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Home > Interviews > Special Interviews Last Updated: 15:03 07/18/2007
Special Interviews

Yukari Sato, Ph.D. (Senior Economist, J.P. Morgan Securities)
After a decade of watching their productivity measures slip, Japanese manufacturers are now seeing them bounce back. It has not received much media attention, but since 2000, according to Yukari Sato, a Senior Economist and VP of Economic & Rates Research at J.P. Morgan in Tokyo, manufacturing productivity has showed sustained improvement, when looked at from the perspective of value-added production.

Ms. Sato says that, while not a conventional measurement of productivity, considering value-added production is appropriate in Japan's case, as it shifts to more knowledge-intensive industries. The problem, however, is that while individual companies and industries are becoming more efficient, the broader economy is not enjoying those benefits. The reason? Deflation.

In this interview, Ms. Sato reviews how Japanese manufacturers are in some ways better shape than ever before, but how deflation prevents the Japanese economy as a whole from benefiting, and what can be done about it. (08/25/2003)
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Jeffrey Kingston (History Professor, Temple University)
For Jeff Kingston, a History Professor at Temple University, it can all be traced back to the Kobe Earthquake of 1995. That was the year, he says, when Japanese citizens saw that they could not depend on the government. When you have Yakuza setting up the first shelters, it doesn't look good, he said. The result was a flowering interest in NGOs and the first buds of a robust civil society that he says is taking root in Japan.

Dr. Kingston is putting the finishing touches on his book, Japan's Quiet Revolution, which will be out next March. In it he traces milestones like the Kobe Earthquake and, more recently, a national information disclosure law passed in 1999 which is putting strong pressure on local governments for more transparency and disclosure. In this interview, Dr. Kingston says these developments, and a host of others, were unimaginable 10 years ago, and are the foundation of a civil society that is growing, albeit slowly.

It's a quiet revolution in many ways, and the press is missing the meta-story as it focuses solely on Japan's economic woes, says Dr. Kingston. You can't say Japan is stagnant, he says. (08/05/2003)
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Howard French (Tokyo Bureau Chief, The New York Times)
Before arriving in Japan four years ago as Tokyo Bureau Chief for The New York Times, Howard French was posted in West Africa where he covered war and strife as part of his daily beat. While Japan is famously not war-torn or strife-ridden, as it were, it does have serious problems that it's ducking, says Mr. French, who is leaving Japan for his next posting in Shanghai.

Chief among those problems, he says, are the role of women, immigration, and Japan's national defense. Those themes, respectively, comprise the ideas in his swan song trilogy of Japan articles, currently running in The New York Times.

In this interview, Mr. French previews those topics, and does not hold back on a range of others, including the Japanese press club system ("inimical to good journalism"), and the view of many that the Western press picks on Japan unfairly ("Japan wants it both ways"). Mr. French says he has a book coming out soon based on his experience in Africa. In a few years, he might be saying the same about his time in Japan. (07/28/2003)
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Mikie Kiyoi (Senior Research Fellow, International Institute for Policy Studies)
For all the lip service paid to "internationalism" in Japan, Mikie Kiyoi is a living example of its potential. Her time abroad in France during graduate school made French her first foreign language, followed by English, which she learned was indispensable as spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in the late 1990s; and in her current dual role as a consultant to the Asian Development Bank, and as a Senior Research Fellow at the International Institute for Policy Studies, a think tank established by former Prime Minister Nakasone. She has also taught international public policy at Osaka University.

International experience has defined her career and even her weekends. Every Sunday, Ms. Kiyoi hosts an open house brunch for international and Japanese guests at her house, which was recently renovated in a traditional Japanese style.

"Japanese homes were designed for (beating) the summer heat," says Ms. Kiyoi, reflecting her belief that a return to traditional Japanese culture can solve some of the problems the country faces, in this case, potential summer blackouts.

Ms. Kiyoi says that in many areas, Japan does not express itself well internationally, partially for reasons of culture and partially for language. Also, she says, the western press often gets it wrong when it comes to covering Japanese society. In this wide-ranging interview, she describes the failures and successes of the Western press in Japan; outlines three misperceptions about inbound tourism, and expands on her concern about the status of Japanese women, all informed by her experiences both at home and abroad. (07/14/2003)
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