From the editor

Back to Contents of Issue: December 2002

by Bruce Rutledge

HIDEO SAWADA AND MASAHIRO Origuchi used to be hot items with the press. They made for good copy because they were interesting, successful, and didn't fit the mold when it comes to doing business in Japan. Sawada was taking on huge travel agencies and airlines with his H.I.S. travel agency and Skymark Airlines; Origuchi was taking Tokyo nightlife to new heights with his Juliana's disco, where young women danced on raised platforms and young men went gaga over them, and the still-rocking Velfarre. These were stories screaming to be written -- and they were written, over and over again.

And then Sawada and Origuchi dropped off the face of the Earth. Or so you might have thought if you were tracking them in the English business press. In the last few years, Sawada was able to sneak back into print from time to time, but Origuchi was largely unheard of. For casual trackers of these two, it would be easy to assume that they were going the way of so many of their compatriots in the 1990s -- plunging slowly into oblivion like one of those rock bands with only one hit.

But Origuchi and Sawada are no one-hit wonders. Senior editor Sumie Kawakami tracked them down for our cover story this month and found that both men had done commendable jobs steering their business empires through the 1990s economy. The two have contrasting styles when it comes to business -- Sawada being the fighter, Origuchi the surfer -- but they share one important trait: They've been surprisingly consistent in their approaches through even the toughest times. The quiet story of how they averted disaster in the 1990s to run strong businesses today is just as compelling as the stories that grabbed headlines a few years back. Kawakami's article, Survivors, begins on page 20.

Also this month, regular contributor Sara Harris explains Japan's relationship with intellectual property rights from the Edo Period to today. It's especially relevant reading now, as more companies begin to actively review their patent policies and see if they can make money by selling or buying unused patents. Harris' piece, The Making of an IP Nation, begins on page 26.

We also have an eclectic assortment of news this month in our Upfront section -- everything from nanotechnology to parties in the desert to hopeful innovations for ridding the world of landmines. It's a hodge-podge of stories that we hope gives readers an inkling of what makes this economy tick. Though we realize its pulse has been pretty slow for the past 10 years, Japan is a sleeping giant. Businesspeople who have already written off Japan and decided to cast their lot with China ought to turn to page 38 and read China's Transition Merits Caution.

Finally, we've launched a new occasional column by contributing editor Alex Stewart called Kansai Eye. Stewart is a long-time Kansai resident who started off as a subscriber to our magazine and is now one of our steadiest contributors. He'll be bringing us up to date on that massive economy to Tokyo's west by introducing us to the people making things happen there. His first installment tracks down some of Kansai's most innovative foreigners.

Like Stewart, many of you out there take a keen interest in our survival, and we thank you. The encouragement has been heartening. Your ideas and feedback help us stay on focus as we cover Japan.

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