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Five Things I Learned in Japan
March 1, 2017
Having been to Europe numerous times, I finally had the privilege to travel to Japan, a country I have long been interested in visiting after having worked with numerous Japanese companies over the years. Two experienced colleagues and I spent an ambitious week conducting meetings in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto, and Himeji, meeting with some outstanding business leaders from world-class companies, many of whom do business in the Natural State. The bullet train and entire rail system ran right on time, the food was adventuresome, and the hospitality superb. I took great enjoyment taking in Japan's beautiful landscape, culture, language, and business & personal interactions. As with any such trip, I wanted to be a good student and appreciate the similarities, differences, and uniqueness of Japan. Allow me to share five observations:
Trump Curiosity, Too: Yes, many people in Japan are equally curious about President Trump's economic agenda. We landed at Narita airport around the same time that President Trump and Prime Minister Abe were enjoying a round of golf in Florida, so questions about our president were easy fodder. On the heels of the fall of TPP, Japanese business leaders are understandably curious and concerned about trade opportunities with the U.S.
Education is Job One: Sorry, Ford. It's a well-known fact that a strong emphasis on education is part of the backbone of Japan's culture and economy....and that hasn't changed. What is also noticeable are the pedigrees of Japan's business leaders, and how hard each of them worked to attain their educational achievements. At a 99% adult literacy rate, such ambition translates into innumerable benefits, value, and high standards for the whole of Japanese society.
Workforce Concerns are Universal: We work with a lot of companies in Arkansas and interact with many economic development peers across the country, and workforce remains the driving issue behind business in America; however, having an adequate number of highly skilled workers is a universal concern. It's a challenge in parts of Europe, and it is exacerbated in Japan due in part to their aging demographics. They, too, are pressed for a good pipeline of qualified skilled workers. Hearing from Japanese business leaders on this issue strengthened my conviction that whichever country, state, or community gets this right will be very successful for years to come.
Honor Your Elders: A bit on the personal appreciation side...I was quite impressed at how built out and accommodating the rail system, public facilities and walkways are for the visually impaired, disabled, and elderly. Japanese society has a strong sense of duty when it comes to assisting their elders. I know some US cities have made strides in this area, but attention here is extensive throughout all of Japan. It no doubt comes at an expense, but the statement this sends about how the Japanese regard others in need is priceless.
Tokyo 2020: Japan is hosting the 2020 summer Olympic Games (and they have a lot of corporate sponsors). The whole country is already behind 2020 and Tokyo will undoubtedly roll out the red carpet as only a world-class city can. They will likely "English-up" their signage a little more, but otherwise, I think they are ready to roll out a warm welcome. It's Japan in the summertime, after all.
Our trip to Japan not only gave me the chance to meet face to face with leaders of companies doing business in our state, but I was afforded a unique opportunity to be immersed in the culture and gain an appreciation for the country, its people, and its natural beauty. I came away very impressed, and I am proud that Arkansas has been able to forge and foster relationships with Japan’s business community.
ABOUT DANNY GAMES
Danny Games, CEcD, is Executive Vice President, Global Business for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission.
He directs the Business Development, Business Finance, Community Development, Existing Business and Small & Minority Business divisions at AEDC.