Letter to a friend:
“The Achilles’ Heel”

My dear Japanese Friend,

I am writing you just before my trip to your country for SubOptic 2010.  I feel excited!  My target is nothing less than to, at last, understand these “inscrutable Japanese”. I have spent a good part of my professional life dealing with Japan while trying to find the key of the mystery! This is my last chance! If Yokohama brings me the light I am looking for I’ll let you know.

Why is it so that Japan does not play more globally in the submarine cable business?  These last 20years, ASN and Tyco did captured the lion’s share (80%) of the business  leaving a meager portion to the Japanese industry despite very  good cards in hands: a great submarine cable  history, a favorable geographical position,  first class technology, good companies, dedicated people, a highly populated and wealthy region, an Asia-centric market. As soon as a project is a bit far away from their islands, the Japanese suppliers are either absent or unaggressive! And even in Asia-Pacific they often show-up in consortium or as subcontractor. This remark applies to the Japanese operators who do not seem to have global ambitions either! Everybody is actively involved in Africa at this moment but not the Japanese.

I often told you, my friend, that Japan should work out a single supplier solution competing on an equal foot against ASN and Tyco. The NEC-Fujitsu competition seems to concentrate all their efforts and energy, to capture all their attention. Like all family conflicts, such situation shift rapidly from “brotherly” to “fratricide”! And the “others” only need to play with this, bringing their own fuel to the fire! You did agree that this domestic competition was detrimental to Japan but keep telling me that there is no solution to that!

There are probably deeper factors behind this and the answer lies probably somewhere in the Japanese culture! Japan is an island subject to heavy storms, earthquakes and other natural threats. Success is never sure! Tomorrow can be worse! Everything is fragile and ephemeral. So the priority is at survival and to survive from “my” little field of rice!  “Asu no hyaku yori,kyou ga fuku”, similar to the French saying "Un tiens vaut mieux que deux, tu l’auras". In other words « better 50 today than 100 tomorrow ». Is that an explanation? Probably too simple!

A more subtle thought comes to me from a book I red several times in English but  with great pleasure: “Snow Country” by Yasunari Kawabata. With pleasure but with the strange feeling that what needs to be understood is not “obvious”, is somewhere between the lines. Snow country refers to the west part of the japans’ central mountains, the snowiest region in the world but it suggest life divorced from time through the long snowbound months. The author is in the line of the “haiku” masters, these tiny seventeen-syllable poems that seek to convey a sudden awareness of beauty by a mating of opposite or incongruous terms. Somewhat like our oxymoron.  He keeps mixing motion and stillness such as “the roaring silence of a winter night”. I got it! The Japanese submarine cable industry is living in the “snow country”, addressing the global market in a “slow rush”, being satisfied with a “meager abundance”!

I look forward to the key-note speech by the honorary Dr Yoshio Utsumi, whose title attracted my attention “The inscrutable Japanese”.  I am reading  in the  SubOptic program:

“It is often difficult for foreigners to understand Japanese people and society, without first having a basic knowledge of Japan and its culture. [...] The submarine cable telecom business and the telecommunications industry in general, have players from many diverse cultural, political, and ethnic backgrounds. So it is hoped that Mr Utsumi's presentation will not only be interesting and stimulating, but it may help some participants to adapt their approach in international business to achieve greater success.”

My dear friend, more importantly, I sincerely hope that Dr Utsumi will explain to you Japanese, how you should “adapt your approach of the international business to achieve greater success”!

Jean Devos
Submarcom consulting.

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