Trump triumphs in Tokyo

President Trump appears to me to be playing a masterful game of 3- or even 4-dimensional chess in Japan.  His agenda includes not just trade, which is what most of his public statements mention, but also the complicated issues surrounding North Korean denuclearization and, inherently connected to that, China.  The biggest and most difficult goal of all is to force China to drop its economic development strategy of stealing intellectual property and exporting manufactured goods at low prices, facilitated by managing the value of the renminbi to keep it low.

Japan, which has a lot to fear from a nuclear-armed North Korea (because of historic deep hatred of all Koreans toward Japan), is committed to buying the largest fleet of F-35 stealth fighters outside the United States, something that worries both North Korea and China. Both countries deeply fear Japan going nuclear, because both have suffered unbelievably at the hands of Japanese militarism.  That fear is one of the strongest cards in Trump's hands, though it can only be alluded to.  Because of domestic political considerations, Japan could produce its own nuclear arsenal based on only domestic strategic decisions (as a defensive matter against a large North Korean nuclear arsenal), not as a response to U.S. pressure.

Meanwhile, China looks to be encouraging, or at least facilitating  North Korea's evasion of sanctions, in part to put counterpressure on the U.S.'s trade demands, which, if accepted, would end China's basic economic strategy.  Adding in another level of complexity is the response of China's other Asian neighbors to China's aggressive stance toward the South China Sea territorial claims it is making, tempered by its mostly negative experiences with wartime Japan.

So, to oversimplify, Trump wants a lot from Japan — but not too much — militarily, and he wants a lot from Japan economically, in the form of facilitating imports and even more foreign investment in U.S. manufacturing.  Japan's acquiescence to these trade demands sets a precedent and model for China, increasing U.S. leverage with the Chinese.

Trump is giving a lot of symbolic assent to Japan, honoring the cherished national sport, sumo (which is simultaneously a sport and a religious ceremony — the "referee" is a Shinto priest) with the "President's Cup," presented to the grand champion yesterday.  Reportedly, he paid for this trophy itself and hoisted its 60 pounds with difficulty, handing it to grand champion Asanoyama, for whom it was no challenge at all.  This humanizes President Trump, for Japanese people understand that sumo wrestlers are almost a different species, and ordinary people cannot be compared to them in terms of physical might.  Trump's good-natured game face is absolutely perfect.


YouTube screen grabs.

As the New York Times noted:

The sumo ring is a sacred space, where the same set of rules and rituals has applied to its inhabitants for centuries. Women are not allowed. Neither are shoes. And foreign leaders are not usually given their own mini-ceremony during a tournament, called a basho.

But lest we get carried away, I must note that back in the 1960s and '70s (the Showa Era, as the Japanese call it), the sumo tournament winner received the "Pan Am Cup," presented by the country manager of that now-defunct airline.  As with Trump, the symbolism was positive for the image of the airline.

As I write, President Trump is attending a state dinner at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, with the newly enthroned emperor and the political leadership of Japan.  In Japanese, an emperor is never referred to by his given name the way Western monarchs are, but rather by the ceremonial name given to his reign, in this case, Reiwa — my translation: "ordered harmony."  Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs adamantly denies this translation, preferring "beautiful harmony," but the most common translation of the character pronounced "rei" refers to order.  However, the depth of my grounding in classical literature is minimal:

The foreign ministry's attempt to dissociate Reiwa from the authoritative nuance of command or law chiefly associated with rei, which is used in terms such as meirei (command) or hōrei (law), may have been clear enough from its issuance of the translation "beautiful harmony."

But that rendition of Reiwa fails to reflect the original context in which the kanji rei was used in "Manyoshu" — the nation's oldest existing anthology of poetry, from which the new gengō was drawn.

I speculate that the dual meanings of Reiwa are an intentional message to China that Japan can be, in the era that is coming, a great friend or a fearsome enemy.  The Chinese well understand the meaning of the character rei, for the Japanese borrowed it from China.  In televised remarks prior to the presenting the President's Cup, President Trump referred to this year as both 2019 and Reiwa 1, for the official Japanese calendar dates years from the beginning of an emperor's reign.

Many American media outlets are saying that Japan is "buttering up" Trump with their treatment of him. But Trump is also offering Japan a lot of butter, showing his respect for its traditions and institutions. This will help Prime Minister Abe sell the concessions he may be announcing to the Japanese political world. It is also a complex signal to the North Koreans and Chinese that the USA can be a great friend or an enemy with powerful and feared allies.

So far as I can tell from a distance, this trip so far is a roaring success.

At earlier points in his career, AT editor Thomas Lifson studied at Waseda University in Tokyo, taught Sociology courses on Japanese society at Harvard, where he earned 3 graduate degrees, and was a visiting associate professor at Japan's National Musem of Ethnology.

President Trump appears to me to be playing a masterful game of 3- or even 4-dimensional chess in Japan.  His agenda includes not just trade, which is what most of his public statements mention, but also the complicated issues surrounding North Korean denuclearization and, inherently connected to that, China.  The biggest and most difficult goal of all is to force China to drop its economic development strategy of stealing intellectual property and exporting manufactured goods at low prices, facilitated by managing the value of the renminbi to keep it low.

Japan, which has a lot to fear from a nuclear-armed North Korea (because of historic deep hatred of all Koreans toward Japan), is committed to buying the largest fleet of F-35 stealth fighters outside the United States, something that worries both North Korea and China. Both countries deeply fear Japan going nuclear, because both have suffered unbelievably at the hands of Japanese militarism.  That fear is one of the strongest cards in Trump's hands, though it can only be alluded to.  Because of domestic political considerations, Japan could produce its own nuclear arsenal based on only domestic strategic decisions (as a defensive matter against a large North Korean nuclear arsenal), not as a response to U.S. pressure.

Meanwhile, China looks to be encouraging, or at least facilitating  North Korea's evasion of sanctions, in part to put counterpressure on the U.S.'s trade demands, which, if accepted, would end China's basic economic strategy.  Adding in another level of complexity is the response of China's other Asian neighbors to China's aggressive stance toward the South China Sea territorial claims it is making, tempered by its mostly negative experiences with wartime Japan.

So, to oversimplify, Trump wants a lot from Japan — but not too much — militarily, and he wants a lot from Japan economically, in the form of facilitating imports and even more foreign investment in U.S. manufacturing.  Japan's acquiescence to these trade demands sets a precedent and model for China, increasing U.S. leverage with the Chinese.

Trump is giving a lot of symbolic assent to Japan, honoring the cherished national sport, sumo (which is simultaneously a sport and a religious ceremony — the "referee" is a Shinto priest) with the "President's Cup," presented to the grand champion yesterday.  Reportedly, he paid for this trophy itself and hoisted its 60 pounds with difficulty, handing it to grand champion Asanoyama, for whom it was no challenge at all.  This humanizes President Trump, for Japanese people understand that sumo wrestlers are almost a different species, and ordinary people cannot be compared to them in terms of physical might.  Trump's good-natured game face is absolutely perfect.


YouTube screen grabs.

As the New York Times noted:

The sumo ring is a sacred space, where the same set of rules and rituals has applied to its inhabitants for centuries. Women are not allowed. Neither are shoes. And foreign leaders are not usually given their own mini-ceremony during a tournament, called a basho.

But lest we get carried away, I must note that back in the 1960s and '70s (the Showa Era, as the Japanese call it), the sumo tournament winner received the "Pan Am Cup," presented by the country manager of that now-defunct airline.  As with Trump, the symbolism was positive for the image of the airline.

As I write, President Trump is attending a state dinner at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, with the newly enthroned emperor and the political leadership of Japan.  In Japanese, an emperor is never referred to by his given name the way Western monarchs are, but rather by the ceremonial name given to his reign, in this case, Reiwa — my translation: "ordered harmony."  Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs adamantly denies this translation, preferring "beautiful harmony," but the most common translation of the character pronounced "rei" refers to order.  However, the depth of my grounding in classical literature is minimal:

The foreign ministry's attempt to dissociate Reiwa from the authoritative nuance of command or law chiefly associated with rei, which is used in terms such as meirei (command) or hōrei (law), may have been clear enough from its issuance of the translation "beautiful harmony."

But that rendition of Reiwa fails to reflect the original context in which the kanji rei was used in "Manyoshu" — the nation's oldest existing anthology of poetry, from which the new gengō was drawn.

I speculate that the dual meanings of Reiwa are an intentional message to China that Japan can be, in the era that is coming, a great friend or a fearsome enemy.  The Chinese well understand the meaning of the character rei, for the Japanese borrowed it from China.  In televised remarks prior to the presenting the President's Cup, President Trump referred to this year as both 2019 and Reiwa 1, for the official Japanese calendar dates years from the beginning of an emperor's reign.

Many American media outlets are saying that Japan is "buttering up" Trump with their treatment of him. But Trump is also offering Japan a lot of butter, showing his respect for its traditions and institutions. This will help Prime Minister Abe sell the concessions he may be announcing to the Japanese political world. It is also a complex signal to the North Koreans and Chinese that the USA can be a great friend or an enemy with powerful and feared allies.

So far as I can tell from a distance, this trip so far is a roaring success.

At earlier points in his career, AT editor Thomas Lifson studied at Waseda University in Tokyo, taught Sociology courses on Japanese society at Harvard, where he earned 3 graduate degrees, and was a visiting associate professor at Japan's National Musem of Ethnology.