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2020.01.09

Japan's resilience against disaster and the rugby team's outstanding feat - The time has come for Japanese people's traditional spirit to lead global business management

The article was originally posted on JBpress on October 18, 2019

  • Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • Research Director
    Kiyoyuki SEGUCHI
  • [Expertise]
    Chinese Economy and Relations among Japan/China and the United States

1. The trail of destruction left by Typhoon Hagibis (No. 19) and the fruits of disaster-prevention efforts

From October 12 to 13, the super typhoon Hagibis brought furious winds and torrential rain causing serious damage in widespread areas of Japan.

The number of deaths confirmed as of October 15 reached more than 70. Disaster victims lost their quiet lives by the sudden arrival of the typhoon and were driven to the depths of suffering. Their woes are beyond description.

I would like to offer my deepest sympathies and condolences to the families and friends of those lost, and sincerely hope for a rapid recovery of the affected areas and restoration of the victims' peace of mind.

The following is a comparison of the death tolls from major typhoons and recent torrential rains that hit Japan after the country's period of high economic growth (not including missing persons).


   Typhoon Kanogawa (September 1958, 1,269 deaths)
   Typhoon Ise-wan (September 1959, 4,697 deaths)
   Torrential rain in northern Kyushu (July 2017, 40 deaths)
   Torrential rain in western Japan (July 2018, 263 deaths)
   Typhoon Hagibis (October 2019, more than 70 deaths)

It is difficult to simply compare, but the death tolls from super typhoons that had once exceeded 1,000 deaths have recently fallen to several tens to hundreds as a result of efforts bearing fruit to mitigate damage.

While the number of fatal victims has decreased, the dead cannot be brought back to life. These disaster-prevention results have been achieved out of our mourning for the dead and a strong desire to reduce the number of victims as much as possible.

Various efforts have been continuously made to minimize damage from natural disasters. These include the dissemination of disaster-related information and timely and repeated calls to people to take necessary disaster-prevention measures via television and mobile phones, strengthening of structures for disaster preparedness such as securing safe evacuation areas, construction of levees, and reinforcement of buildings.

Appreciable changes in recent years include the messages in much greater detail than before sent out to viewers by television newscasters during natural disasters, and the great deal of time spared in conveying disaster-related information.

Warning alerts and transmission of disaster-related information to mobile phones, which did not previously exist, have become effective year by year.

There is no doubt that the accumulation of these slow and steady efforts to prevent disasters has brought about a reduction in the number of fatal disaster victims.

The people who have supported the strengthening of disaster prevention measures do not do so for financial interests or social prestige. They have continued to make efforts out of a desire to reduce the number of victims as much as possible without considering whether or not those efforts go unnoticed.


2. Traditional spiritual culture that supports Japanese efforts seen at Rugby World Cup 2019

The Rugby World Cup pool match between Japan and Scotland was held in Yokohama on October 13, the day after Typhoon Hagibis passed through the Kanto region.

Amid the lingering strong winds of the typhoon, about 2,000 people involved came together and made efforts from early morning to tidy up the venue, which was hit by the rainstorm, in time for the game's starting time.

Another major factor enabling the game to be held on time is reported to be the stadium's elevated structure above ground level designed on the assumption of flood risks.

Japanese people have learned much about what efforts they should make to prevent disasters and restore disaster areas from the damage of numerous past natural disasters, and have continued efforts to prevent natural disasters step by step.

What lies at the root of these efforts is an altruistic spirit.

If someone only cares about themselves in avoiding disasters, they can remedy their situation just by relocating their residence to a safer place.

However, our predecessors analyzed the damage they experienced and continued various efforts over a long period of time to minimize damage as much as possible in preparation for subsequent disasters. As a result, the death toll from typhoons and floods has significantly decreased over the last few decades.

As I speculate, these efforts have been continued ever since the Edo period, when an extensive construction project was undertaken to change the route of Tone River.

Ideas and philosophies that value such an altruistic spirit, long-term trust, and social contribution have been the core of Japanese people's work attitude since the Edo period.

At the root lies the Japanese belief that practicing ethics such as the five Confucian virtues (benevolence, justice, courteousness, wisdom, and trust) in daily work and business conforms to Heaven's will and is the way for people to live fulfilling lives.

These ideas and philosophies come from Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Zen, as exemplified by Chinese classics, combined with ancient Japanese Shinto.

The spirit has been inherited among ordinary Japanese people and businessmen led by Suzuki Shōsan, Ishida Baigan, and Shibusawa Eiichi since the Edo period, and even today forms the basis of Japanese companies' management philosophy.

Many companies inherit the Omi merchants' spirit of "Sanpo Yoshi (three-way satisfaction)" (benefits to the buyer, to the seller and to the public) with all employees practicing the spirit in their daily work. In administering the Rugby World Cup, this altruistic spirit, deeply ensconced in the hearts of the Japanese people, naturally flowed out as seen in the preparation of the venue in the wake of the typhoon, and the hospitality and support offered to players and spectators, which has gained high praise around the world.

This has provided an opportunity for many Japanese people to rediscover their pride in Japan's traditional spiritual culture.

It is an achievement that can be attained by the Japanese people, who attach the most importance to spiritual joy rather than economic returns.

The Canadian rugby team shared such thoughts and took part in volunteering activities to clean up damage caused by Typhoon Hagibis in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture. The team's action greatly moved and encouraged many people.

As is also clear from this happening, the Japanese people's wholehearted sincerity has the power to connect hearts together and inspire good will and a moral sense that transcend borders.


3. Disseminating Japanese companies' management philosophy to global society

In Western countries, concepts focusing on shareholder primacy, full enforcement of market mechanisms, expansion of a free-trade system, development of capitalism, etc. intensified since the 1980s.

There was a growing tendency to focus on short-term management goals, profit increases, stock price rises, levels of compensation of presidents and executives, etc. while contribution to social stability, long-term customer trust, employee happiness, etc. were relatively neglected.

As a result, only the income of the richest 10 percent of the US population increased during the past 30 years, while the income of the lower classes remained at the same level or decreased.

This has led to strong dissatisfaction among the ordinary people of America's middle or lower class and intensified their distrust of the Establishment that did not make efforts to work out effective measures to reduce income disparities.

By voicing their distrust and hurling abuse at the Establishment, President Donald Trump has gained strong support from ordinary people in the US.

Even the respectable efforts and performances made by the Establishment for US and world peace and economic development for over 70 years after World War II are being denied.

This is the background to the serious issue of social fragmentation that confronts the US.

In Europe also, similar issues lie behind the UK heading towards Brexit, the gaining of power by rightist and leftist groups in Germany and Italy, and the spread of the yellow vest movement in France. During the past two to three years, scholars and experts have increasingly raised their voices to point out the basic mistakes of national policy designs in considering the current situation of Western countries faced with such serious social issues.

I myself have repeatedly maintained that we should face the fact that Western-style management that places excessive emphasis on short-term profits and stock prices has caused social fragmentation, and that we ought to value Japanese companies' management philosophy of social contribution, long-term trust, and employees' safety, security and daily happiness.

At the same time, I have been asserting that it is Japan's responsibility in the 21st century to have Japanese companies disseminate such management philosophies to the world.

On August 19, 2019, the Business Roundtable, an organization whose members are chief executive officers of leading US companies, released an important statement on the purpose of a corporation. The statement outlined a new standard for corporate responsibility that moves away from shareholder primacy, which has long been endorsed since 1997, and commits to all stakeholders including customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders.

The basic spirit of the statement, as with "Sanpo Yoshi," tends to emphasize moral concepts and good will.

At last, even chief executive officers of leading US companies are about to shift their corporate management philosophy.

In the past, US companies would not have considered a management philosophy that lay emphasis on social contribution, long-term trust, and employees' happiness no matter how much Japanese companies disseminated it, but things are different now.

The time has arrived for Japanese companies to proudly and confidently disseminate Japanese-style management philosophy to the world.

At the same time we suffered from various natural disasters that strongly evoked the altruistic spirit, we gained the opportunity to have that spirit recognized through the Rugby World Cup.

Three events: the typhoon, rugby, and corporate management that seem to have no connection in normal times were linked to give a supportive push to the Japanese people, indicating the arrival of the time to disseminate Japan's traditional spirit to the world.

In order to properly materialize the results in the future, we must be more hard-working than others, just like the Japan national rugby union team.

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