I had drinks in this posh area called Nishi Azabu with people I met when I still lived in NY. Japanese, who went to Harvard-Yale-Princeton-Stanford equivalents of Japan. They work in a mega ad agency, that would be like a McKinsey-Bain, combined with say, Ogilvy in the US, because Japanese people like to dissect everything, even marketing campaigns, come up with super complicated solutions on a 200 slide Power Point with no execution methods. Late 30s, possibly 40s since with the Japanese, one could never tell real ages.
Pleasant small talk was exchanged and they got right down to what they wanted to ask: What are you doing in Tokyo?
Which was followed up by: “You don’t belong here. There’s no place for someone like you in Tokyo.” and ended with: “No matter how hot you are, you’re not going to impact Japan — Japan doesn’t want change. We don’t need change. There’s no room for someone like you. So let us ask again, what are you doing here?”
I sat there, not knowing what to say back. The people I have met in Tokyo so far, have been beyond welcoming and even excited that someone like me (bilingual, raised in the US and most importantly, of Japanese blood) moved to Tokyo. Then it hit me: perhaps this is how some Japanese view me but while sober, too polite and composed to be honest.
That conversation was the massive wake-up call I needed. It was necessary in order to see for myself, the types of people who sit on top of mega Japanese corporations.
Those words are also the reason I am in Tokyo. Those words reaffirmed how much disruption this country still has room for, as we have seen time and time again, the many companies run by people who think themselves, their products and / or their services are invincible. So they move forward with the tried and tested business that works, focusing only on efficiency to maintain the one or few success methods. And the automation stifles innovation and ultimately, becomes their downfall on their way to failure, no matter how successful the track record. Microsoft, RIM, Dell, MySpace, HP, etc., etc., Japan, is dangerously on that path: Sony, Nintendo, Canon, Olympus, Panasonic, Mixi, Gree, DeNa, et al.,
Japan is just begging to be disrupted.
And I am looking forward to playing a part in the disruption.
ADDED 11/11/13: please don’t misunderstand — this doesn’t apply to all Japanese people. Japan is a country with such rich history and of course, there will be underlying past cultural remnants such as: nationalism and sexism intertwined — even in 2013. This doesn’t make me hate this country or my people. I am not discouraged nor disappointed. At all.