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COPANI & KNT (2007)

An Era of Innovation: The Nikkei Contribution to the Knowledge Pipeline -- Part 2

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2. Increasingly Diverse Nikkei Communities in the Midst of Globalization

With regard to Nikkei communities themselves, recently in Japan I get the feeling that a new movement has emerged that seeks to take a fresh look from a new perspective at Nikkei communities abroad. In the past it used to be the case that “Nikkei” was equated with “emigrant,” and from the 1990s the image of Nikkei become one of people who had come to Japan to live and work.

This year I received two books that discuss Nikkei communities abroad. One book is titled Chikyuu Jidai no Nanboku America to Nihon (North and South America and Japan in a Global Era), and the other is titled Nanboku America no Nikkei Shakai (Nikkei Communities in North and South America). Prior to these two books, last year Nikkei-jin to Globalization was published and in 2002 America Tairiku Nikkei-jin Hyakka Jiten was published. The latter two are Japanese translations of two research works carried out mainly by US Nikkei researchers, titled Encyclopedia of Japanese Descendents in the Americas , and New Worlds, New Lives: Globalization and People of Japanese Descent in the Americas and from Latin America in Japan .

When reading these books the first thing that immediately strikes you is the surprising diversity among Nikkei abroad. One of the contributors to New Worlds, New Lives is Harumi Befu and she states that “Nikkei” can be classified into at least eight categories, depending on the era in which they left Japan and their destination, among other factors. While we tend to think of Nikkei as being typically emigrants who either left Japan before or after the war and their descendants, Befu points out that there are also Japanese who have gone abroad for an international marriage, or Japanese corporate employees posted abroad who have decided to stay in the country of their posting after retirement, among a variety of other examples.

If we consider Nikkei not in a vertical generational and chronological structure as fourth, fifth or sixth generation and so on, but rather take into account the Japanese people who have moved overseas for various reasons and the children born to these people, we thereby gain a larger and broader picture of the lateral spread of the Nikkei community abroad. If we think in these broad, lateral terms, then there is no mistaking that the figure of 2.6 million Nikkei abroad as estimated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would increase by a considerable number. Besides, by expanding these broader and more encompassing terms or reference, I think that there would be an ongoing transformation in terms of qualitative aspects also. If Japanese people continue to view Nikkei communities abroad merely from the dual aspects of “emigration” and “workers in Japan,” while these two characterizations are incredibly important factors in the composition of Nikkei communities, inevitably there is a feeling that there is a danger misunderstanding will arise concerning the presence and existence of Nikkei and Nikkei communities.

It is possible that the three editors of New Worlds, New Lives are in the auditorium themselves today, but they phrase the issue in the following words:

    Nikkei identities do not exist in isolation. All Nikkei have multiple identities. These identities are fluid as well and, at times, are in a state of renegotiation in larger national and international settings. ….the concept of “Nikkei” is necessarily characterized by flexibility and soft boundaries.

In addition, from the 1980s and 1990s a “hybrid identities” was observed among Nikkei, and this can be pointed to as a repositioning in response to globalization.

So, in the era of globalization that is the 21st century, is the Japanese identity of Nikkei abroad getting stronger, or is it getting weaker? Eighteen researchers from seven countries in North and South America who participated in the International Nikkei Research Project—the research project that formed the basis for New Worlds, New Lives —were more or less evenly split in their conclusions responding to this question. In other words, “approximately half of the INRP scholars stressed conjunctions, while the other half highlighted open disjunction or situations that implied disjunction.”

I think it is probably appropriate to say that the Nikkei communities abroad today probably represent an amalgamation of both identity aspects. The editors of New Worlds, New Lives cite the importance of “generational cohorts” and “community formation” as factors to promote the regeneration of a Nikkei identity. The resolutions adopted at the 47th Convention that I outlined a few minutes ago, are, I believe, in line with such thinking.

In addition to the two points of “intergenerational linkage” and “community formation” as factors for the promotion of a Nikkei identity, I would like to point out another factor, namely the title of this speech, the “knowledge pipeline” between the Nikkei community and Japan and within the Nikkei community itself.

3. Japan’s “Innovation Strategy” and Nikkei

As you are all aware, in September last year the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was inaugurated. In contrast to the preceding administration of Junichiro Koizumi, which launched the courageous goals of tearing down the old structures that were no longer suitable for a global era and eradicating old-fashioned ideas, the challenge facing the Abe administration is to build the new systems and structures that Japan requires in the 21st century.

One of these is the “Innovation 25 Strategy” that sets out a series of targets for achievement by 2025.

I am sure that there is no need to explain to an audience of Nikkei participants, but the word “innovation” comes from the Latin “innovare ” which means to create change (“novare ”) from inside. In Japanese innovation is translated in a variety of ways, such as kakushin, shinkijiku , and shinketsugou . It was Joseph A. Schumpeter, an American economist born in Austria, who made the word famous when he used it at the beginning of the last century to describe the style of activities engaged in by entrepreneurs that were creating totally new economic aspects.

In Japan, the population decline and the aging society are both advancing rapidly. At the same time, around the world we see that the knowledge and network society coupled with globalization are growing explosively, and on a global scale a whole host of challenges and issues exist, including population increase, global warming and climate change, environmental degradation, and the North-South divide, to name but a few. The concept of the Abe administration is that one policy that would serve to break out of such impassive issues and conditions lies in “innovation.”

Prime Minister Abe has himself stated the following:

    The “Innovation” that we are working towards is not a concept in the narrow sense of mere "Technical improvement" but "Reform/renewal" that broadly includes social systems and institutions.

In the month following the inauguration of the Abe Cabinet, the “Innovation 25 Strategy Council” was launched.

Professor Kiyoshi Kurokawa of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies was appointed as Council Chairperson of the "Innovation 25 Strategy Council” and in the “Innovation 25 Interim Report” that was announced in February this year he points out the following issues facing Japanese society in a globalized era:

    If Japanese traditional ‘vertical mental and social structures’ are followed too rigidly they come into conflict with the values of the global era that bring about ‘flat interpersonal relations” and transcend national borders. What is more, they also have a high potential to run directly counter to these transnational globalized values. In the vertical society of the past, with seniority-based wages, and social and corporate structures with a ‘low degree of lateral mobility,’ it was all too easy for a culture to arise that sought to hide failure. This in turn prevented the emergence of a research environment that was open and cooperative, a lack of clarity concerning reckless decisions and accountability for corporate activities, and weakened competitiveness. In other words ‘vertical society’ diminishes the potential for creative destruction provided by innovation.
    (*Comments by Prof. Kurokawa translated from original Japanese)

I think that many of you in the audience today may share these sentiments, or ones similar to them concerning your opinions on Japan.

Prof. Kurokawa points out that the conditions for bringing about innovation depend on “whether it is possible to respond to diverse permutations, regardless of national borders and national, and whether there is a diverse network of people and businesses in place that can respond in such a manner.” He goes to emphasize that:

    Increasing opportunities to interact with diverse human resources, skills and talents on a daily basis will open the ideas and aspirations of Japan’s young population to the wider world, will result in acceptance of diverse cultures and skills, and will increase the potential to achieve a blossoming of talent and skills that are capable of responding to a globalized era. This will result in the formation of human networks in each person’s individual world. As such innovative people increase in number, they will steadily become a great asset to Japan and a source of power and dynamism.
    (*Comments by Prof. Kurokawa translated from original Japanese)

I am sure that Nikkei already have experience of such patterns of behavior on a daily basis.

In the Strategy Council, from a basic policy of promoting innovation, the integrated promotion of the following is being pursued: “Innovation in science and technology,” “Innovation in social systems,” and “Innovation in human resources.”

I am limited by time, but I would like to introduce the content of the “promoting a change in the mindset of each and every person” as described by the Strategy Council in relation to “Innovation in Human Resources and Creating Innovative Minds” and link them into my conclusion. They are:

    - Moving from a “focus on organizations,” to a “focus on eliciting individual capabilities;”
    - Moving from “inward looking competition” to “competition and harmonization with the world;”
    - Moving from a “focus on preemptive actions” to a “focus on openness and cooperation;”
    - Moving from a “society that does not forgive failure” to a “society that learns from failure;”
    - Moving from a “cautious society” to a “society that prioritizes speed;” and
    - Moving from a “grouping of people who share the same ideas” to “increasing opportunities to experience something different and for cross-fertilization.”


There are undoubtedly people who wonder whether the Japanese can really effect such changes in a short period of time. As a university teacher and someone who interacts with young people on a daily basis, I too recognize it as a daunting challenge.

Putting aside the ultimate conclusion however, the point that should be made here is to emphasize that the policymakers of Japan are actually beginning discussions on this issue in the first place. A further point is that what the policymakers are aiming for is very close to the kind of self-reliant people so embodied by Japanese emigrants and Nikkei communities, who have created a place for themselves in the midst of different cultures and different ethnicities.

As I noted at the beginning of my speech, what I would like to see is the Nikkei from abroad to insert the knowledge they have accumulated in their countries of residence, and their “Japonês ,” “Japonés ,” or “Japanese” ethnicity into the knowledge pipeline, where it would serve to stimulate innovation in Japan and in Nikkei communities around the world in a two-way interaction. There is perhaps no need to dwell on what Japan itself could bring to the knowledge pipeline, but it could undoubtedly provide such strengths as its manufacturing prowess, and these strengths too could be inserted into the knowledge pipeline.

I would like to end my speech today by expressing the hope that my words will provoke discussions among you and that this Convention, being convened in Sao Paolo, almost exactly on the opposite side of the world to Japan, will conclude by demonstrating the potential to create a “knowledge” pipeline.

Thank you very much for your attention.

© 2007 Kotaro Horisaka

community COPANI copani 2007

About this series

This is a series of reports and presentations from the Joint Convention of COPANI & KNT held July 18 - 21, 2007 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.