133 Comments

Outstanding! No idea if I'll read any others, but hopefully I'll remember this one when it's time to vote.

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Very well written. Concise but full of good info. My only critique is that it could use an epilogue. I found myself wanting to know more about Fukuzawa's legacy. Did he remain a popular figure throughout the Meiji period or was he rehabilitated, so to speak, after the war? Does he have any lasting influence besides adorning the 10,000 yen note?

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I wish the review said something about the Meiji period. I heard it mention a struggle between the shogun and emperor, and I think the Meiji period somehow came out of this, but I would have like to hear that, and how Fukuzawa fit into that. Also, it never came back to say anything about when he got into bacteriology!

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The bacteriologist was a different guy, on the 1000 yen note, not the 10,000.

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This link might be a good place to start:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boshin_War

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Excellent review about a unique place and time that's rarely described in the West, but something else will truly stick with me: the absurd and hilarious reach to bring up charter cities at the end. Whoever wrote this knows his audience well. I'll have to remember to include a reference to prediction markets in my review submission next year.

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I mean, seriously... There's already complaints of "overtourism" by the Japanese, with legions of unruly tourists making things difficult for the locals. A foreign charter city under these circumstances would be utterly unpalatable.

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A new city specifically built for Western visitors I don't think would receive the same sort of complaints

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And those people wouldn't stay there, would they? Giving a bunch of foreigners who refuse to integrate with society permanent residence, who will constantly visit Japan proper and make the tourism situation even worse... It's never going to happen.

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Japan's probably got to suck it up and deal with some mildly annoying foreigners at some point if they want to keep their economy going

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Alternatively, they'll ride the population curve down comfortably, getting per-capita richer as they go, and prove that the rest of us have ruined our societies for nothing.

Japan is about 30% larger than New Zealand, it would probably be a pretty nice place with six or seven million people. And if those six or seven million people continue to own Toyota, Sony, Mitsubishi etc (all happily producing goods from their foregin-located factories) then those seven million people will be rich as fuck.

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"Japan is about 30% larger than New Zealand, it would probably be a pretty nice place with six or seven million people."

It's notable that far more people visit Japan than New Zealand. The people ARE an attraction, directly or indirectly.

"And if those six or seven million people continue to own Toyota, Sony, Mitsubishi etc (all happily producing goods from their foregin-located factories)"

The foreign-owned factories are in countries that are also going to experience population decline. (Though realistically, AGI will make all this irrelevant.)

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Ruined societies?

Care to explain what you mean by that?

My first thought is that you've got some wild ideas about the effects of immigration, but I don't want to jump to conclusions.

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You do wonder if they've just decided "you know, we're kind of too crowded on this tiny little island, let's thin things out a little so we can have more space".

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Japan's per-capita GDP is lower now than it was in 1993:

https://www.macrotrends.net/global-metrics/countries/JPN/japan/gdp-per-capita

Your assumption that they would get richer as their population shrank has not been borne out. Rather, per-capita GDP was growing more back when the population was.

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Do you think they seem very happy right now? Lol.

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Inbound tourism - even at the current record levels - contributes less than 1% of Japan’s GDP. Aggregate domestic consumption as reported in the national accounts has gone backwards as tourism has exploded. The annoying foreigners just don’t move the economic needle.

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It's not easy to build a city from scratch because of all the chicken-and-egg problems involved. Cities experience strong network effects, and there's also the problem that all the best geographical spots were taken long ago.

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A charter city would presumably have a filter on who's allowed to come in. The very best engineers of the West are by far the very, very best immigrants you could possibly want in your country.

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From what I understand they are way too parochial to capitalize on their enormous competitive advantage in attracting Western engineers. Lots of skinny Asian ladies, at least some of whom are probably familiar with anime? Then again feminists would probably knock it down.

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How politically influential is feminism in Japan?

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No, feminism here. They'd pressure the Japanese to quit.

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How are feminists here going to pressure the Japanese against a charter city?

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It seems like there are complaints about tourism in every tourism-heavy economy.* Usually the politicians are smart enough to realize the dire consequences of driving them away, so it remains mostly talk. It's kinda funny how many of the same people who dismiss complaints about immigrants as irrational xenophobia will make similar-sounding complaints about foreign tourists.

*Come to think of it, I haven't heard much about anti-tourist sentiment in Israel.

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When I visited Hawaii, the contrast was obvious. There was an official line about "aloha culture", and a lot of effort spent in buttering up people coming to the islands and staying within the main tourist areas. But off those areas, there were indiciations that the locals had much more mixed feelings, including the resentment that comes from dependence. It felt kind of like... cultural prostitution, if that makes any sense?

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Amen! I found the whole thing informative and enjoyable, and then I got to the "application to today" and thought "oh dear..."

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Same. I think the review would have been a lot better without the ill-conceived political advocacy at the end.

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+1

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I just learned that this is the Japanese character in The Difference Engine. (The name was mentioned of course, but I had no context for knowing who it was.)

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Jun 21·edited Jun 21

It seems like the suggestion at the end of the review could have been fleshed out better.

> Given the massive spike in urban crime after the pandemic...a large group of wealthy and competent people desperately seeking a functional urban space to live and work. Bring these things together, and you get ... a new Japanese city for skilled foreigners fleeing urban dysfunction.

If pandemics cause urban crime, how can we be sure that some future pandemic won't cause the same problem in the new city, or that COVID's effects on crime in Japan aren't simply lagging?

If something else causes urban crime, like demographics, then how can we be sure that those problems would be absent in the new city? Would the immigration be skill-based, thus filtering out problem elements?

Is the proposal, then, just skill based immigration to Japan? If so, why designate them a special city, at all? Did anyone benefit from the Dutch and later Europeans being consigned to Dejima? The review makes it sound like everyone lost out. The Japanese lost out by having their access to valuable European resources (including knowledge) stymied. And since trade is mutually beneficial, the Europeans would have lost out, as well.

Is the point, then, to maximize benefits to the extent allowed by Japanese xenophobia, which as in previous centuries would only allow foreigners to reside on one island? How would that solve the overall population decline of Japan, then?

Last, if the idea is to harness high-skilled workers who want to emigrate to better opportunities, then it seems likely that many, if not most, of such workers would reside in countries like India, rather than the US. Urban disorder is, after all, not the only factor that drives migration.

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If my experience living in Korea is any guidance here, westerners aren’t going to integrate into Japanese society in large numbers anyway. Nor is that society going to receive increased immigration well. So “just letting them immigrate” does not sound like a good solution. Organizing a specific place where they can live mostly among themselves while enjoying sporadic, deliberate contact with the host culture while also staying out of sight seems much more feasible in the long run. Korea used to have (and probably still does) less restrictive immigration rules for its island, Jeju. That seemed very smart, though it mostly only attracted tourists.

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What relevant experiences have you had in Korea?

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I lived there for about 4 and a half years, in Seoul. I was a postdoc then, working at Yonsei University. I present as caucasian. While I felt mostly welcome and respected as a foreigner, it was pretty clear that no Korean would ever consider me one of them, no matter how much Korean language I learned (I got to ~B1 level, which is pretty high for a native speaker of Italian like me). I would always be a waikukin. Which is fine, honestly. But I don’t think the average American EFL teacher will fare much better than me. So I don’t see a point in mass immigration to Korea, and I assume Japan is the same if not harder to integrate into

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Japan is significantly less culturally homogenous than Korea so I think it would go easier. Still a big difference from the West though.

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It’s much bigger and historically fragmented, with places like Hokkaido and Okinawa that represent late additions to “core” Japan, but still it’s waaay more homogeneous than any new world country. Even Brazilian Japanese who come back to Japan report difficulties in reintegrating into Japanese society.

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Suppose, as seems plausible, that Japanese cities function so well in large part because most of their population has been acculturated into distinctively Japanese cultural norms. Then perhaps one promising way of exporting that competence would be to:

(a) translate into English more of whatever Japanese literature exists that explicitly describes those norms and the methods of their acculturation,

(b) strive to make explicit more of whatever is implicit and not written down,

(c) open schools for foreigners who want their kids acculturated into those norms,

and so on. This is compatible with, maybe even complementary to, the building of charter cities for foreigners within Japan; but it might also be appealing to charter city types outside of Japan.

Of course, Japan's problems are also likely related to the same package of norms that produces its strengths, and disentangling good from bad would to say the least not be simple.

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Jun 21·edited Jun 21

"Japanese cultural norms" isn't some complex, esoteric thing. It ultimately just boils down to "don't do things that inconvenience others". But apparently that's too difficult for people to understand.

Honestly, the reason that these other countries can't get these results is that they're far too tolerant. They lack the culture of fear that enshrines these values within the populace. Fear of failure, abandonment, disgrace, alienation. And the strict heirarchies that enforce this fear.

...Or maybe it's just genetic, who knows.

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Bowing in 15-degree increments depending on relative social status and occasion is 'don't do things that inconvenience others'? It's a whole web of customs that evolved over thousands of years.

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It's more hygienic than shaking hands. https://www.betonit.ai/p/swine_flu_and_hhtml

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Jun 22·edited Jun 22

I agree. The wa (和) in Wagyu and washoku etc etc referring to Japan (Wagyu = 和牛 = Japanese beef; washoku = 和食 = Japanese food) means “harmony”. I often think this explains much of supposedly esoteric Japanese cultural norms. The goal is a harmonious society; people are very aware of others and do their best not to inconvenience the people around them.

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I mean, yeah, but that's stacked on Confucian values and about a millennium and a half of history. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with the Japanese; I for one would be hard-pressed to suggest improvements to their society from the outside. But it's not as simple as 'harmony' and 'avoid inconveniencing others'.

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One obvious area for improvement is Japan's toxic work culture, which requires everyone to pointlessly stay late at the office and then go out drinking afterwards.

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I agree but, you know, it's their country.

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> Of course, Japan's problems are also likely related to the same package of norms that produces its strengths, and disentangling good from bad would to say the least not be simple.

My first reaction was that the cultural norm of "staying pointlessly late at the office" would probably make this offer less attractive for foreigners.

Then I remembered that Google is basically doing the same, so I am not so sure anymore. I guess the difference is that Google uses the carrot (having everything available at your workplace, so you have little reason to leave) rather than the stick (leaving your workplace at a reasonable time would bring social disapproval and that is the worst imaginable thing).

In order to enforce social norms, there must be a punishment for their breaking. So the proper explanation of Japanese culture would include the mechanisms that punish any deviation from the norms. Social pressure only goes so far, because some people don't give a fuck; what happens to them? Are all of them thrown to jail? Do people who inconvenience others during their free time somehow lose an opportunity to ever get a decent job? (This of course assumes that there is such a thing as free time, so maybe that is the answer.) On the other hand, there is also crime in Japan, there are the criminals with tattoos and somehow not all of them are in jail, so the enforcement of the norms is not perfect. So how does the mechanism that is not perfect still keep most people in a very strict line? Is it maybe because the society is clearly divided to rule-followers and rule-breakers, and if you are among the former, you need to signal it very hard all the time?

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Yeah, agree with a lot of this, especially that the review probably should have fleshed the idea out; it felt like it was just tacked on for the sake of having a "point" to the review, and as is, kinda distracts from the point of the review - I suspect a disproportionate amount of the discussion is going to center on just these last few paragraphs.

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Oh to live on an island full of cats

But the ending does sound like a really good idea. City-states with technocratic governance have a severe supply/demand imbalance (Look at Singapore even despite the terrible weather). We keep recommending economically struggling countries build SEZs, but maybe it makes more sense to push for them in richer countries with good technocratic governance and low fertility.

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Singapore has very low fertility, as is common with cities. The solution to low fertility is not in building new cities, however much I might favor that idea for other reasons.

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Singapore had high fertility when it was starting out. The solution to low fertility is to start more new stuff, not to give up on building anything new.

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Not "anything new". A new suburb or exurb would also be new!

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It's more about the spirit of building up new things. I importantly think a major problem with modern western civilization is the lack of passion for building new things (and this extends to fertility), and we need to treat that by having more enthusiasm for building new things. Building a new suburb isn't a vision for an exciting new future, it's just yet another retirement community. Build a new city state for our children! And also have children for that bright future.

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Seems cart before horse-ish.

The correlating factor seems to be social cohesion and low stratification at first glance; seeing as birth rate tracks with either desperate dirt grubing peasantry or low income inequality (at least in the US), but there are countries out their with pretty ok equality and high cohesion that also have a low birth rate so who knows.

Maybe it is eco-doomerism in both senses; I know I will not be having kids probably ever 'cause I'm comfortably wealthy if I'm single but not if I'm not, and I'm fairly confidante that the world is going to get worse both economically and ecologically and will not get better unless the AGI acolites are right; in which case it will get much better or end.

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The world has been getting better economically ever since the industrial revolution began.

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> Build a new city state for our children!

Building cities from scratch by fiat is very rare and usually only happens with a coercive autocracy. Cities benefit from strong network effects, so you can't normally create them from scratch unless the government is able to forcibly move large numbers of people at once.

Also, all the best geographical spots are already taken by natural cities.

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I think suburbs tend to be populated by commuters, while exurbs might have more retirees.

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Approximately everybody had high fertility at that time. Singapore probably has about average fertility for a rich city.

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You can listen to fragments of this book on a "Voices of the past" primary source narration youtube channel:

First Japanese Visitor to USA Describes American Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IvPxCuIspWs

First Japanese Visitor After Sakoku Describes European Life

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drIt0EIIteA

First Japanese Visitor to US + Europe Describes Birth of Modern Japan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Wv5615ppOY

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Tangentially - It is also available in a digitized version on Archive.org

https://archive.org/details/autobiographyofy0000fuku_o2m4

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Why would the horse-drawn carriages in California be surprising?

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I could be wrong, but IIRC in Japan horses were treated as weapons of war, and reserved exclusively for the samurai, as combat mounts.

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At the time Japan exited isolation it was forbidden for vehicles to travel on the highways, which were built and mostly reserved for military and government use. Ordinary people traveled by foot or on horseback, but wheeled vehicles were outlawed. The Shogunate preferred stability to efficiency in all things, and part of that is controlling the movement of people and goods.

https://d-arch.ide.go.jp/je_archive/english/society/wp_je_unu9.html

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I remember early in the book Fukuzawa talking quite a bit about how he needed to walk when travelling between home town, Nagasaki, Osaka, and Edo.

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Wheeled vehicles? I thought human-pulled rickshaws were common, but perhaps that's only for intra-urban rather than inter-urban transportation.

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Rickshaws didn't appear in Japan until 1869, shortly after the ban on wheeled vehicles ended.

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No paving at the time, and generally quite muddy, narrow streets.

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Wheeled vehicles were comparatively rare in Japan at the time. The narrow, uneven mountainous inter-city roads made them impractical for longer journeys, and the cities would have been too dense to allow for their use there either. Sedan chairs or walking were the main mode of transportation for both shorter and longer distances. Horseback riding also happened but it was less common due to restrictions on who could ride horses and where.

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Jun 21·edited Jun 21

Aside from a fair bit of tense confusion (present to past to present to past, sometimes back and forth in the same sentence) and not a whole lot of analysis compared to summary...this was very entertaining, and had a real, satisfying flow.

Although it also weirdly skipped right over the whole overthrow of the Shogunate, and Restoration of the Emperor, and total change of course by the leaders of the Restoration in favour of wholesale Westernisation...if I didn't already know that happened I'd be completely confused.

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I definitely got confused there. I expected the word “Meiji” to appear in a review of a book about a figure in late 19th century Japan who was involved in westernization, but I don’t actually know what the word means, and this review didn’t help!

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"Meiji" was emperor at the time of the downfall of the shogunate, and thus the first emperor of the post-Edo era, and also a major reformer who oversaw the rapid industrialization of Japan (as well as nationalism, promotion of Shinto, the cult of the emperor, etc.)

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And Japan retains the (very ancient) custom of doing calendars by regnal year, so the period in which he was emperor, from 1868-1912, is the Meiji era. Currently we're in the Reiwa era, year six, although as era names are posthumous names you shouldn't use that name for the reigning emperor.

(actually I think it was a bit less 1-to-1 pre-restoration, ironically enough)

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Jun 24·edited Jun 24

The ironic part is that tying era names to the emperor only started with Meiji. I actually learned that from this review, after getting confused about how they went from Kaei to Ansei so quickly:

> “It was not until the sixth year of Kaei (1853) that a steamship was seen for the first time; it was only in the second year of Ansei (1855) that we began to study navigation from the Dutch in Nagasaki"

I looked it up and it turns out that prior to Meiji, the courts proclaimed new eras frequently whenever they felt like it, not just when a new emperor took power, and the eras typically lasted under 10 years.

Edit: I see you mentioned that too.

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Jun 21·edited Jun 21

Thank you for this review. It's fascinating material. By the way, Fukuzawa is mistakenly referred to as "Fuzukawa" in the 5th paragraph.

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I feel like I learned a lot from this review. I greatly appreciate the image of the ¥10,000 note, without which I would have read the entire thing with the wrong interpretation of his "gracefully curled back hair".

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Jun 21·edited Jun 21

I was curious if the San Francisco photograph was preserved, found it here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fukuzawa_Yukichi_with_the_girl_of_the_photo_studio.jpg

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Thnx.

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This photo should also be inserted into the review. It's awesome. Thanks for sharing.

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Jun 21·edited Jun 23

This is a fascinating book, and I'm very glad this got reviewed. This review is a pretty good treatment of it, and I particularly appreciate that the reviewer applies their perspective as an American who has lived in modern Japan.

My big complaint about this review is that it focuses mostly on the early part of the book. More than half of the review focuses on Fukuzawa's early life prior to his arrival in Edo, which is barely a quarter of the book (92 out of 337 pages in my copy). The first-hand glimpse at the closing decades of pre-Perry-Expedition Japan from the perspective of a young man born into a minor Samurai family is an interesting and important part of the book, but I found most of the rest of the book just as interesting and important, and much of that was treated only in passing or not at all. There's a full chapter on the European mission (two sentences in the review), and the second visit to America is completely omitted. And after returning to Japan from the last expedition, Fukuzawa founded the first English-language school in Japan and in this capacity he did a fair amount of advocacy for Japan to learn from Western practices (liberalization of law and culture as well as pedagogical methods) rather than the traditional focus on China as the only foreign country worth studying. I suspect the reviewer ran out of time and/or energy as the deadline came up and had to rush through most of the material; if so, I encourage them to write an expanded review and publish it separately, as I would very much like to read that.

I read this book primarily as a narrative about the aftermath of First Contact. It's a very familiar theme in science fiction, both humans (modern, past, or near-to-middle future) being contacted by advanced aliens and farther-future humans making contact with more primitive aliens. Some of the earliest works in the genre, such as H.G. Wells's "War of the Worlds", were explicit allegories for European imperialism. Fukuzawa's autobiography takes the perspective of a central figure in a real-life situation of a culture that's undergoing the consequences of being contacted by more technologically advanced European cultures.

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Thank you! Welcome information. This was a fine and clever "book-review" aimed at ACX readers, but it left me wondering, what kinda book it really is. "337 pages" - helped!

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That the reviewer covered only part of the material was evident for me, even as someone who hasn't read the book.

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Jun 21·edited Jun 23

"Many islands in Japan are now populated by more cats than people. There’s not a shortage of promising sites."

I don't think this is actually true - (the second sentence, not the first). One of the big reasons Japan has such famously dense, urban cities is the lack of land. It's a modestly-sized island chain that's 80% mountains, and a lot of other parts are going to have religious/cultural/ecological significance.

I don't think there's really an abundance of promising sites for the Japanese government to just slap down some big Gaijin-opolis, even assuming there was the political will and funding for that sort of thing. A smallish Prospera-styled charter city, maybe. But probably not anything that's going to put a dent in the population curve.

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To be a bit more concrete here, if we're looking at like a Singapore-styled city-state model, Singapore is 750 km^2, looking at this list of Japanese islands <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_islands_of_Japan_by_area>, there's 10 islands above 700 sq km... and half of those are the main five Japanese islands (counting Okinawa), and two of them are disputed by Russia, and the least populated of the remaining three (Tsushima) already has 30K people living on it. (I'm not sure how many cats, however)

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Technically Singapore was less than 600 km^2 originally, but it doesn't change your point much

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America's ultralarge cities could be far denser, it's just that NIMBYs won't let that happen. Agricultural land is still 13% of Japan's total land area:

https://www.theglobaleconomy.com/Japan/Percent_agricultural_land/

That's plenty for a gaijinopolous.

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I'm not sure I follow - if you saw my nested comment, I was using Singapore as my reference point, not American cities.

And I'm not sure what the 13% of land being agricultural point was meant to be. That they could just take agricultural land and turn it into a big city? For one, I'm not sure that enough of that land is actually all together in one spot that it could be turned into a city.

For another, Japan is already a dense country with limited farmable land. It already doesn't produce enough food for its people and is reliant on imports, which seems long-term precarious, so removing farm land to build another big city would probably be contentious before even considering more specific details like the actual land owners getting displaced or the idea that you're building it specifically for foreigners.

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Most of Japan has a major depopulation problem. It's only the cities that are booming, while the countryside empties out.

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> And when you dive into the history of Japan’s modern institutions—the police force, the universities, the banking system, the press—Fuzukawa is there as well.

Typo in the name

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Interesting review, although I think the material in the book was handled better than the application to current events. I found the question about Washington's descendants amusing - it is such a clash between Japanese and American values. As an interesting aside, the first shogun was tasked with fighting the "shrimp barbarians." It's a shame this naming convention didn't catch on elsewhere; shrimp barbarians sound so much more exotic than Celts or Gauls.

> Though I must say, having lived for nearly two years in Japan, I have never been treated poorly.

I knew a fellow who lived in Japan for a number of years as an English teacher. He said that there were certain establishments he would be turned away at the door - and the staff would tell him "no gaijins allowed." He seemed to find a certain anti-foreigner sentiment still going strong in some places. He ended up marrying a Japanese woman who used him to immigrate to the US and then dumped him, so I imagine his experience was colored by bitterness in the end. This fellow also talked about arbitrary rules and customs in the school system. There was a strict policy against hair dye. Some children had naturally lighter brown hair, instead of the typical very dark brown/black color. They were endlessly harassed by teachers who they had to convince of their natural coloration.

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How fluent was your friend? I don't want to make any assumptions but I do find that a lot of the 'cant fit in' crowd never bother learning the language.

In my experience as someone living here and who does speak the language, a good 90% of the 'no foreigners' places will happily let you in if you reply in fluent Japanese with a 'dont worry, I speak Japanese'. The other ten percent unfortunately does exist but you kind of have to go looking for them.

Anti foreigner sentiment absolutely exists, but tends to be either a) pretty reasonable annoyance at tourists disrupting the social harmony or b) behind closed doors - those that don't like foreigners just avoid them. Which I have to say is a lot easier to live with than the versions of xenophobia I've seen in other countries.

The hair thing has been spoken about in the news but was a bit sensationalized imo. I've never worked at a japanese school though so can't speak from experience.

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He was hired to teach Japanese kids English so he had to be fluent in both languages by necessity. I got the impression from him that he ran into xenophobia from time to time but it wasn't frequent.

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I would never presume to evaluate a review of a book I had not read, and I haven't read this one (and will not).

However, as an ARTICLE, a STORY, this was fabulous!

I really think book reviews should not be so long.

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Most interesting, concisely written, informative - thanks! I was wondering if the autobiography mentioned marriage? - all we read was about his young, then adult, sons. I can imagine that marriage might have been another crux in the life of a man who punctured so many traditional norms.

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In general I enjoyed this review a lot, especially that it's about an era I don't know very much about.

"So I was surprised to learn that the mustachioed man on the ¥1,000 note with which I purchased my daily bento box was a bacteriologist. It was a pleasant surprise, though. It seems to me that a society that esteems bacteriologists over politicians is in many ways a healthy one."

Bacteriologist? This never comes up again, the rest of the review implies that he's primarily a linguist. Was it a mistake? Did I miss something?

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They're different people. Fukuzawa is the one on the 10k note, not the 1k note.

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Thank you! It looked like I was missing something!

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Someone could have told Fukuzawa that Washington did not have any biological descendants (he had adopted children from Martha's first marriage).

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The Japanese, particularly in the Tokugawa Shogunate period, regularly practiced adult adoption and didn't seem to consider it significantly inferior to natural progeny, so I don't know that that detail would have mattered much.

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>also amazed by the prices of groceries in California

Was he amazed by how high they were, or how low, or what?

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High (not from review but from source material), he is astounded at how expensive oysters are (half dollar for jar of them vs cents in Japan).

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I love the review, but would drop the last section, it detracts from it, except for the very last sentence, which could round the whole thing up nicely.

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I was thinking the same myself. The last section is very jarring (and not particularly well thought out, even.)

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Very well written, and thoroughly enjoyed.

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I liked the review, but overall I feel the section on cities and birth rates detracted from the piece

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Fukuzawa must have been SO humble that they put his face on the 10,000 yen because none of the accomplishments described are giving me face-on-dollar legacy.

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This is a fun and charming review which left me wondering if the book itself is equally fun and charming.

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Jun 22·edited Jun 22

This review started out great, but was ruined by the ending.

Incidentally, it seems dishonest to mention the 2020 crime increase without also mentioning that crime has since gone back down most of the way. Of course, there are far bigger problems with the charter city concept anyway.

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Yeah, the line "a large group of wealthy and competent people desperately seeking a functional urban space to live and work " made me laugh. Does the USA really lack functional urban spaces to live and work? Is the whole country now the same as the bad parts of San Francisco?

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I loved the section at the end. That’s always the question about the lessons of history, isn’t it? Given that things are different now, how do we apply them? Those samurai knew that for their ancestors the key to success was ‘fight hard on the right side in civil wars’; but with no civil war going on, what were they to do?

For developing Asia, one of the keys to success was always ‘find an advanced power and learn what they have to teach (even at the cost of your traditional values)’; but once catchup growth peters out, how do we apply that lesson?

I dunno if Gaijinohama is the right answer, but it is an attempt to do this kind of thinking.

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The references to Dejima and the Dutch reminds me of one of David Mitchells great novels, "The thousand autumns of Jacob De Zoet". Brillian book, probably should re-read it as I have done with "Cloud Atlas".

Also, the notion of building a "Dejima 2.0" would probably work well with the "Seasteading" enthusiasts in Silicon Valley, who says that "Dejima 2.0" should be less artificial an island than the first?

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Great review, but what a tease to end on! I assume you're planning to expand those last five paragraphs to a full essay?

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My review of the review, for reference when voting:

The review is well written, and it's got an interesting subject. I wish I'd gotten more of a sense of Fukuzawa's personality, though. (Although maybe that light touch is intentional, as some sort of homage to the subject's approach to education?) I think too much of it is a summary, albeit a good one: most of it reads like a really good wikipedia entry, maybe one of the ones cribbed from the 1910 Encyclopaedia Britannica. I don't get enough of a sense of why this book is fascinating and why I should read it. It was pleasantly short, but in this case I'd have preferred it to include a bit more.

Random notes:

It sounds like learning English (or Dutch) was the equivalent to learning to program computers, a few decades ago.

I don't read the same facial expression from the money as was described, but that's probably on me.

Following the last link, I liked photograph 15, "A cat leaps at the photographer to snatch his lunch snack"...

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2015/03/a-visit-to-aoshima-a-cat-island-in-japan/386647/#img15

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Jun 24·edited Jun 24

This states that that the ship Fukuzawa was on would "be the first Japanese ship ever to cross the Pacific Ocean". This seems to contradict the Wikipedia page that says this ship, the Kanrin Maru

was second, after the 'San Juan Bautista' crossed in 1614 (a ship not just operated by Japan as the Kanrin Maru was, but actually built in Japan).

Not sure if this is a mistake on the part of Fukuzawa himself (not surprising if it was more than 200 years before his time!), our reviewer conducting independent research, or Wikipedia simply being wrong though!

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I stopped reading after the intro because i decided i was going to read it. I too have recently moved to japan and because of the smaller english section at the library i alternate between western canon and english translations of popular japanese authors. So currently Taiko, then Dracula, next this one.

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Note that his hometown was "Nakatsu" (中津) not "Nankatsu".

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I think it's worth mentioning that the institute he founded which ended up being part of Tokyo University, a bit less than 50 years later, was one of the groups involved in Unit 731's bioweapons work during WWII, and the university he founded had several contributions as well. Perhaps this goes under the heading: don't ask a man his salary, a woman her age, or a Japanese microbiology research center what they did during WWII.

I guess the lesson we should all learn is that even the best intentioned people working in a system which is evil ends up contributing to that system.

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So he learned Dutch, looked at the system around him, and said, "We hebben een serieus probleem!"

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I also loved this review. I didn't mean to read this all the way through at first and was just skimming it but found that I couldn't put it down. Great work.

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This was a fantastic review - I was fortunate enough to be an exchange student in Japan 30+ years ago and to have had a moderate amount of professional interaction with the country, so I had a general sense of Fukuzawa's relevance, but no idea how fascinating his journey was. Thank you!

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High-skill immigration to Japan is not particularly difficult, despite stereotypes of Japan being xenophobic. The main issue is that Japanese wages for skilled workers are low by developed world standards, and isn't even high by developing world standards after adjusting for COL in certain fields like software development. English-speaking countries are also more preferred by skilled immigrants.

Singapore fills the niche of functional Asian English-speaking city-state. However, Japan does have a lower cost of living. I think the appeal of Japan is often in the megacities and how it's well-connected by HSR and soon maglev, and that would be lost in an artificial island for foreigners.

It's worth noting that the U.S. and the rest of Western Hemisphere is fairly crime-ridden by global standards, and most of Eurasia is relatively safe in comparison. It's unclear if Japan has some sort of unique advantage compared to UAE, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, Turkey, Spain, Portugal etc.

https://www.numbeo.com/crime/rankings_by_country.jsp?title=2022&displayColumn=1

The main thing that sucks about Japan is the work culture. If you are a "digital nomad" you can completely avoid that and Japan will be fine. However, most digital nomads just visit countries on tourist visas, and find applying for a digital nomad visa to be too much of a hassle. Japan is a developed country with 123 million people, tourism and short-term workers will only improve the economy marginally because the total Japanese economy is still quite large. Also, digital nomads disproportionately spend on short-term housing relative to other services, which is often perceived negatively.

The bad white-collar work culture makes Japan good in some ways, as low white-collar productivity and high factory worker productivity means more income equality and less tension between social classes.

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A fantastic review until the author decided to interject a combination of cultural imperialism and utter ignorance of Japanese society onto an appallingly uninformed understanding of economics and history.

Japan’s travails are not rocket science - a depression over twice as long as the American Great Depression is what happens when you meekly accept feudal economic subservience to the West in the form of the Plaza Accords. And Japanese politeness to foreigners is much more pity for appallingly impolite and ignorant behavior (due to not being Japanese) than anything else. For example: most foreigners who manage to become functionally fluent in Japanese also talk like women… because teaching Japanese to foreigners is pretty much the lowest status job imaginable. Combine that with classrooms that are 90%+ male with 95%+ female teachers - it is unsurprising that insufficiently observant foreigners don’t notice that women speak differently to other women vs men, ditto vs superiors, children etc.

I know a guy who married a Japanese woman and had 2 kids with her; worked in and around Japan for 15 years and nobody ever told him he talked like a girl or a guy from Shinjuku Ni Chome (think Castro district in SF).

I am still boggles by 15 years of formal meetings and informal beer drinking where NOT ONE JAPANESE let him in on it.

That’s Japan.

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The ending section seems a bit weaker, but otoh I’m a sucker for ending on a callback like that. Very good piece overall.

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