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Thursday, April 24, 2014

President Obama Visits Japan

I was cycling from the Pokemon Center Tokyo last night, where I had purchased some Darkrai movie tickets for a customer of GoodsFromJapan.com. Heading north up Sotobori-dori, the crowds suddenly got thicker as I approached Ginza. Sukiyabashi intersection was not only jam-packed, but police with ropes were controlling the crowd, parting to let everyone cross when the lights changed.

I realized on looking at today’s news that what looked like half of Tokyo was out in force for a glimpse of President Obama, who was dining with Prime Minister Abe at the Sukiyabashi Jiro sushi restaurant.

A walk through Tokyo’s government district, Nagatacho, at lunchtime today revealed Japanese and American flags flying from the lampposts, and a very strong police presence. Loudspeakers surrounding the Kokkai-toshokan-mae Intersection (Exits 1 & 2 of Nagatacho subway station) were playing unworldly, nasal, hiccuppy sounds echoing at full volume around the vicinity: in what I first thought was some weird protest chant, but which turned out to have been set up by police and were simply being tested. (Some security precaution? For shouting “Duck!” through? For commanding the milling hordes of curious bureaucrats from the surrounding government departments to stand back?)

President Obama is over here in Japan mainly to try and get Japan to agree to be a part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), but in spite of Japan dragging its heels, Obama his performing his next most important task: to assure Japan that the United States will be by Japan’s side in any stand-off with China over the disputed Senkaku Islands.

On the one hand, Russia and China have long been the bogeymen in Japan’s geopolitics—a fact that is probably more responsible for anything else for maintaining the solid relationship between Japan and the United States: two countries which have very little else to bond them but matters of mutual defense. On the other, the TPP is being touted by the US as a counterbalance to China's enormous market clout, but Japan's rice lobby seems to be too strong to readily let Japan participate.

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