Rebuilding Japan

  • Kyodo News International / Reuters

    A shopping-center parking lot in Otsuchi seen on March 13, two days after the disaster, had been cleaned up by June 3

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    Shortly after the earthquake, several friends remarked on the phenomenon that Mount Fuji had gleamed as brilliantly as they had ever seen it in the week following March 11. Those words imbued me with a fervent desire for Japan again to rise, with all the majesty of that snow-covered summit. At the same time, a feeling of melancholy overcame me as I reflected on the pulsating spirit of noble purity that welled up among the people immediately after the earthquake and tsunami.

    The images of victims "enduring the unendurable" were both wrenching and uplifting. However, somewhere in those images I sensed resignation and fatalism. Does "enduring the unendurable" not resemble our resignation over the political leaders who have repeatedly betrayed us? This resignation is what I fear most.

    Political leadership and a constructive contribution by the media will be critical factors. Whether these factors will be sufficient remains to be seen, but this much is certain: in the past 20 years, never have I been more sanguine about prospects for Japan's rebirth. There is an overflow of will and hope among the Japanese people as they begin rebuilding their country.

    All of the above explains my cautiousness — and my optimism. I believe that Japan will be reborn.

    How to Drive Change
    Carlos Ghosn

    Japan's resilience in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake has reminded the world of this nation's extraordinary capacity to face adversity and pull together. So much was lost. And yet, as I watch Japan come to grips with this enormous tragedy, I am filled with admiration, respect and hope. The social and cultural values demonstrated by Japan's people with such dignity, calm and resolve amid the catastrophe reaffirm my faith in the country's ability to rally in the face of almost any challenge. My regard for those values underlies my faith that the Japanese people can not only recover from the damage inflicted by the earthquake but also address their nation's long-term challenges.

    Three particular values come to mind. First, there is the quality of service. No other country has the same kind of reliable and predictable consumer relations, underpinned by modesty and humbleness. Second, the Japanese value simplicity. Finally, the Japanese excel in process. No one executes like the Japanese; they embody focus, discipline, relentless effort and quality combined with a respect for hierarchy.

    Many people believe Japan is resistant to change, that transforming Japanese companies is impossible. That's not true. You can make any change you want in Japan, with a few conditions: you need to simplify the change, explain it and connect the change with people. If you can do those things, you can do anything. In my experience, change is much easier here than in any other country. Japanese people take time to understand change and the reasons for it. And when they get it, they move — fast.

    I know Japanese companies can change, but successful globalization, particularly in emerging markets, will put them to the test. Japanese companies will find it increasingly difficult to compete globally without understanding and embracing diversity. At the most basic level, diversity in Japan means having more women in the workforce. The country needs more active people, and the most obvious resource is women. I don't think Japan has a choice here. Women will have to play a much bigger role and take much more responsibility in business and society than they currently do.

    People who say they do not have much hope for Japan don't really understand Japan. The country clings to the status quo not because people don't want to change but because sometimes their leaders don't have a clear sense of direction. How can people follow leaders who are lost? If there is one recommendation I would make to Japan's corporate leaders, it is to take the time to form a vision, simplify it, explain it and make it meaningful to people. If you can do those things in Japan, the people will make change happen.

    Poised for Prosperity
    Jesper Koll

    I have one of the most difficult jobs in the world. I'm a professional Japan optimist. I've been singing Japan's praises since arriving in Tokyo in 1986. Unfortunately of late, I have found it harder and harder to maintain credibility.

    To be a Japan optimist, it is essential to consider both the demand and supply sides of the national economy and to remember that on both sides obstacles to renewed dynamism are surmountable. On the supply side, Japan's economy is constrained by excessive rules and regulations. On the demand side, it suffers from popular anxiety about underfunded pensions and the possible bankruptcy of public services. Wise leaders can fix both problems with relative ease. The government sends mixed messages on national goals. Privatization of the postal savings system? Yes! Then ... no. Fiscal consolidation? Yes, then no, then maybe. Such unpredictability has had a predictable result. Japan's bewildered firms have slowly but surely curtailed investment at home. What's killing the Japanese economy is not the strong yen or high tax rates. It is the lack of clear focus in public policy.

    What should that focus be? First, Japanese economic policy must come to the rescue of the nation's producers and entrepreneurs. Business investment and private risk taking are what create jobs and incomes. Examples abound of highly successful new entrepreneurs in Japan. The problem is that the successes have been largely restricted to retail, a sector that was the focus of deregulation during the 1990s, and "new economy" sectors involving the Internet and digital media that escaped entanglement in the regulatory dragnet.

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