Seeking to explain changing attitudes in the world's second-biggest stock market, asset managers in Tokyo have been evoking ancient Greece.

In Aesop's fable of the North Wind and the Sun, the two elements have a contest to see which is stronger, the challenge being to make a man remove his coat. The north wind unleashes a gale and the man wraps up tighter. Then the sun shines and he takes the jacket off.

The moral, that persuasion trumps force, is informing a wave of shareholder activism in Japan, with the government's blessing. It's built on dialogue and consensus rather than proxy fights played out in public, say proponents such as Ken Kobayashi, director of investment at a fund within Japan's oldest insurer, and Brian Heywood, chief executive officer of Taiyo Pacific Partners LP. The strategy has taken the name "engagement" in the local language, a transliteration of the English term.