Ideas and Inspiration from Japan

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If you scan the news headlines of the major Japanese print and television media outlets and compare them to any other large, rich and democratic country, you won’t find many differences. For example, the latest stories include the grounding of the Boeing fleet of 787 Dreamliners, an ongoing dispute with China, and the public relations campaign on Facebook and Twitter by the newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his colleagues in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Dig a bit deeper into topics of economic growth and one discovers the political struggles for advantage in a battle over government economic stimulus and the allowable rate of inflation tolerable by the central bank.

But of course Japan, as a country and as a society, is not America nor is it any part of what has traditionally been thought of as “The West.” Japan’s long history and unique culture, along with its global isolation well into the 19th century, makes it a country as different as anyplace an American is likely to visit.

Into this ancient culture I and eight other U.S. and Canadian state and local government representatives will arrive as members of the annual CLAIR Fellowship delegation on January 20. And though it may be 160 years since Commodore Matthew Perry’s “Black Fleet” sailed into Tokyo Bay and breached the Japanese isolation, for this crop of Fellows Japan remains terra incognita.

The Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) Fellowship will take our delegation to Tokyo and its region and also to several stops in Kagawa Prefecture. The focus is on comparative governance and also on local innovations and best practices which may be shared across national borders.

Whether in seminars or formal lectures, in government buildings or impromptu tea houses, the Fellowship is about learning, appreciating, respecting, understanding and sharing all that we see, hear and experience in Japan. The CitiesSpeak BlogSpot provides one opportunity to share this experience. More than a travelogue, the posts are intended to offer some insight or perhaps share an epiphany.

It’s an exciting and stimulating adventure on which we are about to embark. Without trepidation I am prepared to embrace the sentiments of the Japanese expression, “If you do not enter the tiger’s cave you will never catch its cub.” Perhaps during my travels, I will discover the true subtleties embedded in this phrase.