During the 1970's and 1980's everyone in business studied the "Japanese way." Japanese companies ran rings around their competitors. They innovated, made the highest quality products, and charged a reasonable price. They first competed in, then dominated many of their markets.
Japanese companies peaked in the late 1980's. Since then they have found that staying on top is harder than getting there. To be sure, many still lead their respective markets, but in the global economy of the 21st century one needs more than hard work, attention to detail, and consensus to win consistently.
After the March 11th earthquake, tsunami, and potential nuclear meltdowns, the conversation about the transformation of Japanese business has become unimportant, if not irrelevant. The issue is survival, and if things play out as they should, recovery.
I have no doubt that the Japanese will rebuild and become stronger than ever. After World War II their culture demonstrated astonishing recuperative powers following devastation much worse than the 2011 quake.
The news clips may be as wrenching as those seen after any calamity, but noticeably absent are blame, self-pitying, and signs of civic disorder.
Venture capitalists say that they bet on management over technology. I would bet on the character of the Japanese people. [By the way, I have an investment in a Japanese ETF that's gotten hammered. I'm not selling. Here's one article
that suggests that it might be a good time to (cautiously) invest in Japan.]