Before going forward into the new year, an extra edition of Shukan Shincho (with a Jan. 27 publication date) flashed back in time to track down author Ben Goto. Now a spry 89 years old, Goto achieved instant fame with a 1973 publication titled “Great Prophecies of Nostradamus.” His book initially sold 2.5 million copies and, with sequels, total sales reached 6 million.
Goto served up a somewhat embellished version of the prognostications by 16th-century French astrologer and physician Michel de Nostredame, who in “Les Propheties,” a cryptic book of 942 poetic quatrains published in 1555, is believed by some to have foreseen events in the distant future.
One of the most oft-cited prophecies, according to one English translation, goes: “The year 1999, seventh month/ from the sky shall come a great king of terror.”
Many readers in 1973 came away fully convinced this meant the world would come to an end less than three decades hence.
“During my primary school years, it was widely believed that humanity would never make it to the 21st century,” Goto tells the interviewer. “I myself expected to be dead by the age of 30.”
Along with fan mail, his book elicited a flood of protest letters from parents and teachers, with complaints such as “My kid read it and is so upset he can’t sleep” and “Now she feels her life is doomed to end in 1999.”
“When I published that book in 1973, the possibility existed of World War III between the United States and the Soviet Union. An end-of-the-world scenario by 1999 seemed fully imaginable,” says Goto, who added, “Nostradamus accurately predicted the moon landing and credit card loans.”
In a final summation titled “The hopes that remain,” Goto attempted to tone down the fear-mongering so as not merely convey the original predictions, which were written based on a Christocentric world view, but also in the hope of “changing the world” by “interpreting them through Asian thought.”
“I was told afterward, though, that not many readers bothered with that part,” he said, regretfully.
Now, 46 years later, Goto remains pessimistic.
“People today still harness their prosperity to produce weapons of murder,” he says. “It’s terrifying to ponder what might happen if nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terrorists. You can say that Nostradamus did foresee the present world situation.”
Using more scientific methods of forecasting, Nikkei Business (Dec. 23-30) foresees 2020 as a “year of great changes.” Among its predictions: that Japan’s universities will cease to be “leisure lands” as students are obliged to knuckle down for serious job hunting; northern Kyushu is expected to benefit from a surge in foreign tourists; demand for Uber Eats and other food delivery services will boom; and the automobile industry will be confronted by the most shaking changes to beset it since Ford’s Model T of a century ago.
The one most likely to affect the greatest number of the planet’s humans, however, concerns coffee, which, due to climate change and the population explosion, may start disappearing. Employees at trading firm Mitsui & Co. says coffee growers in Guatemala informed him that due to rising temperatures, cultivation previously done at 1,800 meters altitude has moved to 2,000 meters, which entails higher production costs.
According to World Coffee Research, production of the Arabica bean, which accounts for 60 percent of the world’s total, may drop by half by 2050. World demand, moreover, is increasing faster than supply, with the rapid emergence of China as a major consumer likely to put a further squeeze on world stocks.
One solution being mulled is to cultivate coffee locally, which Japan has already been doing with avocados and olives, for example. Ajinomoto General Foods and trading firm Marubeni have reportedly been investigating production on Tokunoshima, an island in Kagoshima Prefecture with favorable growing conditions. Unfortunately, the region is susceptible to typhoons. Marubeni is also developing cultivation in Laos.
Finally, looking back on the three decades of the Heisei Era (1989-2019) that just ended, which personage or personages most dominated Japan’s media coverage? The Oya Soichi Library in Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward compiled a complete year-by-year listing of the 10 most popular public figures, based on the number of media search requests by visiting journalists and researchers. For example, Donald Trump headed 2016, with 370 requests.
As the library is extensively used by reporters and researchers, the data provide a useful benchmark of the focus of news stories.
Only one entity — female entertainment troupe AKB48 — topped the library’s top 10 listing for three consecutive years (2011, 2012 and 2013; it also held second place in 2010 and 2014)
Only two individuals topped the list for two years running. They were sumo grand champion and later stablemaster Takanohana — in 1991 and 1992 — and South Korean soap opera heartthrob Bae Yong-jun (popularly known as “Yon-sama”) in 2004 and 2005.
Takanohana, born Koji Hanada and scion of a sumo family dynasty, made headlines in and out of the ring. His abrupt cancellation of a marriage engagement in early 1993 with actress Rie Miyazawa dominated the media for much of the year.
Takanohana’s media presence is a classic case of nanahikari, deference to a person through illustrious family ties. Even sumo authorities bent over backward to accommodate him, as the latter part of his career was marred by long absences from the sumo ring due to injuries.
Following retirement, his story reads like a travelogue by bumper-car: He inherited the Futagoyama sumo stable upon the death of his father, but his one-man efforts to mount a revolt inside the Japan Sumo Association proved fruitless; his marriage failed in 2018; and after a scandal in which one of his star wrestlers was beaten up by a Mongolian compatriot, he eventually wound up closing his stable for good. He has brushed off rumors of any plans to run for a seat in the national Diet.
Takanohana is still only 47, which means more coverage of his stumbles is a virtual certainty. The year’s first issue of Shukan Shincho (Jan. 2-9) focused on his involvement in an admissions scandal at Aoyama Gakuin University, where he had organized a one-day sumo jungyō (provincial tour) on its campus in August 2017.
Big in Japan is a weekly column that focuses on issues being discussed by domestic media organizations.