Books November 2011

Book Reviews

Case Studies in Japanese Management

Edited by Parissa Haghirian and Philippe Gagnon World Scientific ¥4,969

A collection of 15 case studies and essays compiled by Haghirian, an associate professor of international management at Tokyo’s Sophia University, and Gagnon, of the Economist Intelligence Unit in Canada. The book opens with a look at the travails of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in the Japanese market, since it bought a stake in Seiyu in 2002 and took control of the struggling supermarket group in 2007.

The next chapter tracks the adventures of another Western firm, eBay. It failed to replicate its success in Japan, where it closed down in 2002, after failing to grab market share from either Yahoo! Japan or Rakuten.

One study, titled the Xbox in the Land of the Rising Sun, charts the efforts of Microsoft to establish its game console in the backyard of its main global rivals. Other case studies follow the successes and failures, at home and abroad, of such Japanese corporate giants as NTT DoCoMo Inc., Nintendo, Sony Corporation and Toyota Motor Corporation.

The rise of Seven-Eleven Japan Co., Ltd. and its takeover of the US parent firm is also given a once-over. Unfortunately, however, a “once-over” is about the level of analysis provided in most of the studies, which largely just catalogue events without delivering much insight. The three short essays on cultural differences in business practices add little to what has already been said on the subject. The book has an alarmingly large number of typos and basic errors in its use of English, which undermine its credibility.

Dealing with Disaster in Japan – Responses to the Flight JL123 Crash

By Christopher P Hood Routledge ¥11,555

The JAL flight that, in 1985, crashed into a mountainside in Gunma and killed 520 of the 524 passengers and crew on board, remains the deadliest, single-plane air disaster in history. Hood, a British academic and expert on Japan, tells the story of the flight, the crash, how Japan reacted at the time, and the event’s legacy. It is the first work in English on the subject, and looks at how Japan responded to the crash and its aftermath, at a time when the nation is trying to come to terms with the much larger disaster of 11 March this year.

In addition to the many passengers on the 747 flight heading from Haneda to Osaka, on their way to their hometowns for the Obon holiday, 24 non-Japanese were also on board. With more than half an hour between the explosion that caused the disaster and the plane hitting Mt Takamagahara, many passengers chose to write isho or final letters to their families. These messages represent some of the most poignant parts of the book.

By Bonnie English Berg (Bloomsbury) ¥2,340

Japanese Fashion Designers – The Work and Influence of Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo

Besides focusing on the artistic side of these iconic designers, the author shows how they have run their firms and sought to protect their creative integrity by keeping control of the design, production and distribution sides of their enterprises. As well as the big three of the title, the book examines up-and-coming Japanese designers, as well as select Western designers, who have been influential in Japan. Appealing most to those associated with the world of style, the book is nevertheless an easy read for non-fashionistas and delivers an interesting insight into the world of these global leaders in their field.