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Faltering image of 'Made in Japan’

Posted October. 12, 2017 08:34,   

Updated October. 12, 2017 09:20


Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a third-generation politician, worked for a business before going into politics. His corporate experience was at Kobe Steel. After finishing his studies in the United States, Abe started working at the New York office of Kobe Steel, and was later transferred to the company’s headquarters in Japan. He worked for the company for three and a half years prior to working as a secretary for his father. Though Kobe Steel is in a similar situation to Korean steelmakers, being challenged by rapidly growing Chinese competitors, the current scandal it is engulfed in is the most daunting challenge it faces since the company’s foundation.

On Sunday, Japan's third largest steelmaker acknowledged falsifying metal data about the strength and durability of some of its aluminum and copper products used in automobiles, aircraft and railways. The falsification of the data was carried out over a decade by a few dozens of employees with the connivance of supervisors. The volume of the substandard materials supplied is estimated to be at 20,000 tons a year, to approximately 200 buyers. The employees involved were aware of mediocre quality, but ignored quality standards and faked the data, an act that is quite contrary to what we have expected of Japanese companies, normally known for top quality.

Last year, the fuel efficiency scandal at Mitsubishi Motors dealt a severe blow to the company, which was later acquired by Nissan. Last week, Nissan recalled more than 1 million vehicles due to brake issues, which was caused by assigning brake safety tests to an unqualified safety inspector. Takata Corp., the company behind the largest automotive recall in history, went bankrupt during its product recall process. It is no wonder that there are criticisms of product failure at Japanese manufacturers, which have been admired for their top quality.

What has caused such a decline? An exacerbating business environment, caused by intensifying global competition, is pointed out as the main reason. Developing countries are quickly catching up on quality, but skilled workers with strong workmanship are disappearing. The quintessential Japanese culture of being overly responsible for outcomes, as shown in the Samurai ritual of Seppuku (committing honor suicide), may also be a reason.

However, we must bear in mind that Japan has always learned from its failures and reemerged stronger than before. Toyota, which appeared to fail after its massive recall in 2009, has recovered perfectly. The “Made in Japan” image may be faltering, but we should pay attention to how Japanese companies have meticulously looked into the reasons of failure and how they have corrected them rather than the scandal itself.