Looking at Japan from a different angle


Usually I do not make any recommendation on books in regard to Japan, but it is time to make an exception. What impressed me most about both books I am going to recommend is that they have been written quite a while ago, but are still so true in 2012. Although I hear daily in the media about Japanese society changing, becoming more transparent and open, Japanese companies embracing global business styles…at the end I wonder how much has really changed. Based on my personal experience for more than 10 years living and working here, apart from the March 11 event with the Fukushima disaster, it is difficult to see noteworthy changes, which is good from my perspective. Otherwise if Japan had become globalized and easily understood from the outside, there would be no reason for me to continue this blog 😉 Japan is still a mystery for a big part of the world.
The first book I would like to focus on is “Freakonomics”, which was first published in the U.S. in 2005 and based on the Freakonomics website went on to sell more than 4 million copies around the world, in 35 languages. The authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner bring interesting moral and economic issues to the light. Most likely it will redefine the way you view the modern world, or at least it did for me. One of the covered topics is in regard to sumo wrestlers and yaocho (yaocho is the Japanese word for match-fixing). For those who have not read the book or not seen the movie, have a look at this link:

The Numbers in Sumo Cheating: Freakonomics Movie

The second book worth reading is “Beating Japan” from Francis McInerney, Sean White. The book was written 1993 during the time when the US feared that Japan might take over a big part of the global business. The essence of the book is that the world has not to be so worried, unless Japan starts to radically change and overcome some economic limitations. Quote from the book:

“The Japanese are in a tough spot: they need the loyalty of foreign customers, but have firm hold on them. To get closer to their customer, they must overcome significant cultural differences. At the same time, the Japanese economic engine is running out of steam: the industries that powered its postwar recovery are mature or in decline. New competition is emerging elsewhere in Asia eager to imitate the Japanese and gobble up the markets they fought so hard to win. A breakthrough source of export energy is needed to keep the engine in high gear. Japan has not found that source.”

In my daily life I come across many Japanese, who yearn for change, but at the same time are looking for someone who can create a path for them and guide them. Only in very few cases I have come across people here, who bravely dash forward into the unknown. I guess the fear of the unknown is still much higher than the pain of the present. Personally I see this behavior as positive, because for me the mystery of Japan is still ongoing. Maybe one day I understand Japan a bit better 😉

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

13 thoughts on “Looking at Japan from a different angle

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  1. Both are excellent recommendations. I had almost forgotten how the U.S. was so worried about Japan dominating world economies back in the early 90’s!

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