Entrepreneur James Nicholas Papatones, a former practicing small business and litigation attorney who does business in Japan focused on English-language Global Skills Training and education, previously attended a conference organized by the White House during the Ronald Reagan administration. Toshio Motoya spoke with Papatones about the Japanese-American relationship during the Donald J. Trump presidency and global affairs in the future.
(M) Thank you for joining me on Big Talk today. You appeared in Apple Town for the first time in March’s Wine Tasting and Discussion About Japan, gave a wonderful talk at the Shoheijuku school in January, and are now featured in the May issue of Big Talk, which is a uniquely fast progression (laughs).
(P) You are the first person I have met who has achieved such great success by linking business and historical research. I am very honored to speak with you today.
(M) My motto is “a person who chases two rabbits will catch both.” I don’t think I could have grown APA Group so large without expressing my beliefs, and I also suspect no one would listen to me if I weren’t a successful businessman. There is meaning in doing these two things simultaneously.
(P) In my English-language education work, I teach knowledgeable people who have graduated from Japan’s top-level universities. I feel like they are amazingly lacking in historical knowledge and also that they have learned mistaken information.
(M) They must fully memorize textbooks and what their teachers say to get into a good university in Japan. There is a great deal of mistaken information taught by teachers and textbooks.
(P) I see.
(M) I heard you were appointed by President Ronald Reagan for a conference for small business owners put on by the White House during the Reagan administration. I am sure you are also well versed in politics. I attended and gave a speech at an event in December 2016 for members of Donald J. Trump’s transition team visiting Japan. I spoke about how the Soviet Union’s inability to respond economically to Reagan’s “Star Wars” initiative for major military expansion led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War. I also shared my view that Trump may be emulating this through significant military expansion as an attempt to destroy the Chinese Communist Party’s single-party regime.
(P) I agree entirely. Reagan was a wise strategist, and Trump is working to follow his lead. Trump actually announced the other day that the United States would increase its military spending by six trillion yen. However, China has observed the Soviet Union and Russia from a close distance over the past 50 years. Even if Trump tries to draw China into an arms race, I think China will not emulate the Soviet Union.
(M) China has continually implemented an expansion policy backed by its military strength, while President Barack Obama declared the U.S. would no longer be the policeman of the world and continually cut military spending. I think this increased American military spending might suppress China’s growth.
(P) I feel that Trump must build close relations with Japan and China’s other neighboring countries, rather like the “Ron-Yasu” friendship between Reagan and Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone. China joining hands with Russia would pose a major military threat to the U.S., which is another possibility I think we must consider.
(M) China and Russia share an extensive border, so I feel we must fundamentally view their relationship as one of confrontation.
(P) That is true in some ways, but the Chinese and Russian navies held a joint exercise in 2016 with Japan as a hypothetical enemy. The Japan Air-Self Defense Force is also scrambling more fighters each year in response to Chinese and Russian aircraft.
(M) I think we can expect Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to form a close relationship like that between Reagan and Nakasone. Perhaps as a result of his meeting with Abe soon after his election, Trump’s February meeting with Abe was a great success because it reaffirmed the importance of the Japanese-American relationship.
(P) Trump won even though 99% of the Japanese media outlets predicted victory for Hillary Clinton, so I think Abe had to take prompt action.
(M) I suspect the Japanese media was wrong because it couldn’t personally cover this topic and had to adhere to what the American media said. I think Trump made a very decent statement when he said it was strange that the U.S. has to protect Japan while Japan has no such obligation. I believe Japan should reform its constitution over the next five years – during Trump’s eight years and Abe’s three terms (nine years) of government – to become a respectable nation that can engage in mutual protection with the U.S.
(P) It may be possible for Japan and the U.S. to form a military alliance of reciprocal defense. I heard then-Ambassador to Japan Howard Henry Baker, Jr. speak at a conference in 2004, when he referred to the importance of Japanese-American relations and said there are various possible options in this relationship.
(M) East Asia is home to the nuclear states of Russia, China, and North Korea. Japan simply must have nuclear arms to prevent wars and maintain peace and prosperity in this region. I think Japan should take part in nuclear sharing with the U.S. like the arrangement with Germany and Italy, the other defeated nations from World War II.
(P) Wouldn’t it be extremely difficult to introduce nuclear weapons to Japan, the only country that has been the victim of a nuclear attack? I thought it was very sudden when Trump mentioned the possibility of Japanese and South Korean nuclear armament during the election.
(M) I don’t think even Trump would actually approve Japan’s possession of nuclear arms, but I feel like he might allow nuclear sharing.
(P) I have no idea if he would since the detailed policy is not clear.
(M) If we analyze and logically consider the situation in East Asia, I think nuclear sharing is the only choice for the U.S. The U.S. will certainly build naval warships and update its nuclear weapons with the additional six trillion yen in military spending.
(P) The U.S. must strengthen its navy. Some people think China is already on par with Russia. China purchased the aircraft carrier Liaoning from Ukraine and is also enhancing its naval force through measures such as launching a domestically produced aircraft carrier next year.
(M) Japan must oppose this, but the issue is that Japan cannot possess offensive weapons. Shields are not sufficient for protection; to prevent war we must also have spears that provide deterrence and inspire fear in the enemy.
(P) I agree.
(M) The Chinese-North Korean relationship is also not straightforward. In 2004, the train on which Kim Jong-il was traveling was blown up near Ryongchon Station in North Korea. I think this was an assassination attempt by Jiang Zemin, chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission, because Kim Jong-il refused to halt North Korea’s nuclear development.
(P) I knew there was an explosion, but I’ve never heard that China was behind it.
(M) Russia and the U.S. are aware of this although they do not talk about it openly. Photographs of the blasting hole were posted on the Internet right after the incident. The hole was V-shaped, clearly showing that it was made by explosives placed underground, not on the ground as people said. These photos were then quickly removed from the Internet. Kim Jong-il was terrified by this attempted assassination and speeded up nuclear development because he thought North Korea would be destroyed by China if it did not have nuclear weapons.
(P) The American news suggested that the explosion was a failed nuclear test.
(M) Surveying the suspended particles in the sky would have revealed if a nuclear explosion took place. I don’t think a nuclear test would be conducted near a train station where Kim Jong-il was passing through. The global media was kept quiet on this issue. Modern history contains many similar events that, if you think about them logically, you will realize the generally accepted stories cannot be true. I wrote a book called Theoretical Modern History to summarize several of these. For example, a key point in modern Japanese history is the 1928 Huanggutun Incident, which is regarded as the start of Japan’s continental invasion and said to be the work of Kwantung Army Colonel Daisaku Komoto. However, it would not have been logical for the Japanese Army to kill Zhang Zuolin, a pro-Japanese warlord. It is highly probable that this was perpetrated by the Soviet Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU), a theory espoused by Russian historical novelist Dmitri Prokhorov. The existing photos of the blown-up train car also differ from Komoto’s testimony, and it is bizarre that Komoto did not appear at the Tokyo Trials even though he was still alive.
(P) I will read your book.
(M) Trump won the election because he fully understood the characteristics of the electoral college, a system in which each state chooses its electors rather than directly electing the president. He abandoned the states where he had no hope of victory to focus on the swing states, which I think was a distinctive tactic for a businessman.
(P) The Trump campaign also had very high cost effectiveness. He won even though his campaign spending was one tenth that of Clinton, which I think we can say is a rare success.
(M) Trump has run for president three times, and I think he fully leveraged this past experience. He knew that advertising costs a huge amount of money, so he instead chose the method of making rash remarks that would be covered in the news and make him known to the people.
(P) Trump’s only rival candidate in the Republic Party presidential primaries was Ted Cruz, a senator from Texas. I was chosen as the American debating champion at age 14 and also in college. I am a former attorney just like Cruz, who is an exceedingly wise senator. However, I think his overly lawyer-like speaking style impeded his popularity and lost him the primaries.
(M) Fighting Trump, who excels at psychological warfare, is a difficult task. For instance, he is being praised as “presidential” just because he switched from an extreme way of speaking to a more normal one, even though he is saying the same things. Business success is not guaranteed just by working earnestly and correctly – one also needs this type of intuition. Japanese politicians lack such intuition. Despite the information strategy warfare that is continually waged across the world, both today and in the past, Japan is still controlled by bureaucrats and politicians from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Law who excelled in memory-focused education.
(P) I agree that Japan lacks leaders who can express even complex information with firmness yet simply and accurately. Nakasone had that ability.
(M) In his second stint as prime minister, Abe has become that type of leader.
(P) Yes. Democracy is founded on candid exchanges of opinions that prize three things: debating, bargaining, and expressive methods.
(M) Tough negotiators are praised in the U.S., yet in Japan they are negatively described as “taking a hard line.”
(P) In my 22 years of living in Japan, I have seen that tough negotiators are treated as troublemakers. Yet people with great perseverance always win in the end.
(M) Trump is criticized for various things and had an approval rating of 44% after he took office, the lowest in history. Although Reagan is popular today, he had an approval rating of just 44% in his second year. I think it’s possible that Trump’s performance might inspire people to totally change their opinions of him.
(P) Trump made a joint address to Congress on February 28 and was lauded for his first “presidential” speech. Even Van Jones, CNN’s most liberal commentator, spoke approvingly of Trump after this address. He also discussed it for two hours on a TV program the following day and said he believed Trump would definitely be re-elected.
(M) Seeking major changes every eight years seems to be an American quality. Looking at the world today, it looks like a new era of imperialism is dawning and it may be only natural for the U.S. to put itself first. Russia is becoming the Empire of Vladimir Putin, China the Empire of Xi Jinping, and the U.S. the Empire of Trump.
(P) Rather than imperialism, I see this trend as a type of nationalism based on religion and other types of shared awareness. Putin has maintained his power for so long thanks to backing from the Russian Orthodox Church. I have visited seven major Chinese cities for work and spoken with Chinese bureaucrats, politicians, and businesspeople. Their type of nationalism is intense Sinocentrism, rather than a religious one like Russia.
(M) That was vividly depicted by the scandal about a book I wrote being placed in APA Hotel rooms. The Chinese government criticized APA Hotel and ordered travel agencies to stop booking our rooms, which seems ridiculous to citizens of countries with freedom of speech. I think this self-righteousness stems from Sinocentrism.
(P) I am impressed by your standing up to and resilience to pressure from China. It is brave.
(M) I believe risks must be controlled. To guard against country-specific risks like this, APA Hotel keeps its ratio of foreign guests at or under 10% of the total. The percentage of Chinese guests was around 5% at the time of the uproar, so I knew its impacts on our business would be slight. I can express myself frankly because of this satisfactory performance. I also hope the American economy will be strong. Trump has announced one trillion dollars of public investment, which I think would improve the economy.
(P) I hope so, too.
(M) Most Japanese people avoid a particular choice if it is even slightly risky. The average annual background radiation dose across the globe is 2.4 millisieverts, while the Japanese background dose is 2.1 millisieverts per year. Considering this, it was illogical to require full decontamination at areas exceeding one millisievert per year after the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. People are also raising a meaningless clamor about the underground water in Toyosu because it exceeds the standard for drinking water, even though this water will not be drunk or even used for cleaning. There is nowhere on earth without risks; the issue is how we control for them.
(P) There is only one way to fully prevent risks: death (laughs). This is a joke, but Trump has written in his books that one of his 12 foundations for success is controlling risks in the foundations of his businesses. In contrast, foreign-owned businesses in Japan sometimes fail because they couldn’t build foundations that matched the circumstances in Japan.
(M) The many standards in the U.S. are probably an advantage, as are the English language, dollar, IT, and financial rules. One must build unique standards to achieve business success. APA Hotel has achieved profitability of over 30% – the highest in the world – thanks to our “New Urban Style Hotel” standard. At traditional hotels, the relationship between a guest and employee resembles that of a master and servant. In contrast, APA Hotel guests and employees are equal and privacy is respected. Employees will not enter a guest’s room without permission after check-in, and no superfluous services are offered.
(P) These standards become brands. Just like APA Hotel, my company has a brand strategy that emphasizes uniqueness. For instance, in our English-language Globalization Training System (GTS), we capture videos of trainees speaking and being drilled in assertive response, debate, negotiation, presentation, etc. and use them in many ways . Our training methods also require independence and significant focus, resilience, and guts. In this way, we have many Unique Selling Points.
(M) We have the same fundamental way of thinking. At the end of the interview, I always ask for a “word for the youth.”
(P) I think Japan is at a crossroads and is facing many choices just like during the Meiji Restoration. The Meiji statesmen were great intellectuals with will and determination, and they were able to act based on strategy. That is probably why Japan could transform itself into a modern country during the Meiji Period. Their mettle and heroism made Japan one of the five great powers after World War I and also saved the lives of my grandfather and grandmother when the Greco-Turkish War broke out after World War I. In 1922, Japanese warships ignored the British prohibition and rescued 300,000 Greek refugees left behind in the Turkish port of Smyrna (currently Izmir), including my grandfather and grandmother. This is not well known in Japan or the world. It is essential for Japan to make efforts to share these historical facts that are worthy of pride, just like what you try to do. I hope that Japanese youth will show the world how courageous they are, like the elder statesmen of the Meiji Period and the warship crewmembers who rescued the Greek refugees.
(M) This year marks 150 years since the start of the Meiji Period. Abe chose to meet with Trump on National Foundation Day, which I think shows his desire to create an equal Japanese-American relationship and for Japan to achieve its “second foundation” with the aim of making contributions to the world. Japan must revise its constitution during the Republican Trump administration to become a decent country. To that end, we must destroy the masochistic historical view implanted by the occupation policies of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (GHQ).
(P) My uncle was a non-commissioned GHQ officer, and my father was also a member of the occupation army. I have heard many things from them and also from my business partner who is close with the Imperial Family. I am currently writing a book based on this, and hope we can talk again after it is finished.
(M) Yes, let’s do that! Thank you for joining me today.
James Nicholas Papatones
Chosen as the American debating champion at age 14. After graduating from the Suffolk University Law School, he completed the postgraduate U.S./Japan Trade Program at Harvard University. He worked as an attorney for 14 years and served as a White House Conference for Small Business member during the Ronald Reagan administration, making efforts for deregulation and business invigoration for small to medium enterprises. He was active as a corporate consultant and came to Japan on an investor’s visa before establishing World Without Borders Corporation in 2006, which provides training to major Japanese corporations. His published works include commentaly on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki published in Tokyo Weekender magazine and a paper entitled “New Frontiers in Negotiation… The Failure of Pre WWII Negotiations” in the Journal of the Japan International Society for Negotiation in 2014.