The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Less than three months ago, we gathered at the Imperial Hotel Tokyo to celebrate the start of a new year and look ahead to the promise of 2020. Since then, developments that we could not have foreseen have brought incredible challenges to our business community. And while, at moments, the future may look dark, I would like to say I am confident that these days of uncertainty also represent an opportunity to make a difference and build a path to greater success.

When I became president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), I was certain of a few things. I was certain that we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make meaningful progress on a national level by leveraging global events and innovative technology to improve peoples’ lives, the strength of the business community, and the ties between Japan and the United States.

I was also certain that the ACCJ had an important role to play in accelerating digital transformation in Japan, that our advocacy programs were making a meaningful difference in influencing the shape of trade negotiations, and that we were going to make important strides towards empowering women, achieving workstyle reform, and tackling health and retirement issues in Japan.

Despite the current situation, I’m still certain that we can make real progress on all these fronts in 2020.

Alongside that certainty is a great deal of uncertainty. A global pandemic, such as Covid-19, has been part of the business continuity planning of large corporations for years. But as much as those plans have helped us, I don’t think we fully accounted for the degree of uncertainty we’d face.

Uncertainty in businesses is a most stressful feeling, and we must prepare for things to get far worse while also planning for things to improve a great deal faster than we expect. As I write this, China appears to be slowly rebounding while the situation in Europe and the United States grows more serious. There, we’ve only just begun to see the impact of an unprecedented level of social and economic turmoil.

In Japan, the economic impact isn’t yet as obvious and immediate as in Italy, Spain, or the United States. But for many businesses, what has already surfaced is equally devastating; and the most difficult part of the journey may still lie ahead.

To overcome this once-in-a-generation challenge, we need to join together as a business community to find creative ways to help each other. And that’s what the ACCJ does best. The administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is preparing measures to soften the blow and help businesses and individuals survive the pandemic, but government intervention will only go so far. The rest is up to us.

We want the ACCJ to act as a catalyst and facilitator for members to help members, and I’m proud to say that a significant portion of our membership is looking beyond their own businesses to offer support to the broader community.

Our latest ACCJ Member Survey reveals that members are already experiencing serious challenges, such as:

  • Drop in consumer confidence
  • Decreased spending
  • Supply chain issues
  • Shift to teleworking
  • Travel restrictions
  • Disruptions to business operations

All these are contributing to a general decline in revenues, and our members are looking to all levels of government—here in Japan and in the United States—for transparency in information sharing, economic stimulus, and assistance to the business community as a whole.

As a business organization, the chamber has an obligation and opportunity to find ways to mitigate the societal impact of Covid-19. By working together and advocating to raise the voices of those in need, the ACCJ can emerge from the coronavirus challenge with a stronger connection among our members—and to Japanese society—than ever before.

The antidote to uncertainty is participation and engagement. In a time of increasing isolation, let’s come together—even as we practice social distancing—to tackle our shared challenges. We may not find certainty, but we’ll at least find strength in numbers. And that’s how we defeat the coronavirus and step into a bright and successful future.

Peter Fitzgerald is
ACCJ President.
The antidote to uncertainty is participation and engagement.