Managing for Creativity in Japan Talking with Foreign Executives in Japan

On Being Creative

“In terms of being creative it’s a bit of a paradox. You come here and it is definitely the most creative place in Asia but that doesn’t mean that it’s creative. People think that it’s creative and crazy but it’s not. It’s not creative. If it was a creative place then brainstorms would be a dream…but they’re not. The problem is that people have an image of Japan as a creative place and then they go to Harajuku and see 200 people dressed up in fancy costumes and think it’s creative. No it’s not. Two-hundred people in a population of 130 million people does not make a creative society. It’s a very small pocket. So you do have creativity but it is very limited, very controlled. It’s not the same sort of “I want to be individual and spontaneous” creativity you might see somewhere else. So whenever I go back to Sydney (and I’m not nationalistic at all) I look at places there and am amazed at how creative it is. People strive to be different, they strive to be an individual, they strive to come up with something that no one else has. Here, people don’t do that. They look at a magazine to study how they can be different…different with another 50 people how are different in the same way. That’s a big difference.
When you go to a cafe it’s a study in creativity. You walk in and think “this is so cute and cool”. Yes, it is but that’s only because the owner has literally, fastidiously made it creative looking. That’s why it stands out against the greyness and the hum-drum of Tokyo. It’s a very ugly city – I mean we’re sitting here looking at a view of the expressway. There are no redeeming features about this and that’s why you go to Yoyogi park and there are a million people throwing frisbees there. It’s the one place where you can have a bit of fun…but then there are a million other people having fun there along with you. You’ve got your one metre square patch and that’s not even a park anymore is it? It’s the equivalent of a carpark for people – they get in there and then they can’t move for fear of losing their space. They can’t throw their frisbee too far because it might hit someone on the head. It’s a funny place.”

This post is part of a series of excerpts from interviews with foreign executives in Japan, focusing on creativity. Excerpts have been edited for confidentiality.
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