A Very Japanese Story

Last week I was in Japan for the Nanotech conference. It was very interesting…. I made some new friends and I think that there will be a couple of very interesting business opportunities that come out of it.

But that is incidental to what is important in Japan. What is important is trust, friendship, respect, integrity, history, culture, food, family….

Yes, these things are much, much more important than the deal.

The deal comes as a result of all those things, not as the precursor.

So I like to find people who I like and who like me in Japan, who I can have a relationship with, before a deal takes place, where the friendship will evolve regardless of the business.

I scheduled my arrival in Japan so that I could have meals last Monday with two people – one was someone who used to work for the company that I ran. The other was the Chairman of one of the largest semi-conductor companies in Japan at one time, and with whom I built a friendship from which came business…

It was great to catch up with both of them and share food – one of the most fundamental experiences that humans can have.

We talked about our children and how well they are doing; we talked about life.

In the evening I went to dinner with the friend who is in the semi-conductor business. It was bitterly cold when we left my hotel and raining. We walked to the nearby train station and caught a train 5 stops away. Near the train station was a very new Western hotel. We went inside to one of the restaurants in the building – a very traditional Japanese restaurant. (My friend knows that I love traditional Japanese food).

Without much ado he ordered – because it was a traditional restaurant they didn't have to cater for foreigners so no need to speak English.

My friend told me that the reason that he had brought me to this particular restaurant was that it served food from a particular part of Japan where he had grown up as a small boy. He thought that this information would be of interest to me. He then told me a story that I had not heard before about his family – family matters are held very close in Japan.

He told me that he had grown up in that part of Japan for a very simple reason: At the end of WW2 his father was not allowed to work in his profession. General MacArthur deemed certain individuals to be non-people who, because they had been material to the Japanese war effort were not permitted to work again in the way that they had done before. In my friend's case, his father was a very senior banker and, as such, had presumably been responsible for setting up lines of credit and the other financial instruments that enabled the Japanese war effort to take place. So the father had uprooted the family from Tokyo and moved them to the countryside.

Several years later the father returned, with his family, to Tokyo and became a very influential academic at the largest university in Japan.

My friend, of course, did what he did in life entirely independent of his father.

But the story opens up a couple of interesting lines of thought.

One is whether the father, as an influential professor, might actually have had more influence on the emerging intellectual youth of Japan as an academic than he could possibly have had as a banker….

The other is whether in the current war in the Middle East there is a similar view that is taken – to disenfranchise elites who, God love 'em, may really need to be disconnected from the reality of global politik. And if so, how much damage is inflicted on the population as a result…

All I know is this: My friend is one of the most brilliant minds that I have met. I am sure that he must have inherited some of his smarts from his father. We need more people of his ilk – people who have the capacity to not fantasize, but instead o dream thoughts that can be put into practice, and to build things that have relevance and importance to society. Engineering the future is not going to be easy. But it is necessary. We can only deliver sustainability if visionary engineers, economists and scientists work together – across cultures and national divides.

I would have loved to have met my friend's father and talked to him. I think he would have been a fascinating man to talk to.

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