July 26, 2018
How we Japan have keep “monozukuri” in industries
As I studied abroad in Boston, I realized that “Made in Japan” products are really respected globally for being high quality . Nowadays, the more Japanese brands like Toyota, Uniqlo, and Muji have opened new branches and stores all over the world, the more the image of “made in Japan” increases its reliance in overseas markets and Japan today is known for creating some of the most functional, useful, and fashionable products.
Courtesy: Roman Pohorecki
In the globalized economy, however, those products which are literary made in Japan have decreased year by year and they became very rare .
Even the Japanese living in Japan seldom see much apparel goods “made in Japan.As shown in the graph below, domestic production of apparel products has declined rapidly from 1990s.
Figure 1 : The number of apparel productions and the value of manufactured apparels shipments
Heyday of Manufacturing Japan
In Japan, apparel and fiber industries have long lead its economic growth after the World War II. Until 1950s, the main export items were apparels and fibers. In 1990, 50.1% of Japanese apparel goods were made in Japan. In 2014, however, now no less than 97 percent of domestic supply is “made in out of Japan.” This means only 3 percent of Japanese apparels are genuine “made in Japan.”
See figure 1 - In addition, the number of apparel production line is in Japan was more than two hundred million in 2008. For the last several years, Japan has lost half of its domestic production capacity.
Why Japanese apparels became not-Japanese? It is because of various changes in the fashion industry, especially of the rapid rise of fast fashion.
Most prominent change was the influx of cheaper products from overseas. In the beginning of 1950s, Japan was only the country that can produce and export fine apparel fiber products in Asia . But, from 1960, governments in ASEAN tried to invite Japan’s direct investment and many Japanese apparel brands transferred their production lines to Asia.
At this time, in Japan, many factories were forced to close their businesses.
As a result, production capacities were so shrunk in Japan that no factories would be able to respond to any sudden and big order. Now, Japanese apparels are in the situation that they want to make “made in Japan” but cannot do so.
This is not the situation of apparels. Actually many “monozukuri” industries face the same problem.
Crises of Monozukuri in Japan
Mono means things or goods and "zukuri" means manufacturing. Monozukuri is, however, not merely producing something. It contains traditional Japanese mindset of craftsmanship. Many Japanese believe that to keep up Japanese culture, it is important to preserve this monodukuri spirits in the manufacturing industry.
Japanese manufacturing industry have suffered from many things including severe shortage of workforce deriving from low birthrate and an aging, decreasing demands, luck of and rising price of raw materials , and the lack of government support . To cover the costs and labor shortage, more and more human labor is getting to be replaced by robots.
Unfortunately, so far robots and industrial machines cannot substitute the monozukuri spirit, because the craftsmanship (shokunin katagi) of fine sense and high hand skills are difficult to be digitalized . Under the rapid globalization, smaller artistic monodukuri factories with high human costs, such as traditional craft shops, are facing with severe decrease of demands.
Japanese Government has tried to make Japan be more global. Because of these efforts, more and more Japanese have been out from Japan to other countries, and many people from all over the world come to Japan. That brought Japan a new opportunity. Because of the globalization, more and more people from abroad have a chance to see and get Japanese crafts full of monozukuri spirit. People can communicate each other through these products and they will get a positive feeling. However, most of products are still kinds of old.
Craftsmanship does not force people to just keep their tradition intact. Compared with other countries, Japanese people have tried to remain traditional things unchanged. But, especially in Europe, culture has been constantly changing and creating the innovation in the times. In Japan, too, Japanese Government needs to help such transform of monozukuri more.
In order to break through the situation, we need new innovative businesses in Japan. I’ll introduce such companies in the next article.