Rakuten Inc., operator of Japan's leading online shopping mall, has submitted a notice of withdrawal to Nippon Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), the nation's most powerful business lobby.
Rakuten says it decided to leave the body because of clear differences of opinion over such issues as the future of Japan's electric power industry.
Rakuten President and Chairman Hiroshi Mikitani is a go-getting entrepreneur who has nurtured the dot.com startup he founded into one of the nation's most successful Internet companies.
Mikitani has made some controversial moves, including his bid to merge with Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc. by accumulating a major stake in the TV broadcaster.
However, unlike Takafumi Horie, the disgraced former president of Web portal operator Livedoor Co., who was known for his nonconformist attitude and contempt for the traditional management style, Mikitani has been in the good books of older business leaders.
It appears that even this down-to-earth businessman has found the Japanese business community of today to be something he has no time for.
Indeed, Keidanren's response to the Great East Japan Earthquake has been ruefully slow and weak.
While it has been vocal in expressing its grievances and criticisms against the government led by the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, the organization's own proposals and actions related to the disaster have shown little creativity or originality.
In particular, Keidanren has failed to make any significant contribution to the efforts to deal with the nuclear disaster or to the debate on ideas to reform the electric power industry, such as separating power generation from transmission and distribution.
Keidanren Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura, chairman of Sumitomo Chemical Co., has made a series of remarks that support the status quo and serve the interests of the power industry.
Electric utilities have been acting as the unchallenged leader in the Japanese business community in terms of both financial and political power.
Protected by their regional monopolies and stable, highly regulated electricity rates, these companies have been good customers for other industries. They are willing to buy products and services at the asked prices.
Some business leaders in other sectors admit that it is difficult for them to openly criticize the electric power industry or propose power market reforms.
It is ridiculous if such self-restraint on the part of other members of Japan Inc. in criticizing the electric power industry is hampering efforts for change in this important sector.
The March 11 disaster and the nuclear crisis it triggered have drastically changed the business environment for electric utilities.
The possibility of a serious power shortage is a big source of worry for the Japanese economy as a whole.
But emerging new trends, such as a shift toward renewable energy sources, efforts to create a more efficient and transparent power supply system and demand-side reforms for higher energy efficiency and power conservation, offer many great business opportunities.
In the West, a bevy of new businesses have come into being in these areas.
In Japan as well, there are some notable moves by individual companies. Softbank Corp., for instance, has joined hands with more than 30 local governments to promote the use of renewable energy. Panasonic Corp. has unveiled a plan to build a "smart city," a community of houses powered by green energy technologies, while Sharp Corp. has embarked on operating solar power plants.
A nation's economy derives its vitality from businesses and individuals who find opportunities in changes, make quick and timely moves based on innovative thinking and technology, and create new values.
Such economic vitality is one of the crucial factors for Japan's recovery and reconstruction from the calamity.
The English word "enterprise" means both a business organization and willingness to engage in daring or difficult action.
If the business community, a collection of enterprises, has lost its enterprising spirit and is hindering the nation's economic regeneration, it cannot hope to win the hearts of Mikitani or any other ambitious entrepreneurs.
--The Asahi Shimbun, June 25