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Herald Tribune asahi
Japanese People Do Not Know Japan
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The Japanese and Japanese style manufacturing
Japanese automaker Toyota is anticipated to become the largest producer of motor vehicles in the world - finally surpassing the output of American and European companies - traditional hotbeds of automobile manufacturing.
 
Japanese automakers were once ridiculed as merely imitating American and European cars. However, they no longer merely imitate Western car design and production; the quality and prices of their products now being more than competitive and largely responsible for boosting domestic car production to the levels it currently enjoys. So, why is it that so many Japanese cars and other industrial products are proving as popular as they are around the world in the early 21st century? Personally, I see the diligence and product management abilities of the Japanese as at least part of the reason.
 
In recent years auto factories have increasingly been outsourcing their operations to other Asian countries with the result being that the number of cars actually manufactured in Japan has been decreasing year-on-year. In other words, as car makers around the world are now competing on a level playing field and under the same conditions, this is true globalization in practice. Under such conditions, I believe the prime reason behind Japanese automakers' successes when viewed against that of their Western counterparts can be laid at the feet of the Japanese people.

 
The Japanese work ethic - good or bad?
An acquaintance in the Japanese motor repair trade since the 1950s; a time most people were largely unfamiliar with cars, has told me that when he handles foreign cars, he cuts and grazes his hands and arms on burrs to such an extent that he has to cover his forearms to the elbows in a type of leather glove.
 
When working on Japanese cars though he had to take no such precaution as Japanese cars were completed to such specifications as to negate the need for arm protection. I think this story depicts the essence of Japanese manufacturing in a nutshell.
 
To carry this motoring metaphor over to my own work with Japanese antiques, and taking lacquer ware as an example, I would say that working 'inefficiency' on the part of the Japanese should actually be respected as odd as that sounds. Creators of lacquer ware pieces sometimes spend excessive periods reinforcing the wooden base of a given item or applying (lacquer) undercoats in far greater depth than that of topcoats and subsequent decorative aspects of the finished article. In terms of product efficiency / output and rates of productivity that tend to prioritize such concepts, these workers are far from ideal. I, however, am greatly impressed by such demonstrations of inefficiency when viewed alongside the 'norms' of accepted production methodology.
 
Personal challenges
Although born in an antique shop run by the same family for three generations, I myself received an education in the postwar-era that drilled us in the need for efficiency and productivity but, even while young, I often wondered why Japanese craft workers performed such time consuming tasks by insisting on taking care of 'invisible' details until one day a craftsman told me that if he did not strengthen the pieces he turned out by 'perfecting' the unseen aspects, the work would be incapable of lasting for his ideal period of time of 100 years - and would thus leave him less than satisfied.
 
His words brought me to my senses but this kind of activity displays the true spirit and feeling of the Japanese.
 
In other words, creators of pieces of art today are taking on the future upon the battleground of tradition, experience and knowledge. In addition, those creators recognized as having surpassed a certain level of performance keep pushing themselves regardless of cost and time constraints - further improvements in their work being thereafter considered as gifts from the gods.
 
Far-sighted policy
I feel human beings are now at a significant turning point. When thinking about the direction in which we should be heading, I think Japanese tend towards hospitality as I wrote in a previous piece (available at: www.fuji-torii.com). We should really be thinking about the beneficiaries of certain products, services and information. In other words, for whom are we creating these products and to whom are we offering our services? It is time to look at these basic issues again.
Needless to say, the beneficiary should be the customer and not the creators or suppliers of items / products, services and information. In other words, whatever is provided should be done so with the customer's happiness at the forefront. If this is the case then suppliers will benefit in the long term but at present we are putting the cart before the horse as rough, arrogant suppliers can actually scare away customers.
 
In Japan one word applies to mean "a national policy on a hundred-year basis" -(国家百年の計)- and this is an indication of our looking far into the future without merely focusing on profits. If possible, I would like to change the meaning of this word to refer to "the world's policy on a thousand-year basis" and thereafter apply it to each and every person on earth.
 
(To be continued)

 
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