IT WAS a nice-looking little watch, and my daughter's eyes were gleaming with anticipation. The price was reasonable. But was it of good quality, I wondered? "Very good quality," the salesman assured me, "brand-new model — totally made in Japan." To him, that set the seal on quality. The watch was totally made in Japan. And why not? Any stigma that "made in Japan" once had has long since disappeared under the flood of cameras, cars and calculators that are as good as — and often better than — their American and European made counterparts. Since the end of World War II, the Japanese have become superstars in the industrial world. Few nations in history have come so far, so fast. It seems as if there is nothing that they cannot do. Some have predicted that just as the United States dominated the 20th century, the next century will belong to the Japanese. Already, they lead the world in significant fields. Whether it is giant oil tankers or miniature calculators, Japan seems to be able to manufacture them quicker, cheaper and better than almost anyone else.
Western businessmen wryly refer to "Japan, Incorporated" as if the whole nation is one giant combine, with the individual companies all working together for the national profit. There is something relentless about Japanese efficiency. I once traveled from Tokyo to Hiroshima on the "bullet train." We left Tokyo on time — to the second. After a computer-controlled, high-speed run of several hours, we arrived at the destination, several hundred miles away — on time — to the second. It was almost scary — one felt one was part of a carefully controlled manufacturing process. I am more used to the cheerful confusion of the average Asian railroad and for reasons that were hard to explain, I found myself almost resenting this Japanese efficiency. That is so often the way Westerners react to Japanese success. We buy Japanese products because they are less expensive, get better mileage or because they just work better than most of the competition. But at the same time, there is an underlying feeling of resentment. Some time ago, the Los Angeles Times published a story about Japan being willing to loan the United States $10 billion at a low rate of interest. The Japanese realize that if they are to continue to trade with the United States, some money would have to be plowed back into the country's ailing economy. Otherwise, there would not be the means to buy from Japan — and everyone would end up losing. It was not intended to be an insult, but it seems that many Americans took it as such. "First they destroy our industry with cheap cars, cheap cameras, cheap watches. Then they have the gall to offer us 'foreign aid'! " Like envious school children, we look for ways to tear down and belittle those who are more successful than ourselves. We like to believe that the average Japanese worker is an unthinking automaton (not true), that he will work long hours for a bowl of rice (not true) and that all the Japanese can do is copy other people's ideas (not true) and sell them back cheap (definitely not true). Westerners look for something underhanded, or sinister behind each Japanese success — anything to somehow explain away their astonishing performance. That is avoiding the issue. The Japanese worker is not a "superman." But individually, and as a nation, the people of Japan seemed to have learned to apply important laws that lead to success. They have not had prosperity handed to them on a platter. Their success is no accident. They could be considered in some ways a have — not nation — almost totally without the raw materials and energy they need for their industry. A Japanese prime minister, seeing the vast natural resources of the United States, was moved to say, "I think God has not been fair in the distribution of resources." Nearly everything that Japan needs must be imported. They must use the same iron ore, timber, rubber and oil that everyone else does. It is what the Japanese do with those resources that makes the difference. It is neither fair nor constructive to believe that the Japanese worker is a robot, working long hours for a pittance. He works about 40 hours a week for which he is paid a wage that is as good as his counterpart in Europe. His accommodation may be cramped, but he is well-dressed, well-fed and enjoys a paid vacation every year. The big difference is that the average Japanese worker still has a strong sense of commitment to his job. If there is a mystique about Japanese success, it is in the attitude of the girl at the bench assembling a radio, the technician in the laboratory designing a new camera or the man on the production line building a compact car for export. They get to work on time, and they work carefully and hard while they are there. They believe in an honest day's work for a fair day's wages. They have a sense of pride in what they — and their nation — produce. Slap-happy, half-hearted, sloppy work that might just squeak by quality control (but who cares if it doesn't?) is not the Japanese way. The Japanese resent the accusations of "unfair competition." Competition it may be — but why is it unfair? In 1970, the then prime minister of Japan, Eisaku Sato, warned the editor-in-chief of this magazine, Herbert W. Armstrong, "I see approaching the danger of an economic and industrial war between our two countries." Today, that danger is greater than ever. American industry is steadily losing out to Japanese products. In an advertisement that appeared in many leading newspapers in America, including The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Armstrong explained why the Japanese auto industry has passed Detroit. It needs no complicated economic formula. It is simply that while a Japanese auto worker has a sense of responsibility to his job, his employer and his country, his U.S. counterpart is primarily interested in getting more for himself. There are exceptions on both sides, of course. But it basically explains why Japan is pulling ahead. When their industry was ruined after World War II, the Japanese dedicated themselves to recovery. They were relieved of the burden of national defense by the United States. But even so, without a prodigious effort, they could not have done it. The Japanese are not unique in this. Other peoples have demonstrated that they can perform major feats of sacrifice when called on to work together for national survival. The British did it in World War II. The West Germans did it afterward. The Chinese built the Great Wall. And 200 years ago the newly independent people of Haiti toiled with their bare hands to build La Citadelle, an incredible fortress on a 3,000-foot mountain peak. All members of the human race, it seems, can rise to the occasion. And later generations marvel and wonder, "How did they do it?" The trouble with later generations is that they are rarely as motivated to sustain the effort of sacrifice. The hard — won prosperity or security becomes a curse — providing a foundation for decadence. Yes, even the Japanese "miracle" is showing signs of wear and tear. Japan's youth today do not seem to catch the vision. A new generation of Japanese children is not as interested in following the tradition of discipline and hard work. Last year set a record for juvenile arrests. Youth crime rose 55 percent in five years. Teenage gangsters are becoming a serious problem. Violence in the schools is increasing. Some schoolteachers, members of a traditionally revered profession, have asked for police protection. Like the children of affluent societies everywhere, Japanese youth are turning off. The older generation is worried. They know that there is nothing miraculous about their country's success. They know what did it — sacrifice, dedication and hard work. Will the 21st century be the Japanese century? Some Japanese observers say, "Not necessarily." They feel that their society is headed for a drastic change. They are right. It is. The world cannot keep going on like this — with even supposed allies watching each other warily, like wild animals around the common water hole. Imposing sanctions and tariffs leads to trade wars. Handicapping the diligent, while protecting incompetence and idleness, prevents progress. The economic problems of the 20th century are showing us that either everyone works together — or ultimately, everybody loses. Bible prophecy shows that the latter is what will happen — sooner than we expect. We are on a collision course with trade wars — which lead to hot wars — and the ultimate disaster. Regular readers of this magazine know that God will have to intervene and save man from himself. That includes calling a halt to the suspicion and greed that characterizes trade among nations. Who will the 21st century belong to? It could be the United States, Britain and Germany. And Japan, China and India. And Iceland, Somalia, Bulgaria and Tonga. And the Australian Aborigines, the American Indians, the Eskimos and the Pygmies. In short, economic success in the 21st century will belong to any people who are willing to learn how to work together, marshal their resources and harness their God-given potential for the good of all. Any group of human beings with intelligent leadership, proper goals and right education can become a formidable team. Success, prosperity and accomplishment are not the prerogative of the few. God made all men in his image. Under his guidance, we will one day understand what this means. The most startling inventions and the greatest achievements in industry, engineering and architecture are still ahead. Few realize it, but the world is on the brink of an "economic miracle" that will last not just for the 21st century, but for a thousand years.