Monday, November 28, 2011

Nissan's Carlos Ghosn: Steering Through Crisis, Driving Into The Future

Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn. Via.

Carlos Ghosn has a laundry list of crises that he has faced as the President and CEO of Nissan. Recent events including the post-Lehman collapse, the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Thai floods and European economic turmoil have all presented huge challenges for the automaker. However, according to Ghosn, the yen’s rise is exacerbating the impact of all the other crises and is forcing even profitable companies to stop investing in Japan. Endaka--or strong yen--is affecting the long-term future of Japan and it needs fixing immediately.

“The yen is appreciating at the worst moment for the Japanese economy,” Ghosn told a packed auditorium at the Japan Society recently [full video here]. “The problem is we are making money, everywhere except Japan,” he said.

Ghosn said that the appreciation of the yen means that Japan cannot compete on cost, despite the “indisputable” quality of goods, skilled workforce and wealth of talent. “We are surrounded by countries who are making sure the exchange rate is competitive, how can we face a tsunami, a flood, a financial system collapse and on top of this have to have a re-evaluation of the currency of 35 or 50 per cent? We can’t.”

Ghosn has taken his concerns about the yen right to the top. When the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda visited the Nissan plant in Yokohama recently, Ghosn said he decided not to overwhelm him with a long list of problems.

“When the Prime Minister said, “What can I do for you?” I said, “One thing, fix the exchange rate.”

But Ghosn clearly subscribes to the school of what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Carlos Ghosn was brought in to Nissan in 1999 to save the company. And he did. He quickly implemented the Nissan Revival Plan and the carmaker returned to growth and profitability--it now ranks third behind Toyota and Honda in the U.S. car market. In 2005, he was also named CEO of Renault and the combined companies have 350,000 employees and global sales of 7.2 million units in 2010. Nissan’s latest innovation is the Leaf electric car, the market leader in 100 per cent gas free cars with about 15,000 units sold worldwide.

His prescription for crisis management starts with a clear assessment of the scale of the problem. The next step is to make a plan that selects a few priorities to get through the crisis but also maintains some longer-term projects. In Nissan’s case, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, everything except electric car production and expansion in China was put on hold while the company concentrated on maintaining cash flow.

Ghosn also emphasized the importance of empowering the workforce to deal with adversity. “There is no way, you’re going to get through a crisis alone,” he said. “The one key which explains why we recovered faster than our competitors after the tsunami and the Thai flood is because we empower people.” Naturally for empowerment to work, top management also needs to be committed to and engaged in the plan.

Ghosn does however believe that Nissan has an “anti-crisis” weapon in the form of the electric car. Some predict that electric cars will be 10 per cent of the market by 2020. “Everybody knows I am the most optimistic,” he joked. “Which is obvious because we’re the only one with the car.”

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Power of Tomodachi: U.S. Military's Humanitarian Efforts Cemented An Alliance

Adm. Walsh salutes a Sendai base during Operation Tomodachi. Via.

When the March 11 earthquake struck Japan, the commander of the 7th fleet of the U.S. navy was off the coast of Singapore. Without orders, he set a course for Honshu and within a short time every U.S. naval ship in the region was under way for Japan.

As U.S. Navy Admiral Patrick M. Walsh told a standing room-only audience at the Japan Society recently [watch the full video], it was the beginning of Operation Tomodachi--or Operation Friend in English.

“The real story here is in the power of the idea, the idea of tomodachi, the idea that represents who we are, where our relationship is and what it could be,” Walsh said.

As 59th Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Walsh oversaw the mission. For him, Operation Tomodachi went way beyond providing help to a nation in crisis; it cemented the U.S.-Japan alliance and highlighted the importance of understanding the geo-political challenges facing the Asia-Pacific region.

To appreciate the scale of Operation Tomodachi it helps to list a few numbers: there were 20 U.S. naval ships and 140 aircraft deployed to the area, and 19,703 U.S. marines and sailors took part. Many of the U.S. bases in Japan from the disputed Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, to Yokota Air base just west of Tokyo and Misawa Air base in Aomori were involved. They provided humanitarian aid including 246 tons of food and 21 million gallons of water. They also helped to contain the nuclear disaster and deal with the “emotionally debilitating” aftershocks. It was an operation that called upon all the U.S. armed forces’ logistical and technical skills but that also required immense compassion and diplomacy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Joichi Ito: Open Networks And Hacker Spaces Can Save The World

Icono clash. Via Fast Company.

Juliet Hindell reports form Japan Society's November 10 event Innovation in an Open Network with MIT Media Lab director Joichi Ito. Watch the full video here.

Joichi Ito is the ultimate iconoclast – a college dropout who now heads an academic institution, the MIT Media Lab. He is also the Chair of Creative Commons, the open network organization, and founder of Tokyo-based Digital Garage.

And he recently became involved in Geiger counter production. Six months after partial nuclear meltdowns at three Tokyo Electric Power reactors, skeptical Japanese took nuclear measurement literally into their own hands. And Ito was there, doing what he does best – finding opportunity in chance.

Home-monitoring of radiation is just the latest venture of one of Japan’s foremost entrepreneurs. Ito is most famous for helping usher Japan into the Internet age by cultivating and connecting a generation of angel investors and hungry young Internet entrepreneurs eager to replicate the energy and success of Silicon Valley.

Ito didn’t plan much of this; in fact planning is something he thinks is overrated.

His own Internet career began when he realized that nobody really achieved anything in Japan before the age of 45. In the new virtual world, he discovered it was better to be young. There were no rules and things moved fast and fluidly.

“If you plan everything you can’t be lucky and you need a lot of luck,” he said at a recent talk at the Japan Society. Ito was describing how many great Internet ideas started through chance connexions.

“Nearly every internet company starts out as what sounds like a stupid idea,” Ito said. But a willingness to try things out has resulted in companies like YouTube, which began as a dating site and morphed to become the biggest video site on the Internet. Chance over planning is a foreign concept in Japan. He recalled proposing an idea to a Japanese company, which he estimated would have cost about $100,000 to implement. But the company embarked on a feasibility study at a cost of $3million. “So they spent $3miillion dollars trying to decide to eventually not do something that would have cost $100,000.”

Today with the Internet’s Open Software protocols, anyone can start a company quickly and easily, a process he sums up with the word “agile”. But it’s not a process that lends itself to too much planning. While he thinks the Japanese talent for such business strategies as just in time delivery should sit well with this open architecture, he also warns that when the process is institutionalized, it gets bogged down in over-planning. “You have what I would call a compass, but how exactly you get there you figure out as you go,” Ito said.

Figuring things out is where open networks and hacker spaces have a crucial role to play according to Ito. He believes they are at the forefront of the democratization of knowledge.

Monday, November 14, 2011

United We Stand As Friends: U.S. Aid To Japan's Earthquake And Tsunami Victims


In the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan, the U.S. armed forces mobilized immediately to assist the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to provide relief for victims. The mission, Operation Tomodachi (tomodachi means “friend” in Japanese), not only saved lives during devastating times, but helped cement good relations between the U.S. and Japan, where tensions have flared due to base relocation issues in Okinawa.

Vice President Joe Biden called Operation Tomodachi the “largest humanitarian relief effort in U.S. history”, when he stopped at the Yokota military base to thank the thousands of personnel who participated. In her talk at the U.S.-Japan Council Annual Conference in October, Hillary Clinton recalled seeing firefighters sent from Japan to aid Americans during the 9/11 attacks, and said she was proud that America could return the favor.

This mission’s leader Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet who most recently was active in leading the Combined Maritime Forces in Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and various maritime security operations, believes Operation Tomodachi demonstrated “forward presence in the region to support humanitarian crises and deter aggression.”

Walsh appears at Japan Society on November 15 in Operation Tomodachi: Support, Compassion, Commitment. He discusses his experience leading the large joint relief operation, and shares what he personally witnessed during the monumental collaboration. Japan Society Chairman Wilbur Ross moderates.

--Sean Tomizawa

Friday, November 11, 2011

Otomo Vs. Marclay: Heavyweight Turntablists Reunite For NYC Concert

Before it was a standard in early rap, hip hop and DJ sets, turntablism—the purposeful manipulation of records against the phonographic needle—was long part of avant-garde music making. Two modern day masters of the genre, Christian Marclay and Otomo Yoshihide, bring the artform to new heights, spinning, looping, skipping and scratching a wild combination of free jazz, noise rock, sound collages, and controlled cacophony.

Hailing from Yokohama, Japan, Otomo played around with electronic devices as a teenager thanks to his engineer father. His interest in music started with creating sound collages out of tape recorders, playing guitar in a high school band and eventually falling in love with free jazz. After graduating from Meiji University studying ethnomusical history, he performed throughout Japan with a wide range of musicians and formed his most well-known group, Ground Zero, in the early 90s. Since then, Otomo has gone on to work solo and with many other artists to create sound experiments, and was most recently involved with Project Fukushima!, a performance festival supporting of the victims of the nuclear disaster affecting the region where he grew up.

Marclay is widely accepted as the progenitor of turntablism as high art. In early experiments, he broke vinyl records and assembled the different parts, forging mashed up music accompanied by rhythmic noises from the physical imperfections. More recent work includes Guitar Drag, consisting of a hooked up electric guitar dragged across the ground by a pickup truck and its consequent sounds blasted out of a large amp, and the epic, internationally acclaimed 24-hour long video, The Clock, winner of the prestigious Golden Lion award.

Otomo and Marclay perform together in NYC for the first time in over a decade in a one-night-only concert jam at Japan Society November 19 (part of Performa 2011). Before taking the stage, the two artists take part in a pre-concert discussion with musician, writer, and curator Alan Licht and ethnomusicologist David Novak.

In addition, Otomo exhibits his installation piece Without Records, an homage to Marclay’s album Record Without a Cover, on view for the first time outside Japan November 17-20.

There are many samples of Otomo’s and Marclay’s work on YouTube. Some highlights:

--Sean Tomizawa

Thursday, November 10, 2011

He's On The Hunt, He's After Hues: Fashion Pioneer Mines Colors In Central Park

Does Sunglow, Jonquil or Goldenrod dominate Central Park? Via.

In 2008 fashion and design pioneer Dai Fujiwara and his creative team took to the vast tropical lands of the Amazon to color hunt, matching thousands of cloth swatches with the surroundings to find the color palette they eventually used for the ISSEY MIYAKE Spring Summer 2009 collection. According to ColourLovers, "To test the veracity of their choices, they strung strips of cloths over open spaces like the river. If the colours 'melted away' and did not stand out from the background, they knew they had chosen the correct ones."

In contrast to what most would think to find in such a rich, vibrant rainforest, Fujiwara discovered that earth tones were the most common matches, and, surprisingly the rivers bent more towards skin tones. One wonders what Fujiwara will find this month when he goes on a color hunting expedition in Central Park, where the leaves are at the height of fall change.

Japan Society welcomes Fujiwara November 16 in Mastermind in Textile: An Evening with Dai Fujiwara. He’ll discuss his Central Park findings, his tenure with ISSEY MIYAKE, and The Sun House, his foray into eco-friendly architecture in the early 00s, featured in the ongoing Fiber Futures exhibit. Cara McCarty, Curatorial Director of Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and an art and design expert with over 25 years of experience, moderates.

Graduated from Tama Art University in 1994, Fujiwara joined fashion mogul Issey Miyake as a member of the design studio Paris branch a year later, and was appointed creative director in 2006. One of his biggest accomplishments was the award-winning and museum-featured A-POC (A Piece of Cloth) project where clothing meets craftwork. On huge rolls of special fabric, shirts, pants and the like can simply be cut out with a scissor and put on in a flash with customizations easily made when needed. In 2006 Fujiwara was named creative director of ISSEY MIYAKE. He left the position in 2011 to pursue his own projects.

--Sean Tomizawa

Fujiwara sayonara. Via.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Avant Zen: Today’s Japanese Architecture

The Tod. Via.

Purity, clarity, calm. Much of Japan’s contemporary architecture exudes such feelings with wave-like curved walls and deceivingly simple stacked box structures. These buildings inspire awe, break beyond the expected and strive for ecological mindfulness--hand-in-hand with Zen concepts.

On November 10 Japan Society hosts New Japan Architecture: Recent Works & New Trends with celebrated architect Edward Suzuki and Dr. Geeta Mehta, professor of architecture at Colombia University and author of New Japan Architecture: Recent Works by the World's Leading Architects.

Inspired by Design published arresting highlights from this “new magnum opus of Japanese design”, featuring 42 established and fringe architects and 48 major projects from Kisho Kurokawa’s Tokyo National Museum (awesome interview in that link), to Toyo Ito’s Tod building, to Shigeru Ban’s Tokyo headquarters for Swatch. From the book's introduction:

When it comes to contemporary house design, the Japanese can be fearless and willing to forego comforts dear to most of us in order to live in a work of art. Shigeru Ban once remarked that he loved working for clients in Japan because they were willing to take a design further than any Western client.
Edward Suzuki, one of the featured architects in the book, has created a wide range of impressively designed homes, schools, and train stations, as well as the unlikely koban in Shibuya and a parking area out in Chiba. Born in Saitama in 1947, he studied at the University of Notre Dame and worked at various design firms in Tokyo and New York before starting his own in 1977. His works invoke a simultaneous sense of openness and structure through his use of large glass pane windows and repeated squares, rectangles, and the occasional curve to form the framework of a building. Interior greenery like large trees and potted bamboo add to the fresh, breath-taking feel of his designs.

Geeta Mehta has spent much of her life in Japan, graduating from the University of Tokyo, and is partner with Jill Braden at the interior design firm Braden & Mehta Design. Her harmonious blend of Western and Asian influences appear in work throughout U.S., Vietnam, and India as well for various corporations and private homes. Among her humanitarian efforts, she founded the the Mumbai-based Urbz think tank and the nonprofit Asia Initiatives. Along with the publication of New Japan Architecture, Mehta has penned several books on Japanese architecture and design.

--Sean Tomizawa

Earth first in much of Japan’s new architecture. Via.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We Are Legion: Decentralizing The Internet For Innovation

The general attitude among netizens is that with all the data that comprises the Internet, sharing is caring. Or is it the other way around?

In terms of file sharing, many are familiar with the concept of direct downloading as a means of getting music and videos, and its web of legal issues. An alternative method is BitTorrent, a peer-to-peer system where users simultaneously download and upload pieces of an original file which get shared around the Internet to complete the download. Instead of receiving data from a single source, multiple owners of the file chip in to help others claim their own.

BitTorrent is one example of free and open-source software (FOSS), in which anyone can take available software, make changes, improve, and redistribute it for free as long as they allow others do the same. There is no copyright concern, which can slow or even prevent openly sharing valuable information and knowledge that leads to innovation and breakthroughs. Ultimately FOSS exists to help “individuals and organizations reduce cost, increase use, improve standards compliance, enhance security, and avoid vendor lock-in.”

The philosophy and practical applications of FOSS can help solve impossibly complex problems and even have life-saving ramifications.

In Japan, in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis that led to nuclear crisis at Fukushima, little information was made available for people concerned about radiation levels. Safecast, formerly known as RDTN, took matters into hand by aggregating radiation data from various sources. In the spirit of FOSS, the team makes all data available to everyone after planting static radiation sensors around Japan, as well as utilizing portable Geiger counters that work with mobile devices.

As a forefront advocate for internet freedom and global technology policy, Joichi Ito, director of MIT Media Lab and former CEO of Creative Commons , argues we no longer live in a world of central control but rather in ecosystem of "small pieces loosely joined" with innovation on the edges. The ubiquity and low cost creation and distribution of information has fundamentally changed the way we collaborate.

Ito shares his ideas in Innovation in an Open Network at Japan Society on November 10. Drawing from his work at MIT, he’ll look at startups like Safecast, use of citizen Geiger counters, and other examples of 21st century practices that are bettering the world. Michael Zielenziger, McKinsey Global Institute senior editor and author of Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation moderates.

--Sean Tomizawa

Friday, November 4, 2011

Art Alive On A5: Inspirational Postcard Pieces from Tohoku Artists

When the Great East Japan Earthquake hit on March 11th, power went out in most of the Tohoku region, impeding communications for weeks on end. The postal service turned out to be a godsend for families and friends. “In many cases, the first news that loved ones were safe was by postcard,” notes Joe Earle, director of Japan Society gallery.

Kate Thomson and Hironori Katagiri, two sculptors who divide time between Edinburgh, Scotland, and Iwate, Japan, curated work by 22 Tohoku-based artists in Postcards From Japan, a mini-exhibition free to the public at Japan Society’s A-Level until November 27.

Down by Japan Society's auditorium are two opposing walls lined with numerous tiny framed art pieces. They consist of beautiful photographic, acrylic, and ink work as well as some unusual media such as ruined remains of a school textbook, broken seashells, and even a small dried out fish.

The small-size artwork--fitting Japan’s standard A5 brochure paper--expresses a huge range of emotions. Abstract pieces stand out due to their use or lack of color while old photographs showing better times. Found objects from the aftermath wordlessly describe what has been lost. The conveyed feelings of whimsy, grief, and, most importantly, hope is incredibly powerful.

In the words of the wall text, Postcards from Japan is “a meditation on nature’s power to challenge us with no warning but it also reassures that life is indeed continuing in devastated Tohoku.”

When most funds are going directly towards relief efforts, the curators feel that creating art goes one step further to help “boost morale and stimulate hope for the future and enthusiasm to rebuild”. Sales from the exhibitions’ accompanying catalogue benefit artists living and working in the Tohoku.

--Sean Tomizawa

Images (top to bottom): Megumi Honda (1972–), Tono, Iwate Prefecture, Tenshin 2011, 2011, shells collected from hometown of Higashi-Matsushima, and paper , 5 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (14.8 x 21 cm); Shigenobu Yoshida (1958- ), Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, Light Bird, 2011, acrylic on acrylic board, 5 3/4 x 8 1/4 in. (14.8 x 21 cm).