Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Japan vs China, take one
I've been in Shanghai and Tokyo this week giving speeches and presentations, and moving between these two cosmopolitan but very different cities has left me with plenty of food for thought. To start: while Japan has in many ways become an easier place for foreigners to navigate than it was a decade ago, it still has a long way to go. For example: unless you have a business here that can keep a mobile phone contract rolling over every month in someone else's name, you have to rent a phone on arrival at the airport. To get a local mobile number as a foreigner in Japan, you have to have a foreigner registration card. (By contrast, in China, like most of the world, you just show up, buy a local SIM card, and pop it in your phone - in China, SIM cards are sold at newspaper kiosks on street corners.) I'm going to go out on a limb on this one and blame Japanese bureaucrats for this situation. Another problem: Japanese banks, not so friendly to foreign cards. American friends visiting Tokyo this summer could not believe how difficult it was to find an ATM machine that would accept their cash cards. Because I used to live here, I know where the Citibanks are, so I don't normally spend much time thinking about this problem, but it's silly. It's much easier to find a place to withdraw money in Shanghai than Tokyo. Finally, getting paid for services rendered in Japan without a Japanese bank account is not easy. Like a street performer, I am paid in cash for my speeches and TV appearances. Wiring overseas is too complicated at Japanese banks, or so my clients tell me. Banking and telecoms, two service industries that should, in theory, be more international in the country with a longer experience with capitalism and global commerce, illustrate perfectly how Japan has been happy to keep itself at arm's length from the rest of the world. Granted, accessibility to foreigners is not a perfect index for measuring a country's prospects - but how could being more open to skilled foreigners be a bad idea for Japan?