DEBITO.ORG
Arudou Debito/Dave Aldwinckle's Home Page

New ebooks by ARUDOU Debito

  • Book IN APPROPRIATE: A novel of culture, kidnapping, and revenge in modern Japan
  • Asahi: Prof pundit on Toyota uses “culture” benkai to explain recall issues

    Posted by Dr. ARUDOU, Debito on March 14th, 2010

    Handbook for Newcomers, Migrants, and Immigrants to Japan\Foreign Residents and Naturalized Citizens Association forming NGO\「ジャパニーズ・オンリー 小樽入浴拒否問題と人種差別」(明石書店)JAPANESE ONLY:  The Otaru Hot Springs Case and Racial Discrimination in Japansourstrawberriesavatardebitopodcastthumb
    UPDATES ON TWITTER: arudoudebito
    DEBITO.ORG PODCASTS now on iTunes, subscribe free

    Hi Blog.  As a weekend tangent, here’s more on Toyota and how we try to steer attention away from matters of engineering — by blaming it once again on culture, and getting some university prof to mouth it for legitimacy’s sake.  Comments from submitter BT included.  Arudou Debito in Sapporo

    ////////////////////////////////////////////

    On Feb 26, 2010, at 11:45 AM, BT wrote:

    Greetings and salutations! Just came across this little gem while reading the Asahi Shinbun earlier today. I thought you might be interested (if someone else hasn’t already sent this in): http://www.asahi.com/english/TKY201002250455.html

    It’s an interview about Toyota recalls in the US, with “Hideo Kobayashi, a visiting professor at Yokohama National University’s Center for Risk Management and Safety Sciences”. I’m talking specifically about these two quotes:

    “Q: Wasn’t Toyota’s confidence in product quality one of the factors that led to its sloppy handling of the situation?

    A: Can what people in Japan consider “good quality” be also considered good in the United States, which has a more diversified population?

    Japanese people generally have high driving skills and similar physical features. But the United States, whose society was more or less built by immigrants, has people with various physical features and behavioral patterns. To get a driver’s license, you don’t need the sort of skills that are required in Japan..”

    (The “we’re superior” routine)

    And,

    “Q: Some say the reaction to Toyota’s problems has an aspect of “Japan bashing” about it. What is your view?

    A: With American companies such as General Motors Corp. going under and Toyota doing well in sales, there naturally is an aspect of Japan bashing. But this is something that has to be overcome.”

    (The “poor, poor Japan” routine)

    Cheers from Tokyo!  BT

    ///////////////////////////////////////////
    ‘Toyota relied too much on Japanese way’
    BY TETSUO KOGURE, THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

    2010/02/26, Interview with Hideo Kobayashi (THE ASAHI SHIMBUN)

    What can companies do to avoid the pitfalls that have plagued Toyota Motor Corp. over its vehicle recalls?

    Hideo Kobayashi, a visiting professor at Yokohama National University’s Center for Risk Management and Safety Sciences, says Toyota failed to recognize differences in the way Japanese and Americans perceive recalls.

    Kobayashi is an expert on crisis management concerning safety measures and is well-versed in recall matters. Because product problems are bound to crop up, he says companies should deal with them while paying attention to detail.

    Following are excerpts of an Asahi Shimbun interview with Kobayashi:

    * * *

    Question: In the United States, Toyota has come under fire for being tardy in issuing recalls. What is your sense of the whole Toyota issue?

    Answer: Trouble always occurs when a carmaker develops, produces and introduces a new vehicle. When problems occur, modifying the vehicle is what every automaker (in the world) does as a matter of course. While the modification is usually carried out on cars to be produced in the future, the system of recalls specifically targets vehicles that have already been manufactured so that they are fixed, too.

    I think the biggest problem with Toyota was its failure to recognize the difference in thinking in Japan and the United States over the issues of recalls and safety. It apparently made a typically Japanese judgment.

    Japanese companies have a strong tradition of being bound by legal regulations, with a deep-rooted perception that issuing a “recall is evil.”

    In the United States and Europe, companies believe that from a crisis management viewpoint, “the sooner a recall is done, the easier it is to contain the damage.” As a result people think: “Because there is a recall (system), we can travel in a car without having any worries.”

    Overseas subsidiaries (of car manufacturers) that are aware of these things had better take the lead in coping with recalls. However, faced with rapid market expansion and increased sales, Toyota probably decided that it would be easier for the headquarters (in Japan) to make a judgment.

    Q: Some say the reaction to Toyota’s problems has an aspect of “Japan bashing” about it. What is your view?

    A: With American companies such as General Motors Corp. going under and Toyota doing well in sales, there naturally is an aspect of Japan bashing. But this is something that has to be overcome.

    To survive, many Japanese companies need to go overseas for sales and manufacturing, but they won’t succeed if they force their Japanese style (of doing business). Overseas subsidiaries must hire locally and assimilate.

    Q: Wasn’t Toyota’s confidence in product quality one of the factors that led to its sloppy handling of the situation?

    A: Can what people in Japan consider “good quality” be also considered good in the United States, which has a more diversified population?

    Japanese people generally have high driving skills and similar physical features. But the United States, whose society was more or less built by immigrants, has people with various physical features and behavioral patterns. To get a driver’s license, you don’t need the sort of skills that are required in Japan.

    Naturally, there can be various troubles even with cars developed in Japan that are regarded as good in the country. Problems need to be handled with attention to detail.

    Q: Toyota has decided to introduce a brake override system that enables a driver to stop the car even if the gas pedal is depressed. Was it a problem that there was no such system previously?

    A: It was rather whether (Toyota) had explained to customers the lack of the system and what could happen as a consequence.
    ENDS

    28 Responses to “Asahi: Prof pundit on Toyota uses “culture” benkai to explain recall issues”

    1. Allen Says:

      Of course. Its the foreigners fault. I can hear the “They just don’t understand us Japanese” from miles away. Toyota needs to take responsibility for it now and lose only a little face then wait and wait and blame other people and watch the shame rise. Confess now, Toyota, lest you lose so much face you’ll need a plastic surgeon to reconstruct it.

    2. Jair Says:

      Does anyone have a link to the Japanese version of the article? Can’t find it anywhere.

      Thanks!

    3. john k Says:

      “…Japanese people generally have high driving skills and similar physical features…”

      poppycock.

      Japanese drivers are some of the worse i have ever met anywhere in the world. And i ahve driven in places from China, to Iran, to Columbia etc. They cinsistently go through red lights, no idea how to negotiate a hazzard, range from amazingly hesitatant (they don’t move until all traffic has gone from sight) to very agressive, cutting up everyone and squeezing in places which are impossible, thereby forcing others out of the way…etc. Put their hazzard lights on when turning/stopping…never leave gaps in line of traffic for roads which butt into the one you’re on, to allow those wishing to turn into the road….i could go on.

      When i want to get my driving licence, the man said: oh you have a British licence. No test/examination required for you. Your test is the hardest in the world, and then just rubber stamped my application for a a Japanese licence!….

      – Egypt’s worse.

    4. Max Says:

      How long do we have to wait for hearing the “white man cospiracy against Japan” thing coming up again?
      Usually I hear that only after 8-9 beers at izakaya with Japanese collegues… it would be interesting to read it on a newspaper though.
      too much honne?

    5. jjobseeker Says:

      That quote about Japanese having high driving skills made me chuckle. Not because of stories like John K related (I have witnessed some myself), but because most people I know who have a license are “paper drivers.” They get their license not to drive, but to put it down in their CV as a certificate they “accomplished.” I have logged more hours driving than about 80% of my friends. And considering more and more young people find the concept of car ownership less appealing, Japanese car makers are going to have to be far more responsive and responsible to their overseas market base.

      I just find it amusing this guy can do both the “Japan is superior” and “Poor poor Japan” defense in the same interview! Certainly a sign the man is full of it.

    6. DR Says:

      “Japanese people generally have high driving skills” Really? Anyone who’s ever watched the morning rush hour at Hamamatsu’s Enshu-O-Dori intersection (which boasts a Kobeya, a Mazda dealership, a Meishi-ya and an Enshin Ginko on each of the corners respectively) will laugh very loudly at that assertion. Most mornings there are one or two police-officers from the Chuo-Traffic division posted on each of the corners to blow their whistles, pull offenders over and take pictures of fleeing red-light runners when the lights turn red. Sometimes they have biker-cops to chase them down.

      Enshu driving rules apply: (a) Red means at least four more cars. (b) Yellow means “floor-it!” hence the (a) rule for red lights. (c) Green means play with your keitai for 50% of the light’s duration at least, especially if it’s the 6-second right turn arrow, until the driver behind blows the horn at you. Then rule (a) kicks in again.

      This intersection averages, according to the board in the Police Station (which doubles as a license renewal center) 65 accidents, usually 5 or 6 of them fatal, per month. That’s not including pedestrians hit by the (a) rule people.

      Add to the fact that crosswalks are totally ignored, as are those casari-mono stop-signs, and don’t get me started about the Shizu-Dai students driving at night, without lights, on the right side of the road or on the few sidewalks that exist, while listening to their i-Pods, and texting on their keitais after having a few drinks! I’ve seen more than one of them creamed by trucks, the authors of their own misfortune.

      At Hamakita Driving License Center the process of testing is akin to a first day at boot camp at the US Marine Corps. Shouting, intimidation, put downs and name-calling by the examining officers is par for the course. Foreigners, even with 25 years experience behind the wheel, are usually denied their simple-change-over of licenses because “We Japanese have much higher standards than xyz country.” (Despite the fact there is an international treaty signed to that effect!) If you survive the browbeating you get your green card. However, even worse than Enshu-O-Dori is the T junction at the driving center itself. It boasts the highest rate of accidents in Shizuoka, all caused by the superior driving of those newly minted kamikaze! Most locals avoid that corner if at all possible.

      And then we have the self-appointed experts in little white pick-up trucks, squinting from the smoke in their eyes from the cigarette permanently glued to their lips, with no signals or mirrors, dirty windows and the dreaded “falling leaf” sticker associated with those over 75! The numbers they continually release about the incidents of fatal accidents declining is a Darwinian symptom. The worst ones go first, it’s a natural selection.

      Japanese people generally have high driving skills? Really? I rest my case your honor.

      – Oh yes, I just remembered I did a series of essays on Driving in Japan in much the same vein more than a decade ago. Enjoy. My Speeding in Japan has been called one of my funniest. http://www.debito.org/residentspage.html#speeding

    7. holmes Says:

      “Japanese people generally have high driving skills and similar physical features. ”

      No way.

      Agree with John K, and practically everyone else.

      But I ll use one cultural chestnut (Japanese don’t make eye contact) to counter the spurious ones given in the article, though I speak from experience.

      1. My British driving instructor related a story about how his Japanese student kept failing because he-the student-didn’t make eye contact, he said.

      2.I was nearly run down whilst on a motorcycle on Yamate Dori because the truck driver passing me and turning literally cut me off the road; he did not see me at all. Eye contact again?

      3. My ex was an architect major, and a paper driver. We went on a trip to Ohshima and rented a car in 2004. She was driving. She saw an interesting building design…and promptly drove the car off the road into a tree.

      I failed my British driving test once because of what I thought was a technicality; the examiner said I was checking in the mirror too late. It took me 80 hours or so to finally pass. That’s a lot more driving time than many Japanese.

    8. john k Says:

      Jjobseeker

      That is interetsing. My wife passed her test years ago. Yet, once taken and passed, she didnt drive for about 10years. I had to “teach ” her how to drive back in the UK. Things like…”oh how do i turn around this corner?”….er….use this, it’s called the steering wheel!!…”oh no too space is too small, how to i park”….(in a car park with no cars in it!!)

      So may be there is something to what you mention….a sense of achivement.

    9. BB Says:

      As far as taking responsibility for their shoddy quality control, Toyota needs to do so now or suffer the repercussions. There are many competitors ready and willing to take Toyota’s customers away. They need to admit and make amends or step aside.

    10. Skip Says:

      “How long do we have to wait for hearing the “white man cospiracy against Japan” thing coming up again?
      Usually I hear that only after 8-9 beers at izakaya with Japanese collegues… ”

      They don’t realize that this kind of pondering and stewing about how to read subliminally into relationship between Japan and the West is very one-sided, paranoid even.
      About the worst (and frankly truthful) answer a Japanese can ever hear in response to the often-asked “What do Americans think about Japan?” is:
      “They don’t. Most Americans don’t think about Japan.”

    11. jon Says:

      There are virtually no roundabouts in Japan either. that’s a major part of the driving test in the UK and other countries. It where eye contact, gear changes and lane changing require unique skills.

      My ex was hopeless at it in a certain EU country.

      An eye for an eye. “British have high driving skills utilizing eye contact and fast gear changing at roundabouts. To get a driving license in Japan, you don’t need the skills that are needed in Britain and the EU”.

      I bet that wouldn’t go down well if the shoe was on the other gear pedal.

    12. Scott Thomas Says:

      Toyota and others knew they were having issues and attempted to hide it. All Car Companies should have came forward with a full disclosures of what car were dangerous. Instead of waiting for a huge media blitz and tons of public pressure. I never seen so many car companies GM – NISSAN – TOYOTA – HYUNDAI having recalls all at the same time. I had no idea my car was affected until I looked on http://www.carpedalrecall.com and found I had a bad Anti Lock control unit on my 2008 Pontiac G8 , my co workers Ford Truck had a recall also. So be careful

    13. Justin Says:

      What does car quality have to do with the ethnic makeup of a country’s population? Seems to me a good car is a good car no matter where you are or what you look like.

    14. Graham Says:

      I have very little on-road experience outside Japan (less than a month in the US), but I can say that I have been almost killed by truck drivers multiple times, even intentionally in one case (stepped on his breaks in the middle of the road, with me right behind him, after a bit of a lane-changing dispute).

      In case of truck drivers and taxi drivers, maybe one of the reasons their driving is so notorious is because they work under extremely heavy hours, taking away brain cells that they need for driving. According to the below link, truck drivers could work as much as 552 hours a month (divide that by 30 and you get about 18):
      http://www.cinematoday.jp/page/N0020115

    15. Justin Says:

      It is virtually impossible to buy a manual-transmission (stick shift) car in Japan. Very, very few models have them available. Why? Because they’re hard to drive, so Japanese drivers don’t like them! Yet in Britain, stick shifts are everywhere you look.

      – I’ve driven about six different cars during my tenure in Japan. Half of them have been sticks.

    16. Justin Says:

      So your sample group includes just six cars, stretching back over the last twenty-plus years since you came to Japan? That’s in no way statistically meaningful, nor is it representative of the cars that manufacturers have on sale in Japan today.

      Hit the Internet and check the specs on the models in any car maker’s Japan lineup. (I did, less than 3 years ago when I was in the market for a new car here.) Stick shifts are VERY rare. Even foreign makers like BMW and Audi, who offer stick shifts on cars they sell in other countries, do not offer them on the very same models when sold in Japan. When I asked their dealers why, they told me that Japanese drivers don’t like stick shifts.

      – I agree my sample is not statistically significant. Sorry. But my experience is I get a new used car about every couple of years now (given the size of the used car market up here it’s far cheaper than buying new), and I’ve never had any problem getting stick shifts (even though I don’t myself prefer them). I have never heard that Japanese don’t like them (and given the dearth of public transport in Hokkaido, I live in the most automotively-intense area of Japan). If that is different down south, or if we can find stats of car sales of stick shifts vs. automatic somewhere, I will of course capitulate. Anyway, we’re getting off topic; let’s steer this conversation back in lane.

    17. Behan Says:

      I haven’t bought a car for a long time but a couple of mine were manual transmissions. Maybe they aren’t common now but I used to see them a lot.

    18. Chuckie Says:

      I finally got round to hiring a (manual/ stick shift) car in Japan over winter having previously been put off by my Japanese family’s insistence that rules were much stricter here and that the roads were much more narrow thus requiring high skill levels. Within half an hour I was driving at the customary (in NZ) 9km/hr over the limit and still getting tailgated and passed by heaps of other drivers. The roads were no narrower than B-roads and the pay highways as good as any dual carriageway in the UK. Highly recommend it.

    19. john k Says:

      The main problem that faces Toyota is that they tried to go down the same route as Mitsubishi, around 2001, if memory serves. They had faults in one of their cars…reported endless times….the managers ignored the warnings from even their own engineers!

      Low and behold…the inevitable occurred, an accident and one person died. This all in Japan. However, when after many years of trying, Mitsubishi were taken to court, they just “addressed” it in the time honoured Japanese way. They said sorry after being convicted, they sounded like they really really meant it too!!!

      So, what happened, nothing…zip! Well, they were eventually found guilty, but because they said sorry, nothing, no fines nor charges shall be made, all suspended sentences, because Mitsubishi said sorry after being convicted. The quid pro quo…to maintain harmony in the most harmonious country on earth.

      It seems Toyota have 1) not learnt any lessons and 2) treating the rest of the world as Japanese, i.e. don’t question me!

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-508582/Former-Mitsubishi-boss-gets-suspended-jail-term-systematic-cover-vehicle-defects-caused-death-trucker.html

      http://www.reuters.com/article/idUST37292320080116

      “..The arrest of Kawasoe hit Mitsubishi Motors just as it was trying to recover after it was revealed in 2000 the company had covered up safety records and customer complaints for decades in Japan’s worst recall scandal…”

      If it is not spoken..i did not occur..and harmony is maintained!

      – I think you’re going a bit overboard on this “harmony” thing. Never let “culture” get in the way of a decent logical explanation — which is, they thought they could probably get away with it as long as the media kept turning a blind eye. They do less of that in other countries.

    20. GiantPanda Says:

      Credit where credit is due Japanese drivers have some of the best PARKING skills found anywhere on the planet. The guy next door to me routinely gets his minivan into a space with about 2cm clearance on one side. And no scrapes that I can see.

      – Back on topic, please.

    21. mashu Says:

      Two thoughts–

      1. the prof is a sad example of higher education. In my experience with the higher levels of Japanese Uni education, once you get to be a prof, nobody questions you. You can say the craziest stuff or have opinions way out in left field and nary a word to challenge you.

      2. For some reason the national TV diet of wide shows etc… quickly moves on and people forget. I asked a few people about Mitsubishi and their fall from grace and I got that ‘ohhhhh your right, they did have problems in the past.’ A forgotten event.

      Say this word to anyone my age from the states and see what their reaction is—PINTO!

    22. Kimberly Says:

      Japanese drivers have excellent driving skills and similar physical features? PLEASE. There are hardly any “paper drivers” in the US… I will agree that the Japanese driving test is more demanding than the one in Virginia at least, but most Virginians will then get out there are USE their licenses from age 16, and learn from experience. I imagine that your average American driver and your average Japanese driver of age 30 or something are pretty similar in ability… so many Japanese people get a license and then never use it, or use it twice a year or… or every day, but only drive the exact same route, I don’t think that’s much of an argument.

      And the “similar physical features” thing drives me CRAZY…. they were doing the same thing during the Olympics, oh the POOR Japanese ski jumpers are so SMALL, they don’t stand a chance under the new rules. But the thing is, there ARE taller and bigger people in Japan… you see them all the time, just take a ride on the Yamanote sduring rush hour and of course you’ll see tall people, fat people, muscular people, etc. So if it was that much of a handicap, they’d be sending bigger people to the Olympics… except I guess the small ski jumpers beat them? Now I won’t doubt that Japanese society wants to THINK they’re all the same… I’ve known several taller and/or bigger Japanese people who find it hard to find clothes… no haafu or Nikkei or whatever here, born and raised and as “purebred” as you come, just tall. I’m sure car companies and clothing companies alike would like to ignore these potential customers for whatever reason… but don’t tell me they don’t exist.

    23. Iago Says:

      It’s sad, though perhaps not surprising, too see such contorted logic coming out of academia. Frankly, I just can’t make sense of it, try as I might to connect the dots.

      Does having, allegedly, superior driving skills mitigate a car that self-accelerates out of control or brakes that don’t work? Is it okay for the safety system to fail because the superior skilled driver can handle it?

      What does the driver’s physical features have to do with anything? Is it that all Americans are tall and big-footed so inevitably jam their boots down on the accelerator pedal?

      And as for the culturally different perceptions of quality. Huh? In what culture is a vehicle that goes out of control, of good quality? Or is it thay they only sell the good ones in Japan? It wouldn’t be the first time I heard it said that Japanese demand a higher quality so the Japanese made Sony, Panasonics, Toyotas et. al. are sold in Japan, and the inferior China/Foreign made ones sold elsewhere.

      I’m just completely confused at what points he is trying to make there.

      And as for:

      Japanese companies have a strong tradition of being bound by legal regulations, with a deep-rooted perception that issuing a “recall is evil.”

      Yeah, we know. Round here, the crime is getting caught.

      – I also remember around about 1995 when Japanese cars had a seat belt problem (we discussed this on the Dead Fukuzawa Society; I can’t find their archives; if you find them, do a word search for “inguinal” — Chalmers Johnson used it in one of his comments), and the media quoted some J auto company boss as saying foreigners didn’t keep their cars as clean as Japanese — that’s why the belt didn’t lock properly.

      Again, the habit of blaming others for one’s own shortcomings is a universal, but when it happens (especially if people are being killed by it), draw attention to it, of course.

    24. Kevin Says:

      And here I thought the gas petal was Toyota’s biggest problem and not its CEO’s smugness!

      This recall has done little to sway me from any desires from purchasing future Toyotas, but if Toyota can’t take responsibility for their actions and blame their problems on others I don’t think I will be purchasing from Toyota for mynext car at least.

    25. Allen Says:

      Heh, in the States, Toyota is starting to shovel out kiss-up commercials saying such things as “Toyota has always cared about your safety” and all the like. I wonder if Japan will start such commercials soon.

    26. john k Says:

      “…I think you’re going a bit overboard on this “harmony” thing. Never let “culture” get in the way of a decent logical explanation — which is, they thought they could probably get away with it as long as the media kept turning a blind eye…”

      Been cogitating whther to respond, mainly as it is slightly off topic.

      I spent more than 2 years and vast sums of money taking an Estate Agent to court, because they cheated me out of my deposit for a hosue i bought then cancelled. After more than 2 years the judge finaly rules in our favour 100% and agreed the Estate Agent lied and cheated theri way out of our contract and insisted they return the money. BUT, according to the Judge the ruling was “unfair” and “unbalanced”, so what did he do…he cited a stupid civil code, whereby we had to pay the Estate Agent for “their services” since we took “their” time. He ordered us to give them 50% back!…

      So, yes i do take exception when others feel I over use the “harmony” and “balance” aspects of Japan.

      – Look up the word “chuusai” 仲裁 and learn more about how that works in courts in Japan.

    27. Getchan Says:

      “Japanese drivers are some of the worse i have ever met anywhere in the world.”

      Amen to that!!
      All we’re being told in those sermon classes upon license renewal is that we have to stick to the (ridiculously low!!) speed limits at all times, but not one of those amakudari instructors has ever mentioned indicating a right turn before slowing down on the fast lane, and not afterwards, driving smoothly instead of toddling along and then drive thru a red light @ 60 mph, using one lane and not two while dreaming at the wheel – you name it, the Japanese do it.

    28. Ryan Says:

      I’m not sure how the driving test in Japan can be more demanding when you’re not even required to drive on an actual road.

    Leave a Reply