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Top>Opinion>Will Venture Business Become Part of Japanese Tradition?


Hikari Akizawa

Hikari Akizawa

Will Venture Business Become Part of Japanese Tradition?

Hikari Akizawa
Professor, Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Area of Specialization: Business Administration (Entrepreneurship Studies)


Several months ago, at an international conference, I asked a distinguished American scholar how to increase venture businesses. He answered, “It's easy. Just give extremely talented people the incentive to start businesses.” This is, indeed, an easy way, and it is also a fundamental principle of Silicon Valley. Has such incentive ever been given in Japan? No. The business-startup rate has remained low since the 1980s. I considered a lot of potential ways to give incentive, but I had trouble coming up with anything satisfying. The premise of giving incentive seemed inherently disrespectful to entrepreneurs that I respect, because they would be treated like pawns. This feeling is a sign that the method of giving incentive will not work in Japan whose history and society are different from those in the United States. But does this mean that venture business will never flourish in Japan? Surprisingly enough, the answer might be found in ancient Japanese tradition.

A tradition of creative succession

Philosopher Toshio Kuwako describes the traditional way of creating values in Japan—embodied by ancient poet Teika Fujiwara, medieval tea master Rikyu Sen, and other artists—which he calls creative succession. This is a method of creating new beauty from one's own vigorous and unique experience acquired through extensive exposure to old beauty. The method incorporates new design using old materials. The new works that are created are used in the same way-as works of old beauty-by the next generation, and the process continues ad infinitum. This tradition might be one reason for the distinctive creations of Japan. Nevertheless, Rikyu Sen reputedly predicted that the Tea Ceremony would die out shortly, because the creative succession process may readily be transformed into adherence to convention.

How can such adherence to convention be avoided? Japanese old performing arts have a unique learning approach consisting of upholding, breaking, and departing—upholding styles, breaking styles, and departing from and being independent of styles. Actors of Japanese traditional drama such as Kabuki, Nou, and Kyougen master long-established styles in their childhood, while they also act out modern dramas, appear in Shakespeare's plays, or perform unorthodox Super Kabuki. These are the activities of breaking, where the youth use the styles they have mastered for different purposes intentionally in their own time. A series of such experiences will result in artists who can express tradition freely.

Engines for the creative succession

Ventures are usually considered as the engine of capitalism and the driving force of economic growth. In Japan, however, it might be better to regard them as the motor of the creative succession or the driving force of cultural growth. In other words, ventures should probably be considered as the power of breaking to modify the shape of the existing society and create new values. Applying the Japanese sensibility to the business world should lead to the creation of unconventional and novel goods, software, and services. If we regard the society as undergoing a once-in-a-century structural transition, we can expect many of the things that have been created to date to be dysfunctional everywhere in the society. During such a period, we should reflect whether we have lapsed into conventional thinking that relies too heavily on precedents and a follow-the-leader mentality. If the provision of adequate education finally generated young people who were a bit eccentric, it would be a big success. Let us support them in their adventures. At the very least, we should not get in their way by intervening on the grounds of ensuring safety or security. If this is unacceptable to you, you might have fallen into adherence to convention. Throwing a wet blanket over the fire of breaking-even with the intention of preserving the fruits of past efforts-would also ruin the previous creations.

Herbivore boys = craftsmen?

TWe sometimes find young people exhibiting the power of breaking in Chuo University. They are cheerful and reliable, though actually troublesome to deal with. How about many other young people? These days, we often hear the strange phrase herbivore boys. In fact, male students who arrive at the campus in the morning look like a swarm of gazelles in an African grassland—they wear a good coat of fur, they are a bit nervous and cowardly, and if they aren't lucky, they will be eaten by a lion-or by the fierce job-hunting that awaits them in the future. But it's all a matter of perspective. The characteristics of these herbivores—meticulous work, acute sensitivity, and survival through a time of drastic change—are also similar to those of traditional craftsmen in some sense. Just like the craftsmen who produce sophisticated works, the male students, not to mention female students, who behave as they please without being fettered by convention, also have great possibility. The last thing they need to undertake an adventure would be a small but supportive push at the right time.

A tradition of venture

Every country has its own tradition. Japan's proud tradition is in its creative succession. Because the United States is a society of immigrants, there are always a large number of excellent people who want to escape from poverty. Given the incentive, there is no limit to the outstanding people who are willing to take an adventure. On the contrary, the Japanese society is characterized by a smaller disparity in talent as well as in income. There are a number of people who have keen sensibility and a habit of continuously striving to improve. Their tradition involves endeavors to master something based on intrinsic motivation, rather than on incentives given to them. As old knowledge is used in an adventurous manner in the current society, it is then handed down to the next generation as new knowledge-more than ever in the time of structural transition. In sum, venture businesses are indispensable activities for the creative succession.

Hikari Akizawa
Professor of Business Administration (Entrepreneurship Studies), Faculty of Commerce, Chuo University
Professor Akizawa was born in Kumamoto Prefecture. She finished the doctoral course in the Department of Value and Decision Science in the Graduate School of Decision Science and Technology at the Tokyo Institute of Technology in 1999, and received a doctoral degree of arts and sciences. She worked in the management consultation department of an auditing firm that was then called Tohmatsu from 1986 to 1995. She was a part-time instructor on the Faculty of Business Administration at Bunkyo Women's University; and a full-time lecturer as well as Associate Professor on the Faculty of Commerce at Chuo University, before taking up her current position in 2007. She was also a visiting scholar for the HEC Montreal in 2008. Professor Akizawa's primary publications include: “The Frontier of Venture Studies,” Kigyo Kenkyu No. 1; “Management of Rapid Growth in Ventures during the Initial Period of New Industries: Minimization of Input Resources in an Environment with Plentiful Resources,” Shogaku Ronsan Vol. 42, Nos. 1 and 2; and “Self-Transformation for the Survival of Historic Kimono Wholesalers,” Kansei Tetsugaku 6.