Sophians Talk about Japan and the World

Energizing Japan through Effective Communication Techniques

Keiichi Sasaki
(Copywriter & TV Advertisement Producer, Part-time Lecturer at Sophia University, President of Ugokasu Inc., Lecturer at Sendenkaigi)

Why 99 Percent of Japan's Technology Lies Dormant in Warehouses

Keiichi Sasaki Copywriter & TV Advertisement Producer, Part-time Lecturer at Sophia University, President of Ugokasu Inc., Lecturer at Sendenkaigi

I work in copywriting, a profession that normally attracts those with a humanities background. I, however, graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Sophia University and then went on to graduate school here in that same field.

I have found, though, that my rather odd background has helped me in my creative work. For example, when I visit a manufacturer to talk about the advertising plan for their new product and the engineers in charge of development tell me about the technology used in the product, I am often moved by the passion of the engineers as well as by the technical details of the product. The inspiration I feel from the engineers comes through in the copy I write and goes on to touch consumers, as well.

During a visit to a certain manufacturer's research center, I was once asked to guess what percentage of the discoveries and inventions made at the center actually made it to the marketplace. I speculated the figure was about 10 to 20 percent. The reality is, they told me, that only 1 percent makes it to market while 99 percent lies forever dormant at the center. That made me realize afresh Japan's formidable capability to develop technology and the latent strength of itsmonozukuri (Japanese craftsmanship). At the same time, though, I thought that if engineers could more skillfully communicate the uniqueness of their discoveries and inventions, then more technologies and products would make it out of the research center.

In today's world, a product does not sell based on its quality alone. If that quality is not communicated to consumers, no one buys the product. Without question, Japanese companies are among the best in the world in terms of possessing the technology required to manufacture excellent goods. If effective communication techniques were brought on board too, Japanese products would be valued even more highly. And, Japan would have been energized as a result, I believe.

What I Discovered as a Struggling Copywriter: Communication Is a Learnable Technique, Not an Innate Talent

Keiichi Sasaki Copywriter & TV Advertisement Producer, Part-time Lecturer at Sophia University, President of Ugokasu Inc., Lecturer at Sendenkaigi

Many people think that the ability to communicate requires a certain knack, inspiration, or innate talent. People tend to assume they do not have a natural sense for communication so they cannot do it. Or they think that Japanese have the inarticulate gene and so are no match for Americans with their silver tongue. I, too, used to believe this. Now, though, I am confident of one thing: if it is true that Japanese have poorer communication skills than Americans, it is not because of their core nature or genes, but because of their education.

In the United States, classes in communication skills start, I understand, in third grade with a class called Oral Language Skills. As a matter of course, the American classroom has children from a number of different races and ethnic groups, and the kids will quickly start quarrelling with each other if left to their own devices. It is vital therefore that they are taught how to communicate so that any fighting can be averted. In junior high, students have programs like debate, public speaking, and journalism. These are in addition to English class so the students' communication skills are honed even further. In contrast, Japanese students have almost no classes designed specifically to enhance communication skills even in university let alone in elementary, junior high, or high school. There is no way they could measure up to Americans.

I am the classic example of the kind of person the Japanese education system produces. I was not good at talking with people. Some of that may have been because I changed schools many times from a young age, but I did not get any better at communicating through the education I received at school. So I decided to go into science and engineering, where there is a single solution to each problem, which makes communication clearer and simpler. When it came time to find a job, though, I thought about what kind of person I wanted to be in the future, and I realized I did not want to live my whole life like this?being poor at communicating. I wanted to change. What better way to improve my communication skills than to enter the advertising industry, I thought.

That is how I ended up with a position at an ad agency. I was assigned to the copywriting section straight away. From day one it did not go well, as you might imagine. I quickly gained a huge amount of weight from the stress. After much trial and error at work, though, I realized that the ability to communicate effectively is not a talent but a skill anyone can master.

Whether in a Domestic or International Setting, the Key to Communication Is the Same

Keiichi Sasaki Copywriter & TV Advertisement Producer, Part-time Lecturer at Sophia University, President of Ugokasu Inc., Lecturer at Sendenkaigi

Japan emerged from the "era of materialism" that characterized the period of spectacular economic growth after World War II and embarked on the "era of the intellect." From there, the nation entered the "era of the heart," and, I believe, it has shifted to the "era of communication" since around last year. Japanese are good at working alone diligently toward a goal. They are starting to realize, though, that what is needed today is communication with others, which is of course something they cannot do alone.

The awarding of the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games to Tokyo was an event that brought home to Japan the importance of communication. Tokyo's selling points?funding, facilities, and safety?had not changed at all since the Japanese capital had lost the bid to Rio de Janeiro four years earlier. The reason that Tokyo won the bid this time is nothing other than the fact that its presentation?the way it communicated its strengths?had changed.

Training global human resources has become a key priority for educational institutions and corporations alike in recent years. But, what are global communication skills? Needless to say, ability in the English language - today's lingua franca - and understanding of other cultures are important. What is even more vital, though, is the ability to imagine what the other is thinking and what the other wants.

Taking the other person's position and then communicating with that in mind?that is what I tried to emphasize in my book Tsutaekatagakyuwari(It's all in how you say it) (Tokyo: Diamond, 2013). It could be considered the underlying theme of the entire book. It is the key to global communication. My book, which, I am pleased to say, has enjoyed considerable popularity, is actually based on talks I gave as lecturer at the Sophia University Community College that offers classes for working professionals. This academic year, I also gave two lectures in Rhetoric in the Cyber-Age, a general studies course at the university. When I was a university student, I wanted this kind of class where working professionals talked in person about life on the front lines of their profession.

Through my university lectures, my book, and my other activities, I would like to help raise the core level of communication skills in Japan by having as many people as possible master the communication techniques I propose. With the rapid development and spread of Facebook, Twitter, and other SNSs, individuals have now come to have great influence through the messages and other communications they send out. In such an age as this, improving each person's ability to communicate may lead to a society-wide change. My work may help energize Japan in the end. That is my dream.

Keiichi Sasaki Copywriter & TV Advertisement Producer, Part-time Lecturer at Sophia University, President of Ugokasu Inc., Lecturer at Sendenkaigi
Keiichi Sasaki
Copywriter & TV Advertisement Producer, Part-time Lecturer at Sophia University, Presidentof Ugokasu Inc., Lecturer at Sendenkaigi

Keiichi Sasaki graduated from Sophia University Graduate School of Science and Technology and joined Hakuhodo in 1997. Later he was involved in international projects for two years in the United States under advertising legend Lee Clow. Sasaki was the first Japanese ever to win the Design Gold Pencil award at One Show Design (won for a work titled "It's a Wonderful World"). He conducted Asia's first-ever six-country diva project (launched in relation to the Asience hair product line). Sasaki has won a total of 51 awards and honorable-mentions, including a total of five Lions at theCannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and two Gold Awards at ADFEST. He has written lyrics for Hiromi Go and Chemistry, and two albums by these artists rose to no. 1 on the Oriconcharts. Sasaki's book Tsutaekatagakyuwari(It's all in how you say it) (Tokyo: Diamond, 2013) has sold 580,000 copies and has been the no. 1 bestseller nationwide in business books for six straight months.

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