Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I just posted my rather rough notes about from the discussion at the Izu Conference about the US and Japan on the Chanpon blog.

I haven't yet put together the identity analysis part. I need to noodle a bit more on this.



Thanks for a very interesting reading, a look into a different mindset that we in the US are not enough aware of.

The most striking comments were the way Japanese perceive themselves and their relationship with the US. In the rest of this post I'd like to provide a perspective of how I personally think the issues you raise are viewed over here. These views are just what I hear, and they may not be reflective of a general opinion, and also do not neccessarily represent the truth. Some of this is going to be painful so bear with me. With that said...

In the US it is popularly believed that Japanese design and manufacture are superior to anything the US can do, and Americans mostly accept that, perhaps grudgingly, because they use Japanese products -- for example, in the categories of cars, computers, electronics, convenience products, designer items such as housewares, etc, Japanese products are held in high regard and are popular. There's a strong sense that Japanese products, and some European products -- especially Scandinavian countries' -- have more "style" and are "better" in some unexpressed way. This might be a sales gimmick or it might reflect dissatisfaction with the inherent quality of American products. I don't know which of these.

This is viewed as a threat to some US industries and results in some backlash. There's also been lots of mutterings and unsaid innuendo about Japanese investments in real estate, especially where I live (SF bay area). As you point out, racism and xenophobia appear to be behind this.

Japan is also widely viewed as a "closed society", with high barriers of entry for some Western products -- again, look at cars, computers, just to name two. The *perception* is that there are real explicit and implicit barriers, I don't know whether this is in fact true or not. There's a strong sense over here that Westerners are not widely welcomed in Japanese society. I don't remember where I read this (a Westerner who lived in Japan wrote this) but this struck me as interesting: as a Westerner, if you must visit Japan, come quietly and leave quickly.

Finally, there's a widely held belief over here that the US is behind the curve in many important areas of innovation that will shape future markets -- for example the ubiquitous availability of wireless APs, cell phone technology, and other personal communications technologies -- and that this will create a situation in which these product categories and markets will be dominated by Japanese products and technologies when they eventually reach our shores.

By the way, is consumer debt an accepted way of life in Japan? In the US, I believe a large part of the economy is based on financing and carrying a huge consumer debt. I don't know how this relates to the perceived (over here) resistance of Japanese markets to Western products.

Also, I am surprised by your support of the idea of federalism in Japan's political structure. Doesn't this hark back to the days when Japan was a society ruled by local warlords, each with their own fiefdom and army? How will this help Japan overcome some of its current problems? Over here, the consistent trend has been to empower local government and take away power from central government institutions. The latest example is the influence of state level governments on the resolution of the water rights crisis. Previously a federal mandate, this issue has now been resolved (for the time being) by negotiations between the state governments of Nevada, California and New Mexico, with little federal govt involvement.

I can't really get a good sense, from your notes, what Japanese think of globalization as it affects politics. You do express how it's viewed as a business issue. Is politics in Japan so tightly tied to business -- as opposed to national identity -- that you didn't think these are separable points of view? You did mention a rising "healthy nationalism" amongst Japan's younger generation -- again, how much influence does this have on the body politic, and on how policies regarding globalization and international cooperation are crafted?

The issue of Japanese military and the security of Japan is also viewed differently over here than you express. I think we view Japan as a very valuable ally, a stabilizing force in a region that has several rogue nations. Vietnam's and North Korea's governments are viewed as dangerous, and China's central government is thought of as "inscrutable" at best. The overall feeling I'm getting here is that Japan is also viewed as a very valuable potential market, if you'd just open up and play on a "level playing field" -- I'm not sure exactly what that means, but I keep hearing that expression. So overall, I think Japan will be protected from any aggression against it by nations viewed as rogues. I cannot say what would happen if Japan got embroyled in a military conflict with the Philipines or another nation that isn't viewed as "rogue" -- in that case my strong sense is that we'd say figure it out by yourselves. But again I might be wrong.

Thanks for this discussion!


Japan should be like the EU as a confederation of nation states? Viva La Sengoku Jidai!!!! Sounds like you have left the Emergent Democracy and come over to my theory of Clarified Feudalism. Just let me know when the next Daimyou elections are even though I cant vote here.

"Its a joke son" -- Foghorn Leghorn