Meeting Dr. Jacques Attali



On September 16th, I was invited to have dinner with Dr. Jacques Attali by the French Embassy.  What a treat!  Fortunately I was seated at the same table with him and was able to exchange views on several topics.

I brought to him a copy of my column in which I introduced his book, and asked him to sign the original English edition that I had.  His stay in Japan was only for two days, and he said he had tough schedule publishing new book, giving lectures, having interviews and so on and was a bit tired.

Besides serving as an advisor to the French Government, Dr. Attali is currently working on PlaNet Finance  that has the same model as Grameen Bank of Professor Yunus, (Ref.1) hoping to extinguish poverty and bring changes to society.

Asia Innovation Forum; Eyes to see Japan from “outside”



As I introduced to you in my recent column, the “Asia Innovation Forum” opened at Roppongi Hills for two days on September 14th  and 15th under the initiative of Mr. Idei, the former CEO of SONY. By looking at the program you may see that “Group 20” worked very hard to make this happen and I am proud with the result.  I was also delighted to see so many people coming.  We used Twitter and web cast to achieve more effect.

From the beginning we planned this year’s forum mainly for Japanese so there were only a few non-Japanese participants.  I was unfortunately unable to attend the start of the first day due to other obligations, but the sessions seemed to have run pretty well.  The speakers were all very qualified as well as good debaters with so much to say that the moderators had hard time trying to spare enough length of time for each of them.  The moderators all did wonderful job.

I managed to attend whole day on the 2nd day.  I saw Mr. Ken Okuyama (Ref.1) after a long time at lunch.  He has a wonderful talent to speak of big views and to take actions.  President Fukutake of Benesse Co. gave an attractive speech on the world famous “Naoshima” island.  A warm, gentle style of Dr. Yonekura in moderating the succeeding panel was also nice.  The last panel by “Group 20” ran a bit short of time unfortunately.  Dr. Sadako Ogata delivered a closing remark. There was also a session by people aiming to be social entrepreneurs.  It was a remarkable close-up.

We used “Twitter” for something new and Webcast was also available.  Thanks to staffs for their hard work.

The “Group20” might appear strangely different for traditional Japanese business people.  Its members are comprised of young leaders that possess high ability to challenge the global age, a completely different type compared to traditional “elites”.  On the other hand, however, I saw a weakness in their words because their views were only from the standpoint of home country ? not being able to look at the world affairs apart from Japanese point of view.  I have the impression that they are not really being able to see or feel Japan “from international point of view”.  But this is precisely the point how people of the world see Japan.  Maybe it is because these young Japanese people have no experience of living abroad for a long period as an individual, free from Japanese organizations or companies.  If you are working for a Japanese company, no matter how long you have lived abroad it is nothing but a “long business trip” because you would be acting in accordance to the instructions of the management.  You would not be free from Japanese society or culture of Japanese business.  I saw this problem being expressed in many questions raised by non-Japaneses who participated in the panels.  It is important to understand your “strength” and “weakness”.  You are all our precious human asset with whom we entrust the future of Japan.

My closing comment was structured around this “lack of overseas experience” in Japanese young people.  I also pointed out that talents of women are being wasted which was another big problem.  The latter issue was discussed in an article next day in “Newsweek International” (Sept.21 edition) featuring “the Female Factor” (see the picture at the top) titled “The Real Emerging Market”.  Such discussion is not only my view (you will find this theme repeatedly in my blog), but also a world trend.  Thinking of Japan as a different, special country is a terrible mistake.  So I made the tone of my comment stronger than usual.  Let me remind you that the theme of this year “The Earth’s Limits. Asia’s Growth and Japan’s Role” was selected because people expect a lot from Japan.  There are so many things that we can and must do.  Action is everthing.

Summer Davos-2 Japanese women shine


I would like to write about my impression on this year’s Summer Davos.  In short, China, not only because it was the host country, demonstrated great energy, presence, and commitment of government through speeches by Premier Wen Jiabao and the Mayor of Tianjin and so on.  The details of this meeting are reported at the website (webcast  , , photos ).  Dr. Ishikura also writes many columns in her blog (Sept.12, 15, 16). These reports are very lively and informative so please take a look.

Many people participated from Japan and I was happy about it.  There were many interesting sessions taking places in parallel in more than one venue, personal net workings to do and consultations to attend…so I was quite busy.  At the reception on the 2nd day, I enjoyed encounters with many old and new friends.


Photos 1-4: 3 scenes from the receiption, President of the China Daily and his staffs, Prof. Moon of Yonsei University (left end).

At the IdeasLab session Keio University and the University of Tokyo participated.  This was also good.  Dr. Yoko Ishikura took lead of these sessions.  I did not fully listen or discuss in these sessions but Drs. Murai, Natsuno, etc. at Keio University gave a nice exciting presentation on IT field, focusing on Internet and cell phones.  Especially, the high-tech cell phone presented by Dr. Natsuno surprised the audience. But why is it that the Japanese people do not try to develop a targeted market for such first class technology?  Why don’t we make effort to present it?  This issue is discussed also at “Cho (literally meaning ‘surpass’) Galapagos study group” where I participate with Drs. Natsuno and Murai and we are planning to announce policy recommendations shortly.  The University of Tokyo gave presentation on sustainable human society, with focus on ecology, particularly ‘water’ problems. This was also a very interesting session led by Dr. Hashimoto, a specialist on photocatalyst and Dr. Oki doing research on global balance of water resource but unfortunately the time was not enough..  Details of these sessions are available on the web (Ref.1 2), so if you have time visit the sites and enjoy.

Photo_5_ishikurasanPhoto 5: Panel on Global Competitiveness report

The World Economic Forum, organizer of Davos meeting also announces “The Global Competitiveness report” every year.  Dr. Ishikura participated from Japan to help analyze, evaluate and make reports.  For the year of 2009-2010, Japan scored 8th among 133countries (8/133).  Not bad – but this does not entitle us to sit back and relax.  There are yet so many things that can be done.  Lift your spirits high and keep on working.  Find out what you are good at or unique, and make it better, utilize it, see the world trend, broaden your horizon and go out to take action.

Nick Gowing, a famous anchor of BBC, hosted the panel on this report .The panelists were vice minister of Vietnam (75/133), minister of trade of Costa Rica 855/133), vice minister of Mauritius (57/133) and Dr. Ishikura.  Dr. Ishikura first explained the report and then comments and remarks by each panelists followed, ending with a question from Nik (isn’t it a bit impolite?) to minister of Zimbabwe (132/133) who was in the audience.  The minister responded by explaining his thoughts on the issues, plans, and promises to the world and then Nik turned to Ms. Ishikura for a comment.  Her comment was good, actually.


Photos 6-9: Panel hosted by Ms. Kuniya (6.7) and Ms. Doden (8,9)

On the last day, we had a heated panel on global economy “Asia’s New Role in Managing the Global Economy” . Ms. Hiroko Kuniya, host of a popular interview program “Today’s Close Up” at NHK, did a good job handling discussions on difficult issues such as the role of IMF with five outstanding panelists.  One of the last panels just before the wrap-up session of all panels was “China, Japan and South Korea; Shifting the Power Equation Together?” hosted by Ms. Aiko Doden who is also a reporter of NHK. They must have had only a little time to discuss in advance with the panelists, but they both did very well.  I believe the panels will be broadcasted in Japan shortly.

These three Japanese ladies that I introduced to you are very good English speakers, but not just that.  They are also wonderful hosts; handling the flow of discussions smoothly by stepping aside, but not missing the chance to draw good comments from the panelists at a good timing, not afraid to challenge them if necessary.  It is a hard work, calling for a very different type of skills than the panelists.  I guess they learn how to do this by seeing good examples, experiencing, and getting feedbacks.  In anything we do, we improve by studying, seeing examples of the world, copying good examples, trying, experiencing, getting feedbacks, and by reviewing..  This kind of skill is what we might call “Tacit Knowing”- an ability that cannot be learned from manuals or user’s guide.

This year many Japanese came to participate and were active but I have an impression that Japanese women’s work as host, taking charge of the flow of panels, was particularly noticeable and therefore shining.  In all of the 4 sessions which I wrote about, including IdeasLab, Japanese women served as hosts but the panelists and speakers of the presentations were all men.  Were these women even more prominent because of this?  It might be so because their role was to cast a spotlight to each of these men, one after another, and they were all in established positions.  Am I being a bit prejudiced?  Anyway, it is good for Japanese to attract attentions.

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Photos 10-11: At dinner together

In the evening of the final day, I had a nice dinner with Ms.Kuniya, Ms. Doden and other Japanese people, about 12 people altogether. (Photo 11).  I fully enjoyed this opportunity and appreciated it.  By the way, the attendants were half men and half women.

Summer Davos at Dalian: ‘D.Light’ and other flourishing Social Entrepreneurs


As at elsewhere, ‘Social Entrepreneurs’ is in the spotlight at Summer Davos also.  Japan as a high tech country tends to see the world just from her perspective making international contribution with philosophy or products that lack ‘knowledge or sensitivity to the local situation’ or having ‘too much focus on cutting -edge technology’ – both being the ‘weakness’ that Japanese must recognize.

The D-Lab of MIT which I have introduced to you in my blog is a good example of the project that started with consideration to these points.

At IdeasLab, the session on social entrepreneurs, many examples were introduced but I would say Ned Tozan of ‘D.Light’ (Ref.1) caught most attention.  In India and Africa, many places are without electricity so some people burn kerosene at night.  This is apparently dangerous, unhealthy, and costly for poor people.  What can we do about it?  Their work starts from this question.  Their enthusiasm was felt to all who listened.

Other examples included:  1) Activities to provide modest education and skill training to migrant workers for their possible career opportunity after their return to homeland. 2) Helping people with only small land to be financially independent 3) Helping young women forced in prostitution in Cambodia and other lands to become financially independent.

I asked Mr. Tozan ‘Did your project stem out from D-Lab (Ref.1) ?’ and his answer was ‘Yes’.  Recently I posted a column on D-Lab, a wonderful new course that started at MIT.  I was told that this activity spread through the alumni and heard about a successful example of a Stanford student.  I had a feeling that D.Light was it, and correctly so.  Just looking at the background of Sam Goldman (Ref.1), CEO and founder of D.Light, you will see how American youth are aware about the world affairs, have energy and vitality to do something about them.  I also admire from the bottom of my heart the innovative ways elite universities of America treat the students and their ambitions.

I think that more social entrepreneurs would emerge from Japan if more Japanese business people or youth see global issues through their own personal experience. Letting them pass time in ‘Hikikomori (Social Withdrawal)’ is ‘mottainai’.  I wonder whether young people in Japan find it difficult to draw a bright picture of future when they see people 20-30 years older and think to themselves that those kind of life are their only options.  But they are so wrong!

In order to open up Japan to the world, it is crucial to ‘let young people experience and see more of the outside world’ (Ref.1, 2, 3).  It is now almost my mantra, but once again, I confirmed its importance.  The world is big.  As Steve Jobs puts it, ‘Don’t Settle, Keep Looking’(Ref.1)

World Economic Forum Japan meeting in commemoration of the opening of Tokyo Office, then to New Dheli, Taipei, and Summer Davos in Dalian


WEF annual meeting in Davos may be described as the world famous place for the so-called “Track II” dialogue by members of the global society.  On the year of its 39th anniversary WEF opened Japan Office in Tokyo.  I understand that the Tokyo office is the fourth office of WEF in the world.  How exciting!  But then, why?  Might it be because of their high expectations for Japan?  Then, we certainly must do our best.

On September 4th and 5th, a meeting to announce the opening of Japan office  was held in Tokyo.  Large number of people gathered making this meeting very lively.  As the election of the Shugi-in (i.e. House of Representatives) just ended with the implication of the possibility of establishment of historical new administration, Mr. Hatoyama, the head of Democratic Party of Japan (and Davos meeting caucus)  joined to deliver a reassuring message.  I also participated in the panel afterwards.


In the afternoon of the opening day of this meeting I left for New Delhi.  Arriving early next morning via Singapore I went straight to the meeting titled “India and Japan of Clean Energy Technology”(Ref.1, 2).  The conference opened with the keynote lectures of Dr. Pachauri of IPCC (it’s been a year)  and myself followed by a number of presentations from Japan introducing ecological technologies through which they seek “Win-Win” partnership of India and Japan. Ambassador Domichi also came to greet, and we had an honor of having him at the reception party in the evening.

India has a population of 10 million with expectation of annual 6-8% growth in economy for many years to come, but to my regret, Japanese business people residing in India are only 3,300 in total.  Isn’t this sad?  Although high potentials for establishing “Win-win” partnerships exist, we have such few Japanese doing business in India.  I think this is such a waste of opportunity, as I always say. (Ref.1)  Chinese and Korean industries are making quick moves into India.  I did point this out clearly to people participating from Japan.

Img_1815_2 At Sotokufu, the office of governor-general of Taiwan. The bust behind us is Sun Yat-sen.

Next day, I went to Taipei to join in with my colleague at GRIPS, Dr. Sunami and others.  Here again, the topic is “Japanese clean energy technologies” but it seems that the world does not know how good Japan is in this field.  Japan’s existence is not prominent.  Why?  I discussed on this, too.  In this global age, it is important to recognize your advantage or weakness about global issues and collaborate with others so that you can quickly spread into the society or the world.  This “Creation of new social values.” is what the innovation of the 21st century is all about. 

After Taipei, I went to Dalian via Shanghai to participate in the “New World Champions”, the so called ‘Summer Davos’ organized by WEF.  It’s a bit busy travel, but this is diplomacy, making friends world wide.  The first New World Champions took place in Dalian,   the second in Tensin. Participants included many young business people so naturally the event was quite energetic.

From the very first day I attended 3 sessions.  I was happy to hear that as many as 80 people came from Japan and was participating actively.  I saw many friends from the day 1.  Dr. Yoko Ishikura’s Blog  also reports on this event so please take a look.  Premier Wen Jiabao of the People’s Republic of China delivered a speech as in the first and second meetings.  He talked about the policies China took to respond to this global economic crisis, explaining how their outcomes were, how the current status is, and sent out strong confident message that China is ready and willing to continue taking up responsibilities.

In the evening, I attended several receptions including Japan dinner hosted by Taiyokeizai no Kai.

Democratic Party of Japan has won the election and?


On August 30th, Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) won a historical and land-slide victory over Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the political party that held political leadership since 1955 building so-called ‘Regime 1955’ and ‘Iron-Triangle’ structure of Japan Incorporated (a brief break by Prime Minister Hosokawa lasted less than one year, but the Regime ’55 did not change a bit).

The result has far-reaching implications on the future of Japan. The results may not indicate the public at large tried to punish LDP for economic downturn, rising unemployment, and widening of income disparity or ‘Kakusa’, a view popular by the media here and there. Rather the results may indicate a rising awareness of the public’s thirst for ‘Change’ and realization that JDP cannot Change of resistance from heavily tied ‘establishments’ and ‘stakeholders’ of the ‘Regime ’55, eg, centralized powerhouse of bureaucrats-run ministries silos, big corporate establishment, farmers, civil construction and other interest groups.

This view which I portrait above seems consistent with the views of other opinion leaders outside of Japan who have watched and closely worked with and in Japan.  An Op-Ed appeared in September 7th of New York Times by a well known author of Japan, Ryu Murakami, ‘Japan Comes of Age’ also portays the public perception of reality of Japan.

The Economist, September 5th and other issues, for example, provide several pages of coverage such as ‘The vote that changed Japan’  , ‘Lost in transition’, ‘New bosses’ and ‘Banzai; A landslide victory for the DPJ Japan’ . Other media and presses abroad share similar commentaries.

In Huffingtonpost, a liberal on-line news and blog, which President Obama is one of frequent contributors, Dr Sunil Chacko (Ref.1), another frequent contributor and a friend of mine, also wrote on the DPJ victory with a title ‘Japan’s New Era’.

A writer, journalist, and a well know observer of Japan, Bill Emmott sent me an email in February saying ‘I also wrote a quick column for The Guardian the same evening I bumped into you for their online version with a title ‘A silver lining for Japan; The economic suffering here has been harsh and long, but at last political change is coming’.

When you read his column, it is of particular interest to note its concluding sentence (underlined) of the last paragraph, precisely the pointing to our democracy as I have been often pointing out in my speaking engagements and writings (Ref.1, 2, 3) (the sites are in Japanese except Ref.2). The paragraph reads as:

‘It is a country, in other words, that is in desperate need of a change of government, and the election of a party dedicated to repairing broken social services as well as shaking up the economy. No doubt as and when the DPJ wins power, it will bring disappointments and its own occasionally shambolic ministers. No matter. The important thing in a democracy is to punish those who have failed and to bring in a new crowd capable of making new mistakes. Japan has waited far too long for that.’

Be aware, Japan remains still second largest economy of the world, thus Japan must and is expected to carry its own responsibilities in the world affairs even in ‘The Post-American World’. Indeed, Japan has lots to offer to the global challenges, but not much signs of proactive action and engagements matched to its own economic power, at least to me.

SteLA, K-RIP and Grameen Change Maker Program


Last week, I had very enjoyable three unique encounters, SteLA, K-RIP and Grameen Change Maker Program

STeLA stands for Science Technology Leadership Association which began two years ago by and for the graduate students between University of Tokyo and MIT  (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). This is its third annual meeting and was held in Tokyo with participation of about 90 students from Japan and USA, and, in addition, students from China and France. They spent about 10days in Tokyo and I was invited to give a speech and sit on the jury panel of their contest. It was such a fun and joy to see collaboration by science, technology and engineering graduate students for global agenda focusing on the benefits and risks of such technologies as nuclear, biotechnology. I fully endorse and enjoy such initiatives by the young leaders-to-be of the global age.

In Nagasaki, I participated K-RIP meeting in Nagasaki University and delivered a keynote speech (this site is in Japanese). Chair of the program  is one of leading business leaders of Kyushu, Yutaka Aso, a brother of Prime Minister Aso, who lost two days earlier the Lower House Election in a major way to the Democratic Party of Japan.  But we spent a great day with many college students and graduate students. I enjoyed speaking and discussing various issues of innovation emphasizing potential distinction of Kyushu in the flattening global world. I enjoyed the day very much engaging and discussing with students on their potentials. In the evening, Mr Aso and senior members of the program shared a pleasant dinner.

Yunusu1 Yunusu3

Photos; Professor Yunus and Japanese college students to Bangladesh

Upon my return to Tokyo, I had a visit to my office by Daisuke Miyoshi (this site is in Japanese), a leader of Grameen Change Maker Program, (Ref.1) and two students who participated this program. They just returned to Japan after three weeks in Bangladesh. Two students are college freshmen and this was their first travel abroad, for the first time they held and saw their own passport. It may be quite unique for young Japanese in these days. They truly enjoyed their experiences, such as no bath tab but instead bathing in the river, diarrhea, and many fun and learning of the differences, heterogeneity, diversity, reality of poverty. One of my former students and a medical doctor from Bangladesh, Dr Jamil, was very helpful for sickness. Before leaving Bangladesh, they could meet Professor Yunus 、(Ref.1) of Grameen Bank who spent almost three hours with these young boys and girls from Japan.

This one week was quite gratifying and enjoyable to associate myself with many young Japanese seeking and looking for their each future possibilities.

A Guest Article by Donna Scott on Education Reform


In this site and elsewhere I often discuss education reform in the world and in Japan because it is the most important policy issue of Japan and the world.  Frequent visitors to this site understand my points and views well.

Recently, I received a message from Donna Scott, who asked if I would consider a guest article. Obviously, she is involved with new types of educational system, ie, <> as below;

So I replied ‘why not?’

Below is her essay with a timely topics at the time of Lower House election of Japan, ‘New Party Could Mean Changes in Educational Testing’. (Full text is also copied below)

Your thoughts? And get involved in the connecting world.


New Party Could Mean Changes in Educational Testing

The Democratic Party of Japan has stated that if it wins the upcoming election it would make some changes to the current educational system. Announced Monday, the party would drastically scale back the national achievement examinations given to students in their sixth year of elementary school and third year of junior high.

It doesn’t all have to do with education, however, as the concerns are more budgetary than anything else. The party believes that by only have a few sample schools take the exams that the government could save nearly 4 billion Yen each year, a large sum considering current economic difficulties facing leaders.

The tests themselves would also be altered, focusing on a wider variety of subjects rather than just focusing on Japanese and Math. Students from a wider range of grades would also take part in the testing, showing the performance levels of students in more than the two grades currently tested.

The exam is far from being an academic tradition; it was only reinstated in 2007 after leaders felt there had been a marked decrease in the quality of education and the academic abilities of students. As of present, all public schools participate in the testing and over half of private schools submitted their students? results. New regulations would test only a few of these schools as a means to find a balance between the need to gauge academic performance and cut expenses from the budget.

The current ruling party, if it maintains power, has no plans to scale back the testing, citing that students are still having difficulties with the utilization of knowledge as tests from the past few years have shown little change in this respect. It is expected, however, that the DPJ will score a landslide victory in the election, almost guaranteeing changes to the current testing plan, for better or worse.

This year it was the students in Akita and Fukui prefectures who scored the best in exams taken this April. This is their third straight year at the top of the ranks. Overall, the percentage of correct answers rose significantly from last year, but many believe that this is because the overall difficulty of the test was decreased. Problems still remain as there is a large gap between the schools in the top and bottom prefectures, showing that some schools may need additional resources and help to bring their students up to the level of those in other public education systems.

This post was contributed by Donna Scott, who writes about the best online schools. She welcomes your feedback at DonnaScott9929