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A few days ago, I went into a barbershop in Fujisawa, south of Tokyo, to have my hair cut. When I entered, the sole barber was slumped on a sofa looking at a computer screen. He didn't seem particularly happy to have a customer. The shop was messy, a white cat wandered around, and I had to step over a live turtle in a tank on the floor to get to the barber chair.

As the barber cut my hair, I asked him about the shop. He said that it was ninety years old—the area had escaped bombing during the war—and that his grandfather and father had run the shop before him.

If someone opened a similarly shambolic barbershop today, it would almost certainly fail, as Japanese consumers are picky about appearances. But he said he had a steady clientele, including customers who themselves were the second or third generation in their families to get their hair cut there. He also turned out to be pleasant to chat with, and I had no complaint about the quality of the haircut.

The cost of the haircut was on the high side, and as he lives behind the shop in a house he inherited he must have minimal overhead. He looked to be in his forties. He should have no trouble keeping the shop running well past the century mark.






Is it part of the culture in japan that you take over the business of your parents? I wonder if that negatively affects the quality of the business to have children running it that don't particularly want to.

It has traditionally been a part of the culture for businesses both small and large. In the case of small shops like the barbershop I visited, an often-reported issue in recent years is the reluctance of the younger generation to take over their parents' shops; one result is an increase in empty stores in once-bustling shopping areas. The declining birthrate also contributes to that trend. Larger companies are also often passed down from parents to children; it's no coincidence that the president of Toyota Motor is named Akio Toyoda.

In some cases, family succession helps to maintain quality and traditions and to keep the company intact; in others, it can lead to inertia, internal strife, and business failure.





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