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Japan’s European friends

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Many people like to compare Japan with Germany or even Britain.  Does it make sense?

It is true that the Japanese share some traits with Germans.  We are both hard working, well organized peoples.  We have a particular bent for making things, which has helped us become manufacturing giants.

But it is also true that there is a certain similarity between us Japanese and the British.  We are both island peoples at opposite ends of the Euro-Asian land mass.  Neither of us is quite sure whether we are part of our neighboring continent or not.  Even though we have been influenced immensely by our continental neighbors, we feel somewhat independent and tend to feel a certain sense of “exceptionalism”.  We are both unique peoples with unique destinies, different from the rest of mankind.  We remain essentially tribal people.  Not surprisingly, we both still have royal families as symbols of our long tribal history. 

Perhaps one of the regrettable aspects of both our cultures is the penchant of our men for drinking and hanging out with other men, and leaving the girls to themselves.

But neither Germany nor Britain really captures the spirit of Japan.  In many ways we Japanese are more like the Italians.  Both our politics are chaotic, with constant infighting and leadership changes.  And when it comes to being macho, no-one can beat the Japanese and Italian men. 

Organized crime is regrettably a strong element in both our societies through Italy’s mafia and Japan’s yakuza.  I don’t know why but we tend to accept these criminal elements as part of life.  Is it because we have such little trust in government?  Or do we see them as modern versions of Robin Hood? 

Although both Japan and Italy have some big multinational companies, the strength of both of our economies is the micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises.  We love owning little shops, restaurants and factories.  We also hide our money away in mattresses and futons and all sorts of things, and escape taxes. 

The OECD once wrote a report which claimed that money's destiny is to become digital.  They don’t understand the importance of money to an underground economy.  Even if the government abolished money, we would find a way to hide our wealth and transactions, even if we returned to barter.

When you visit IKEA in Tokyo, you also realize that our Japanese sense of aesthetic is quite similar to that of the Swedes.  Not surprising, given the importance of timber in our respective countries.

And when you think about, we have a bit in common with the French.  We both have arrogant bureaucratic elites who have not been doing a good job running our countries.  We also share a culture of refinement in the arts and cuisine.  There are no bigger fans of Impressionism, Art Nouveau or Le Corbusier than the Japanese.  And Japanese women are just as fashionable as the French, if not more so.    

However, we will never compete with the French when it comes to ladies’ underwear.  I am always amazed by the posters of ladies’ overfull panties and bras in the streets of Paris.

As Europe is mired in its sovereign debt crisis, the old continent is struggling to find an identity or a glue to hold it together.  All things considered, Japan seems to be almost a pastiche of different bits and pieces of European culture.  Not surprising, we have always borrowed from abroad, and then adapted and adopted these imported things as our own.

Old Europe should come over here for a bit of inspiration.



The Future of Money, OECD