FREMONT, Calif. — Japan specialists Glen Fukushima and Sheridan Tatsuno have led lives of striking symmetry: They were born 40 years ago. They grew up in California, just an hour's drive apart. Both are super-achievers afloat in Ivy League degrees. Both dropped planned careers in the sciences and plunged instead into the raucous squabble between America and Japan.
And now both Fukushima, until recently a U.S. trade negotiator, and Tatsuno, an analyst of Japanese industry, share a similar mission: to help Americans understand and confront the challenge posed by their greatest economic partner and rival.
But in one key respect the two Americans, both of Japanese descent, differ. Tatsuno is regarded as a sympathizer of Japan, and Fukushima as a critic. Together, the two friends represent the "yin and the yang," or the soft and hard sides, of American attitudes toward Japan.
"Japanese journalists would like to characterize us as 'good guy, bad guy,' " Tatsuno said over dinner recently with Fukushima and other friends. "I like to describe us as 'good guy, tough guy.' "
Tatsuno, gregarious and given to colorful speech, is a leading analyst of Japanese technology. He is best known for his former work with Dataquest, a market research firm in the Silicon Valley. He openly admires Japanese industrial and technological prowess, and is deeply frustrated by the continued indifference of many U.S. firms to his warnings about Japan's competitive threat.
"In a sense, I feel like I'm Paul Revere," Tatsuno said. "I'm a guy sitting in a little tower looking out and saying: 'They're coming, here's how fast they're coming, and do something about it.' And they say, 'Nah, I'll go back to sleep.'
"Frankly," Tatsuno added, "I don't feel very sorry for these companies. They were warned, but they wouldn't listen because they were too arrogant."
Fukushima is more measured, shaking his head and chuckling at his friend's analogy of U.S. criticism toward Japan as "wife beating." For the past four years, Fukushima has fought to open Japan's markets on behalf of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, first as director of Japanese affairs and then, until he resigned last month, as deputy assistant U.S. trade representative for Japan and China.
"I agree that quite a few companies haven't made enough efforts in Japan, but I also know a number of companies that have done everything right and still can't get in," Fukushima said. "Although there are few formal barriers, there are still informal barriers. I've been exposed to a lot more of the negative stories, so I tend to be more skeptical."
Fukushima recalled one American company that required a year's time and help from the U.S. and Japanese governments just to place an ad in a Japanese trade journal after Japanese competitors had pressured the publication to reject it.
Tatsuno has his horror stories, too. In the early 1980s, he said, a U.S. semiconductor maker, Mostek Corp., cockily refused to heed Dataquest's warnings to diversify as a hedge against growing Japanese competition. Within two years, "they ran into a brick wall at 100 miles per hour, and it was bloody," he said. "They went out of business and laid off 5,000 people."
Fukushima and Tatsuno also disagree on how much Japanese firms in America will embrace equal opportunity laws. Tatsuno argues that an onslaught of discrimination lawsuits will force Japanese companies, out of sheer pragmatism, to place more American males, women and minorities in key jobs. Fukushima, however, believes that the Japanese may install a few token executives while retaining real authority.
The divergent views of the two men have been shaped by the jobs they have held and the people that they encounter.
As a U.S. trade official, Fukushima was charged with representing American interests. He estimated that 80% of his information on U.S.-Japan trade matters came from Americans, many of them aggrieved. And most of his time in Japan--44 trips in four years--he spent negotiating against steely bureaucrats with special interests and turfs to protect.
Fukushima's track record shows agreements to open Japan's legal system to foreign attorneys and to pry open markets for supercomputers, construction and forest products. He also helped gain greater access for foreign cigarettes, citrus, beef and semiconductors.
Exciting as it was, the acrimonious environment didn't exactly make for an endearing experience--even for a 20-year student of Japan. "If I'd joined the USTR before I'd been to Japan and made friends in the press and academia, I'd probably have a very jaundiced view of Japan," Fukushima said.
"Some Americans only deal with Japanese negotiators and think the Japanese lie, cheat, are duplicitous and stab you in the back. One said to me: 'I'd prefer dealing with the Soviets; at least the Soviets don't lie to you.' "