When people ask about my favorite tourist destination, I almost always say “Japan, because although it isn’t poor, everything is different from the U.S.” (my photos). Japan was Albert Einstein’s favorite country to visit (pre-WWII) and he admired the people and appreciated their hospitality. My last visit to Sendai was August 2004 (snapshots), part of a road trip from Narita airport to Hokkaido (Weblog entries: driving; trip report).
I’ve been saddened by the news about the earthquake in Japan, but I have no doubt that the world’s most competent people will recover quickly. There is such a depth of skill among the Japanese people that we should continue to expect great things from them.
I’ve spent the last couple of months complaining about the weather here in Massachusetts, with snow hanging around like an unwanted in-law and making it impossible to walk the dog without donning snowshoes. Now that Nature’s power has been made evident in Japan, I feel ashamed for having whined.
One thing that does concern me, however, is Japan’s indebtedness. The government borrowed so much money (up to more than 200 percent of GDP) dealing with a minor problem (economic growth not as strong as politicians would have liked) and engaging in “stimulus” spending that failed to stimulate (though it did cover the landscape with concrete). I wonder if they now have the capacity to borrow whatever it will take to dig the country out of a serious problem. I find it hard to believe that an incompetent government and crony capitalism can permanently hold back the world’s most skilled people, but this belief is based on faith rather than data.
[And perhaps there is a cautionary tale in here for the U.S. Don't spend all of your capital trying to fight a man-made problem, e.g., the subprime and asset-bubble collapse, because you might need it to fight a much larger problem.]
[Separately, does anyone have good ideas for how to contribute to disaster relief in Japan? I can't donate to the Red Cross because I have an agreement not to donate money to organizations whose employees make more than I do (the Form 990 for the American Red Cross (available from guidestar.org) reveals that James Hrouda collected $648,000 in 2009; Mary Elcano took $538,000 off the top; Brian Rhoa raked off $400,000; Mary-Alice Frank took home $541,000; Theresa Bischoff, Elizabeth O'Neill, Gail McGovern, and William Moore all earned $400,000 or more).]