At the World Economic Forum in Davos this year, Japan attracted unprecedented levels of attention. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe gave the opening keynote, and Haruhiko Kuroda, the Bank of Japan governor, participated in the closing Global Economic Outlook session.
From this sudden leap to the forefront of the global stage, a sharp observer might guess that a revolution of sorts is taking place in Japan.
Thinking back to other revolutions throughout history, it’s clear that they all had two things in common. First, there’s always a big idea driving them. For instance, there was Rousseau’s philosophy behind the 1789 French Revolution, Marxism-Leninism behind the 1917 Russian Revolution, and the thinking of the Mito School behind Japan’s 1868 Meiji Restoration. Second, there’s a group of firebrand leaders prepared to use the force of arms to effect dramatic and rapid change.
As we saw with the demonstrations, riots, and violence of the Arab Spring, this is more or less how revolutions still play out in autocratic countries. But in mature democracies like Japan, we cannot use force to bring about change. Social and political changes have to be achieved through the ballot box, rather than violence.
In order to change Japan, what we need are leaders who are effective communicators, capable of getting their ideas across and persuading the majority to embrace and vote for change. This is the secret of what I call “quiet revolutions.”
Japan desperately needs such a quiet revolution to break out of the economic dead end it’s been stuck in for the last two decades.
In business, it’s often said that the best way to fix a messed-up company is to devise and execute a simple 10-point action plan. I think the same approach can work for a country. Someone needs to come up with a vision or action plan for the politicians here to implement.
That was the thinking behind my setting up 100 Actions, a website where we are developing a 100-point action plan for “fixing” Japan. So far we’ve proposed 52 specific policy goals for the current administration.
But an action plan by itself is not enough to sort Japan out. Just as Abe’s “Abenomics” reform platform consists of “three arrows”—monetary easing, fiscal stimulus, and structural reform—we need a further two elements to make our movement to revive Japan viable. These additional elements are: strong leaders and popular support for change.
To help develop the next generation of strong leaders, I set up the annual G1 Summit in 2009, a multi-stakeholder meeting spanning the worlds of politics, business, and academia. Current Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Heizo Takenaka, the thinker behind Abe’s structural reform program, have participated, not to mention a host of city mayors and prefectural governors, several billionaire entrepreneurs, leading academics, and so on.
Then, to generate the necessary wide public support for our change agenda, we are making active use of Twitter, Facebook, blogs, online video, and satellite TV.
Recently, the Western news media is getting a little skeptical about Prime Minister Abe. They’ve started to suspect that he’s never going to get around to firing his third structural reform arrow.
My answer is, they’re wrong. Japan is already undergoing a revolution.
Revolution through arms may be instantaneous and highly visible, but democratic revolution is subtle and gradual. It involves slow processes like generational change, consensus building, and the fostering new leaders.
And that change is taking place in Japan. Just consider the following:
1. More and more Japanese people are actively rooting for a change in the status quo through social media.
2. Business people, academics and regional leaders are becoming more engaged in politics. There is also more collaboration between different groups.
3. Political leaders are getting younger and more in touch with the electorate.
4. The style of leadership has changed, with a new emphasis on decisiveness, clarity, and full communication. Abe’s speech at Davos and Japan’s final presentation of its Tokyo 2020 bid to the International Olympic Committee are examples of this new style in action.
I’ve talked a lot about my personal mission. I feel I’ve accomplished what I want to do in family, personal and business terms. That’s why I’ve started putting my business interests on the back burner. Now I want to help the wider national community and contribute to revitalizing Japan.
Of course, quiet revolutions don’t change things overnight. Some people are indifferent to our message of change; some people welcome it passively; others are actively seeking to spread the word and shake things up. But we are slowly and steadily building up the necessary critical mass. All a quiet revolution needs to succeed is a majority in favor of change.
And I am confident we can get it.