I have read this book and made it "required reading" for my clients (high performing / high potential bilingual Japanese heading for top global MBA programs).
I must confess the book sat on my shelf for a few months because I dreaded facing the reality that Japan, where I have chosen to raise my family, is fading. But once I started reading, I could not put the book down. The authors present the right balance of macro narrative and quantitative data. It is now a reference that sits next to my office desk.
My full review will come later. For now, please buy this book if you have a serious interest in Japan's future.
As someone who has been traveling to Japan on business for more than 10 years, you get a chance to see many of the challenges that are mentioned in this book firsthand. As an American, I know that my country has had its time in the limelight and that countries such as China, India and Russia will be filling the void as America declines further. As it looks today, without the support of a declining USA, Japan will struggle to compete and grow with its Asian neighbors. This excellent book highlights many of the ways that Japan can jump-start itself and change the way that the outside world views it, as well as helping its citizens better cope with a changing world order. This should be required reading for anyone doing business in Japan or for anyone who aspires to a career in international business.
In our connected world, this does not miss any of the dots. Whether coming to Japan, gaijin in Japan or Japanese(!) the agenda set by the authors needs to answered - the world and Japan will be a better place if the Japanese(politicians and people alike) take a more global perspective. My only regret is that the book was not written a decade ago,.....?!
A readable, fascinating and persuasive account of where Japan is and where it needs to go2010/1/31
Japan has the world's second largest economy and Japanese brands dominate in many global markets. Japanese citizens enjoy the highest life expectancy in the world and healthcare is universal and affordable. Japan's streets are among the safest anywhere and its people among the most courteous. In PISA comparisons of reading ability, mathematics and science, Japanese students routinely score highly. These and other indices describe a country that is healthy, safe and successful.
But it is possible to paint a very different picture. Japan's economy has been stagnant for two decades and in many highly protected industries Japanese productivity is far below that of its principal competitors. Civil society is anaemic. Bureaucracy is sclerotic. Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world. The UN ranks Japan a shameful 54th in terms of gender equality. Japan (with a current population of 127 million) has produced fewer Nobel Prize winners than either Switzerland or the Netherlands. In international comparisons of English skills, Japan usually scores dismally and its education system is often accused of stifling creativity, originality and initiative. This is a side of Japan of which worldwide consumers of Toyotas, Nikons and Sonys are seldom aware.
Respectful of Japan's very considerable achievements but also honest about its significant problems, the authors of this very readable book set out to describe a better future for Japan. They argue that the country has a huge reservoir of untapped talent, that its protectionist and mercantilist policies are self-defeating, and that what they called its 'self-imposed Orientalism' blinds it to the benefits and advantages of greater exposure to foreigners. Indeed, a key thread running through this book is the extent to which Japan is still a 'closed' society. It can be accused of looking inwards, not outwards, backwards, not forwards. And its attitude to those beyond its shores is at best ambivalent, at worst disdainful.
It may be presumptuous of three foreigners to lecture Japan on its failings and to propose a vision for its future. But the tone of the book is constructive rather than critical and the authors' admiration for much of what Japan has created and achieved is obvious. Moreover, their sources are numerous, documented and reliable and their conclusions convincing. This is a well-researched book which advances a coherent argument: Japan has far more to gain from embracing change than it has to lose.
Making the case for national change2009/8/30
J. M. Ramseyer
Haffner, Casas i Klett & Lehmann offer a heart-felt plea for Japan to take a series of steps that they believe will make it more "open." The international environment has become more "complex" than it was a few decades ago (p. 10), they reason -- and complex in a way that creates an opportunity for Japanese leadership. Before Japan can lead, however, the authors argue that it (as a country) must reach out more fully to its neighbors and coordinate the organization of a multilateral block. This block should be, they continue, distinctively Asian (p. 13). Only by "embrac[ing an] Asian-based multilateralism [will Japan] promote its enlightened national self interest ..." (p. 14). "Japan does not yet see itself, in our central metaphor, as a global citizen," they explain. "The purpose of our book is to encourage this direction." (p. 15) This is an impassioned case for a national change-of-heart in Japan. But readers will also find helpful the way it summarizes so many foreign complaints about Japan. In making their case for change, the authors argue that Japanese should: * jettison claims to a national uniqueness (chap. 2); * abandon national symbols like Yasukuni that offend their neighbors (chap. 1); * learn English better (chap. 2); * appoint more non-Japanese to university positions (chap. 2); * open what the authors see as largely closed domestic markets (chap. 3); * welcome risk at the corporate level in a way that the authors believe firms currently do not (chap.4); * adopt different corporate governance regimes (chap. 4); * change the courts in a way that the authors argue will make them a stronger check on the bureaucracy (chap. 5); * jettison the Liberal Democratic Party (chap. 5); and * welcome foreign immigrants (chap. 6).
Liberal fascists with hidden agenda continue assault on Japan2009/11/8
I read a laudatory review of this book by Tom Baker in the ACCJ (American Chamber of Commerce in Japan) Journal, and instantly recognised what was going on. Japan's Open Future represents yet another attempt by foreign liberal fascists to try and turn Japan away from its own values and cajole it into embracing the US and the UK model by embracing diversity, encouraging mass immigration and developing a dog-eat-dog working environment with no job security, which results in the break-up of communities and a plutocracy.
Actually, Japan is a pleasant place to live precisely because it does not go the way the authors of this polemic want it to. No society is without problems, but Japan has fewer than most. It is remarkably clean and safe and well-functioning civil society. People are well-educated and more informed about the rest of the world than most foreigners give them credit for.
I like Japan precisely because it is mono-cultural. There is, so refreshingly, an almost complete absence of racial and ethnic tensions. Mass immigration would turn Japan into yet another country divided along racial and religious lines, with rising tensions and segregation. The Japanese are not stupid. They look around the world and see the consequences of people of different ethnic backgrounds and religious intolerance. They don't want that here, and who can blame them. They know that if foreigners who speak and read Japanese and have lived here for decades can't fully integrate, then there is little chance of floods of immigrants with whom they have nothing in common integrating.
Japan has a wonderful and ancient culture, the food is the best in the world, and it has a unique and robust civil society. People are generally well-behaved and polite; the streets are clean and safe; the transport system is one of the wonders of the modern world, and prices for most items of daily consumption are modest. Information is freely available, and there is open criticism of the government and politicians (but not the Imperial Household).
We do not want liberal fascists to come and mess up a well-functioning, cultured society and turn it into a plutocracy run by chancers and charlatans.