Back in the 1980s, before Japan’s “Lost Decade” of stagnant growth, management gurus lined up to praise the country’s collective spirit as the basis of a sustainable economic miracle.

Since then, of course, the West has been consistently espoused as the best.

And even the Japanese wish they could break free of their consensus shackles, according to this week’s issue of The Economist — hence, the huge popularity of management hero Kosaku Shima of conglomerate Hatsubishi Goya Holdings.

He thinks outside the box, acts decisely, is not scared of telling people what he thinks and has been successful even though he has always sat outside political factions within his company.

And in June, Shima (see picture above) truly broke the mould when he was promoted to shacho (president) of his company at the tender age of just 60 – very young by Japanese standards.

There is one slight problem: he is a manga or cartoon character.

“Shima is influential – business people want to be like him but can’t,” says Yuko Kawamoto, management professor at Waseda Uniiversity in Tokyo.

“Maybe there is hope for Japanese society. We want to change, but do not have the courage.”

The grim reality for the average salaryman, according to The Economist, remains a life of drudgery and of stifled opinions because of the dreaded fear of causing a superior to lose face. As a result, bad decisions go unchallenged and become ingrained policy.

Japan’s chemical companies have often broken the mould through innovative technologies – and were talkiing about and acting on energy efficiency long before the current oil and environmental crises.

Sumitomo Chemical is also about to start-up a huge petrochemical complex in Saudi Arabia – along with Saudi Aramco – and is talking about a major second wave of investment at the same site. This also involves breaking the mould as it’s the first occasion that a Japanese chemicals company has invested on its own in a big overseas cracker project.

But the perception remains, fair or otherwise, that the chemicals industry could and should have undergone more restructuring.

Fair or unfair?


China's growth conundrum


I couldn’t let today pass without including a picture of the Olympic Stadi...

Learn more

Slaves to market frenzy


James Burke, Connections, Google, Atlantic.com, oil prices, financial speculatio...

Learn more
More posts
China will create petrochemicals deflation with the only question being how

By John Richardson THE FEEDBACK I have received on my series of posts about the potential for rapidl...

Petrochemicals markets complexity is only going to grow and grow

By John Richardson NICE WORK, if you get can get it. A trucking company in Fort Worth, Texas, is off...

India’s pandemic crisis is a pointer towards wider developing-world risks

By John Richardson IT IS fabulous to read about how Indian Oil Corp and Reliance Industries are supp...

The supply-chain inflation threat to petrochemicals demand

By John Richardson and Fergus Jensen (ICIS market reporter, European isocyanates and styrene) CONTAI...

Petrochemical buyers, after a very difficult pandemic, can gain from China-driven deflation

By John Richardson BUYERS OF polypropylene (PP) and other polymers and petrochemicals have had an in...

Middle East and Asia petchems need reinvention because of rising China self-sufficiency

By John Richardson MIDDLE EAST, southeast Asian (SEA) and northeast Asia (NEA) ex-China petrochemica...

Global polyolefins for the rest of 2021: supply to lengthen as demand muddle continues

By John Richardson SOMEHOW, despite the still very serious container freight shortages that have lim...

Environmental crises: no “silver bullet” solution but petchems must get this right

By John Richardson NO one-size-fits-all technological solution to the climate change and plastic was...


Market Intelligence

ICIS provides market intelligence that help businesses in the energy, petrochemical and fertilizer industries.

Learn more


Across the globe, ICIS consultants provide detailed analysis and forecasting for the petrochemical, energy and fertilizer markets.

Learn more

Specialist Services

Find out more about how our specialist consulting services, events, conferences and training courses can help your teams.

Learn more

ICIS Insight

From our news service to our thought-leadership content, ICIS experts bring you the latest news and insight, when you need it.

Learn more