Is the Japanese “craftsman spirit” myth no longer?

The Japanese who have always been proud of “domestic production”, it is estimated that these years, “made in Japan” has been so closely linked to “counterfeiting” in the international arena; and the craftsmanship has never fallen from the altar, in cruelty. The reality is discussed and dissected.

Every time a fake, the Japanese bow and apologize in the spirit of craftsmanship. In recent years, some Japanese corporate executives may have used up their lifetime bows ahead of schedule.

On February 16, 2021, when Japan was still struggling for diplomacy and the Olympic Games, Japanese auto parts giant Akebono Brake Industry Co., Ltd. publicly admitted that the company produced more than 11 of the four types of brakes and other parts products produced in the Japanese factory. Thousands of quality inspection data are artificially fabricated.

Since 2015, numerous fraud scandals by Japanese companies have flooded the international media every three times: Japanese builder Mitsui Fudosan’s “building crooked” incident; Toshiba Group’s seven-year financial fraud; Mitsubishi Motors forged fuel consumption data, involving as many as 620,000 vehicles and more than 2.1 million light-duty autonomous vehicles; Chernobyl of the automobile manufacturing industry-Takata’s “death airbag” incident led to the recall of more than 100 million vehicles by 19 car companies worldwide, becoming the largest in the history of the automotive industry Kobe Steel’s data was falsified, and the problem involved more than 200 companies; Kobayashi Chemical has continued to falsify for 40 years, and 80% of the 500 drugs have falsified records.

Investigating and comparing these fraud incidents, it is not difficult to see the commonalities of Japanese corporate frauds: long duration, wide coverage, and the company’s senior management ignores them and even tacitly complicity.

It is not difficult to understand that the successive fraud incidents in Japan in recent years are inseparable from the most direct international background: China and other major emerging countries have developed rapidly, and related factors such as technology, product quality, price, and service that consumers value have all gone through countless factors. Second game and optimization to achieve a relative balance.

However, the rigidity of Japanese corporate management and conservative concepts have kept Japanese companies insensitive to changes in the outside world. With the depreciation of the yen, product prices have fallen, costs have increased unabated, and previous profits have fallen or even disappeared. In order not to go bankrupt, companies need to reduce costs. Obviously, the counterfeiting efforts of some Japanese companies have indeed been “successful” for many years.

The counterfeiting efforts of some Japanese companies in the past have indeed been “successful” for many years.

So where does the reason for the sudden outbreak of fraud in Japan in recent years come from? Based on the reflections of the Japanese media and the analysis of the outside world, the reasons are mainly due to these aspects.

The conservative and rigid “smile curve”
Japanese manufacturing lacks a long-term plan and lacks innovation driving force. The United States has the “Industrial Internet”, and the German manufacturing has “Industry 4.0”. In the face of the digital information era, Japan is always in a passive position.

In 2015, the “floor crooked” incident occurred in Yokohama, Japan, and the railing of the corridor between the two buildings showed a height difference of 2.4 cm.

On February 16, 2021, Akebono Brake Industry Co., Ltd. admitted to falsifying data

Most Japanese companies have a negative and wait-and-see attitude towards the development of digitalization. Even if there is a slogan, the final implementation is difficult, especially in the cultivation of software technology and IT talents. These are the keys to the current development of manufacturing and the Internet of Things.

Take the automobile as an example. Japanese cars are relatively stable, because Japanese automobile companies generally adopt traditional and mature technologies, and the speed of innovation and change is also slow. And German car companies sometimes apply some new technologies, even without failing, and it is inevitable that small problems often occur.

From a short-term perspective, the reputation of Japanese products is more secure, but from a long-term development perspective, the competitiveness of Japanese companies will inevitably not be as competitive as competitors who dare to constantly trial and error feedback and constantly modify and innovate.

In the industrial chain of the manufacturing industry, there is a concept of “smiling curve”: the added value of intellectual property, technology patents, brand and service at both ends of the chain is relatively high, while the added value of the middle manufacturing link is relatively low. Therefore, Japanese companies are not keen to work on innovative production and logistics technology in the intermediate links. However, the source of the competitiveness of an enterprise comes precisely from the transformation and leaping development of the intermediate links.

Japanese corporate senior management is conservative and rigid. In Japan, the most popular management scientist in Japanese business circles is William Edwards Deming, whose main theory is “Total Quality Management”.

The theory emphasizes the prevention of errors through supervision and improvement of the production process, so that the product fully meets the standards. “The fear of mistakes is the destruction of progress” is the best portrayal of the declining competitiveness of Japanese companies.

In the 1980s and 1990s when the global market environment was far less active than it is today, the Japanese corporate model followed Deming’s “Total Quality Management” not only without problems, but also invincible. What’s more, the bottom-level employees in Japan are extremely capable of execution. Even if it is a process-oriented task, even if the top-level does not supervise it, all employees will complete it without compromise.

However, the current global market environment is changing with each passing day, especially after China’s accession to the WTO, the rapid development of China’s economy and the continuous upgrading of manufacturing production have caused shocks, and the international market has become more unpredictable. Companies that still monopolize the market this year may be in crisis next year. Therefore, when the competitiveness of Japanese companies declines and their profits are insufficient, they can only control costs.

Looking back on the fraud incidents of Japanese companies over the years, it can be seen that in addition to the long time, wide coverage, and high-level accomplices, the commonality is the product quality management problems that have emerged under cost control.

Because of operating losses and unable to reduce fixed costs such as salary expenditures, rents, and equipment in a short period of time, Japanese companies can only start in the areas of raw materials and product technology that have a relatively large man-made operation space.

“Shame culture” advocates to follow the trend and fake
“Shame culture” is a double-edged sword. At a time when there is nothing left and fate is at stake, the “shame culture” allows the Japanese to know their shame and then courage. Modern Japan is the best example of this.

Now, Japanese companies are obsessed with the concept of “Japan No. 1” and “Japanese production is synonymous with quality”; Japanese corporate executives and decision makers are facing the unfavorable situation of international competition, in order to strengthen the way Japanese products should be. It is very likely that under the influence of the “shame culture”, they choose to resort to fraud and cheating for personal gains in order to maintain the so-called “decency” internally and externally.

On the basis of “shame culture”, the concept of “village eight points” has appeared in Japan since the ancient village community, which makes Japanese people always tend to think that following the trend is the only way to settle down. Therefore, the phenomenon that Japanese corporate executives work overtime, everyone follows overtime, and no one dares to make exceptions.

In the same way, when a Japanese company has a precedent for fraud in a certain industrial chain, it subsequently becomes the unspoken rule of the industry. After seeing the “benefits” of fraud, companies that did not want to counterfeit will inevitably follow suit.

“Craftsman spirit” ignores the latest consumer needs
Zhang Jifeng, deputy director of the Institute of Japanese Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote in “Why Japanese Family Businesses Endure for a Century”: “Because of the existence of craftsmanship, Japanese family businesses tend to be unique for decades. Unique products make it impossible for any company to surpass. The craftsmanship and corporate culture complement each other and form a synergy, which has guaranteed the survival of a large number of family businesses in Japan for a century.”

The craftsmanship spirit is indeed a kind of deep inheritance of Japan, and it is the core spiritual pillar that made “Made in Japan” in the world’s manufacturing industry in the early days. But people should also realize that the craftsmanship itself is also a behavior packaged by the times. If it is over-exaggerated, it will cause a cognitive dissonance that cannot be made wrong. Every time you make a mistake, the craftsmanship loses a little credibility.

Mitsubishi’s fuel consumption data is falsified; Takata’s “death airbag” hits the Japanese auto industry a heavy blow

“The fear of mistakes is the destruction of progress” is the best portrayal of the declining competitiveness of Japanese companies.

In addition, the superstition of craftsmanship will ignore the rapid development of the times and the volatile needs of consumers. After all, the upgrading of technology is a “dimension reduction blow”, and how much craftsmanship is of no avail. Niwa Uichiro, the former Japanese ambassador to China, repeatedly advised Japanese corporate executives to lower their arrogant heads, put aside their conservative obsessions, and visit the Chinese market every six months.

He said: “If Japan leaves a market as large as China, there will be no way out; and if Japanese companies don’t understand the needs of the Chinese market, they will not be able to do well.” Unfortunately, his words did not cause much ripples. The reasons for the current dilemma of the Japanese manufacturing industry are that the increase in product manufacturing costs has led to the fading of competitive advantages in product prices, and some companies focus on self-righteous quality standards while ignoring the upgrading of consumer demand, often missing good opportunities.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Japanese home appliances swept the world. However, beginning in 2008, Japanese home appliance companies began to lose money across the board. In 2009, Japan changed from an exporter of home appliances to an importer. Although many parts and core technologies still dominate, Japanese home appliances and other products have withdrawn from the front line. Excessive craftsmanship is also a realistic explanation for this contradiction.

When Japanese companies lose their keen tentacles for the latest demands of consumers in the international market, it is difficult to avoid a decline in sales of assembled products. After the loss, the company is even more unable to support the next step of investment and production, which is a vicious circle. On the other hand, the “polishing” of certain parts and cutting-edge technology by the craftsman spirit can still keep the company invincible at least for a long period of time.

The collective fraud by Japanese companies has been like opening Pandora’s box in recent years. What is certain is that in the near future, there will still be Japanese companies whose management will come out to bow and apologize for fraud.

However, even if the Internet is flooded with news that various Japanese companies have been fraudulent for 30 years, we do not need to gloat, nor should we deny Japanese products because of fraud. This is one of the costs that every preserving economic power needs to bear, and it is also the result of the Japanese media sparing no effort in investigating Japanese companies. Companies in other countries also have this phenomenon, to a certain extent they just haven’t been so thoroughly liquidated.

Since 2008, Japanese home appliance companies have begun to lose money across the board

We are not denying the role of Japan’s unique craftsmanship. At different stages of development, the qualifications required by the country are not static. In the past, Japan needed more craftsmanship, but now it needs more innovation and change.

Different times give a country’s enterprises different display images.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the reputation of “Made in Japan” in the world market was still a symbol of “rough manufacturing”. This allowed Japan to “know the shame and then be brave”. Through national and corporate brand marketing, high-tech introduction and re-absorption, the sword was sharpened for ten years, and the international image of “Made in Japan” was counterattacked in the 1970s. And reshaping.

In the recent past, the international reputation of “Made in China” has not been complimented, and it has improved a lot in recent years. If Japan is over-exposing the craftsman’s spirit, then China still lacks the craftsman’s spirit. To understand the incidents of fraud by Japanese companies is not to be complacent about the mistakes of other countries, but to make corrections if there are mistakes. 2025 is coming soon. What kind of business card will “Made in China” give the world? We will wait and see.

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