Rebuilding the Lost Myth in Japan

April 10, 2018
by Noriyuki Morimoto

Once upon a time, a farmer at his deathbed told his lazy sons that there was treasure hidden somewhere in his vineyard. After his death, the sons dug up the entire vineyard but could not find anything. Instead, they had a great harvest.


Above is the well-known Aesop Fable called The Farmer and His Sons? The moral is that hard work itself is a treasure.


This fable is quoted by philosophers including Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin as having a deep significance. The philosophical point of discussion is that the sons took the farmer’s lie as a fact: a historical truth without any room for doubt, and this was supported by the father’s authority that let a lie pass as truth.


Every ethnic group has its own myths of origin and traditional tales. While a lot of the myth may be high-flying fantasy, the ethnic members more or less have faith in it. In other words, the scope of which the myth holds some authority defines the scope of ethnic groups, in the same way that believing in the farmer’s lie made his sons his sons after all.


Companies also have what are called myths of origin, traditions, cultures, beliefs, or philosophies. This is not the personal conviction of the founder or management, but something that grew out of it to be shared by the organization, breathed like air, believed in, and becoming a natural discipline of the members of the organization. This may be the myth around past success, but also becomes a driving force for the company’s future growth.


In the past, Japanese companies often had a more or less religious kind of atmosphere, singing company songs and chanting corporate philosophies like dedicating an ode. But the myth has long been lost. How can this myth be rebuilt? We can’t just get employees to sing the company songs as a ritual again.


Take the myth of technological strength: we see various projects in which small companies with high processing technologies take on difficult tasks, and attract much public attention when they succeed. But such projects do not hold much economic rationale. The intention here is to foster the belief in technological strength to the level of a myth.


Commissioner Mori of the Japan Financial Services Agency is also putting effort in creating a myth in the finance industry. “Creation of shared value with the customer” is a myth. Financial institutions should hold the conviction that they would benefit not from pursuing their own profits but from taking action for the customers’ benefit. In that sense, this is a myth they have to believe in.

Noriyuki Morimoto
Noriyuki Morimoto

Chief Executive Officer, HC Asset Management Co.,Ltd. Noriyuki Morimoto founded HC Asset Management in November 2002. As a pioneer investment consultant in Japan, he established the investment consulting business of Watson Wyatt K.K. (now Willis Towers Watson) in 1990.