Southeast Asia basked in the sun only briefly in the 1990s, and India struggles to manage the balanced elements of economic growth and ethnic division. But the real surprise is Japan, which has fallen from being the Next Superpower 15 years ago into invisibility.
But don't let the headlines fool you – Japan has a GDP four times the size of China's, even with a population one-tenth the size. And while China's growth rates far exceed Japan's, it will be many years before the Chinese economy surpasses that of Japan.
The sheer size of the Japanese economy – along with the inherent inefficiency of the Japanese system – provides many opportunities for foreign business people, both Western and Chinese. The new book by Tim Clark and Carl Kay looks at how outsiders can make money in Japan.
The logic is, in fact, similar to that of many foreign companies approaching the China market. The system is inefficient due to decades of isolation. Monopolistic practices have made the dominant players in various market sectors lazy and bloated, and the consumer is ready for higher quality, cheaper alternatives – foreign or domestic, no matter -patriotism not being an issue when it comes to getting value for money.
In this way, foreign companies came into the China market and in a short period replaced almost completely local producers of a huge range of consumer goods. But in one way China is ahead of Japan, and that is flexibility. That means that China is able to react to the need for change faster than Japan, and therefore to recoup and fend off competition more effectively.
Clark's book looks at Japan's so-called saabisu (service) industries, and concludes that there are lots of opportunities for foreigners to come in and make a fortune, or at least a very comfortable living, by simply providing reasonable value for money.
The opportunities range from hi-tech firms to funeral home services, and the book gives some excellent specific cases of foreigners who have made a go of it in one of the world's most inscrutable – or at least, non-transparent – societies. The foreigners, of course, include growing numbers of Chinese business people, their deal-making skills honed in the rougher, more competitively capitalist world of communist China. It has been said that Japan is the most perfect communist society ever created and that wise comment is particularly relevant to Japan's service industries, which are most accessible to foreigners.
The opportunity for the foreign entrepreneur, arises from the fact that there is no tradition of competition in many industries, including health care where, Clark tells us, the concept of a sekondo opeenyon ("second opinion") is only just gaining ground.
Reading the book made me think that there is a similar book to be written about opportunities in China for foreign entrepreneurs. I'll put it on the to-do list.