Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Year in Asia, 2005

The simmering feud between Japan and China was the most important continuing story in Asia during 2005. Even as the year ended, Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso irritated the Chinese once again by publicly asserting that China’s military buildup posed a threat. Relations between the two countries worsened significantly during the year, strained by competition over natural resources, leadership in East Asia and wartime history. They blew up in a short-lived spate of anti-Japanese demonstrations in the spring, while the authorities looked away. Chinese officials refused to meet with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at two regional meetings near the end of the year, protesting his regular visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, a memorial to Japan’s war dead. Yet trade relations deepened, and China displaced the U.S. as Japan’s most important trading partner. Other important developments of the year:

2. China adopts anti-secession law aimed at Taiwan.

3. Chinese firm fails in bid to buy Unocal

4. Koizumi’s September election blowout.

5. Japan’s economy finally recovering

6. North Korea claims to have nuclear weapons

7. Taiwan electorate turns on ruling party

8. South Korean fabricates cloning research.

9. Indonesia corners and kills master bomber

10. Massive toxic spill in Northeast China

In mid-March China’s National People’s Congress approved an “anti-secession” law pledging to attack should Taiwan formally declare independence. But the Chinese government almost immediately softened the blow by inviting Lien Chan, leader of the opposition Kuomintang Party, to visit Beijing in May, the first such formal contact between the two historic antagonists. Meanwhile, the U.S. escalated its pressure on Taiwan to boost defense spending and pass an important defense appropriations bill that has been opposed in the Legislature. At year’s end the appropriations bill was defeated again – for the 42nd time.

It was probably inevitable, given its growing economic resources, that China would emulate the Japanese by buying American companies. But the bid by the CNOOC, one of China’s three state-owned petroleum companies, to buy the Unocal Corp. of Los Angeles, revealed suppressed anxieties and unexpectedly strong opposition from Congress. The fact that it was an oil company during a summer of rising gasoline prices didn’t help. Chinese washing machine maker Haier’s simultaneous bid to buy the ailing Maytag (also unsuccessful), made it look like the Chinese were set on taking over everything. Eventually the Unocal board decided to accept the somewhat lower bid from the American rival Chevron. But the Chinese will be back in 2006.

When the upper chamber of Japan’s Diet defeated Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s plan to privatize the Japanese post office (which includes its mammoth postal savings system), the premier dissolved parliament, purged the dissenters in his party and called for a new election. The press focused on Koizumi’s efforts to recruit celebrities and others (dubbed “assassins”) to run against them. By the time the press tired of this story angle the election was on and Koizumi’s increased his majority by more than 80 seats, unquestionably the slickest political success by anyone, anywhere, during the year. Oh yes, the new Diet passed the postal bills.

This is the year that Japan finally began to pull itself out of a 15-year economic slump. There have, of course, been false dawns before, and the projected GDP growth rate of 2-3 percent, doesn’t seem so dazzling set against China (whose economy was discovered to be about 17 percent bigger than previously thought). But the sheer size of Japan’s economy means that even that modest growth should have an important ripple effect. All the signs are there for a recovery: the stock market gained 30% during the year, property prices in central Tokyo are rising again, consumer prices are up, the job market, especially for new graduates, seems to be brisk. If that were not proof enough, Toyota Motor Co. announced that it would overtake General Motors as the world’s largest automobile maker next year.

In February the official voice of North Korea announced: “We have manufactured nuclear weapons for self-defense.” This story might have ranked higher had the North Koreans proved the assertion beyond doubt by setting one off. Nevertheless, problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons ambitions was a dominant theme for the year. The Six-Party talks in Beijing seemed to meet with some success when the conference issued a joint statement that the parties had agreed in principle to de-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. The talks broke off at that point and would not resume until 2006, if then.

Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party suffered an historic defeat in local elections held Dec. 4. The opposition Kuomintang and its allies won mayors and county councils in subdivisions that had been bedrock DPP strongholds for years. The election seems to set the stage for capturing the presidency in 2008. As elsewhere, politics in Taiwan is local, and one can read a little too much into outside influences. But it would seem that, in contrast to 1996 and 2000 when Beijing boosted DPP prospects through intimidation, its friendly cultivation of KMT leaders, including offering such goodies as eliminating tariffs on Taiwan fruit, paid off handsomely.

All of South Korea basked in the reflected glory of its “supreme scientist,” Hwang Woo Suk. He seemed to have single-handedly catapulted Korea into the forefront of biotechnology with his claims, published in respected journals, of successes in cloning. Then it all collapsed when his research was revealed to be based on deliberate fabrications (see more in post below).

The bombers returned to Bali in October, when three suicide bombers blew themselves up in restaurants of a seaside resort, killing about a dozen people. Less than one month later, Jakarta’s special forces cornered and killed one of the two masterminds of this and other bombings in Indonesia, Azhara bin Husin. The swiftness underscored the fact that Indonesia emerged in 2005 as one of the success stories of the global war on terrorism. Arrests and internal dissension have severely weakened Southeast Asia’s principal Islamic terrorist group, the Jemaah Islamyiah.

You would have thought the Chinese authorities learned their lesson after the SARS cover up unraveled. But it is hard to shed old habits. When a petrochemical plant south of Harbin exploded Nov. 13 sending 100 tons of toxic benzene into the Songha River, the first reaction of the authorities was to stonewall. The city officials explained that they were shutting off the water supply for this city of 3.8 million to carry out “repairs and inspections” on the system. The true story soon emerged, thanks largely to efforts of journalists working for the China Youth Daily.

Biggest non-story of the year
Unquestionably the biggest non-story of 2005 was Beijing’s decision to “revalue” the reminbi, China’s undervalued currency. In July Beijing announced it was linking it to a basket of currencies. But as of year’s end, the reminbi had scarcely budged more than 2 per cent. Meanwhile, the Japanese yen fell some 18 percent during the year, a situation seemingly unnoticed by anyone except maybe in Detroit. General Motor’s Chairman Rick Wagoner published an editorial in the Washington Post in December claiming that moves by Tokyo to lower the value of the yen gave Japanese automakers an unfair advantage selling cars in the U.S.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Fall of a Super Scientist

It is fair to speculate that Hwang Woo Suk won’t be getting the Nobel Prize for Medicine anytime soon. The 53-year-old ex-professor at Seoul National University – it is hard now to dignify him with the word “scientist” – admitted that he had fabricated much of the research behind his purported ground-breaking discoveries in cloning.

I haven’t commented on this story before. When the first doubts about Hwang’s research and ethics began to emerge a few months ago, I didn’t feel I knew enough about the science of cloning or bioethics. It’s not clear to me whether using eggs purchased from his female lab assistants is a serious breach of bioethics or not.

Still, it is not hard to wrap one’s mind around the concept of fraud. And it now appears that the entire edifice that Hwang had conjured up to support his sweeping conclusions was fabricated. Hwang claimed he had invented the technology needed to clone human embryos and produce stem cells that genetically match patients.

No other scientist has been able to replicate Hwang’s feat, and it now appears that he concocted lab data and DNA fingerprinting to make it look like had had produced 11 lines of genetically matched patients. The university now says these were not mistakes but intentional fabrications.

Hwang resigned his post at the university and has apologized for “creating unspeakable shock and disappointment.” That was an understatement. The South Korean people had taken their “supreme scientist” to heart. When the first stories that he had breached ethics appeared, the public rallied to his side. The investigative reporters for the journals that first exposed Hwang were vilified.

The stem cell research had become almost a “people’s project” said South Korea’s leading newspaper the Chosun Ilbo. “Scientists kept mum because they saw hope in one of their own becoming a national hero, and the government was happy to bask in the reflected glory without asking too many questions.”

In centuries past, Asia, China specifically, was the world’s leader in technological innovations. One thinks back, of course, to China’s invention of paper, gunpowder, printing, and so on. The ships that Admiral He built to explore half of the world far surpassed anything in Europe at the time.

In modern times Asian nations have emerged from colonialism and gone on to many successes. But the one area where Asians have lagged has been in science, or perhaps in the larger world of innovation and creativity. The number of Asians who have won the Nobel Prize for any of the sciences is minuscule.

In some ways it is a bad rap. Modern Asians have shown they can be innovative and creative in many fields, ranging from Japanese anime and just-in-time production management techniques to politics – China’s fusion of communism and capitalism into a (so far) coherent system of governance, for example.

There are of course, a number of reasons, or excuses, for this lack of innovation in science. They range from Confucianism, to a lack of a tradition for “pure” research as opposed to applied sciences to the fact that, until recently, most Asian countries were too poor to afford the extensive and lavishly funded research laboratories of the West.

So when it was revealed that a South Korean scientist had scored what appeared to be a major scientific breakthrough in a cutting edge technology it seemed to most South Koreans, and perhaps to Asians in general, that they had finally made it. Hwang became almost a rock star among Koreans.

The South Korean government, which had plowed millions into Hwang’s research to help push the country into the forefront of biotechnology, admitted to being crushingly disappointed by the news. But it pledged to support other stem cell scientists “so not to frustrate the people’s hopes.”

An American hearing about “hopes” would probably think immediately about finding cures for hard-to-treat ailments like diabetes and Parkinson’s disease. I suspect that most Koreans read the words somewhat differently. They hope that South Korean can still become a world leader in a scientific field.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The Confucian Renaissance

In his 19th-century classic, The Protestant Ethic and the spirit of Capitalism, German sociologist Max Weber argued that Asian values were incompatible with the development of a modern economic system. He saw in the brand of Christianity practiced in northern Europe the only ethical system with the attributes needed to make capitalism work.

At the beginning of the 20th century, many Asian intellectuals might have agreed with him. Commenting on Confucianism, the Chinese leftist thinker Chen Duxiu said in 1916: “If we want to build a new society on the Western model in order to survive in the world, we must courageously throw away that which is incompatible with the new belief, the new society, the new state.”

History, of course, has proved Weber and Chen wrong. It is now plain that the most dynamic practitioners of capitalism at the dawn of the 21st century are to be found in Asia. More strikingly all of them are located within what might be called a Confucian cultural zone.

It is clear that the success of Japan and the Four Tigers owes much to such essential Confucian precepts as self-discipline, social harmony, strong families and a reverence for education. That has led to unprecedented -- and increasingly broad-based international interest in the creed. Yet the Confucian renaissance may only be in its early phases.

For most of the last century Confucius (or Kongfuzi – Master Kong) has been under a cloud in his homeland. Everyone from late Qing dynasty reformers to revolutionary Communists blamed his teaching for a host of ills, ranging from feudal oppression to economic backwardness. But recently, Beijing’s leaders have begun to characterize the sage’s philosophy as a national treasure that would benefit today’s Chinese.

This year China held the biggest official celebration of the birth of Confucius since Liberation. The state-controlled television broadcast festivities surrounding his 2,556th birthday Sept. 28 on a scale never before seen in China. More than 2,500, including many fairly high-ranking Communist Party cadres, made a pilgrimage to the philosopher’s birthplace at Qufu in Shandong province.

The latest government line is that Confucianism can serve as a moral foundation to help build a more “harmonious society” in keeping with President (and Communist Party general secretary) Hu Jintao’s efforts to address social problems such as the polarization of society and a wide spread “money first” mentality.

It is little surprise that Chinese leaders are seeking to rehabilitate their country’s most famous and influential thinker. In the moral void opened by the decline of Marxism and the abundance of material temptations, Confucianism can help provide the nation with a much-needed ethical anchor. And success in these endeavors would allow China’s leaders to strengthen their hold on another Confucian bequest – the “mandate of heaven,” or the right to rule.

What is the relevance of Confucianism in modern times? Which tenets have served East Asia well – and could help other nations and cultures? What are the pitfalls to be avoided? Of all the world’s great canons, Confucianism is the most practical. What concerned him most were people’s relationships with one another and with the state. He also focused on social justice and good government. Ren or benevolence was the pillar of the Master’s thought.

Another was learning. Whether or not East Asian countries include The Analects in their social curriculums, they all understand that education is the root of national strength and prosperity. The ingrained respect for knowledge – and for the teacher who imparts it – is the key factor in the outstanding academic performance of East Asians on a global basis.

One can see Confucianism alive in a modern way in Singapore when a secondary student is reprimanded for blogging about his teacher in a negative light. For that matter, the Pennsylvania court that upheld a school district for expelling a student who, ranting on the internet, called his teacher a range of bad names and displayed a picture with her head cut off was also, knowingly or not, upholding Confucian values.

Yet the long-time preoccupation with reciting the Nine Classics has also produced educational systems in Asia that stress memorization at the expense of creative thinking. This is a distortion of Confucian philosophy, which emphasized both knowledge and thought. Said the Master: “He who does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”

To the Master, the family was fundamental to the social order. “If the family is properly regulated, the state will be too,” he reasoned. No amount of legislation, Confucius taught, could either take the family’s place or perform its function as the linchpin of a well-ordered society. In the Master’s world, children defer to parents, wives to their husbands, and subjects to rulers in a natural progression.

He tended top relegate women to the margins of public affairs, though he may merely have been reflecting the prevalent values of his time. Today a nation shortchanges itself if it does not follow a saying of another Chinese thinker: “women hold up half the sky.”

In return for the loyalty of subjects, Confucius demanded that a ruler display benevolence and unstintingly serve their interests. If he didn’t, citizens had the right to remonstrate. Mencius, the second most influential Confucian philosopher later developed the concept of a “divine right of rebellion.” If an emperor became a tyrant, he would lose the mandate of heaven and people would overthrow him. Today they might simply throw the leader out of office in an election. Confucius and democracy are hardly incompatible.

Throughout history, the rigid and unthinking application of Confucian principles repeatedly produced complacent closed societies that were unable to make progress. They paid a terrible price: foreign subjugation and internal upheaval. Modern Confucians must guard against repeating such mistakes. If they succeed in adapting their time-tested heritage to contemporary challenges, Master Kong’s teaching may blossom beyond East Asia to enrich all mankind in the next century.

This article first appeared in Asia Times Online

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Time is Ripe

What goes around, comes around. Asian leaders meet tomorrow in Kuala Lumpur to give new life to an idea about regional unity that has been around for years but was largely neglected until now. The new East Asia Summit looks a lot like former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s controversial East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC).

The time was not ripe when he first proposed the all-Asia grouping back in 1990. Washington vigorously opposed formation of any Asian entity from which it was excluded. Japan, taking its lead from Washington was lukewarm to the idea. China, fresh from the Tiananmen tragedy, momentarily retreated into its shell. So, the proposal went nowhere.

Instead, Washington embraced another kind of pan-Pacific entity first proposed by Australia’s ex-Prime Minister Bob Hawke, that eventually became the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC). It grew to encompass nearly a dozen nations, including a couple South American countries with Pacific coastlines. The grouping recently met in Pusan, South Korea.

But in recent years the gloss has gone off APEC. Those who originally argued that APEC was too diffuse to do much good probably have been proven right. Not to mention that the shtick about all the leaders donning the national costume of the host country is beginning to pall. I mean it was pretty cute when, at the first meeting in Indonesia, they all wore colorful batik shirts, but they looked plain silly in those Korean mandarin gowns.

Attending the summit are the ten members of ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea, all countries that would have made up the original EAEC. At the last minute Australia and New Zealand were invited to the summit. Also attending is India, which makes the term East Asia Summit something of a misnomer. The U.S. is not a participant, the first Asian grouping from which it has been excluded. President George W. Bush is probably happy he doesn’t have to drag himself across the Pacific so soon after his last Asian trip.

Nevertheless, Washington seems to be more relaxed about the new group. America had reason to be suspicious of Mahathir’s project because of his pronounced anti-Western views. The U.S. feared he would steer the organization in directions that were inimical to American interests in Asia.

Interestingl, the old curmudgeon came out of retirement to say a few sour words about the summit. Mahathir complained that it has become diluted and diverted by including outsiders like Australia and New Zealand. “Australia’s views do not represent the East, but the views of America,” he said.

What has changed in the past dozen years? For one thing, the number of Asian groupings and forums has exploded. Where once there was only ASEAN (dating back to 1976), there are now the various spinoffs: ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3, The Asian Regional Forum and more. Washington has many venues to makes its case, either as a dialogue partner or member.

Another major catalyst was Chinas accession to the World Trade Organization, which meant it plays by the same trade rules as the other Asian nations. The economics of all the countries are becoming more interdependent, and less dependent on exports to the U.S. China has already displaced the U.S. as Japan’s largest trading partner. South Korea’s business interests in China too are growing in leaps and bounds. China established a Free Trade Area (similar to NAFTA) with the ASEAN bloc.

The East Asia Summit may evolve into a regional grouping that, if not exactly an Asian common market, would at least be able to speak for the region in discussions with the other economic blocs, such as the European Community and North America. Why should Asia alone among the world’s three major economic “poles” not have its own group?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Taking to the Streets in Hong Kong

Like their namesakes in the United States, Hong Kong's democrats want a timetable. Like its counterpart in Washington, Beijing won’t give them one. In this case the timetable is for implementation of full democracy, or "universal suffrage" in Hong Kong parlance.

The democrats seem to be uniting behind their demand for universal suffrage and nothing less, especially in the wake of Sunday’s successful demonstration for democracy. It means that Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s political “reform” package faces defeat in the Legislature (Legco) later this month.

In the absence of full democracy, political opinion polls and demonstrations take on greater importance in Hong Kong, almost like surrogate elections. So, much attention was paid to how many people would turnout to march for universal suffrage. The government was openly hoping it would be small.

Hong Kong people are old hands at reading the numbers. Anything less than 50,000 would have been a failure – hardcore only; government safe to ignore. Over 50,000 and less than 100,000, a wash – hardcore and sympathizers; too big for the authorities to ignore, too low to be a mandate. Over 100,000 an unqualified success.

The reported figures differ wildly. The Hong Kong police set the turnout at 63,000. The police are pretty straight shooters, yet this still seems low-ball. The pictures I’ve seen suggest the turnout was closer to the organizer’s estimate of 250,000. Not as big as July 2003’s epic march, but pretty damn good.

So Donald Tsang has been handed his first real political test. His political reform package needs a two-thirds majority in the legislature, which means he needs a few votes from the democratic camp (made up of the Democratic Party, smaller parties and liberal independents.)

Tsang came into office last summer with enormously high popularity ratings, and he has apparently decided to use his “political capital,” to coin a phrase, to push the reforms, which amount to adding ten seats to the Legco and district councilors to the committee that picks the chief executive. Just before the march he made an unprecedented television appeal for the people to support his program.

Although he often delivered little homilies over the radio, not even Britain’s last governor, Chris Patten, ever made such a direct appeal. Said Tsang: “The package did not come easily. Don’t let two years of hard work go down the drain.”

I thought Tsang was shrewd in not getting too closely identified with the political reform package. He had allowed his deputy, Chief Secretary Rafael Hui, to announce the proposal last October, rather than unveil it himself. Then he turns around and makes a personal appeal. It seems like a misstep to me; perhaps he was pushed into it by Beijing.

The problem for Tsang is that there isn’t much reform in the reform package. It would add ten seats to the legislature, but it does not change the composition of the legislature, just makes it a little bigger. The plan to add district councilors to the committee that picks the chief executive, does inject some element of democracy in the process, but it still remains a small body.

Beijing sees these reforms as a means of showing that Hong Kong is making gradual steps towards the ultimate goal, enshrined in the territory’s own constitution, of achieving universal suffrage at some indefinite future. But last year Beijing stated not to expect this in time for the 2007 chief executive election or the 2008 legislative election.

Why is Beijing so adamantly set against a timetable for full democracy in Hong Kong? Most people would probably say, what do you expect from a communist regime? And maybe they are right. But I think there is another explanation.

My hunch is that Beijing is holding out until Anson Chan, the former chief secretary, is too old to be an electoral threat. The Chinese despise Anson Chan, who was chief secretary under Patten. Yet at the time of the handover in 1997, she was the most popular figure in Hong Kong, and she still commands widespread respect.

So it was no small thing that Anson Chan made a very high profile appearance in Sunday’s march, even though she had never marched in a demonstration before, not even the epic 2003 march. “I feel there are moments in life when one has to stand up and be counted,” she said.

So does Tsang have another little problem on his hands? If his own reform package goes through and district councilors, most are directly elected, are added to the selection committee, Chan could quite possibly garner the 100 nominating votes needed to challenge Tsang in 2007.

Tsang is committed to the proposals, however, and he is a smart enough politician to leave himself some room for compromise before the Legco votes on Dec. 21. The betting is that he’ll suggest eliminating the unelected district councilors (about a fifth of the councilors are appointed) from voting in either Legco or the Selection Committee.

At the same time, the South China Morning Post floated an intriguing story on Wednesday that Beijing may soon be dropping hints that maybe, just maybe, it will agree to universal suffrage in 2017 (when Anson will be pushing 80). Together with a compromise on the councilors, it just might be enough to peel off enough democratic votes to pass the bill and save Tsang’s bacon.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

The Spark that Lit the Boom in J-Horror

Koji Suzuki is often described as Japan's answer to Stephen King, the enormously popular American writer of the macabre. And it is true that his novel Ring ignited the current boom in Japanese horror, or “J-Horror.”

His novel was made into a fabulously successful Japanese movie (Ringu) and then remade into an even more fabulously successful Hollywood version called The Ring. More movies followed including the recent Dark Water based on a Suzuki novella of that name.

The irony is that Suzuki does not think of himself as a writer of horror or ghost stories at all. “I don’t write horror; I’m not interested in horror. All over the world people think of my novel as a horror story, but I don’t look at it that way. I just thought I was writing an interesting story.”

Suzuki would like readers to think of him more as the writer of touching stories about how a father protects his daughter from dangers of the spirit world. In fact, the 48- year old father of two daughters has pretty pronounced views on parenthood and importance of fathers in raising children. He has written books on the subject.

“I wrote Ring in 1989, 16 years ago. At that time I was not yet a success. My wife supported the family as a high school teacher, and I stayed at home and took care of our daughter, then only 2. I was a house husband – like John Lennon,” he says laughing. “The main theme of the book is how a father protects his daughter.”

Maybe. It is true that the main character, a Japanese newspaper reporter named Kazayuki Asakawa, must solve the mystery of the cursed videotape in time to save his wife and daughter, not to mention himself. True too that a single mother and young daughter figure as the main characters in Dark Water.

That may have been the author’s intention, but it is doubtful that most people will read the book in this way. In fact, Ring is at heart basically a detective story with an old- fashioned ticking time bomb-like devise at its heart. In Ring a videotape infected with a virus is discovered which, when watched, causes the viewer to die within one week.

That is unless the viewer can discover the antidote, called the “charm”, which has been conveniently erased from the tape. The story then concerns Asakawa and his friend Ryuji’s efforts to discover the secret of the charm and save their lives, and incidentally the lives of Asakawa’s wife and daughter who have inadvertently watched the tape.

Suzuki took the same virus theme and gave it fresh twists and turns in his two follow-on novels, Spiral and Loop, which together form the Ring Trilogy. All three have been translated into English and are available from both British (HarperCollins UK) and an American publisher, Vertical, Inc.

So one can see that the novel Ring is a very masculine story, almost a male buddy story. Yet both of the movie versions, the Japanese version starring Nanoko Matsushita and the American version, starring [name], turned the central character into a woman. “The director explained to me that it was better to have a woman fleeing from horror than a man -- better to have Nicole Kidman than Arnold Schwarzenneger.”

Suzuki graduated from Keio University in Tokyo, majoring in French literature. He wrote his graduation thesis on Albert Camus. “I read a lot of literature from around the world,” he says, ticking off names: Sartre, Fitzgerald, J.D. Salinger, Paul Auster Tanazaki and Ernest Hemingway. He feels a special affinity for Hemingway.

“I think my character is not very Japanese. Japan is the culture of the farmer. The West is the culture of the hunter. I think of myself as a hunter. Suzuki is a yachtsman, and one of his favorite books is Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, which he says he read in English. His first book, Paradise, now being translated into English, is an adventure story set at sea.

Perhaps because he was born in Hamamatsu, home of Honda Motorcyles, he is also keen on riding motorcycles. Six years ago he crossed the United States from Los Angeles to Key West, Florida, on a motorcycle. His portrays himself as a “tough guy” but one who is not above changing diapers.

Japan has a strong history of ghost stories. It used to be said that ghost stories were told in the heat of summer since they might send chills up the spine of the listeners. Spirits and ghosts appear also in works of some of Japan’s greatest writers.

Suzuki’s story builds on this tradition but also gives his books a very urban and modern ambiance. Science looms large, especially in latter two books in the Ring series. Descriptions of DNA figure strongly in Spiral, and a computer that mimics life is a strong element of Loop, the third book in the trilogy.

He’s currently working on a new novel called Edge City, which will somehow incorporate into fiction the theory of relativity and quantum physics. “I like science very much,” he says” “I like to know how the world works. Indeed, his books are probably closer to those of Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, than they are to Stephen King.

Suzuki says he is pleased with how his books have been transformed onto the screen. “Last week my wife and daughter saw the American version of Dark Water. They were so moved they cried at the end.” He says he likes the Hollywood versions the best because they have better production values.

Although Suzuki may have been the spark that lit the boom in J-horror, he and Hollywood seem to be moving in different directions. The film sequel to The Ring was not based on his second novel Spiral. It was an original screen play. So far there has been no move to film Loop.

But if such a movie were ever made, however, Suzuki says he’d like to try his hand at writing the screen play. Hollywood, are you listening?