Although the world's seven leading democracies wrapped up their five-day economic summit on Wednesday, one economic concern of the United States undoubtedly will continue for some time: How to better compete with the economically successful Japanese?
Some local educators hope their recent trip to Japan will help today's students understand Japanese culture, thus helping tomorrow's leaders understand Japan's economic competitiveness.
Randall Weseman, principal at South Junior High School, and Dan Wildcat, a social studies instructor at Haskell Indian Junior College, visited Japan from May 21 to June 10 as part of the Mid-America Japan in the Schools Program (MAJIS).
Educators from Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska also participated in the program, which is being funded by a three-year grant to Kansas University's School of Education from the United States-Japan Foundation.
Pat Weiss, assistant director of KU's Center for Economic Education and director of the MAJIS program, also went on the trip. She said the experience gave her several insights that would help her implement the program.
"EACH YEAR, we will identify a team of three educators from each state who will come to KU for training in Japan studies," she said. "They, in turn, will conduct workshops, train teachers, design curricula and promote the exchange of people and information with Japan."
Wildcat said he already had spoken to students in his summer classes about the trip. Meanwhile, Weseman is planning school presentations and finding out which teachers would like to help teach students about Japan.
Weseman said one thing he hopes to convey to students is the sense of group effort that he found in Japan. He said that when the Mid-America group saw a baseball game in Tokyo Stadium, there was no Japanese equivalent of Bo Jackson who drove fans wild. Instead, the fans supported each player equally, even giving each of them their own cheer as they stepped into the batter's box.
"The Japanese put a real emphasis on working together. That's one of the keys to their success," Weseman said.
A VISIT to the State of Kansas office in Japan showed Weseman that the United States does not follow that policy. Weseman learned that the 47 states with offices in Japan compete with one other for Japanese business, meaning that Kansas beef producers are competing with those in Iowa, for example.
"The Japanese are playing one state off the other," Weseman said. "The reason the Japanese have been so successful here is that they've had a consistent national trade policy."
Weseman said students should be aware of another key to Japan's success in international trade.
"They didn't come over and do business the way they do business in Japan. They learned to do business the way we do it," he said.
Weiss said the Japanese were very impressed when members of the Mid-America group chose to eat with chopsticks instead of forks, especially if forks had been offered to them. She said U.S. businesses could be more successful in Japan if they also would "do as the Romans do."
APPARENTLY, Weseman said, Kentucky Fried Chicken finally has learned to do that. Weseman said the chain's representatives now follow the Japanese custom of introducing themselves to merchants and residents near the site of a new restaurant before starting construction. They also allow a Shinto priest to drive spirits from the new restaurant once it is completed, a common Japanese practice when moving into a new home.
Wildcat was intrigued by the parallel between that ritual and those of Native Americans.
"That practice would not be foreign to American Indian traditions. The Navajo will have a special blessing for a new home, often burning some kind of sacred tobacco," he said. "And if you look at the Japanese garden, the care they give to nature reflects the notion of American Indians that you have a responsibility to the place where you live."
Wildcat said his trip would allow him to show students that they have more in common with the Japanese than they might think. And although Wildcat thinks the United States should continue to compete with Japan, he said the two countries needn't be adversaries.