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Jidai Festival, Kyoto

Gion Festival & other Kyoto goodies

Archive for January, 2011

Movie: Beijing IMBA

January 26th, 2011 | Posts By interface | Filed in: Movies

©2011 Warren J. Devalier


January 25th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Culture

Byobu— Tokugawa Period

Samurai swords,

the warrior’s métier

in halcyon time.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been enamored of poetry, and from time to time like to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) and compose it.

My favorite poets are Dante Alighieri and Pablo Neruda. Perhaps no one will ever top Dante for the profundity of his poetry in the Divine Comedy, and Neruda, the so-called surrealist poet, is inimitable in his ability to capture in poetic language the beauty of natural things. Both poets wrote natively in phonetic languages, enabling them to capture sound with a certain rhythm that speaks for itself, a kind of beautiful music to the ears, even without understanding the lyrics that go along with it.

Consider the opening lines in Dante’s The Inferno, translated by Robert Pinsky:

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

Mi ritrovai per una selva oscura

Che la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era è cosa dura

Esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte

che nel pensier rinova la paura!

Tant’ è amara che poco è più morte…

Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself

In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell

About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough

And savage that thinking of it now, I feel

The old fear stirring: death is hardly more bitter.

Or the verse of Pablo Neruda in Being Born in the Woods, translated by W. S. Merwin:

Llevo en mi mano la paloma que duerme reclinada en la semilla

y en su fermento espeso de cal y sangre

vive Agosto,

vive el mes extraído de su copa profunda:

con mi mano rodeo la neuva sombra del ala que crece:

la raíz y la pluma que mañana formarán la espesura.

I carry in my hand the dove that sleeps recumbent in the seed

and in its dense ferment of lime and blood

August lives,

raised out of its deep goblet the month lives:

with my hand I encircle the new shadow of the wing that is growing:

the root and the feather that will form the thicket of tomorrow.

I’ve appreciated Japanese haiku ever since I came to Japan, most particularly that of the masters Bashô, Buson, Issa (technically haikai artists) and Shiki, who coined the term haiku.

Haiku also benefits from the phonetic characteristic of the Japanese language.

Feel the rhythm in this haiku of Kobayashi Issa, translated by David C. Lanoue:


yûgure wo hetana shigure no tôri keri

passing through evening
the winter rain

Like most things in Japan there is a strict form for composing haiku, classically, 17 mora, or units of sound, in three praises of 5, 7, and 5 moras each. Traditional haiku also contain a kigo, or seasonal reference.

In English, this traditional structure is not strictly observed. For one reason, more meaning can sometimes be captured in a single English word consisting of one syllable than in its Japanese equivalent with more units of sound. For example, dance (noun) is one syllable; its Japanese equivalent is odori (3 syllables) or dansu. In a free-form style English haiku writers may not include a seasonal word either.

As I am just a beginner in haiku, I generally stick to a 5-7-5 structure or a 3-5-3 structure. The beauty of haiku is that they are concisely expressed short poems that lend themselves to twitter, which limits messaging to 140 characters. It’s fun to write haiku, playing with words to evoke something with special meaning. Much more fun for me than solving a cross-word puzzle.

Northern Thailand

What does Buddha think

of all the tourists

in the skyline bliss?

Kamogawa Kyoto

Under the delft sky

the heron glances northward

to Shimogamo

Looking towards Myanmar

Golden triangle

where burnished poppies temper

discordant feeling

Kyoto Ryoanji

Across a pale moon

snow clouds drifting in the night

nature’s dreamscape

Vegetable shop in Kyoto

A farmer’s bounty

makes its way to the market

radiating warmth

Japanese Theater Mask

Who is it really

joining the masquerade ball

with transparency?

Kurama-Kibune Trail Kyoto

Marathon runner

aloft on a lonely path

greets his nemesis

Himalayas near Nepal border

On pristine waters

song was born dancing

to flamenco rhythm

Shoren-in Kyoto

In the temple pond

the carp bows graciously

to distinguished guests

El Arrayan, Chile

Whether or not, or

not whether, rather weather,

the skies are fairer


All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

Keidanren’s Future Cities

January 21st, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: General

Keidanren's Chairman

Today I joined a professional luncheon at the Foreign Correspondents’  Club of Japan. Speaking at the press conference was Hiromasa Yonekura, Chairman of Nippon Keidanren, who read prepared remarks in English, followed by Q&A. In his remarks, Yonekura reiterated the Keidanren’s Growth Strategy, which includes comprehensive reform of the tax, public finance and social security systems. The Growth Strategy calls for an immediate increase in the consumption tax from 5% to 10% and eventually to 20%, with the increases targeted to support the social security system. The Keidanren supports reduction in the effective corporate tax rate to 30%.

Yonekura spoke of the critical need for Japan to join the TPP or be left behind, as well as of  the importance of agricultural reform, in an industry where 60% of the farmers are older than 65, much farmland is abandoned, and small farm size limits economies of scale. He supports the liberalization of immigration policy and cited Singapore’s approach as a good model, encouraging the immigration of skilled labor and flexible to adjust to economic shifts.

None of this is new information. What did catch my ear was the Keidanren’s “Sunrise” initiative. Yonekura commented that the Keidanren has 22 projects on the drawing boards to promote innovation and capture the strength of Japan in technology and human capital. Among these projects are the so-called future cities,  private sector initiatives aimed at stimulating technological innovation to strengthen Japan’s industrial competitiveness. The Keidanren targets completion of a concrete action plan next March for this project, in which businesses would invest in selected towns with populations between 200,000-300,000, shouldering the principal financial risk in cooperation with support from local governments. An investment that has been mentioned is development of technology to extract and recycle rare earth minerals from scrapped electric appliances and automobile equipment.

With his background as chairman of Sumitomo Chemical and his off-the-record candid remarks, Yonekura impressed me as a person of action. Let’s hope so.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

Art & Culture

January 20th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: Culture

Japanese Folding Screen

Japan is recognized for its cutting-edge technology, as indicated in the global competitiveness of its hybrid and all-electric cars and electric chargers, or R&D intensity (R&D/GDP) and patents/GDP rates. Aside from cars and electronics from Japan, sushi is ubiquitous in the West, emblematic of Japan’s cultural influence—and everyone knows of Japan’s traditional martial arts: judo, karate, sumo, jujutsu, aikido, kenjutsu (swordfighting) and kendo, popularized especially after  filming of “The Last Samurai.” I have known a few Westerners who did not like raw fish (leaving more for the rest of us to eat!) but never known anyone who did not enjoy watching a live sumo match.

Another Byobu

Far less known are other elements of Japanese culture, such as bunraku (puppet theater) or Japanese modern painting, so-called nihonga. I marvel at the artistry of bunraku, where a skilled puppeteer can make the puppet come alive so that at the end of the theater you feel its humanness, as with Oshichi in Date Musume Koi no Hikanoko, among my favorites. I’ve watched Bunraku in its entirety at the National Theater of Japan in Tokyo and parts of Date Musume Koi no Hikanoko countless times at the Gion Corner in Kyoto.


I wish that some curator would organize a worldwide exhibition of Japanese nihonga, modern art that competes readily on the world stage. In the Meiji era Japanese were enamored with French impressionism (and still are) and Japanese woodblock print artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige were popular in France in the heyday of  impressionist art. In this sense, impressionism influenced Japanese art and Japanese artists had an influence on the impressionists.


In nihonga, Japanese modern artists returned to their cultural roots, with artistic themes commonly centered on what Japanese understand best: nature. They painted on traditional Japanese paper (washi) or silk and originally produced their art in hanging scrolls (kakemono) or screens (byobu), although these art forms were introduced much earlier, kakemono in the Heian period (794-1195) and byobu in the Nara period (646-794). Instead of painting in oil nihonga artists used ink pigments derived from minerals, corals, and semi-precious stones.


There are so many things for Japanese to feel proud of. Nihonga is certainly one of them.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

The Wine MBA

January 13th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: General

Château Mouton Rothschild 2000

For you sommeliers out there.

I thought I had heard it all in MBA industry. In 22 years as an MBA consultant, I have visited most of the MBA programs worldwide, in the US from Harvard (HBS) to Stanford (GSB), and everywhere in-between, in Asia from Beijing University (BIMBA) and Tsinghua  University in China to the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad, and in Europe from London Business School and Cambridge (Judge) to INSEAD, IESE, and IMD. And of course MBA programs in Japan.

But here is a program new to me: The Wine MBA of the Bordeaux Management School (BEM).

This is a 22-month part-time MBA program requiring out-of-office time of just 68 days, by combining distance learning courses and face-to-face residential sessions in London, Bordeaux, Hong Kong, Adelaide, and Davis (California).

The program encompasses modules in Management Fundamentals, Managing People, Wine Markets, and Research Methods.

Management Fundamentals covers six disciplines:

  • Wine Marketing, including branding and pricing, brand development for wine
  • Corporate Finance, including “finance in the wine industry,” in addition to traditional courses in finance
  • Strategic Management, including “wine and arts: a strategic alliance”
  • Supply Chain and Operations Management
  • Information Systems Management
  • Wine Economics, including “wine prices, wine and investment,” and the “wine MBA experiment”

Participants take 520 taught hours and 1000 hours of personal work during inter-sessions. Teaching methods include the formal taught sessions, workshops, case studies, and industry visits.

Pre-requisites for applying: a bachelor’s degree and minimum 3 years work experience. If you have not worked in the wine sector you must submit a detailed project (plan) to enter the field. The TOEFL and GMAT are also required.

This is a good time to invest in wine.

The Liv-Ex Fine Wine 50 index, which tracks price movements of the most heavily traded commodities in the fine wine market – the Bordeaux First Growths (Haut Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild) rose 57% in 2010, outstripping the rise in gold prices. The big price push is heavily influenced by wealthy Chinese consumers.

Investors are speculating that 2010 Bordeaux wines will be spectacular.


All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

Teamwork: Japanese-style

January 7th, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: General

Kyoto stollers on Hanamikoji

My Japanese clients often pride themselves on their teamwork, and rightfully so.

Both in work and non-work situations, I have witnessed incredible performances in team collaboration. In one extracurricular case, I went mountain climbing in the Nihon Alps with some Japanese business associates. The evening before our big trek up the mountain we lodged at a university shelter. Another Japanese group was in the shelter. There was a brief period of introductions and then very quickly the two groups agreed to share the cooking of dinner, divided up the separate food provisions, and went to work. That was one of the best improvised meals I have ever had.

Japan’s challenge (among several challenges) is to succeed when the teams are not mono-cultural. As part of the grand strategy to expand overseas, and with painstakingly slow (but inevitably necessary) liberalization of immigration policy, Japan’s teams increasingly will have multicultural makeup. When the teams are all-Japanese, building consensus is not so difficult, because most Japanese making up the team share the same set of assumptions going in, whether related to business culture or general culture. In contrast, when the teams are diverse culturally, the Japanese struggle with differences in communication and negotiating style. Many times I have listened to Japanese describe proceedings in a meeting as ‘heated’ discussion when having participated in the meeting, from my cultural perspective it was not ‘heated’ at all, just a frank, open discussion of viewpoints.

Globalization is here to stay. It will never be reversed. On the contrary, globalization will intensify. Accompanying it will be more and more cross-cultural encounter. And the need to understand the new rules of engagement. It is not a matter of running roughshod over culture but rather acquiring the skill-set and know-how to adapt in order to maintain competitiveness. In order to survive.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier

Doing it with a smile

January 3rd, 2011 | Posts By Devalier | Filed in: General

Japanese wooden theater mask

Well I won’t ask you what your New Year’s resolution is.

To stop smoking? Or lose weight? Been there, done it, a thousand times. :)

But I do have a proposition for you.

And I shall follow my own advice:

Smile more.

Well it is not just the smile, your special charm.

It is also the action you take in company with that smile.

You don’t need to be a researcher in a school of public health to know that it takes the same energy to act positively than to react negatively.

Except that negativism produces stress, and stress leads to problems, mental and physical.

Irritated by a rude official going through customs and immigration or passing through security?

Blow it off with a smile. That official must be feeling a lot worse than you do.

On a train or subway flustered  by the little old lady elbowing her way through the crowd to get a seat?

Get up and give her your seat. With a smile. It’s as easy to text message or iPhone standing up as it is sitting down.

And your gesture of kindness pleases another, costing little to nothing.

It could become wholesomely contagious. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Frustrated by a waiter’s endless prattle of all the house ‘specials’?

Or a cab driver’s surly lip and non-existent sense of service?

Move on with a smile, forgoing the Pyrrhic victory of a caustic rejoinder.

Save the fight for a principle worth fighting for.

Just a thought in the early days of the year of the rabbit, passed on with a smile and a handshake.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier