JFTC Essay Competition

Summaries of the Award-Winning Essays of JFTC Essay Competition 2013

The Prize for Excellence

Is it possible to replicate Silicon Valley in Japan?

Mr. Tetsuo Mizunuma (Japan, age 34)

Japan is filled with a sense of stagnation. Japan faces serious challenges, such as globalization and an aging society, and solutions are still being sought. In order to overcome these challenges, more growth in innovation will be needed. This is especially the case in the medical services, nursing care and health care sectors.

The world has undergone revolutionary changes in how technologies are innovated. For most of the 20th century, new technologies were developed by industrial laboratories. But by the 1990s, the innovation model started to shift to universities and startup companies. As evidenced by the successful partnership of Stanford University and Silicon Valley, this 21st innovation model has achieved great success. Since the late 1990s, government, industry and academic sectors in Japan have together attempted innovation reforms, but surprisingly have achieved little success. Their failure was blamed on the lack of the social network which is the foundation of Silicon Valley’s success.

To effectively replicate a Silicon Valley in Japan, it is proposed that people in Japan regard their country’s social challenges as their own challenges, to find what they can do to contribute to society, and to take action. Ideally, all stakeholders should positively and responsibly come together, and connect openly with the shared goal of making their local communities, society and the world a better place.

To shape a more responsible, more innovative society, it is proposed that government, corporations and individuals take initiative in their respective roles: 1) Government should arrange regulation, so that new products and services can be developed and sold without undue bureaucracy, and should review the institution of lifelong employment. In addition, more support should be given to small and mid-sized businesses that focus on high-tech research and development; 2) Large corporations should not unfairly impede the development of startups’ businesses, and should treat researchers and engineers favorably; 3) Individuals should be prepared for a harsh, competitive global market. Students should study both the liberal arts and the sciences.

Creating a place like Silicon Valley has additional benefits; it provides an alternative to working in the corporate world, and has the potential to change peoples’ careers and values. An aging society is not Japan’s challenge alone. When Japan overcomes its challenges with innovation, its experience will send a strong message to others, contribute to the political stability and economic development, and return to being a country admired by the world.

The Prize for Excellence

Japan as a Revitalised Hub: Industries, Policies and Capacity Building Issues

Mr. Yam Huo Ow (Singapore, age 23)

Along with economical stagnation, Japan still faces social and ecological problems as well, which range from declining fertility, suicide rate, aging population to the lack of work-life balance.

After more than 30 years of trade surpluses, Japan’s trade deficit rose to 2.49 trillion yen in 2011. And although Japan enjoys a high standard of living, her GDP per capita is only ranked 31st in the world. It is also lamented that the Japanese working lifestyle is stressful and bureaucratic; 30,000 lives are lost every year through suicides. Japanese workers on the average work much longer than the workers of other nations. Marching into the future, Japan has to improve her economy and add value in a slightly different and more innovative way.

Japan is at the frontier for she is a fully developed country compared to 50 years ago. She has to be the leader with vision. She has to view human resource as her best resource and optimise this precious resource. Moreover, Japan needs to be recognised for being the leader in quality, technology and design. However, in addition to being a leader in this course of direction, I believe that Japan can revitalise her economy by taking bolder steps and reforms and serve as a role model for the world.

I have integrated my various solutions into a single concept: Hub. Japan is already a leader in many fields but being a Hub goes beyond being a leader. Being a Hub will mean that Japan will be the most advanced and connected nation and she will shape the future direction of the world. Japan will be the place to be and every nation will look up to Japan because she is the future. In this essay, I have identified a few key industries, polices and capacity building ideas which will be what Japan can excel in and what the world needs. I have full faith that Japan will be able to revitalise her economy and boost the global economy too in the near future.

The Prize for Excellence

Two Innovations – When two innovations merge –

Mr. Ryuichiro Izumi (Japan, age 23)

As Japan draws various attention from the world with the topics such as Abenomics and the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics, there is an increasing global demand towards economic growth of Japan and its international contribution. What is the course and strategy then that Japan should take, to find a new area of growth in the Japanese economy and to make an international contribution, when international and domestic societies are changing under globalization?

The key is innovation that is divided into two main kinds, innovation of the market and innovation in technology. The fusion of these two kinds of innovation is necessary for economic growth. Large enterprises are shifting their production base to overseas manufacturers as globalization advances. Consequently, small- and middle-sized manufacturers in Japan are losing their contracts and missing their chances to make the best use of the technological innovative capacity that they own.

When these technological innovations by the small- and medium-sized manufacturers meet the innovation of the market that will be conducted by “Shosha”, comprehensive trading companies, they will stimulate the potential growth power of the Japanese economy. Even more, it is not limited to Japan that large enterprises move their production bases to other countries due to globalization. Thus, also in overseas, it is an efficient strategy to fuse the innovation of the market with the technological innovations by the small- and medium-sized manufacturers, to meet the potential demand of the market, to stimulate potential economic growth. Nevertheless, innovation of the market will not be easily accomplished because “Shosha” is a form of business activity that is unique to Japan.

We need “Shosha” to carry out the innovation of the market, in order to make the best use of aforementioned technological innovations worldwide. This initiative by “Shosha” to realize the innovation of the market, to make the best use of the latest technological innovations given from the small- and medium-sized manufacturers, and to meet the potential demand of the world, can only be conducted in Japan. Thus this is an important aspect of “Japan Initiative”, an international contribution that Japan can perform for the growth of Japanese and international economy.

The Selection Committee Chair’s Special Prize

Reclaiming Japan – Japan as a Cultural Mecca

Ms. Soo Teng Yong (Malaysia, age 24)

Japan is unique in sense that there are many angles to explore such as her mysterious image as a country with rich history and cultural heritages, her contemporary image as a country with demure traditional and vibrant popular cultures, a sophisticated image of fast paced and innovative technological advancement in many fields of research and the unique image of the Japanese’s ways of doing things. Then in 2011, the March 11 Great Eastern Japan Earthquake struck Japan. With attempts to move on from the tragedy, Japan now focuses on rebuilding the lives of the affected while cultivating confidence to deal with on-going and pressing economic, political, social and diplomatic issues. One of the main concerns for Japan now is her stagnating economic situation.

Japan today are facing various economic challenges such as an aging population with a declining birthrate, growing competition from other countries (especially in the automobile and electronic goods industries) which offer price advantages that Japan could not match, saturated domestic market, catching up with the pace of globalization where countries like South Korea and China are actively pursuing foreign markets to increase their GDP and also their countries’ brand image. The Japanese government has its own sets of strategies aimed to encourage economic growth and country branding. For this essay, one strategy which I can relate most to and foresee potential in economic growth and at the same time build “Brand Japan” is “Cool Japan” Strategy.

Cool Japan, even prior to actual implementation of anything by the government has created a ripple effect to throughout the world. While the quest for turning a trade deficit to a surplus might take decades, that does not mean Cool Japan is not successful. This essay discusses the feasibility of Cool Japan Strategy in contributing to Japan economically in medium and long term frame and also the various concerns and roles played by government, businesses and individual respectively. This essay is written from a consumer’s point of view and by a long time consumer and lover of Cool Japan.