Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini.               

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Japan on $1000/day
Day 1: Sticker Shock
Day 2: Among the Dead & Dying (Fish)
Day 3: Budda & Broken English
Day 4: Magic Toilets & Poisonous Fish
Day 5: Aircraft and Elevators
Sidebar: An Attitude of Quality
Day 6: Squirming Shrimp & Karaoki
Day 7: Pirate Ships & Long Flat Silver
Day 8: Country Inn at City Prices
Day 9: The Inside Scoop
Day 10: Hot in Hiroshima
Day 11: Castles in the Sky
Day 12: Where the Deer & Bon Jovi Play
Day 13: Doom
Day 14: The Summer Cottage
End: Have Toilet, Will Travel


An Attitude of Quality

The current American quality myth is that we, in the person of W. Edwards Demming, taught Japan about quality at the dawn of the post-war era. Dr. Demming did indeed stop the flow of shoddy goods coming out of Japan, but if you go further back in history, you will discover that the American traders who arrived in Admiral Perry’s wake were responsible for starting the flow of shoddy goods.

The traders convinced the Japanese that Americans were not interested in quality. The traders wanted cheap, cheap, cheap, and they didn’t much care whether things fit together well or not. The Japanese, who have always assummed that gaijin ("outsiders') are from a different planet from the fastidious Japanese, took the traders at their word, preparing for the gaijin goods that the Japanese wouldn’t touch.

Demming told the Japanese that the answer to Japan’s economic woes was to produce and export only high-quality goods. He added to their ancient philosophy of perfection a new concept: that there is no perfection, that one must strive for continous improvement. Make every model, every release, just a little bit better than the last. The Japanese ended up dominating every market segment they went after, to the extent that the rest of the world was forced to raise trade barriers, so they could continue to sell their own inferior products domestically.

I came to Toshiba with one question on my mind. I asked it five different times, in five different ways. I never got an answer. I never got even the hint of an answer. (That’s a strange thing about the Japanese. You can ask a question, and you feel that warm sense that comes over you when your curiosity has been completely satisfied, only to realize they haven’t said a word in reply.) I asked them, "the quality that is so much a part of your products: is it the result of rules and procedures, or is it something that comes from your heart." No answer. I asked them, "if your boss came to you and told you, ‘we are no longer interested in quality. Just build things as fast as you can,’ what would you do? Would you follow the new procedures, or would something inside you want to continue building quality." No answer. "Does quality come from your head, or from your heart." No answer.

I can think of two explanations for their not responding. First, they may just not feel comfortable sharing such intimate information with a gaijin (foreigner). Second, and I suspect more likely, they may not know. I have found no evidence that the Japanese share Californians’ fascination with introspection. The Japanese receive powerful programming almost from birth. At some point, I don’t know whether they can separate that which is external from that which is internal.

The Japanese are not ahead of the US and Europe in software; in fact, they are behind. They used to be behind in automobiles, too. Will they set their minds to dominating this arena, too? Only time will tell.

Japan on $1000 per Day

Day 5: Mice, Aircraft, and Elevators

Day 5: Julie and I are off on separate adventures. My wife, the doctor, takes off for an all-day tour of Industrial Tokyo, visiting the JAL maintenance facility at Haneda Airport. There, they not only repair their own aircraft, but aircraft from other airlines around the world interested in taking advantage of the Japanese penchant for perfection in workmanship. She then visited an Isuzu engine plant, where she watched a constant stream of varying engines being assembled by workers, both warm-blooded and cold-siliconed. Julie noticed that no two engines in a row were ever the same. "Better for workers" was the guide’s reply. The Japanese, who are not exactly renown for their care and feeding of their workforce, have discovered that boredom, the hallmark of Western manufacturing for the last 100 years, seriously impacts productivity. They give the workers new tasks on each engine because it keeps them alert, happy, and productive. It is a lesson we are finally learning in our country, but it is seriously overdue.

I, the engineer, headed out for Tokyo Disneyland, completing my world tour of Disneylands everywhere.

I noticed one major difference at Tokyo Disneyland: I saw not one of the myriad of street sweepers that rush around behind visitors at other parks, catching their discarded papers practically in mid-air. They don't need them. No one discards a thing. I did see one cigarette dropped to the ground and crushed out in the line winding toward the Pirates of the Carribean, but the smoker immediately picked up the resulting butt and held it in his hand until the line reached the trash can.

The Japanese unwillingness to litter under the most trying circumstances has resulted in an ironic twist; because they are unwilling to litter, their government hasn't felt any pressure to provide litter baskets. We would walk for blocks in heavily-touristed areas with the twisted remains of snow-cones sagging in our sugar-slicked hands without a trashcan in sight.

The most interesting "ride" at Disneyland was "Meet the World, " where you "Revolve on a carousel through time and relive Japan’s fascinating encounters with other cultures." The presentation began with an animated film showing Japan rising from the sea, aboil with volcanoes. As the volcanoes cooled, the land began to look more and more like cold gray stone, and the seas began to look suspiciously like small pebbly sand. When the camera moved back, we discovered we were now looking at a chain of rocks, perhaps 8 feet long, poking up through a sandy beach. Beside the rocks were two terminally-cute looking Japanese kids who took to wonderin’ exactly how Japan’s history had all taken place. Fortunately, on this very same beach was one of Japan’s most famous birds, the crane, who also happened to be an historian by vocation, and a public speaker by avocation. The crane allowed as how he would love to take the two kids on a tour of Japan’s historical encounters with the outside world, and, by golly, he invited us along, too.

The history was shown through a series of audio-animatronic tableaus, carrying us forward from Japan’s first contact with the Chinese. We arrived at 1854, when Commodore Perry showed up with the American fleet and threatened to blow the Japanese to kingdom come if they didn’t open up trade with us. This was "Disneyized" by having the first mate say to Perry, "Why don’t we lob a couple shells into the midst of this mob and shake them up a little." (That was the gist of what he said.) The great American admiral, however, replied, "We shall not fire, for we come in peace only to open trade between our two great nations" or some such drivel. The narrating crane then "Japanized" history by explaining to the little children why the Japanese acquiesced: "The samurai were mighty warriors, but even they were no match for the march of time."

As this tableau faded, we returned to the film, but now it appeared to be night time on the beach. We could hear the cold winds blow for several seconds, afterwhich the shivering little girl suggested to the crane, "it is dark." The crane replied, "Yes, but soon it will grow light again," afterwhich indeed, the beach lit up as it had been before. Thus was covered, in depth, the adventures of World War II and the loss of some 60 million lives.


After a delicious bento lunch at Restaurant Kokusai on Main Street, I was back on the train and off to Toshiba Fuchu Works, the top-secret base of Toshiba elevators, funiculars, and software.

The people involved in software quality control, like other Japanese workers, either wear suits if they are sufficiently exhalted salarymen, or uniforms. The company uniform is worn with with great pride, as loyalty to company is all but as strong as loyalty to country. (Contrast that with Silicon Valley, where employees who linger at a single company for more than five years are treated with suspicion.)

Japanese business meetings follow a set formula. Seating around the table is done strictly by pecking order. Speakers present according to the same pecking order. Formality is all, no argument occurs, and no decisions are reached.

As the meeting wore on, with each Toshiba person in turn telling me of their job and its effect on quality, I noticed one of the senior Toshiba people slip off to sleep. I was overjoyed to see this. I had read in my book on Japanese etiquette that this happens frequently, and I had been hoping to witness it. This does not arise out of impoliteness, but, rather, out of compromise. The decision as to who attends a meeting is based purely on the importance of the visitor, not the needs of the meeting. As a result, high-level managers are often attending meetings that are completely irrelevant to their jobs and their interests. However, they must attend. The compromise is that they need not remain awake.

Toshiba’s software development process at first glance did not seem appreciably different from our process in America. They have a series of defined steps, such as research, specification, general design, detail design, coding, etc., that are not particularly different from ours (although many developers put coding first). When we dove a little deeper, though, the real difference showed up. Between each step, they have design reviews. So do we, but they call these interstitial spaces "hold points." We used to have "hold points" in America. NASA used them until shortly before the Challenger disaster, by which time our hold points had become more like "talk about it, then go ahead anyway" points. Never have I heard this term applied to software. If these people find out they have a problem, they actually stop and fix the problem! How marvellous! How refreshing! How weird!

Please read about how the Japanese view quality in the Attitude of Quality sidebar. Then join me next month as I sing for my supper--live, squirming food. Strictly fresh.

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