February 5th, 2006


Horiemon's simple life

When I sat down to write my last Wired column, the Livedoor scandal had just broken here in Japan. Now, to journalists who tend to write about technology as if it were a business story, this would be the obvious thing to cover. But I'm not that kind of journalist. Maybe this is something to do with Wired being based in San Francisco; my column tends to look at the ways in which technology might make the future more utopian. So I wrote a rather poetic, idealistic piece about nostalgia for mud, detailing ways that affluence can come full circle back to an improved (and improving) form of poverty.

On Friday my friend Misa wrote me an excited e-mail telling me that Livedoor News had picked up the Wired column about nostalgia for mud and run it. All my Wired columns get translated into Japanese and run on the Hotwired Japan site (they also get fed to i-Mode). But this time, apparently, Livedoor had spotted the piece and liked the theme.

Now, I don't need to point out why an article saying that austerity may have a silver lining would appeal to a company whose shares have plummeted in value from over 600 yen to under 100, whose securities and accountancy violations are said to have wiped 6% off the Nikkei share index since January, and whose media-friendly president has gone from a Ferrari, a model girlfriend, and an apartment in Roppongi Hills to an austere police cell. Livedoor has every interest in wearing sackcloth and ashes for a while, and I'm delighted that my article proved to be a handy hair shirt for them.

However, the Slow Life theme is hardly one that Takafumi Horie himself is likely to endorse. Sitting in his three tatami police cell without access to a cellphone or computer, we can assume he didn't read my article. There in police custody, Horie leads the life of an anchorite. He's only allowed two baths a week, his toilet and basin are in full view of his warders, his window looks out on a blank wall, and he isn't allowed to lie down during daylight hours. Three days a week he's allowed a 30 minute exercise period.

Who knows, though, perhaps Horiemon will emerge from prison a changed man, some kind of Taoist sage and Slow Life advocate. (His advocacy matters; Koizumi won his postal privatization election partly thanks to choosing Horiemon as one of his assassins.) Perhaps he'll trade his luxury apartment for a Ryue Nishizawa house with an outside bathroom. Perhaps he'll agree with Lao Tzu: "In his world, he would have no rules. He would have people live simple and peaceful lives. They would find that their plain food is sweet, and that their simple clothes were fancy. They would have their war horses become plow horses. And their homes would then be happy places."

With the "no rules" bit he's already halfway there. Is the "no possessions" bit really such a stretch, Horiemon?