Wa-pedia Home > Japan Forum & Europe Forum
Results 1 to 11 of 11

Thread: BOOK REVIEW : Japan as anything but number one

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 17, 2002
    Location
    ¼‹ž
    Posts
    2,434

    Post BOOK REVIEW : Japan as anything but number one

    Japan as anything but number one, by Jon Woronoff


    This book was written in 1990 in reaction to Ezra Vogel' "Japan as number one" and other utterly idealising books on Japan.

    The book starts by quoting all those authors and how perfect they see Japan. Jon Woronoff then starts destroying each wrong praise with great talent through a series of chapters from economy to education, and politics to welfare.

    In chapters 2 and 3, he explains admirably how big Japanese companies have become so sucessful thanks to their network of suppliers bound to them and forced to sell them components at low price to survive. He continues with the crucual factors in winning the Japanese market, that is access to finance (through keiretsu banks) and control over distribution.

    It transcends from those very chapters that foreign manufacturers have virtually no chance of ever establishing themselves in Japan, as they cannot break connections between big manufacturers and suppliers, and will lack the distribution network to seel their products. All is based on relationships between big companies and their subordinate suppliers and distributors that are completely bound to them.

    In chapter 4, Woronoff explains what sectors of the economy are efficient and which are not. He also justly points out that major companies aim at gaining market share through high production, rather than aiming at high-profits like Western entreprises.

    Chapter 6 on education reveals more thruth about the abnormally praised Japanese educational system, which in fact is pretty mediocre and limited to short-term memory and exam drills.

    In chapter 7, Woronoff tell us about crime and the various kinds of yakuza.

    In chapter 8, he exaplains how undemocratic Japan is, and how the bureaucracy makes all the important decisions for the incapable and corrupted dynasties of politicians. Big business then "advice" top bureacrats on the direction to take and how to help the economy develop as they wish.

    Chapter 9 tells us about the so-called "group harmony" Japanese are so proud of. In fact, if Japanese really feel solidarity for each others on an international point of view, in Japan itself, nobody is equal due to the all-pervading vertical hierarchy, seniority system or discrimination against women. The harsh competition between companies contrast with the received ideas of harmony, and the education system strongly influenced by the parents' ability to pay for "good schools" is the determinant factor is one's success in life.

    Chapter 10 explains how isolated Japan remains in the international community, notwithstanding it is the world's 3rd economic power. Woronoff points out that Japan's international politics follow the need of companies to open trade relations with a particular country. As for domestic issues, politics follows the economy, and not the contrary, as in Western countries.

    This is a book to read if you want to get a clear and acurate image of the so-called "Japanese system", far from the myths and legends.

    Visit Japan for free with Wa-pedia
    See what's new on the forum ?
    Eupedia : Europe Guide & Genetics
    Maciamo & Eupedia on Twitter

    "What is the use of living, if it be not to strive for noble causes and to make this muddled world a better place for those who will live in it after we are gone?", Winston Churchill.

  2. #2
    Regular Member chikazukiyasui's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 12, 2004
    Posts
    10
    The book sounds interesting, but foreign companies do manufacture in Japan -- often under Japanese brand names -- with varying degrees of success. For instance, Coca Cola has a big presence in Japan, with its Aquarius brand, among others, and Ford manufactures cars under the Mazda brand, while Daimler controls Mitsubishi Trucks (they have problems there, but not caused by the factors mentioned in your book review), and so on. So the book is slightly wrong on that point.

    On the matter of education, I realize it is fashionable to complain about the rote learning that goes on in Japanese schools, but it would be a mistake to think that such learning does not yield good results. Japan and other countries, like South Korea and India, that have an "old-style", not-much-fun, facts-based approach to education produce high quality professionals and a lot of creative people, both in the sciences and in the arts.

    As to Japan's being undemocratic compared to Western countries, I have my doubts. Certainly it is less democratic than Switzerland, but what country isn't? Its system is similar to that of several European countries, and probably has better checks and balances than some. Incidentally, I don't think the US is very democratic at all (at the national level - parts of the US have strong local democracy), even compared to Japan, partly because of the excessive power of rich lobbies, and partly because of the electoral system, which is quite primitive.

    As for group harmony, well, its all a matter of degree, isn't it? I don't know if any developed country has wiped out class differences yet. If we compare with the US, is Japan more or less "harmonious"? I'm tempted to say "more", given how much poverty there is in parts of the US.

    Finally, politics quite possibly does follow the economy in Japan, as the author says, but it is not obvious to me that that is necessarily a bad thing.

  3. #3
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 17, 2002
    Location
    ¼‹ž
    Posts
    2,434
    Quote Originally Posted by chikazukiyasui
    The book sounds interesting, but foreign companies do manufacture in Japan -- often under Japanese brand names -- with varying degrees of success. For instance, Coca Cola has a big presence in Japan, with its Aquarius brand, among others, and Ford manufactures cars under the Mazda brand, while Daimler controls Mitsubishi Trucks (they have problems there, but not caused by the factors mentioned in your book review), and so on. So the book is slightly wrong on that point.
    The book is from 1990, and a new law a few years ago allowed foreign companies to manufacture/do busines in Japan if they took over or made a partnership with a Japanese company. Now that makes Japan about as open as China. (!) Anyhow, it is almost only American companies that were allowed to establish themselves in Japan, thanks to the special relationship between the US and Japan (let's say that the US didn't leave the choice to its "militarily protected partner").

    As to Japan's being undemocratic compared to Western countries, I have my doubts. Certainly it is less democratic than Switzerland, but what country isn't? Its system is similar to that of several European countries, and probably has better checks and balances than some. Incidentally, I don't think the US is very democratic at all (at the national level - parts of the US have strong local democracy), even compared to Japan, partly because of the excessive power of rich lobbies, and partly because of the electoral system, which is quite primitive.
    I am European and have lived in several EU countries, and I sincerely think that Japan is very far away from Europe. Not on the surface. People do vote based on a democratic system. But what is the point voting for people when you know that about 90% of them will be elected anyway due to the restricted number of candidates (at least for local elections). It's almost like Cuba that started "democratic elections" with exactly the same number of candidates as seats available !

    Anyway, the LDP has been in power since its creation 46 years ago, and politicians inherit their position from the parents.
    But the most undemocratic is how little concern those politicians have for public opinion. They get elected and do not give a sh't about their program, promises, on interest of the people. This exist to some extent in the West, but nowhere near like Japan.

    Then calling the US a democratic country is like believing that all countries that have "democratic" in their name are.

    As for group harmony, well, its all a matter of degree, isn't it? I don't know if any developed country has wiped out class differences yet. If we compare with the US, is Japan more or less "harmonious"? I'm tempted to say "more", given how much poverty there is in parts of the US.
    The book was written in reaction to all those Japanologists saying that Japan was almost a perfectly equal society where 90% of the people belonged to the middle class (what Japanese will also tell you), when in fact it is only propaganda and indoctrination as differences in salary about the same as the European average.

    Worse, it is not one's capabilities, character or intelligence that determines the job and salary, but which university, school and even nursery school one attended (meaning obviously that those who went to expensive private schools, which fed them to famous universities, get the best jobs).

  4. #4
    Regular Member chikazukiyasui's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 12, 2004
    Posts
    10
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Anyhow, it is almost only American companies that were allowed to establish themselves in Japan, thanks to the special relationship between the US and Japan (let's say that the US didn't leave the choice to its "militarily protected partner").
    I would be complaining about the USA, whose "special relationships" with a bunch of countries amount to Imperialism without responsibility.

    I am European and have lived in several EU countries, and I sincerely think that Japan is very far away from Europe. Not on the surface. People do vote based on a democratic system. But what is the point voting for people when you know that about 90% of them will be elected anyway due to the restricted number of candidates (at least for local elections). It's almost like Cuba that started "democratic elections" with exactly the same number of candidates as seats available !
    You may be right. I'm not sure I believe in democracy, anyway (except direct democracy) -- I think it is a con -- but if you're saying that people in Europe, more than peole in Japan, can influence the direction of politics by voting, I would say that it is true of some countries. Modern Italy, like Japan, has had the experience of one party being continuously in power for very many years (despite frequent changes of government). It's not unique. In fact, I would say that everything you say about the Japanese political system applies to Italy in spades.


    The book was written in reaction to all those Japanologists saying that Japan was almost a perfectly equal society where 90% of the people belonged to the middle class (what Japanese will also tell you), when in fact it is only propaganda and indoctrination as differences in salary about the same as the European average.
    That's fine, but we wouldn't want to over-react, would we?

  5. #5
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 17, 2002
    Location
    ¼‹ž
    Posts
    2,434
    Quote Originally Posted by chikazukiyasui
    You may be right. I'm not sure I believe in democracy, anyway (except direct democracy) -- I think it is a con -- but if you're saying that people in Europe, more than peole in Japan, can influence the direction of politics by voting, I would say that it is true of some countries. Modern Italy, like Japan, has had the experience of one party being continuously in power for very many years (despite frequent changes of government). It's not unique. In fact, I would say that everything you say about the Japanese political system applies to Italy in spades.
    I was thinking about France, Belgium or Germany. In the last French presidential elections, there were about 20 candidates, and the highest %age of vote (Chirac) was only about 20% because of the multitude of parties. In Belgium, there are 10 major parties (5 by linguistic groups). After a corruption scandal involving the socialist party was revealed, it immediately lost 10% of the votes. When the mad cow disease and dioxixe chicken cases appeared, the public voted massively for the Green Party, which more than doubled its seats (reaching 20% in the French speaking area). That is a clear refelction of democracy, and politicians actually did go in the same direction as they promised.

    The UK's politics is more elitist (all PM's graduated from Oxbridge of public schools), and parties reflect the class system (which I think is a good thing). BUt politicians are usually very able, at the exact opposite of Japan, and maybe more similar to the elite bureaucrats of Japan, making the right decisions for the country, which the less informed or less well-educated public cannot always understand.

    Italy's political system is a basket case, and the high corruption compares very well indeed to the situation in Japan.

  6. #6
    Regular Member chikazukiyasui's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 12, 2004
    Posts
    10
    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    I was thinking about France, Belgium or Germany. In the last French presidential elections, there were about 20 candidates, and the highest %age of vote (Chirac) was only about 20% because of the multitude of parties. In Belgium, there are 10 major parties (5 by linguistic groups). After a corruption scandal involving the socialist party was revealed, it immediately lost 10% of the votes. When the mad cow disease and dioxixe chicken cases appeared, the public voted massively for the Green Party, which more than doubled its seats (reaching 20% in the French speaking area). That is a clear refelction of democracy, and politicians actually did go in the same direction as they promised.
    France and Belgium are both interesting cases. Belgium has a right-wing party called the Vlaams Blok that has huge support. It has practically been banned (partially in the Flemish area, and totally in the Francophone area), because of its right-wing views. That's not very democratic. France's general election in which Chirac won was an interesting case of the people settling for what they don't want (Chirac) in order to avoid getting what they even more definitely don't want (le Pen). That's something that happens often in a representational democracy. France is also routinely held to ransome by its farmers, which is something that happens in Japanese politics, too. So, I accept that these countries do let the electorate influence politics up to a point, but still say that even these have pretty big questions hanging around how democratic they really are.

    The UK's politics is more elitist (all PM's graduated from Oxbridge of public schools), and parties reflect the class system (which I think is a good thing). BUt politicians are usually very able, at the exact opposite of Japan, and maybe more similar to the elite bureaucrats of Japan, making the right decisions for the country, which the less informed or less well-educated public cannot always understand.

    Italy's political system is a basket case, and the high corruption compares very well indeed to the situation in Japan.
    Well, not all PMs came from the background you say. John Major is a recent exception, and most French top politicians seem to be Sorbonne graduates. I agree that basically, UK politicians (at the national level) are pretty competent and honourable by global standards. They have to jump through several meritocratic hoops before they get to the top, and it would be impossible for someone as ignorant and inarticulate as Bush to get to the top in British politics. On the other hand, you want to see our local politics, or even the Scottish Parliament. An utter disgrace. I also agree that Italy is a basket case, politically. Funny thing is, nobody in the country seems to care. I think, if anything, Japan is somewhat better than Italy, though its problems are similar in form.

  7. #7
    Regular Member MeAndroo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 29, 2004
    Location
    Asago-shi, Hyogo-ken
    Age
    37
    Posts
    28
    I feel like I should offer an American's opinion on all this, even if it's just from a lowly college student.

    In chapters 2 and 3, he explains admirably how big Japanese companies have become so sucessful thanks to their network of suppliers bound to them and forced to sell them components at low price to survive.
    This sounds suspiciously like Wal-Mart and other major American corporations. I don't mean to excuse it, but to show that it definitely isn't an exclusively Japanese practice. Then again, this book was written 14 years ago...makes you wonder if Americans took note.

    In chapter 8, he exaplains how undemocratic Japan is, and how the bureaucracy makes all the important decisions for the incapable and corrupted dynasties of politicians. Big business then "advice" top bureacrats on the direction to take and how to help the economy develop as they wish.
    Amakudari is a terrible problem and one of the main reasons why businesses have so much power over the bureaucracy. In amakudari, a bureaucrat is promised a top job in the private sector with a company under his department's jurisdiction after his forced public retirement as long as his dept doesn't "come down" on the company. I definitely agree with Woronoff on this.

    Anyway, the LDP has been in power since its creation 46 years ago, and politicians inherit their position from the parents. But the most undemocratic is how little concern those politicians have for public opinion. They get elected and do not give a sh't about their program, promises, on interest of the people. This exist to some extent in the West, but nowhere near like Japan.
    This is nitpicking, since it's such a short period, but the LDP enjoyed a brief vacation from power when some of the opposition parties (socialist, communist, new gov't) joined forces and used the bursting of the economic bubble to oust the LDP from power in 1993. The LDP was back in 94, but as a junior partner to the Socialist Party. By 1996 the LDP was back in the majority.

    I disagree with your/Woronoff's opinion point that politicians don't care about the people, at least their constituency. My view is that it's ALL they care about, ignoring the needs of the country at large. Politicians try to create jobs by bringing large gov't contracts to their home district, usually in the form of construction projects that are useless. This, coupled with the lack of communication between departments of the bureaucracy, leads to things like roads in the mountains that go nowhere, unused toll roads, and bays with multiple bridges spanning them.

    Worse, it is not one's capabilities, character or intelligence that determines the job and salary, but which university, school and even nursery school one attended (meaning obviously that those who went to expensive private schools, which fed them to famous universities, get the best jobs).
    I'm one of the optimistic few who believe reports that this is slowly changing. As Japanese attitudes about working salaryman hours evolve, I believe the employers' will as well. Lifetime employment is long gone, and people are beginning to see flaws in accepting grads from only the top schools. I even read an article recently about how Tokyo U grads can be some of the worst employees to have, due to their arrogance and unwillingness to adapt to a workplace.

    I'm not qualified to speak on European politics, but I agree with the point that was made about the electoral system used in the US being primitive. What's the point of voting if your state has pretty much decided who its votes are going to already? This is a small factor in the general US apathy towards suffrage (the others being laziness and ignorance) and can lead to things like W Bush losing the popular vote, but still winning the presidency.

    This all being said, I'm going to read this book at my earliest convenience.
    Go Trojans! Fight On!

  8. #8
    super famicom dadako's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 1, 2003
    Location
    a’J‹æ
    Age
    41
    Posts
    11
    it would be good to read something that can disspell myths, and give a bit more insight into japan.

    Personally I think that japans LDP (and the watchdog) is just about the best system of politics about, being a liberal democrat supporter myself I can see the benifits and would feel much more comfortable living in a country where the goverment hasn't changed since the war... it eleminates quite a lot of the bullsh*t with have to put up with here in the UK, and the false economy we live in.

    Also, shouldn't business tell goverment the best way to make the country more profitable? To some degree we do have it horribly wrong compared to other countries (japan)

    At the end of the day, I'm not sure if I give Sh*t about much of it though because I can't understand the metality of people who spend thier lives trying to earn as money as possible then die... I'd rather do my art thanks very much (although the wages for artists in the UK are about twice what I'd get in japan, where art is still badly paid but over praised and programming etc is over paid and under praised)

  9. #9
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 17, 2002
    Location
    ¼‹ž
    Posts
    2,434
    Quote Originally Posted by dadako
    Personally I think that japans LDP (and the watchdog) is just about the best system of politics about, being a liberal democrat supporter myself I can see the benifits and would feel much more comfortable living in a country where the goverment hasn't changed since the war...
    I'll forgive you this mistake as you are British, and British parties mostly are waht are are called (i.e. liberals are liberal, conservatives are conservative, etc.). But in Japan's case, names are as meaningly as the "democratic" in "democratic republic of Congo". The LDP is by far the most conservative party (yes, more than the tiny "conservative party"), while the 2 mian opposition parties have been renamed everything from socialist, democratic, liberal, conservative, democratic socialist and socialist democratic (well yes, a socilaist party can become the liberal one at the next election, as can the conservative become democratic, etc.). As Japanese will tell you, anyway, they all have the same ideas, and only care about being elected (as they have no ideals, its only a struggle for power and money).

    Quote Originally Posted by MeAndroo
    This is nitpicking, since it's such a short period, but the LDP enjoyed a brief vacation from power when some of the opposition parties (socialist, communist, new gov't) joined forces and used the bursting of the economic bubble to oust the LDP from power in 1993. The LDP was back in 94, but as a junior partner to the Socialist Party. By 1996 the LDP was back in the majority.
    What you are referring to is only for the upper-house (参議院), which has very little power. They have never been out of power of the lower-house.

    I disagree with your/Woronoff's opinion point that politicians don't care about the people, at least their constituency. My view is that it's ALL they care about, ignoring the needs of the country at large.
    Well, Woronoff also says that pork-barrel politics is very ripe in Japan, but he also says that the only time they care about their electorate is during the election period. So, yes, they don't mind using the local government's money to build useless roads, huge townhalls for a tiny town, unnecessary dams, etc. But I see this more as a favour to the amakudari working in the construction industry than to the people, who usually oppose such projects - except if they are manual workers and that means employment for them.

  10. #10
    Regular Member MeAndroo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 29, 2004
    Location
    Asago-shi, Hyogo-ken
    Age
    37
    Posts
    28
    What you are referring to is only for the upper-house (参議院), which has very little power. They have never been out of power of the lower-house.
    Ah, I see . I stand corrected.

  11. #11
    Regular Member sky888's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 13, 2004
    Posts
    7
    seems interesting. I will go and read this book..
    The China Travel and Photography Forum
    www.MyChinaTrips.com

Similar Threads

  1. Book review and rating : follow the link
    By Maciamo in forum Arts & Literature
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: Mar 16, 2010, 01:13
  2. Native Chinese speakers can you review this for me.
    By justin9213 in forum Chinese language
    Replies: 10
    Last Post: Jun 16, 2006, 11:56
  3. book review: China's Global Reach
    By lightbeam in forum Finance, Economy & Science
    Replies: 0
    Last Post: Dec 14, 2005, 18:14
  4. Replies: 7
    Last Post: Apr 19, 2005, 01:45
  5. Does the ISP number give info on the user's location ?
    By Maciamo in forum Miscellaneous
    Replies: 15
    Last Post: Jan 13, 2003, 00:24

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •