Essay co-written by Sony chairman Morita Akio and politician Ishihara Shintaro at the height of Japan's bubble economy in the early 90's. As the title implies, it advocated Japan's taking a more independent stance in foreign affairs, and not just following the lead of the United States. Rather than explain the book, I'll let a few passages do the job for me (snipped from the anonymously translated version available at First Ishihara:

When looking at the actions of the Japanese people these days, I recall that these seem similar to ET, the extra-terrestrial, in the Spielberg film. I feel that it may well be the Japanese people will evolve into something like ET with pronounced eyes and noses and a big head making them top-heavy, over an abnormally thin body and slender arms and legs.

Therefore, it was impossible for Japan to get more than a few gold medals at the Seoul Olympics, which many Japanese read as being abnormal. While it may be that this is a sign that a new people has arisen to make contributions in other areas, it seems more natural to me that our descendants would be able to continue to sweat and work to keep the country strong.

While Ishihara's prose is full of apologetically patriotic drivel along these lines, he makes a couple of useful points. For instance, quality control, one of the major industrial divides between America and Japan:

The manufacturing defect rate in the United States has improved somewhat recently, but it is still 5 to 6 times higher than that in Japan - it used to be 10 times higher. The report by the task team in the Pentagon also admits this.

To contrast this with Japan, I would like to insert the following episode.

This is an episode illustrating the exceptional knowledge and decision making capability of one female employee of the Kumamoto plant of Nippon Electric Corporation (NEC). For one reason or the other, the rate of rejects at the Kumamoto plant had been higher than it was at other NEC plants. No matter how hard they tried, they could not get the reject rate down. If it could be done in other plants, why couldn't it be done in Kumamoto? There were all-hands meetings with the plant supervisor daily on this problem.

One day, a female shift worker at the plant stopped at a crossing for the Kagoshima Line which ran in front of the factory. This was on her way to work. It was a rare event, but this day, she had to wait while a long freight train passed. Rumbling vibrations were sent through her legs as the train passed. The thought crossed her mind that these vibrations might have some sort of adverse effect on the products made at the plant. While she was working, she paid attention to the time and stopped when a train was scheduled to pass by. In the factory, however, she couldn't feel anything unusual. She still wondered, however, if the machines were not being affected. She reported her concerns to the foreman, suggesting that the precision machinery in the plant might be so affected.

The plant supervisor said, "That's it." He reacted immediately by digging a large ditch between the plant and the railroad tracks and filling it with water. The result was a drastic decline in the number of rejects.

That woman was 18 years old. This woman took pride in the products made by her company and identified with it. It is my feeling that this type of result is due to the vast differences in our formal education system.

In any case, when it comes to economics among the free world countries, the basis for existence is economic warfare, or, if that is too harsh of (a) word, in economic competition. It is probably natural, therefore, that various cheerleading groups of the other party will rough you up by calling you unfair, but we cannot stand still and be defeated just because our adversary is making a lot of noise. This is exactly the position Japan is in today.

Morita, as a businessman, is slightly less big-headed and much less prone to unrelenting patriotism.
A ten-minute profit cycle economy does not permit companies to invest in long term development. There are some exceptions, such as IBM, AT&T, DuPont, and some others. But they do not represent the mainstream of American business nowadays. Gradually but surely, American business is shifting toward a symbol economy. In addition, it seems fashionable to call the service industry the "futuristic third wave" and information and intelligence is the business of the future. But these produce nothing. Business, in my mind, is nothing but "value added;" we must add value and wisdom to things and this is what America seems to have forgotten. And this is the most deplorable aspect of America today.

Japan will do fine as long as it continues to develop and produce things of tangible value; a shift from high-technology industry to quick profits from the money game will only serve to accelerate the degeneration of the country. We must take precautions against such developments, providing for, for example, tax advantages for long term investments.

It is even more the case in America. A quick profit from a stock deal should be taxed at a higher rate than those on long term investments. Capital gains should be subject to a lower rate of taxation.

Recently I said, "America is supposedly the number one industrial country in the world. Why don't you have a Department of Industry?" Seated next to me was the chairman of the Ford Motor Corporation, Mr. Caldwell, who replied, "that's right - we are supervised by the Department of Transportation." The Department of Transportation is interested in emissions control and highway safety, but has no interest or jurisdiction over the future of the automobile industry in the United States.

America is the only nation among the advanced industrial countries that does not have a Department of Industry which is responsible for industrial policy. Instead, the Department of Commerce and USTR preside and their only real concern is trade-related matters and they criticize others for the failure of American industry.

But then Morita writes of corporate practices that are all too familiar in the era of Enron and Worldcom:

Today in Japan, nearly all company executives dine out on company accounts and ride in corporate-owned cars. As a child, I never saw this kind of lavish living by corporate executives such as my father. He had a car and a chauffeur, but they were financed directly by him, out of his own pocket. It would be beyond his comprehension to use a company car and driver for his personal use. I am not particularly opposed to such benefits enjoyed by today's executives, as they can be correct rewards and incentives.

American corporate practices, from my personal observations, are extreme. An example is the so-called "golden parachute," which is the ultimate executive privilege. When one's reputation as an executive is well established, and he is hired by another company, his contract may well contain these "golden parachutes." The executive may demand a certain percentage of corporate profits as his bonus, or perhaps some stock options. Upon retirement, he may still receive his salary for a number of years. Should he pass away during this period, his wife may be entitled to receive all or a percentage of these benefits. Should he be fired, for whatever reason, he may still collect his salary under his contract. A contract is a contract and "golden parachutes" are a part of the system.

So even though the corporation may stall or crash, the executive is equipped with his "golden parachute" and is thereby guaranteed to land safely and comfortably. He may go to Florida and elsewhere to enjoy a rich retirement life. Who suffers? Who suffers is America: the American economy suffers from this outrageous system.

The book generated a lot of controversy in Japan, much like its antithesis, The Enigma of Japanese Power. Michael Crichton cited the book as one of his primary sources in the novel/movie Rising Sun. Definitely one of the best critiques of the American system I've read, but, as with all politicially-motivated literature, it has to be taken with a grain of salt the size of an ostrich egg, especially since the Japanese economy has since gone to shit.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.