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Sunday, March 17, 2002

The global village: small, but not always beautiful


By JANET AHSBY

The current No. 1 best seller in Japan is the cheery picture book "Sekai ga moshi hyakunin no mura dattara" ("If the World Were a Village of 100 People"; Magazine House), a retelling of a bit of "Netlore." Several years ago, the environmentalist Donella Meadows wrote a newspaper column on the global division and consumption of resources, using a village of 1,000 people to represent the world's population of some 6 billion. Her piece struck a chord and in the course of being forwarded from person to person on the Internet, the analogy was simplified to 100 people.

Now this Internet text has been reworked into Japanese by Kayoko Ikeda, with an English translation by C. Douglas Lummis. Done in picture-book format, with 14 full pages of childlike color illustrations, each of the 30 pages of main text consists of a sentence or two in both Japanese and English.

After detailing the unfortunate plight of much of the world's population ("20 are undernourished, one is dying of starvation"; "17 have no clean, safe water to drink"; "one has a college education, two have computers, 14 cannot read"), the book rather perversely ends on a note of celebration, urging one to be grateful for being so well-off oneself: "So sing from the bottom of your heart, dance with your body waving free, and live, putting your soul into it. And when you love, love as though you have never been wounded, even if you have."

In The Daily Yomiuri (Feb. 2) Tom Baker is scathing about the transformation of a serious call by Meadows for the haves of the world to self-reflect and act to help the have-nots into a smiley-face, "healing" tome. To be fair to Ikeda, however, this transformation seems to have occurred at the hands of innumerable Internet users and not in the Japanese edition per se.

The question is why this slight book, which could easily be read in 10 minutes at the bookstore, has sold over a million copies in two months. One factor is that the text's Internet origins piqued the interest of the media, resulting in much publicity for the book. Perhaps the theme also fits into concerns about globalization and a vague, peace-loving humanitarianism -- one of the few additions by Ikeda to the original Internet text (reprinted at the back of the book) is the ending: "Perhaps, if enough of us learn to love our village it may yet be possible to save it from the violence that is tearing it apart."

At the opposite end of the publishing spectrum are "shinsho," serious nonfiction titles of topical interest in a slightly larger paperback format. Here a perennial favorite is books about the Japanese language, but recent months have also witnessed many titles on Islam, terrorism and economics.

Among these my attention was attracted to "Nihon no chika keizai" ("Japan's Underground Economy"; Kodansha Plus Alpha Shinsho), by Kadokura Takashi, an analyst at a bank research institute. Few studies have been made of Japan's underground economy, which is still relatively small in comparison with other countries in the world, but Kadokura feels that it nevertheless deserves consideration in any comprehensive economic planning for the future.

Of course there are no firm statistics on black money (tax evasion, political graft, gambling, prostitution, drugs) in Japan, but using an accepted formula for measuring the difference in total demand for cash in a nation vs. the demand for cash in the legitimate economy yields a figure for 1999 of 23.2 trillion yen, or 4.5 percent of Japan's GDP. Similarly, Kadokura's direct calculations of the size of various segments of the underground economy in 1999 totaled a low of 9.6 trillion yen and a high of 17.1 trillion yen, or 1.9-3.3 percent of GDP.

For example, Kadokura estimates the scale of "enjo kosai," the selling of sex services to middle-aged men by junior high and high school girls, at 50 yen.2-62.7 billion yen for 2000. He reaches this figure by using a rate of one in 20-25 teens engaging in enjo kosai (based on two Tokyo surveys) five times per year (based on police surveys), and charging 60 yen,000-75,000 yen per time (based on research in Internet chat rooms).

In the course of his calculations Kadokura reports much interesting miscellaneous information, such as a survey finding that only some 60 percent of households report theft of an auto, or that crime groups buy amphetamines for 4,500 yen per gram and sell them for 52 yen,500-153,600 yen per gram, although recently excess supply has reduced the price to 20 yen,000-50,000 yen per gram.

Kadokura finds that Japan's underground economy has contracted since the bursting of the bubble economy a decade ago, due to a reduction in direct taxes as a stimulus measure -- which lessened the incentive for tax evasion -- and a crackdown on organized crime. However, he believes it is highly likely that the underground economy in Japan will expand in the future due to the growth of the service economy (in which it is easier to hide income), the aging of society, globalization and the growth of electronic transactions.

Tax evasion already constitutes some 80 percent of Japan's underground economy, and Kadokura foresees increased tax evasion becoming a major social problem as the tax burden falls on a decreasing number of workers to support a rising number of the aged.

Globalization and electronic financial transactions facilitate an increase in the flow of money to tax havens abroad and in money laundering (the International Monetary Fund has estimated annual money laundering in Japan at 1 trillion yen), while, in addition to its many benefits, the Internet brings child pornography, identity theft, fraud and other cybercrime. Cell phones are already used in drug deals and enjo kosai, and Kadokura estimates that in 10 years over half of the transactions in Japan's underground economy will be via the Internet.

Janet Ashby, a freelance writer and translator, came to Japan in 1975. She has a special interest in Japanese pop culture.


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