Today's Notables

Planting the Seeds for an Active Workforce (Part 2)

February 2004
Hisashi Furuichi
President and C.E.O.

As you may remember from December's Today's Notables, I mentioned that Japan has little opportunity for people of high-caliber talent so they end up going overseas. I also mentioned that low birth rate and an aging population is depleting the workforce, posing a very real threat to the health of Japan's future. Just after that, I read a book entitled Kibo no Kuni no Exodus written by Ryu Murakami. I couldn't help but think about a quote about George Gordon Byron (1788-1824) who said "T'is strange?but true; for truth is always strange; stranger than fiction." Reading the book, I got the impression that sometimes most current authors have a much better grasp on reality than most economists and politicians. Perhaps the quote should be revised to say, "Truth is the same as fiction." This novel portrays a social phenomenon that could occur (or already is occurring) in the future.

The story begins with a very shocking interview on CNN with a 16 year-old boy who was helping soldiers clear away debris from an earthquake in Afghanistan. The reporter asked the boy why he was in Afghanistan and wondered why he didn't miss his home country of Japan. His response was that he had forgotten all about Japan because there was nothing there; it was a dead place. He said "I don't even think about Japan anymore." Some junior high students, affected by this news story, began to skip school in groups that started a chain reaction. Eventually, more than 1,000,000 kids were dropping out of school. The adults in the story attributed the mass truancy to the sluggish economy and believed things would return to normal with economic recovery. However, 100,000 people committed suicide per year while unemployment reached 7% or higher. The writer focuses the story around one of the leaders of a truant group called Ponchan. Ponchan used the internet to make a global network to find and develop new business. Ponchan's organization and business ventures consequently began to make a significant impact on financial markets as they grew into a major concern. In the end, Ponchan and his cohorts save Japan from financial ruin and build the ideal city in Hokkaido. They even issue their own currency. Ponchan and his contemporaries believe that they have everything they need and more, except hope.

After reading this book, I was left with the feeling that we must never come close to a society like this, especially where people have lost all hope. On the one hand, the success that Ponchan produced is validated by Darwin's survival of the fittest in his theory of evolution. However, I think it is more important to recognize that it is not really survival of the fittest; it is survival of those that are capable of change.

Kibo no Kuni no Exodus, written by Ryu Murakami
published by Bungeishunju Ltd.

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