Reviews SOUNDINGS

Look east

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.329.7475.1193-a (Published 11 November 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:1193
  1. Trisha Greenhalgh, professor of primary health care
  1. University College London

    I've been in Tokyo, the guest of a thousand Oriental dentists. For some years now, an enthusiast for my work has been translating my books into Japanese. A sophisticated marketing strategy has ensured that I am, in the words of one of the publisher's employees, a “very famous and honourable person in our country.”

    The car they sent to pick me up at the airport was large, black, and lined with white lace. I tried to open the thick smoked-glass windows, but the uniformed driver motioned me to leave them closed. Was I really so famous that someone might try to shoot me?

    The hotel occupied the top 20 floors of a breathtakingly modern skyscraper development. In-room technologies ranged from wireless internet to an electronic bidet with programmable temperature and jet speed. Also available were traditional Japanese comforts such as origami ornaments, foot massage, and green tea delivered by two women walking on their knees.

    The opening conference ceremony featured a dozen celebrity professors in kimonos bashing a crate of sake (pronounced sar'kay) with wooden hammers. They had all been placed on the top table. It turned out I wasn't famous at all, except among a small group of off-beat academics who identify with my fringe ideas and irreverent style. Just like in Britain, then.

    I delivered my lectures and fielded questions through two flawless simultaneous interpreters: one processing English into Japanese and the other (through a tiny gadget they had fixed behind my left ear) Japanese into English. In parallel sessions at the same conference, different translation teams were working variously to link delegates with Chinese, Burmese, German, and Dutch speakers.

    Later, I was escorted to an exclusive shopping mall packed with boutiques called Tiffany, La Mode, and such like, and handed a delicately patterned envelope containing a generous gratuity. My host supervised while I exchanged my crisp bank notes for parcels of luxury goods.

    The six pillars of Japanese success? (1) Benchmark quality. (2) Capture ideas globally. (3) Reinvest locally. (4) Blend the old with the new. (5) Don't expect something for nothing. (6) Develop machines that can do the dirty jobs efficiently.

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