People from the U.S. sometimes ask, “What’s life like in South Korea?” This is my standard response.
Korea is: a.) densely packed and teeming with human activity; and b.) the government is deeply, intimately involved in the citizens’ lives. The place is all humanities and sciences, added value and creativity, with no natural resources or natural spaces of which to speak. There’re humans everywhere, 24-hours per day, with all the conveniences and drawbacks that brings. There’s a constantly renewed Public Commons, with up-to-date tech and modern social policies. There’s a very active and lively democracy/ media scene, with a million political parties/ a million TV channels all clamoring for your attention. In short, you can order fried chicken & beer delivered to your door at 3 a.m., you can take honeymoons to picturesque Central Europe, you can vote for the Green Party or the Buddhist Party, you can live in a cramped tenement shoe box-sized one-room studio, you can work as a white-collar cubicle drone for no pay and no power, you can carry your tiny toy dog around in a handbag, you can enjoy a wide variety of makeups and personal accouterments, and you can vacation in Bali or Nha Trang. That’s Korea today.
tl/dr: Korea is small and dense, and has a very active government.
Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2018
by Gregory C. Eaves
People from the U.S. sometimes ask, “What’s life like in South Korea?” This is my standard response.
First, imagine the population of all of California and all of Illinois — around 52 million people — squeezed into a mountainous square of land barely the size of Indiana, or about half the size of Nebraska or South Dakota. It’s a huge population squeezed onto a tiny postage stamp of bumpy, mountainous land, with very few flat spots or river plains on which to build.
Second, give this crammed population a huge economy, about the size of all of California’s economy, give or take Ohio. Economically speaking, this place does everything, but most famously, of course, it bends metal. Korea bends metal amazingly well and into all sorts of things: cars, steel, container ships, TVs, stereos, smartphones, expressways, nuclear reactors, bridges, tunnels. There’s also a lot of oil refining, nuclear energy, coal, construction, plastics, chemicals, research facilities, pollution, blue-collar factory workers, labor unions and grey skies. There are some hotels, IT firms, wind turbines, TV/ movie production companies and banks, but mostly the economy just focuses on bending metal cheaper than the Japanese and better than the Chinese.
Combine these two points: a dense mountainous square of land, and being home to lots of factories and economic activity. The entire country — about the size of Indiana, remember — has the population density of Manhattan, or at least of Queens. That’s around 39’000 square miles (100’000 square kilometers) of dense, dense economic activity, 24/7, 365: asphalt, cement, factories, stores, smokestacks, businesses, glass & steel towers, hustle and bustle. You snooze, you lose. Dog eat dog. However, it’s even more concentrated than that because 70 percent of the land here is uplands and mountains. So there is bucolic beauty in Korea, but it’s off in the mountains, hills and valleys. Very few humans live there, and very little human activity goes on there. Most humans and all of the factories and all of the art and all of the video games and all of the science and all of the fashion and all of the innovation has to be squeezed onto only about 30 percent of the land, making the cities — the centers of human activity, the hearts of civilization, the dens of crime — even more dense.
Focus on the cities now. This is where all the people are, so this is where community happens. Try to imagine one large urban center that’s a combination of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and New York, all as one city. That’s Seoul. This one metropolitan area, connected by a vast nest-of-snakes subway system, produces all your movies, writes all your software, has all your tech, all your media, and is home to all your national politics. All your movie stars live here, all your billionaire plutocrats live here, all your celebrities live here, in one city, all within a two-to-three-hour driving radius. No trees and all buildings. It’s one metropolis that constitutes 48 percent of the people and 52 percent of the GDP. Expressways and train tracks all radiate outward from the center. Seoul is at the center of this spider web of human interconnectedness.
Concentrated human activity
The country’s small, and geographically an island, so you could theoretically drive everywhere in about two or three hours. However, what stops you is concentrated human activity. With such highly focused geography and highly focused urban centers, human activity is highly concentrated, like a magnifying glass turning normal sunshine into burning fire. Human activity is concentrated on weekends, concentrated on holidays, concentrated at the commute hours of 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., and concentrated in certain central business districts.
Any chores, errands, government filings or doctor appointments have to be handled on weekends or after 6 p.m., but that can’t be done because all the offices are closed at those times. The labor market is still old-fashioned like that. This makes it hard for normal citizens to get anything done. Therefore, people tend to skip work to get things done, which reduces productivity; or, most households have one adult who doesn’t work and who does family errands, which also weakens the national economy. Yeah, labor market reform has been a policy priority for many recent administrations; not yet successful.
At 3 a.m. on a weekday morning you could drive across the entire country (only 210 miles/ 340 km) in under three hours. However, the normal drive time from Seoul to Busan — for normal people, during normal daytime hours, on a normal weekend — is about five hours because of this concentrated level of human activity.
This physicality — highly focused geography, highly focused urban centers, concentrated human activity, always one other human in front of you, behind you, to your left, to your right, and even in 3-D above you and below you in your skyscraper or apartment building — has a strong influence on the way humans are taught to behave, id est, this thing called “culture”. In this Petri dish of existence, human behavior begins to be influenced by these physical factors. A certain physical curtness is developed, like the “rude New Yorker” stereotype. One’s personal space bubble is nonexistent. Then add the industrial landscape and air pollution. Alcoholism, smoking, prostitution, depression, low labor market participation, and processed food all proliferate. Rent is astronomical and meeting traditional social expectations is unaffordable. So a revolution takes place; a youth revolution. Individualism rises. Marriages decline. Babies are few. Suicides increase.
All graduates apply for the same job at the same time, whether it’s welding or theoretical physics, and you always know all the other candidates. You all had the same professors and went to one or two of the same schools. You all know which jobs are where, and you’re all applying at the same time. It’s enough to make you just want to become a barista, which is actually what a lot of them do. Or they open a craft brew pub in the countryside where real estate is cheaper. The “idiot in the news” story each morning — Korea’s “Florida Man” news story each morning — is always some poor bastard lashing out at this constant pressure.
With those physical geographic restrictions — high population, small amount of land, lots of economic activity, concentrated human activity — the citizens would be marching in the streets if the government didn’t oil the gears to make it all work properly; if it didn’t provide a safe, professional and modern Public Commons.
Which brings us to democracy.
South Korea is a leading example of democracy. Or, to put it another way, we use the word “democracy” to describe how a modern-day high-tech government handles a huge population squeezed into a small space, and maintains and manages a thriving, wealthy economy. The government here needs to be extremely responsive to the people and to its corporations, and it must provide a world-class Public Commons or else it’s voted out of office in the next round of elections. If you’re thusly voted out, in a spittle of revenge you’ll be investigated for corruption, and there’s always, always corruption. So you try to provide a good Public Commons so that you stay in government and so that you can continue to tend and to direct — or try to tend and try to direct — economic development.
Government leads economic development in this way. This is what Korea inherited from Imperial Japan: its economic model. Meiji Japan did this itself, and then put the same set of policies, finely tuned, into place in Manchuria, Korea and Taiwan. This greater co-prosperity sphere was interrupted by trans-continental war, but then Seoul was able to do it for itself once again after August 1945 and even more so after March 1953.
How to Get Rich 101
Do you want to get rich? Are you in charge of an economy? Here’s how to do it, briefly.
1.) Enforce land reform and give land to the families that till it. This is both democratic and great for economic growth. Landlords, absentee or otherwise, don’t help with economic growth, even though they usually hold power in the capital. 2.) Control the financial system. Don’t allow unfettered currency exchanges. Keep as much savings as possible in the local currency. 3.) Direct all bank loans to a select few chosen corporations. 4.) Have those favored corporations invest this money into cutting edge technologies. Constantly push forward the technological frontier, every five years or so. 5.) Use the manufacturing and factories for these cutting edge technologies to absorb the manpower surplus that will leave the farm for the cities. Construct the infrastructure required to support each new wave of technology. 6.) Export, export, export. Force those specially chosen corporations to export. If those chosen few don’t export, and if they don’t receive hard currency receipts, they lose their domestic loans and lose all their domestic advantages. 7.) Close off the domestic economy. Make sure there’s zero competition to those chosen few corporations. They have complete free reign domestically to sell whatever they want, to experiment domestically, to guess what might work as an export item. 8.) However, they must export. If they do not, cull from the bottom. Let die the smallest companies first. Then the larger corporations will get more and more of the government loans from the controlled financial sector, and get ever bigger and better. 9.) Repeat this cycle with five-year plans to ride upward each subsequent technological wave. 10.) Finally, now that you’re rich and your corporations are competent, switch to a liberal model and open up to free trade, especially with advanced economies that are agricultural (New Zealand, Chile, Denmark). Such FTAs are easier to negotiate, since there’s not a lot of direct competition. Now that you can face the West head-on, on an equal footing, open your markets to the world. Stand tall as a liberal democracy.
Note: Do not try this at home, kids. This only works in Northeast Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan), only under the U.S. military umbrella, only with a liberal U.S. pushing for land reform and democracy and open markets, only with technology from the 1950s to the 1990s, and only if there’re no Guangdong factories undercutting you at every step of the way. Nowadays in 2018, it will be very, very different. Today’s technology is different. Do not try this today.
In Korea’s case, all of this government direction started with wigs and shoes, went through transistor radios, TVs, LCD screens, low-end cars, average cars, 40′ containers, Panamax container ships, and today includes great cars, nuclear energy reactors, high-end monitors, good smartphones and LNG ships.
All of this requires government caretaking. Only the government, according to this well-proven model, can create this imaged community we all call “Korea” by guiding the economy and guiding development through education, media and the constant reminder that you’re under threat. All the people here are bound by these policies. Government policies are deeply, deeply integrated into one’s life, from alcohol sales, to sex in media, to cigarette markets, to military service for half the population, to birth control, to primary schooling, to tertiary education, to the civil service exam, to your job, to your vacation destination and eligibility for an exit visa, to marriage, to death and to funerals. It’s almost totalitarian. Or it was, until the East Asian Financial Crisis (1997) and the World Cup (2002). That’s when Korea stood up.
The government today
With high human density, government leadership and an extremely active economy, convenience is key. It all comes down to physics — time and space — and “convenience” is humanity’s attempt to compress time and to compress space. In terms of citizens’ convenience provided by the government, it begins with the standards, all of which must be high-quality, rapid and clean: air, water, electricity, high-speed internet, phone reception at the top of every mountain and on the most-distant island, national health care available anywhere in the country, postal services, public transportation, a smooth-flowing transportation grid, and all such basics. Moving beyond that, there are automated immigration scanners at the airport, government subsidies for aged farmer re-training, regularly re-built infrastructure that uses the newest technologies each time, a central national seed bank for fruits and vegetables, internationally copyrighted DNA banks for domestic breeds of cattle, hogs and poultry, ballot counting machines during elections that are then double-checked by hand, traffic monitoring systems across the cities, one proximity swipe card that can be used on all buses, subways, taxis and convenience stores in every city across the whole country, financial support for key export industries, modest financial support for new families, and much, much more. Korea is a male civil engineer’s dream: tons of jobs for men building expressways, putting up ever-newer telecommunications towers, and constantly shoveling Mother Earth’s dirt here and there across the mountains and plains, molding Her to humanity’s pleasures and needs.
Less than one generation removed from a Central America-style dictatorship police state that was combined with Imperial Japanese totalitarianism, South Koreans today take their liberal democracy very, very seriously. In 2016 and 2017, Korea showed the world how to do democracy. In October 2016, a series of million-person demonstrations began in Seoul. Every weekend, the people protested the president’s corruption and influence peddling. By November 2016, some 1.9 million people were involved each weekend. However, they still cleaned up their garbage afterward and they queued patiently at public bathrooms in nearby subway stations during the demonstrations (subway stations that were otherwise closed to train traffic). This continued until March 2017. Though massive in scale, it was civilized in process. The demonstrators were calling for impeachment, the legal removal of a mad king.
By 2017, Korea had shown the world — and East Asia especially — how democracy is meant to function. Beijing should take note. First, a free press uncovered corruption and election abuses. Second, the people came out peacefully onto the streets. Six months of protests in the main square of the capital city called for impeachment. Third, the National Assembly, realizing which way the winds were blowing and, for once, doing the right thing, voted for impeachment. Fourth, that decision was upheld by the Constitutional Court. Fifth and finally, new elections were held, a new president entered office and the corrupt former president was incarcerated and put on trial. She was sentenced to 33 years in prison just this past weekend, in fact. This was all done absolutely peacefully. It was a legislative process, not a mob: no rioting, no lynching, no tear gas, cleaning up after yourself, and following the rule of law.
The new government has been in place since May 2017. President Moon Jae-in wants more jobs for young people and stronger corporate oversight, but he is also well aware of the movement that brought him to office. The government wants 3 percent GDP growth in 2017, but it’s likely to only hit 2.5 percent, which is still good by OECD standards.
Like Australia, Korea is trapped: its most important ally militarily is the U.S., but its most important partner economically is mainland China, with its riotous online tech industry and the clique in Beijing. So the rational adults in charge in Seoul carry on carefully, focusing on labor market restructuring and corporate governance here at home.
Concerning North Korea
Beijing’s difficult and disgraceful prodigy in Pyeongyang is not a threat to anyone, especially not to the U.S. or to any U.S. city. North Korea has not undertaken any bellicose act against the U.S., and will continue to not do so. Its existential logic remains the same. Beijing would be happy to be rid of North Korea, but there is no other option for Beijing: a modern, democratic South Korea on the banks of the Yalu (Dandong) and Tumen (Vladivostok) rivers would be the end of Communist Party rule in Beijing (and maybe in the Russian Far East, too?), and Emperor Xi Jiping wants to rule for life. So our new South Korean administration will remain calm and carry on. Eventually, a Berlin 1989 or a Moscow 1991 will occur in Beijing, and then, concurrently, Pyeongyang will fall. In the mean time, the rational adults in charge in Seoul will carry on carefully.
Whence we came, whither we go
Kim Dae-jung wrote in November 1994 that, “Asian authoritarians misunderstand the relationship between the rules of effective governance and the concept of legitimacy. Policies that try to protect people from the bad elements of economic and social change will never be effective if imposed without consent; the same policies, arrived at through public debate, will have the strength of Asia’s proud and self-reliant people.” That was written in Foreign Affairs before he was president of Korea from 1998 to 2003, and before he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000.
He was describing Asian democracy, and South Korean society has been a shining light along the path toward modernity and civil society for the past 100 years, especially so in 2016 and 2017. Interestingly, President Moon Jae-in is the first Korean president to link the movement that brought him to power with the various modern political upheavals of Korea’s past century. No other South Korean president has linked themselves to history in such a way. Korea today is at the vanguard of Asian democracy and peaceful civil engagement, but only after a century of trials and tribulations.
The bifurcation of Korea
Joseon society faced a conflict in the early 1900s. How can we modernize and still retain our heritage and traditions? Do we have to Westernize in order to modernize? Do we have to Japanese-ize? If Joseon is the past, is Korea the future? What is “Korea”? How do we reap the fruits of modernity from our own garden?
Since 1876, Meiji Japan had been slowly re-tracing Hideyoshi’s steps across Korea and into the heart of the Qing homeland, Manchuria. War broke out on the Korean Peninsula in 1894-1895. The Joseon government had called for Qing forces to help put down the Donghak religious-peasant rebellion, so the Qing sent in troops. Meiji Japan used this chaos to send in even more of its own troops, thereby escalating the whole thing into an international war. The fighting was between Meiji Japan and the Qing. Japan won, easily, and the prize was Korea.
As Japan continued its rise, stepping upward on the back of a prone Korea that was on its hands and knees, war broke out again, again with Meiji diplomacy and duplicity as the main spark. This time, the war was on the Korean Peninsula, the Liaodong Peninsula and in Southern and Central Manchuria in 1904-1905. No real Korean actors or forces were involved on the field of battle. The fighting was between Meiji Japan and Imperial Russia. Japan won, barely, and the prize was Manchuria, the Qing homeland and the land bridge to mainland China.
Tokyo’s colonial occupation, use of extraterritoriality and its exploitation of the natural resources on the Korean Peninsula required a series of policies to keep Joseon society inert and under control. For example, there was a secret police force. Each citizen had a national ID card. The ID card had your “race” stamped on it. “Japanese” were at the top, then “Korean”, “Manchurian” and at the bottom were the ethnic Han “Chinese”. There were language laws, as well. Meiji Tokyo was trying to keep Joseon inert. That was not to be.
Nationalism and communism are both natural responses to such colonialism and exploitation, but Korea faced industrialization, too, in the 1910s and 1920s, imposed from above, with mostly Meiji people and Meiji corporations reaping the benefits, but there were plenty of ethnic-Korean collaborationists, too.
This is when two sides of Joseon society responded. On one side, a group of wealthy land owners, U.S. missionary-connected Christians and petty thugs founded the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea: in exile, in Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang Shanghai, in April 1919. On the other side, workers back in Korea founded the Communist Party of Korea, under Comintern auspices, in Seoul in secret in April 1925. Together, these two modern political entities were Joseon society’s response to modernization, colonialism and exploitation. Thus began the Great Korean Civil Rupture.
V-J Day, boom!, Commies are coming, Japs surrender
The cork in the bottle keeping these civil pressures contained for 30 or 40 years was colonialism: colonialism combined with mild economic growth, and giving the Joseon periphery its first taste of the Honshu metropole. Festering for 30 or 40 years and unfettered after August 1945, conflict erupted. Who would define our society and our future? What does it mean to be “Korean”?
A Korean Civil War erupted (1945-1953), taking place parallel to a U.S.-China war (1951-1953), which both took place within the larger Cold War (1945-1991). All three overlapped on the Korean Peninsula and all three were hot, until Joseph Stalin died in March 1953 and the dogs of war were kenneled.
Unresolved, these wars left two wounded Korean polities on the field of battle. Though tragic, this Great Korean Civil Rupture has allowed South Korea to modernize without the “Chinese burden” that exists elsewhere in Northeast Asia. North Korea, Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, maybe Vietnam, maybe Laos, are all held back by this “Chinese burden.” South Korea, on the other hand, was lucky enough to fall on the other side of that line and, to cut a long story short, by 2018 South Korea has redeemed itself.
Speak about the past
Unique among Northeast Asian leaders, President Moon Jae-in speaks in historical terms linking the so-called Candlelight Revolution that brought him to power with history. No other Northeast Asian leader does so. President Moon skips over the raw, gaping wound of Imperial Meiji colonization and the bitterness of the Great Korean Civil Rupture, and links 1919, 1960 and 1987 to his movement in 2017. He is the first South Korean president to speak thusly, to place themselves in the flow of time, from the past, to the present, and onward into the future. It’s quite refreshing, to be honest, if not completely historically accurate.
First, stretching back to the birth of modern Korea, the first steps in terms of mass movements came from the seeds of ethno-nationalism. A march for independence took place in Seoul on March 1, 1919. Thirty-three ethno-nationalists met to read out a declaration of independence and signed their names to it. Wildly popular, and burning with the upswell of a recently realized common ethnic identity, the crowds grew. Newspapers and literacy helped to spread the word. The Japanese colonial constabulary panicked and opened fire that day. Police cracked down nationwide. In March and April 1919, estimates range from 550 killed and 12,000 arrested, up to 7,500 killed and 46,000 arrested.
Second, in the elections of 1960, a free press found that ballot tampering and election fraud had taken place. This caused a small demonstration in a rural town, but then the police opened fire and a kid’s body was found floating in the harbor. The press further uncovered that the kid had been killed by being hit in the head with a tear gas canister. By April, student-led democracy activists were marching in the streets of Seoul. Professors and teachers joined them. Police refused to fire on the crowds. On April 26, 1960, that dictator stepped down and fled to Hawaii, dying in July 1965.
Third, during a pro-democracy demonstration on June 9, 1987, a university student was, once again, hit on the head with a tear gas canister. On June 10, it was decided that the incumbent dictator would, once again, win the upcoming elections. On June 18, 1.5 million people took to the streets of Seoul, with additional demonstrations in 15 other cities. On June 26, 1 million people marched in Seoul, with 34 other cities also having anti-dictatorship marches. On June 29, the dictator capitulated to their demands: he agreed to amend the constitution and to release Kim Dae-jung from prison, the same Kim Dae-jung who eventually became president and who would win a Nobel Peace Prize. On July 5, 1987, that same university student from above died of his wounds and 1.6 million people marched in his funeral on July 9.
Nowadays, and according to the South Korean president, people like to pretend that Joseon’s ethno-nationalist independence movement of 1919 was Korea’s first step toward independence and to the liberal democracy that exists today. This is far-fetched. Neither of the two Korean independence movements — neither the rich and only-somewhat-collaborationist landlords in Kuomintang Shanghai nor the ragtag Communist woodland warriors attached to Mao’s movement — had any effect on Korean independence. Korea received independence because Japan surrendered unconditionally on board the USS Missouri.
Each major Korean upheaval — March-April 1919, August 1945, June 1951, April 1960, May 1980, June 1987 — occurred independently of the earlier one(s). We know this by reading primary documents from those times. Logically, you cannot prove a negative. However, when you read the words of the main actors in those events — letters, diaries, newspaper articles, poems, novels — no one ever claims to be carrying on a single “torch for democracy” or “freedom movement.”
Those separate events were not connected in the minds of the main actors who created those events on the ground. The causes were always local: a lot of perceived racism and ethno-nationalism in the early years (1919, 1945), and then mostly complaints about police abuse (1951, 1960), a lack of personal freedoms (1980) and the desire for a responsive government that provides a quality Public Commons (1987) in the later years. Does all of that create a single narrative?
Moon Jae-in and March 2017 brings it all together into a single narrative. His greatest contribution to South Korean society has been to verbally link each Korean upheaval of the past into a single series of progressive steps. In short, he actually talks about history, and this is in a Northeast Asia that’s still living in August 1945. Messianic, perhaps, and also Marxist, in the sense that history progresses in a forward motion, but Moon’s words tie together Korea’s century of unrest; its century of searching for the answers that Joseon society was unable to provide.
Next year is 2019, a century on from 1919, and President Moon will be speaking strongly to try to connect the founding of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea in exile, founded with the blessings of Chiang Kai-shek in his Kuomintang-ruled Shanghai in April 1919, with the advent of democracy and freedom today. This may not be historically accurate, but this may just be what people need to hear. It’s soothing, to be honest, and grandiose in scope, giving us a sense of time; of when we are alive, not just where we are alive.
Finally, even though Korea leads Northeast Asia and, indeed, all of East Asia in terms of democracy today, it is nonetheless, too, also searching for the answers to the ultimate questions, the same questions faced before by each non-Western, non-U.K., non-U.S. society as it moves into the future. How can we modernize and still retain our heritage and traditions? Do we have to Westernize in order to modernize? How do we reap the fruits of modernity from our own garden? For a century now, Korea has been finding its own answers.
Blooming, brilliant, booming
In 1919, nationalism was barely budding, with modernization just over the horizon, and democracy far away. A century on, Korean democracy has surpassed that in both Japan (too much LDP), the first non-Westerner to modernize, and in Taiwan (not allowed to declare independence or else Beijing has a hissy fit). Worldwide, only Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul have been able to face the Rise of the West head on as equals, with blooming economies, brilliant technologies and booming democracies. None of the incumbents — neither Turkey, nor Egypt, nor Iran, nor India, nor China — have been able to do it. Only Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul have been able to successfully modernize with their own technology and own democratic freedoms. It seems that Kim Dae-jung was right. “Policies arrived at through public debate and democratic processes have the strength of Asia’s proud and self-reliant people.” Korea stands tall among them.
So, in conclusion, people from the U.S. sometimes ask, “What’s life like in South Korea?” This is my standard response. Korea is: a.) densely packed and humming with humanity; and b.) the place has a very active government that’s actively forging a modern, globalized society.
 I’ve never heard Xi Jinping mention the May 4th Movement, and he would never talk about Tiananmen in 1989. Similarly, Abe Shinzo doesn’t talk about Imperial Japan’s civil/ social developments, nor about Japanese civil/ social developments in the 1960s. Northeast Asia is still living in August 1945, and no one talks about history. No one, that is, except for President Moon Jae-in.
 In a panic because of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, Imperial Japan fled into MacArthur’s warm embrace. Not one of the fascists cared about Hiroshima or Nagasaki, just as not one of them cared about Manchuria, Okinawa, Taiwan or Korea, or for the common Japanese soldier in the field. The imperialists left them all to fend for themselves, with the Yamato family grasping here and there to keep what wealth and power it could. It did fairly well for itself, to be honest, looking back over the past 73 years. The MacArthur Marriage was perhaps the wisest move the Yamato family ever made.