Japan Today



Focus on 'monozukuri' signals future hope for Japan's manufacturing sector


The word monozukuri dates back over a millennium. In its literal sense, it translates as the making of things; but in the broader sense it embodies taking pride in one's work, refining manufacturing skills and pursuit of innovation and perfection. 

Shukan Gendai (May 18-25) believes this deeply ingrained quality promises a revival of Japan's economy. The magazine has drawn up a list of major corporations that are presently in the process of generating new, leading-edge products that promise new and better things for the future. 

One example: How can a device be produced to decompose water into its respective components of oxygen and hydrogen on the lunar surface, where gravitational force is only one-sixth of the Earth's? Over half a century since the Apollo moon landings, the solution has huge implications on the future of space exploration. Breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen gas will enable fuel cells to generate energy and provide oxygen for explorers to breathe, extending the duration they can spend on the moon.

Tokyo-based Takasago Thermal Engineering Co Ltd, founded in 1923, is preparing such a device. The company is not revealing its secrets, but its system was developed through the company's long accumulated knowhow in air conditioning technology. The device is expected to be sent to the moon this coming winter by ispace Inc, a private company involved in lunar robotic exploration.  

"Now, Japan's monozukuri is once again being recognized by the world," said Akio Makabe, an economist and invited professor at Tama University. "It has managed to overcome the years of economic doldrums, during which time companies kept refining their engineering power. Once again they're been displaying their presence. It's not because their share prices have risen due to the devaluation of the yen -- it's because they did not abandon all the engineering strengths they'd accumulated up to now, and they're achieving a comeback through having developed new markets."  

Many of these companies are working quietly behind the scenes, providing essential components, processes or knowhow that go into other manufacturers' finished products. Take Tokyo-based Sumco Corporation, a producer of silicon wafers on which semiconductors are engraved. Its products are renowned for their high degree of flatness and purity. 

Sumco is a key supplier to Taiwan's famous TSMC, whose vaunted microchips drive products from Apple's iPhones to Nvidia's AI chips, among others. 

Osaka-based Daifuku, founded in 1937, is well known in its field for its contactless power transmission system. In older, contact-type systems, friction produced dust particles and generated sparks. Daifuku's non-contact system, first introduced on auto assembly lines, succeeded in eliminating generation of dust and sparks. It has since been applied to numerous other manufacturing sectors, including foodstuffs, pharmaceuticals and semiconductors. 

A critical issue for the future is whether Japan will able to sustain its monozukuri culture in the face of declining population.

"Currently, Japanese manufacturing enjoys a high reputation around the world," MinebeaMitsumi chairman and CEO Yoshihisa Kainuma tells Shukan Gendai. Kainuma's company boasts a 60% share of the world's small-diameter ball bearing market. 

"In order to continue to be highly regarded in the future," Kainuma continues, "I think it is important to strive sincerely for continuous technological innovation. Still, it is no exaggeration to say that Japan's declining birthrate and aging population will be among the biggest challenges for manufacturing in the future. In order to further develop Japan's technological and manufacturing capabilities as its population continues to decline and age, I believe it will be necessary to motivate children, who will be the leaders of the future, to take an interest in manufacturing and encourage as many children as possible to pursue careers in manufacturing."

Other examples of leading-edge innovation introduced in the article include Suzuki Motor Corporation, Hitachi Construction Machinery Equipment and Sakata Seed Corporation.

Even during difficult economic times, Shukan Gendai sums up, Japanese companies did not acquiesce. Now, signals for the revival of Japan as a manufacturing powerhouse are once again starting to appear.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

what about kodomozukuri? they need that more or the future...

-3 ( +4 / -7 )

Good, this is a very good step in the right direction.

This is what Japan is lacking. New ideas and taking risks. There is no longer innovation since the nail that sticks out thing...

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

But the US doesn't want to import stuff, they want to build it domestically to secure their supply chains. Hence Japan Inc. is opening factories in America. Smaller, specialised manufacturers cannot - they can export or licence a US firm to do it.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

what about kodomozukuri? they need that more or the future...

Now everything is becoming too expensive to produce in Japan, Japan only option currently to import from China or Vietnam, which only accept dollar for international payment. So it's becoming gaikokuzukuri.

-5 ( +0 / -5 )

The problem is not with the youth, the problem is with the old people who do not allow these youth to move forward. Technical progress is accelerating, and old people are still working on the problems not of tomorrow, but of the day before yesterday. There are so many gigantic tasks ahead, and they - let's move the spindle here a millimeter or move a millimeter to the fitting. Japanese engineers are the best in the world, but these officers lack generals.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites