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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:04 03/09/2007
June 21, 2004

A New Profile for Japan

Yotaro KOBAYASHI (Chairman of the Board, Fuji Xerox Co., Ltd., and Chairman, International University of Japan)

Since the end of the WWII Japan worked hard to re-establish its economy, which resulted in economic success often described as a miracle. The elements that supported this success might be catalogued as follows: Sharing of a common objective among the people to revive the economy; close coalitions among politicians, bureaucrats, and large corporations, dubbed the "iron triangle", which would effectively promote the common goals; Japanese style management whereby harmonious labor relations and efficiency-oriented operations could be realized; and an education system that places emphasis on pragmatic techniques, or "how-to's". These factors, in harmony with the inherent social system as a whole, could be classified as the internal aspect that supported success, while the external aspect might be the rigid cold war framework that let Japan concentrate on its own affairs within its borders.

However, because of the huge success it brought, the system that functioned to achieve it acquired its own right of existence. Economic strength and "how-to" expertise to achieve it were highly regarded, which formed the core of the current "profile of the state". In fact, such a notion became so deeply rooted in society that now it is hindering the necessary adjustments to cope with the changing needs of the people and the external environment, and also to tackle new important policy objectives other than economic growth.

Changes in trends can be observed all over the world, a phenomenon unseen in the days of the cold war. In this ever-evolving world, observing and sticking to the old ways would not only curb the functioning of the system but would also become a source of various forms of social distortions. Thus, a new profile for Japan is critical.

In this paper I discuss the need for a new profile for Japan from internal and external perspectives.

New Profile for Japan from the Internal Perspective

(1) Restoration of "Home" and Corporate Social Responsibility
Males in a Japanese society where economic strength was accentuated were called "business warriers", and their lives were devoted to their employers. This in turn meant the functions of being a father or a husband were neglected. But now, as females who used to be guardians of homes have advanced in society through recognition of the importance of personal fulfillment, Japan is experiencing deterioration of the home as a stabilizer of society and a place for family education and communication. This ironic situation is doomed to become more severe as the population aging trend continues, accompanied by decreasing numbers of children.

One of the key players in resolving this issue is the corporate sector. Changing the mentality of management is required, shifting from the habit of praising workers so dedicated to the company that they sacrifice their families to supporting a work-life balance.

Recently, the notion of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is becoming a major factor in evaluating corporations in industrialized countries. The elements comprising CSR differ slightly among societies. As for Japan, I believe work-life balance should be an important element of CSR, and for corporations to adopt such a concept would be a large step in guiding Japan in the direction of building a new profile for Japan.

(2) System of Governance Incorporating Ordinary Citizens
The system of governance in Japan was traditionally controlled by the coalition of politicians, bureaucrats and large corporations, which dictated the will and the policies of the country. But as Japan has become an affluent country, the conventional system is unable to satisfy the diverse and high-level needs of the people. The system of governance now required would allow people with various needs to participate directly in the decision making process as citizens, residents, and consumers.

This effectively means that the "public" aspects of society, which used to be attended to uniquely by the government (especially the national government), should be changed to allow other stakeholders that constitute important facets of a civil society such as local governments, NPOs, and CSR (by corporations taking part in public matters).

(3) Education
Governance of a country in a civil society should be established on the notion of "personal governance" based on the sense of value of each person. In that context the importance of education to acquire such sense has become ever more important.

In the days when the objectives were clear and the assignments were something given, an education system to teach the skills on "how to" accomplish such assignments was effective and efficient. But as it becomes necessary for individuals to seek and set their own goals, such a framework will not suffice the needs of society.

I believe it is important to place emphasis on building the ability to think and develop one's own opinions in the early stages of education. Then in higher stages, liberal arts and professional education could be combined to promote the ability to analyze and debate diverse issues. Individuals who can speak about what and why things need to be done, rather than just acquiring "how to" skills, will be the leading players in a new Japan.

New Profile for Japan from the External Perspective

Since the end of WWII, Japan, by siding with the Western capitalists in the cold war, has maintained a faithful partnership with the US. This has indeed brought peace and prosperity to Japan, and has contributed to the regional stability of East Asia. Under such arrangement, as the late Ambassador Mansfield once said, "the bilateral relationship between the United States and Japan is the most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none". Such a paradigm, however, while relieving burdens, has in effect forbidden Japan from assessing its own objectives and alternatives.

After the cold war, the US emerged as the sole superpower. But now China is rapidly catching up. The strategically significant bilateral relationship in the world of the first half of this century will clearly be that of the US and China. Relative to the new US-China relationship, Japan's function is to formulate Japan-US and Japan-China relationships so that the two superpowers will refrain from exerting powers jointly and unilaterally to pursue their own objectives by sacrificing other countries. It should be worthwhile in this context to assess relations with the EU, which is still expanding and apparently gaining confidence. All these factors are amalgamated to formulate a new global order for the new century. Japan is at the crossroads where its own role and place in the multi-polarized world must be sought through the leadership of politicians, bureaucrats, and large corporations, with the support of the people.

Establishing Japan's New Profile

There are a number of preliminary signs of the developments mentioned above. In the corporate sector, CSR to replace economy-oriented incentives is beginning to be recognized. In civil society, sixteen thousand NPOs have been certified and their influence is increasing. A general election based on manifestos has been realized, which places electorates and those elected into a quasi-contractual relationship. A new style of education free from pressures is being implemented to replace the conventional curriculum heavily inclined towards training of "how-to's." On the diplomatic front, a practical economic amalgamation is progressing in East Asia and a new framework of political relations is being sought.

It is important not to let these signs disappear as fads, and to secure these signs on which large-scale systemic change should be pursued. This is the proper course of creating Japan's new profile.

In order to achieve the goal, everyone needs to analyze personally the meaning and the objective of such pursuit. It is necessary for political leaders to draw and display a grand design of the objectives. It is also important in the long run to sustain the new form of education gradually being spread, as mentioned above.

Experiences of the EU should be examined in the course of seeking an effective approach for cooperation among East Asian countries. Analysis of their history should be helpful in such matters as whether the process of reconciliation between France and Germany could be a model to define Japan-China relationship, and in searching for means to overcome and amalgamate the differences in establishing an East Asian community.

As the policy objectives of Prime Minister Koizumi (who came into power advocating "destruction") are gradually taking shape, this should be a good time for us to begin creating a new profile for Japan, with strong will and confidence.

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