WHY JAPAN DOES IT BETTER

The other day I came across a fascinating mystery novel. If I am right, this book is not only going to sell big, but it could make a difference in the current industrial war being waged against us by Japan.

Michael Crichton's Rising Sun serves two purposes. On one level, it's a fast-paced detective thriller. On the other, it serves as a handbook detailing every method Japan has used to win its crusade to destroy American industry.

The lead character is Detective Peter J. Smith of the Los Angeles Police Department. Smith specializes in liaison work with Japanese foreign nationals.

He receives a telephone call that a young woman has been murdered during a party being held to celebrate the grand opening of the new American headquarters of the Nakamoto Corporation, an immense Japanese conglomerate.

Smith teams with Captain John Connor, a veteran police officer who has lived in Japan and is fluent in the language. Connor, the most interesting character in the book, is a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Lew Archer.

For the next 350 pages, Connor leads Smith through the maze created by the icily polite but inscrutable Japanese businessmen who have vital reasons to prevent the crime from being solved.

While reading the book, we learn virtually every scheme and artifice the Japanese have employed to defeat us. We learn about the heart of the Japanese industrial system and its constant use of unfair competition.

"The Japanese can be tough," Connor says at one point. "They say business is war, and they mean it. You know how Japan is always telling us that their markets are open? Well, in the old days, if a Japanese bought an American car, he got audited by the government. So pretty soon nobody bought an American car. Foreign skis were once banned because snow in Japan was said to be wetter than European and American snow." Crichton does an interesting thing. He has seemingly scoured every book critical of Japan and summed up the entire case in his own. Before we are finished reading, we not only find the strangler of a beautiful blonde but also understand the most salient points made about the Japanese strategy to dominate this country.

In the back of the book, Crichton credits James Fallows, Peter Drucker and Karel van Wolferen, Clyde V. Prestowitz Jr. and a couple dozen others. Most of the books he cites are heavy-going.

Rising Sun, however, moves like a Japanese bullet train. It is already a main selection of the Book-of-the-Month Club and is being heavily promoted.

Here are some of the key thrusts made against the Japanese during the course of the book: They have bought nearly 200 American high-tech and electronics companies since 1987. Japanese corporations in this country pay no taxes. They control their profits by overpricing the Japanese subcomponents that their American plants import.

They spend a half billion a year for lobbyists in Washington, D.C., to keep everybody calmed down. The Japanese are the most racist people on Earth. We let our manufacturing go. We don't make things anymore. They think our fascination with Wall Street and junk bonds is crazy. Compared to the Japanese, our police are incompetent. In Japan, every criminal gets caught. For major crimes, convictions run 99 percent. Here, the conviction rate is more like 17 percent.

Every study of police effectiveness shows that American detectives either solve the case in the first six hours, or they never solve it at all. The managers of Japanese corporations in America feel the way we would feel doing business in Nigeria.

They regard us as people who aren't well-educated, who don't know much about the world, who get their information from television. We are people who don't work very hard, who tolerate violence and drug use, and who don't seem to object to either. They endow 25 professorships at Col 2, MIT because they realize they can't innovate as well as we can. At the University of California at Irvine, you can't get into two floors of a research building unless you have a Japanese passport. They're doing research for Hitachi there.

Everything works in Japan. In a Tokyo train station, you can stand at a marked spot on the platform and when the train stops, the doors will open right in front of you. Trains are on time. Bags are not lost. Connections are not missed. Deadlines are met. The Japanese are educated, prepared, motivated. They get things done. The Japanese structure their businesses in large organizations called keiretsu. There are six major ones in Japan. For example, the Mitsubishi keiretsu consists of 700 separate companies that work together, or have interrelated financing. Big structures can't exist in America because they violate our antitrust laws.

To see it the Japanese way, you'd have to imagine an association of IBM and Citibank and Ford and Exxon, all having secret agreements among themselves to cooperate and share financing or research. The Japanese are honorable people, but their tradition allows bribery. All is fair in love and war, and the Japanese see business as war. Bribery is fine, if you can manage it. We have 4 percent of the world's population but half the lawyers in the world. Even our brightest kids are badly educated. And one-third of our high school graduates can't read a bus schedule. They're illiterate.

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