Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 8 / AUGUST 1984 / PAGE 12

Why do an issue about Japan? (editorial) David H. Ahl.

Lawyers fight about how to cut up the pie, while engineers focus on how to make the pie bigger and better. That, I believe, is the essential difference between the American and Japanese societies.

The U.S. has roughly twice the population of Japan but annually graduates three times as many lawyers. We are a nation of laws and legislation and litigation. Who benefits from this? Mainly the lawyers. There are few professions that contribute less to the quality of life and economic well being of the nation than lawyers.

On the other hand, Japan, with half our population--packed, incidentally, into an area about the size of Montana--graduates twice as many engineers as does the U.S. Thus, on a per capita basis, there are four times as many engineers in Japan as in the U.S.As a rsult, far more people in business, education, and government have a technological background.

The result of this--and many other factors--is a central focus in Japan on economic independence (a bigger pie) through technological supremacy (a better pie). Fifty years from now in the U.S., we will still be arguing about how to cut it up.

When I first heard about MSX at the end of last year, I thought we probably should do a piece about it and, because many of the MSX manufacturers were unfamiliar names in the computer field, something about those companies as well. However, as I started looking into the Japanese computer industry and several specific companies, it became apparent that there was much larger story to be told.

Iterestingly, most of the people with whom I spoke about Japan seemed to be at one of two poles. The smaller of the two groups waved yellow flags with the slogan, "The Japanese are coming!" "Look what happened in steel and automobiles and hi-fi and TV sets and VCR's," they chanted. "Next it will be computers."

In the other camp were the entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley who said, "The Japanese don't have a chance. We're not like the stodgy executives in Pittsburgh and Detroit. We're running so fast, they'll never catch up." This view is reinforced by the software we have seen from Japan--mostly games--and the seeming inability oif the Japanese to produce business-oriented packages in a timely manner.

What is the real situation? The easy answer is that it lies somewhere between these two extremes. Sure, but where? In the middle, 60-40, close to one end, or what? I must confess that when I started on this issue, leaned to the Silicon Valley end; I felt the "yellow peril" people were being just a bit alarmist.

Now, six months later, after talking to scores of Japanese executives, researchers, and government officials, as well as U.S. experts on Japan, advanced computers, and public policy, I have shifted by position quite dramatically in the other direction.

On the other hand, my position is certainly not the only one; indeed, it may not be the correct one. Hence, I have attempted to gather in this issue the widest possible range of views. As you read the articles, you will be startled to find the same facts leading to entirely different conclusions.

Several of the authors are quite upset with me for doing this. One said, "I don't want to appear in the same magazine with X. He's a fraud." A Japanese writer commenting about an American said, "Sure, he's spent time in Japan, but he doesn't really understand the Japanese mentality."

That last comment is probably quite true. Few Americans truly understand the Japanese mentality. I made a chart of some outward features of Japanese people compared to Americans. Yes, may rankings are somewhat subjective and you can probably find fault with them. Nevertheless, the chart shows some significant differences.

First, the Japanese seem to be people of extremes; no middle-of-the road people these. Fanatic might be a better word. We may fault them for not being more individualistic or not granting equal opportunity to women (minorities are not an issue--there are none in Japan--blacks, whites, and even other orientals are not welcome in Japan, except on a temporary basis).

On the other hand, when they set their collective mind on a goal, there is no stopping them. They are dedicated. They cooperate with each other--people, companies, all elements of society--far beyond anything known in the Western world. They are perfectionist--with an element of pragmatism. And they are infinitely patient, but tenaciously persistent.

But, say the detractors, computers aren't the same as steel, ships, cameras, motorcycles, automobiles, TV sets, hi-fi systems, and VCRs. Computers are an intellectual tool. Maybe the Japanese can build good hardware but it will be outdated long before they can write any software. And furthermore, their marketing stinks.

To most people--consumers and business managers alike--computers are a mystery. Typical Japanese documentation and marketing will do nothing to dispel the idea that computers are incomprehensible. In this market, assigning more and more people to perfect the hardware is not what is needed.

These arguments sound persuasive, but they miss the fundamental issue. The reason the Japanese haven't been a major force in computers is that they haven't targeted the computer market, at least not until recently. In other words, they haven't even tried.

I said the Japanese were apatient people. They focus on long-term goals, not short-term ones. After World War II, Japanese planners focused on 50 years, not two or three. First, was the requirement to generate cash flow but much of their industrial capacity was lying in ruins so they turned to products that could be made with a dispersed labor force--textiles and crafts. Next, they focused on basic industries--steel, shipbuilding, and energy. Having established these industries in the 60's, in the 70's they turned to automobilies, cameras, consumer electronics, instruments, and industrial robots.

Is there any question that the Japanese have been succesful in these industries? Not by dumping, not by trade barriers, not by currency manipulations, not by substandard wages, but by producing high quality products at a competitive price. Now, in the decade of the 80's, Japan is focusing on semi-conductors, computers, software, fiber optics, and other high technology industries.

In 1950, American textile companies said the Japanese makers couldn't succeed in the U.S.; in 1960 steel companies said the same thing; in 1970, automakers echoed these same words; and today we are hearing them again from the computer companies. It sounds like a broken record. The funny thing is, the ending is always the same.

Many Americans say, "but this time it's different," and we hear the familiar words about software and marketing. Well, it's diferent for some other reasons, too. There are more American computer companies in bed with the Japanese than there ever were in any other industry--*amdahl (Fujitsu), National Semi (Hitache), and scores of others whor rely upon Japanese components and parts.

Make no mistake about it, we are engaged in a full-scale economic war. Moreover, it has escalated to the point where Japanese companies are merging with and taking over American companies. Since the 1920's, the American stake in Japan had always been far higher than Japanese investments in American companies. But in 1981, the turning point came. Today, Japan's $10.5 billion stake in American business puts it way ahead of the $8 billion that Americans have invested in Japan.

So you don't like it. Too bad. Commenting on the situation, a Japanese businessman recently said, "It is necessary and inevitable that American business accept the changes graciously." Well, maybe. Regardless of whether the changes are brought about by the Japanese

or by other forces, they will oc                            cur,

or by other forces, they will occur, and the Japanese will play an important role. It is with this in mind that I gathered together the wide range of authors and articles in this issue of Creative computing.

Cooperation or competition, friend or foe, moving together or moving apart? These and many other questions are posed in this issue. There are some answers suggested, but the real answers must come from you, the readers.