TIME White House

Here’s Everything You Want to Know About Tuesday’s State Dinner

Barack Obama, Shinzo Abe
Jacquelyn Martin—AP President Barack Obama hosts a state arrival ceremony for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, April 28, 2015, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington.

From what they'll eat to what they'll eat it on to who's singing after dinner

President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will host their eighth state dinner on Tuesday with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie.

Following a day of press conferences and pomp, the Obama’s will hold the dinner to “mirror the celebration of springtime in Washington, D.C..” The dinner itself is designed to show Japanese-American fusion, with guest chef Masharu Morimoto of Iron Chef fame, who was formally trained in Japan but grew to prominence at Nobu in New York.

It’ll be quite the affair, to say the least. And here’s everything you didn’t know you wanted to know about it.

The décor

The windows of 1600 Pennsylvania will be decorated with crystal curtains meant to embody both springtime rain and the fleeting beauty of the area’s cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms have been sprucing up the National Mall at the beginning of spring since Japan gifted two trees to the United States in 1912. The more than 300 guests to Tuesday’s dinner will be served on new china outfitted with a band of “Kailua Blue,” chosen by the First Lady as a nod to the cool Pacific waters of Hawaii. The 11-piece setting also includes a recreation of decoration that appears on china purchased by President James Madison. The china will be used for the first time on Tuesday.

The meal

The Obamas will toast their guests with a round of Dassai 23 Junmai Daiginjo sake, a renowned brew of the rice-based alcohol. The first course is a “Toro Tartare and Caesar Sashimi Salad” that the White House says will come “wrapped in a clear acetate and tied with a Mizuhuki cord emulating a gift to be opened.” They’ll follow it up with a “Vegetable Consomme En Croute and Shikai Maki” and a Main Course of “American Wagyu Beef Tenderloin” served with spring vegetables and a 2010 Morlet Pinot Noir. For dessert, silken tofu and soymilk custard cake served with fresh fruit and syrup made from honey from the south grounds. They’ll end the meal with a “sip of tea,” a petit four formation styled in honor of Japanese tea and cherry blossoms.

The entertainment

The Obama’s will end Tuesday’s dinner party with a performance by the singers and stars of the Broadway hit-turned-film Jersey Boys. The film’s stars including Erich Bergen and Vincent Piazza will join John Lloyd Young, Michael Lomenda, and Tommy Faragher of stage productions in song.

The guests

TBD! The White House has not yet released the official guest list.

TIME Japan

Japanese Train Breaks World Speed Record

JAPAN-TRANSPORT-TECHNOLOGY-MAGLEV
Jiji Press—AFP/Getty Images Central Japan Railway's seven-car maglev train returns to the station after setting a new world speed record in a test run near Mount Fuji on April 21, 2015.

Officials called the high-speed trip “comfortable”

The world’s fastest train can now zip along at 373 miles per hour.

A Japanese maglev train reached that dizzying speed on a test track near Mount Fuji Tuesday, The Guardian reports. Nearly 50 railway employees were on the train at the time, and railway officials called the high-speed trip “comfortable” for human passengers. The mark sets a new world speed record, eclipsing the standing record of 367 mph, reached by the same train last week.

Maglev trains, short for “magnetic levitation,” hover just above the rails through the use of electric magnets.

Current commuter trains in Japan, already super-fast by global standards, travel at speeds of about 200 mph. The maglev train is scheduled to go into commercial operation by 2027, carrying passengers from Tokyo to Nagoya, a city 180 miles away, in about 40 minutes.

[The Guardian]

Read next: What it’s like to ride Japan’s high-speed levitating trains

TIME food and drink

You Can Now Bathe in Ramen Noodles

The ramen craze just went one step further

Ramen is one of the latest food crazes to sweep America, but when it comes to the noodle dish the Japanese don’t mess around.

Yunessan Spa House in Hakone, a south-eastern town in Japan, is now offering ramen baths for its clientele. The bath, consisting of ramen pork broth and synthetic noodles, allegedly helps improve patrons’ skin.

Ichiro Furuya, the owner of the spa, claims, “Lately people are very concerned about having beautiful skin, and they know the effect of collagen, which is contained in our pork-based broth. At this bath, everybody can have fun and take advantage of the healthy elements of ramen noodles.”

TIME Japan

Japan’s Population Falls to 15-Year Low

More than 1 in 4 people in Japan are now 65 or older

Japan’s population has dropped for the fourth year in a row, bringing it to a low not seen since 2000.

There were just more than 127 million people living in Japan as of last Oct. 1, which marked a decrease of 215,000 people compared with one year earlier, according to newly released government data reported by the Guardian.

The biggest problem for Japan may be the rate at which its population is aging. The number of people age 65 or older in Japan has reached 33 million. More than 1 in 4 people are older than 65 and they outnumber people 14 and younger 2 to 1. The government estimates the population will drop to 86.7 million by 2060, with people over 65 making up 40% of the country.

Though the problem of falling birthrates and aging population is particularly acute in Japan, a similar problem is also brewing in Europe and the U.S. The federal government’s data from late last year showed that 2013 birthrates hit a record low in the U.S. in 2013, down 9% from a high in 2007, as American women delay having children.

TIME animals

Stop Everything: There’s a New Adorable Animal on the Internet

Kittens are so over

If you’ve never seen a baby sea squirt, you’re definitely missing out. The adorable undersea animals have taken Japanese Twitter by storm, and you only need to take one look to realize why.

You can almost hear them singing a chorus in little high-pitched voices.

They actually look like little swarming characters from the Studio Ghibli classic animation Ponyo, which could explain why the Japanese love them so much. But then again, who wouldn’t?

Note: you have to catch ’em young, because it looks like they grow up to be the sea-squirt equivalent of angsty teenagers.

TIME animals

These Baby Otters From a Japanese Zoo Are the Cutest Thing You’ll See Today

They were born on March 2 and opened their eyes about two weeks ago

Pictures of kittens and puppies make the Internet go round, but the Twitter feed of Japan’s Hirakawa Zoo has another variety of tiny creatures that could make it go into overdrive — baby otters.

The Asian small-clawed otters, both boys, were born on March 2 this year.

This one raising the roof shows that they already know how to party.

But like all other babies, they do get tired pretty easily.

They opened their eyes about two weeks ago before turning a month old a few days later, and have apparently gotten a lot heavier (well, in baby-otter terms at least).

And in case you were wondering what they sound like, the zoo has very graciously uploaded an adorable video as well.

Head over to the Hirakawa Zoo’s Twitter page for photos of other exotic cuties, like red pandas. Kittens are so yesterday.

Read next: Watch Live Video of the Newborn Giraffe at the Dallas Zoo

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Veterans

Pearl Harbor’s ‘Unknown’ Dead to Be Exhumed and Identified Using DNA

This Dec. 5, 2012 photo at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu shows a gravestone of 7 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma
Audrey McAvoy—AP This Dec. 5, 2012 photo at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Honolulu shows a gravestone of 7 unknowns from the USS Oklahoma

"We will do so with dignity, respect and care”

The Pentagon said Tuesday that the bodies of up to 388 troops killed during the Pearl Harbor attacks, who are buried in “unknown” graves in Hawaii, will be disinterred and identified using the latest DNA technology.

Japanese torpedoes sank the U.S.S. Oklahoma, killing 429 servicemen, during the infamous offensive of December 1941. The sailors and Marines are entombed in Hawaii’s National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, but will be examined at the Hawaii laboratory of the Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Accounting Agency after families were notified Tuesday morning.

The Pentagon is optimistic it can identify the dead with forensic evidence from DNA samples and medical or dental records furnished by relatives. It has already identified 41 servicemen postmortem.

“The Secretary of Defense and I will work tirelessly to ensure your loved ones’ remains will be recovered, identified and returned to you as expeditiously as possible, and we will do so with dignity, respect and care,” said Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work.

All identified remains will receive military funeral honors upon return to families.

TIME trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Help Define President Obama’s Legacy

US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.

The massive TPP trade deal could help boost the global economy and President Obama's legacy—if Congress lets it happen

In the next few days, the Senate will begin debate on one of the most important questions it will answer this decade—whether to grant the President “trade promotion authority” (TPA), also known as “fast track.” This move would give President Obama and his successors the authority to place trade agreements before Congress for a simple up-or-down vote, denying lawmakers the chance to filibuster or add amendments to the deal which change its rules.

Those in favor say that Presidents can’t negotiate growth-boosting trade deals without fast track authority, because other governments won’t make concessions if they know that Congress can later rewrite parts of the agreement. Those who oppose TPA say the devil remains in the details—small changes within a massive trade deal can have huge impacts on individual business sectors, and on the winners and losers in any agreement. They say trade deals are too important for the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Americans to leave their elected representatives with no say in their content.

That debate is now coming to a head because negotiations among a dozen Pacific Rim nations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an enormous multilateral trade deal involving a dozen Pacific rim countries—are entering the final stages. The talks now include the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. This group represents 40 percent of world trade and 40 percent of global GDP. Without TPA, there will be no TPP, say trade advocates, which would cost America significantly. Too bad, counter trade opponents. If Americans can’t influence the deal’s content through their representatives, America is better off without it.

What’s at stake? TPP proponents say the deal would generate hundreds of billions of dollars of economic gains over the next decade by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers across the 12 countries it covers. It would enhance security relations among member states, boost labor and economic standards and set rules for global commerce on free-market terms. For some countries, TPP would give their economies a significant boost. Projected GDP growth in Japan and Singapore for 2025 would be nearly a full 2 percent higher with the deal than without. Malaysia’s GDP might be higher by more than 5 percent. The difference for Vietnam might be more than 10 percent.

For the U.S., the political and security impact of the TPP is more important than the economic effects. In 2025, US GDP will be $77 billion higher with TPP than without it—just 0.3 percent. But the White House says it will boost exports by 4.39 percent over 2025 baseline forecasts. If true, that matters, because exports create the kinds of middle class jobs that boost longer-term growth and reduce income inequality. TPP would also give the U.S. a firmer commercial foothold in the world’s most economically dynamic region. And it would do so while growing the economies of U.S. partners and allies, which are anxious to avoid overdependence on fast-expanding China. That’s good for US security interests and makes TPP a central element of the Obama Administration’s long-promised pivot to Asia.

This is a big moment for those who believe in the power of trade to boost economic trajectories. In 2012, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s no. 1 trading nation in total trading volume. Today, there are 124 countries that trade more with protectionist China than with free trade America. That’s why the Trans-Pacific Partnership—whether he can pass it or not—will be a crucial part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

MONEY investing strategy

16 Facts You Never Would Have Believed Before They Happened

"History never looks like history when you are living through it." — John W. Gardner

A reminder for those making predictions.

You would have never believed it if, in the mid-1980s, someone told you that in the next two decades the Soviet Union would collapse, Japan’s economy would stagnate for 20 years, China would become a superpower, and North Dakota would be ground zero for global energy growth.

You would have never believed it if, in 1930, someone told you there would be a surge in the birthrate from 1945 to 1965, creating a massive generation that would have all kinds of impacts on the economy and society.

You would have never believed it if, in 2004, someone told you a website run by a 19-year-old college dropout on which you look at pictures of your friends would be worth nearly a quarter-trillion dollars in less than a decade. (Nice job, Facebook.)

You would never have believed it if, in 1900, as your horse and buggy got stuck in the mud, someone pointed to the moon and said, “We’ll be walking on that during our lifetime.”

You would have never believed it if, in late 1945, someone told you that after Hiroshima and Nagasaki no country would use a nuclear weapon in war for at least seven decades.

You would have never believed it if, eight years ago, someone told you the Federal Reserve would print $3 trillion and what followed would be some of the lowest inflation in decades.

You would have never believed it if, in 2000, someone told you Enron was about to go bankrupt and Apple would become the most innovative, valuable company in the world. (The opposite looked highly likely.)

You would have never believed it if, in 1910, when forecasts predicted the United States would deplete its oil within 10 years, that a century later we’d be pumping 8.6 million barrels of oil a day.

You would have never believed it if, three years ago, someone told you that Uber, an app connecting you with a stranger in a Honda Civic, would be worth almost as much as General Motors.

You would have never believed it if, 15 years ago, someone told you that you’d be able to watch high-definition movies and simultaneously do your taxes on a 4-inch piece of glass and metal.

You would have never believed it if, in 2000, someone said the biggest news story of the next decade — economically, politically, socially, and militarily — would be a group of guys with box cutters.

You would have never believed it if, in 2002, someone told you we’d go at least 11 years without another major terrorist attack in America.

You would have never believed it if, in 1997, someone told you that the biggest threat to Microsoft were two Stanford students working out of a garage on a search engine with an odd, misspelled name.

You would have never believed it if, just a few years ago, someone told you investors would be buying government debt with negative interest rates.

You would have never believed it if, in 2008, as U.S. “peak oil” arguments were everywhere, that within six years America would be pumping more oil than Saudi Arabia.

You would have never believed it if, after the lessons of World War I, someone told you there’d be an even bigger war 25 years later.

But all of that stuff happened. And they were some of the most important stories of the last 100 years. The next 100 years will be the same.

For more on this:

TIME Japan

This Is What the Japanese Think of Americans

U.S. President Barack Obama Visits Japan
Junko Kimura—Matsumoto/Pool/ Bloomberg U.S. President Barack Obama, left, speaks as Shinzo Abe, Japan's prime minister, looks on during a joint news conference at the State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan, on Thursday, April 24, 2014.

Inventive? Yes. Hardworking? Not so much

Japanese citizens don’t find Americans particularly honest or hardworking, according to a new poll on the state of relations between the two countries 70 years after the end of World War II.

While the Pew Research Center poll revealed that most Americans and Japanese “trust” each other either a great deal or a fair amount, opinions diverge when it came to assigning national traits. The vast majority of Americans view Japanese as hardworking, inventive and honest, but Japanese weren’t quite as eager to assign the same traits to Americans.

Only 37% of Japanese considered Americans “honest.” That rate dropped to 25% for “hardworking.” But 67% could agree that Americans were “inventive.” Aside from a few personal misgivings, both populations were united in their belief that the countries should maintain strong relations as China’s military power rises.

The poll surveyed 1,000 adults in the United States and Japan.

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