Thursday, June 19, 2008

Strange People

“Entrepreneurs are considered strange people in Japan,” Dr. Takashi Yamamoto, economics professor at Akita International University told the Economic Gardening Gathering in Steamboat Springs. When asked about some of Japan’s more famous entrepreneurs like Akio Morita who co-founded Sony in 1946, Yamamota responded, “Guys like Morita are more respected for the fact that they started and ran what became big companies, rather than because they were entrepreneurial.”

Yamamoto pointed out that Japan has one of the lowest entrepreneurial ratings in the world, with only France being lower. The USA, by comparison, has one of the highest ratings of developed countries.

He related the burgeoning Economic Gardening efforts that are beginning in rural Japan, “Ogata (population 3,000) is a small town that was completely man-made when a large lake was reclaimed, completed in 1974 when 580 families were moved into the town for purpose of growing rice. By 1975 Japan ordered all farmers to burn a percentage of their rice plants because of overproduction in the country and by the 1980s the rice coops in the country were struggling to find new marketing channels for rice.”

He went on, “Toru Wakui was a different type of farmer. He disobeyed the governmental policy to reduce rice production and decided to sell his rice directly to consumers. He started a rice marketing company that today has grown to 160 employees.”

Today, there are a number of entrepreneurs in Ogata and entrepreneurism is spreading in Japan.

The example of Toru Wakai from Japan is an example that I believe many of our American farmers would be well to follow. Rather than being good producers, you’ve got to find a niche and become a great marketer. Producing a commodity product is a tough business. You’ve either got to be a very low cost producer or achieve large economies of scale to be successful. The niches, like Wakui developed, are the wave of the future.

Lessons learned in a smaller and smaller world.

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