Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Keeping Switched On
SHIBUSAWA Ken  / CEO, Shibusawa & Company

June 1, 2011
We must keep our switches on - the thought came to me one day as I turned my gaze at the empty advertisement space on the subway. After the devastation of the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Fukushima nuclear plant accident, the cherry blossoms had passed without the usual festival spirit to welcome spring. To save electricity, Japanese society turned off the switches of the conveniences of their daily lives. I myself had been working in a dimly lit office for over a month.

But, we all have that "light" within us. While we may have to switch off to save electricity, each one of us must keep switched on to rebuild a bright future for Japan.

In fact, I hear that in regions destroyed by the great earthquake, people have kept "switched on." The other day I had the opportunity of hearing a report by the American leaders of Project Hope, an international organization that provides medical support in regions around the world affected by disaster or war (http://www.projecthope.org/). The first thing that amazed the Americans after entering the disaster-stricken region had been the extent of self-help among local citizens. In only a few weeks since the great earthquake, the wreckage was sorted and rubble removed to clear a path. This indeed is proof that the Japan's proud capabilities of the "genba" (or, "on-site") had remained switched on.

However, they also mentioned some hard truths about Japan. The American medical team spoke of their difficulty identifying who was in charge in Japan. In the United States, a crisis is dealt with by setting up a central command post entrusted with "situation awareness." And this central command takes the lead in prioritizing support for reconstruction efforts and distributing resources. But, in Japan it was hard to tell who was speaking with the responsibility for decision making and execution. Even under normal circumstances, the same complaint is often heard throughout Japan from people of governments and business, dealing with their Japanese counterparts. The Americans also lamented that offering medical support to Japan was like "hitting a stone wall." In other countries they were usually overwhelmed by requests for help, so they were at a loss when they came up against the "culture gap" of unresponsive Japanese.

Did the Japanese refuse help because we felt we had the situation under control? Or out of modesty, because we felt we did not deserve such help? Most probably, neither is the answer. More likely, what stood between the victims and the helping hand extended by other countries was the wall of "sectionalism", which prevents an organization from responding flexibly to such “unprecedented” proposals. As a consequence, indecision on the part of the Japanese has bred mistrust even among those with good intentions. The fact that Japanese organizations are entrenched in the idea of "precedence" even at times of an unanticipated crisis is proof that they are switched off.

Japan has traditionally valued its "on-site capabilities," made possible by a team of competent individuals. Especially under normal circumstances, no major problems arise even though the central command – management – merely functions as coordinator. However, cases of indecisiveness become apparent once we are faced with a crisis situation. In comparison, the worksite of western countries is a mixture of the remarkably competents and the hopelessly incompetent, requiring management skills with ability to make speedy decisions. While they may seem coercive under normal circumstances, leadership shines at times of a crisis in such countries.

Some argue that powerful, dictatorial leadership is what Japan needs now, particularly during an emergency. However, the past record shows that Japanese society does not flourish under autocratic rule.. During the early years of the Showa era (1926-1989), when the government declared a "state of emergency" against the threat of foreign powers, Japanese citizens were stripped of their freedom. The society came under powerful state control, which eventually brought man-made disasters to all in Japan.

Whether by autocratic or democratic rule, the Japanese share a habitual tendency of grouping themselves into fragmented "village-like" factions. And, therefore, squabbles are endless, in the past as well as the present. In that respect, what we lack is probably more of “follower-ship,” rather than leadership.

Japan's "on-site" capabilities have been praised both in and out of the country, and it is a strength we should be proud of. But we cannot take action unless each node in the web-like system, called "society," is switched on. We allowed a nuclear power plant that was built 40 years ago based on half-a-century-old technology and "assumptions" to continue operating. This revealed to us the reality that we the Japanese, trapped in precedence, switched ourselves off. Many other social systems in Japan still operate based on premises set up half a century ago. It would be a serious crime to wait for an "unanticipated" accident to happen, knowing that such premises have now collapsed. Let's switch on, particularly under these times of emergency, to create a new precedence for Japan's future.

The writer is Chief Executive Officer of Shibusawa & Company, Inc. and Chairman of Commons Asset Management, Inc.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

渋澤 健 / シブサワ・アンド・カンパニー株式会社 代表取締役

2011年 6月 1日

実際のところ、大震災に襲われた被災地で、この「こころのスイッチ」が入っているという話が聞こえてくる。先日、世界中の被災地や戦場で活躍する国際医療支援団体のProject Hope (http://www.projecthope.org/)の米国人幹部の話を聞く機会があった。彼らが被災地に入って驚いたことは現地の自助努力だったようだ。大震災から数週間足らずのうちに被災地域の残骸などの整理が進み、道路はがれきが撤去され開通していたのだ。まさに、誇るべき日本の「現場力」のこころのスイッチが入っていたからだろう。彼らによると、2010 年に大震災を被ったハイチでは一年半経った現在でも、全く手がつけられていない残骸が未だに残っているそうだ。

一方、耳が痛い指摘もあった。米国の支援医師団の目には、日本では中央の司令塔の存在が見えなかったというのだ。米国では有事の場合、"situation awareness"、つまり、現状の全てを把握する本部が設置され、復興支援の優先順位や現地への資源配分の指揮を執るのだが、日本では誰が意思決定と実行の責任を持って発言しているのかわからないということだった。これは、平時でも外国からしばしば聞く不満だ。また、日本に医療支援を申し出ても、「まるで石の壁にぶつかったようだ」と嘆いていた。他の国では、援助の要求が多すぎて対応できないことがほとんどだそうだが、無反応な日本人には「文化の相違」を感じて対応に困ったようだ。





(筆者はシブサワ・アンド・カンパニー株式会社 代表取締役、コモンズ投信株式会社 会長。)
一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟