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The Train to Osaka
By Martin Kaste
November 9, 1999
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In a few hours, it will be Wednesday morning in Japan, the day Governor Ventura returns to Minnesota. Ventura spent the last day-and-a-half finishing up business in Tokyo, then riding the Bullet Train to the industrial city of Osaka for an overnight visit on his way home. The governor seems to be very satisfied with the way his Japan trip has gone.
Ventura visited Tokyo's giant traffic-control center, a hyper-modern facility where technicians track two million cars' worth of bumper-to-bumper traffic on a 15-foot-high display. For more photographs, see our "Jesse in Japan" section.

GOVERNOR VENTURA finally got to ride a train today. The Bullet Train between Tokyo and Osaka is not quite the light-rail system that he's pledged to build -- and ride -- before his term is over. But for the time being, this seemed to please him almost as much. For much of the trip, Ventura sat glued to the window, watching the rice paddies whip by at 160 miles an hour.

Tuesday has been transportation-theme day for the governor. Before boarding the Bullet Train, he visited Tokyo's giant traffic-control center, a hyper-modern facility where technicians track two million cars' worth of bumper-to-bumper traffic on a 15-foot-high display. The map is so large and intricate, they use binoculars to pick out the details. Outside, on the city streets, 16,000 sensors feed the center's computers, generating a comprehensive view of citywide traffic that gets routed back to the on-board navigational devices found in many Japanese cars.
Ventura: It would sure be nice to have one of these, wouldn't it?
Ventura says he doesn't think the Twin Cities needs a system this elaborate, but he likes the way Tokyo uses technology to fit more traffic into existing streets. He also points to all the red zones on the map -- indicating traffic jams -- and he takes that as evidence that all great cities need alternatives to the private passenger car.
Ventura: You all went to the basketball games over the weekend. Did you all notice how when you got outside, there was no traffic? There wasn't like in the United States, where when we have an event at the Dome or whatever, you spend a half hour, sitting in traffic, waiting to get out of the Dome. Now why do you think that was? Because of mass transit; because they have the opportunity to go to stadiums and not bring their cars.
For all the talk of learning from the Japanese, Ventura's main business here has been to sell Minnesota. And, as he told the Japanese-American Chamber of Commerce right before leaving Tokyo, he thinks he's done a good job of that.
Ventura: People don't always look at me as just the governor. They keep asking me, "What am I going to do next?" "Where am I going?" What am I thinking?" That curiosity has been great for us as a Minnesota delegation, because look at all the attention Minnesota has got in the last eight days.
Ventura has not exactly dominated the Japanese media during this trip, but most Americans here agree he's received far more attention than other U.S. governors have. The dailies have done short articles on his arrival, and a satellite TV channel will run a seven-minute feature about his visit later this week.

Executives for Minnesota businesses here aren't sure whether they'll benefit from the interest in Ventura. Tanya Sienko works for a joint venture between 3M and two Japanese firms, which hopes to win contracts to build traffic-management systems to help emergency vehicles get through crowded Japanese streets. Sienko says she has yet to see any direct benefits from Ventura's visit.
Sienko: Well, I wouldn't say much, because we've already been working with the Ministry of Police and the Universal Traffic Management Society for some time. But it does, shall we say, add an extra one or two percent.
Still, that extra one or two percent might make all the difference for some Minnesota businesses in Japan. Robert Imrie, the Asia Marketing Manager for the Minnesota Department of Tourism, says his years in Japan have taught him that visits and personal contacts do make a difference eventually. Imrie says the governor made an especially good impression on local tour-company executives, by taking the time to have lunch with them.

All along, Ventura has said that's all anyone should expect from this trip: personal contacts, a little banter and personal charm for the local cameras, and then go home to wait and see.