Conference Summary

On a crystal clear autumn afternoon, people began filtering into the Hall of Flags at The Fletcher School, located on a hilltop in Medford. The second Japan Roundtable attracted close to 120 people. Attendees varied from students at various academic institutions to professionals across industries, showing the great interest for this topic.

The event officially started with opening remarks by Professor Kelly Sims Gallagher, Deputy Director of The Hitachi Center for Business and International Affairs, which generously supported this event. She briefly introduced The Fletcher School and gave a quick overview of the roundtable, mentioning that Japan has been the steadiest investor in terms of energy since 1970s, with particular emphasis on R&D in nuclear fission.

Then the program moved forward to the opening remarks of Mr. Takeshi Hikihara, Consul-General of Japan in Boston, which kindly supported this event. He opened his speech by expressing gratitude to the U.S., which provided rapid assistance to Japan after the disaster. He then continued, explaining that Japan is now working with IAEA and several countries to help cope with nuclear plant problems. Lessons that Japanese learned from the disaster and the subsequent effects highlight that we need to strengthen emergency preparedness. Still, the Japanese government has tremendous challenges to deal with, such as economic stagnation and accumulation of public debt. Thus, imaginative thinking and political determination are indispensable.

 

Keynote Speaker - Professor Partha Ghosh, The Fletcher School and Tufts Gordon Institute

He opened his speech by mentioning that 2011 was a special year, not only for Japan, but also for the world, represented by events such as Arab spring, Triple disaster in Japan and prolonged world financial struggles. He underscored that Japan has gone through many crises over the past 100 years and each time it has come out of these crises with dignity and grace, with strength to reach higher level of socioeconomic being and excellence. Especially the last 20 years has not been easy, as it faced many challenges, - a few man made and several nature driven. New direction for Japan is overdue, and on a positive note he hoped that the triple disaster during the March 2011 will uncover the fundamental inner strength of Japan's "soft power", -  for a more enlightened future. He urged Japan should now think about how to create the new Japan for a new path for all round progress. One of the key questions Japan must focus on is the new requirement: "governance"  so that Japan could negotiate with increasing complex environment around the world and knowledge intensity in all socioeconomic dynamics. According to him, it is time to think about full ecosystem in structuring and making choices, connecting underlying issues such as climate change, ecology, equity and energy problems in a holistic fashion.

 

First Guest Speaker - James Platte, Ph.D. Candidate, The Fletcher School

His research analyzes the decision making of Japan's nuclear energy policy, and he spent two months conducting field research in Japan in the summer of 2011. He opened his presentation with an overview of the historical development of Japan's nuclear energy policy. According to him, nuclear policy-making has been dominated by bureaucrats, particularly in the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI), and Japan has remained committed to developing a closed nuclear fuel cycle since the 1950s. Alternatives or contingency plans were not given much consideration in the past; however, the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant changed the status quo. Now, Japanese policy makers must reshape their country's energy policy, and the country has the chance to alter the decision making style.

 

Second Guest Speaker - Mr. John Yoshinari, GE-Hitachi Nuclear Energy, Ltd.

His topic of the presentation was how Fukushima’s accident may or may not change nuclear businesses. He opened his presentation with brief description of the Fukushima Daiichi Plant’s accident. Then he stated to explain about lessons that Japan leaned from the accident, such as the necessity to strengthen measures toward earthquakes and response to nuclear accidents. He emphasized that the accident in Fukushima has great influence to all over the world, including those countries that have already adopted nuclear power such as Germany and the U.S. as well as emerging countries such as China and India.

 

Third Guest Speaker – Professor Bruce Everett, The Fletcher School

He explored the possibilities for Japan’s future energy policy after the Fukushima accident. He first gave an overview of Japan’s power generation before Fukushima and the importance of nuclear power as one of Japan’s primary energy sources. Furthermore, he presented various alternative sources of energy that Japan could pursue in lieu of nuclear power. He concluded the presentation that natural gas the only economically and environmentally viable alternatives to nuclear for the base-load power generation. He further stated that these might be complemented with wind energy to cater for peak demand if the geographical conditions are favorable.


Fourth Guest Speaker – Professor Taiji Furusawa, Hitotsubashi University

He explained potential of Japan’s economic recovery from the disaster. He first gave an overview of the economic impact of the disaster on Japan, describing that it has destroyed 3-5% of the country’s GDP. He also mentioned that Japanese economy has already been suffering from the following three problems: large public debt, ageing society and relative decline in economic competitiveness. These existing problems are making it even more difficult for Japan to manage the damages caused by the earthquake and the Fukushima accident. He concluded that Japan should continue focusing on improvement of its overall economic competitiveness to tackle the public debt problem and recover from the disaster.

 

Fifth guest speaker – Professor Hirotaka Takeuchi, Harvard Business School

His focus on the presentation was how Harvard Business School (HBS) has been contributing to the Tohoku relief. HBS decided to write case studies on great companies, which contributed to the post-disaster relief after the earthquake. He introduced an innovative initiative at HBS called Immersion Experience Program (IXP). As part of this IXP program, a group of graduate and PhD students from Harvard and Fletcher will conduct research on quick post-disaster relief initiatives by Japanese companies, including Ishinomaki Kowan Hospital, Yamato Transport, Lawson and UNIQLO. He emphasized the significance of the quick responses and decisions made by CEOs of these companies. Building on these examples, he described the characteristics of “wise” leaders. The wise leaders do not simply focus on maximizing shareholders’ values. They look at the context in which their businesses operate, and make practical decisions to contribute to the society and economy as a whole.

Panel Discussion

The key discussion focused on how Japanese economy and Japanese companies can maximize their strengths vis-à-vis the “Western” cultures and deal with the unexpected events in the world. Suggestions from the panelists included reevaluating the core values and strengths of Japanese people to adapt to the world of 21st century.

 

Concluding Remarks

Professor Ghosh concluded the event by reiterating the fact that the world is continuously changing. He mentioned that each of us should change our ways of relating with the world and make tough decisions to trigger a new direction. He ended his remarks by reminding us of a quote by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt: “Future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

It is the organizers’ consensus that the day was a resounding success overall and is a promising inaugural event that can be institutionalized at the Fletcher School. The second Japan Roundtable attracted more than 120 people. Attendees varied from students at various academic institutions to professionals across industries, showing the great interest for this topic.

 

Networking Reception

Reception was held after the roundtable. This time was used to allow audience to network with speakers as well as other attendees. There were many lively discussions held over Sushi and drinks.

Conference Video

Japan Roundtable Introduction & Speech

Japan Roundtable Presentation

Japan Roundtable Panel Discussion