Why Japan Continues to Survive

-By Caoimhín Ó Laoghaire

This actually ties into what I have been writing about the past few years.  My home country, the United States is so disconnected from anything resembling a comprehensive solution to their ills.  Crime is out of control, skilled workers idled, 70 percent without basic healthcare coverage, working age people lined up for disability payment and a general lack of cohesion among our people.  It will likely take generations for America to recover our place on the world stage again.  It is absolutely terrifying to see my country from abroad.  However, when you are living in the middle of it, you can easily become blind.

Conversely, Japan weathers their storms and seems to hold it together a whole lot better than the United States.  Why is that?  Based on my simple observations, I notice one factor is dependent on the other in Japan.  For example, if a company desires worker loyaty to the company, it is necessary to offer a high likelyhod of secure longtime employment to the worker.  There are many other differences between America and Japan.  Some of these would seem like a horribly cruel disparaging of American society, but they need to be considered if we want to recover again.  Make no mistake about it.  I am an American patriot.  I want the United States of America to succeed again.  Certainly  Japan, by no means is a perfect society.  Being a foreigner in Japan who has earned more yen than dollars has taught me Japan is for the Japanese and only the Japanese.  I am not nor will I ever be looked at as an equal member of their economy and society.  I am not in the Japanese circle and my participation is pretty much at their pleasure.  Discrimination affects me, but I do my best to navigate the system and provide support for my family.

Some areas that Japan approaches differently include:

1.  Employment Security of their Citizens

2.  Worker Loyalty and Productivity

3.  Healthcare for their Citizens

4.  Maintenance of their Infastructure

5.  Crime

6.  Connection to their Community

7.  Seeking Assistance from Family v. Assistance from the Public

Employment Security

Recently, Sensata, an electronic component plant in my hometown of Freeport, Illinois closed dispacing a number of workers.  It is an all too common occurance in Freeport and Rockford.  Workers are told their last day and basically left to fend for themselves.  It really got me thinking about a time when I heard of time a plant in Japanese closed up and the workers made redundant.  I could not.  The next week, I polled some of my business students at Sony, Bridgestone and Daihatsu if this has occurred.  They told me it certainly does happen as technology advances and ecomomical necessity required closure.  However, although the plant changes it is extremely rare that workers are not provided transfers, early retirement packages, retraining or guidance into another job.  Incidentally,   Sensata did not close their operations in Japan although they are tech centers and marketing.  Layoffs are clearly a very last resort in Japan.  It is almost treated as a criminal offense to abandon workers so casually as it is done in the United States.

I have found Japanese workers to be far more loyal to their company than American workers.  That is very clear to me and common sense as the company provides security and the likelyhood of a mutually profitable relationship long term.  Contrary to popular belief, I have not seen Japanese workers any more productive than American workers.  We Americans like to work hard, but we need some assurances in return.

Here are some interesting articles on the Japanese approach to large scale layoffs.

Worker Loyalty and Productivity

It is my pleasure to smash the myth that Japanese simply work harder than Americans.  It is just plain not true.  So, I would not suggest occupying your mind with little Japanese men running around like worker bees on steriods.  I work with some really lazy bastards.  Shout out to  that guy who barks orders to me using just my last name.   I frequently advise him to work the muscles in his legs and arms more than his mouth.  I am senior to him by 2 days at work.   Most of the slackers are in the education business, but some are in production positions as well like one of my collegues .  I do not mind giving him a little grief.  He is the only openly racist person who practices his ignorance on a daily basis.  He once told me it is peculiar and a bad idea that Watami hires foreign people.    Sometimes, I gently push back with a sense of humor.  However, despite this example, workers will not willfully do anything that would affects the productivity and profits of the company.  My co-worker does jobs he likes to do and I do jobs he doesn’t like to do.  I have no doubt he would step in for the company if I was not there.  Overall I word with pretty good quality folks.

Universal Healthcare

Even though most conservative Americans oppose it, I think we need it in America.  It is a mess.  I had what was considered to be a good plan with Aetna from my employer I had in America except the co-pays.  Very expensive.   Even if you did not have insurance in Japan, the cost of treatment is considerably less than in the United States.  A small ticket item, the MRI.  $1600 dollars in the United States, $160 in Japan.  Let’s ramp up the crisis to an emergency appendectomy.  $20,000 in the United States.  $3,600 in Japan.  I could be way off on the US figures now.  Last week, a guy posted his appendectomy bill online from Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento, California.  His came up to 55,000 dollars.   It’s beyond ridiculous.  Sharks have taken medical care out of reach of almost everyone.  I wrote a few thought in a previous blog I did during the American election season.

Connection to the Community

I have often said, Americans move in and out of communities.  Japanese become one with their communities.  Instead of moving to a “better” community, Japanese thrive to “better” their community.    We as Americans are very vocally harsh on our elected and appointed officials.  It’s “Obama this and Obama that.”  “The Mayor is incompetent.”  “Morons at the public works department are dragging their asses getting the snowplows and salt trucks out again.”  Geez,  America!  We need grow the Eff up, already!   If I remember correctly, we sent Mayor Morrisey and President Obama back for another term.  Why can’t we learn to take more responsiblity.  For example, last year it took me 2 hours to drive 6 miles to work because the river breached the levees and I was constantly turning back another way.  At each intersection, I would meet a farmer or an 80 year old woman telling people dont go there, try that way.  When disasters hit, big or small, Japanese grab their shovels first and go outside.  Probably, when the tsunami hit in 2011, the locals knew where to look for victims pretty quickly.  That is because they would be showing their faces outside.  Looting?  What is that?  Japanese don’t even comprehend how someone could do that.  Twice a year, I direct school kids on the street with my little PTA flag.   Japan doesn’t waste money on crossing guards.  The parents rotate the responsiblity as well as senior citizens do.  Every couple months, I do neighborhood cleanup and weed the grass around the community center and remove buildup of mud from the street drainage with my neighbors.  For Japanese, its common sense.  In America, I heard public housing was going to ask residents who get FREE housing to contribute a couple hours a month as condition for their residency.  Some actually complained how it was too harsh for disabled people and single moms.

Taking care of Infastructre

In Rockford, I have never made it down 20th Street from O’Leary Acres to Harrison Avenue without either hitting or swerving around a pothole.  Strangley enough, I cannot remember the last time I saw a gaping pothole in Japan.  Nuff said.

Public Safety

Fancy word for crime management here.  Japan is not crime free.  My apartment was burglarized more than 10 years ago.  When I called the police in my poor Japanese speech, 8 of them arrived.  I was kind of embarrassed because although I had a broken window, I scared the burglar away by coming back suddenly and nothing was taken.  In contrast, in Rockford, Illinois my mother had her purse snatched while sitting down eating breakfast at McDonalds.  The police there are too busy to come out for calls like that and she was told to come downtown to public safety building and file a report.  Luckily, the perp was filmed by the McDonalds security camera which my mother informed the police of.  Her card was used to fill two tanks.  Once again security cameras.  Later, she asked the manager of McDonalds if the police followed up to review the tape and he said no.  If that is not incompetence, I do not know what is.  A purse is taken from someone nearly 80.  It has identification with the address of a property and sets of keys inside to everything.  Yet, Rockford Police do not consider that a concern or a big enough priority to look at a tape.  WTF, Rockford.

Another point I observed in Japan is a powerful weapon used by police.  Shame and shame.  A local teen either stole a bicycle at the store or vandalized something.  So, I look outside and there are 3 cop cars in front of my neighbors house.  The teenager is standing in bright light in front of the cruisers headlights talking with his parents and the police.  Its was something minor I picked up on, but the conversation went on for over an hour and the mom was crying.  So the police won’t take your troublemaking kid to the station and call you.  They take him home and have the conference in front of your house for all your nosey neighbors to hear.   The kid will probably not go to court but his parents will immediately pay for the damage and do a lot of bowing to the crime victim.

Turning to Family as Opposed to Public Assistance

Shame works for crime but it also works for keeping many Japanese away from public assistance.  It is considered a great family shame to have someone on public assistance unless they are severely disabled or elderly.   Actually, I read some time ago, that the local government does home visits to ensure people do not have luxuries and are truly needy.  Many Japanese do shun working productive jobs.  The hikkomori for example.  There is an English acronym for it.  Its N.E.E.T  which means not engaged in employment, education or training.  They might be single men in the 30s still living with their Mommies playing video games all day.  That is also a shame but not as much as applying for assistance.  Japanese are expected to rely on assistance within and not task the working taxpayers.  The numbers of people on public assistance in America is staggering.  The number of people on permenant disability grows every year.  I cannot wrap my head around it.  If one can walk erect, drive a vehicle, have reasonable sight and hearing why America cannot place more of these people in productive jobs is beyond me.  Why does the American government find it a better investment to provide cash benefits than to get some retraining programs going?  Truthfully, there are people in our clan who haven’t joined the work force recently.  However, to their credit they are relying on helo within the family and not tasking strangers with the financial burden of supporting them?  Maybe our welfare system is too private and with all stigmas removed, it is easier for people to pursue.  What if we listed applicants in the local paper and then the neighbors said, Aha.. He drives an Escalade and sends his daughter to expensive ballet lessons.  Sounds draconian, but the numbers of people receiving assistance and the abuses are too great.

Pray for our country.  We have a long way to to go.


From the Outside Looking In: “Why Can’t We Beat Japan?”

-Kevin G. O’Leary

I have spent a great deal of time living and working in Japan since 1989. It certainly is a long time to be away from the United States. I never considered myself a Japanophile at all rather I am somewhat of an economic refugee. My earning power is more stable and higher here as long as maintain a balance between my own enterprise and selectively taking on work that is both profitable and meaningful. Truthfully, I desire to be back with my own people in my own country. I am often very critical of what my homeland has become and want America to become great once again. Americans who respond to my observations and opinions with, “Gee Kevin since you love it so much over there, why don’t you stay there until you die?” Or if I am living in the United States at the time, “Kevin, why don’t you just go back over there, then?” Stupidity like that just falls on deaf ears. I would be more likely to just respond by telling the person to go off and do an anatomically challenging sexual act on themselves. That means hey, go eff yourself, but Cheery OLeery’s aren’t raised to talk that way. It is time, we as Americans stop beating our chests and telling ourselves we are the greatest and humbly take a good self-inventory of ourselves and our nation.

Why is Japan beating us in almost every area? Do they work harder than Americans? Are they smarter than we are? Are Asians genetically superior?

Fortunately, the answer is no as far as I have seen by working in both cultures. Contrary to the stereotypes, there are plenty of lazy ass Japanese workers and a fair share of dimwits toiling away managing to hold onto jobs across the great Land of the Rising Sun. Some of the strangest birds are engaged in teaching.

In reality, the Japanese educational system is not much to write home about. Those fancy test scores we all read about come from students who spend 3 hours after school in cram schools. The level of school is determined more by external influences more than the brilliant educators and students within. It is mandatory for every student to finish junior high school. High school is not a requirement. High schools are seperated into institutions that are “academic” and “technical.” Academic basically means the students are likely to be college bound. Technical, agricultural or commercial high schools groom most of their young people for the service industry and various trades. Since high school is actually not a requirement in Japan, seats in academic public schools are highly competitive and most students do not pass the entrance examinations. As strange as it sounds to Americans, the Japanese government does not guarantee everyone a public high school education. To serve the students who fall short, a huge number of private high schools are available. These private high schools as a recruitment incentive offer several “academic” courses of study, so that some can advance on to higher education after graduation. Generally, I found most teachers to be mediocre at that subject matter and yet severely overworked. In Japan, teachers are responsible for the moral development of the students and are responsible for the students well being 24/7. Even if an ambitious teacher wanted to pursue an MA in Education or higher level training, it is extremely difficult to manage with their added responsibilities. Most of the English teachers I have worked with are often unaware of the latest advances in the language acquisition research. Besides, being far behind the times, teachers in Japan are quite territorial and often put other priorities above developing the academic abilities of students in their charge. The task of individual edcuational development of students falls on the private after school cram schools which have a huge presence in Japan. These cram schools are costly and a student’s options for supplemental tutoring depend on how deep their parent’s pockets are. I have observed that teachers are not under as much pressure to advance their skills as someone in private industry. The above observations are likely why I find so much weirdness and lackluster performance among Japan’s teachers. I find Japanese teachers to be highly individualistic just like good old Americans. Contrast that with their counterparts working in industry and production, there is clear difference.

Japanese in general are very community oriented. Individual virtues are not nearly important to most people as being part of a group. They are not nearly as focused on advancing themselves as they are advancing the success of their organization. This is a clear cultural difference and it is one that Americans really need to learn about to be globally competitive. In previous articles, I ranted about how much personal nonsense that is infested in American workplaces. This clearly has an impact on organizational productivity. Workers need to be focused on their job at hand and not be distracted by self-serving obnoxious workplace bullies. There is no place for cliques when the time clock is punched. If the company is profitable, it is reasonable that the financial benefits will trickle down to the workers. This is not always true in today’s American workplaces as upper management has grown apathetic to dealing with employee personal problems and under constant threat of labor actions and claims by unhappy employees.

Late last year, Sensata Corporation closed a manufacturing facility in my hometown of Freeport, Illinois. Freeport is one of the lowest cost areas in the country yet the products produced are highly accessible to outbound shipping to anywhere around the world. On the other side of the ocean, Sensata’s Japanese manufacturing facilities remained intact. It is certainly worth considering what kind of criteria was evaluated when deciding which facilities close and which remain in operation. Land costs in Japan are much higher than in Northwest Illinois. Transportation is without a doubt higher considering gasoline in Japan is six dollars a gallon. Employers are obligated to make mandatory social health insurance and pension matching contributions for their workers making labor overhead quite high. It would be reasonable to assume that the Freeport facility cost a fraction to operate compared to the Japanese plants. I would be curious to know if the justification for shipping jobs to China was based on apathy by the corporate head honchos. In America, how many times in Sensata’s history has a strike or organized labor action occured? How many workman’s compensation claims have been submitted? What is the punctionality and absenteeism record at Sensata? What are the units per month compared to other facilities around the world? Is Illinois a business friendly environment? Now, compare this with Japan or China’s Sensata plants or a similarly sized operation. Are American employees and regulatory government regulations more hostile to enterprises than in Asia? We need to ask these questions and do an extensive self-inventory of our work environments. What do we need to consider to jump back on the globe again?

Now, I have kind of peeled some skin back and gave some readers a rash with this. Up to this point, I was focusing on recent workers who may have lost their jobs or those who are currently working. But what about those who are not? I read the other day that a record 8.9 million people are on disability? Good grief, people! Yes, some need that kind of assistance, I understand. What I find strange is that in the 25 years, I have been in and out of Japan, I cannot even count on one hand people I know who are totally dependent on other taxpayers that are of working age. Once again, it is cultural divide we have between the two countries. I was particularly disturbed reading about Katherine Russell Tsanarev, the wife of the Boston bomber. She was on welfare up until the end of last year for a considerable amount of time. Yet, on television I see those pictures of that beautiful home of her parents in Rhode Island. Dad is medical doctor and mom is registered nurse. How disfunctional American families have become that people cannot take care of the own! It isn’t like she was disowned from her kin since she is living with them now. This type of situation is virtually non-existent in Japan. Japanese people are truely ashamed to take welfare themselves or have a family on assistance, yet those who have no other means do so. I thank God I was blessed to be born into a family that is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain self-sufficiency. My parents and my siblings are highly educated people who have had more than a few burps in their employment chronology. When my father, a public school teacher lost his tenure, the Dakota school district cut him away like a piece of fat on a porkchop, He didn’t whine and demand an job of equal stauts. He went looking for work willing to pump gas, by golly. My sister has an MA in Education, lives in high cost of living area and she always does what needs to be done. When the university cut back on her lecture hours, she learned how to say, “Do you want fries with that?” She worked the counters in fast food and clerked at a health food store. That is how she was made. When I left the military, I did not find much commensurate with my skills. I put on an apron, washed dishes and waited tables at the Hollywood Dining Center. Just a year and a half ago, I had to resign suddenly from a general manager job and return to my family. Although I am an experienced teacher, I came back in the middle of the school year and had to look for other work. I found a job processing vegetables in a factory. I was ridiculed on the internet by a 21 year old University of Wisconsin intern for it. Not one member of my family and not one Japanese person thought it was a silly thing to do. As a matter of fact, I like it so much I plan on keeping the midnight part time job for two more years. I know I sound like Forrest Gump when I say that. I am an executive by day and vegetable killer by night.

I write as I see things. Make no mistake, I very much love my country. I am a patriot. Nothing would please me more than to help America succeed. I don’t think I need to apologize because I have a lot invested in the United States of America. I wore the uniform defending my country for two enlistements. I own a home in the area of my upbringing where I will return to soon. I certainly hope people welcome me back home in spite of my overly direct opinions. Afterall, what good am I if I just say what you want to hear. I want to make a positive contribution. You folks just wait until I get going on my gun control article!

God bless America.