The “Making Things in Japan Tour” — April 20-26, 2014

You may have noticed a new widget on our sidebar, which links to a site about this tour and registration through Eventbrite. Brad Schmidt and I are organizing this together, and I am thrilled to be working with him again.

Why go to Japan to visit plants in 2014? Until the 1970s, Japanese manufacturing got no respect. When I headed there as an engineering graduate in 1977, a classmate of mine called this move “career suicide.” Whatever competitive success Japanese companies had achieved by then was chalked up to long hours and low wages, much the way China is perceived today.

Then came the 1980s and the discovery that there was more to it — that should be looked into and studied — coupled with fear that “Japan, Inc.” was going to take over the world. The two-decade recession that hit Japan in the early 1990s put a quick end to the paranoia and, more slowly, dampened the enthusiasm for so-called “Japanese methods” in manufacturing and management.

The renewed neglect of Japan today, however, is no more rational than was the exuberance of the 1980s. Japan today has a highly trained but aging and expensive work force, and is facing the same challenges as other advanced economies. And it still has the most advanced, most productive, manufacturing plants in the world, with the best quality. It is still the go-to place for manufacturing excellence, where the art of making things (Monozukuri, 物作り) is valued and honored both in companies and in society at large. 

For those who don’t know him, Brad Schmidt is a South African raised in Japan, a graduate of Japanese schools,  and perfectly bilingual. With 128 tours in 15 years under his belt and counting, he is a pro. Few people have seen the inside of more Japanese factories than him, and he has the logistics of tours worked out, from airport pickups to  interpreters, transportation and lodging. That leaves me with the easy part: promoting this tour in tour in the US and then going on it to help answer participants’ questions  and facilitate site reviews.