Alex Kerr

Since the 1970s, Japanese quality has become a byword, and many a book and article has been penned on the subject of Kaizen, ‘improvement,’ a form of corporate culture in which employers encourage their workers to submit ideas that will polish and improve efficiency. The writers on Kaizen, however, overlooked one weakness in this approach, which seemed minor at the time but has seriously impacted Japan’s technology. Kaizen’s emphasis is entirely on positive recommendations; there is no mechanism to deal with negative criticism, no way to disclose faults or mistakes—and this leads to a fundamental problem of information. People keep silent about embarrassing errors, with the result that problems are never solved.

4 thoughts on “Alex Kerr

  1. shinichi Post author

    Dogs and Demons: Tales From the Dark Side of Modern Japan

    by Alex Kerr

    . . . Japan has a fundamental problem with information itself: it’s often lacking, and when it does exist, is fuzzy at its best, bogus at its worst. In this respect, Japan’s traditional culture stands squarely at odds with modernity—and the problem will persist. The issue of hidden or falsified information strikes at such deeply rooted social attitudes that the nation may never entirely come to grips with it. Because of this, one may confidently predict that in the coming decades Japan will continue to have trouble digesting new ideas from abroad—and will find it more and more difficult to manage its own increasingly baroque and byzantine internal systems.


    Tatemae is a charming attitude when it means that everyone should look at the other way at a guest’s faux pas in the tearoom; it has dangerous and unpredictable results when applied to corporate balance sheets, drug testing, and nuclear-power safety reports.


    It is not, of course, only the Japanese who find flat sterile surfaces attractive and kirei. Foreign observers, too, are seduced by the crisp borders, sharp corners, neat railings, and machine-polished textures that define the new Japanese landscape, because, consciously or unconsciously, most of us see such things as embodying the very essence of modernism. In short, foreigners very often fall in love with kirei even more than the Japanese do; for one thing, they can have no idea of the mysterious beauty of the old jungle, rice paddies, wood, and stone that was paved over. Smooth industrial finish everywhere, with detailed attention to each cement block and metal joint: it looks ‘modern’; ergo, Japan is supremely modern.


    No foreign architect of stature, such as I. M. Pei, resides in Japan. Foreign architects come to Japan on short-term contracts, erect a skyscraper or a museum, and then leave. But subtle and sophisticated approaches to services and design—the core elements of modern building technology—cannot be transmitted in this way. Japan is left with the empty shells of architectural ideas, the hardware without the software.


    As a matter of historical fact, Japan has suffered far less from wars, famines, and floods than China, for example, where these disasters have resulted in the loss of millions of lives and the destruction of much of China’s perishable physical heritage… Italy, likewise, has endured volcanoes and earthquakes far more severe than Japan has ever experienced, yet ‘impermanence’ is not the abiding theme of Italian or Chinese literature. That it so dominates Japanese thought may have something to do with the ancient desire for Wa, ‘peace’ or ‘stasis.’ Any sudden change, whether in politics or the weather, is an insult to Wa. Hence the fear of and fascination with ‘impermanence.


    The emperor of China asked his court painter, «What’s easy to paint and what’s hard to paint?» and the answer was «Dogs are difficult, demons are easy.»

  2. shinichi Post author

    by アレックス カー


    ただ憂いているばかりでは仕方ないため、1995年から官僚制度などの統計データを収集して、政治や経済の仕組みがどのようにして困難な状況を招いたのか、他の先進国との比較を通して調査を行った。「文化」と「自然破壊」というテーマから始まった調査だったが、「バブル」、「金融」、「教育」、「観光」、「原発」など、対象は多分野に広がった。2001年に出版された“Dogs and Demons”(英語版)、翌年の『犬と鬼』(日本語版)は、この研究の成果である。

  3. shinichi Post author



    by 岡内 彩






























  4. shinichi Post author



    Kaizen (改善, かいぜん), the Japanese word for “improvement”, is a concept referring to business activities that continuously improve all functions and involve all employees from the CEO to the assembly line workers. Kaizen also applies to processes, such as purchasing and logistics, that cross organizational boundaries into the supply chain. It has been applied in healthcare, psychotherapy, life coaching, government, and banking.

    By improving standardized programs and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste and redundancies (lean manufacturing). Kaizen was first practiced in Japanese businesses after World War II, influenced in part by American business and quality-management teachers, and most notably as part of The Toyota Way. It has since spread throughout the world and has been applied to environments outside business and productivity.


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