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 in elementary school and started his own company while still in high school and was named Entrepreneur of the Year in 1998 (by Ernst & Young, NASDAQ and USA Today). As one of the world’s leading authorities on cybersecurity.

After selling his business to Microsoft, he moved to Tokyo in 2005 and founded InTecur, a venture capital firm. In 2011, he served as the Chief Technology Officer of the National Diet’s (Parliament) Fukushima Nuclear Accident Independent Investigation Commission. Later that year, he was named as both a Young Global Leader and Global Agenda Council member for World Economic Forum (WEF) and subsequently been named to its Foundation Board. In 2012, Saito was appointed to a council on national strategy and policy that reported directly to the Prime Minister of Japan.

Saito also advises several national governments around the globe. In Japan, he has served as an advisor to Japanese ministries; the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science; the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST); the Information Technology Promotion Agency (IPAS); the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, among others. He is currently the Special Advisor to the Ministry of Economic Trade and Industry (METI) and the Cabinet Office for the Government of Japan.

He went to medical school at UCLA and Harvard Kennedy School; serves on various boards of Global 2000 companies; frequently appears as a commentator on TV and is the author of seven books in addition to writing several weekly newspaper columns. His management book, The Team: Solving the Biggest Problem in Japan, was published by Nikkei BP and became a best-seller in 2012. In 2016, Saito received the Medal of Honor from the Government of Japan for his work in the field of education.

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