Understanding Japanese Spirits of Success

Author: Chak Sopheap

Japan is an island nation situated in the Northeast coast of mainland Asia. After World War II, Japan, which was virtually ruined, went through a period of restoration, followed by high economic growth, eventually becoming the world?s second largest economy. It is a member of the United Nation, G8, G4, OECD and APEC and a world leader in technology and machinery. This clearly indicates that Japan can both reconcile and reunite citizens to succeed in its own country development as well as to reintegrate into world diplomacy and global economy.Knowing how Japan has arrived at this stage is a good lesson learnt for other developing countries, especially those without the exception of Cambodia who experienced similar war destructions. The following remark is my personal point of view followed by a series of lectures of Japanese professors, CD documentation on ?Keys to Japan? by JICA, and personal observation on Japanese society. There are five foundations that JAPAN can transform itself to the current phase of development?that is JAPAN:Japanization: Wakon Yosai spiritA Rule of Law PunctualityA strong collaboration between Public and Private Sector Nationalism and Meritocracy

1. Japanization: Wakon Yosai spiritJapanization is a concept that Japan adopts and adapts western method into its own spirit. The Japanese leaders and scholars who spent their time oversea return home with the western system and philosophy and make it suit to Japanese practice. It includes the political system?the incorporation of German constitution as its model, the transportation, and mainly the economic development. One example is how Shibusawa Eiichi, the father of economy of Japan, learnt from western concept and applied it into Japan. He tried to seek for the answer how to generate money in order to serve public purposes. That is bank system which allows the money flow from individual to entrepreneur and the state and the money will return to household in the form of interest, business transaction and public services. In addition, Japan invested huge amount of its budget on foreign experts in order to develop the country as well as to learn from their skill. It means the price have to pay.

2. A rule of law
A rule of law means that no individual, president or private citizen, stands above law. The core principle of “rule of law” is an autonomous legal order that does not depend so much on law’s instrumental capabilities, but on its degree of autonomy?the degree to which law is distinct and separate from other normative structures such as politics and religion. Japan is considered as a rule of law state. People consciously obliged to follow the country?s rules and regulations including the Constitution, administrative procedure, environment, traffic and other state?s policies. Corruption and impunity less likely exists. It may result from high salary payment for employees in both government and private institutions as well due to the citizen?s high virtue. I would like to point out one example:
Traffic Law: Japan has a point system (you get “points” for various bad things and extra penalties kick in when the points reach certain limits). A strict focus on alcohol and driving??If you are drunk, do not drive?. There is a subjunctive observation if you’ve been drinking or not. Interestingly, Japanese people like drinking alcohol, yet they will chose not to drink if they are going to drive home or somewhere else. It shows clearly how effective of law enforcement in Japan is and how people are highly obliged to the country law.

3. Punctuality
Japanese people are creators of habit of being punctual. It may due to their busy schedule, crowed and well-timed transportation, and culture adoption. I have personally experienced how Japanese people respect their time management and agenda during conferences, class orientation, meeting appointments, and bus and train stations. Basically, punctuality indicates integral personality and it communicates self-value to other partners. It also shows how much we respect ourselves and others. We may be occasionally late due to unexpected and unavoidable occurrence. However, punctuality does matter and need to be addressed if we become habitually late. More importantly, time respect is important to succeed in any kind of business. We have to realize how to value the time we have, as quoted from a book, titled ?7 Habits of Highly Effective Teen?: To realize the value of one year, ask a student who failed his final exam last year.

To realize the value of one month, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of one week, ask an editor of a weekly magazine.
To realize the value of one day, ask a daily wage laborer who has six kids to feed.
To realize the value of one hour, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of one minute, ask a person who missed their flight.
To realize the value of one second, ask a person who survive in an accident.
To realize the value of one millisecond, ask the person who won a silver medal in the Olympics. Therefore, in my opinion, I think Japanese people value every second they have and it maybe one of determinants for their success.

4. A strong collaboration between Public and Private Sector
Another determinant of Japanese success is that there is a strong collaboration between public and private sector in attempting to develop its economic growth and other policy implementation. Though business mindset is always for profit, there is also for national interest, especially after the WWII where the country needs internal spiritual support. The government adopted policies to support business transaction at the same time to sustain people?s interest, whereas the business sectors incorporate government policies for country development. For example:

Environment Law?Law on Recycling of Specified Kinds of Home Appliances: the purpose of the law is to take measures to appropriately and smoothly implement collection and recycling home appliances by retailers, manufacturers and importers, then to secure the appropriate disposal of waste and utilization of natural resources, and consequently to contribute to preservation of life environments and sound development of the national economy. There is a strong collaboration between the state, private companies and citizens as whole in making this policy work. Every market, restaurant, universities, as well as public places, there is always different kind of waste disposal and there are campaign run by supermarkets in reducing the plastic bags?My bag activity or ?Say no to Plastic bag?. I think not only Japan but most developed countries have promoted the environmental friendly policies including the recycle projects. In contrast, the developing countries and LDCs are the countries who used resource inefficiently and no proper waste management.

5. Nationalism and Meritocracy
According to Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the term ?nationalism? is generally used to describe the attitude that citizens of a nation care about their national identity and the actions that they take when seeking to achieve (or sustain) self-determination. Japan can be categorized as a country whose maintain its nationalism either through its cultural nature, political and economy form and historical destiny. War history indicates that Japanese nationalism provided a political and ideological foundation for the actions of the Japanese military like Bushido philosophy (the way of the warrior), denoting a coherent code of beliefs and doctrines about the proper path of the samurai. For economic point of view, though Japan adopts free-market economy system, there seems strong root of national tendency on local product rather than foreign imported products. Most products in markets are Japanese made. It may result from quality trustworthy and nationalism.

In addition, Meritocracy?a social system in which rewards and o
ccupational positions are allocated justly on the basis of merit, rather than ascriptive factors such as class, gender, ethnic group or wealth?was widely employed in Japanese society, especially within its government system. Shibusawa Eiichi,a leading scholar who was invited to work for the new government with no condition or nepotism, is the best example of meritocracy system. Though Eiichi rejected this provision at the beginning due to his loyalty to his former government, he was convinced by a senior advisor who influentially stated that ?Forget the past, think about current country demand for development.? It indicates clearly that the Japanese puts national interest before individual and political interest.

With all these five foundations?JAPAN? Japan could arrive this development stage. I therefore, believe that it is useful for other countries. Yet, it is important that the change agent starts from each individual citizen and then the country as the whole. ?Be the Agent of Change.”


I was impressed by how Japan transformed itself with 5 foundations toward a developed one. However, I wouldn?t agree that Japanese aren?t bias regarding gender issue in terms of merit based. Its conservative culture is deeply rooted that it still discriminates female and gay people. There?s a book (I forgot its name) published by one female high ranking officer sharing her experiences and advising how to behave in certain limitations to get position as her. There?s also another lesbian running in a senate or in parliamentary, who is struggling with her own people. I spotted this news through TV and newspaper. Japanese truly exaggerates its success! I think you could ask your professors or its citizens about this news and see how they will react in reality. Then keep me posted šŸ˜€

Besides, before reaching to be the rich nation, Japan has already had plentiful human capital (growth theory/convergence that I learnt in class). Therefore, stepping ahead isn?t as difficult as Cambodia. Worse than that, even if Cambodians have started to nourish its education both locally and internationally, these people are lack of solidarity and trust. History has shown that the elit and the educated often fighted for power only in the end. Many NGOs and Youth forums existed, however, imagine how many young people are willing to work together toward one goal. I?m not a glass half empty, but I was always caught in a trap whenever people ask me how you would change Cambodia. My simple philisophy is do what you can rather than being an observer or a criticizer!

Frankly speaking, none of the political party got my vote. Experiences have taught me that only ACTIONS will make believe in persons including friends! šŸ™‚

What would be great is having a team of accredited members submitting articles to only one blogsite. This would allow the articles to be widely read. It should work like a newspaper–only with bloggers as the writer and someone selected as editor. And as a single site, you will get more hit instead of going to many different sites to get to read. Plus with this “membership” process, certain quality can be ensured. Sopheap, think about this! this could be a beginning of the leadership forum I was talking about and plus you can do it from afar!

Email me and let me know if this is something you want to do! I can spend the money on making it known. you should know who I am.

Good to see read critical discussion in this blog, including the comments. I think a number of point you have not made it clear:

1. Japanization: How to japanize is more important than why they japanize, I think. People went abroad, and then came back, but how the japanization relates to this movement?
2. Rule of Law: I think many legal norms have been internalized into this society, but is it so?
3. If you said these are all of these five foundations for transformation, how about the idea that Japanese people are working hard? How about technological development and innovation? How about the education system? Are they not foundations for this transformation of this nation?

thanks for all comments here.

Dany: I will investigate more regarding gender issue and keep you post. For the human capital issue, you can argue in term of number of human resource; however, the key question for Cambodia is to what extend should we make change!!! Do not we enough human resources now? If not, how do we grow this resource! But, i feel there are many emerging talent academia who have no opportunity or somehow do not have national interest in mind. Therefore, i stressed on nationalism and meritocracy. You partly right that we are lack of trust, but we should not be pessimistic. We all can make a change! everything start from all of us. A single change will gradually lead to development.

Hi Pinispinus:

I went through your blog and found it quite interesting. Thanks for your comment. Honestly, this article is just my short pre-analysis as i want to publish a book on it. I will investigate more on your first two questions. Plus, i totally agree with you that the hardworking and education…are crucial elements for a country development. Yet, what i really want to point out is the foundations that support all these elements. For example, without rule of law or meritocracy, people motivation to education or creation is at disadvantage. We can see clearly the Cambodia case.

It is quite interesting to read this article and think on the characteristics of Japanese people and their ways of life. This article helps me think out the “understanding the spirit of failure of Cambodian” by using the negative psychological approach. Perhaps, starting and examining our own failures will help us to have a better thinking, planning and acting in a successful way.

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