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Story 30: Fish and Pond – Individual and Society

  • Miscellaneous
October 6, 2014

Fish and Pond – Individual and Society
Naoto Izumo
R&D Division 5, A&D Company, Limited

The Development Stories have now reached their 30th entry. Initially, they were written to bring the attention of our sales representatives to some of the background and circumstances surrounding the development of A&D's new products. While I get the feeling they may not have served that purpose very well, I would like to depart from talk of new product development on the occasion of the 30th entry, and 4th anniversary, to discuss some other matters close to my heart.

Ever since I was a young elementary school student I have enjoyed looking at fish. I was going to Kawaragi Elementary School near Nishinomiya Station in the Kansai region of Japan, and on my way home to my house near the famous Koshien baseball stadium I would often stop at the local goldfish shop and gaze at them until evening without ever growing tired of them. I had always very little money, and when I had received some pocket money I would only buy a few cheap 5 or 10 yen goldfish. Therefore I was no doubt thought of as quite a nuisance child by the shopkeepers.

Later on, due to my father's work duties, the family moved to Setagaya Ward in Tokyo while I was in junior high school. From then onwards, my regular destination by bicycle after school was the rooftop pond at the top of Takashimaya department store in Futagotamagawa. I used to go there to look at the huge grass carp lazily swimming around. When I first saw them I was overwhelmed by their size, a memory that still remains with me today.

From those days in my youth until just recently, I have often been puzzled by why I enjoyed gazing at fish so much and devoted so much time to my interest. Finally, while approaching my 60th birthday, I came to some kind of realization. Looking at those fish leisurely circling their pond or tank, I was actually seeking a glance at something outside the sphere of everyday life.

Recently, I dug a hole of approximately two meters square in my garden and over the course of four days built my own pond. My children (who have now left home) bought a goldfish at a festival about 20 years ago and took it home and housed it in a fish tank of 60 cm in length. It was still alive after all that time, so I released it into my new pond. This goldfish which had lived all its life in such a small tank had grown to almost the length of that tank's shorter side, and I wanted to let it enjoy the experience of freely swimming around in a wide space, even if it would be a relatively short time before it died from old age.

When I completed that pond and released the goldfish into it, the goldfish did not at all start swimming in a normal manner, but instead flipped its front fins around and only moved in a backwards direction. It continued to do that for some time after being placed in the pool, so I began to wonder if it had actually forgotten how to swim after being cooped up in such a small tank for so long. However, after a while it seemed to gain some energy and started to swim in a forwards direction.

Fish, of course, normally swim in a forwards direction. Swimming in a backwards direction could be considered an adaption to living in such a confined space, to avoid banging its head against the glass walls of the tank, as well as confusion upon being introduced to a comparatively wide area all of a sudden. It is said that in general, fish will only grow to a size that is suitable for their environment. While depending on the concentration of oxygen in the water, the reachable length for fish, in the case of particularly large koi carp, is about half the depth of the pond they live in. Because of this, professional koi breeders sometimes dig a pond of about five meters in depth in extreme cases. A pond so deep that apparently some have been known to accidentally die by falling into their own hole.

Most animals, including fish, will adapt their lives to the environment in which they were born. They can't change their present environment or use their judgment to seek out a new place to live. In turn, what can humans do to change their environment? My conclusion is that neither humans, nor fish, nor any other animals, are able to change their environments in a good sense, except for perhaps a very few exceptional individuals. The average person has quite limited ability to change their environment with positive volition, and things such as the first grasses to sprout forth on the side of a volcano after a sizable eruption or plants or trees which survive longer than anything else in their surroundings can actually be considered to have quite an exceptional ability to influence their environment.

I have been doing my job for more than 30 years under a number of permutations of company structures. My experience in this time tells me that very few individuals have the ability to propose new change to a company or improvements to the workplace environment, which are essential for the growth or preservation of a company. On the other side of the coin, about 20% of people will be able to advance such a proposal when any are made. The remaining 80% of people will offer critiques of that change, wait to see how things develop, give negative criticisms and generally act non-cooperatively. In the worst cases, I have seen people actively try to impede any change.

These people generally share the same way of thinking, considering it their business to without fail state their negative opinion to any new proposition. They also lack the strong will needed to take action and ownership of a new idea. However, for better or worse, the wave of globalization grows stronger everyday and the ability to formulate new business models oneself is essential for the security and development of a company.

To return to my earlier thoughts, unlike fish that can only swim around in the pond where they find themselves in, people can choose the pond in which they swim, and can even create their own pond to swim in. The present sense of stagnation felt within Japanese society could perhaps be thought to be a result of a decline in the ability to create new things or eagerly absorb new and different ideas or ways of thinking, together with a loss of the industriousness Japanese people once held.

It seems quite natural that the movement of hubs of production operation occurs along with the invigoration of economic activity since the Industrial Revolution. Over the last 250 years, the center of that operation has moved from England to North America, then Japan, then Korea and Taiwan, and finally to China. However, for the pharmaceutical industry or analytical instruments, the U.K. and U.S.A. are still overwhelmingly leaders in these fields. The insurance and finance industries are also in a similar position. This is certain proof that originating new business models, together with continued technological innovation and the capital and investment needed to realize this, are essential in order to sustain matured economies.

One of the reasons I entered A&D 26 years ago was that I could feel the capability of our company president as an engineer; it therefore seemed like it would be an exciting place to work in. One other reason is that I thought that the future of Japanese manufacturers should be presented to the world as makers of specialized technological equipment, rather than general-use products. In particular, I believed measurement and weighing devices could be thought of as the mother machines of industry with plenty of room to expand in the future.

Other Asian countries catching up with Japan has already led to difficult conditions here and the electronic appliances industry continues to decline; the automotive industry appears to be making a temporary comeback due to changes in outside circumstances, but the future is not clear at all in that industry as well.

In these circumstances, even if criticisms are made that Japanese society is facing many problems, such as a poor education system, ineffectual politicians and a stagnating economy, it is clear that the present circumstances cannot be changed. Therefore, without doubt the only thing for each of us to do as individuals is fully dedicating ourselves to the tasks we are capable of doing. After the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, a feeling of powerlessness and lack of motivation towards my job persisted. I couldn't even see the point in developing new products in the aftermath of such a large scale tragedy. However, when wondering what I can personally do to contribute to society, I came to the realization that the biggest contribution anyone can make is to sincerely and steadfastly work to the best of their abilities in their chosen field. After coming to this conclusion, all of my worries disappeared.

Watching killifish, koi or goldfish is a very enjoyable activity, but I think we should all be careful every day to ensure we are not just fish swimming ineffectually in the currents within our companies.

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