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BUSINESS Wisdom from the East

Sun & Star ’96 will bring the best of Japanese art and culture to Dallas-and maybe help us figure out Japan, Inc.

FROM EARLY SEPTEMBER UNTIL WELL INTO December, one of the most spectacular exhibits of foreign culture ever to hit Texas-a nonstop, 100-day, wall-to-wall display of Japanese arts, crafts, music, literature, drama, architecture, dance, sports, politics and food-will begin in Dallas and Fort Worth and fan out through Austin and on to Houston.

Ostensibly, the beneficiaries of this “celebration of Japanese culture” called Sun & Star 1996 are those of us whose exposure to Japanese life is largely limited to the automobiles, cameras and household electronics produced there. Fair enough. It wouldn’t hurt for all of us to know a little more about any nation that has been able to intertwine its economy with ours in such a way that our financial and equity markets tremble at the mere hint that Japanese investors might take their money elsewhere.

Now, education is fine, but clearly a subliminal thread of industrial trade is woven into this event, Dozens of American and Japanese corporations have ponied up a total of $ 10 million to bring the 60 events to a region of the country where the Japanese population, relative to the East and West Coasts, is small.

Each year, Japan exports a lavish cultural exhibit such as this one, but normally it goes to a national capital-London, Rome, Paris- where the host country’s population and political elite are concentrated. For a U.S. tour of this magnitude-including treasures seldom or never displayed in Japan itself-why not New York or Los Angeles or San Francisco or someplace else with a large Japanese-American population? Why Texas? And who stands to benefit?

For one thing, taking the show to, say, San Francisco would be like carrying salt water to Galveston.

“People on the East and West Coasts have ample opportunities to be exposed to Japanese culture. Universities there offer courses about Japan and performing artists from Japan visit those places regularly,” says Debra Skriba, executive director of Sun & Star 1996.

Perhaps just as importantly, the economic relationship between Texas and Japan has been growing cozier and healthier. Between 1981 and 1991, Japan’s share of total foreign direct investment in Texas tripled, from 2 percent to 6 percent. Japanese-owned companies employ 31,300 workers in Texas, 12,000 of them in the Dallas and Fort Worth area. Too, Japan is the world’s third largest importer of Texas goods ($3.1 billion worth last year), showing a particular yen for petrochemicals and electronic equipment,

Among the Japanese companies with a significant presence in Dallas is Hitachi Ltd., whose chairman, Katsushige Mita, joined with Les Alberthal, chairman of EDS, to make their companies founding sponsors of the event, chipping in $ 1 million apiece to start the fund-raising.

The Japanese government needed a little persuasion, Skriba says, but the sell became easier when dozens of other major corporations joined in, among them Toyota, American and Delta Airlines, Toshiba Corporation, JCPenney, NationsBank, Bank One, Sony, Texas Instruments, Mitsubishi and at least 80 other important players in the economic alliances of the two countries. With huge Far East markets waiting to be tapped, it would appear that Texas corporations could only benefit from such charity.

“This gives us a chance to be seen as more of an international community, reaching out to other cultures,” says John Castle, an EDS vice president who has worked closely with Sun & Star. Understanding other cultures, whether Latin American, European or Asian, will make American companies better partners with foreign entities, he says. “It is a challenge for all of us and we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of it.”

Direct economic fallout from the Japanese invasion is difficult to quantify or predict, but the exhibit will bring the heads of Japan’s largest industries to Texas to schmooze with their counterparts here, which could further some companies’ specific agendas. Fort Worth-based American Airlines, for example, is attempting to establish D/FW International Airport as a major link, or hub, for air traffic between the Far East and South America.

And more than just Japanese markets is at stake. China, which is opening its doors to American producers, holds vast potential as a consumer of American goods. Says David Johnson, a market analyst and business commentator on Dallas radio and television: “The Far East is a tremendous growth area. Anything you can do to ingratiate yourself to the Far East, you want to do it.”

Richard Douglas, president of the Greater Dallas Chamber of Commerce, echoes that sentiment. For the past two years, Douglas says, organizations in Dallas and Japan have worked closely together. Those associations may be as important as any relationships between CEOs.

“Sun & Star is not a single flag planted out on the prairie,” he says. “It is part of an ongoing relationship between Dallas and Japan. There are about 165 Japanese companies that have investments in Dallas. By focusing on Japanese art and culture, we create an extraordinary opportunity for Japanese nationals who are here to feel more a part of the community. That will spin over into higher levels of trade and investement.”

Of course, the United States and Japan, who together account for an estimated 40 percent of the value of the world’s output of goods and services, will compete for customers in the emerging Asian marketplace. But now and then, as more and more Japanese products are being manufactured in the United States and the lines between the nationalities of goods are blurred, they may be oblique partners. If for no other reason man that, the educational aspects of Sun & Star 1996 are not inconsequential.

Japan, with a population of less than half of the United States and occupying an island no bigger than Montana, came out of the ruins of World War II and in a scant 50 years developed the world’s second-largest economy- often by capturing U.S. markets once considered the exclusive domain of domestic producers. Before and during the war, the Japanese had a profound and abiding reverence for America’s industrial potency, and after the war they set out to match it. Japan has managed to make itself America’s most valued trading partner and, at the same time, our most feared and unrelenting competitor.

They did it partly by knowing more about us than we know about them.

Japanese children begin learning English as soon as they enter school. The Japanese study U.S. history, economics, pop culture, religions, traditions, industrial strategy, corporate structure, consumerism and work ethics. Americans who have not lived on the West Coast or pockets of the East Coast where there are large Japanese communities may know little more about the Japanese culture than what they have gleaned from Godzilla movies or old newsreels. Or from the propaganda of U.S. companies that once mocked Japan’s innocuous talent for turning out cheap knock-offs of quality American products,

While we dozed-ask Lee Iacocca-the Japanese studied us, worked long days, settled for a lesser standard of living and even loaned us their savings so we could consume our way deeper and deeper into debt, You know the rest. We invented the hand-held camera but buy most of ours from Japan. We invented the VCR, but just try to find one made in America. Would you really trade your Lexus for a Chevrolet?

SUN & STAR 1996 HAS BEEN DESCRIBED BY its organizers as “the most significant festival of Japanese culture ever planned for the United States. ” From kites and tops to ballet and baseball, from ceramics to opera, from fireworks and wood block prints to national treasures that have never before left Japan, the festival forms a panoramic showcase of Japanese life, culture and history.

The Dallas Museum of Art will host Sun & Star’s centerpiece-a collection of 160 works of art, including ornate samurai armor, painted screens and treasures from Japan’s national museums, temples and shrines-relating to the Momoyama period (1573-1615), which has been called Japan’s Golden Age. Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum will house a collection called “Paintings and Prints of the Floating World,” 170 paintings, wood block prints and illustrated prints dating to the 17th century. Virtually every cultural and educational institution in the Dallas-Fort Worth area will be involved in some way in Sun & Star. (See page 4 in D’s CityGuide for more information on Sun & Star events.)

“It will be difficult for anyone, especially children, not to be exposed to Japanese culture during this time,” says Skriba, whose organization began pursuing the Japanese cultural festival four years ago as an outgrowth of Dallas World Salute, which staged festivals celebrating the cultures of Greece and Spain. A former academic (Stanford University) and developer of cultural programs for KERA, Skriba believes the event can facilitate economic relationships. After a similar exhibit was held in London, she notes, “it became easier for them to do business with the Japanese. “

Just as Atlanta won’t know immediately what-if any-benefit will result from the Olympics, so it will take time to see if-and how-Sun & Star changes the image of Dallas or brings us new Japanese trading partners. But regardless of the bottom line, running through the exhibits and performances are lessons about the Japanese people-clues to their views of place and time, their devotion to tradition and discipline, their work ethic and creative processes-that Americans would do well to understand.