From the Editor

Back to Contents of Issue: December 2000

I just finished reading Hokkaido Highway Blues, by Will Ferguson. The book chronicles Ferguson's attempt to hitchhike from the southern tip of Japan to the farthest point north while following the cherry blossoms. Ferguson mixes amusing tales of misadventure with insightful commentary and useful knowledge about Japan. The book is a gem. You learn a lot and have a good time reading it. I hope the same can be said of J@pan Inc. Being a business magazine is no excuse to bore readers with dry, cryptic writing about arcane financial and macroeconomic errata. If you want to keep tabs on tech and business in Japan, there should be a way to do it without resisting sleep.

One passage in Ferguson's book reassured me about a story we had been debating and had finally decided to include in this issue. "Fast Country" on page 32 compares South Korea's New Economy with Japan's. Our debate had been over whether J@pan Inc should cover other countries in Asia or focus exclusively on Japan. Here's the passage: "Japan was never a crossroads of civilizations, it was always on the periphery, and the elements of other cultures, particularly Western cultures, have been imported painstakingly and at great cost. Today, as the world tilts toward the Pacific, the Atlantic having grown tired and sluggish, Japan finds itself in the one position she has never prepared herself for: a crossroads of kingdoms, the meeting point of great cultural and economic currents."

This passage helped me crystallize some thoughts regarding how our magazine should approach Asia. On the one hand, we don't want to make the mistake -- made by so many other publications -- of trying to provide comprehensive coverage of Asia. That's impossible. Asia is enormous, and what you end up with is shallow coverage of each country that does nobody any real good. On the other hand, focusing exclusively on Japan is sticking our heads in the sand. Yes, in economic terms Japan towers over the region, but you can't pretend the rest of Asia doesn't matter. The future belongs to all of Asia, not just Japan. It's the Pacific Century, not the Japan one.

But hey, as Ferguson suggests, what better place than Japan to begin one's exploration of Asia? What better meeting ground for East and West? Japan is in the middle, on several levels. There's a great deal of understanding between Japan and the West. Over the past two decades, so much has been written about Japan -- you know it's mainstream when Dave Barry Does Japan attains old-paperback status -- that there's a certain comfort level. Westerners feel that, in contrast to most of Asia, they can readily grasp Japan, a mildly eccentric but basically well-meaning and well-known friend. First-time visitors to Japan are never really shocked anymore ... they just walk around confirming what they've seen on TV and read about. Thus, on a cultural level, there's already a great deal of comfort established.

So what can you expect with regards to Asia coverage in this magazine? Not much, but not none, either. We're still going to focus on Japan, but we're not going to make it our exclusive domain. If developments in Asia warrant attention, and particularly if they say something about Japan, we'll cover them. In the case of "Fast Country," we felt that contrasting South Korea's New Economy with Japan's would be an enlightening exercise.

We also introduce in this issue our brand-spanking-new stock index, the JDEX (see page 16). Its purpose in life is to track the New Economy in Japan. An upcoming issue will chart and analyze its performance; for now, we're just introducing the players. This thing is a shot in the dark. We think the companies we've selected are the most representative indicators of the New Economy at this point in time, but time keeps speeding up and making efforts like this look stupid. (Only nobody ever takes magazines and pundits to task for being wrong. Ever notice that? We sure did, and, boy, did it make us feel better about trying this.) Since Japan's New Economy is only just beginning to take off and the new stock exchanges have hundreds of vacancies, we're reserving the right to adjust the index a few times a year. But, for now, and at least for the next six months, we think the JDEX is a pretty useful investment tool.

This month's Art Department looks wild. Check it out, on the second to last page. The art director's work keeps getting better. In fact, I'm trying to think up some excuse for having all the past Art Departments reprinted in a single collection. Hmmm, let's see ... maybe we could sell them as a book in museum gift shops. Or distribute them as free postcards in restaurants. Year-end gifts for subscribers? Gotta be something ...

Finally, we'd like to thank the crew of Red Herring editors who dined with us during their recent trip to Tokyo. We think you guys rock, and hope the small amount of assistance we provided helped in some way. -- Steve Mollman

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