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March 29, 2004

Leading the World with Unique Culture - New Kyoto Model: Recognition of Creativity in Everyday Life

Ken-ichi IMAI (Director of the Board, Stanford Japan Center)

What is needed for Japan today is an effort to rediscover the charm and strength of its own economy and to expand on these, rather than lament over its weak economy. The ultimate aim is to nurture an 'economic cultural city' through creative activities of people in various areas in their everyday lives. A model can be found in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.

Three T's: Key to Innovation

Having lived in Kyoto for only 12 years since I moved from Tokyo, I am not yet entitled to speak to the world on behalf of Kyoto and its proud history. However, by referring to an argumentative book, The Rise of The Creative Class (subtitled, how it's transforming work, leisure, community and everyday life) by the American sociologist Professor Richard Florida as a gateway, it seems possible to locate a model for economic culture in this ancient capital of Japan that can lead the world. Hence, it could be called the discovery of the "new Kyoto model".

The rise of the creative class, as defined by Professor Florida, points to the fact that the percentage of people who work in such industries as bioscience, computer technology or art and who are referred to as the "super-creative core" in the U.S. has exceeded 10% of the working population. The creative class in a more broad sense, which would include those in financial and legal industries, has reached 30% of the population and has become the mainstream of society. He goes on to discuss that behaviors of the people in this class, such as choosing places to live or creating new sorts of work and life styles, will define the new structure of the society.

The new angle of importance in this discussion is that instead of choosing to live in an area already established as creative and having a profit-creating structure (e.g. Silicon Valley in the U.S.), people would begin to choose to live in places having accommodating environments where they can pursue their own jobs and life styles in a creative context. And it is such people who would be producing a new structure of society.

Professor Florida suggests that the accumulation of innovations can be defined by "Three T's": technology, talent, and tolerance, and he places special importance on the combination of the latter two. In order to lure creative talent, tolerance and an atmosphere of freedom within the local society is important, and this explains why places like Austin Texas are now becoming new creative areas. Simply put, it is becoming Silicon Valley vs. Austin Texas.

What, then, can we rediscover if we were to compare Tokyo and Kyoto in a similar manner?

Today Tokyo is filled with people from every stratum of society, and so the capital city is highly tolerant in admitting all sorts of unique people from all over the world. It is a melting pot where just about everything is accepted. It certainly fulfills the diversity criteria for a developing city preached by the U.S. urbanologist Jane Jacobs, and Tokyo is certain to become a mammoth cluster unique in history.

It is also true, however, that Tokyo has the aspect of "structured disorder" (terminology of organizational theory), and many scenes of Tokyo can only be described as chaos, which makes it possible to assess the essence of the city only vaguely. Efforts to examine a micro level phenomenon in hope for new rediscovery would only reveal that what seemed at a glance to have a variety or foreignness is only a small variation within a larger affair.

Uniting Craftsmanship and Leading Technology

In Kyoto, on the other hand, a micro level observation would often lead to rediscovery, one reason perhaps being that the size of the subject is smaller.

Let us look for the three T's mentioned above in Kyoto, starting with "technology".

As indicated by the often referred to expression "capital of ventures - Kyoto model", Kyoto is the home for many enterprises that started out as venture businesses with distinct identities and technologies such as Kyocera Corporation, Horiba Ltd., Rohm Co., Ltd. and Murata Manufacturing Company Limited. It is worth noting that the profit ratios of these companies are double those of average Japanese companies.

As for "talent", the number of graduate students relative to the number of business offices in Kyoto is the highest in Japan. Regarding "tolerance", the 36 universities of Kyoto accept foreign students from various countries, and observations have been provided as in "Kyoto-shiki Keiei (Kyoto-Style Management)" by Chihiro Suematsu, that the pride and nobleness inherent in Kyoto bring about the tolerance to productively exploit individuals' characters.

To clarify further, I can cite some examples from my own experience.

Looking at "technology", consider a small company named ACT, which specializes in polishing of silicon carbide for next-generation semiconductors (heat resistant semi conductors used for electric vehicles, etc.). Mr. Okamoto, an employee of ACT and not an expert in the chemical field originally, now employs the atomic force microscope at Kyoto University to refine the task of polishing the material by monitoring at molecular and atomic levels. This is a very good example of the tradition of craftsmanship uniting with a leading technology, and indeed many similar examples can be found in small companies in Kyoto.

As for "talent", on top of the fact that there are many graduate students in Kyoto, their quality is very high. There was a symposium a short while ago in Kyoto on "National Sovereignty after the War in Iraq" for which Professor Steve Krasner, who has a strong influence on the U.S. administration, was invited. It turned out to be that those who enlivened the debate with their fluent English were female graduate students attending the meeting.

From my experiences studying in American Universities, the element most lacking in Japan's universities aiming to become world-class is spirited graduate students. It was a refreshing rediscovery of globalization, therefore, to see those students actively taking part in debates on such difficult topics as "structured hypocrisy of sovereignty" that Professor Krasner raised.

Regarding "tolerance", Kyoto Prefecture is promoting a project to restore Machiya (townhouses) and to develop world-class computer art, and very bold and creative attempts such as "computer manzai"(stand-up comedy) and "zen computers" are being approved for development. It is very rare for a government to create a project with such high degree of freedom. Moreover, the project is managed by a computer artist named Naoko Tosa, who worked at Center for Advanced Visual Studies,MIT. It is intriguing to see a union established between an American University and Kyoto, and the fact that it is accepted in the local society.

Cultural Strategist is Necessary for Japan

These examples, although small, have been presented to exemplify a necessity to redefine "creativity" in a new sense of the term as required in today's world. The word "creativity" generally brings up the image of a grand invention or an innovative new product. These are important, of course. But the kind of creativity desired now is a type that would produce new jobs and life styles from interactions among people with clear individuality, which is occurring everywhere in everyday life.

What we need are phenomena where a very Japanese existence, like Machiya of Kyoto, is being reborn in conjunction with information technology. And as people become attracted to these places to find new values, interactions among different values should induce further innovation.

The issue is whether or not there are strategists able to carry out the trend into reality. Business strategists from Kyoto, such as Kazuo Inamori of Kyocera Corp., have built a high profit generating system while protecting their identity. It is now time for culture to be put on a similar track.

A world-renowned designer, Kazuo Kawasaki, calls himself a cultural strategist, and I think this is a very good idea. Culture should not be taken lightly, and a new "place" or "field" should be provided for economic culture by linking culture with economy on an equal footing, and during the course the works of cultural strategists should be rediscovered.

Japan needs to build a cultural economic city where people of the world would want to live and work. In that sense, it is very encouraging episode that Larry Elison of Oracle, once a leader of the U.S. information industry, became attracted to Kyoto and tried to buy a house, near Nanzenji, a historical and well-known temple. With Kyoto as an example, cities in Japan should launch a competition to attract key persons from Japan and abroad to recreate their cultural economy.

Through intellectual mingling of these key persons, the high qualities of Japan's tradition will be rediscovered, and associated economical cultural value will begin to be recognized internationally. Such processes and projects should eventually create and support a common notion that criteria for global values should be flexible and diverse.

(The original Japanese article appeared in the March 17, 2004 issue of Nihon Keizai Shimbun.)

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