The Worldfoilo sits down with Kan Kudo to discuss disaster prevention building construction in Japan and some of the innovative building materials developed by his company, which he hopes to put to more use in South East Asian nations such as Indonesia.
Since the financial crisis, we have seen that the two great powers of Asia – Japan and China – have been competing for infrastructural and construction projects all around the continent. How would you define, in your own words as a Japanese company, the Japanese infrastructural model?
In my opinion it comes down to quality. For example, with regards to operations conducted by China in Africa, we were unable to compete on financial terms. At the end of the day, due to that issue, our sale point would be quality. Prime Minister Abe has said that we have to compete with high-quality infrastructure and explore on that. So, when looking at developing countries, of course they prefer a cheaper price and we would like to deliver that cheaper price, however, our mission would become, in this day and age, how to gain understanding of the market and sell our high-quality products.
Japan, at the previous Tokyo Olympics in 1964, saw the start of construction increasing significantly. Now more than 50 years on, those same developments are going through safety renewal. As you know being in Tokyo, there are so many developments going on; that’s because the 50-year period has just come. And with those new restoration developments, not only are we modernizing the buildings as you can see, but what’s new this time is that there is so much more technology applied for disaster prevention that includes IT technology that was not available before. And how do we package it and export that experience? That model is the question now. Indonesia in particular has a great deal of earthquakes and you would think that they would be a good customer, however, at this stage they are still reluctant to buy.
What has been the impact of Japan’s decreasing demographic on the construction sector?
I feel that in the previous 50 years, the decreasing demographic has not had such a significant impact on the construction industry. But from now, most importantly in the budget allocation by the government, we can see a great difference when more money goes to welfare services rather than construction and engineering, and this will probably intensify in the coming years. For example, 20 years from now, a quarter of the population will be over 60 years old; then much of the government’s budget will go to elderly care as well as trying to increase the population through child care services.
Related to these projections, I made many speeches in many areas. At these speeches, I mentioned what kind of things I would like the government to do and it comes down to two points. One is to make it easier for an average citizen to give birth and raise children. So there should be a budget available for that. The second is, over these past four years, there have been many natural disasters such as typhoons, so there should be a budget that is protective of people’s safety and property. So I would like a yearly budget allocated just for these two main services.
You mentioned that you would like Japan to have this budget for safety and protection against natural disasters. I would like to know from your point of view, what has brought Japanese corporations such as yours to have such excellent technologies in terms of natural disaster protection?
The reason for which Japan has so much natural disaster prevention technology is because it has constantly lived next to natural disasters. There is said to be a major earthquake in Japan every thousand years. Actually before this great east Japan earthquake, there was one a thousand years ago in the same area. So Japan has historically always had to think of how to prevent the destruction of its constructions during natural disasters. For example, if you look at Horyuji Temple, they’ve constructed that temple with no nails. So we’ve always continued developing. I was present during the great Kobe earthquake. I think it was 7.0 on Richter scale. Since then, Japanese companies have really put a lot of effort into earthquake prevention.
The origin of this disaster prevention began a thousand of years ago. However, the possibility of water-related damages like flooding has increased and Japan is still not up to par with eliminating that problem. Weather-related disasters are also still a big problem as far as technology goes. Water-related disaster products such as those that prevent disasters from rainfall, flooding, or even dams breaking down because of water- all of these are a very serious problem for the future of Japan, and so we are attempting to develop more products such as the hydro-net for example.
As you’ve said there are many kinds of products that were born and have disappeared. Today though, you specialize in three types or main sections. Can you tell us, today, which are your most unique and best-selling products from a global perspective? And more importantly, why?
Look at Indonesia and the freeways there. We’ve had a relationship with that country for 3 years now and the first one was an OOF through the government on soundproofing the highways and the freeways. The local contractor who engaged in that project really liked our product and for their own individual future project, they requested us. What we supplied to that project was the standard, conventional type. However, we also promoted our specialty product similar to other competitors but that has a very eco-friendly characteristic and a very good maintenance value.
Furthermore, standard (conventional) soundproofing interior is built with the use of glass wool; at least that’s what our competitors do. However, that’s easily destroyed by weathering and it’s not good for the environment. What we will continue doing in the future, is that for our interior for soundproofing we use aluminum instead, which lasts longer and has less impact on the environment. This is a very unique technology, however, it’s from the development and research center run by KOBELCO and we just implement that technology for our product. Their research and development strategy has very high standards. As far as I heard from my friends in Indonesia, there are 22 prefectures in Indonesia with highways being built between them but there are many areas that go near hospitals, schools, and residential areas that require soundproofing. So we would like to furthermore advertise these features of low-maintenance and eco-friendliness in our future endeavors there.
Is this something that is available that you already use in your products or is this something for the future?
We have something that we are experimenting with now. Of course we purchase electro generators, but everything other than that is built in-house. This is one of our products; one of those noise-absorbing types. Usually, you can see soundproof walls along the roads. With our product, there’s this micro perforated aluminum plate on the surface and inside we have two layers of aluminum. And with many technologies on fluid and air, we achieved the noise-absorbing performance with this product. This is a patent product and one of our features. This product is produced with 100% aluminum materials so we can say this product is 100% recycled. Conventional products are using glass wool insides as noise-absorbing stuff so when they want to dispose those products, they produce large industrial wastes. However, if we apply this system, all products are recycled. Plus, this is made of aluminum so it has high durability. We are promoting this product intensively to Southeast Asian market.
About eco-friendliness, because as we all know today, environmental care is not only a buzzword but also a necessity for humanity. Companies such as yours want to develop eco-friendly products to replace cheaper ones that negatively impact the environment, and this is a trend that is growing. Could you tell us some more examples as to how your company is developing innovative solutions to create a more sustainable society?
I would say one example would be design. We have guard fences and we have many kinds with respect to it- one would be guardrail, which is the most popular one, then we have guard pipe, and guard cable. TMS (To-mu-su) is one of the guard fences. It can blend into the natural scenery. In Japan and in many countries, these so-called guardrails are very popular. On the other hand, there are some parts where they use cables for this kind of guard fences. However, we developed “TMS” in cooperation with the Ministry of Industry and Transport’s local office. This is also one of our features; apart from the rails having enough strength, we can keep the sight or view good for cab drivers so they can see landscapes of the surrounding areas along the road and drive comfortably. In order to sell these kinds of products to the general public, the product should pass some official tests and of course, “TMS” passed them already.
Your corporate motto is making Japan beautiful. You mentioned before that you have certain products such as this aluminum soundproof wall you are marketing in Indonesia. Could you explain to us what is your strategy in order to tap into the potential of the Asian market?
First of all, we would like to sell those kinds of products, like noise-reduction. This is the first target. Within 5 to 6 years, we would like to sell constantly that noise-reduction product. This is our main export product. Secondly, there are many Japanese companies manufacturing in Asian countries. They need some noise-reducing equipment in their factories in Southeast Asia, we’re making soundproof covers or noise-reduction covers for various machines, especially for countries like
Singapore where there is very limited space. They really ask for noise-reduction for each of their machines in the factories. So one is that we do make noise-reduction products for roads but second is we also make them for the industrial arena. And as far as our strategy goes, it is to make deals and with that experience, gain a better reputation and start from there. As countries develop and they get better, there’s going to be a very big change in the lifestyle environments of people and industrial environments especially at factories, so as those things become required, we have to be there as early as possible. So those countries are getting more strict standards, especially Singapore.