JIN-225 -- Turning Japan into One Big Toyota Clone

J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:
T H E J @ P A N I N C N E W S L E T T E R
Commentary on the Week's Business and Technology News

Issue No. 225
Wednesday, May 7, 2003


++ Viewpoint: Turning Japan into One Big Toyota Clone
++ Noteworthy News
- New Technology Lets Wireless Devices Use Several Formats
- Matsushita Electric Has High Hopes for e-Books in China
- Controversial Privacy Bill Passes Lower House

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++ Viewpoint: Turning Japan into One Big Toyota Clone

It's no secret that Wal-Mart has changed the American retail landscape
by squeezing subcontractors and workers to bring consumers
ever-cheaper stuff. Even the American landscape reflects Wal-Mart's
power: The country is dotted with big, boxy retail stores alongside
huge parking lots. Well, now it's Japan's turn to recreate a whole
country in the image of one company, and that company is Toyota.

Japan Post president Masaharu Ikuta told Kyodo News service that he
wants to recreate the postal system in the image of Japan's most
profitable private company. "I was deeply impressed when I toured
Toyota's operations," the former Mitsui OSK chairman said, adding that
he wanted the 280,000 postal employees to learn from Toyota's attempts
to eliminate "over-stretched labor conditions, waste and unevenness."

To create a postal service in the image of Toyota, the government has
appointed former Toyota board member Toshihiko Takahashi as a senior
executive vice president of Japan Post and unveiled a plan to create
12 model post offices across Japan that will serve to show other post
offices how things should be done. Toyota officials are being sent to
post offices to examine the way work is being done and offer
suggestions for improvement.

But the Toyota-ization of Japan goes beyond Ikuta's hopes for the
postal service. And critics say the end result will not benefit
the average worker. As political commentator Minoru Morita said in the
May issue of J@pan Inc, "What the administration is trying to do is
turn Japan into Toyota. It is trying to make the rest of Japan follow
the example of the only success -- Toyota. In order to do so, the
government makes no bones about slashing workers' wages and welfare,
and creating more unemployed."

Toyota officials have given Ikuta several hundred proposals for
improving Japan Post, and the postal executives are in the process of
choosing the ones they wish to implement. Are layoffs in the cards?
All Ikuta told Kyodo was: "We have to reform our structure in two
years if we are to accomplish the profitability goals set under the
current four-year midterm management program."

Japan Post has promised 4 trillion yen in profit over the four years
starting this April. Japan's postal workers may be in for a lot more
stress during that period. "As you know, it's absolutely impossible
for all of Japan to become Toyota," Morita said. "When I visited
Toyota city in Aichi prefecture the other day, locals told me that
while Toyota Motor has flourished, Toyota city has not."

-- Bruce Rutledge

From Kyodo

"Two Japans," an interview with Minoru Morita from our May issue

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** New Technology Lets Wireless Devices Use Several Formats

In Brief: A government-affiliated research institute working with
KDDI, Matsushita Electric and other private firms has found a way to
let wireless devices use different technologies to send data,
according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

The Communications Research Laboratory said that the new technology
will allow devices to alternate among wireless LAN, PHS and cellular
connections. The technology measures the strength of each signal and
chooses the best course for data transmission. The lab said the
technology should be available commercially in two or three years.

Commentary: The convergence of cellular, PHS and wireless LAN systems
is happening as we speak, and the next generation of communication
devices will doubtless need this sort of capability to stay relevant
to increasingly connected consumers.

The Nikkei Net (subscription required)

"Wireless and Fries" from our September 2002 issue

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** Matsushita Electric Has High Hopes for e-Books in China

In Brief: Matsushita Electric Industrial's "sigma book," an e-book
that can be folded like a real book and can run for up to half a year
on two double-A batteries, will be unveiled in Japan this fall. The
book weighs 550 grams and has two A4-size black-and-white LCD
monitors. The e-book will sell for 30,000 yen, according to media
reports. Matsushita officials say after launching the product in
Japan, the next target is China. "China has about 120 million
elementary and middle school children, and we are expecting the
country's educational sector to become a major customer for our
product," an official told Nikkei BP.

Commentary: Finally we'll see an innovative e-book product
mass-marketed to Japanese consumers this year. Matsushita plans to
offer lots of manga content and novels at first -- as many as 5,000
titles. Will it be enough to lure commuters away from their
cellphones? Long-term Japan residents will recall how 15-20 years ago,
many commuters read little paperback books and manga on the trains to
and from work. The cellphone boom of the 1990s and i-mode replaced
much of that. Let's see if e-books can make an impression on a
generation that uses its thumbs to read.

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** Controversial Privacy Bill Passes Lower House

In Brief: The lower house passed a privacy bill on Tuesday aimed at
protecting individuals, but critics of the bill say it will end up
restricting free speech. The bill, which awaits a vote in the upper
house, would prohibit companies from sharing personal information
without an individual's approval and would require private companies
to tell individuals when they have gathered information on them.
Backers of the bill say it will help consumers that have complained
about being put on mailing lists and databases. But legislators had to
rewrite the law so that the press was not included after media
organizations voiced strong disapproval of the original bill.

Commentary: The Japanese are intensely private people. The failure of
the government's Juki Net program to give every citizen a number is a
case in point. But this bill travels a slippery slope. Internet
service providers could be targeted, small publishing houses could be
intimidated, and writers without media affiliations would be at sea.
In the 1980s, while working for a small publishing house in Tokyo,
the company I worked for occasionally received calls from low-level
yakuza-types who complained that they appeared in a publication of
ours without permission. It was always a scam, but we had to deal with
it. They would point to a stock photo from Kyodo or elsewhere that
depicted a festival and claim that they appeared in the crowd. It was
impossible to tell if it was truly them, but they would be livid,
anyway. We wasted hours and perhaps even money on these guys, knowing
all along that it was just an old-fashioned shakedown. I can see the
chimpira wracking their little thug brains for a way to make this new
law work for them. And chances are, with a bill this sweeping, they
will come up with something.

From Reuters

"Resident Registry Network Stumbles Out of Gate" from October 2002

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Written and edited by J@pan Inc staff (editors@japaninc.com)


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