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November 10, 2010



It has been quite some time since the decline in the publishing industry has been reported but numerous magazines still keep arriving at my home and at my office. Although the name of the magazines are not widely known, I find that many of them have more substance than those that are displayed on shelves of bookstores and there are serialized articles which I look forward to reading. One of them is “AGORA,” a promotional monthly magazine published by Japan Airlines and my favorite serialized article is “We Are Earthians” (われら地球人).

It is a reportage of Japanese who are residing in various overseas countries and engaged in extraordinary activities in their respective fields. The article is edited beautifully with gracefully worded text accompanied by vibrant color pictures which both highlight the eight page report. When I opened the November issue which arrived last week, the 214th ”earthian” featured was, to my surprise, Dr. Masami Takayama, one of my old friends.

Dr. Takayama who dropped out of Waseda University’s Architecture Department 55 years ago attended the Illinois Institute of Technology as an overseas student where Ludwig Mies van der Rohe whom he adored was teaching architecture and decided to stay on in the U.S. after graduation. As a young architect, Dr. Takayama studied the subject in breadth and chose Chicago, “a city with a full array of architecture representing each era,” as his home ground. At times, he taught architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology, his alma mater, and at Harvard University. While doing so, he steadily made progress in accomplishing successful undertakings as an architect and is now recognized as a world renowned figure in this field.

Including Dr. Takayama, the common denominator underlining the stance on life which are shared by all the extraordinary Japanese who were featured in “We Are Earthians” is that they are individuals who posses pride as being Japanese yet not peculiarly asserting their identity. By entirely devoting their efforts to perfect their profession, they, in their endeavor, are raising the reputation of Japan as well as the Japanese. In fact, this perspective on life does not only hold true for Japanese but must be regarded as a model for those who choose to leave their mother country whatever their motivation and opt to live in a foreign country.

For those Japanese who abandon Japan to live abroad thinking that there is nothing in store for their future in this country, it is more than natural that they will be ignored and end up being a nuisance wherever the foreign country may be unless they are equipped with professional talent which contribute to the betterment of society.

November 4, 2010



I still vividly recall that day in the late 1970’s when I was walking the street of downtown Boston and someone called on me from behind. As I turned back, I saw an Asian face. Since I did not understand what he was saying, I responded in English. In return, the stranger laughingly said, “Oh, you are Japanese. I thought you were Korean.” This broke the ice and we decided to proceed to a nearby cafe to get to know each other. As we continued to talk, he gradually started to criticize Japan and an awkward feeling prevailed between us.

Even today, I would like to pat myself on the back in how I countered him. “According to what you are saying, does it mean that Korea is a country where everybody is a respectable person?” His response was “..........” When I stated that, “My policy in life is to become friends with respectable people regardless of their nationality,” his face instantly softened saying, “I totally agree” and he extended his hand asking for a handshake. We ended up exchanging name cards and he became my first Korean friend.

As I watch the T.V. footage of anti-Japanese demonstrations occurring in China these days, my thoughts go back to my father. He was an engineer who was involved in the production of military aircraft. Even after hearing news of the Japanese military’s sweeping victories during the early period of the war, he was cool-headed saying, “The military has embarked on an absurd act. Japan is no match against the U.S. in mass production technology as well as in the field of research and development.” As he predicted, the war progressed unfavorably for Japan and whenever he encountered scenes where a crowd of Japanese were shouting, “Wipe out the American and British Demons!” among themselves, he deeply deplored the state of affairs saying, “What a bunch of idiots. Don’t they realize that there are many noble individuals in the U.S. and Britain?”

My father who studied aviation mechanics in Germany had many friends in both the U.S. and Britain. This experience enabled him to soberly distinguish between country (i.e. hometown = place where one was born and grew up in + inhabitants) and nation state (i.e. a sovereign entity of a certain territory as a power mechanism to rule the people who live in the region). He also understood that although war is a conflict caused by nation states, “patriotism” nurtured naturally by the citizens of the country (willingness to sacrifice their life for the nation state) may be the most useful military tool for leaders of nation states.

October 26, 2010



Alex Kerr finally moved his head office to Thailand. While many foreigners living in Japan known as “Japanophile” have left the country, one by one, after they lost faith in Japan, I believed that Kerr is an exception and will opt to stay here to play a vital role in preserving the original idyllic landscapes of Japan which even the Japanese have forgotten. Furthermore, his last words of departure was a severe one - “The only incident that can wake Japan up is bankruptcy.”

Alex Kerr was born in the U.S. but while he was still a child, his family moved to Japan in 1964 when his father, who was a naval officer, was assigned to the Yokohama Navy Base. It was during this time that his father took him on a trip to Kyoto. As Kerr saw the picturesque townhouses and streets of Kyoto from Higashiyama, he was deeply attracted to its beauty and fell in love with Japan like it was his native country. After finishing his university education in the U.S., he revisited the unforgettable country and traveled extensively throughout Japan. At the time, Japan was in the process of achieving dynamic economic growth and contrary to his expectations, what Kerr saw and realized was that the Japanese themselves were obliviously destroying, from big cities to remote villages, the “beautiful original landscapes” of Japan which were ingrained in his memory.

Exasperated at what was happening, he decided to move and live in Japan. With a strong sense of a mission that must be accomplished, he started to get involved in a wide variety of activities which included the restoration of the old thatched roof house in Iya located in the mountainous area of Shikoku and renovation of the old townhouses in Kyoto. It was only recently that I heard that the project Kerr was involved in was starting to make good progress due to his management capability together with the cooperation from many Japanese. I was, thus, shocked when I learned that he decided to leave Japan.

I was born in Nagoya where my father worked. When I traveled to Kyoto before the war with my father, I had exactly the same experience as Kerr. When Kerr first saw Kyoto from a distance, it was during the latter part of the 1960’s. Although Japan was in the midst of high economic growth at the time, Kyoto, spared from war damages, must have still retained the exquisite atmosphere of Japan’s ancient city which attracted my heart as a Japanese boy 30 years earlier. With the inauguration of the Japan Tourism Agency, promotion of tourism as a strategic national industry is being hotly debated. But doesn’t this somewhat sound hollow, void of content?

October 19, 2010



Out the gate behind the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Medicine building, there was a quiet back path gradually descending to the Shinobazu Pond. As a university student, walking this downhill path always lightened my heart. When one of my friends informed me that this path is the slope mentioned in Ogai Mori’s novel as “Muenzaka” (無縁坂), I felt like I was the story’s main character, a university student, whenever I was on the tranquil path and harbored many youthful dreams of my life after graduation.

More than sixty years have passed since that time. Back then, Japan was recuperating, both materially and mentally, from the critically devastated state of affairs brought on by World War II’s defeat. It was a time when many people were able to hope for a bright future and towards that goal, helped and encouraged each other in earnest to climb the uphill road to economic recovery. After passing the Shinobazu Pond, there was Ueno. Although it was still a disorderly town scarred by the damage caused by war, the streets of “Ameyoko” which was a popular shopping area were crowded with customers from morning to night and the energetic voices of the shop owners and workers echoed vibrantly in the air.

After achieving dramatically high and rapid growth, Japan was admired as the “miracle of the world” by many countries and became an economic giant only second to the United States while drastically improving the living standards of the Japanese citizens. Likewise, Ueno has been overhauled and renovated into an attractive town almost unrecognizable from what it used to look like before the war and impressive looking condominiums line Muenzaka. It was about this time when the song written and composed by singer Masashi Sada titled “Muenzaka” became a big hit. When people hummed the lyric which starts out as “When my mother was still young, she used to lead me by the hand...,” they would foster a deep gratitude to their parents as the song pays homage to the humble yet integral life of the boy’s mother.

Then came the bubble years of the late 1980’s impregnated with ugly arrogance which made the Japanese forget the pristine national virtues since pre-war time of honesty, diligence, humility, etc. When the bubble burst, the country suffocated under a long, long economic stagnation and at length became a corroded society where many inhabitants “do not care much about their parents’ lives or death.” I do not know who named this phenomenon but it is called “alienated society” (muenshakai, 無縁社会). Whenever I encounter this word which I despise, in an act of purifying myself from the curse, I hum the words of the “Muenzaka” song.

October 12, 2010



Yesterday, which was the last day of the three-day weekend, I went to play golf with Mr. Hiroyuki Suzuki and Ms. Junko Koshino (they are husband, photographer, and wife, fashion designer) at Horin Country Club. Since I had to work on Saturday and Sunday, I was hoping that I can, at least, take a break on Monday. Thus, it was a godsend when Ms. Junko Koshino extended me an invitation to play golf with her and her husband on Monday when I coincidentally met her at last week’s conference hosted by the Japan Tourism Agency. When Mr. Suzuki came to pick me up at 6:45 am, the rain from the day before had cleared and by the time the car was crossing the Rainbow Bridge, the bright morning ray shone dazzlingly from the blue autumn sky.

As we headed for the Horin Country Club which is located in the middle of the Boso Peninsula, the car got off the highway and into the road which ran through a thick forest. It was then that Mr. Suzuki suddenly stopped the car and pointed outside the window. As I looked in that direction, I saw a large spider’s web which was glistening silvery illuminated by the sunlight through the trees. Furthermore, he got off the car murmuring to himself that, “It must have been a lot of work for the spider to weave such a huge web” and started to take pictures. Well, he is a photographer after all.

However, the subject of photography which made a name for Mr. Hiroyuki Suzuki is not “nature” like a spider’s web but large scale “construction sites” in concrete jungle like metropolitan cities where even the residents do not usually set foot on. Mr. Toshiaki Minemura, an art critic and a professor emeritus of art, remarked that, “The construction site photographs of Mr. Suzuki are vibrant with the extraordinary dynamism and imminence of materiality. The expression of the energetic concrete masses captured in Mr. Suzuki’s works has more than one’s eyes can behold.” Mr. Minemura accurately assesses Mr. Suzuki’s style as being delicate and metaphysical.

Let it be railroads or highways, huge construction projects in metropolitan cities take place late at night when everybody is asleep and involve hard labor. Mr. Suzuki who was attracted to such construction sites once mentioned with genuine sympathy that the majority of the construction workers are old men. Together with his casual remark about the spider’s web yesterday morning (that a lot of work went into it), his “tender-heartedness” always touches a cord in my heart with immensity and deepens my respect for him.

October 4, 2010



There are various criteria to evaluate companies. For a long time, typical standards utilized for corporate evaluation, regardless of country, were based on the companies’ volume and/or growth of sales and profit margins. However, together with the economic downturn, many companies which were (thought to be) rated top class according to this criteria quickly streamlined their operation by resorting to worker unfriendly measures such as reducing the number of employees as well as cutting their paychecks and bonuses which brought on criticisms from the media. Such reports may have had some influence on the subtle yet sure sign of a big change occurring on how down to earth, common Japanese set the gauge in evaluating corporations.

The new evaluation standard is now based on how attractive the work environment is for the employees. Since 2003, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, a leading economic newspaper, launched a survey ranking the major companies on how worker friendly the workplace is based on the employees’ evaluation. As the results have a significant impact on recruiting talented new graduates, the companies’ recognition of this survey is growing by the year. Unlike this survey whose subjects are limited to employees of listed companies, a different search was conducted throughout Japan to identify companies which highly valued their “in-house employees, trading partners’/subcontractors’ employees, customers, people in the communities which the company has its presence and shareholders.” The results in praise of the employers were compiled in a book titled “The Most Valuable Companies in Japan” (日本でいちばん大切にしたい会社; written by Koji Sakamoto, published by Asa Shuppan) and as soon as it hit the bookstore in 2008, it became a bestseller and the second edition was published this year.

On the other hand, a research institute by the name of Great Place to Work Institute was established in the U.S. in the 80’s and in collaboration with FORTUNE Magazine, it selects and announces “The Best 100 Companies to Work For” in the U.S. every year based on how the employees evaluate their employers. This movement has expanded rapidly throughout the globe that there are now 44 countries which conduct the employees’ evaluation survey on a yearly basis using the same criteria as those of FORTUNE’s “The Best 100 Companies to Work For” and announce the names of the best ranking firms via an influential media channel. The Japan branch of this institute established last year conducted the same employees’ survey and the result was compiled in a book titled “The Best Companies to Work for in Japan” (日本でいちばん働きがいのある会社; written by Akira Wada, published by Chukei Shuppan) and it went on sale two weeks ago.

Great business leaders of our country since the old days have cited “people, product, money” in that order as the three pillars of success and have considered employees as the most important asset of the company. In this respect, we are finally witnessing the revival of the old saying in recent Japan which, coincidentally, is becoming a global trend.

September 27, 2010



The moment I heard the news that prosecutor Tsunehiko Maeda of the Osaka District Public Prosecutor Office falsified the evidence by tampering the data of the postal abuse case, the death of Judge Yoshitada Yamaguchi (of the Tokyo District Court) suddenly revived in my mind. After World War II’s defeat, most of the Japanese living in major cities could not endure the hunger brought on by the severe food shortage and were desperate to purchase rice at the black market although they knew it was illegal (under the circumstance when food rationing was dysfunctional). Of course, if one was unlucky in doing so and caught by the police, the individual was accused and faced punishment. One such unfortunate citizen was an old woman who was a resident of Tokyo and she was sentenced to imprisonment by the district court. Judge Yamaguchi was the one who pronounced the sentence.

However, Judge Yamaguchi himself was residing in Tokyo and was suffering from chronic health disorder caused by malnutrition. Despite the repeated offer from relatives living in the countryside to send him rice, he continued to refuse and actually died from starvation by subsisting on the officially rationed amount of rice. In the diary which was made public later, he wrote that, “The current Food Control Act is an absurd law but the citizens have the duty to observe and abide by it as long as it is law. There may be those who depend their livelihood on rice bought at the black market among my colleagues but I, in accordance with my own belief, consider that my honest ‘march to death’ although painful brings me a feeling of exhilaration.”

Judge Yamaguchi who sentenced the old woman according to law must have done so with a heavy heart when taking her sorrowful condition into consideration. Living in a time when starvation abounded, Judge Yamaguchi strictly ruled by the law he himself believed was irrational and which cost him his life. On the other hand, in a time of food satiation, prosecutor Maeda committed a ruthless and contemptible illegal act knowing that he will destroy the life of an innocent suspect (if the current report is true). Although there may be difference between the two individuals, the former belonging to the judicial and the latter to the executive body, the stark contrast of their perspective on life is a precise reflection of the change which the Japanese’s sense of value has undergone from pre-war to post-war times in an extreme way.

With this incident of the prosecutor falsifying evidence to justify the allegation, I foresee that the number of cases where villainous individuals appealing their innocence in court will be on the rise making Japanese society increasingly clamorous and unpleasant. If this is going to be the case, we can only hope that the proverb, “Heaven’s vengeance is slow but sure” will manifest itself.

September 21, 2010




While the nation held its breath, Mr. Naoto Kan won a sweeping victory at the Democratic Party of Japan’s presidential election held last week which resulted in boosting the approval rating of the Kan cabinet. I wonder what your thoughts are about this current state of affairs. As for myself, my take in one word is that the overwhelming majority of the Japanese felt distrust and/or disgust with Ichiro Ozawa. In short, although there were virtually not many who endorsed Mr. Kan as Prime Minister for his capacity or his personal character, it was a clear indication that the citizens’ feeling in earnest that they must prevent Ichiro Ozawa from becoming the Prime Minister by all means was stronger than expected.

As I share the same sentiment with the majority of the Japanese citizens, I was relieved with the outcome of the recent election. However, my distrust, or for that matter, my disillusionment towards the Democratic Party of Japan has further deepened. This owes to the fact that although Mr. Kan won by a wide margin of 249 votes against 51 votes for Mr. Ozawa among the general party members and supporters, the DPJ lawmakers’ votes, on the contrary, were 412 for Mr. Kan and 400 for Mr. Ozawa, a mere difference.

The DPJ lawmakers who backed Mr. Ozawa indicated their support by saying that he helped them get elected to the lawmaker’s post (financially) or that they expect his strong leadership to change DPJ’s policy and important personnel posts. Almost all of them emphasize the low-grade assessment (in accordance with one’s own interest) of Ozawa’s capacity as a “politician (as profession),” but I do not know of anybody who supported him out of personal respect which was nurtured by being close to him. The freshmen or “unexpectedly elected” lawmakers are a pitiful group of people but I absolutely cannot permit a contemptible figure like Mr. Hatoyama who, after repeatedly making incomprehensible remarks and actions, leaned towards supporting Ozawa.

At the same time, it is truly a lamentable situation that most of the Japanese, including myself, clearly not only have any confidence in the Liberal Democratic Party but cannot harbor any expectation of its rebirth. After World War II, “democracy” came into rule with high hopes and anticipations from the citizens who had to bear tremendous sacrifices which were forced on them by the pre-war ignorant and despotic leaders. This democracy is now looking more like “ochlocracy” (a.k.a. known as mob rule or mobocracy). I will not go as far as to ask that politicians be someone who can be venerated as genuine leaders whom the citizens would like to model themselves after. I ask that they be at least “decent individuals.” It is now time to seriously consider how to put this system in place for the sake of Japan’s democracy.

September 15, 2010



As I have spent long years as a university professor, when I hear the higurashi cicada sing signaling the end of the hot season, I, out of habit, would think to myself that this year’s summer vacation is about to end with a bit of sentimentality. At the same time, it is around this time that I relish to look back on the books I have read utilizing the free time. Unfortunately, I could not spare the time to indulge in reading voluminous books under the shade of trees this summer as I had to successively go on long business trips which involved giving lectures and attending meetings. On the other hand, I had the opportunity to read several books in conjunction with the work I have been entrusted with from autumn onwards and several of them turned out to be unexpected intellectual stimulants.

For example, one of them was “Maverick” written by Ricardo Semler (translated as “Semlerism” in Japanese). He is the CEO of Semco SA based in Sao Paulo, Brazil (founded by his father). Although I had heard about Ricardo Semler’s reputation before, reading his management philosophy firsthand stuck a deep chord within myself and it confirmed my conviction that a new era is dawning to the whole industrial world. Although Semco is a small conglomerate, Ricardo Semler is attracting widespread interest as the hottest figure not only among American business leaders and management specialists but from those throughout the world.

During his university years, Ricardo was into rock and roll and upon graduation, he intentionally distanced himself from the Harvard Business School he attended. Semco was at the verge of bankruptcy when he joined but as soon as his father entrusted him with the responsibility of running the company, he immediately undertook drastic measures using all available means to reform the antiquated traditional management style implemented by his father. This brought about a miraculous organizational revitalization to the company. Furthermore, by diversifying the company’s business lines, Semler led the firm to grow and expand rapidly. His achievements did not stop there. His innovative management philosophy became renowned globally as “Semlerism.”

The American style business school education which attracted a high reputation among the world’s industrial sector began to face criticisms during the early 1980’s with the publication of “In Search of Excellence.” This trend accelerated at the beginning of this century with the publication of “Managers not MBAs” which led the way to fundamentally re-examine the legitimacy of the ideas behind MBAs to operate businesses appropriately. In line with this trend, it is more than natural that “Semlerism” will become a strong proponent to become a new role model in business education.

September 7, 2010



After returning from my extensive road trip of 8 days to the Tohoku region (to give a number of speeches) which span over a thousand and several hundred kilometers in distance last Thursday evening, I visited the home of Dr. Donald Keene in Nishigahara the next day, that is on September 3, to explain the significance of the “Ango Award.” It was also to receive and confirm Dr. Keene’s official consent to become the award’s fifth recipient.

Niigata City, the birthplace of Ango Sakaguchi, decided to establish an award in recognition of him five years ago. I was taken aback when Mayor Shinoda of Niigata City asked me to become the Chairman of this award’s selection committee. I declined by insisting that, “I am not a specialist on literature,” and “On top of that, I have no personal association with Niigata.” However, the Mayor persuaded me that “The award is not a literary or a regional one in nature. In order to recognize Ango’s way of life which went head on against the prevailing values and authority, it is the wish of all the nominated committee members that you are the most appropriate person to become the Chairman to reflect and represent Ango despite the difference in the time in history and profession.” Upon hearing this, I more or less felt flattered and accepted this important role.

In accordance with the award’s objective (i.e. to honor an individual or an organization that has cultivated new grounds and invigorated society through his/her/their social and/or cultural activities transcending nationality, gender, age, etc.), the recipients since its inception in 2006 have been Mr. Hideki Noda (2006; playwright, theater director & actor), Mr. Ken Noguchi (2007; alpinist), Ms. Jyakucho Setouchi (2008; writer and Buddhist nun) and Mr. Ken Watanabe (2009; actor). When Dr. Keene, the first foreigner selected to receive the award, gave his willing consent, I felt relieved as well as an overwhelming sense of honor. Dr. Keene is well known not only in Japan but in overseas countries as a distinguished foreign scholar with profound understanding of Japanese classic literature. His contribution of introducing Japanese literature to the world is immeasurable. Furthermore, he is well versed in Japanese modern literature as well. I was astonished to learn that Dr. Keene introduced Ango’s writings in details as one of the four writers of the “Decadent School” (Buraiha - 無頼派) in his English publication “Dawn to the West: Japanese Literature in the Modern Era,” a comprehensive work of 8 volumes (Japanese translation published by Choukoronsha) during the selection committee meeting which further deepened my respect for him.

Dr. Keene who was born on June 1922 is exactly five years my elder but he still frequently travels between Japan and the U.S. and is leading an active life by giving lectures, speeches as well as engaging in writing activities. Although small as an American and rather frail physically, I was bestowed with a silent but strong encouragement from this prominent scholar as I bade goodbye to him.

August 24, 2010



As I skipped the weekly Rapport for two weeks in a row before and after the “Obon” holidays, I received warm inquiries from several acquaintances as to my well-being. Do rest assured. I am in great shape. In fact, the reason why I did not have time to write Rapport was due to the fact that I have been traveling extensively by air for 5 days from last to this week in order to attend the 5th “Ango Award” selection committee meeting and business matters to oversee at Huis Ten Bosch (Tokyo - Niigata - Fukuoka - Nagasaki - Tokyo). From this week to next, I, again, will be on a business trip to the Tohoku region as I have engagements to give three lectures as well as to attend the Aomori Risshi Chosenjyuku (立志挑戦塾). This time, however, I will be on the road driving my car for 7 days and my itinerary will be: Tokyo - Iwaki - Sendai - Aomori - Sendai - Tokyo. This being the case, the next issue of Rapport is due some time in early September.

As I travel on my own in this sweltering heat, I am constantly reminded of the first remark Mr. Jun Miki (one of my former students referred to in the last Rapport) when we met recently. He said, “Professor, the weather in Tokyo is cool.” At the time, the mercury in Tokyo had hit 36 Celsius but according to him, the temperature in Hanoi on the day of his departure was 45 Celsius. How would you interpret Mr. Miki’s comment? My take on this is that he felt that Tokyo was unexpectedly hot. However, if he had mentioned this straightforwardly, he anticipated that his professor who was eccentric and strict since the old days would snap back and yell “I do not want to hear such an ordinary remark from a young man like you!” If he out smarted me by reading my mind beforehand and made his “Tokyo is cool” comment, I take pride that he is my student who learned the ropes from me.

When I graduated from the university 60 years ago, I did not even dream that I will become a teacher. Even when I first stood in front of the classroom at Rikkyo University, I was not serious about the profession. I was thinking along the line that since I decided to quit the Fellowship Researcher’s post at the Graduate School of the University of Tokyo after three years at my own will (the full time to serve being 5 years), I had the obligation to return the remuneration I received unless I taught at some university for three years in order to be exempt from paying it back. However, the moment I finished my first lecture in front of the students at Rikkyo University who were far more refined than those at the University of Tokyo, the perception on my vocation changed instantly. To this very day, I continue to be wholeheartedly proud that I pursued the profession of a “teacher” who has tremendous influences on the life of young students.

August 4, 2010




The original definition of a country refers to “territorial land.” On the other hand, a nation-state is established as a sovereign entity of a certain territory as a power mechanism to rule the people who live in the region. Until the 18th century, there were still land and people who did not belong to any one sovereign but after two world wars and the “cold war,” the number of nation-states has increased to approximately 200. As of today, with Antarctic as an exception, all the land and people belong to and are controlled by some sort of a nation-state.

With the end of the cold war and the rise of globalization, almost all nation-states (with a few exceptions), in accordance with the trend, have implemented open door policies which allow them to accept individuals from foreign countries who have the knowledge or skill that are beneficial to their interests. This has made it possible for many individuals to choose and live in the country which befit them most. In other words, the control of the nation-state over individual citizens today is no longer absolute like it was in the old days

This does not mean that all individuals are totally emancipated from the power of the nation-state. However, over the past several decades, there are a number of students among those that were influenced by my teachings (i.e. although one cannot choose the country to which one is born in, one is absolutely free to choose which country they wish to live and work in order to utilize their talent to the utmost in adult life) who have decided to put what they learned into practice and achieved successes in their own pursuits in overseas countries. Mr. Jun Miki is one of such students of mine when I was a professor at Rikkyo University and I had the opportunity to enjoy a hearty conversation with him over lunch two days ago as he was visiting Japan.

Upon graduation, Mr. Miki joined one of the leading general trading firms and as a young businessman, he traveled extensively throughout Asia on business trips. While doing so, he never for a minute forgot what I lectured in the university classroom. Among the various destinations he set foot on, he was exceptionally attracted to the people and the natural features of Vietnam. This led him to marry a Vietnamese woman and after nurturing a happy family, he determinately submitted his resignation to the company he joined 10 years ago. At the same time, he entered the graduate school of the Hanoi National University of Education and after thoroughly studying the Vietnamese language and the country’s social structure, he established his own firm.

Together with the dynamic economic growth of Vietnam, Mr. Miki’s business got into orbit and he now travels around the globe to expand his firm’s transactions. For those of you Japanese who are not politicians or bureaucrats, have no anxieties regarding the future of this country.

July 22, 2010




Mr. Takeshi Kimura was arrested on the charge of violating the Banking Law. He graduated from the University of Tokyo’s Faculty of Economics in 1985 and joined the Bank of Japan. During the bubble years, he played an active role both domestically as well as internationally as a competent banker but in 1998, when the economic bubble burst and the Japanese economy plummeted after successive monetary policy failures, he resigned from the Bank of Japan and as soon as he became a financial consultant, he severely criticized the indecisiveness of the financial organizations who were burdened with enormous bad loans and his name immediately became well known in the political, governmental and business worlds.

When the Koizumi administration was formed in 2002, Mr. Heizo Takenaka joined the cabinet from the private sector to assume the post of the Minister of State for Economic and Fiscal Policy (later he also concurrently held the post of the Minister of State for Financial Services). As Mr. Takenaka highly esteemed Mr. Kimura’s talent, he was asked to get involved in drafting the “Plan for Financial Revival” which the former advocated and later on, even appointed Mr. Kimura to the Advisor post of the Financial Services Agency. When the Incubator Bank of Japan, which Mr. Kimura was deeply involved in establishing, received exceptionally speedy approval from the Financial Services Agency to open in 2004, Mr. Kimura had every reason to face accusations from the public on suspicion of engaging in doubtful deeds. During the last days of the Koizumi administration, Mr. Kimura became the President of the said bank but the business track record was not favorable and when the bank finally partnered with the notorious SFGC, it became a fatal deathblow.

I do not know of any graduates from the University of Tokyo before World War II who was successful in setting up his own business. Be it the governmental or the private sectors, the University of Tokyo graduates’ join large organizations and are duly promoted according to seniority. This has been regarded as the standard “elite course.” However, after World War II, there has been some University of Tokyo graduates who did not choose the standard course to start out with or those who did choose but decided to derail in order to become an entrepreneur. One of the early examples is Mr. Akitsugu Yamazaki of Hikari Club (a student of the Faculty of Law, arrested in 1949 with charges of violating the interest rate regulation) and more recently Mr. Hiromasa Ezoe of Recruit Co., Ltd. (graduate of the Faculty of Education, arrested in 1988 on charges of bribery and insider trading). More recently, the names of Mr. Takafumi Horie of Livedoor (drop out of the Faculty of Letters) and Mr. Yoshiaki Murakami of M&A Consulting, Inc., usually known as Murakami Fund, (graduate of the Faculty of Law) come to mind who were both arrested on charges of violating the securities law.

Although some graduates of the University of Tokyo have become entrepreneurs after World War II, almost all of them have failed in one way or another. I can only wonder why this is so.

July 14, 2010


Although the media almost unanimously cites that the majority party’s (Democratic Party of Japan) defeat at the recent upper house election owes greatly to Prime Minister Kan’s remark to raise the consumption tax soon after taking office, I am in total disagreement. This is because I think the popular notion shared among the so called “opinion leaders” that any mention to raise the consumption tax will loose the support of the citizens is a typical example of their ignorance and arrogance about the citizens whom they underestimate deep down in their hearts. The moment I heard Kan's remark, as a citizen with a sound common sense, I thought that he made a careless yet an irreversible slip of the tongue. For a mediocre man who happened to obtain the long awaited Prime Minister’s seat by sheer luck, he must have been overwhelmed and lost control of himself and made the comment which lacked not only coherent policy to back up his position but totally void of any firm conviction.

As soon as Mr. Kan realized the unexpected opposition from the people to his absentminded remark, he chickened out and hastily went on to defend himself by saying, “I did not mean that I will raise the consumption tax any time soon” and “I was taking the Liberal Democratic Party’s policy to raise the consumption tax into consideration.” If he was a decent politician, in order to avoid one of the crises facing Japan (that is the chain reaction of the sharp decline of the government bond, collapse of the Japanese economy leading to economic depression), he should have explained that it is inevitable to raise the consumption tax (together with other pressing issues) by judging the best timing to address the issue, assessing the validity of his decision with solid and comprehensive reasoning, choosing articulate words to convey his message and expressing them with deep sincerity to solicit the understanding of the people. This is more so since I believe that the responsibility of undermining the Japanese economy to the current state of devastation must be borne by the past leaders of the Liberal Democratic Party who are on par in their negligence or even below that of the Democratic Party of Japan.

I personally think that the votes won by both the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan during this election was too high. The number of ballots must have been the result of voters who had to make a futile decision of choosing less of two evils, that is which of the two vile parties is less stupid and less irresponsible. For many voters who possess a wholesome sense of balance, they must have ended up choosing one of the following two options; those who, after giving much thought, cast their ballot with a bad aftertaste or those who just decided against going to the polls. After these observations, can it be said that the democracy in Japan is, in fact, extinct?

July 8, 2010


Information technology continues to make progress in huge and rapid strides. If one happens to live in a metropolitan city, wherever the country is on the globe, and wishes to have access to the various products and systems brought on as an end product of the advancement in information technology on ones own, one needs to exert an equivalent amount of intellectual effort to utilize them to their utmost capacity. However, since intellectual efforts require one to devote a certain amount of time, the young generation who have vigorous intellectual curiosity and abundant spare time on their hands predominate while the old generation holding high positions are apparently at a disadvantage since their busy and tight schedule throughout the year does not allow them to allocate time to such activities.

The executives of large companies, almost without exception, typically belong to the latter. What is unfortunate for them is that regardless of the company’s business line and status, the firms have already invested a substantial amount of money to install and develop their own computer system which are in operation and to keep up with the constant advancement made in the information technology field, there is a strong demand to continually pump in more funds to improve what are currently in place. However, due to the (relative) lack of technical knowledge, the top executives are unable to accurately evaluate and assess the positive effect of the investments made on the company’s IT system. This being the case, the escalating expenditures on IT investment inevitably increases their anxiety and skepticism as to how effectively the investment is making a return on the company’s profit.

Such circumstances seem to prevail even in the U.S., the home ground of IT. To illustrate this, a book which advocated that information technology no longer holds the key to a company’s success by the title of “Does IT Matter?,” written by Nicholas Carr, was published in 2004. When this book was translated into Japanese (ITにお金を使うのはもうお止めなさい, translated by Yukimi Kiyokawa, published by Random House Kodansha), it became a best seller as a business publication and the author’s name became widely known among Japanese business executives.

Lately, the hottest topic regarding information technology is “cloud” computing. In his recent book, “The Big Switch” (クラウド化する世界, translated by Aya Murakami, published by Shoueisha), Nicholas Carr uses the analogy of how industrialization was achieved when companies stopped generating their own electricity but bought and had them delivered cheaply via electric utility firms. Likewise, he skillfully argues that in the near future, companies will purchase information technology from utility service firms like electricity, thus, enabling them to procure necessary information by plugging into a socket in the wall.

copyright(C) Kazuo Noda.  All rights reserved.