In 1993 he was in Guam when a devastating earthquake reduced his hotel to a pile of rubble. In 1995 he was literally pitched out of bed by the vertical jolt that announced the beginning of the Kobe earthquake. And on September 11 2001 he was – yes, you guessed it – in the World Trade Centre in New York when the towers were hit.
Many of us were expecting to find out that he had decided to take a spring break in Benghazi and see his face pop up on our TV screens among rioting Libyans. But of course on March 11 he was in Tokyo when the Tohoku-Kanto earthquake struck that Friday afternoon. Having spent several hours making sure as many of our clients as possible were safe, he eventually walked the 25 kilometres back to his home in Yokohama to be with his family. Today he is taking the seven hour bus ride to Sendai to help relatives who have lost everything in the devastation.
I am not sure if this track record of near-misses makes him extremely blessed with good luck or serially unlucky. But he is certainly resilient and treats his various brushes with mortality with wry detachment.
Having spent the last couple of days in Tokyo, I have a snapshot of how the country is reacting to the crisis. The city is quieter and more subdued than normal but everything you read about the Japanese people being able to draw upon endless stand-by reserves of determination and stoicism is emphatically true.
Everybody is of course preoccupied by what is happening at the nuclear plant. And the “Fukushima 50” – those workers who have stayed in the plant to bring it under control despite the almost certain fatal levels of radiation they have been exposed to – have become, like Los 33 in Chile, a symbol of national pride. And as I write this leaving Narita airport on a near-empty plane, my already considerable admiration for Japan goes up a notch.
These events have tested the ability of Japanese and foreign multinational companies to respond effectively to both the immediate disaster and to the knock-on effects to the global supply chain. As we help people through this process, it is clear that there is now a whole new chapter on crisis resilience waiting to be written for politicians, corporate leaders and public officials. But for now, it is too early to draw anything other than preliminary conclusions; as ever, some companies demonstrated superb leadership in adversity, others stumbled.
The economic cost is still being counted and the debate about nuclear power is now even more complicated. But what will be the political implications? At times like this, the country can tap a strong appetite for moral restraint (apart from among the night clubs of Roppongi and Shinjuku where it is pretty much business as usual). But will this now legendary stoicism turn back into passive acceptance as the affected parts of the country are slowly rebuilt and normality returns?
I am not so sure. I think beneath the calmness, there is a latent sense of anger at the political incompetence that Japan has endured for the past two decades. As stories emerge – as they might – of negligence and cover-ups in the nuclear industry, the blame game could well take a distinctly non-Japanese twist. We could expect major class action-style litigation and popular agitation for change. The post-war social contract – we will endure whatever man or nature throws at us so long as you govern us wisely – has now been stretched, possibly too far.
As for Yoshida-san, we will keep him under close observation. For those of you making vacation plans, we will – for a small fee – forward to you an advance copy of his upcoming travel itinerary!