Back to Contents of Issue: May 2004

Who needs sacrifice?

by Roland Kelts

Consensus-seeking, conflict-avoiding, corporate Japan is getting a jolt this year in the form of a mini-rebellion. Three high-profile cases involving researchers seeking remuneration from the companies they worked for were settled in favor of the plaintiffs -- to the tune of billions of yen.

Japan's corporate barons are suddenly facing the very real possibility that individual accomplishment may be prized over teamwork, and that those individuals who display superior intelligence, talent and capability may be more important (and more expensive) than the lemming-like salarymen of yore. CEOs know that it is much easier to control and manipulate employees who toil anonymously for the greater good of the company. Low salaries and dreadful conditions can be conveniently concealed beneath the mantle of "sacrifice." But once that illusion is stripped away and a more mature understanding of market value takes its place, gifted individual employees can become very powerful, and very expensive, in a nanosecond.

Contributing writer Leo Lewis's sources cite "a real sense of panic" among corporate heads better accustomed to laissez-faire management styles than litigation. Since the government's efforts to dramatically boost the number of trained lawyers (reported in the pages of JI last August) have been more successful than anyone expected, competition among legal professionals is opening the floodgates for litigation in Japan.

Floodgates of another kind burst open when USS, Japan's biggest and brashest used-car auctioneer, recently established its presence on the Yokohama waterfront. Veteran journalist Lucille Craft hits the docks and takes us inside the world of these bizarre bazaars. Reports on Kansai's whisky kings and Hokkaido's hollowed-out industries keep us covering the archipelago. We even take you inside our own industry, where two enterprising American brothers are boldly branching out in Tokyo -- and back across the sea. Who needs sacrifice?

Roland Kelts, Editor

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.