Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Still before dawn

In the wake of Koizumi Junichiro's landslide election victory in 2005, the Economist published a survey on Japan under the headline "The Sun Also Rises," complete with a cover photo over the sun shining over Mt. Fuji.

The Economist was hardly alone in proclaiming that the Koizumi era marked the beginning of a new, optimistic era after the woe of the lost decade. If Koizumi was the face of a more politically assertive Japan, Toyota's rise was a symbol that despite economic stagnation, Japan's leading corporations could still compete globally, and in Toyota's case, best all challengers and set the industry's gold standard for production methods.

But just as many of Koizumi's reforms proved illusory once he left office, so too does Toyota's fall — with Toyoda Akio, its president and CEO, being raked over the coals in Washington — suggest that there was far less to the "Japan is back" meme than met the eye. That's not to say that Toyota's achievements weren't real; it's hard to argue with sales figures. But the idea that Toyota could be a twenty-first century national champion, symbol of a vibrant Japan, has been demolished. It seems that Toyota was plagued by the same pathologies that have plagued other industrial sectors and the public sector.

Patrick Cronin, writing at Foreign Policy's website, suggests that the Toyota debacle could be a blow to Japan's soft power. Maybe so, but in some way the scandal may simply reinforce the DPJ's message that the rot — which apparently left no corner of Japanese society untouched — which characterized the latter years of LDP rule needs to be swept away. In short, this scandal reinforces the idea that there are no shortcuts to recovery. As Peter Tasker argued in the Financial Times last week, the idea that Japan could continue to prosper on the back of exporters like Toyota has been punctured, making this scandal an opportunity for the DPJ to make its case that Japan needs to move away from export-led growth.


Noah said...

I was always a Honda fan anyway.

apple407 said...

There are THREE components to the Toyota
crisis; Electronics, Mechanical and Human. Of
the three, two can be tested and scrutinized by
any specialists in their respective fields. But, the
third will prove impossible, except by litigation

Anonymous said...

Succinct, but, spot on.

Accountability is the buzz word in all corners of the globle, except Japan. Toyoda san had a taste of it, and clearly didn't like being asked. Not having the 'clouds' and acolytes trailing behind him to fend off any 'attack', it showed. It is, as you say, a good metaphore for the LDP era and all it stood for.

To blame foreign parts, or rather poor QA is just same old same old deflection. Is this finally, the nail in the coffin for those that feel/think the LDP are worthy of leading Japan and not the DJP?

It is a very very slow start, but may be just the kick start that those doubting the DJP, for their "inexperince" need to truely undertand the revolution that is required to drag Japan kicking and screaming into the 21st C, unlike the LDP wishing to drag is back to the 19th C.

Control is so much easier when no one is allowed to question you!

Delta said...

Indeed, Japan has some way to go in implementing transparency, as recent scandals show.

Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, though, does put Japan in third place in Asia behind Singapore and Hong Kong, ahead (just) of the USA:

Then there is what can happen abroad:

That said, however, better accountability is needed; who better to lead by example than the "king of tax evasion" ;-)?

Would holding by-elections in Hokkaido's 5th and/or 11th districts to coincide with the coming upper-house elections be a step forward in that process, do you think?