Japan Without Blinders

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Unlike many recent business books about Japan, JAPAN WITHOUT BLINDERS is not a Japan-bashing polemic. Nor is it a pro-Japan apologia, though some will probably view it as such. What Oppenheim attempts is much more difficult: an evenhanded examination of the reasons for Japan’s current success, and an objective look at her critics’ complaints.

Oppenheim is well qualified for the task. As a businessman with experience in England, Europe, the United States, and Japan, he has a truly international perspective. As a Member of Parliament, he has also seen the question from the governmental side. He finds Japan’s greatest competitive strengths not in trade barriers, central governmental planning, or unfair competitive practices, but in her adaptive response to her condition as an island nation poor in natural resources.

These circumstances have led Japan to treat her people as the greatest natural resource, emphasizing training and education much more than in the West. The national market for goods and services is intensely competitive, but due to its small size, growth-oriented companies have always considered exporting a necessity. The same need for growth has driven Japanese industries relentlessly up the product cycle—never complacent, they have always moved on to the newest technology, even leaving less profitable, lower-technology, product lines to competitors. And they have done this with a long-term perspective, building competitive position for the years ahead rather than just the next quarter.

But what about Japan’s alleged unfair trading practices? Oppenheim acknowledges that the Japanese have subsidized industries and maintained trade barriers—but so has the West, and often to a greater extent. Japan’s economic accomplishments are the result of many factors, most of which reduce to sensible public policy and good business practice. The best parts of Japan’s approach can and should be imitated by the West.