Asia - Issue 26 - Magazine | Monocle

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Japan votes:

A general election on 30 August brings a change of leadership. What does the country need to do to reinvigorate its economy, society and place in the world?

Tatsuya Matsui
Humanoid robot designer and CEO of Flower Robotics

“Japan needs to design and make products of unsurpassed quality, re-establish its artisan past and apply that philosophy to the products it exports, rather than adhering to the ‘bottom line’ imperatives and cost cutting measures of corporate shareholders. It needs to brand itself as a leading nation in technological innovation to make sustainable and affordable products whose ‘Made In Japan’ label denotes superior quality.”

Kengo Kuma
Architect, Kengo Kuma & Associates

“Japan needs to centre on regions, as opposed to Tokyo. Having worked in many countries outside Japan, I’ve realised how distinctive Japanese provinces are. Each place has its own rich culture and highly skilled craftsmen, which is probably due to the tradition of the Han [clan] system dating back to the Edo period. In other Asian countries, such as China and Korea, I notice that this feature of the provinces is sadly being lost.”

Shuichi Fujimura
Senior vice president, ANA

“In aviation terms, it is imperative for Japan to increase our competitive edge by effectively working with our global alliance partners. Improved harmonisation would make Japan the preferred gateway when visiting the Far East. In 2010 when new international slots are introduced at from Haneda and domestic flights from Narita, Japan will be better placed as an Asian hub offering greater convenience.”

Yoichiro Kurata
President of Shinwa Art Auction

“People will not get back any confidence for the deteriorating domestic society in Japan whoever rules the cabinet, but contemporary art will give some possibility to revitalise the nation with the emerging cultural presence of Asian artists in the world. Japan has the potential to become one of the world’s core art centres within Asia. Its artists, gallerists, collectors and auctioneers need better global contacts.”

Monocle fixes: Stimulate industry by allowing Japanese firms to sell arms abroad. Corporate Japan needs to stop dithering and be more decisive. Rebuild its global hotel brands. Fire the management at the Tourism Ministry and start again. Turn Fukuoka and Sapporo into regional hubs.

Number crunch


The Indian government has set itself the mission of issuing each of its 1.2 billion citizens with a unique ID number that catalogues personal details and biometric data. It aims to give bureaucratic legitimacy to many and help fight illegal immigration and terrorism.

“It’s clearly a humungous task. We have made a very rash and bold agreement to start issuing these numbers in 12 to 18 months," says project leader Nandan Nilekani. Over the next three years, the first 100 million ID numbers will be issued. The rest may take a decade to complete.

Rich pickings


Japan opened the door in July to wealthy Chinese tourists. People “of a certain occupation and power” are free to go where they want while other Chinese visitors can only visit in supervised groups for fear of illegal immigration. To encourage the rich Chinese to part with their yen, though, more multilingual signs and hotel staff might be helpful.

All choked up


Hong Kong may look like a slick modern city but it is far from clean and green. Until now, people have blamed pollution here on factories in mainland China. But recent recordings show that pollution at street level was six times worse this year than in 2005 while the air above the city got much cleaner.

“We need buses to run on gas, ban old diesel engines and consider electrification of vehicles,” says Christine Loh of think tank Civic Exchange. That’s the only way it will stop business going to other Asian hubs.

Don’t be shy


Japan may be the world’s second biggest economy but sometimes its voice is too quiet overseas and the nation ends up being lost in stereotypes. It should use Tadao Ando to build it fresh-faced diplomatic missions and staff them with charismatic young staff. A new PM who speaks English fluently would also help.

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