Leaving Japan Now. Some More Impressions.

At the Kansai airport outside Osaka now, heading home.  Been just about a week since I came to Japan, and it is been a rewarding, productive and inspirational trip.  I was fortunate enough to spend the last few days in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, and a truly incredible place.  I toured the shrines and temples of Eastern Kyoto these last few days with great enthusiasm, perhaps finding the Buddhist Zen temple, Nanzen-Ji the most compelling.  Since studying eastern religions in my teens I have always wanted to come to Kyoto, and I was in no way disapointed.   I hope I can return, with my whole family, someday.  

I leave with many impressions.  First the fun stuff.  The automatic taxi doors, the outdoor vending machines everywhere serving so much, the running of the gauntlet of "good mornings" in the hotel lobby, the excellence of the food, coffee, beer and even single malt scotch, the ambitious toilets, the almost comical complexity of the Tokyo subway system map, the modernity of Tokyo, the beauty and grace of old Kyoto, the intensity of the two handed business card delivery.  

More seriously, Japan, like so many other places I've traveled of late (and of the US too), seems to be struggling to chart a new course for itself.  It has achieved so much since the American occupation ended in 1952, becoming a thoroughly modern state, the world's 2nd largest economy, a regular World Cup participant, and home of the most successful automobile company, Toyota  Its cuisine is known all over the world, as are its global brands of Sony, Panasonic, Honda and more.  The Yankees' World Series MVP this year was Japanese.  And finally, by giving a 2nd political party power this year after more than 50 years of LDP rule, Japan has also become an even more complete democracy.  All of this from a medium-sized nation of several islands, living not far, and increasingly in the shadow of, rising China. 

America needs to listen carefully to the clumsy debate happening in Japan today over its bases on Okinawa island. While much can be made of the Democratic Party of Japan's struggle to manage this complex issue, something deeper I think is really going on here.  There is a restlessness with the old order in Japan today, one that has produced too much debt, not enough broad-based growth, and way too much government arrogance.  With much higher education and income levels, much higher level of access to basic information, the Japanese people are doing what many others in the world are doing today - demanding a better, more modern, more open and accountable government, one more focused on the struggles and concerns of every day people than on back-room deals or the decisions of an opaque bureaucratic elite. America must be very careful not to become an inhibitor of this process, particularly as it is very much in alignment with the global vision of President Obama.  

Need to go catch my plane.  More soon.  Want to share more on this sense of "restlessness" I am feeling with many countries I've visited of late.