From his position as a California-based consultant to high-tech industry, Sheridan Tatsuno gives us a fascinating description of how, in four short decades, Japan has become our leading foreign supplier and fiercest competitor in technology businesses. More important, he explains how the Japanese are working to build on that position to attain nothing less than "control of the 21st Century."
Others have already written about the magic of Japanese enterprise and management; their dedication to high quality and low cost, commitment to lifetime employment, creation of consensus, sacrifice of individual benefit for the good of the whole, concentration on the long term and not the quarterly financial statement, and so forth. Clearly, these are powerful examples from which we in the United States have already learned many lessons.
What Tatsuno adds to those lessons, and what I find particularly engaging in his book, is a historical perspective of more than 12 centuries of Japanese culture.
The modern story begins in October, 1945, when Akio Morita and his partner Masaru Ibuka started a small electronics company. "With pluck and persistence, the Sony team worked long hours inventing and testing new products, stumbling temporarily with an ill-fated electric rice cooker. . . . Then, in 1950, Sony fired the public's imagination with the first portable tape recorder, a novel little machine that quickly made its way into businesses, homes, and schools, giving voice to a whole generation of people. Japan's postwar electronics industry was finally on its way."
Tatsuno digs deeper, though, and takes us back to AD 645 with the construction of Japan's first capital, the port city of Naniwa, now Osaka. Then came Nara, Kyoto and Kamakura. The building of these capitals was followed near the end of the 16th Century by the construction of more than 30 "castle towns" in Osaka, Edo (now Tokyo), Hiroshima, Okayama, Nagoya, and many others. Tatsuno emphasizes that "many of these castle towns are now 'mother cities' for MITI's (Ministry for International Trade and Industry) 20 technopolises."
These technopolises form the backbone of the Japanese government's six-pronged industrial plan to lead the country, and presumably the rest of the world, into the 21st Century. For the record, the other five strategies are: parallel-track research-and-development projects, strategic international alliances, telecommunications networking, venture capital and venture businesses, and selective import promotion. It is clear, however, that the "Technopolis Concept" is the essence of the plan.
In putting a historical and cultural context around the technopolis strategy, Tatsuno understands that strategy as more than just economic planning, resource development and industrial targeting. His further claim is that Japan is entering a period of intense social and cultural change that has profound implications for Japan and the rest of the world, especially the United States.
For the technopolis strategy to work, for example, major scientific, industrial, and academic activities must be decentralized away from Tokyo where the bulk of such activity is now. A much higher level of creativity must be achieved in the development of new science and technology. This, in turn, will depend on new directions in industry and education which recognize and reward individual initiative and challenge tradition--all in a country where working together and tradition mean everything.
To help get things started, "Come Back Home" offices are being established in major cities to encourage "U-turn workers" from among Japan's new college graduates and young professionals to reject "the rat race of Tokyo and Osaka for the more friendly, leisurely atmosphere of regional cities."
Also to be found in the regional technopolises will be a whole new social structure. If the following statement written by local Japanese politicians to support their efforts in developing a technopolis in the Yamaguchi Prefecture is at all representative, the changes from current conditions will be mind-boggling.
"The philosophy underlying the Technopolis Concept is essentially one of change and creativity. Japanese society must be reformed. We must respect individual values and those of small, unique groups, but reform only comes from individual action. In order for our technopolis to succeed, we must develop concrete policies to attract talented people. . . . In short, technopolis means to create an environment where people can be creative, where business and pleasure are one and the same. For creative business people, business is pleasure."