Savoring the wisdom of some Japanese predictions about Japan


FIRST IN A THREE-PART SERIES — I was 8 years old when we got our first television set, a 10-inch Admiral. That was in 1952, still early days for the new and exciting medium. It wasn’t long before I was glued every week to my favorite program, “Criswell Predicts.”

Criswell — or “The Amazing Criswell,” as he was known in Hollywood — was Jeron Criswell King, a handsome chap with a blond spitcurl, a deep voice and a stare that looked right through you — presumably into the future. To a little boy with a fertile imagination, his weekly predictions were an absolute thrill.

I can recall vividly three predictions he made in 1953. “By 1963,” he said, “we’ll all be traveling around Los Angeles in helicopters, men will be wearing capes, and women will wear their lipstick in a rectangular shape instead of just putting it on their lips.”

“Criswell Predicts” was off the air by the turn of the decade, but he hadn’t counted on a little Los Angeleno who was determined to hold him to his predictions. So, when I woke up on Jan. 1, 1963, went outside, looked around, saw no capes or rectangular lipstick but only a single police helicopter in the sky above our house, I realized there and then that the “The Amazing Criswell,” Hollywood psychic and friend of the stars, was a phony. The shock had another effect on me: Ever since then, I haven’t believed everything I see or hear on TV. Moreover, I’ve since learned that it’s best to take all predictions of the future with a drop of soy.

So it was that I had my soy-sauce bottle at the ready when I started reading the August issue of the popular magazine Bungei Shunju, whose main feature is titled “Tekichushita yogen 50,” meaning “50 predictions that hit the mark.”

While there are predictions made by a few non-Japanese such as Albert Einstein, Coco Chanel and Andy Warhol included in the feature, in this series I am going to focus on those made by famous Japanese about their country. Then, at the end, I’ll make a few predictions of my own — though “Pulvers Predicts” will, I assure you, steer well clear of helicopters, capes and anything to do with lipstick.

“This defeat is not necessarily a bad thing.” Thus spake Shigeru Yoshida, who was prime minister from 1946-47 and again from ’48-’54. It was Yoshida who put Japan on its path of postwar recovery and intimacy with the United States. It is hard for us to imagine today the physical destruction and psychological trauma that Japan was experiencing in the first years after World War II — all the more so because the Japanese people had brought it on themselves. I have always thought it is easier to cope with tragedy when its causes are external, rather than when you have no one to blame for your utter misery but yourself.

Yoshida saw the defeat as an opportunity to get Japan back on the track laid out in the early Meiji Era (1868-1912), a track from which it had become hopelessly derailed through the recklessness of its leaders. To Yoshida, this was a chance to re-establish the nation’s moral principles, renew and reinvigorate its diplomacy, and rebuild its economy.

As a statement about the present that is prescient of the future, “This defeat is not necessarily a bad thing” deserves full marks. The Japanese people did, indeed, turn the defeat into a victory for development and the renewal of the national ethos.

“I was totally opposed to the Sino-Japanese war. The reason is that it was a fight between brothers, and such a thing is entirely unpalatable.” We go back in time considerably from Yoshida’s era to that of the man who made this statement, Kaishu Katsu. A brilliant diplomat during negotiations to bring to an end the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate that spanned the period 1603-1867, Katsu was minister of the navy in the government under the restored Emperor Meiji.

Kaishu’s dream was a peaceful alliance of three nations — Japan, China and Korea — as the cornerstone of East Asian progress. “China’s 500 million people are Japan’s biggest customers,” he said. “Besides, China has been Japan’s teacher from time immemorial.”

In fact, Japan did win the Sino- Japanese War of 1894-95 and with it the power to wrench Korea into its own sphere of influence. Kaishu, who died in 1899, predicted that invaders of China from the outside — whether Western colonial powers or Japan — would not last long in China. He saw well into the future with his foresighted statement of opposition to the Sino-Japanese War.

“If the prewar Sino-Japanese relationship can be summed up with the words ‘a strong Japan and a weak China,’ then today’s relationship is heading in the direction of ‘a weak Japan and a strong China.’ ” This was said in a post-World War II context by the scholar and government insider Kei Wakaizumi back in 1966. (For more on Wakaizumi, see my Counterpoint article of March 28, 2010, via search.japantimes.co.jp).

In offering that opinion, Wakaizumi was contemplating an effective and proper defense policy for Japan in light of a future in which China had nuclear capabilities and Japan did not. A profound thinker, he knew that a country’s security did not depend solely on its military might but on the depth of its culture and its people’s grasp of history. Hence those Japanese who believed that all the country needed was a powerful military and a superpower economy were living, according to him, in a “fool’s paradise.”

Once again, hats off to Wakaizumi for his insightful understanding not only of the balance of power in East Asia but also of the crying need for Japanese people to revitalize their spirit by turning their attention to their cultural heritage.

In the next installments of predictions about Japan’s future, I will discuss statements made by, among others, the actresses Keiko Kishi and Hideko Takamine, the nonfiction author Soichi Oya, figure-skater Midori Ito, novelist Yukio Mishima, science-fiction author Shin’ichi Hoshi and crime-fiction writer Seicho Matsumoto.

Their foresight is something to behold, which is more than I can say — with hindsight, of course — about that of The Amazing Criswell, who predicted that Mae West would be president of the United States, Denver would be destroyed by aliens, and Fidel Castro would be assassinated.

Well, Mae West surely held a lot of things in her life close to her bosom, but the White House wasn’t one of them; Denverites are not exactly holding their breath, but they are voting in November on whether to set up an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission; and nearly 28 years after Criswell’s passing, Castro, if slightly less for wear, is strolling around the shopping stalls of Havana. On his deathbed, however, Criswell predicted that the Earth would be destroyed on Dec. 21, 2012. I just hope I’m still around to see it.