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If Japan's economy is going down the Swannee, I wonder what hope there is for the rest of us.

Compared to us, the Japanese are entrepreneurial whizz-kids.

They care about their work almost as much - and sometimes more - than they do their families. Next to the Japanese we are a complete joke.

They work in smart, air-conditioned factories. Staff take exercise every lunchtime - sometimes compulsorily.

Here, the only time an employee leaves the sweat and toil of the office is to light up in some revolting fire hazard masquerading as a smokers' room, or to stagger off to the nearest pub, returning only to snooze through the remains of the day.

We are the buffoons of the business world. A nation of clock-watchers, we lack energy and despise motivation.

At one time we used the family as our national excuse. Its breakdown has deprived us of our usual cop-out.

Japan's downside is that families rarely see each other. Men work until 8pm. Then they drink with colleagues until 11pm.

Some men find the pressures unbearable and pay a high price for so much inequality - in some cases, suicide is the result.

In this country, we pay a ridiculous price for laughable office practices.

We have an absurd hierarchical system - an atmosphere in which bullies and back- stabbers thrive.

Energy on the shop floor is usually taken up with watching one's back. The Japanese, on the other hand, avoid hierarchy and promote teamwork. In consequence, their productivity is both qualitative and abundant.

Interestingly, the current recession in the Far East is not the fault of your average Japanese.

Banks out there have been forcing money down people's throats - using their customers' homes as security.

The property market has crashed, leaving a large amount of unpaid dosh.

JAPAN is, indeed, ailing. Workers at the Mitsubishi plant in Haddington are already reeling from the shock news of the plant's closure.

Yet, we could learn a few lessons from these people - instead of accusing them of stealing Western ideas.

They may well have copied from us originally, but they have refined their merchandise to such an extent that - effectively - it has become their own.

I once spent a year in a Japanese hospital after breaking my neck in a diving accident. The medics shaved my head and screwed in 15 kilos of head traction.

From that moment on, I was unable to move or see anything other than a high, white ceiling. If I strained my eyes, I could just make out a tree outside my window and judge by its leaves the changing seasons.

Throughout those long months my only companion was a small, black insect which made its way painstakingly across the white ceiling and back, day after day, month after month.

I remember that economics came before everything else. If they did an X-ray - I paid for it straight away.

If I dropped a thermometer - the nurse would rush out of the room, only to return five minutes later with a bill.

That is the way they are.

BUT there was another side to these little people - a side we seldom hear about. I was allotted a special nurse called Kaoru. She was a human dynamo.

When a doctor told me I was going to be paralysed for life, I cried like a three year old and Kaoru cried as well. Unable to communicate, we howled in unison. "Scotrand good,"she would say again and again. "Nessie ... haggis ... whisky ... good."

Deciding to make geographical headway, I would tell her - in my appalling Japanese - that presented with a choice of where to break my neck in the world, Japan or Scotland would be at the top of my list.

We were pals. The first day she flew into my room with a tea tray and said: "Sorry, no lemon."

"That's okay," I reassured her. "I'll have milk instead."

"Okay," Kaoru grinned and immediately dumped my beloved tea down the sink and poured me a glass of milk. The next day I tried again.

"I'll have the tea, too, please."

"Two?" she gasped. "Nicora san rike two?"

For the first week I got two cups of tea, one glass of milk and a reputation for being greedy.

I watched those people closely. They may have been cruel during the war, but no nation emerges from war smelling totally of roses.

What I remember best was the day Kaoru was leaning over my bed tucking in a blanket. I yelled out.

I had felt the weight of her. The feeling had returned down my left side.

I remember her rushing through to tell the other patients - all of them partially, or totally, paralysed.

In particular, I remember their wholehearted delight and their compassion.

If there was ever any hint of resentment, it never filtered through to me.

Perhaps instead of gloating at the misfortune of the Japanese - a gloating based on old enemies - we and our EU partners should, in fact, do something to help.

Before what is happening to them eventually happens to us.
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Barry, Nicola
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Apr 9, 1998
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