[Viewpoint]Opportunities in disguise

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[Viewpoint]Opportunities in disguise

In the summer of 2003, I heard a somewhat hard-to-believe story from a Japanese friend. He said the presidents of six factories in a small village in Osaka were working to launch an artificial satellite. I couldn’t believe small factories would embark on such an endeavor.

I was intrigued and visited the place, and the story turned out to be true. The presidents ran small companies that manufacture aircraft components and electronic communications equipment. Their companies each had about 10 employees.

At the time, Japan’s stock market had fallen by half in just over a year and half, and small firms were going bankrupt one after another. Osaka’s economy was among the hardest hit.

“We are not sending our dreams into space. Rather our dreams are sending our satellite,” one of the Osaka businessmen said after I asked about the project’s feasibility.

Five and a half years have passed, and Maido No. 1 was successfully launched from Tanegashima Space Center on Jan. 2. It was an epoch-making event.

I apologize to the presidents and workers of the six factories for questioning the reality of their “dream.”

Konosuke Matsushita, who founded Matsushita Group, the predecessor of today’s Panasonic, once said “A boom is welcome, but a recession is more welcome.”

What he meant is that innovative products and technologies are created in times of crisis. History proves he was right.

In 1907, one year after the first widespread recession of the 20th century, Henry Ford began producing the Ford Model T, which began the era of mass production and mass consumption. Eniac, the first computer, was created the year after the end of World War II. When the global economy was in shock in the aftermath of the second oil shock in 1979, Sony became a global company by producing an innovative product, the Walkman.

Today, we are living in an era of economic crisis, perhaps the worst in a century. However, this is no time for us to sit idle.

Innovative products may be born at any time, which is why Toyota’s recent moves should be of interest.

Last year, Toyota recorded a sales deficit, the first in the company’s history. It is a crisis, but Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe did not use the word “crisis.”

He, instead, describes this as a period of learning for the future.

What does he mean by that? It means he is obsessed with the present when cars sell well, but in times of crisis, he can aim for the future.

And Toyota’s future is a dream car that can be operated with only solar energy - not a hybrid or fuel cell vehicle.

This secret weapon is being developed at Higashi-fuji Technical Center in Shizuoka.

Perhaps in the near future, we may hear the news that “a dream car has finally arrived after the unprecedented economic crisis.”

Not only companies, but also Japan as a country is trying hard to transform a political crisis into an opportunity, with the inauguration of Barack Obama as United States president. Japan’s diplomacy has largely been centered on U.S. Republicans, and the launch of a Democratic administration could spell a crisis for Japan.

Hillary Clinton, who is known for emphasizing China and downplaying Japan, recently said in her Senate confirmation hearing for U.S. Secretary of State that the U.S.?Japan alliance is the foundation for America’s Asia policy.

It is, however, not widely known that Clinton had changed her stance because Daniel Inouye a Democratic senator and a businessman of Japanese descent who has been a strong patron of Clinton has worked vigorously to state Japan’s case.

A pro-Japan Harvard professor, Joseph Nye, was reluctant to accept the post of U.S. ambassador to Japan, and the Japanese learned that the reason was his wife’s reluctance to live overseas. Japan, however, managed to persuade the couple.

In order to befriend Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who is known to have close connections to Obama, Japan mobilized the Japanese owner of a Honolulu golf club.

In Korea, confrontations between the ruling and opposition parties, police and protesters, and groups with different ideologies, are fierce.

Today, what we truly need is the fierceness of researchers at Toyota. What we need is a fierceness to find the best alternatives amid the pursuit of mutual survival.

The days after the Lunar New Year holiday are not too late to change our behavior.


*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Hyun-ki

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