Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In Japan, the sun also rises

I arrived in Tokyo two weeks ago to find a country recovering from the most recent of two major coastal typhoons that added to the already lingering after-effects of a serious earthquake and the resulting tsunami that devastated the country's power supply.

My visit was centered on Yokahama, the largest port, which did not experience any direct damage but like all of the Kant? Plains area was still under tight government restrictions on power usage. To a guest at a first-class hotel, the only visible signs of any problems were a raised air conditioning temperature and the lowering of lighting in public spaces. I am sure that behind the scenes of a well-run hotel, the problems were greater, but they managed to keep these from affecting guests.

At the Pan-Pacific Exhibition complex, the same power requirements were also in place and other than a slightly discomforting higher temperature in the halls and conference rooms one would not know that the country was in a recovery mode. The most visable tip-off was the general absence of ties worn by visitors, a distincly non-Japanese dress mode occasioned by the working envirornment temperatures.

I came here to partcipate and speak at LaserTech 2011, one of four co-located exhibits featuring complementary laser technology and products. The organizers said they came close to 12,000 attendees, exceeding their forecasted 10,000. Was this a sign that the Japanese economy was taking an upward turn after years of being depressed? It’s hard to say as this was very much a domestic show with all exhibits signs in Japanese, and for the most part, exhibits were staffed by Japanese-speaking marketing and sales people so surveys of exhibitor satisfaction were hard to obtain. I judged the continuous activity at exhibits adjacent to mine as an indication that business prospects among the attendees were good.

One of my goals on this trip was to learn how Japanese suppliers of industrial laser products survived years of stagnation and the recent disasters. I spoke with managers and officers of both large and small companies and found that their attitude, at least to Westerners, was upbeat. An interesting twist was that the severe goverment restrictions on power usage and the crushing economic climate had caused companies to dramaticaly change their operating procedures. And now that restrictions were easing and the economy was turning up, these same companies intended to keep in place many of the changes forced on them to become, as a result, an even leaner, tighter operating entity. Basically they said they learned they could operate comfortably with reduced energy and other restrictions. As one CEO said to me, "It was a tough learning experience."

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