International Symposium: What Message Shall Japan Communicate to the World in 2020?
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2nd SECTION:Proposals to the World Based on Japanese Perspectives


Tadashi Okamura,
Co-chair of the long-term vision study group on “Japan Power” of Japan Academia, Advisor to Toshiba Corporation.

Hiroko Ota, Professor,
National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies

Yutaka Honkawa,
Chief Economist, Alpha Social Science Inc.

Yoshiyuki Mano, Professor,
Faculty of Sport Sciences, Waseda University


Nobuhiko Shima,
Chairman of Selection Committee, Toshiba International Foundation

Sports are the most effective tool to revitalize society

Shima: Japan today appears to be in a gloomy mood with no reason to be positive. What are your thoughts about the state of the nation, Mr. Okamura?

Okamura: There is no national consensus on what direction Japan should follow or what kind of country it should try to be. It seems Japan, uncertain about its future, is struggling to try to understand what to do. From this point of view, Japan’s ability to innovate, its soft power and its responsiveness to disasters, which Dr. Kitti Prasirtsuk of Thammasat University pointed out in his speech, are great assets for the Japanese. We need national debate on how we should try to make these assets known to the world.

Tadashi Okamura

Tadashi Okamura

Honkawa: According to historical data about the changing ratios of people aged 65 or older in the Japanese population, such elderly people accounted for only 5.7% of the population in 1960. The ratio rose to 7.1% in 1970. Japan was a young country compared with major European nations, for instance. As a result, Japanese back then had plenty of pluck, and were determined to achieve rapid economic development. The forecast of the ratio for 2020 paints a completely different demographic picture. Japan will be a highly aged society with elderly people constituting nearly 30% of the population. The rapid aging of the population is the reason for the nation’s lack of vigor frequently that has been pointed out by observers. Unlike in the era when young people made up a large portion of the population, today’s Japan is calmer and more staid mainly because the middle-aged and the elderly constitute a bigger chunk of the population.

Ota: Neither businesses nor countries can keep growing unless they change their economic systems in response to the changing environment. The strengths Japan has now will not continue to be the country’s advantages if they remain unchanged. Japan needs to accept foreign elements to rediscover its own strengths and overcome its weaknesses. It should take advantage of its merits in the process of transforming itself. Japan needs such dynamism. Tokyo Disneyland attracts people from all over the world because it is a combination of a large-scale American-style amusement park and Japanese-style hospitality. What is born out of Japan’s encounters with foreign elements may be its strengths in the future.

Hiroko Ota

Hiroko Ota

Mano: Sports are the most effective means to reinvigorate society. Watching amazing performances of athletes lifts your spirits, but such excitement tends to be temporary. It is important to persuade people who only watch sports to start playing sports themselves. Only less than half of Japanese adults do sports, including simple walking, at least once a week. It is necessary to launch a new campaign to raise that ratio.

Okamura: Corporate sports are also part of Japanese culture. Corporate sports are not mere adverting activities by companies. By promoting sports in the regions in which they are located, businesses contribute by increasing the number of people participating in sports in those regions.

Shima: But companies may stop sponsoring their sports clubs when they fall into financial trouble. In such cases, it is important for the local communities to keep the clubs alive as local sports teams.

Open innovation business models are needed

Yutaka Honkawa

Yutaka Honkawa

Shima: What is the situation in other areas of education?

Okamura: Declining standards in science-related education at elementary and junior high schools is a serious problem. If we are to help children develop skills related to basic technologies and acquire the ability to adjust to changes in the world, we need more teachers who excel in science-related subjects. The Japanese education system itself should be reformed to boost the nation’s ability to make innovations.

Shima: Since the 1970s, Japan’s core competency lay in its manufacturing might. Japan is still competitive in many areas including high-tech sectors, nanotechnology and environmental technology. The question is which areas should claim priority in policy support from the viewpoint of Japan’s overall industrial structure.

Ota: The manufacturing sector now accounts for only about 20% of Japan’s GDP. The service sector is responsible for nearly 80% of GDP, and almost 70% of the working population is employed by the service industry. But labor productivity in Japan’s service sector is lower than the average of the 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and only about 60% of the productivity of the U.S. In other words, there is still much room for the Japanese economy to grow if the service industry is strengthened. At the same time, both manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries are becoming knowledge-based industries, and manufacturers are moving beyond simple production. In order to revitalize Japan, the government should shift its policy focus to promoting growth instead of tightening regulations to protect weak local industries without reforming them. The government needs to decide what should be done now from the viewpoint of what industries will be able to keep the Japanese economy running in 10 years time.

Honkawa: Data about the levels of adult skills like reading comprehension and mathematical thinking in various countries show the overall levels of Japanese are high and the lowest levels of skills among Japanese are also high by international standards. In other words, Japanese are generally smart. But this strength of the Japanese has not been translated sufficiently into the nation’s industrial competitiveness. There are a great variety of Japanese startups engaged in innovative businesses around the globe. But such startups have yet to grow into a driving force for the Japanese economy as a whole.

Mano: There are thriving sports industries in many other countries although sports businesses don’t have a solid presence in Japan. In the U.S., the sports industry is as big as the auto industry or the chemical industry. Given this situation, new sports service industries including health industries have significant growth potential. There is a measure of output in the sports industry known as gross domestic sports product. International comparisons of this measure are now appearing. Japan is lagging in the development of sports markets, but it is important to see sports as a new industry.

Yoshiyuki Mano

Yoshiyuki Mano

Okamura: Innovations don’t necessarily take place within national borders. There is the term “open innovation,” which highlights the importance of international cooperation for developing business models to create new demand. I hope Japan will play a central role in such international cooperation by attracting people from other countries.

Ota: Japan has been changing. It is becoming increasingly difficult for private-sector companies to remain competitive without being open. In contrast, areas protected by tight government regulations such as health and nursing care, childcare and agriculture remain closed so that they are insulated from competition. The government should remove obstacles to competition in these areas so that private-sector companies can be important players.

The younger generation should play the leading role in 2020

Shima: In his speech, Dr. Kitti Prasirtsuk talked about values as a category of soft power. What about Japanese people’s values?

Honkawa: According to the “World Value Survey (2010-2014),” the three most important child qualities for Japanese respondents were “feeling of responsibility,” “determination, perseverance” and “independence.” The top three for Muslims were “religious faith,” “tolerance and respect for other people” and “feeling of responsibility.” The most important child qualities for respondents in Russia and Central Asia were “hard work,” “feeling of responsibility” and “tolerance and respect for other people.” In Western countries, “tolerance and respect for other people” and “feeling of responsibility” are generally coupled. The survey results suggest that Japanese tend to deal with situations by adopting approaches based on their national trait of putting top priority on harmony among people instead of using approaches based on “tolerance and respect for other people,” which connotes a condescending attitude. I believe Japanese have developed this national trait as they lived together on a small island nation. This trait now seems to be receiving a fresh evaluation as a survival technique as globalization has turned the world into an island nation, so to speak.

Nobuhiko Shima

Nobuhiko Shima

Shima: What messages should Japan, which has such sensibilities, send to the world?

Mano: Sports events have traditionally been seen as the business of the countries and cities that host them. But for 2020, we should make proposals about how to leave positive legacies for all of East Asia. The events should represent a new paradigm of global sports events that can offer benefits not just for the host country but for the whole world.

Ota: A country needs to make a constant effort to remain attractive. Japan should accept diversity and make an effort to add to its attraction while always placing importance on new ways of thinking.

Okamura: Japan should try to make the world more aware of its soft power and its ability to make innovations. Before that, however, Japan should take advantage of sports events opportunities to express afresh its gratitude for the supports it received from countries around the world after the 2011 disaster.

Shima: When Japan discarded its feudal system and started modernizing itself through radical changes that began at the end of the Edo period and continued through the Meiji Restoration, it was young Japanese in their 20s who led the national transformation. After the end of World War II, people in their 20s, 30s and early 40s played the leading role in rebuilding the nation that had been devastated by war. As for 2020, younger generations should map out a future vision for the nation 30 to 40 years from now, when they will have to play the leading role in society, while older Japanese should focus on offering advice to them by capitalizing on their experience and wisdom.




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