Tetsutaro lida and I were discussing the differences between Japanese and American department stores. We compared mark-up, stock-turn, sales per square foot (per square meter in Japan), and many more performance measuring criteria.

Then, he really surprised me. He had an assistant bring a large book into our meeting room. It gave precise details of the operations of all the department stores in Japan. This is a quarterly report.

In Japan, there are no secrets between competitive stores. Conversely, there is complete disclosure of every operating detail.

I told Mr. lida this would be impossible in the United States. Stores worked hard for competitive advantages, and they'd never disclose how these were achieved as they do in Japan.

He laughed when he said this wasn't the only difference between our department stores. In Japan, government permission is needed if you are planning to open a store or expand an existing operation.

How could a government agency be smart enough to make intelligent decisions, I asked.

It's quite easy, he said. The committee which decides these matters is comprised of executives from the department stores.

Closing time for department stores is usually six o'clock, but their food departments stay open to seven thus creating an hour of chaotic bedlam.

The concessionaires for fruit and vegetables and other perishables are anxious to clear their stock ... "anxious" is an understatement. "In panic" might be more descriptive; at least, so it sounds to the shopper.

Sales efforts of loud shouts start with a degree of restraint but reach a crescendo of loud shouts as the hour approaches seven.

It's an experience well worthwhile, even if you're not interested in shopping.