Made (only) in Japan (by hand)

Not to be constantly critical about Japan, but it is actually a country that actually doesn’t shun bad news and, in certain cases, asks for more.  Personally, I was invited by one of the prefectures in Japan about two years ago.  They wanted me to brief me on a “tech park” they were developing and have me speak on how this would stimulate the local economy and thus create the next “Silicon Valley”.  Afterwards, several of the press requested interviews where I gave them a somewhat negative impression of the Japanese habit of creating “boxes” but forgetting to program them correctly and tie them to a local competency/strength.  At that point, I thought I would never be invited back and/or have to leave Japan.  However, to my surprise, three agencies from the central government contacted me and requested me to sit on several boards/panels to advise them on similar issues.  Anyway, I don’t enjoy just talking about the negative aspects of Japan but I’ve noticed that many are very interested and want to change.  I was talking to a friend about this and why this is.  She actually made a good point that perhaps many Japanese share the same feelings (internally), but it takes an outsider to point it out and vocalize it.

So to balance my articles on Japan, I thought I’d share two interesting companies that I hear about from time-to-time here. The first company is called Japan Steel Works and is located in one of the more remote locations in Northern Japan.  They were founded in 1907 and make Samurai swords that cost over USD$10,000.  However, what makes them really famous is that they are the only company in the world that makes a nuclear reactor’s containment vessel (probably the most important component to a nuclear power plant) from a single piece of 600-ton ingot.  The process used to make these vessels is actually very similar to the methods they use to make the swords.

The second company is called Yamashita Kogyosho.  The company was founded in 1954 by its current at the age of 17.  This company is unique because it currently makes about 30% of the noses of the most modern Shinkansen’s using just a simple hammer.  The shinkansen travels at over 200 mph and has carried over 7 billion people without a single fatality.  The tip of this train is a piece of aluminum hammered out by humans (not machines) with a simple hammer that you can buy anywhere at a rate of about one a week.  Apparently its not easy since it takes about 10 years for an apprentice to learn the skills necessary to do it correctly.

Your comments are always welcome.

William Saito
Special Advisor at Cabinet Office (Govt. of Japan)
Named by Nikkei as one of the “100 Most Influential People for Japan,” Saito began software programming at an early age and started his own company in high school. By the time he was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998 (by Ernst & Young, NASDAQ and USA Today), he was recognized as one of the world’s leading authorities on encryption, biometric authentication and cyber security.

After selling his business to Microsoft, he moved to Tokyo in 2005 and founded InTecur, a venture capital firm and consultancy that identifies innovative technologies, develops global talent and helps entrepreneurs become successful. In 2013, Saito was appointed a Special Advisor to the Cabinet Office for the Government of Japan.

Similarly, in 2012 he served as a council member on national strategy for the Cabinet-level National Policy Unit, and prior to that, was named as the Chief Technology Officer for the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission (NAIIC). He is a Foundation Board Member at the World Economic Forum (WEF), and has been named by the WEF as both a Young Global Leader and Global Agenda Council member.

Saito also advises several national governments around the globe. In Japan, he has also served as an advisor to METI, MIC, MEXT, MLIT, AIST, IPA and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), among others.

He teaches at multiple universities, serves on several corporate boards, appears as a commentator on national TV and is the author of numerous publications in addition to writing a weekly column for a prominent Japanese business newspaper. His best-selling management book, The Team: Solving the Biggest Problem in Japan, was published by Nikkei BP in 2012, his follow-on book, Is Your Thinking up to Global Standards?, was published by Daiwa Shobo in late 2013 and his autobiography, An Unprogrammed Life: Adventures of an Incurable Entrepreneur, was published in 2011 by John Wiley & Sons.

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