Concerns about ‘Japan as seen from outside’


As frequent visitors to my blog will already have noticed I am one of those who have had concerns about the future of Japan for some time.  Until just several years ago, an odd optimism on economy of Japan that sounds somewhat like an ‘excuse’ was spreading widely in Japanese society along with expression such as ‘upwards economy since Izanagi Keiki’ (Izanagi keiki refers to an economic boom that lasted from 1966 to 1970).  I was sending out warnings then, too.  For instance, please see my interview in Toyo Keizai January, 2008  issue. 

I assume that there are many those who do not want to or will not buy my opinion, but just recall, at the time of ‘Lehman’ shock, there was an atmosphere in Japan of ‘Japan will be all right’ at least in the beginning.  However, generally speaking, I think basically Japanese enterprises- especially managements – are weak.  Of course new industries emerge but I hear many instances of major companies obstracting the growth of new businesses by entrepreneurs while they are still young and small.  Big enterprises are naturally slow in adjusting to changes, which is a common story.  Also, I feel that a large number of Japanese people are not good at intuitively sensing the value of ‘Diversities and Differences’ that exists in this global world simply because they do not have much first hand experience.

This truly is the crucial stage for Japanese politics, economy, industries, and universities in the face of, as correctly put by Asia Innovation Forum;The Earth’s limits, Asia’s growth.  The ‘leaders’, unable to catch the essence of global age having climbed up the ladder in many decades-old system, think that situation in Japan is ‘so-so’ and tend to lie back in their comfortable chair failing to take any drastic actions.  Some people compare them to ‘frogs in lukewarm water’.  Oh, but Japan has so many ‘strength’ that it can utilize and I would urge all of you to take advantage of this strength.  ‘Entrepreneurial spirit’ is the key word.  We must recognize our ‘weakness’, focus not only to domestics but broaden our views to international affairs and collaborate with partners around the world in taking actions.  Speed matters.

Japanese who have long worked abroad as an independent ‘individual’ understand and feel intuitively what I have just said.  I call this an ability to ‘see Japan from ‘outside’’.  What they see is very different from ‘Japan in the world’ as seen by most Japanese because most Japanese have been used basically to‘see world from Japan.’.
In the past two weeks, I had a visit from two Japanese scholars/researchers.  One is Professor Hisashi Kobayashi of Princeton University.  I assume you all have heard of him.  He was so concerned abut the too-domestic-focused ideas and actions of Japan that he decided to come to see me. I shared his view 100% so we discussed very much on what to do or what could be done.  I believe that readers of my blog would understand how I am making efforts to make changes, but even universities, the ‘campus of intellects’ that should be standing highly by itself, are seeing things in a narrow inward way.  Especially at the ‘leading’ universities, the young students naturally would think that the standard there is ‘first class’, and this general perception in Japan is causing significant damages.misleading students.

The second guest wasDr. Ryo Kubota. He has been working in the field of biomedical research in USA for 10 years and founded a Biotech Venture. Dr. Kubota stopped by at my office during his stay at Tokyo to express his deep concern about how Japanese research and venture businesses were being conducted.  He was apparently alarmed by what was happening in Japan.

I think that the concerns of these two people represent‘Patriotism’.  Experience such as theirs’ will hardly nurture narrowly-minded ‘Nationalism’.

In addition to these two Japanese guests from abroad, I had opportunities to welcome visitors from the top managements of SITRA (Ref.1), a public investment fund of Finland and two biotechnology related investment funds of US in sequence.  Everybody had same topics, concerns and points.

It is so important to have more people, in their young age as much as possible (because you can afford to make mistakes…. You can learn from the mistakes and become wiser…) to go abroad to the wide world and to know what is happening there, to see Japan from ‘outside’, to have first hand experience and to become more capable of sensing instuitively how Japan would look like from ‘outside’.  ‘A frog in a well does not know the great sea’ – just as the proverb goes. ‘Knowing’ the great sea through actual experience is crucial to everybody especially in this global era.  The two Japanese visitors from overseas were so worried about the current status, thus the future of Japan precisely because they have had this actual experiences.

Well, even so, Japan holds yet the 2nd or 3rd place in the world economically.  In addition, we have so many strength that others would envy.  I urge you all to go out and fly.  Don’t become secluded.

Dr. William Saito (Ref.1) is a Japanese American that I have been working with for these two years and he also shares the same view with me.  His evaluation is actually very severe, clearly recognizing the systematic weakness of Japan perhaps partly because of his experiences and success in a venture business in the United States.  We are struggling to bring about some changes…  sowing seeds, crafting exciting mechanisms…