The Japanese have a phrase, haragei, to describe the form of nonverbal communication operative in companies in which a more traditional -- and hierarchical -- chain of command is inappropriate. Literally translated, haragei means "the art of the stomach." The Japanese have another word, nemawashi, which refers to the process of digging around a tree's roots to prepare it for transplanting; in the business world, this means doing the spade work necessary to achieve a more formal consensus. Both terms were made familiar to us on a recent trip to Tokyo, during which we helped celebrate the launching of ASPECT, a monthly magazine aimed at Japan's entrepreneurial culture and published in collaboration with INC. here at home.
"Right now there are a lot of Japanese business magazines on the market," explained Keiichiro Tsukamoto, executive vice-president and a co-founder of ASCII, the young publishing and software company behind ASPECT. "But the people who have real influence in the world of finance are the older people, and most of the business magazines are also influenced by these older people. They do not understand haragei. And anyone starting a new magazine has copied what they've done, because that was the way to achieve success. They end up writing about the steel companies and the car companies, not smaller venture businesses like us."
It was this same sort of void in American business publishing, of course, that inspired INC.'s maiden editorial voyage some five and a half years ago. But while ASPECT may share some of our outlook -- and a few of our editorial pages (translated, to be sure, into colloquial Japanese) -- it will not be a literal duplication of our efforts, any more than haragei has a precise English equivalent. (Neither does INC.: We are described in one ASCII memo as "the world's most quick magazine," a sobriquet that would, were it true, certainly be news to our face-saving production staff. On the other hand, ASPECT likes to think of itself, in English, as "a new sensual business magazine," and that doesn't ring quite right to American ears, either.) Instead, it will direct itself toward the so-called new breed of Japanese entrepreneurs, with a fairly heavy emphasis on high-technology companies and the business application of microprocessors. Men and women, not just machines, will be a conscious editorial focus.
"We want to write more about the people behind these [smaller] companies," averred our host. "If our magazines cover businesspeople, it's more the historical figures from the past, not the current players. There are many exciting people around."
Among the most exciting are the young players at ASCII. Founded in 1977 by a trio of young entrepreneurs, ASCII has grown to become one of the largest personal computer software companies in Japan, with 240 full-time employees and projected revenues in 1984 of $40 million. Already, ASCII publishes three other monthly magazines aimed at computer users, and it is the sole agent for Microsoft Corp. in the Far East. These other magazines, with a combined monthly circulation of 330,000, give ASCII the experience base to go after the "adventurous businessman" so long neglected by others in the field.
"Whether they are inside of the company or not," notes an ASPECT prospectus, "employers or employees, those who figure out the essence of [their] time by using [their] own ability and sensitivity, drive forward the change because they want their big dreams [to] come true. And, we investigate the real style of their activities, and report the status of businessman in the new era."
That is a mouthful for any magazine, but as ones who relied upon our Japanese friends to interpret some spoken sentiments of our own to a Tokyo audience, we are sympathetic to the ambition and admiring of the adroitness. To them, we say: May your roots be wrapped tightly, may they find fertile soil, and may the trunk grow straight and true. In America, we would be tempted to add, "Break a leg, guys," but that sort of colloquialism probably doesn't travel too well across the Pacific.