The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

ACCJ governor–Tokyo, chairman of Oracle Japan, and senior VP of Oracle Corporation

The US–Japan relationship has been forged like a steel blade by a powerful history of mega-mentorships. This gives the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) a rare opportunity and responsibility to find and foster the next great collaboration.

A mentorship is, of course, a relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. But this relationship has changed dramatically, and today the mentor may be either older or younger with regards to age and understanding of technology. This is known as a reverse mentor. They might also come from a completely different discipline. Regardless, the mentor must have a certain area of expertise, and both sides must stand to benefit from the relationship.

Another interesting aspect of US–Japan mega-mentorships is that they have occurred in an atmosphere of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA). This military term came into use in the 1990s to describe the nature of the world after the end of the Cold War, and has been adopted for business, management, HR, and leadership training.

VUCA provides a framework for our fast-paced world that is continually disrupted by artificial intelligence, big data, and the Internet of Things. How we choose to respond to VUCA will affect our business outcomes, diplomatic relationships, and social well-being.

ACCJ members have a distinctive opportunity and the responsibility to engage people, empower business leaders, optimize operations, and transform business and service.

Success or failure in this endeavor hinges on our ability to find and foster future mega-mentorships. Japan and the United States have a long, rich, and colorful history of collaboration in addressing the challenges and opportunities of the day for the greater mutual good.

In 1950, filmmaker Akira Kurosawa directed Rashomon, a movie that marked the entrance of Japanese film onto the world stage and won several awards, including an honorary Oscar for Most Outstanding Foreign-language Film at the 24th Academy Awards in 1952.

Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Rashomon is known for a plot device that involves various characters providing subjective, alternative, self-serving, and contradictory versions of the same incident to depict the perils of extreme egotism.

It is a classic example of US–Japan mega-mentoring, and had a profound influence on Western movie directors, their art, and the cultures in which their films are consumed.

Directors Steven Spielberg and George Lucas respected Kurosawa and were heavily influenced by his work. When you watch Star Wars, you can clearly see the influence of Rashomon and the synergies that created a powerful artistic, economic, and cultural outcome.

The Japanese zen scholar Dogen Zenji, who lived from 1200 to 1253, wrote: “Don’t think about good or bad, right or wrong. Don’t give rise to the mind’s common concepts, the judging of thoughts and observations.”

This teaching, called mufunbetsuchi, has influenced many iconic US enterprise founders and executives, including Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Inc. and Larry Ellison, a founder of Oracle Corporation. Both regularly visited Kyoto—the central home of both Japanese Buddhism and tea culture—and had a great love of Japanese art and cuisine.

Zen had a profound effect on Jobs, manifesting itself in his aesthetic sensibilities and sometimes ascetic lifestyle. Zen’s call for spartanism, coupled with Germany’s Bauhaus movement, found its way into the minimalist design of many Apple products, and Oracle engineered systems (Exadata) also draw on principles of mufunbetsuchi related to blurring the boundaries between traditional functional silos to deliver perfect solutions.

Now, it’s time to do it again, and we are tasked with creating, finding, and fostering the next world-changing US–Japan mega-mentorship. I challenge ACCJ thought leaders to look at their respective operations and strategies. Are we incorporating mega-mentoring into our plans? How can we do more to tap this innovation power source?

I’ll close with a quote from Steve Jobs: “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?” Mega-mentoring may be our best, undertapped power source for achieving our dreams and potential.

Hiroshige Sugihara is ACCJ governor–Tokyo, chairman of Oracle Japan, and senior VP of Oracle Corporation