3/11 Tsunami opens window of opportunity

First and foremost:

Huge, heartfelt congratulations to the Japan team that won the women’s World Cup last Sunday, against all odds beating the US team 3-1 after a penalty shootout.  This was the first time Japan had beaten the US in women’s football (soccer) in 26 games and the first time an Asian country won the women’s World Cup. The Japanese  so-called “Nadeshiko”team overcame aerial strength and height superiority to achieve victory with their Japanese strengths in teamwork (organization, efficient midfield formations), a never-give-up attitude, and gutsy spirit.

And these are the same strengths on world display of Japan following the 3/11 earthquake and tsunami—resilience and nobility to be wonderfully proud of. In fact, the Japan women’s team watched the grim footage of the tsunami to increase their motivation.

Gerald Curtis @Foreign Press Club

Today I attended a professional luncheon and press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan. Speaking to the group was Gerald Curtis, Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, Visiting Professor at Waseda University, and Senior Fellow at the International Institute for Economic Studies and Tokyo Foundation. Professor Curtis has been among the most widely respected and often quoted commentators on Japanese politics for 40+ years and has repeatedly visited Tohoku since 3/11.

Professor Curtis does not mince words. He lambasted the response of the incumbent Prime Minister Kan, the DPJ ruling party and the opposing party in response to the 3/11 disaster and predicted that Prime Minister Kan will be out of office by the end of August, but he may “not go quietly.” He emphasized the role of a leader as more than someone who can say something boldly, but rather someone who can also get something done. He derided Prime Minister Kan as someone who takes up pet projects, hangs on them tenaciously, and then drops then to move on to something else, without ever having the vision or designing the strategy to bring an idea to fruition.

Putting it bluntly, he remarked that Prime Minister Kan could not organize himself out of a box.

In this political vacuum, however, Professor Curtis sees a groundswell of activity outside of the national realm to give hope:

One is the emergence of local leaders, mayors and governors in Tohoku and other Japan areas who are active, pragmatic leaders, who realize the limitations and bureaucracy of the national administration, and who are taking charge.

Two is the activism of the private sector to help rebuild Tohoku, including Mitsubishi Corp and other companies, which have set up large funds, and Toyota Corporation, which restarted its plan to open an engine factory (and training school for its workers) in or near Sendai.

Three is the renaissance of volunteerism in Japan, including workers who hop on a ‘volunteer bus’ after work on Friday, spend the weekend cleaning up disaster-torn Tohoku, sleep in tents, and travel overnight on Sunday to return to Tokyo for work Monday morning.

The combined strength of these three groups provides vital force to help Japan not only recover but to grow stronger. 3/11 provides the golden opportunity to achieve reform, moving away from the current dependency on high-risk nuclear power generation to the promotion of renewable energies, which draws on the technology strength of Japan, stimulates fresh entrepreneurship, and creates jobs.

With strong leaders in place, Japan can move forward to create a sustainable model for the future and avoid a steady but inevitable decline. Despite a decreasing population, Japan has a rich pool of current as well as not fully tapped high-energy workers to meet its economic needs, including older workers and women.

The victory of Japan in the women’s World Cup and the outpouring of volunteerism to help rebuild Tohoku have given Japanese a renewed sense of pride in what it means to be Japanese, and confirmed the strength of core Japanese values. What’s missing is leadership. Bring forward and develop the leadership potential you have to turn challenge to opportunity. You can and must do it. And will.

All the best,

Warren J. Devalier

©2011 Warren J. Devalier