JFTC Essay Competition

Summaries of the Award-Winning Essays of JFTC Essay Competition 2010

The Grand Prize

Change Japan by changing the world: Towards a country of entrepreneurs

Hirotsugu Ohba (Japan, age 34)
(Full text in Japanese)

In order to change Japan, we must change the world. This is because one of the key causes of Japan’s nebulous sense of isolation is its mindset of self-generated exclusion―being unable to choose its own fate. This is not the result of globalization developing to the point that a single country cannot control its own economy, but rather the result of Japan’s overly passive presence in global society. Even during the period of post-war economic growth, Japan’s response was primarily shaped by a single-minded adaptation to the prevailing circumstances, and only rarely did Japan set its own agenda. This entrenched paradigm, combined with the slowing of Japan’s economy, has had a profound impact.

How do we change this? Japan must firstly change its perception of the world. Japan’s worldview has focused on international centers such as New York. But while these centers are places where decisions are finally made, they are not the underlying driver of events. There are more than six billion people in the world. Clearly Japan does not have the influence or information to play a universally central role.

What, then, can Japan do? One option is to actively pursue BOP (Bottom of the Pyramid) business as a means of developing profitable corporations at the same time as contributing to the improvement of lifestyles around the world. This necessitates leveraging the knowledge of NGOs and specialists from JICA to identify needs in different regions. Then, in order to make use of one of Japan’s strengths―its technical capabilities―the nation must draw on another of its strengths: its people’s ability to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual human parts. In other words, while not necessarily recreating the “Japan Inc.” of the past, Japan must bring together specialists from governmental agencies, corporations, NGOs and other humanitarian organizations in a way that enables the expression of the nation’s overall capabilities.

There is no quick fix for Japan’s exclusion from the global arena, and BOP business is certainly no magic bullet. What Japan can do, however, is build momentum and gain a true sense of having made a small difference in the world. Succeeding in one area will have a spillover effect on others. And when that time comes, we will witness the emergence of a new Japan―one in which the nation itself has become an entrepreneur.

The Prize for Excellence

Reconstruction of Japan: prescription to transcend a downsized Japan

Samuel GUIBERTEAU (France, age 31)

After long years of struggling growth, resulting few months ago in the lost of its second place as the largest economies in the world, years of negative comments on the decline of the Japanese society, with the aging society phenomenon and a level of birth rate far too low to maintain the current number of population, Japan is in a downtrend that does not seem to end soon.

This downtrend has deeply changed the Japanese society, creating specific issues that Japan has yet to find a way to overcome. More than the economical data, the Japanese society seems to have enter into a pessimism trend, with no hope in the near future, impacting even the younger generations, who do not believe in a better tomorrow.

However, Japan has fantastic assets, from its innovative companies to its cultural attractions, from its geographical position -between China and the USA- to its internationally renowned quality of service, which can be triggered for a new start.

The new start will only be sustainable if strong reforms are carried out in the Education system, with priority on the necessity of training students to become able to think by themselves, nurture risk-taking, and welcome diversity. In line with the Education system, Japanese corporations need to review their managing methods, with less top-down decisions, and to accept the aspirations from their employees for a better balance in their work-life.

This new start will need to be fueled by a true political leadership in order to lead Japan to a new era, where economical growth is not the main target, but where a socially and ecologically responsible growth brings benefit to all layers of the Japanese society, and to put Japan -again- in a role-model position for the world.

The Prize for Excellence

A smaller, but happier country with increased mobility

Yu NODA (Japan, age 27)

Today Japan is faced with a number of serious problems both locally and globally; economic suffering, collapse of social security system in the aging society, the global challenge of climate change, and so forth. Although all of these are serious, and important, there is one more that is the most fundamental to the society: lack of the future vision. Japan’s future can be brightened with a well-designed vision. I would describe the vision as a smaller, but happier country. First, Japan should have a smaller economic presence, but holding a unique presence in the global society as a country, since future Japan generates new knowledge and advances the technology, particularly in green industry, putting the country at the forefront of science. Second, it would be a happier society, where people enjoy their full lifetime with the aid of the advanced technologies. Seniors can fully receive necessary medical support, while holding their dignity. The key prerequisites to achieve the vision are (1) Establishing the high-standard, low-cost safety net to address aging society, (2) Application of state-of-the-art technology, and (3) Energy revolution toward the society with low carbon footprint. Besides, Brand Japan (Nature, food, history, pop-culture) must be strengthened as the main source of future wealth. Italy can be seen as a potential model in this regard. How should we speed the transition toward the future vision? Increasing mobility of people, goods, and money can accelerates such transition. The sense of unease among the college students in Japan due to insufficient mobility of people is discussed from my personal experience. They should have wider options for their careers. Decentralization must also be realized to enable the local sectors to independently design their own town or city, utilizing the various cultural resources they have. More creative cites should be born in Japan. It would subsequently diversify the society. Diversified society is a solid foundation of dynamism, and of the capability to lead a change. Information technology is a powerful tool to enhance the mobility.

The Prize for Excellence

Internal Reforms as a Prescription for the Revival and Reconstruction of Japan

Phetkeo POUMANYVONG (Laos, age 31)

Although today’s challenges confronting Japan are different from those of the Meiji Restoration and the post- World War Ⅱ periods, they share some similar characteristics- being caused by factors from inside and outside Japan. The lessons from these two periods suggest that Japan successfully survived its difficulties through radical internal reforms in the political, social and economic spheres. At those times, while political reform offered a clear long -term vision and direction to where the country was headed, social and economic reforms were mainly to turn that vision into reality.

 I argue that in order to overcome the current challenges, Japan once again needs radical internal reforms, including political, social and economic aspects. Political reform should be inclusive-empowering young people and women to unleash their full leadership potential and to participate in policy-making in areas that affect their lives and futures. This would not only energize Japanese society, but would also enable Japan to explore visionary leadership. In social reforms, Japan needs to urgently address the aging population and falling birth rate. To prevent or even reverse the falling fertility rate, Japan needs to address the concerns and needs of women, particularly in the workplace and at home. In addressing women’s needs and concerns, the government, the private sector and the individual need to work together. To build a stronger economy, first, Japan needs to address structural problems in the Japanese economy, particularly its dual structure nature (the co-existence of efficient manufacturing and inefficient non-manufacturing sectors). To stay competitive in the international market, the service sector needs to be efficient. This can be achieved through strengthening domestic and international competition. To make this possible, regulatory reform and market openness are required. Second, Japan, being a country poor in natural resources, relies on technological innovation for future growth. Therefore, to maintain its competitiveness, Japan should continue investing in human capital, and research and development (R&D). Third, exploring new seeds of growth inside Japan is necessary. The tourism industry has a great potential for boosting domestic demand and attracting international visitors. The rise of newly industrializing countries poses both threats and opportunities to Japan. Japan could potentially benefit from the growing demand for its green products and services. The final suggestion is that Japan should also explore new potential markets in low-income countries, which are still yet to be tapped. I believe that through these radical internal reforms, Japan could make itself a stronger, cleaner and more morally conscious nation.

The Selection Committee Chair’s Special Prize


Ramesh KRISHNAN (India, age 22)

The concept of “modern” has meant different things to different groups of Japanese people at different points of time. The people of Japan were not passive recipients of grand historical trends; it is not the case that modernity “happened” to Japan, but rather through industry, toil, bloodshed and creativity, Japan forged itself into its present state. But in the process, Japan encompassed the experiences of many different nations, while struggling to understand and keep in mind, its unique dimensions and historical reality. Because there was no culture-free standard of modernity against which to measure success, Japan tended to fall back on the legacy of the west as the prototype. While it started as a situation of retaining Japanese traditions whilst adopting “value-free" modern rationality, it eventually collapsed into abandoning Japanese values and traditions on the misnomer that only by becoming western could Japan become truly modern. This coupled with a sense of socio-cultural anxiety about the identity and place of Japan has made the process of negotiating life in the present world, a task fraught with difficulties, culminating in the present cataclysmic changes that Japan faces.

Be it the Economic downsizing and loss of place as the world’s 2nd largest economy to China, or the Graying of the Japanese population along with declining birth rates posing a question on Japan's continuity, or be it the reality of Immigration, along with increasing pressure calling upon Japan to assume leadership in Climate protection and International share of power, Japan can find its answers by a bit of foresight and relying on its values of being Japanese.

Japan has to remember the unique core values that impart the innate “Japan-ness” to it. Japan has a distinct set of values that make its Japanese spirit, which it could have called upon for strength in these times of crisis, but which it has abandoned for another set of “non-Japanese” values: adopting the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism at an increasing spree by ignoring the uniquely Japanese model is one such example. But Japan should understand that modern era needn’t dispense with cultural traditions all together. Modern Japan must engage with its traditions in a transformed way.

Japan needs to understand its Kami (spiritual essence in Shintoism)- the eternal values that Japan has nurtured and is the need of the hour; Body- the aggregation of various segments that work in coordination and make up Japan’s vital organs, like Economy and Business, Population and Labour, Climate and International Relations etc; and its Soul- to caress the bleeding Japan and to infuse confidence in it to lead the new world order, post the present crisis.