Blog Menu

Change is Underway in Japan

July 2, 2005

Filed under: life,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 17:48

Last week, I attended a one-day conference and three-day exposition in Tokyo and visited a U.S. client that has a large R&D facility in Kobe. I have been visiting Japan for many years and my fascination for the country and its people remains high.

The Japanese are among the most helpful you will find anywhere. When asking for directions, it is not unusual for a complete stranger to walk you part way to your destination. And the Japanese are among the most organized and prompt as anyone in the world. If you have a meeting with them, it’s advisable to be on time.

Japan is changing, however. Crime is on the rise. Compared to most other places around the world, it’s still an incredibly safe place, even in Tokyo and other major cities. If you accidentally leave a camera or some other valuable on a park bench, chances are good that it will still be there when you return an hour or two later. 

Japanese organizations have a well established hierarchical system based on seniority. A businessman of age 55 is respected and of much more importance than a businessman of 45. Experience and credentials are important too, but the hierarchy according to age rules. This too, is beginning to change. The Japanese are even starting to hire “outsiders” in top jobs at corporations. Sony, for example, hired a Welsh-born, U.S. citizen as its CEO—something that was unthinkable among most Japanese people.

Western influence is the blame for the alteration of Japanese tradition. Not only are the Japanese tapped into western music, movies, fashion, and motorcycles (Harley’s are big in Japan), I saw many more westerners than before in last week’s visit. During my first visit 12 years ago, I saw only three in the first two days in Tokyo. This time, I saw dozens. Bear in mind, however, that this is not many, compared to the tens of thousands of Japanese I saw in the train stations, on the streets, and at the exposition.

While Japan is indeed undergoing interesting change, most of the country is still very Japanese. And I hope it remains that way in the future.