Japan’s 10,000 Free Flights. Pretty good Idea. Here’s an Even Better One.


Early Evening. Kyoto Restaurant. August 2011.

So it was announced on Monday (October 10) that — if top government officials approve the final plan and budget for it — Japan will offer 10,000 free flights to foreigners to help boost its image, tourism and generally spread the word that Japan’s a great place to visit.  While I don’t need any convincing of that, I’ll certainly submit my application and, if picked, will assuredly send interesting and intriguing pieces, via this site, around the world.  There are parts of Japan I haven’t visited and I would love the opportunity to do so and report those adventures to readers of this site across the globe.

I think it’s a good idea.  Here’s an even better oneMETI, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry, needs to . . .

A.  Encourage companies to jettison their overdependence on Trading Companies (the gargantuan Sogo Shosha・総合商社) and employ company executives’ and managements’ own experience and imaginations to develop and undertake global projects.  Time after time after time, I and other international businesspeople have brought potential projects to the front door of medium sized Japanese companies only to be told, “We cannot talk to you.  We only do projects through our Trading Company.”  And the Trading Companies are notorious for  (i) their bureaucracies (numbingly complex and full of dead-ends), (ii) their good-old-boyism (if you’re not in “the club” your calls don’t get returned), and (iii) their arrogance (that is, if they didn’t come up with the idea, it’s not a good idea).  This sad over-reliance on the Trading Companies too often kills viable projects or project possibilities, adds layers of inefficiency (and cost) to Japanese business ventures, and creates mountains of frustration for businesspersons around the world.  And since Japan is no longer “the only game in town,” those businesspersons can always take their ideas and proposals to China, Korea, India or Brazil.  Also . . .

B.  Allow companies that engage in direct dialog with international counterparts regarding nascent international trade or investment projects to submit a simple application (or sponsor or endorse an application from their international counterpart[s]) for up to ten (10) round trip tickets, to be used within six (6) months of award of the travel vouchers.  Hotel accommodations for up to seven (7) nights for each foreign businessperson using such ticket would also be included.  Criteria for the program/tickets would include proof that initial project contact was initiated between March 12, 2011 (the day following the earthquake/tsunami) and March 11, 2012; that the project includes trade or manufacturing or services (and not merely a merger or acquisition or otherwise merely “moving paper” to make money); and perhaps a cap on the size of the Japanese and foreign company’s(ies’) net worth or employee size.

The Trading Companies would go nuts, of course.  And I doubt that many “old school” Japanese companies, with entrenched relationships with the Trading Companies, would take advantage of such a deal.  But Japan does host a growing number of small business and entrepreneurial start ups.  They would certainly take advantage of this deal and much positive publicity could and would be generated over stories of younger, less stogy, more dynamic business models taking Japan forward with confidence and imagination.  And, no less important, businesspersons from around the world, thousands of them, would be introduced to Japan and, more importantly, would hopefully be energized to return again and again, at times with their families and would take stories back to their homes, not only of the charms of Japan and its beauty and food and history, but of business opportunities as well.

The multiplier effect would be much greater than that of even 10,000 short-term visits.  I don’t advocate scrapping the “10,000 Tickets” idea, but I do suggest that it represents a short term “fix,” when a long term vision would better serve Japan.

Tokyo. August 2011.

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  1. It’s good to not just accept the fact that Japan is offering free flights, but to ask if there’s an alternative to it all. Flights are only a bandaid for this problem, as you’ve said, but I think that Japanese companies are afraid of having that direct dialog or branching out of the traditional way of dealing with problems.

      • letsjapan
      • October 17th, 2011

      I fear that you are correct.

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