Vol. 2, No. 16 (November 16, 2006)
The opinions and materials contained herein do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the Government of Japan.

 

"Abduction" (Coming Soon to DC):
The Story Behind the Documentary

-By Chris Sheridan
Co-Director, Abduction

A production still from the film, with Megumi Yokota

 

While many in Japan are very familiar with the series of abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea and the ongoing efforts--on both the political and grassroots level--to alleviate the situation, perhaps the best known story of all is that of Megumi Yokota, the 13-year-old girl who was kidnapped on her way home from school. Megumi's story, however, has yet to reach the U.S. and the world, despite her mother Sakie's appeal to the House of Representatives and President Bush in Washington, DC earlier this year. "Abduction," a feature-length documentary created by husband-and-wife co-directors Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim, may change all of that. The film, after sweeping numerous awards in various festivals all over the world, will be shown for the first time in Washington, DC from November 24 to 30 at Landmark E Street Cinemas.


On a cold, November night in 1977, Sakie Yokota looked up at the clock on her wall at home in Niigata, Japan and noticed it was getting late. Sakie's eldest child, 13-year-old Megumi, hadn't returned home yet. Strange, Sakie thought to herself, since Megumi usually walked straight home from school. Sakie panicked and ran to the school but no one knew where Megumi was. Two friends had walked part of the way home with her but knew nothing more. For the entire night, Megumi's parents and her two younger brothers searched the beach frantically. They called neighbors in a desperate attempt to find her. The police got involved and for weeks sought information on Megumi's whereabouts. But it led to nothing.

A year went by with no word. Five more years, ten more years went by with no word. Finally, 20 years after Megumi disappeared, a Japanese journalist came across a very bizarre piece of information, knocked on the Yokotas' door and revealed something that shocked the family and the rest of Japan: Megumi had been abducted to North Korea.

Five years later, Kim Jong Il, North Korea's leader, admitted that Megumi and 12 other Japanese citizens had been kidnapped from the shores of Japan by North Korean spies.

When my wife, Patty Kim, and I first read about Kim Jong Il's astonishing admission in 2002, we were totally shocked. Like most people who first hear of the story of the abductions, we wondered why this happened and why the rest of the world knew very little about it. But it wasn't until we dug deeper and learned that one of the victims was 13-year-old Megumi that we were truly shocked. As journalists and documentary filmmakers for National Geographic we had rarely, if ever, come across a story as bizarre and heartwrenching as this one. It was at that moment we decided to leave the comfort of our steady lives and make a documentary film about Megumi and her family. The result is ABDUCTION The Megumi Yokota Story.

For the past two-and-a-half years my wife and I have poured everything we have into making ABDUCTION The Megumi Yokota Story. It has affected every aspect of our lives: our personal finances, our relationship, and our mental well-being. But it is nothing compared to what Megumi's family has been through for the past 30 years. Over the course of our filming, we have had the privilege and honor of meeting the families of the abductees--some of the most extraordinary people we've ever met. They are people who have had to fight every conceivable battle to get even the smallest amount of information about the fate of their loved ones in North Korea. Megumi's parents, in particular, are incredible people--full of love and affection for their daughter but also compassionate and kind towards so many others. They have waged a fight that no parent would ever want to wage on behalf of their child and they've done it with dignity and grace. They are, in short, incredible ambassadors for their country and their cause and we feel very privileged to have had the chance to get to know them.

On November 24th, audiences in Washington, DC will finally get to see the film that the Los Angeles Times calls, "extraordinary" and Variety calls "exceptional." We hope you'll take the time to come see ABDUCTION The Megumi Yokota Story at the Landmark E Street Theatres and see the remarkable story of the Japanese abductions.


ABDUCTION The Megumi Yokota Story plays from Nov. 24-30 at Landmark's E Street Theatres (corner of E and 11th Street) in Washington, DC. For ticket info, go to www.landmarktheatres.com. Discount packages for groups of 25 or more.


 

Six-Party Talks Likely to Resume
After One-Year Hiatus

(Japan Brief Article by Foreign Press Center Japan (November 1, 2006))

 

 

Pragmatism or Nationalism:
Shinzo Abe's Challenge

-By Yuki Tatsumi
Research Fellow, Henry L. Stimson Center

While many in Japan and abroad are still learning the new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's policies on various issues, a topic gathering particular attention may be his views towards relations with Japan's neighbors in East Asia. Here, Ms. Yuki Tatsumi, a Research Fellow at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington, DC, analyzes Prime Minister Abe's stance on improving Japan's relationship with China and Korea, and negotiating with North Korea:

 

A mix of apprehension and expectation greeted Shinzo Abe after he was elected to be the 90th prime minister of Japan on September 26. While many in the West welcomed Abe's ascendance to power as one step forward for Japan to become a "normal" nation, Abe's election provoked considerable uneasiness in some Asian capitals, particularly in Seoul and Beijing, as the beginning of Japan's return to militarism.

Abe's performance in the first 45 days in his office, therefore, came as a great surprise. In fact, to the relief of many and disappointment to some, Abe so far has demonstrated a pragmatic streak when the situation calls for it. Despite pressure from his own supporters, Abe has remained vague on his "personal" view of Japan's wartime past, reiterating that as a prime minister, he would uphold the Japanese government's past positions. He has also reached out to China and South Korea by choosing these countries as the destinations for his first official trip as a prime minister, which put Japan's relationships with them on a recovery path. Furthermore, although Abe has responded firmly to the nuclear test by Pyongyang, he has been equally firm in expressing his commitment to Japan's three non-nuclear principles and rejecting the argument that Japan should at least discuss the nuclear option raised by some Japanese political leaders.

Had Abe lived up to the apprehensions of those who were concerned about him by, for instance, visiting the Yasukuni Shrine right after becoming prime minister, he could have damaged Japan's relations with its neighbors beyond repair. That would have no doubt complicated Japan's efforts as the president of UN Security Council to shape the Council's response vis-a-vis North Korea after Pyongyang's nuclear test. Even Japan's relationship with the United States could have been strained, because Washington, trying hard to maintain the Six-Party talks as a platform to deal with North Korea, would have viewed Abe as a troublemaker that complicated Washington's efforts to pursue diplomatic solutions to North Korean problem. So, all in all, the pragmatism demonstrated by Abe so far is something to be welcomed not only by China and the South Korea but also by the United States.

Will his pragmatism continue? The answer, for now, is "it depends." In fact, it is too premature to gauge the resilience of Abe's pragmatism. Abe's choice of being a pragmatist has not been tested seriously since he became prime minister. After all, while Abe certainly deserves credit for initiating his visit to China and South Korea, it cannot be overlooked that his overture has been also reciprocated by the governments in Beijing and Seoul that have so far decided not to press him on the Yasukuni Shrine controversy. North Korea's nuclear test played to Abe's advantage as well. With his tough stance vis-a-vis North Korea well known before his coming to power, he did not have to behave any differently when North Korea tested its nuclear weapon.

But real challenges await Abe in the coming months. With Pyongyang agreeing to return to the Six-Party talks, Abe may have to depart from his tough stance vis-a-vis North Korea and show some flexibility in his approach. Abe's recent revelation during his interview with the Financial Times that he seeks to revise the constitution will likely raise anxious voices from some capitals in Asia. Indeed, now that the North Korean crisis seems to have reached a plateau for the time being, the issue of Japan's wartime past may swing back into the focus of attention in Japan's relationship with China and South Korea, forcing him to have a greater clarity in his position.

Furthermore, while Abe managed to secure a complete victory in the supplementary election for the House of Representatives on October 22, the real test of whether he can consolidate his political power will be the Upper House election next summer, which is still almost a year away. If he mishandles any of the key domestic issues in the meantime, his political support at home can quickly wane. It may be quite likely that Abe will try to regain his political advantage by focusing again on the issues that made him popular, such as his position on the prime minister's visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. Simply put, there are plenty of factors which can lure Abe away from his current pragmatism.

How Abe fights this temptation will ultimately provide the true test of his leadership. If Abe can resist that temptation, he has the potential to make his mark in the postwar Japanese history as the leader who set the Japan on the path to becoming a nation that, in Abe's own words, is "a beautiful country that is trusted, respected, and loved in the world, and which demonstrates leadership."


 

Baseball Unites the World:
Filmmakers' Statement for "Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball"

 

-By Kenneth Eng (Director/Editor, Kokoyakyu)
and Alex Shear (Writer/Producer, Kokoyakyu)

 

Pitcher from Komodai Tomakomai, moments before his winning pitch
(Photo by Jake Clennell)

 

On October 12, JICC held a screening of "Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball," a documentary by Projectile Arts that follows two Japanese schools that struggle to take part in the coveted national high school baseball competition at Koshien Stadium. Featuring Director Kenneth Eng for a post-screening discussion on the film, this event followed some of the topics covered by an educational baseball workshop at JICC in June (which showed clips of "Kokoyakyu" and welcomed Mr. Alex Shear, Producer for Projectile Arts). The following is the filmmakers' statement on the documentary:


It started back in January of 2001, while we were working in India on the Projectile Arts' documentary "Take Me to the River," about a phenomenal Hindu gathering. We wanted to make another film with Projectile Arts that would bring an inspiring cultural experience to America. Surrounded by 20 million Hindu pilgrims at the world's largest religious festival (the "Kumbh Mela"), naturally our thoughts turned to baseball. (We both grew up in Boston as hopeless Red Sox fans.) Ichiro Suzuki was about to become the first Japanese position player in Major League history. We were fascinated--the whole idea of Japanese baseball was so mysterious to many Americans, and we knew it could be a great window into Japanese culture.

Of course, Ichiro's first season in the Majors turned out to be one for the record books--on top of the personal hardware (the Batting Title, the Gold Glove, the Rookie of the Year Award, and Most Valuable Player), Ichiro led his team to an American League record 116 wins.

We discovered Robert Whiting's book You Gotta Have Wa, and learned for the first time about Japan's National High School Baseball Tournament, known as the Koshien Tournament for its famous stadium. We learned that ever since baseball was introduced (by an American teacher) at Japan's most elite high school in 1872, the heart and soul of Japanese baseball was in the high schools. That's where baseball has been taught for more than 100 years, with the reverence of a martial art that is meant to shape the character of young men.

The Koshien Tournament is an 86-year-old national festival that combines the pageantry of the Olympics, the popularity of the Super Bowl, and the purity of a Sumo match into an 11-day event. Day after day, in 100-degree heat, with 50,000 cheering fans in attendance and millions watching on television, young men face the ultimate test of fighting spirit. Massive cheering sections led by relentless brass bands travel from the far corners of Japan to root for their home team. Add to all this, the fact that every game is win-or-go-home, and you can see why every game feels like the seventh game of the World Series.

We wanted to create a film following a few high school teams on their summer quest, but we quickly learned what we were up against. When we contacted experts with our idea, their advice was often "good luck-- you'll need it." As we learned, Japanese high school baseball is an institution with an old-fashioned devotion to amateurism. This amateur spirit takes many forms: umpires and ushers are volunteers, advertisements are removed from the fences, and until recently high school players were prohibited from any contact with professional players. This dedication to amateurism in sports is a thing of the past in America, where college football programs receive seven-figure fees for appearing in Bowl games.

At that point, we joined forces with producer Takayo Nagasawa and traveled to Japan to meet with the high school baseball authorities. With her help, and because we were willing to accept commercial restrictions, we were able to convince the authorities to authorize a high school baseball film. In the summer of 2004, we became the first foreigners to shoot at the Koshien Tournament. This film is the result of the efforts of many people on both sides of the US-Japan relationship, who helped in a spirit of friendship. We are humbled and honored to be a part of that effort.

During production, we followed two high school teams on their quest for Koshien. Chiben Academy in Wakayama is a powerhouse baseball school, led by the legendary Coach Takashima, and they looked poised to return to Koshien and take a shot at their fourth National Title. Tennoji High School is a top public school academically, but vying with 190 other schools in the Osaka "shoot-out" district means their chances of making it to Koshien are microscopic. But in baseball, nothing is certain. That's why they play the games.

We hope that Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball will immerse American viewers in a new world, where familiar things sometimes take on an entirely different meaning. We hope they will be inspired to explore and learn what they can from cultures that may not be a part of their daily lives. It's a small world these days, and it's getting smaller.


 

-Japan-Related Organizations in DC <2>-
The Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission:
The United States-Japan Bridging Foundation

-By Eric J. Gangloff
Executive Director,
U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation

This series features Japan-related organizations in the Washington, DC area: about who they are, their activities, and their efforts to bring further understanding of Japan to the American community, and strengthen Japan-U.S. relations on a local level. The following article is about the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation, a private organization that the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission established and which it houses in its office:

 

A group of Americans from private sector and public service, dedicated to improving Japan-U.S. educational and cultural relations, established the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation in 1998. Their purpose was to help prepare America's young people to assume leadership roles in all aspects of trade, security, cultural and educational relations between Japan and the United States. Through the Foundation, incorporated under the IRS in the District of Columbia, they planned to raise funds to help American undergraduates study for a semester or academic year in Japan. Their original goal was to raise $2,500,000 over five years to use as incentive scholarships of approximately $5,000 each to send 500 students to Japan during that time.

When the Foundation was established, educational exchange between Japan and the United States was decidedly one-sided. Approximately 48,000 Japanese students visited the United States annually for study, while only 1,800 American students studied annually in Japan. The founders believed that there was a direct correlation between these figures and the broader perspective of the trade imbalances of the mid-1990s, causing tension in the bilateral relationship. Their colleagues in Japan noted that the phenomenon of "Japan bashing" that had accompanied the trade imbalance had begun transformation into "Japan passing." Action was needed, they concluded, to improve the situation.

Japanese corporations had long been involved in support of Japan-U.S. educational exchange through the Fulbright Memorial Fund and other Japanese initiatives, and thus the founders concluded that the most appropriate community to approach for support would be the American business community. This needed to be a clearly identified American initiative. The target audience for the scholarships was theoretically all American undergraduate students, but studies showed that of the small number of Americans studying in Japan, 85 percent had studied at least one year of Japanese language at the home campus before leaving for Japan. Thus, the Foundation made arrangements with the Association of Teachers of Japanese, the professional organization of university teachers of Japanese in the United States, to organize a recruitment plan and annual scholarship competition. The "Bridging Scholars," as the scholarship recipients are known, would not necessarily be Japanese studies majors; they would come from every field of study. The one point in common would be to begin or continue their study of Japanese while in Japan. The Foundation also worked with its counterparts in Japan to make assurances that there would be sufficient curricula at Japanese universities taught in English to accommodate this new generation, and thus launched a movement among Japan's former national universities to establish new English-language programs to host students from abroad, not just the United States, but from around the world.

The Foundations began its fundraising activities in 1999 and sent its first class of Bridging Scholars to Japan in 2000. Very quickly, it discovered that interest in Japan remains strong among American undergraduates. For every scholarship the Foundation can provide, at least five students apply, and the number of applications increases each year. The competition is fierce. Five years later, in 2005, the Foundation had met is original goal of raising $2,500,000 and sending 500 students. The Board then set a second goal of $2,500,000 and to send 500 more students.

Many of the students return to Japan after graduation, either in a teaching capacity or working for a corporation there. Others join organizations in the U.S. with ties to Japan, using their cultural experience they gained while a student.

The Foundations is currently working hard toward the new goal. In this regard, it is privileged to be associated with the Japan Business Federation in Tokyo, which allows contributors in Japan, whether Japanese or American corporations or individuals, to receive tax benefit for their contributions. This relationship has been extremely beneficial to the Foundation's efforts, and we wish to thank the Japan Business Federation for its generous assistance with our program.


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