Can Japan rise again?

Can Japan rise again?
Can Japan rise again?

There is an anecdote (may not be apocryphal) about a Japanese gentleman who had been invited in the 1950s by an American to his house along with a few other friends of various nationalities. The American host was taking his guests around the house showing them various gadgets. He showed them the Grundig tape-recorder, and the Telefunken television made in Germany, the Kodak camera made in America, the Rolex Swiss watch, and the wedgewood crockery from England. Lastly, he pointed out with pride to the Chrysler and Buick both made in America parked outside. He finally took out a small paper fan and addressing the Japanese guest said ‘This, my dear friend, comes from your country’, a gibe that indicated in no uncertain manner that Japan was capable of making only such small insignificant things. The Japanese guest bore the insult with silent dignity but he had already planned in his own mind the future course of action.

Years rolled by and our American happened to visit Tokyo, and was invited by the same gentleman to his house along with a few other friends from different countries. It was his turn to take the guests around his house, he had been waiting for such an opportunity for years.

With ‘modest pride’ he showed them the Sony ‘television and the Home Theatre system’; the latest Nikon camera, the Toyota Lexus which has knocked out almost every luxury car, not to mention the gas- guzzling American Chryslers and Buicks; the Seiko watches which are among the best in the world, and the shining Noritake crockery that rivals England’s Wedgwood or Royal Worcester (except in the eyes of some Westernised oriental gentlemen!) Then he pointed out to a framed poster of the Niagara falls telling the American, ‘this, my dear friend is from your country’ (the frame by the way was made in Japan!) That Japanese gentleman was Akiro Morita who founded the Sony empire.

There is another incident which underscores what I have described above. A friend of mine had taken his American car for attending to a minor repair at a local gas-station in Los Angeles. He casually asked the owner whether he would advise people to buy American or Japanese cars. The latter replied that had he bought a Japanese car he would not have had to bring the car to his gas-station for repairs because the cars made in Japan never give trouble for years— whereas their Leviathan counterparts from Detroit need attention for some problem or the other every week! (thus demolishing the theory of some people who do not understand Japan that the country is good only at ‘copying’ but not making ‘original’ things). If Bob Hope who in a movie dropped a defective pen muttering contemptuously “Made in Japan” utters such a line again, the joke would be on ‘him’. How ironical it is that today all the movies of Bob Hope are seen on Japanese made TVs all over America!

Yet another story concerns a visitor who had been taken to a departmental store by his host. He wanted to buy a tape-recorder and a camera. The salesman showed him the latest Sony tape-recorder and a Nikon ‘top of the line’ camera. Our visitor told the salesman that he was particular about buying only an American tape-recorder and camera. The salesman remarked to his friend that the visitor must be joking because it had been ages since people had stopped buying American cameras and tape-recorders!

Then the Japanese started buying up ‘real estate’ all over the west coast. The ‘yen’ became one of the strongest currencies and Japan became the biggest creditor nation lending astronomical sums of money to countries like Indonesia. At one stage, it had become second only to America in terms of GDP, and number of computers, television sets, and automobiles etc, though of late Countries like Korea are giving Japan stiff competition in Mobile Phones, and automobiles.

Considering the comparatively smaller size size and lack of resources, Japan has to be ranked ahead of any country in the world!

But then came the news from Japan of mismanagement of banks, the criticism of the concept of loyalty to a single company, the necessity to devalue the yen, incidents of fatigue and even suicides in the work place all of which seemed to indicate that Japan was heading for a recession making some people who have an obsessive admiration for America gloat over what they regarded would be a permanent state of affairs.

But as one of the world’s best analytical journals has rightly pointed out, any talk of Japan going downhill would be too hasty and erroneous. Many times in the past Japan had displayed such tendencies and trends only to bounce back triumphantly to knock out competition in all fields. Was Japan giving deliberately a pessimistic impression by resorting to such a pattern of behaviour!

However Japan’s work culture has since been evolving — employees are working shorter hours and are encouraged to take vacations. As an employee in Japan, you only need one good company to create a great life for yourself.

Japanese employment protection is unique and dynamic compared to other nations. Loyalty to one’s company is paramount in the Japanese culture. Many Japanese firms only promote from within, as a result individuals may stay with the same company for their entire life. Japanese workers seek to invest and improve their company, while firms attempt to maintain a family atmosphere and look after employees. Disappointing coworkers, calling in sick, and having a poor attitude are unacceptable. Firms in Japan do everything in their power to ensure employment security and prevent laying off employees. Firms’ attempts at prevention may include negotiating better deals with suppliers, requesting government subsidies, and eliminating overtime. The relationship between employer and employee promotes employment security, work ethic, and willingness to work long hours.

A friend of mine, who recently visited Japan humorously remarked that even in rest rooms (toilets) Japan has reached a level of sophistication that no other country has; apparently near every toilet bowl there is a panel of buttons. By pressing various buttons you can have any scenery of your choice, the Niagara falls, the Himalayas or the Grand Canyon. And for the sick there is the added facility to analyse then and there itself a sample of the stools even before the person leaves the rest room, not to mention that for the fastidious the water suddenly gushes out in a spout and cleans the physiological region involved within seconds. The toilet bowls have the facility of heating the water to the desired temperature!

The rapid growth and success of Toyota’s Lexus and other Japanese automakers reflects Japan’s strength and global dominance in the automobile industry. Japan is the third biggest producer of automobiles in the world. Toyota is currently the world’s largest car maker, and the Japanese car makers Nissan, Honda, Suzuki, and Mazda also count for some of the largest car makers in the world. The Japanese are particularly good at perfecting things because patience seems to be an important aspect of their culture. They learned to make superb optics before World War II because their navy did not have a workable shipborne radar; instead, they developed fantastically good long- range binoculars for use by live lookouts. The Americans also lacked a good shipborne radar going into the war; but instead of using lookouts, they improved their radar designs. For the postwar markets that rely on optics, chalk up one for the Japanese.

Robots once limited to the realm of science fiction, androids – robots that look, speak and act like humans – are now very much a reality, thanks to Japanese inventors.

In 2003, researchers from The Intelligent Robotics Lab at Osaka University unveiled the DER 01, the first all-talking, blinking and breathing, human-like robot.

These robots are already transforming the country. In the summer of 2015, a hotel with an almost entirely robot personnel opened in Nagasaki (which on August 6, 1945, had been razed to the ground by an America’s first atomic bomb !). Two years earlier, i.e. in 2013 Kirobo became the world’s first robot astronaut to speak in space.

In the early 1990s, three Japanese scientists – Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura – set off a lighting revolution when they managed to produce blue LED light from their semi-conductors. The discovery paved the way for energy-efficient TV, mobile and computer screens,. The three scientists were awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Forty years ago this month, Suwa Seikosha employee Yukio Yokozawa received a patent for inventing the first-ever laptop-sized notebook PC. Featuring an LCD screen, full-size keyboard, built-in rechargeable batteries and a printer, the Epson HX-20 was hailed by BusinessWeek magazine as the “Fourth revolution in personal computing.”

On July 1, 1979, 16 years after Dutch company Phillips developed cassette technology, Sony released the TPS-L2 Walkman, a personal cassette player that revolutionized the way people listened to music. The organization’s co- founder Masaru Ibuka, was tired of lugging around the bulky TC-D5 cassette recorder on business trips, asked executive deputy president Norio Ohga to design a playback-only stereo version optimised for headphone use (the original device had two earphone jacks so two people could listen at once). Predicted to sell around 5,000 units monthly, it sold upwards of 500,000 in the first two months.

Since 1949, there have been 29 Japanese laureates of the Nobel Prize. The Nobel Prize is a Sweden-based international monetary prize. The Nobel Prize is considered the highest honour in the academic world. This is true in the United States and Europe, and especially so in Japan: The Japanese government automatically awards the Order of Culture─the highest civilian medal in Japan─to each Japanese laureate of the Nobel Prize.

It would be exciting to watch Japan’s rise to power and affluence in the coming decades.


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