On a ship with people from various countries, you’re the first to notice the ship is sinking. What to say to make the people escape and jump in the water?
To American people: “Jump, and you’ll be a hero!”
To English people: “A true gentleman/lady would jump.”
To French people: “Do not jump!”
To German people: “The regulations say we must jump.”
To Japanese people: “Everybody else has already jumped.”
This is a very famous joke in Japan, and I think it expresses one of the Japanese characteristics very well. In most junior-high and high schools, we, in a uniform, are taught to behave the same as everybody else. At home, parents scold their kids, saying “No one would do something like that!” The only exception where kids are required to be autonomous (be different from others) is when they beg for the same things (toys, bicycles, etc) as their friends have. Anyway, we are grown under such a strong peer pressure in Japan.
In order to control the infection of the new Corona virus, the governments of many countries have issued stay-at-home orders. In Japan, we’ve never had such legal restrictions, but the number of the infections has been kept very small. I heard people outside Japan were curious, but the answer is very simple: a mutual monitoring system by the strong peer pressure. Even though there were no legal restrictions, shops and restaurants opening in the peak period of infection got harassed to close. According to the Google stats, there was no big difference in the amount of movement distance change (or movement distance reduction compared with the last month) between NY and Tokyo in March. In the frenzy of the pandemic, some people bravely said “This is a war,” which reminds me of the words: the first to be killed in a war is always freedom.
Personally, I really dislike this too-much peer pressure embedded in the Japanese society, but it has one big advantage in business: Good quality control by the mutual monitoring system. You can count on the quality of our products. On the other hand, it’s highly likely to impede creativity. You can see the good result of it in the regime change from Japanese electronics and car manufacturers to GAFA.
For any companies in Japan, people like me (dissidents) are difficult to manage, but Conde House still keeps me around, allows me to do what I want, and even promoted me (though the directors may regret). In that sense, you can expect a lot from us, even in terms of creativity!
He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.