“What if we pursued this connection [sister cities] between Shibuya and Laguna Beach?” John Parker, president, Amway Japan.
Shibuya is one of the main city centers in Tokyo, Japan, where Amway Japan owns a prominent office building. Just a couple of days before the earthquake and tsunami that have devastated that country, John Parker sent me a note about exploring the possibility of developing a sister-city relationship between his adopted hometown and mine.
My first thoughts were how this could be good for business; there are a number of brands that are affiliated with Laguna Beach and are sold in Shibuya stores and throughout Japan. Our energy drink cans say, “Born in Laguna Beach, Brewed in Japan” for that market. We think the connection is valuable.
Throughout Tokyo shopping districts, I bump into some of the same brands that people in Laguna Beach develop: Stussy, Victoria, Electric, Volcom, Billabong, Quiksilver, Skullcandy and Crank Brothers.
The Laguna lifestyle and culture are also popular in Japan. Local photojournalist “Curious Gabe” Sullivan recently compiled a feature story for Glide Magazine, a Tokyo-based Japanese surf lifestyle magazine, exclusively about Laguna Beach and some of the artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs who live here. That issue sold out.
On my last trip to Tokyo a few weeks ago, I ended up unexpectedly having dinner with Nick Bowers, another Lagunan who was there on business and leads design for Stussy. The action sport brand was founded in Laguna Beach by Sean Stussy and operates about 60 retail stores throughout Japan.)
Nick said to me, “The Japanese love American things from Southern California.” They love the freedom we have to develop risky, action sports and the brands that represent that attitude and style of liberty. Of course, they modify our brands in many cases so that it fits in their culture.
The Japanese have little codified law. In the event of a car accident, there are rarely courts involved in settling disputes. The party at fault takes responsibility and quickly moves to correct damages and keep harmony. Internal peace is a cultural commitment. Relationships are more important than winning or deals getting done. Social harmony trumps individual justice and both are served without trial attorneys.
My sister and her boyfriend came to visit as I was leaving for a short business trip Friday. They sent me a picture of a letter taped to my mailbox from the anti-skateboarding activist, Alan Bernstein. The contents were essentially a high-five to his cronies and a victory lap about their success getting skateboarding banned on many hills in Laguna. Beyond disagreement, the letter showed little respect for anyone or any position besides his own.
I wondered how the Japanese might solve for harmony if they had our skateboarding issue in Shibuya.
A few folks who’ve disagreed with my columns have reached out to me via email and Facebook messages. It doesn’t always start out friendly. In every case, while we have not always come to agreement, we’ve parted as friends.
There is great value in a community having appropriate channels to vent differences while appreciating that all citizens have an equal right to their own opinions. Throughout disagreement, it is important to remember civility and respect for each other as people.
In addition to trading brands and products, I think that maybe the most valuable cultural exchange we could gain would be to learn to voluntarily trade some of our justice claims for harmony while maintaining our liberty.
As the news began to unfold about the violent earthquake, tsunamis and death toll in Japan, my thoughts shifted from business and cultural opportunities to how I might be able to give back to a country that admires our town.
I wondered how our community would manage another natural disaster. I also thought about how it might pull us together again, deepening our dependence and bonds as neighbors.
Maybe as we trade t-shirts and board shorts with Shibuya, we could import an enhanced social fabric for home.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.