidiaries, for artists to set up ateliers, for retirees to build homes, or for quality resort developers to attract tourists.
What to do? With subsidies from the Construction Ministry, Yokota took its most picturesque valley and filled it up with a double-looped elevated highway complete with tunnels, bridges, concrete supports, and embankments. At one end, a brightly painted red bridge, lit by spotlights, spans the valley. The tunnels are decorated with dragon eyes, and eight viewing spots (the Orochi's eight heads) feature towering concrete pillars. Yokota proudly proclaims the «Orochi Loop» as Japan's longest highway circle. «An invitation to the world of the gods,» sings the tourist pamphlet, and indeed it is a celebration of the gods of construction who rule Japan today.
When the Orochi Loop opened in 1994, Yokota hoped that the highway would become a tourist lodestone to vie with the fabled Izumo Shrine itself. But it turned out that city dwellers are not so impressed by what is basically just another road. There are far too many concrete pillars in Tokyo and Osaka already; why come all the way to Izumo to see more?
So it was time for Yokota to take the next step in mura okoshi, «raising up the village.» Mura okoshi (there is also machi okoshi, «raising up the town,» and furusato zukuri, «building up the old hometown»), civic-improvement schemes, are sweeping the nation. The process goes like this: Yokota built the Orochi Loop, thinking it would bring tourists in and keep the locals around. It didn't. So officials called in a consulting firm, which advised, «Leave things alone. Accentuate the natural beauty of the area. This is what tourists come to see.» This advice was unwelcome, as it did not factor in the largesse of government subsidy money, so the town called in another group, with Allan West, an artist knowledgeable about nihonga (traditional Japanese painting), as a foreign adviser.
Yokota had a beautiful 1920s railroad station facing a nice town square, but in the 1970s the city fathers had rebuilt the shops with their backs turned to the station and the square. West suggested that they resurrect the town square and station, which would give back some life to the center of Yokota, and the citizens supported this, saying they were sick of having to hold their annual festival in the town-hall parking lot. But the officials wouldn't hear of this, as it didn't use enough money. They also dismissed the suggestion to bury telephone wires, because it went against the Construction Ministry's agenda for rural areas. Someone proposed refurbishing an ancient local temple, where the priest, a mahjongg addict, had gambled everything away to local gangsters, who stripped the temple bare, right down to the ornamental tiles on the roof, and left it to rot. But the local officials showed no interest in fixing it up or restoring it.
Thus in the first round of machi okoshi in Yokota, an unnecessary elevated highway, specially designed to be twice the required length and have double the destructive effect, wiped out a scenic valley. In the second round, advice to restore the town square and temple went unheeded, and phone lines remained above ground. The third round was the construction of another monument: Yokota built a large museum to the art of sword-making, crowned by another Orochi, this one a helix of eight entwined stainless-steel tubes topped with dragon heads. This, too, failed to make Yokota an attractive place to live in or visit, and its depopulation continues. Soon it will be time for round four, and what form the next Orochi monument will take is anyone's guess.
«Dogs are difficult; demons are easy.» Dogs are the simple, unobtrusive factors in our surroundings that are so difficult to get right; demons are grandiose surface statements. Anyone can draw a demon. Dogs are zoning, sign control, the planting and tending of trees, burial of electric wires, protection of historic neighborhoods, comfortable and attractive residential design, environmentally friendly resorts. Demons are Orochi bridges and multipurpose halls-any kind of monument, the bigger, more expensive, and more outrageous the better: «cultural» halls shaped in ovals or in diamonds, as ships or as flames; museums in huge tubes with rock gardens plastered on their curving walls, museums made to look like galactic starships, museums with no artworks at all. Rural villages have meeting halls and sports stadiums big enough for the Olympics. Cities fill in their harbors for futuristic metropolises as if they expected their size to double or triple.
When the Construction State meets disappointed civic pride, the results are such as the world has never seen before. Consider once again an example from Kyoto. When Japan Railways sponsored a design competition in the early 1990s for the New Kyoto Station (completed in 1998), it attracted attention worldwide. Here was an opportunity to make up for the damage done by the Kyoto Tower in 1965 and to re-establish Kyoto as Japan's cultural capital. The proposed designs split into two main categories: there were those who tried to incorporate traditional Kyoto forms, for example, making the station look like a large-scale Sanjusangendo, or Hall of the Thousand Buddhas, one long narrow building with a tiled roof. As trains arrived in such a station, passengers would feel they were entering into Kyoto's past. The second category was of resolute modernism. The architect Ando Tadao designed a square arch (rather like the arch at La Defense in Paris), using a modern form but drawing inspiration from Kyoto's history. When Japan Railways built the old station, which runs east-west for blocks, it cut Karasuma Road, Kyoto's north-south axis, in two, effectively severing the northern and southern halves of the city. With the proposed arch, Karasuma Road would become whole again, reunifying the split city, and the arch would be a reminder that Rashomon Gate, the fabled south gate of the ancient capital, had once stood on this site.
Japan Railways and the city authorities turned all these proposals down, however, and chose one designed by Professor Hara Hiroshi of Tokyo University. It divides the city as before, and does away with every reference to Kyoto's history and culture. The New Kyoto Station is a dull gray block towering over the neighborhood, so massive that Kyoto residents have taken to calling it «the battleship.» The pride of the station is a tall glass-fronted entrance lobby that resembles an airport building.
Professor Hara has a reputation as an expert on ethnic architecture, yet at a glance nothing here would appear to be particularly «ethnic.» But there are signs of the monumental architecture peculiar to modern Japan, now as ethnic as kimono. We've seen it all before in the Orochi Loop, the aggressive denial of-even attack on-the surroundings, the bombastic style, the architectural equivalent of sound coming from loudspeakers turned up to maximum volume. As Kyoto slides deeper into mediocrity, the station tries to impress by its sheer size. And, last, there are the cheap, functionless decorations. A plain gray box might not have been so bad, but Hara couldn't stop himself from adding things: miniature arches are built into the structure (apparently as a sop to Ando); the back of the station features external yellow stairways, red piping, and rows of porthole-like windows pasted onto the facade; and inside the giant entry lobby, escalators leading nowhere soar toward the sky. These are all features in which we see the influence of manga, Japanese comic books. The manga effect is reinforced in front of the station, where the first thing an arriving passenger sees is the Kyoto Mascot, a totem pole topped by big-eyed baby-faced children, molded in plastic. It's the equivalent of arriving in Florence and being greeted by Donald Duck.
The station's crowning glory is its so-called Cultural Zone, featuring a multipurpose entertainment center. As real culture disappears, these expressions of artificial culture, in the shape of cultural zones and halls, are a major source of revenue for the construction industry and hence a national imperative. Every year billions of dollars flow to such public halls; by 1995, Japan had 2,121 theaters and halls (up from 848 in 1979), and by 1997 it had 3,449 museums, the result of a museum-building rush unequaled by any other nation in the world.
Unquestioning foreign observers new to Japan often accept these halls and museums at face value. But most of these institutions satisfy no need aside from the construction industry's intention to keep building at public expense. The Kabuki actor Bando Tamasaburo says, «A multipurpose hall is a no-purpose hall.» At the theaters, events are staged that are planned and paid for by government agencies, attended mostly by people to whom they distribute free tickets. The museums are echo chambers, empty of visitors, with a few broken pots found in archaeological digs or obscure contemporary artworks chosen by the architect.
For Japanese architects, cultural halls are a leading source of income, and designing them is a dream. The buildings need not harmonize with their surroundings, nor need they provide a community service or indeed fulfill any recognizable function, and this gives architects a free hand, to put it mildly The result is a plethora of buildings that are fanciful to the point of being bizarre. In Fujiidera City, on the outskirts of Osaka, one can find an office building in the shape of a huge concrete boat. In Toyodama, a town with a population of 5,000, the Home of Culture is a yen1.8 billion extravaganza in the shape of a multi-storied white mosque. The Desert on the Moon Hall (yen400 million), on the Miyado coast, is shaped like an Arabian palace, complete with bronze statues of camel riders in an artificial dunescape.
One can find many of the architectural wonders of the world in a monument somewhere in Japan. Tokyo boasts a French chateau at Ebisu Garden Place, a Gaudi-style walkway with curving mounds inset with broken tiles at Tama New Town, and a German village in Takanawa, Minato-ku Ward. «However,» as the weekly magazine Shukan Shincho says, «just look around you at the sea of signs in kanji characters and kana alphabets, and in a moment your good mood crashes to earth in real-life Japan. Alas, however hard we strive to bring in foreign culture, in the end it is nothing but 'foreign-style.' On the other hand, maybe the inability to do anything for real could be called 'Japanese-style.' »
Hanker for Italy? You can find a Venetian palazzo in Kotaru, or an entire Michelangelo inlaid courtyard re-created at the Tsukuba Civic Center Building in Ibaragi. In Akita you can visit the Snow Museum, which keeps samples of snow in chilled display chambers. In Yamanashi, a Fruit Museum is housed in fruit-shaped glass-and-steel spheres described by the architect as «either planted firmly in the ground or attempting to reject the earth, as if they had just landed from the air and were trying to fly away.» And in Naruto,Tokushima, the Otsuka Museum of Art houses a thousand renowned works of Western art-fi-om the Sistine Chapel to Andy Warhol-duplicated on ceramic panels. In Tokyo, fanciful monuments are legion. Typical of the genre is the Edo-Tokyo Museum, a snouted metal body raised high on megalithic legs. The city built it to celebrate the culture of the Edo period. As one commentator has said, «What this look-alike of a Star Wars battle station has to do with Tokyo's past is a mystery. At any moment you expect it to zap the graceful national sumo stadium next door and reduce it to galactic dust.»
Monuments come in two basic varieties: manga and massive. The manga approach is typified by functionless decoration-the stainless-steel tubes topped with dragon heads at the sword museum in Yokota, for example, or Asahi's Super Dry Hall in Tokyo, reported as «what can only be described as an objet, a kind of golden beet resting on a black obsidian-like pedestal. . . . This is the Flamme A'Or (Flame of Gold) representing, we are told, the 'burning heart of Asahi beer.' Or maybe the head on a glass of that same product. Or something from Ghostbusters. The flame is hollow, so serves no practical purpose at all. Call it architecture as sculpture.» Known locally as the «turd building,» Asahi's Super Dry Hall was designed by a French architect, replacing what the Tokyo historian Edward Seidensticker believes to have been the city's last remaining wooden beer hall, dating from Taisho if not late Meiji.
Into the massive category fall the supercities being planned for landfill in the harbors of Tokyo, Osaka, and Kobe, as well as fortresses like the Tokyo Municipal Office Complex in Shinjuku. The most lavishly funded monuments, like the New Kyoto Station, manage to combine manga and massive in one structure.
What both categories of monument have in common is excess. Braggadocio. In Shelley's famous sonnet "Ozymandias," the poet describes a traveler coming across the ruins of a gigantic statue in the desert. On the base of the statue, an inscription reads:
«My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!» Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare, The lone and level sands stretch far away.
Japan has a bad case of the Ozymandias syndrome. «Boundless and bare, the lone and level sands» of miserable houses, ugly apartments, shadeless streets, bleak office buildings, and the clutter of signs and electric wires stretch far away. But Japan's planners seem to believe that the world will stand in amazement before these monuments, the larger and more strident the better.
Hence the pride that the town of Yokota takes in the fact that the Orochi Loop is Japans longest highway cloverleaf. Other towns have built the longest stone stairway (3,333 steps), the biggest waterwheel, the world's biggest Ferris wheel (Yokohama waterfront), the biggest stewpot (six meters wide, able to feed 30,000 people), the biggest drum, the biggest sand clock, and the world's longest beach bench. In Tokyo, monuments on the drawing boards include Taisei Corporation's 4,000-meter cone-shaped building known as X-SEED4000. Its base would be six kilometers wide and it would sit above the ocean, housing 500,000 people. The reason for the name X-SEED is that, though shaped like Mount Fuji, the monument's height would exceed that of Mount Fuji by several hundred meters, so residents could enjoy looking down on the mountain.
Shimizu Corporation is proposing a far more modest 800-meter skyscraper (almost twice the height of the Sears Tower in Chicago), on pillars above a city. Kajima Corporation is pursuing a stacked structure, a so-called Dynamic Intelligent Building, which consists of several fifty-story structures piled on top of one another. Ohbayashi Corporation, for its part, has announced plans for the 2,100-meter Aeropolis 2001, whose shadow will darken the environs of Tokyo.
While these companies have put their plans on hold due to the bursting of the Bubble, their concepts are dear to the Construction Ministry's heart, and as we have seen in the case of Nagara Dam, once a concept, always a concept. Aoki Hitoshi, a senior specialist with the Construction Advisory Section of the Construction Ministry, says, «The construction companies put a great deal of work into developing them, and it seemed a shame not to utilize them. Aside from the military, development of such buildings is an ideal frontier in which scientific research can be extended. We hope that in the future this can be developed into a national project.» How these structures will get around the Sunlight Law is a mystery, but in the case of monuments, ministries waive restrictions. Whatever it costs, something like these will surely get built.
Mile-high buildings are just the beginning. The grandiose visions of Japan's builders and architects go further-nothing less than reshaping the land itself. The new Comprehensive National Development Plan, or Zenso, is considering a network of expressways across the country, as well as mammoth tunnels and bridges linking all of Japan's islands, despite the fact that road, rail, and air systems already link them. The jewel in the crown would be a brand-new capital built on land far away from Tokyo; this will provide opportunities for monuments on a scale beyond anything yet imagined. Estimated by the government to cost yen14 trillion, it will house 600,000 people in a 9,000-hectare site surrounding the National Diet, to be called Diet City. The construction work will essentially involve flattening an entire prefecture – and eight prefectures have passed resolutions urging that this new capital be built in their territory.
The architect Kurokawa Kisho proposes to expand Tokyo by creating a 30,000-hectare island in the bay, laced with canals and freeways. This island would be home to 5 million people, with an additional million housed in another new city built at the Chiba end of the bay and connected by a bridge. The cost of this scheme comes to around yen300 trillion (twenty times the Apollo program), and it would require men and machines to level an entire range of mountains yielding 8.4 billion cubic meters of landfill (125 times what builders excavated to cut the Suez Canal), this on top of the 900 million cubic meters already shaved off the mountains of Chiba Prefecture to build the Tokyo-Chiba trans-bay bridge.
The world knows Japan as the land of the miniature, of restraint, of quiet good taste, of devotion to the low-key but telling detail. Nakano Kiyotsugu wrote a best-selling book published in 1993 in which he argued that the very core ideal of traditional Japanese culture was Seihin no Shiso, the «philosophy of pure poverty.» By pure poverty, Nakano meant the simplicity of life of the eighteenth-century Buddhist monk Ryokan, famed for living happily in a thatched hut. Ryokan's chief pleasure in life was playing with the local children. «Pure poverty» inspired many of Japan's greatest works of literature, such as Kamo no Chomei's Record of the Ten-Foot-Square Hut, written in the early thirteenth century, which describes a life of meditation in a modest natural setting, and which set a pattern that the philosopher Yoshida Kenko and the poets Saigyo and Basho followed in later years; it reached its apex in the tea ceremony. Tea masters designed tearooms to be small, unobtrusive structures, made of humble woods and bamboo.
The philosophy of pure poverty penetrates every facet of traditional Japan. Visitors to Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, home of the famous rock garden, will have seen a stone water basin in the garden at the back, whose motto is known to schoolchildren across the land: four characters are carved in it, surrounding a square hole in the center of the stone, which is a visual pun, since all four have the radical for «mouth,» a square, in them. The message-the essence of Zen, one could even say of Buddhism in general – is Ware Tada Òàrè Shiru, which means «I know only what is enough.» Another translation is «I know the limits, and that is enough.» Nakano writes plaintively:
When I speak of Japanese culture to foreigners, the problem always circles back to the way we live today, which is only natural. The reason I began talking about this side of Japanese culture is I wanted to say, «The Japanese products you see and the people making them are not all there is to the Japanese! This is what our traditional culture was!» While I know full well that it is being lost in today's Japan, it was my desire to introduce the best, the supreme point of Japanese culture.
If «pure poverty» and «knowing what is enough» were the supreme points of Japanese culture, where in the world did Japan's modern gigantism, the insistence on the biggest and the longest, the taste for the bombastic, come from? Within traditional culture itself, coexisting with pure poverty has been an other tendency, a competitive streak. When the imperial court built cities like Kyoto and Nara, it did so with an eye over its shoulder at China and Korea. In Nara, the very first order of business was to devote all the energies of the state to building the Hall of the Great Buddha, intended to compete with the largest temples of the Tang-dynasty capital in Chang-An. Today's Todaiji, though a much smaller reconstruction, is still the largest wooden structure in the world.
Later rulers celebrated their reigns with undertakings such as the Great Buddha in Kamakura, Hideyoshi's Himeji Castle, and the Shogun's Palace in Edo, which are among the larger structures of the premodern world. In short, Japan also has a strong tradition of celebrating its rulers' power through impressive monuments. What is going on today may be a similar affirmation of wealth and power.
Thoreau wrote: «Many are concerned about the monuments of the West and the East, to know who built them. For my part, I should like to know who in those days did not build them – who were above such trifling.» The answer is, of course, that none were above it. Every state, as it acquires wealth, goes through a phase in which it enjoys building bigger and taller structures. Versailles, the Houses of Parliament, the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower – these are all Western monuments. Newly industrializing Asian countries are headed one after another in the same direction, with mega-projects scheduled for China, Malaysia, and Singapore. From the Pyramids of Egypt to Malaysia's new Linear City (a twelve-kilometer mall and office building planned to straddle the Klang River in Kuala Lumpur), monument building would seem to be a universal need, perhaps even a basic human desire.
There is, however, one critical difference between ancient societies and those of today, and it is that raising huge monuments in pre-industrial times was difficult, involving massive mobilization of people and resources. Notre-Dame, the Forbidden City, the Potala Palace, Angkor Wat, the Vatican took centuries to complete. In contrast, the gigantic office towers and fanciful museums of today are apparently projects that even small and poorly developed nations can easily do. As the twenty-first century dawns, the construction of huge monuments is no longer a proof of advanced civilization. In other advanced industrial nations, the advent of a new skyscraper these days rarely brings more than a yawn-if not outright opposition. But Japan seems stuck in a pre-industrial mode in which such monuments still invariably astound and amaze. It's Japan's old competitive streak in action, but not updated to a newer model of development. Therefore Japan must keep building more and bigger and higher and grander in order to impress its citizens that it has «arrived,» or, in the words of Nakaoki Yutaka, the governor of Toyama Prefecture, «so that people can feel they have become rich.» Monuments prove to people that they live in a successful modern state. But of course the real test of a successful modern state is the degree to which it rises above such trifling.
Why is it that monument building has triumphed to such an extreme in modern times, while Japan's strong tradition of «pure poverty» has been swept away like a straw in a gale? It's a case of breakdown and imbalance-and this inability to keep a balance lies at the core of Japan's modern cultural trauma.
A clue to the problem may be found in what I call the theory of Opposite Virtues. Nations, like people in this respect, may pride themselves most highly on the quality they most lack. Hence «fair play» is a golden virtue in Great Britain, the country that attacked and subjugated half the globe. «Equality» was the banner of Soviet Russia, where commissars owned lavish dachas on the Black Sea and the proletariat lived no better than serfs. The United States prides itself on its high «moral standard,» while perpetuating racial and moral double standards. And then there is l'amour in France, a nation of cold-blooded rationalists. Or Canadians priding themselves most on being so distinctively «Canadian.»
In Japan we must look at the time-honored ideal of Wa, «peace.» Wa means security, stability, everything in its proper place, «knowing what is enough.» Yet a persistent irony of Japanese history since 1868 is that for all the emphasis on peace and harmony, they are exactly the virtues that Japan did not pursue. At the end of the nineteenth century, rather than settling back to enjoy its new prosperity, Japan embarked on a campaign to conquer and colonize its neighbors. By the 1930s, it had already acquired a tremendous empire in East Asia; this inability to stop led to its suicidal attack on the U.S. base at Pearl Harbor, as a result of which it lost everything. Something similar is happening again. Perhaps Japan values Wa so highly for the very reason that it has such a strong tendency toward imbalance and uncontrollable extremes.
Prewar history and Japan's present rush toward environmental and fiscal disaster indicate a fatal flaw in Japan's social structure. The emphasis on shared responsibility and obedience leads to a situation in which nobody is in charge, with the result that once it is set on a certain course, Japan will not stop. There is no pilot, nobody who can throw the engines into reverse once the ship of state is under way; and so it moves faster and faster until it crashes onto the rocks.
The rhythm is predictable. In studying traditional arts in Japan, one encounters the classic pattern of jo, ha, kyu, zanshin, which appears everywhere, from the wiping of the scoop in the tea ceremony to the dramatic finale of a Kabuki dance. Jo means "introduction," the initial start of a movement. Ha means «break» – when the movement breaks into medium speed. Kyu means «rush,» the sprint at the end. These all lead to a full stop, known as zanshin, «leaving behind the heart,» after which another cycle begins. A simple English translation of this sequence would be «slow, faster, fastest, stop.» In the context of twentieth-century history, one might translate it as «slow, faster, fastest, crash.» Japan never rests at ha but always continues to kyu, and nothing can stop it thereafter but catastrophe. Zanshin.
After recovering from its defeat in World War II, Japan set out to lead the world as a great industrial power. Pure poverty did not fit into this scenario; gigantic construction did. With industry and construction as the sole national goals, Japan turned on her own land, attacking the mountains and valleys with bulldozers, sweeping away old cities, filling in the harbors-essentially turning the nation into one large industrial battleship. Nobody can slow her as she steams full speed ahead toward a colossal shipwreck.
Another factor that prevents Japan from coming to its senses is the effect of the damage already done. Gavan McCormack has written, «The real and growing need is for imaginative projects designed to undo some of the damage to the environment: begin de-concreting the rivers and coast, demolishing some of the dams, restoring some of the rivers to their natural course.» Such a process has in fact begun in the United States, but in Japan it is nearly inconceivable. Consciousness of environmental issues is so low and heedless development has already so damaged Japan's urban and rural settings that what it would take to repair them beggars the imagination. It's a self-fulfilling cycle: as the texture of city life and the natural environment deteriorates, there are fewer and fewer places in which people can enjoy the quiet, meditative lifestyle of «pure poverty,» and fewer and fewer people who can appreciate what it ever meant.
A child brought up in Japan today may have a chance to travel to Shikoku'sTokushima Prefecture, but the closest he will come to enjoying its native culture is to see robots dancing in ASTY Tokushima's Yu-ing Hall. When he goes on family or school outings, bus tours will carry him not to famous waterfalls or lovely beaches but to see cement being poured at Atsui Dam. As Japan flattens its rivers and shoreline, and sheathes every surface with polished stone and steel, it is turning the nation into one huge artificial environment – a Starship Enterprise, though not nearly so benign. A Death Star. Aboard the Death Star, every megalomaniac sci-fi fantasy is a possibility.
At the deepest level we find ourselves face-to-face with what McCormack calls the «Promethean energy» of the Japanese people. With a thousand years of military culture behind them, a mighty energy propels the Japanese forward – to go forth, to do battle, to vanquish all obstacles. This is Japan's vaunted Bushido, the way of the warrior. During the centuries of seclusion before Japan opened up in 1868, this energy lay coiled within like a powerful spring. Once opened, Japan leaped forth upon the world with a voracious hunger to conquer and subdue – as Korea, China, and Southeast Asia learned in the 1930s and 1940s. And, despite the defeat of World War II, Japan has still not come to terms with its demon.
Economic analysts have seen the Bushido mentality in positive terms, as the motive force behind the long hours workers spend in overtime at their offices, taking few vacations, and devoting their lives to their companies. But Japan's unlimited energy to go forth and conquer is like a giant blowtorch-one has to be careful which direction the flame is pointing. In the past half century, Japan has turned the force of the flame upon its own mountains, valleys, and cities. McCormack writes:
One of the more philosophically minded of Japan's postwar corporate leaders, Matsushita Konosuke of National/ Panasonic, once advocated a 200-year national project for the construction of a new island that would involve leveling 20 percent, or 75,000 square kilometers, of Japan's mountains and dumping them in the sea to create a fifth island about the size of Shikoku. He argued that only the containment and focusing of Japan's energies in some such gigantic project at home could create the sort of national unity and sense of purpose that formerly had come from war.
This is why Yokota had to build the Orochi Loop, Kyoto had to build the New Station, and Tokyo and Osaka have to fill in their bays. A demon escaped from the bottle in 1868, and it has yet to be tamed.