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.
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