I mean, they work all this time, which seems like twice what an average country would do, and they're still doing ho-hum in most markets, are non-existent in most areas of modern tech, and have a huge deficit.
If it weren't for their cars and some consumer electronics stuff (that has seen its peak in the late 80s - early 90s) they'd be done.
He said in Japan expectation #1 is you're at work for many hours. You show up before your boss arrives and you go home after he leaves, unless you're out drinking with him. Which is mostly mandatory - "My wife is sick" is an acceptable excuse. "I'm tired" is not. In the big companies the people from your college class at that company all get promoted as a group, so there's a whole lot of pressure from your college friends not to do (or not do) anything that will delay their own advancement.
But when you're at work you're not expected to look for things to do. Your boss will tell you when he needs you to do something. If he doesn't come by and give you a task it's perfectly reasonable to sit at your desk and do nothing. As an employer or manager you are not supposed to run your people ragged, either. My friend spent most of every morning going around to each employee and making sure they had something to do, but not so much it would reflect badly on him as an employer.
In the end he figured Americans and Japanese people get about the same amount of work done every day. The social dynamics are totally different, though. In Japan your work is like a second family.
There's also a sort of macho culture there, where as a salaryman you work incredibly long hours and deal with crazy commutes without complaining. And if you do complain you sort of lose social points.
The creative output isn't great either. Agencies like Dentsu are the size they are because of relationships, and that there will be someone there to answer the phone any time of the day or night, rather than out of any creative brilliance.
Dentsu are an example of a big Japanese company that has recently started to work with Western companies to in effect, outsource the innovation and creative ideas bit.
Your analysis is correct - once Japan lost its supply chain supremacy they were never likely to be able to win back the advantage by producing higher quality goods and services.
Would you say the Chinese are somewhat different in this regard?
I have a feeling they can have more knack for this going forward.
Innovation is easy when iterating, but such organisational culture has little push for true 'innovation'. 'Shanzhai' as a term was considered fun 5 years ago, but today is taken as an insult when such companies are CMMI5 approved. 'Innovation' is a new buzz word adopted in China over the past 2 years replacing shanzhai.
The very very open culture also results in very very quick quick releases of employees that don't maintain sufficient updates and success stories to company owners, roughly on a 2-week basis, and major breakthrough every quarter. That's not a culture for innovation, but iterating someone else's idea.
PS: Don't forget GDP is a somewhat meaningless number in peacetime, it's per capita GDP that people notice. Their real issue is an unstistanable public debt.
Definitely not making cars nor consumer electronics.