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Despite the wanton destruction of people and property after WW2, the Japanese have lived. They have lived to tell their story: one of success; one that does them proud; one worthy of emulation. And for all the diatribe directed at their lengthy work day, the results of the unbending Japanese work culture are indisputable. Today, Japan stands proudly as an economic powerhouse – a monument to her impeccable work ethic. Despite extreme postwar shortages, exports began recovering quickly. In less than five years after her devastation and by 1960 – an incredible 15-year span! – Japan emerged as one of the top manufacturing nations of the world. As of 2017, Japan boasted the world’s third largest economy or 6% of the global economy. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP; PPP) per capita in 2017 stood at $38,893. Japan ranks as the world’s fourth largest exporter. It is home to 251 of the world’s largest companies as per Forbes Global 2000. On the list of the 2017-Global 500, it ranks third with 52 companies. And there is more. The 2016-list of Top 100 Global Innovators, shows Japan next to the US with 34 entries. It surpassed Europe’s total despite having one-sixth the population. According to the 2019-Global Innovation Index, Japan scored 15th on the top twenty. Some of the largest and most technologically advanced industries including the largest manufacturers of automobiles call Japan home. Currently, Toyota is the world’s largest car company and available data indicate that four of the ten top semiconductor manufacturers are located in Japan.
A highly urbanized nation with a high standard of living, Japan stands at 19th on the 2018 Human Development Index (HDI). According to a UN/WHO survey, the Japanese life expectancy of 83.7 years is the highest of any country. Its infant mortality rate is the lowest in Asia and one of the lowest of the OECD countries which includes the US. Compared to the US with 6.5, the infant mortality rate of Japan is 2.7 deaths per thousand live births. Considering that it is less than half the size of California and about a third that of Europe, Japan’s area belies its geopolitical clout. It is the only Asian country in the exclusive Group of Seven and an original founding member. Japan is a revered member in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Forum and the ASEAN Plus Three (APT). Of the largest OECD donor countries in 2018, the Japanese ranked fourth behind the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany. Over the last thirty years, Japan has provided US$200 billion as part of its official assistance program. Top recipients of its largesse are countries in Asia and Africa. In 2015, Japan donated close to US$10.4 billion and has pledged to annul debts owed by African countries. According to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, September 2, 2019, Japan will invest $20 billion over three years in Africa and that Tokyo would offer unlimited support for investment, innovation, enterprise, and entrepreneurship. In keeping with this commitment, Toyota has invested $2 million in Kenyan logistics firm Sendy, while Sumitomo Corporation invested in the pay-as-you-go solar firm M-Kopa. The Nigerian motorcycle app Max raised $7 million from Yamaha and Mitsubishi announced $50 million to enable Kenyan solar firm BBOXX to expand into Asia.
The country has an energetic research community specializing in communications technology, machinery and biomedical research. An eclectic group of almost 700,000 fervent researchers vie for a share of US$180 billion in research and development grants. It is the third largest reservoir of funds allocated to research and development. Despite its small population, Japan has produced thirteen Nobel laureates in the fields of physics, chemistry and medicine; three Fields medalists and one Gauss Prize laureate. Two of the recipients of the 2010 Nobel prizes in Chemistry were awarded to Japanese and the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to Honjo Tasuku. In 2019, Yoshino Akira, a researcher at Asahi Kasei Corp., shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. He is the eighth native Japanese scientist to win a Nobel in Chemistry. Several of its universities are ranked in the top 100 institutions of the world and they turn out a prodigious number of scholarly papers per year. Between 2005 and 2009, Japanese research scholars produced a staggering 54,800 physics papers, representing 11 percent all produced globally. Although Japan’s interest in scientific research has slipped between 2006 and 2013 it has expended more on research and development than the top four countries which includes the US, China, Germany and the UK. Japan has expended 3.5% of its GDP on R&D over fiscal period year 2008 to 2017.
The Auto Industry
Japan’s postwar economic policies were driven by a paucity of raw materials and an oversupply of steely resolve. Its inexorable tenacity to create excellence was underpinned by industrial policies demanding the manufacture of more technologically advanced products for export. In response, it transitioned from textiles to consumer electronics and automobiles. The Japanese automobiles are well recognized for their quality, reliability, fuel efficiency and competitive prices. In 2019, eleven Japanese cars and trucks made it to the list of the top-twenty bestselling vehicles. Further, four of the top ten vehicle manufacturers in 2015 were Japanese. They comprised multinationals such as Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Suzuki. In 2008, Toyota achieved its long-standing goal of beating out General Motors to become the leading car manufacturer in the world, a position held by GM since 1931. Undoubtedly, this is a hard-earned and well-deserved honor. Toyota has since maintained a dominant lead in the industry and in 2019 the firm had sales of 7.5 million vehicles. Fortune Global 500 listed Toyota Motor Corporation as the 8th largest company in the world based on revenues of US$ 237 billion. In 2019, the distinction of being the largest car manufacturer is still a proud accomplishment. Toyota fans were predictably elated when Motor Trend magazine named the 2007 Toyota Camry Car of the Year. Except for the 2001 model year, the Camry has been the best-selling passenger car from 1997 through 2019 while the RAV4 is the best-selling SUV. A JD Power survey for 2015 identified the Toyota Lexus LS as the top brand in the large premium class beating out Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Porsche. It has held that position for fourteen consecutive years prior to 2009. Moreover, in 2017 a comparative look at the top brands had both Lexus and Porsche tied for the first place. As of 2019, the Lexus LS 460 and Lexus ES 350 have earned 3rd and 4th place of luxury brands sold worldwide. Along with Apple, both Waymo and startup Zoox Inc. have selected Lexus RX450 model to test their self-driving car technology.In the trucking arena, the Toyota Tundra is adapted to suit the American taste and flaunting one of the most powerful engines in the half-ton category of pick-up trucks. It comes as no surprise that the Tundra won Motor Trend Magazine’s Truck of the Year in 2000 and 2008. Another winner in the truck category is the Toyota Tacoma. In 2019, it was rated the best-selling non-domestic pickup truck in the US according to Car and Driver magazine. A combination of shrewd business insight and prescience propelled Japan years ahead of its competitors in the development of eco-friendly technologies. For the 2018-model year, the Prius Eco was judged as the second as most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered car available in the US without plug-in capability. It is classed among the cleanest vehicles based on reduction of smog-forming toxic gas emissions. The Prius was the first mass-produced hybrid vehicle and is currently sold in over 90 countries. With sales booming, the Prius is one of the fastest selling hybrids in the US. The success of this vehicle is largely due to its use of advanced technology, lighter weight material, superior engineering, and an acute vision for future demands for eco-friendly cars. In 2019, the Toyota Prius Prime was the highest rated hybrid according to KBB. Currently, the Prius is facing fierce competition from other car manufacturers including Tesla. But coming to dealership near you is a solar-powered Prius. Peering into the future, Toyota in partnership with Sharp Electronics have used solar panels mounted on the hood, roof, rear window, and spoiler of a normal Toyota Prius. According to 2019-test results, they have been able to add an average driving range of 56 kilometers. To forestall challenges posed by foreign competitors, Toyota and Honda have accelerated the development of hydrogen fuel-cell technology. The resulting endeavor has spawned the creation of the first commercially available hydrogen-powered vehicle, the Toyota Mirai. The Mirai went on sale in December 2014 in Japan boasting an estimated driving range of 312 miles (502 km) on a tank of compressed hydrogen. The car was built around fuel-cells that convert compressed hydrogen gas into electrical energy. Captured in batteries, this electrical energy is then used to power the motors of the Mirai´s wheels. The emission product from the exhaust pipe is non-polluting water vapor. Hence for the environmentally conscious, fuel cell technology fulfills the demand for smog-free car emissions.
Solar energy has been expanding in Japan since the 1990s. In 1997, Japan led the world in solar energy production. By the end of 2018, its cumulative capacity reached 56 GW, the world’s second largest solar PV installed capacity. Currently lagging behind Germany and China, the Japanese are aiming for 30 percent of all households to be solar-powered by 2030. It is part of the overall strategy to combat global warming. Although the Japanese have no monopoly on foresight, a direct attack on the effect of greenhouse emissions is fundamental common sense. With most of its grid connected, Japan boasts the third largest solar generating capacity in the world. In addition, the country is a leading manufacturer of high-efficiency solar panels. Some of the top manufacturers of solar panels are Sanyo, Kyocera, Sharp, Mitsubishi Electric, Solar Frontier and Toshiba. In 2006, Mitsubishi Electric commenced sales of residential photovoltaic inverters with 95.5% efficiency. The company surpassed itself when it announced the world’s highest conversion efficiency of 19.3% for multi-crystalline silicon photovoltaic cell. That has been eclipsed by the innovative research of Sharp Electronics. Sharp has developed the highest conversion efficiency solar panel of 44.0%; these are generally used in satellites and other outer-space devices and not as yet available for public applications.
Undoubtedly, Japan has branded itself by its electronics. Few countries compare with Japan in production of high technology electronic products. As of 2016, Japan was the third largest electronics manufacturer in the world. Among the top-10 manufacturers in Global Electronics in 2018, four were Japanese. Included are Hitachi, Sony, Panasonic and Mitsubishi. In semiconductor equipment (SME) manufacturing, Japan had the fourth largest export market share. Despite fierce competition from the Koreans, Taiwanese and Chinese, the Japanese are still holding their own with 11 % global share in semi-conductor production. In the consumer electronics industry, Japan is dominant among industrialized nations. Among the Altairs in this celestial sphere are Sony, Casio, Citizen, Hitachi, Mitsubishi Electric, Panasonic/Sanyo, Sharp, Canon, Epson, Yamaha, Nikon, Fujifilm, JVC Kenwood Inc., Toshiba, Pioneer, Nikon, TDK, Renesas Electronics and Olympus.
Japan’s personal computer industry developed at a blistering pace and its computer technologies are rated among the most advanced. Some of the leading personal computer manufacturers are Seiko Epson, Toshiba and Sony. The electronic products sector is distinguished for its quality, durability, and superior technology. Of the major electronic products are digital cameras, video cameras, flat panel televisions, personal computers, semiconductors and components such as batteries and memory sticks.
The Panasonic Corporation is a Japanese titan. It is involved in the manufacture and sale of a diverse array of electronic, non-electronic and electric devices. A global leader in electronics manufacture, it is the world’s fourth largest television manufacturer and one of the world’s leading electronics producers. With a US$ 67.78 billion revenue stream, it was ranked 110 on the Fortune 500 in 2018. On the List of the Largest Technology Companies Panasonic is ranked at 12th on 2018-revenues of $72 billion. Among its audio-visual products, Panasonic supplies flat-panel TVs, Blu-ray disc recorders, digital cameras and in-flight entertainment systems. Its appliance division delivers products in the homemaking, cooking, cooling and heating. For the automotive industry the company manufactures car navigation systems and batteries for eco-cars. Panasonic is acutely conscious of its environmental obligations and has developed an array of solar photovoltaic systems and lithium-ion batteries. A joint venture with Tesla Motors to mass produce lithium-ion batteries for home and automobiles consumption went into mass production in January 2017 at its Gigafactory in Nevada. A third Gigafactory, located in Shanghai, initiated operations in October 2019 and is expected to produce 6000 Tesla 3 before the year’s end.
In 2019, Canon was ranked 34th on the list of the largest companies in Japan measured by revenues. Specializing in imaging and optical products, the firm also manufacturers digital single lens reflex (SLR) cameras, lenses, printers and digital copiers. In 2018, Canon was granted more than 3,000 US patents and places among the top five in the total number of patents granted for 33-consecutive years. Other products include semiconductor production equipment, medical image recording equipment, magnetic heads, scanners and a wide range of calculators. Based on 2017-revenues of $36-billion, Canon has graced the list of Fortune Global 500. It is also on the List of the Largest Information Technology Companies.
Number seventy-nine on the 2019-Fortune Global 500 is Hitachi. The firm’s ranking is based on revenues of $85.5 billion. Hitachi offers a broad spectrum of products and services. Among the sectors it services are: Car Information Systems, Information Storage Media, Mechanical and Hydraulic Cranes, Military Vehicles, LCD Televisions and Semiconductor Manufacturing Equipment. With an eye on the future, Hitachi is a premier provider of equipment and services for thermal, nuclear, hydro and wind power generation systems. In laboratory research and analytical instruments, the company manufactures Atomic Absorption Spectrophotometers (AAS), High Performance Liquid Chromatograph/Amino Acid Analyzer (HPLC/AAA), Liquid Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (LCMS) and Clinical Analyzers. Hitachi line of Electron Microscopes (EM) provides a powerful, high resolution user-friendly instrument. The company’s pioneering efforts are laudable for its role in the development of Proton Beam Technology efficacious in treating several rare forms of cancer. Applications include treatment of uveal melanoma (a rare cancer of the eye), skull base and para spinal tumors. In other areas of the healthcare arena, Hitachi manufactures a range of Computed Tomography (CT), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Ultrasound Diagnostic Systems. But to associate Hitachi solely with electronics is misleading. The company prides itself on a full range of transportation services and manufacturers components for high speed trains (below), cranes, elevators, escalators, excavators, moving sidewalks and construction equipment. Through its subsidiary, Hitachi Plant Technologies, the firm has teamed up with Nippon Oil to develop technology to mass-produce eco-friendly jet fuel from the unicellular fresh water microorganism, Euglena gracilis.
With revenues of over US$ 78-billion, the Sony Conglomerate is rated the 11th largest Japanese company in 2019. One of the pioneers in consumer electronics, Sony Corp is placed among the best semiconductor companies and soared to the 11th spot on the List of the Largest Information Technology Companies in 2018. Sony has also clenched the 116th position on the 2019 list of Fortune Global 500 – a list it has proudly adorned for 25 years. A pioneer in transistor television in 1960, Sony released the first Betamax home video recorder in 1975. The Walkman was first real portable music player triggering the development of the Discman and other portable audio devices such as the current series Sony MP3 players. The world’s fifth largest media conglomerate, Sony owns television studios, radio, movie, and publishing outlets. A technological giant, this multinational is a leader in audiovisuals, communications and information technology products. An innovative champion in the development of consumer electronics, it remains one of the strongest protagonists of the Blu-ray optical disc format.
The Yamaha Corporation is a multinational conglomerate mostly producing musical instruments, motorcycles, power sports equipment, and electronics. Yamaha is the world’s largest manufacturer of musical instruments. At the 2014-Ambiente Trade Fair in Frankfurt, it showcased a thin, light, flexible (TLF) prototype of a speaker. The 1.5 mm thick lightweight panel sends directional sounds that do not disperse when emitted: sounds that can be heard only when the listener is standing directly in front of the speaker. Relative to conventional speakers, the TLF reputedly transmits sounds over considerable distances without attenuation. For its creativity, Yamaha had the distinction of being elected a Top 100 Global Innovator for the years 2014, 2015 and 2016.
Through their ingenuity, Japan’s shipyards surpassed their European competitors as the front-runners of shipbuilding. Until 1999, Japan’s shipyards manufactured most of the world’s ships. Fast delivery and lower production costs have contributed markedly to its success. Consequently, Japan dominated the shipbuilding world from the 1960s through the late 1980s. In 1989, Japanese shipbuilding firms received orders for 7.1 million gross tons of ships. Despite stiff competition from South Korea and China, the Japanese have retained their edge in advanced shipbuilding designs. To outpace its competitors, the Japanese ship yards are currently switching to low-carbon, energy-saving and other green technologies. As of 2016, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) was the world’s second largest shipbuilder, specializing in bulk carriers and passenger cruise ships. MHI and Nippon Steel Corporation have jointly developed a technology using high tensile strength steel (HTSS). HTSS is currently the highest strength steel available and used in the hull of commercial ships. Incorporation into the design effectively reduces the tonnage of steel required to produce a lighter, safer and a more fuel-efficient ship. With the environment in mind, Mitsui Engineering and Shipbuilding Co. has developed the first large eco-friendly ship with 25 percent greater fuel-efficiency than conventional carriers. The Mitsui’s 56 Series has a huge cargo hold capacity over 70,000 cubic meters. Its futuristic design has attracted world-wide interest. Thus far it has delivered over 150 of these eco-friendly carriers. A joint venture between Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd and China is geared to developing the first automotive carrier that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions using both liquefied natural gas and oil as fuel. Anticipating a future of clean energy, Kawasaki is also engaged in the development of liquid hydrogen carriers. Although it has lost market share, as of 2019, Japan still holds the 3rd position in global shipbuilding. The shipbuilding market is expected to grow due to increasing trade and economic growth, rising energy consumption and the demand of eco-friendly ships. The use of robot technology is expected to work in favor of Japan who has been a leader in this area.
Behind the US, the Japanese pharmaceutical industry is the second largest in the world, with approximately 25% of market share. With sales of $60 billion, it is highly profitable. In part, this is due to its ubiquitous use of robot technology. Deploying robots, companies enhance productivity and reduce cost through flexibility, dependability, efficiency and precision. Manufacturers believe that robots hasten discovery and improve pilot production. To actively develop new drugs for degenerative and geriatric conditions, multinationals have established a triad linking Japan, the United States, and Western Europe to co-ordinate product research and development. Japanese manufacturers also aggressively pursue merger and acquisition activity overseas. Takeda Pharmaceutical Company is the largest pharmaceutical company in Asia and among the top 10 pharmaceutical manufacturers with over 30,000 employees worldwide. In the 2018-fiscal year, Takeda reported revenues of US$19.4 billion. Fortune Magazine rated Takeda Oncology subsidiary as one of the 100 best companies to work for in the US. Its products are mainly designed to treat cancer, gastrointestinal, neurological, inflammatory and metabolic disorders. Despite recent setbacks, the Japanese biotech-based economy has surged from US$ 224.7 million in 1986 to $33.2 billion in 2018.
Consistent with the animistic beliefs of the Japanese, robots are viewed as an extension of the natural world. Whereas industrialized countries reluctantly deploy robots, the Japanese have embraced robotic technology. Regardless of the consequences, they have plunged into the future with reckless abandon. As such, they have acquired an enviable array of robotic devices capable of performing an astounding range of complex and not-so-complex tasks. Japan employs a workforce of about 500,000 industrial robots representing about 50 percent of the world market. Robots are not simply technological marvels say the Japanese. They are efficient and make high-quality products. These ends are attained by providing speed, precision, reliability and flexibility. Because they accelerate discovery, robots are suitably useful for the burgeoning biotechnology industry especially for small-scale productions. As a result of the declining birthrate and aging population, the Japanese view this technology as a solution for their shrinking workforce. Among some of the other applications are rescue missions, bomb disposal, security watch, packaging, surgery and household chores.
The Success Continues
Despite the inspiring successes over the last six decades, Japan’s technology sector has met with rather daunting competition from rivals such as Apple, Google, Samsung and LG Electronics. The net result is the loss of market share. Herein lies the acid test of Japanese resilience. If the economic success of postwar Japan was fueled by its unbending will and durable work ethic, applying the same philosophy the Japanese will again soar to higher echelons of success. Surely this is more than sanguine optimism. Sustained effort never fails. The evidence booms deafeningly. From the blackened ashes of destruction, Japan has risen, dusted off herself, licked her gaping wounds, buried her oozing dead, sobbed silently, swallowed her copious tears and faced her adversities courageously. She has endured the inflicted pain with resilience and dignity while her able sons and daughters dedicatedly sweated at 60-hour-week jobs heeding the precepts of their ancestral masters. They have learned the value of loyal service; they have learned that the needs of the group supersede personal needs; they have learned that dedication and hard work pays rich dividends; they have learned that all work is Buddha practice; and they have learned that the employees are the employers’ most valuable assets. And for that the results are conspicuously visible. Less than 20 years after she was razed to rubble, she successfully hosted the Olympic Games in Tokyo and by 1971 influential Japanese were denying publicly that they were more economically advanced than the US while privately gloating that the tables have turned.
Today she stands majestically proud, the jewel of Asia, and her multinationals living shrines to the Eloquence of Effort. Considering her absence of natural resources and the economic morass she trod 70 years ago, her climb to the uppermost strata of economic success can only be described as miraculous. She richly deserves her encomiums. Her 60-hour work-week has not been a detriment but as asset. Journalist and broadcaster Wesley Izzard famously quipped: If a man wakes up famous, he hasn’t been sleeping. Clearly, the Japanese have not slept much. As the high-school kids are known to chant, perhaps only 4 hours!
Excerpted from The Eloquence of Effort. The book is currently available on Amazon and other online stores.
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