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.
(Translated by Kazunori Nozawa, 1995)