About Ryo Kubota

Ryo Kubota

Ryo Kubota is a staff writer at Transpheric Management in Tokyo as well as a freelance writer. He has covered Sports for the Nippon Newspaper Company in Tokyo and teaches at a private tutoring school in Iruma, Japan. Having studied in both Tokyo and England in the areas of sociology, he has a keen interest in the world at large.

Latest Posts by Ryo Kubota

Japan: Manner Matters in a Sumo Ring

February 23, 2013 by  


If rikishis are polite and respectful to sumo, Japanese fans are happy and self-identity develops.

You may know that sumo is national game of Japan, but you would not know why it is so. Going out to see sumo helps to find out an answer. It also offers an opportunity to understand Japanese attitude towards foreigners.


There was the 37th Grand Sumo Tournament on February 10th at Kokugikan in Tokyo. Unlike regular matches, results of this tournament don’t count towards rikishis’ (wrestlers) ranks. Its main aim is to make sumo popular. The place played an important role for sumo to become Japan’s national game in the Meiji era when Japan was rapidly turning into a modern society. Kokugi literally means national game.


At the centre of Kokugikan is dohyo (the sumo ring) (pictured below). It distinguishes Japanese sumo from other countries’. The sumo ring used to be square in Japan, but it became as it is in the Edo era because one prominent family established itself as a leader in sumo, whose ring was round. One way to win the game is to get an opponent out of the ring. So Japanese rikishis push each other, which is a peculiar way of playing. Japanese fans become excited when one rikishi pushes back hard against the other on the brink of defeat.

Behave yourself on dohyo.

There are many ambitious foreign rikishis today from places such as Mongol and Eastern Europe. But, in the opposite to the rise of foreign rikishis, Japanese ones don’t become Yokozuna (champion) for a long time. The disappearance of local heroes resulted in the decrease of local sumo fans.


But that does not mean the loss of local culture. Politeness is important. On the ring riskishis greet in a unique way to show respects to each other before the game, which is like a ritual. Unlike modern sports, sumo is about self-development rather than results. To grow their minds, rikishis need others. In other words, it is spiritual. Even when one rikishi wins, he is not supposed to show his feelings because it is disrespectful to the other. Kakuryu, who won the tournament, is a Mongolian, but he showed that he understood this code of moral conduct.


If rikishis are polite and respectful to sumo, Japanese fans don’t care where they are from. This is striking as racism is still a problem in European football: there is no violence in Kokugikan; nor is racial abuse either; fans say their favourite rikishis’ names loudly during the game; and some of them enjoy talking with foreign tourists. Along with men, there are many women and children, too (Although there is still a nasty sexual discrimination in sumo because of religious matters, women are historically important in developing the game).


It seems that sumo grows Japanese identity among fans. Seeing it makes them feel who they are. After seeing an exciting match, a local man said, “after all, I knew I like sumo”. Welcome to Japan.


Japan’s Food and Products Fair of Hokkaido

February 3, 2013 by  


Department stores are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Japan. With their kind and polite service and amenities, you can enjoy one-stop shopping from clothing to home goods to food. But you might not be interested in buying products of Burberry’s or Louis Vuitton’s in Tokyo because they are anywhere in the world. For those who want new local experiences, department stores still offer a place to visit: a food and product fair of Hokkaido on the event floor.


It was held at Odakyu Department Store in Shinjuku, the No.1 area tourists visit in Tokyo, between January 23rd and 29th. Japanese department stores play host to cultural events, such as local food and traditional products exhibitions. This is not only a good attraction for department stores, making millions of money during the period; it is also a great advertising opportunity for local companies as they can meet hundreds of foodies.

Hokkaido is the most popular exhibition that Japanese department stores held. Hokkaido is located at the north end of Japan. With large farm land and three surrounding seas (Japan, Okhotsk and Pacific Ocean), agriculture and fishery are its important industries along with the service sector, especially tourism. Its agriculture produced a more than 1 trillion yen profit in 2009, which accounted for 12% of the national product of agriculture. It produces potatoes and milk the most in Japan, both of which are its trademark. Salmon, scallops, crabs and sea urchin eggs are also its major products. Japanese people call Hokkaido Japan’s food base.

The Hokkaido fair is always crowded. Remember!


The food and production fair of Hokkaido stimulated visitors’ five senses. They could see, smell, touch and taste various foods. Staff greeted energetically, letting customers try their products generously; and people cheered. Crowds gathered and waited for special dishes or cakes in lines. In short, all of them were hungry.


There was a long queue in front of Mikoma. They wanted to eat its seafood bentos (packed lunch). In front of people in line, its staff were making a variety of seafood bentos efficiently, most of which had salmon, salmon roe, scallops, shrimps, crabs and sea urchin eggs (all of them were raw) on rice inside boxes (pictured) and were sold at around 1000-2000 yen.


Salmon and sea urchin eggs are favourite foods among Japanese people throughout its history. Ainu people in Hokkaido see salmon as God’s fish as the fish were vital for their lives in the past. Salmon lay eggs in rivers in Hokkaido between October and December and, after growing and living in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean, they return to the river where they were born. There was a samurai hundreds years ago who realised this behaviour of salmon and built an artificial river to farm them.


Salmon may also have been an important factor for the evolution of ancient Japan: there is a theory that Salmon developed the eastern Japan’s culture more than that of its western part in the Jomon period (14,000BC-300BC). The reason for this is that people in the east, including Ainus, kept and ate lots of salmon. This allowed them to survive and thrive. Nutritionally, this may also be possible. Salmon are rich in vitamin B and D and DHA, so they improve blood circulation and stimulate brain cells of humans.


Sea urchin eggs are as healthy as salmon. People eat gonads of sea urchins. They taste really good and are rich in vitamin A, which is good for eyes and skins of humans. But, Japanese people like them not mainly because of those health benefits. Rather, it’s because they, especially salty processed ones made in Fukui prefecture, are one of the three major delicacies in Japan like caviar. So, Japanese people usually eat them on special occasions. This may explain why so many crowds came to the exhibition of Hokkaido. How could foodies miss such an opportunity to eat its good sea urchin eggs?


Japanese people also care food. A research on attitudes towards food by Mitsubishi Research Institute[*] shows that although they are less satisfied with what they eat than British and Italian people, they value food more than Britons and Americans do.

Another popular food that Japanese people love: croquettes


Food business matters to Hokkaido. Its growth rate has been decreasing since 2001. To make the economy grow, it needs globalisation. So, it has local food and product fairs for foreign buyers. JETRO, a trade organisation, is holding a food business meeting and a Hokkaido Week in Singapore in February to open up a new market.

Department stores provide you a unique opportunity to taste food of Hokkaido. The fair is a seasonal event and tends to be held in January and October. Eating local food is fun and makes you think about local people. Tourists should experience it. It may be foreign visitors that can encourage Hokkaido.

[*] Seiichi Kizuki. et al., “Future Vision on Food and Agriculture in Japan”,  Mitsubishi Research Institute, March 19th 2012

Two Must Do’s In Japan’s Kamakura

December 2, 2012 by  


Kamakura is a popular tourist place in Japan. It is about one hour away from Shinjyuku station in Tokyo by train. The city offers a lot: beautiful sea, old temples and shrines and good food and alcohol. With its history and many prominent authors the city has produced, there are many cultural offerings in Kamakura.

There are two things you should do in Kamakura. First, go to Iwata Coffee. It’s just one minute away from the east gate of Kamakura station. Its famous hotcakes are on display, which catch visitors’ eyes. This is because Iwata’s hotcakes are a dream come true for Japanese people: two very thick cakes piled up high on a plate with butter and maple (pictured). They seem to be very effective way to attract customers.

Iwata Coffee’s hotcakes

Iwata’s hotcakes are surprising in many sense. First of all, its beautiful round shape cakes. It’s usually hard to make pancakes round at home like Iwata’s. Iwata’s hotcakes are like the moon. They are around 10cm in diameter. They seem to have Japanese values: Japanese people care about the look of food.

Then, Iwata’s hotcakes are very thick. Pancakes are usually thin and soft so that we can finish them quickly. Iwata’s hotcakes are using more amounts of ingredients than normal pancakes, making it possible to be 3cm high. The outside of the pancakes is crisp and the inside soft. This makes you enjoy eating them at slow pace. Presumably eating slowly is good for digesting.

Third, it takes a long time until you can start eating them. Cooking pancakes is usually easy; at Iwata it isn’t. Staff told me that it would take about thirty minutes to cook pancakes. Moreover, in the tourist season there are often people queuing up for its hotcakes, which means you have to wait for at least 1-2 hours to eat them. Perhaps, there could be no pancakes in the world that take longer time to cook than Iwata’s. But Japanese people do wait for the possibly slowest pancakes in the world. Iwata’s hotcakes are literally selling like hotcakes.

But the wait is worth it. Taste is fantastic. Volume? As staff say, two pancakes (one plate) are right amount for two ordinary Japanese people (Some foreigners like big western people may be shocked). It is also a good place to chat over coffee: its retro decorations make you feel comfortable.

Second, try a rickshaw (jinrikisha) ride. This service has been provided by Ebisuya since 2001 and is good: a rickshaw driver is funny and tells lots of stories about Kamakura (probably only in Japanese). He takes you to beautiful old temples and takes pictures in front of them for you. While on the rickshaw, you can enjoy seeing things from different angles. That’s the point of this. Fares depend on numbers, duration (10min, 30min, 60min) and the distance travelled.

Ebisuya’s rickshaw driver shows you Kamakura

Both Iwata coffee and Ebisuya have one thing in common. Their staff offer excellent hospitality with a wonderful smile on their face. I was impressed and am sure you will have a good time in Kamakura.

Japan’s Mandou Festival & a Cultural Observation

November 6, 2012 by  

A woman playing festival music

Women and a man playing festival music on Mikoshi

There are many festivals in Japan in the fall. This is politically good, says Yoichi Ito, an economist. Is it true?

To find out, I went to The Mandou Festival in Iruma in Saitama prefecture on October 27, 2012. The event started in 1966 to bring people in different areas in the city together and grew to be the largest festival in Iruma. When I arrived the festival that night, hundreds of people with friends and families had already been walking the streets, chatting, eating and drinking. Mandou means in Japanese “tens of thousands of lights”. Literally, people looked like that.

The lion dance

A parade of mikoshis (portable shrines) started after a while. The streets were packed with people. There were lion dances performed on some mikoshis, dancing along to festival music (pictured above). The crowd gazed into them.

The crowd roared when the mayor, Hiroshi Kinoshita, appeared on a stage in the middle of the parade. He said loudly: “There are many festivals in Japan and the world but The Mandou Festival is competitive”. The crowd cheered. It was fun to see people chanting his name like during a football match.

There are two lessons. First, the festival is democratic. The mayor looked as if he was trying not to disturb people. That showed the political dynamics of festivals: The Mandou Festival is not the mayor’s but everyone’s. Because he understands that, he could become popular (only for a short time).

Hedonism? I don't care

Hedonism? He doesn’t care

Second, festivals have a facility to remove dissatisfaction with politics. People break the routine to have fun. This hedonic view of festivals is hardly new. But to take steam out of people matters today. Mr Ito found that Japan has much more festivals than any other countries in North East Asia.

Shoguns in the Edo era were wise to allow people to cut loose during festivals; this is one reason why the Edo government could run for 200 hundred years in which the economy grew sustainably with a free-market system. Look at China, where anti-Japanese protests have recently been broken out and attacked Japanese shops. True, Chinese people are really angry with Japan’s plan to buy the disputed islands and what it did to them during the war. But if they had more festivals, they would have behaved differently. So, Japanese culture has lots to offer.



Tokyo’s New Skytree Isn’t a Godsend For All

October 19, 2012 by  


Tokyo Skytree is a new tourist spot in Tokyo. Since its open on 22nd May, it has been busy every day.

Millions of people flock to Sumida Ward to take a beautiful view of Tokyo and enjoy shopping. Small wonder that Tobu Railway, its owner, forecast net profit of 9.5 billion yen for the first half of 2012, a 43% increase from last year’s. But not everyone is happy.

A NHK TV program, Historia, showed on 26th September that Japanese people like towers throughout its history. Japanese towers have two distinguishing features. First, they put people first.

When Japanese people suffered from famine and diseases in the Nara era (710-784), the then emperor, Shomu, ordered to build towers in cities.

As a Buddhist, he believed that towers would end famine and heal people. Since then lots of towers have been built in Buddhist temples across the country.

Towers have been commercial attractions in modern times. For example, Tsutenkaku in Osaka.

It collapsed in 1943 because of fire accident, but local businessmen convinced Tachu Naito, a famous building designer, to build it again.

The new one was constructed in 1956. It was important not only to attract people to their shops; it developed their identity that they had lost, too. This area is busy to this day.

Second, towers show that Japanese people are excellent at making things.

Skytree is the tallest broadcasting tower in the world. When the earthquake hit Japan last year, the tower was safe.

Obayashi Corporation, which carried out its construction, deserves due credit.

Skytree, however, may be different from old ones. This is not because of its hight. It is because the tower may not serve the same purpose.

Near the tower is a shopping street called Takaradori (meaning in Japanese “treasure street”).

One old businessman grown up in Sumida told me that since the opening of the tower, eight shops have been closed. It is unfair to accuse it of the closure of those shops.

Before Skytree opened, less people had been shopping in this street mainly because of the new opening of a big supermarket store near there.

Some may have expected the new tower to solve the situation. It doesn’t. Rather, it changes from bad to worse: the tower has taken customers away from the shopping street.

According to one source, before the opening of Skytree, Yoshizumi Nezu, the president of Tobu Railway, was angry at Obayashi Corporation for calling it “Obayashi Tree”. When he heard it, he shout: “That is my tower!” Indeed. But this trouble may suggest that he is greedy and wants fame, making it unclear whether he cares about local people who don’t benefit from the tower. Since Mr Nezu is the president, he should have said that the tower is everyone’s.

The darkest place is under the candlestick. The role of the tower is changing. Is it possible that Skytree will increase inequality? I hope not, but we’ll see.


Japan’s Kashima City and a Seaside Safety Discussion

September 23, 2012 by  


A beach in KashimaI went to the seaside in Japan’s Kashima City in late August. Playing in the seaside was fun. But it also reminded me of how weak humans are.  When I was swimming in the sea, the waves were not high but still powerful. The tide was flowing north. It is hard to get out of the tide: I was swept along by it without realizing it. In the night, standing on the beach was a good chill out, but sometimes it wasn’t… It was all dark and the sea was black. Even the sound of waves was threatening.


So, the sea is as dangerous as it is fun. With the memory of tsunami in 2011 fresh, Japanese people feel so. But that doesn’t prevent accidents in the sea. According to the Japan Coast Guard, the number of marine accidents in Japan has kept more than 400 for the last five years[*]. The same accident happened in other countries. A report published by the Consumer Safety Institute in the Netherlands in 2003 found that marine accidents had been increasing in Europe[†].


Why? It could be because leisure is barbaric like sport as Thorstein Veblen, an American sociologist, says in his The Theory of the Leisure Class. From his point of view, when we are doing leisure activities, we are violent and crazy. He seems to regard those things as primitive culture. But it is probably not the case. If we were primitive man, we would not underestimate the sea because of the fear of nature. Thus, we were unlikely to cause the accident. But in reality marine accidents often happen.


Rather, the reason why the accidents haven’t been decreased may be modern. With science and technology developing rapidly, we may be thinking that we can control nature, hence safe. Trust in technology removes constraint. That’s good unless we trust it too much. It seems that technology doesn’t always guarantee safety. Accidents of both pleasure boats and diving are increasing in Japan. The main cause is machine trouble. The Dutch report, too, notes that many accidents of diving “seem to be caused by technical failures.”


All this poses question about marine leisure and safety. To what extent should it be safe? It’s not an easy question since challenge and risk are integral to leisure. Technology helps if we use carefully. We may need more regulations at the expense of freedom. For example, more limited swimming areas with more lifeguards.


But, if they didn’t work, should marine leisure be banned? Based on my experiences from Kashima city, I don’t think so. It has an important function for society: it makes us consider about the coexistence of man and nature. We talk and share experiences in the sea. This will change our mind and behaviour, making people humble. It may help prevent outdoor accidents. Eventually, we could produce an ecological society. Despite the fact that accidents in the sea are not falling, this seems to be happening slowly in Japan. Thus, we need marine leisure.

[*] The Japan Coast Guard http://www.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/marine/figure/h24jigokouhou.pdf

[†] “Risks of certain sports and recreational activities in the EU” by C. van der Sman, A. van Marle, J. Eckhardt and D. van Aken http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/cons_safe/news/rep_risk_sport_en.pdf


English Football and Foreign Managers: From Your Point of View

April 21, 2012 by  


A fan-owned club could change English fans. Thinking from manager’s point of view and sharing a vision are important


Today there are some parents in Japan who blame teachers for all faults while defending their children when bad things happen in schools. They are called monster parents, and English football fans may look similar. There is a view that English football fans don’t accept responsibility and blame others for their national team’s poor performance. But one thing could change that mind.


England play poorly in international games. This is strange. English Premier League not only attracts many great players from around the world but also has talented English players. Moreover its top clubs are strong in Europe. But that is one thing; the national team is another. The latest example is the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They lost in the Round of 16 match against Germany.


English people know their national team is not as strong a team as other people may expect. Tim Howard, a columnist at The Financial Times, once wrote that English people had not expected England would play well in the 2010 World Cup; at best, they could advance to the second round. They were right.


Not only do they appear to be pessimists; they are perverse, too. It has been a puzzle why England play poorly in international stages. But there is a new theory that explains the mystery: English fans tend to attribute it to foreign managers. Worse, they do so just because they are foreigners, saying “They don’t understand us”.


Ed Smith, an English journalist, argues that is one reason why Fabio Capello, an Italian manager, resigned as England’s manager a few moths ago[i]. Seeing the national team playing under English managers badly for long years, fans began to want foreign ones. Although some of them were damaging their pride, Sven Goran Eriksson, a Swedish, was appointed as the first foreign manager of England in 2000. Fans, however, lost their faith in him after his team failed to deliver good results in both 2002 and 2006 World Cup. They wanted a better foreign manager. Then came Capello. With pressure to win the trophy, his team played the 2010 World Cup. It turned out that England were totally defeated by Germany to leave the tournament early. Fans were angry, saying the defeat was attributable to the foreign manager and pushed all the responsibility to him. Why? Because he was an Italian! Now they want an English manager. “It’s time for English football to grow up”, says Mr Smith.


English fans do not like foreign managers very much. According to a poll by YouGov in 2003[ii], only 8% of respondents chose Eriksson as the best manager of England in its history. 40% voted for Sir Alf Ramsy as the best by a huge margin. At the same time, however, just 2% thought Erikson as the worst England manager. This is not bad at all. 35% chose Glen Hoddle, an English man, as the worst. It seems that English fans do not always hate foreign managers.


That may explain why Capello could become the successor of Eriksson in the first place. Besides, the Italian manager, who is still one of the greatest managers Italy has ever produced, has similarities with Ramsy: a thorough management of players; a strict discipline; and cool mind (sometimes, though, lost their temper). To some English fans Capello may have looked like the greatest English manager.


But there were also two things which Ramsy could do and both Eriksson and Capello couldn’t. First is innovation. Ramsy created 4-3-3 and won the 1966 World Cup in England. Those foreign managers didn’t do so. David Goldblatt wrote in his The Ball is Round that England in the Euro 2004 were “skilled and committed but without any innovatory capacity”.


Second is the understanding with players. Ramsy was good at unlocking full potential of his players. Knowing what they could do and couldn’t, his training was just effective. As a result, players understood each other quite well. Capello was, on the other hand, not as good at doing so as Ramsy. When it comes to tactics, he had disagreements with some players including Wayne Rooney. That was crucial. England would have played better in 2010 had he managed to bring the most out of such a gifted player.


Those two things, perhaps, may be what English fans wanted. But foreign managers didn’t deliver. According to Smith’s theory, unsatisfied English fans blamed “them” for not understanding “us” while defending their English players. Their love affairs with foreign commanders were over.


His idea is not without some problems. First, English fans do blame English players. Frank Lampard was booed by them before. So was David Beckham after the 1998 World Cup.


Second, English fans are used to foreign managers and players. There are far more foreign managers in Premiership than any other country in Europe. Many foreign players have come to England either, It is they that turned the game into what it is today. Thus, it is doubtful whether English fans always blame foreign managers.


Third, it is usual that managers take responsibility for their team’s poor performances. It is not wrong that they are to blame when things go wrong. Their job is really hard like managers in the cut-throat world of business.


But Smith’s point is still important. This is simply because the power of fans matters. If fans are neither enthusiastic nor supportive, the atmosphere of the stadium is sad, affecting players mentally.


So English supporters should have shown a little more support for Capello. They could have understood each other better had they looked at things from the foreign manager’s point of view. To do so, it is clear that fans need to change the way they think about their national team.


That could happen. There is a sign of change in Manchester. Readers might think that is either Manchester United or their rival City. Neither. It appeared from FC United of Manchester (FCU), a fan-owned and co-operative club, with local people, businesses and government running it together. Recently, they managed to raise £1.6 million[iii]. It was a huge progress in a £4.6 million project to build a new stadium and community sport facility.


This is a great achievement because it raised money through local community. This scheme is community shares designed by Coop UK in a bid to develop and empower local communities by local people, businesses and government. It is active, democratic and independent. In this case, FCU, Coop, and Cobbetts LLP, a law firm based in Manchester and the brain of the club, organised the fund-raising campaign. Once people became a member of the club, they can take part in its management directly: they can invest in the club; participate in club conferences; and have voting rights. Andy Walsh, FCU’s manager, says, “Raising capital through community shares is a unique development in English football and has been recognised as offering a real alternative to the way football is run and financed”. In other countries, for example, Barcelona, a Spanish club, and Yokohama FC in Japan are run in a similar way.


This style of management fits with the times. The British coalition government seems to like the idea of cooperatives as it is promoting decentralisation. Some politicians like Nick Cregg, the deputy-prime minister, are encouraging community ownership as a new capitalism.


Fans should like it too. Football clubs usually raise capital through sponsors, broadcasting advertisements, owners’ pocket money or by borrowing from banks. In recent years foreign billionaires are buying English clubs as English Premier League has become a big business. There, some flows of money or deals are unclear. But fans are kept out. And there is doubt if foreign owners of big clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea think really seriously about their clubs. Community shares, however, changes that. Fans can not only see clubs’ finances; they can protect their clubs as local assets too. Walsh says that community shares is “more sustainable than relying on wealthy individuals who may not always have the best interest of the club at heart”. It seems that foreign club ownerships triggered the rise of this new form of finance.


Although fans cannot select players or determine tactics, it is possible that community shares brings changes to them. By getting involved in club management more directly than before, they could change the way they see and think the game. This could make them more responsible and help them respect and understand managers more. If this new management system spreads across England, English fans’ prejudice towards foreign managers could disappear.


The key to getting England out of the stagnation in the international tournaments is change the point of view. FCU’s achievement may be a small step; but should not be ignored.


Meanwhile, what about Japan? Its football fans, too, criticise foreign managers. Recently, some of them were angry with Alberto Zacheroni, Italian manager of Japan, over his use of players. But, this is usual. Before him, Japanese fans had often criticised Phillippe Troussier and Zico, French and Brazilian respectively. But the reason why they did so was not because those managers were foreigners but because of their teams’ poor performances and results.


Japanese people may be not so hostile to foreign managers. But in sumo they are like English football fans. With foreign sumo wrestlers dominating the game in the last few centuries, some Japanese people don’t like it because they think foreign players like Asashoryu, a retired Mongolian, don’t understand Japan’s national game properly. This poses a question. When it comes to national games, do fans become unsympathetic to foreigners? Maybe or maybe not.


There is, however, another lesson from Capello’s resignation for Japan. The reason why he quitted as England’s manager was FA’s intervention to some extent. Governance is a thorny problem. Japanese baseball has a similar case as English football. Tsuneo Watanabe, chairman of Yomiuri Shimbun and Giants, a Japanese baseball club, is a dictator of the club and the Japanese baseball world. A few months ago, a row broke out between him and Hidetoshi Kiyotake, the former representative of the club, over the power to shuffle personnel. Kiyotake condemned Watanabe that he broke corporate compliance. He told Facta, a monthly magazine, that the top of Giants had neither vision nor guiding philosophy compared with Kashima Antlers, a Japanese football club, which has been producing a strong team consistently since the start of J League, Japan’s top football league, in 1992.


The lesson from Kiyotake’s dissent is to have a clear vision and make sure that everyone in the club shares it. Kashima has been led by Brazilian managers for years. Nor is it a fan-owned club. After all, what matters in governance is not where managers are from but whether or not it makes sense. FCU has a vision in which they contribute to the local community. It seems that its managers, players and fans share the vision better than Giants and England.■


[i] Ed Smith, “It’s time for English football to grow up”, http://edsmith.org.uk/2012/03/01/its-time-for-english-football-to-grow-up/


[ii] YouGov, “The State of Football Prepared for the Sun”, http://cdn.yougov.com/today_uk_import/YG-Archives-lif-sun-statefootballpart2-031114.pdf


[iii] Social Enterprise, “FC United of Manchester hits £1.6m community shares target”, http://www.socialenterpriselive.com/section/news/community/20120317/fc-united-manchester-hits-%C2%A316m-community-shares-target



CSR As Fad

March 25, 2012 by  


Masters of Management: How the business gurus and their ideas have changed the world-for better and for worse. By Adrian Wooldridge. HarperCollins; 446 pages; $29.99


Corporate scandals continue to make headlines. The recent case is accounting fraud at Olympus, a Japanese camera maker. At a time when dishonest activities such as corruption, bribery, insider trading, remain rife, thinking about corporate social activity (CSR) is important. Adrian Wooldridge, management editor of The Economist, an English newspaper, timely puts a scalpel into CSR to analyse it in his new book.


The author see CSR as a fad in the management theory industry. CSR is an idea that comppanies put social responsibility at the centre of corporate strategy. He compares it with re-engineering, which became a fad a decade ago. Although these two ideas are different from each other, he finds an important thing they have in common: “They both take a half-truth and treat it as a whole truth-reengineering by making a fetish of efficiency and CSR by exaggerating the importance of good works.” Simply put, too much is as bad as too little.


Providing comprehensive and historical analysis of various management theories,  Mr Wooldridge’s point is that they become a fad and pass. “Promising to change the world and rewrite the rules of business, initially sweeping all before it, eventually losing its momentum, but, in the end, yielding one or two valuable insights”, he notes. Despite this, managers continue to use management theories produced by management gurus or business consultants because of ambition and fear.


CSR is just one of them. It became a fad mainly because it was a good means of PR, improving reputations or images of companies. And the main reason why it is already becoming a passing fad is the 2008-2009 financial crisis. He shows two evidence; the charitable foundation of Citigroup, an investment bank, reduced its grant budget from $90 million in 2008 to about $60 million in 2009; and  the philanthropic arm of Ford, an American carmaker, reduced its spending by 40 percent.


BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was also a backlash against CSR. The company has been criticised for losing its focus on oil business by placing too much emphasis on CSR. It turned out to be a distraction from the main business.


As a result, CSR became a pie in the sky.  It is, after all, useful means of PR and management strategy if not greenwashing. Despite its noble aims, the reality is that the idea is struggling to improve the environment or to prevent corporate fraud, which makes it hard for CSR to deny that it is just a fig leaf for capitalists.


That invites a question about what is the best way for companies to make contributions to society. Critics of CSR such as Mr Wooldridge and The Economist say it is to focus on their main job. It is hard to think that footballers like David Beckham help people in a community by teaching physics. For him it is football that makes a difference, which is a quick and efficient way to do so too. One of the reasons why reengineering is gaining attention today is that CSR is often inefficient. Above all, such critics insist that the business of business is business.


True, companies have likes and dislikes. It is often difficult to do things outside their field of expertise, which will add to their costs. In the worst-case scenario, they can’t provide products or services for their customers, failing to serve their purpose.


Win trust and prosper long


But should companies make profits without being socially responsible? That is silly simply because they are a part of society. The question we should ask is not whether CSR is good or bad, but whether they can match it with their main businesses. Comparing the west and Japan gives us a hint.


First, CSR is relatively new in the West. Its spread started in the 1970s. Anglo-Saxon mode of business is different from that of Japan: for them the purpose of business is business, that is, to make profits for shareholders. Of course, this is not to say that they hardly did social activities. Philanthropic work and charitable giving are common there. But, as Mr Wooldridge points out, they did not really care about their social responsibility until CSR proved a boon for them. From his point of view, however, CSR is just a product of gurus or elites in the management theory industry. And it is already drawing to a close.


By contrast, CSR is not new in Japan. Companies are traditionally socially responsible. For example, Eiichi Shibusawa, one of the most prominent Japanese businessmen in the 19th century, said that correct moral behaviour and doing social good are prior to making personal profits. Merchants in Omi, the middle part of Japan, produced one of the most famous business ethics: Sanpouyoshi (meaning in Japanese “good for sellers, buyers and society”). It has lived for more than 350 years.


Why does CSR continue such a long time in Japan? Several reasons can be considered. First, it is simply because the practice of social responsibility made businessmen like merchants of Omi very successful. Managers in all countries are keen on taking successful management theories and if they are useful, they pass them on to their next generation as family precepts. Take, for example, Itochu, a Japanese conglomerate. Its founder, Chubei Itoh, was himself a merchant of Omi and put Sanpouyoshi in practice. Since then it has been greatly valued by the Japanese company. Its profit in 2011 is estimated to be 11.8 trillion yen. They are not the only company in thinking this code of ethics very important. Sanpouyoshi, a business website run by Shiga prefecture, shows small and medium-sized companies in rural areas are doing businesses with the idea at the core of their management.


Cultural differences can be another reason why Japanese companies embrace social responsibility longer than Western counterparts. It becomes clear when we look at different reactions Japan in the Edo era and today’s global companies took to recession. Japan had a rapid economic growth from 1651, which is known as Genroku bubble. Like today, it was driven by risk-taking investors. But when the bubble burst, they disappeared. As a result of the recession, businessmen’s reputation was ruined. People did not trust them either. However, this crisis turned out to be a start of corporate social responsibility in Japan. Reflecting the boom and bust, they became serious about it.


The wind blew in favour of social responsibility. To help recover businessmen’s damaged status, Baigan Ishida, a philosopher, described how important a role businessmen played in the society in his book Shonindo (meaning in Japanese “the way of merchants”). Studying Buddhism and Confucianism, he thought that business relationship should be based on mutual trust, benevolence and reciprocal help. This reflects his vision of building an orderly society. In the light of this, we can see that the Japanese ethics of business takes society into account.


Unlike Japanese businessmen of the Edo era in the wake of the recession, CSR is becoming less important in the West after the financial crisis. Instead, Western companies seem to return to the point that they think the business of business is business. As I said earlier, they reduced their investment in CSR.


Business relationship in the West is different from that of Japan. An important concept of the Anglo-Saxon capitalism is contract. This is a rational, Western thing. All deals are based on contract. And, importantly, contract means the one with God, as Max Weber once found. While that gives special importance to afterlife, Baigan stressed mutual trust and society.


But a crucial difference between the two is the purpose of CSR. Yes, there are some companies which are serious about tackling social issues like Bodyshop. But for many CSR is just a means of PR. By contrast, Japan’s traditional idea of CSR is basically to build trust. To start business in new markets, merchants of Omi put buyers and consumers ahead of their own interest. That was all the more important after the bubble burst.


Trust is the key to continuing business too. Japanese time-honoured companies show that trust sustains prosperity. Toshio Goto, professor at School for the Creation of Photonics Industries in Shizuoka prefecture, notes that bearing social responsibility in mind boosts family companies to continue.[1]


Developing the trust companies need explains why merchants of Omi kept the practice of Sanpouyoshi. Trust makes business successful. If that continues, firms can prosper long. Susumu Nomura, journalist and professor at Takushoku University in Tokyo, notes in his book about Japan’s time-honoured manufacturing companies that one of the things they have in common is the practice of “justice of merchants”: justice and trust are fundamental for both buyers and sellers when making a deal.[2] In addition, it has been passed down from generation to generation, sustaining their longevity for hundreds of years. This applies to merchants of Omi too. Shigeo Inagaki of Institute of Corporate Social Responsibility thinks that at the bottom of Sanpouyoshi lies long prosperity of family business.[3] Given all this, winning trust seems to be an important management strategy.


But that is not all about trust in Japan. Ronal Dore, British sociologist and Japan expert, argues how Japanese morality of business is morally different from America’s[4]. Researches on how trust makes business more efficient or how it increases profits have been widely carried out in the West, in which trust is thought of as a business strategy. That is not surprising and is also true to Japan. But he thinks that Japanese people see trust as the absolute value. Among other things such as the lifetime employment, equality the spirit of monozukuri (making things), trust distinguishes Japanese business ethics from that of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. Mr Dore prefers the former to the latter. Such trust may also be the reason why Japanese firms have continued to have social responsibility for a long time.


Having such social responsibility at the core of management is probably also important for growth, as Itochu shows. Employees and employers all share the same vision, which was passed down from generation to generation; it shapes and forms their values, producing high standards of discipline; all of which create its corporate culture. With social responsibility as a base for management, they can work in a way that is efficient and sustains growth. Jim Collins, the author of Good to Great, found that at the core of great companies lie discipline and solid values.


Tata Group, an Indian conglomerate, is similar to merchants of Omi in some ways. With focus on CSR, the group is serious about tackling the poverty. They see the poor as customers. Their frugal innovation allows them to think its growth strategy in the long-term. Mr Wooldridge notes that its reputation for probity has helped to insulate it from India’s endemic corruption. Its ability to learn from mistakes is also its strength. Its achievements? Dominating a wide range of markets from automobile, steal, beverage, electricity to software, its revenues reached $6.74 billion in 2009-2010. The author thinks that Tata is a collection of global companies such as Ford, IBM, CocaCola and the like. Overall, merchants of Omi and Tata show that “pure” CSR pays off.


Tata is not the only company in taking CSR seriously. A report from MIT Sloan Management Review and the Boston Consulting Group, an American business consultant company, showed that 70% of 3000 executives who participated in this research thought CSR as one of their long-term management tasks[5]. What they have in common are a willingness to collaborate with external groups and a strong commitment to the cause. From these findings, CSR can be thought to be still valued in future.


CSR as a means of business strategy will not go away either. Mr Wooldridge has two reasons for it. First, it is a useful tool in the war against the chaos in emerging world. If governments are dysfunctional or markets have many flaws, companies have to face social issues. Tata and Unilever, a consumer goods company, for example, are co-operating with NGOs as well as poor people. At the same time, social entrepreneurs and voluntary organisations like Wikipedia have been emerging for recent years.


The other reason is that CSR is a useful tool in the war for talent too. Many young job-seekers want to make money by improving the world. CSR helps companies recruit such talents.


Even if CSR is passing its peak, it will still matter in whatever forms. But putting too much an emphasis on it is nonsense, let alone pseudo-CSR. BP offers a lesson. The oil company had been loudly appealing its practice of CSR until people lost their faith in the company after the 2010 oil disaster. Some critics made mockery of the company, saying that BP stands for “Beyond Parody”. CSR is difficult, as BP shows. In fact, BCG’s research also found some companies struggling to define sustainability in a way that is relevant to their businesses. Nor was CSR ranked high in importance among other management agenda items.


To gain trust is necessary for long prosperity, and CSR is the key factor. But finding a balance is important. If CSR suits for corporate vision, it is worth practising; if not, trying hard to fit it into business is unwise. Mr Nomura found that when Japanese time-honoured companies had expansion plans, they made sure that they were an extension of their core businesses. As Mr Wooldridge thinks, fads pass. However, like merchants of Omi and Tata, companies bearing social responsibility in mind continue long. As long as there are such companies, so will CSR, regardless of fad. ■



[1] Toshio Goto, “Secrets of the Family Business Longevity in Japan from the Social Capital Perspectives

[2] Susumu Nomura (2006), “Sennen hataraitekimashita: Shinisekigyotaikoku Nippon”, Kadokawa

[4] Ronald Dore, “The Important and the Unimportant in Business Education”, Asian Business & Management 2006 5

[5] MIT Sloan Management Review & The Boston Consulting Group, “Sustainability nears a tipping point” 2011 Winter

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