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In November, I was honored to be the guest of the Japanese government for ten days. I had not been in Japan for over a decade, and was eager to return. The visit did not disappoint. Although I read several Japanese newspapers each day, there is much they do not and cannot capture---the sights, the sounds, and what might be called the flavor of life.
My trip had a serious purpose: I am writing a book on Sino-Japanese relations, which have been tense of late, and wanted to hear from Japanese officials their perspectives on developments. I was able to meet with top officials in the defense and foreign ministries, the coast guard, and members of think tanks that concentrate on Asian security matters. Much appreciated were their frank answers to my many questions. I have kept in touch with one of the officials, who has responsibility for the territories Japan disputes with other countries.
There were also briefings on other topics that I knew a little about beforehand but gained additional insights into---the difficulties that Japan faces in accommodating to the Trans Pacific Partnership; Prime Minister Abe's Womenomics program; and the impressive accomplishments of the recovery program from the 3/11 triple disaster in Tohoku.
Other treats were a visit to the Railway Museum, which included a simulated ride on the new mag-lev train that will soon displace the Shinkansen as the world's fastest train. At speeds of over 300 miles per hour, it was literally breathtaking. Briefings at the port of Osaka showed the careful thought that has gone into combining the need for tight security with that of moving goods in and out in the shortest possible time. The Edo Museum had wonderful exhibits of life in pre-Meiji Japan, and the Yasukuni Shrine's Yushukan, which I had specially requested to see, was fascinating.
A brief trip to Kyoto was nostalgic---I lived there for a year as a student, and was pleased to see that, while much had changed, the essence of my treasured memories was still there----the Kamo River with kites swooping down in search of fish, the artistry of pottery-makers and those who hand-dye and weave silk, the wood-and-shoji homes of shitamachi. Back in Tokyo, we saw an entirely different kind of Japanese culture. Cosplay aficionados strolling the streets of Akihabara, a human-sized statue of Pikachu, and a store that sells nothing but kitchen gadgets---hundreds of kinds to facilitate whatever culinary tasks one might have.
I have long been impressed with the Japanese ability to keep alive its ancient culture not only alive but vibrant, while at the same time staying in the forefront of technological innovation and modern culture. This trip deepened my appreciation thereof. I am grateful to the Japanese government for making it possible, and for the meticulous care that went into planning it.