Chris Anderson preparing to take my picture for his column.
Chris Anderson wrote about the Japan dinner in his column/blog on Slate. Chris is the editor of Wired Magazine. He attended the Japan dinner in New York last year where I was allowed to make a statement as well as this year's dinner where I was allowed to MC the session.

Coincidentally, the only song I can sing at karaoke is Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols and Anarchy in the UK is the theme song I always play on my car stereo when I enter the National Police Agency building to park in the basement for study group meetings... or maybe it isn't coincidence...

Slate
Excerpt from Slate Dispatches from Davos by Chris Anderson

It started as a pretty formal-looking affair with a soporific agenda of greater understanding and friendship. But by night's end the event had turned into an anarchic generation war. A gang of Americanized upstarts, led by Joi Ito, a 30ish technology entrepreneur and power-blogger, dominated the discussion, blaming their risk-adverse establishment elders for Japan's slow-motion train wreck of an economy.

"The problem with 'destroy and rebuild' [the rhetoric then coming from the more radical reformers in the country] is that everyone immediately focuses on the rebuild part," Ito said. "What we need to do is just destroy." It was as if the Sex Pistols had crashed the party. Perhaps there was hope for Japan yet.

So, I was looking forward to this year's dinner and curious to see how it would compare. Surprise: Ito was now the official MC, with full license to shake things up after dinner. Either last year's intemperate outburst had been slightly less spontaneous than it had seemed, or the old guard had listened. Fireworks were on the menu.

Finally it was time for the Ito Show. Out came the acid candor, no less shocking coming in this ultra-establishment setting than it had been last year. He had been warned, he said: "Don't talk about complicated issues, the foreigners won't understand." Nevertheless, he railed. Reform plans read like "Zen riddles," and nothing ever comes of them. The bureaucracy is defined by its resistance to change; a system that "rewards people for their obedience" and leaves critics fearing retaliation. ("In fact," he half-joked, "fear of retaliation is what I'm feeling right now.") Japan had, if anything, fallen further since last year; Ito called again for revolution.

And so it went through the rest of the youth movement in the Japanese delegation; each speaker adding to the chant of national self-criticism. Japan needs a proper shock, not the slow leak of the past decade. Nothing else seems capable of toppling the entrenched establishment, the bureaucracy elite. It was grim message, made all the more so by the thought of what it must have taken for them to violate Japanese norms of public politeness.

7 Comments

The article sounds quietly optimistic to me.

It sounds as if Japan is now in vaguely the same position America was in the 1970s... beholden to a crumbling "old-guard" whose ideas just weren't working, and economically merely the first among equals, if that.

To me, the news that Japan's young people are getting innovative and striking out on their own is very good news. Since the top-down approach is patently not working, maybe a bottom-up approach will.

But I'm still new to all this, only 1/3rd through "The Enigma of Japanese Power" (bought on your recommendation), so I may still be wrong.

Thanks for keeping a good blog going! :)

I agree with Scott that there are hints of optimism; hope is a powerful emotion after all. But I wonder about the risks of not nurturing Japan's young as they are encouraged to strike out on their own. I agree with Joi that what Japan really needs is a revolution, but it's something Japan hasn't seen in decades (if ever), and I wonder if the youth have been educated to consider the consequences of such. The Japanese educational system is partly to blame for the nation's current apathy after all. Encouraging destruction is great, just as long as everyone is prepared to immediately work on the building (even with Japan's ability to plan, some things just never follow as scheduled). We need to make sure the young, vocal and agressive leaders won't take off and dissappear after obtaining their riches. That is perhaps the least worry -- the greater one is of powerful young leaders who don't know how to wield their power (coincidentally, images of Akira come to mind). Cliches for sure, but witness for example Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, or the myriad other powerful individuals who became so at very young ages (not a very industry-representative sample for sure). One could argue it has taken them a bit to realize the true extent of their social influence, and even now could use a bit of mentoring. From what I have seen, at least in Japanese corporate culture, the mentoring system has worked pretty well -- that is, peaks and troughs of a company's history are not as correlated with changes in top management as they are with American companies. This of course has its negative aspects.
At anyrate, here's to Joi for his relentless energy -- I for one find it invigorating!

Thanks for your comments. I agree that leadership will be an issue and a risk. I just think that there are a great number of people who in the wake of such a purge will step up and fill the role. I think that the skewed risk-return system right now makes it difficult for people to take risk. Japan is usually quite strong at rebounding from bottoms. Post war Japan was filled with young leaders. It could be argued that the young people of today are different from the young leaders of post-war Japan, but I am still hopeful of the inherent potential of the Japan...

Joi Ito as the Antichrist?

Maybe. I continue to think that the Western notion of Good and Evil is the root of many of our problems. Of course I will look like an Evil Antichrist to the people/things that I would like to see destroyed... and I will look "Good" to the people who are currently opressed.

At the last Aspen conference, Jack Kemp said, "It doesn't matter what you know, unless you care." And in Davos, Carlos Ghosn said, "95% is in execution."

So, I may be viewed as an Antichrist by some, but all of the talk will be for nothing if I don't try to do something about, "IT". That's means I will probably step on some toes. Toes, that will probably try to kick me in the butt...

But... I should probably stop worrying so much about retribution and get on with it. It's more fun to think about what Japan could be like with a better government and an open society...

I just arrived in a small Inn in Kyoto today and am in kind of a rambling mood as I watch the snow outside and here the large bell at the shrine telling me that it's 4pm. 30 more minutes until my bath. ;-)

Saw the Davos seminar last night on NHK BS 2(no, that's not BullShit, but it often could be appropriate when applied to NHK's news programs). Unfortunately, I was just channel surfing and slid over Joi's face, stopped, backed up, and then only heard the last sentence or so of what he said before the camera and mike focused on the chairman of Sony and the talkative Mr. Ghosn saying, "95% is in execution", among many other things.
Too bad but that was the end of it except Joi did get in a last word in Japanese to the NHK reporter at Davos.
Sorry I didn't know earlier that it was going to be broadcast. Did I miss an announcement?

Woody. I knew about it, but I forgot about it. I used to post notices about when I would be on TV, etc... but I decided that was a bit too self-promoting for my taste. Yeah yeah... I know. "Joi Ito's Web" is pretty self-promoting.

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