[Viewpoint] Power of the remaining 4 percent

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[Viewpoint] Power of the remaining 4 percent

“What’s up with them?”

All my friends visiting Japan from Korea have this same question about how Japanese newly recruited office workers dress up.

Men wear skinny black suit with white shirt, and women wore black jacket and skirt with white blouse.

When they walk around the streets, they look like high school students in uniform.

Japan probably is the only country where all the new recruits wear the “uniform.” But the Japanese people take the practice naturally because of “yokonarabi” which means everyone in formation.

It is their world. They have been taught not to stand out since their childhood. So it is hard to think differently with a spirit of challenge. Even the few who did so are not easily accepted. That’s why when a crisis come, everyone often stays idle and gives up.

But the situation was different in the 1980s, when I spent my student years in Japan. In 1991, an enormous typhoon arrived at the Aomori Prefecture in the northern part of Japan.

The wind speed was as fast as 53.9 meters per second. It was a harvest time for apples, but all the fruits fell off from trees. Often a typhoon lowers the produce by 10 percent in normal years, but the harvest went down by 96 percent.

Everyone was giving up, but Aomori’s young leader Ryoichi Miura presented a different idea. “Let’s not look at the 96 percent of the fallen apples, but focus on the 4 percent of apples on the trees,” he said. Miura named the remaining 4 percent of the apples “unfalling apples.”

On the boxes, he placed slogans that “Apples that endured 53.9 meters-per-second typhoon winds” and drawings of the apple trees. The boxes also bore slogans “Good Luck for Exam.”

The apples instantly became the best sellers for the students preparing for college admissions and their parents because of the association between college admission and “unfalling.” The prices instantly became 30 times higher than ordinary apples. The unique idea saved Aomori in the end.

Sony’s Walkman, one of the greatest inventions of Japan’s 20th century, also came from a unique idea. It was first developed in 1979. The product had a great audio performance, but it was not equipped with recording function.

While the company was about to discard this failure, someone suggested it will stand out as a machine to just listen to music because the device had such a great audio performance. After all, the idea was welcomed and brought a fortune to Sony.

In his interview about a month ago, Akio Mimura, the chairman of Nippon Steel Corporation, gave an interesting analysis. He compared the spirits of Korea, China and Japan with the numbers of students currently studying at the Harvard University.

In his analysis, although Japan has the largest number of alumni in the world, about 400 Chinese students are studying at the university, while 200 are Koreans and 110 are Japanese. And of the 110 Japanese students, only a single freshman from Japan enrolled last year, he said. His analysis shows that the current Japanese society is extremely inner-oriented.

Japan’s clock seems to have stopped as if it were a stopwatch, and the only chance to move it is a great leader. Japan needs a leader with a unique idea who can focus on the power of the remaining 4 percent of apples, not the fallen 96 percent.

That’s also a key for the prosperity of Korea as well as East Asia.

I feel a bit sorry to be critical about a neighboring country, but I did so because the Hatoyama administration was tottering so badly, despite high expectations.

*The writer is the Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Kim Hyun-ki
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