Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Yesterday was an interesting collision with reality for me. I had dinner with a business partner/friend and I talked about my thoughts regarding the problems with Japan. He asked me whether people called me a left wing radical. He said that many people would probably find what I was saying to be rather threatening and anti-establishment. That's probably true.

Later, I met some other friends in a bar and a very senior executive from a BIG Japanese company came over to our table and began talking to my friends in a rather rude tone. (He was able to do this because of the position of power he was in.) It was very annoying so I cut him off told him that I thought his tone was rude. He then threatened me, told me I was a threat to Japan and stormed off. After talking to people like Idei-san of Sony and Kobayashi-san of Fuji-Xerox, I think I had forgotten that there were still a lot of REALLY SCARY people in Japan. I should be careful. On the other hand, I think that unless people speak up against those who abuse power, no one will have the guts to begin to criticize the establishment.

It's easy to criticize the establishment in the mountains of Switzerland, but continuing to deliver the message in the halls of power in Japan will be difficult. I have to be smart about picking my battles, but I have to promise myself not to allow fear to stifle me.

Note to myself... Avoid going to bars likely to have powerful drunk people, even if invited by friends...

Update: I just talked to a friend who knows the "BIG company" well and he said that the guy who threatened me is on his way out and one of my friends in that company, who is actually quite a gentleman, is "on his way up." Good news. Maybe the world is getting sick of people who abuse power...


Ah, but Joi san, the abuse of power begins in junior high school when sempai lord it over kohai because they are a couple of years older. Those ichinensei get ragged (at the least) for their looks, for their grades, for their lack of physical coordination, you name it. Clients strong-arm suppliers all the time. (Guess who should be writing copy, instead of commenting on your blog, so he can get it done by first thing Monday morning?) Once I was asked by a BIG company to translate two or three pages of Japanese into English. The company is a longstanding client, so I said OK. When I got the copy, it was a letter from a young man to a graduate school in the United States explaining his reasons for seeking admission. I phoned the person who'd ordered the translation and said I thought it was important that the young man send the letter in his own English. The reply was: the vice president asked that the translation be done, and if I wouldn't do it, perhaps our entire client-supplier relationship should be reviewed. It happens every day. And there is little recourse.


you met g. bush in a bar?

you said " ANTHI WAR!!"
that's good!

we need stupid people in every level of power to give us a baseline of where the stupidity starts, and the rationale to decide whether to fight, accept, or just work around them, since they are stupid and will eventually be found out. i guess you could call it stupidity evolution. remember: power can change people.

The unfortunate fact to all this is that it's not just people with high positions in large corporations. Even when those thugs get cleared out, the tougher ones to deal with will be the "underground" aka yakuza, and at some point, dealing with them will mean having to perhaps consult with Guiliani to wash out the corrupt cops. Witness the transformation of Roppongi in particular -- many years ago, it was a nice quaint, clean intersection with friendly shops, and now it is basically a red-light district for foreigners. Many people are beginning to avoid even walking through Roppongi b/c of the intimidating atmosphere. It doesn't help that there are so many foreigners proselytizing and harrassing whoever walks down the streets. In the end, corporate Japan is only one place that needs change...

What would happen if you name the very senior executive and the BIG company in your blog?

"Maybe the world is getting sick of people who abuse power."
There have always been people who are sick of people who abuse power. Only now, we have a tool to educate more and more people why they should be sick of people who abuse power. It's a question of awareness. Convince enough frenchmen and it's "Vive la Revolution!", for example.

Do you see what I mean? You are doing a great job, and we need more like you. :)

I thought (from the little I know about it) that the traditional Japanese way to deal with someone who is rude or uncouth was just to ignore them studiously and conspicuously.

Why not just do that?

A friend and myself were talking tonight about people abusing power. Just in everyday life. Its really a reflection of where there at with themselves. I steer clear whenever possible.

Keep up the great work JOI. We need more people like you.

Yup. I agree. "Pick your battles", "Ignore", "Steer Clear" all sound like good ideas. Having said that, I want to make sure I don't get used to ignoring abuse of power. I guess I should just try to avoid places likely to have random conflicts and weigh the impact of the confrontation with the damage. No sense pissing of people who don't matter.

And doing like we do here in Chicago and carry a big ass stick when walking at night doesn't hurt ;-)

"Avoid going to bars likely to have powerful drunk people..."

Open invitation:
If you ever get thirsty in the Nara (ha!) area, let me know. I live on Awajishima but drive right past Kobe and Osaka every weekend to drink with friends in Nara, and there are three good reasons for this:
1. Spiritus vodka
2. Tannoy speakers
3. The most powerful person, by default, is the one pouring the drinks.

I'm of the "name and shame" school, myself. Name the obnoxious executive, here and elsewhere; shame him before his peers.

Because there *is* sense, I find, in pissing off the people who do matter. It's brought me to a parting of ways with at least two "large Japanese corporations," but I can tolerate that, and they needed to hear what I had to say.

If you'll permit me to add the somewhat hyperbolic perspective of someone who's only been here two years: this culture is dying, and not slowly. Its only chance of survival is people like you. Bozos like the one who sorry-ass tale you relate are the ones killing it, the true "threat to Japan."

Now, we know that our actions have consequences. And that's OK. Life is danger, right?


I think I'll wait and see if he actually executes on his threat. I want to give him an opportunity to apologize. (He was a bit drunk.) ;-)

I'm glad to see it's not just us little people that say dumb things when we're a bit drunk :-)

1 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Fear of retribution.

TrackBack URL for this entry:

Reality Sucks from Jason DeFillippo's Weblog
February 1, 2003 3:20 PM

Was reading Joi's posting here and it's a sobering reminder that some people don't want change. The old adage of Read More