Soichiro  Honda  passed away two and a half years  ago.  His death marked the passing of one of the people most responsible for Japan's emergence as an economic super power. During his lifetime Japan emerged from the abject poverty of the early post-war years to  become  wealthy  enough to challenge the  United  States  for economic  preeminence.  Ironically,  Honda and  many  others  who contributed  so much to Japan's prosperity were paragons  of  the American ideal. They were self-made men.

Konosuke  Matsushita,  the founder of the  giant  Matsushita Corporation,  was one of these self-made men. Starting as  a lowly apprentice,  through  hard work, initiative, and  an  indomitable will to succeed he became exceedingly wealthy and powerful.  When he  died  he  was one of the most admired and  respected  men  in Japan.  Such  regard for self-made men is not unusual  in  Japan.Many  of Japan's greatest heroes were men, who like Matsushita  or Honda,  started low and overcame great difficulties on their  way to success. Honda,  like Matsushita, also began his working life  as  an apprentice. And through hard work and an unshakable belief in his abilities he eventually achieved great success. In this regard he was not unlike other Japanese heroes. Honda, unlike Matsushita and most  other  Japanese heroes, had a liberal, not  a  conservative, approach to life.

In his younger days Honda led an unconventional life. He was fond of women and drink. He did what he wanted when he wanted. He believed  that people should have the freedom to make  their  own choices. He also treated all men equally; he did not judge people on the basis of titles and ranks. His experiences as a young  man contributed greatly to his business philosophy.

This  is not to say that Honda was a radical. Honda  Motors, like  other major Japanese corporations, instituted  a  life-time employment  system.  Honda Motors, however, did  not  expect  its employees'  lives to revolve around Honda Motors. Employees  were not  expected to sacrifice their personal lives for the  sake  of the company. Honda believed that people should first and foremost work  for themselves. Accordingly, he respected and did  not  in trude on his employees' personal lives. Indeed, he encouraged his employees  to develop their talents and abilities, whatever  they might  be.  It is this attitude that, no doubt,  contributes  to Honda Motors continuing success.

Honda  was also an internationally minded person.  While  he never  learned  to speak a foreign language well, he  had  little difficulty  communicating  with people from other  countries  and cultures. He dealt with them honestly and sincerely.  Consequently, there were many non-Japanese people who were proud to consider him their friend.

Honda  was an unusual man. He was a dedicated  perfectionist in the office or the laboratory. After working hours he became  a different  person: he became friendly and sociable. He  disliked formality and always tried to deal with people as individuals. It is characteristics as these which have endeared him to Japanese people. Though he is not with us, Japanese people remain extremely fond of him.

Asajiro Ikeda
January 1994
(Translated by Kazunori Nozawa, 1995)