TOKYO — My recent trip to Korea reminded me of Japan 25 years ago.
Seoul is busy, fashionable and ultra-modern, as Tokyo still is. But people in Seoul today are proud, undaunted and exuberant – not the first adjectives that pop to mind in Tokyo. And most important of all, Koreans seem driven by a sense of shared purpose -- in pursuit of the nation’s rapid economic growth, wealth and happiness.
The Japanese lost that power of dogged determination as a “united” nation almost 20 years ago.
Just lately, belatedly, the Japanese are taking note of what Korea has done during Japan’s “lost decade.”
Let me offer a shocking example of the current Japan/Korea gulf. Most Japanese consumers still don’t know who Samsung is. To my surprise, many big electronics chain stores in Japan do not even carry flat panel TVs made by Samsung – undisputedly the world’s largest LCD manufacturer.
But out of sight of consumers, the Japanese business community is abuzz with the rise of Samsung. They can’t seem to have enough of Samsung stories.
Drop into any Tokyo book stores. Books and magazines with headlines like “Samsung’s global market strategies,” “Japan’s new growth plan: How not to lose to Samsung,” “Samsung’s weakness,” or “Don’t fear Samsung,” are flying off the shelf.
Or talk to any Japanese businessmen working in the electronics industry. Your conversation will inevitably turn to an analysis of Samsung.
Here are the five reasons why the Japanese are losing confidence against Samsung -- and why they’re feeling whipped by their erstwhile whipping boy, Korea.
1. Where is the political leadership?
Japan’s economy suffered from a vacuum of political leadership for a long time. After the economic bubble burst in early 1990’s, the nation’s economy dithered and the country built up massive debts, affecting Japanese corporations’ capital investment capacity.
In contrast, Korea pulled off a miraculous economic recovery from the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Korean leaders continue to articulate a clear set of national economic goals. When Myung-bak Lee became South Korea’s president in 2008, his administration announced the “747 plan” -- to achieve 7 percent annual economic growth, to increase per capita income to $40,000, and to make the nation the world’s 7th largest economy.