I had the opportunity to visit Poland for the first time, to participate in a Poland-Japan conference to discuss cultural similarities and differences. For most Japanese, Poland probably feels like a very distant country. However, Warsaw was the first city outside of Japan, where I saw more Sushi restaurants than Chinese.
Because Japan defeated Russia, Poland’s nemesis, in the Russo-Japanese War, many Polish people seem to have a positive historic image of Japan. Also, during 1920-21, the Japanese Red Cross and government saved 765 Polish orphans from Siberia and sent them back to Poland. And, in 1995, Poland reciprocated by inviting children who suffered trauma after the Hanshin-Awaji earthquake.
In the conference, we discussed a range of topics including corporate governance, small businesses, competition and social responsibility of corporations. Poland offers an interesting perspective in that they are participating in the prosperity as well as the difficulties of a western capitalist society, after many years ruled under the Communist regime.
One Polish academic said that in the Polish language, the word, “business” has negative connotations, while another did not agree with her assessment. It appears there is an interesting mix of values within Poland.
Poland joined the European Union in 2004 as the largest (in terms of population and GDP) of the 10 central and eastern European countries. This entry has sparked an increase of foreign direct investment from Japan, and presently, there are over 230 Japanese companies operate in Poland.
This includes about 70 factories, such as a Toyota’s engine plant and Sharp’s LCD plant, and the produced goods are exported to other parts of Europe.
However, there are still problems with road infrastructure, complexity of legal issues, and labor unions. A Polish businessman told me that labor unions are still proud that they earned Poland’s freedom with the Solidarity Movement. “Yes, thank you, but perhaps it is time to move on,” he says.