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EMAR: excellence from manufacturing for temp staffing solutions

Interview - March 8, 2023

Japanese firm EMAR harnesses the knowledge and expertise of its employees to provide high quality construction manufacturing and high-performance staffing for its clients.


In the eyes of the West, Japan has lost the innovative edge that defined it for many decades. With that in mind, can you please share with us where you believe the competitiveness of Japan lies today, and what is your take on monozukuri?

For me, it comes down to being keen on preciseness; and this keen eye for detail and precision is the key factor that defines Japanese monozukuri. Emar is a company that makes windows for L company on an OEM basis. These windows are a simple demonstration of preciseness, and while on the surface it may seem like a very small amount of materials are collected together to make this product, it is in fact the materials and the manufacturing that are crucial for this product to operate as intended. The sealing material and the glass itself need to be as precise as possible in order to meet the expectations of the final user.

The Kaizen philosophy that Japan is known for roughly translates to constant improvement and is at the heart of many Japanese companies. This means that you don’t just stop halfway through, and instead are committed to continual improvement. This is how great results are reached. This is a continuous process that is conducted on a monthly basis. Emar is committed to having monthly meetings with staff on ways to continually improve ourselves. This doesn’t just stop with L company either, and this relates to all clients that the company has on an OEM basis. It is good in a way because it interconnects with another idea that you might have when brainstorming, essentially allowing employees to reach new levels by following their ideas to fruition. These group meetings involve all employees from the bottom to the top, and this is important and allows different levels of perspective. Only through this practice can we be good enough to provide goods and services for the biggest names in the industry like L company.

Emar is proud to say that one-third of all double-layered glass windows in Japan, including L company’s, are made by ourselves, and we are making windows for L company in 12 different locations. What we do for B company, for instance, goes beyond just producing products for them, and extends to designing features for them through our subsidiary in Vietnam. We are covering 60% of design-based features for B company, and that company produces openings for houses used in windows, doors, and ventilation. As an SME we don’t just limit ourselves to only design, but also handle the staffing required to implement those designs for customers.


You’ve alluded to diversity as being a strength of your company, and the most defining social challenge of the last 20-25 years in Japan is its aging population issue. Add to that a low fertility rate and we have a very rapidly decreasing population, with the latest estimates putting Japan’s population under 100 million by 2050. As a result, there has been an increasing reliance on foreign workers. What do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities of Japan’s unique demographic situation?

Yes, we are definitely seeing the effects caused by these social problems here domestically. If you toured a lot of production sites for Japanese companies, you would see that more than 50% of the workers are now non-Japanese. This has had a drastic effect on the whole economy, and nationwide we have declining figures for the number of people who are still of an age to be working. Those aged between 20-60 years are classed as at a workable age, and this figure is dropping at a rate of around 600,000 people per year. Even a small town like Oyama loses around 2000 people per year on that basis. Inevitably this has to be compensated by foreigners that are coming here to complement the Japanese workforce on production sites.  


The challenge that many manufacturers in Japan are now facing is how to pass on knowledge to the next generation of workers. Your company has all kinds of activities for meaningful training of foreign workers. Could you elaborate a little more and tell us how you are contributing to the transfer of technology and technical expertise?

The same phenomena happened in America back in the 1970s, especially in the automotive industry. What Ford did was segregate production by giving one particular person one job to do. It made it easy in some respects because one particular person could implement their best work for one particular job. Similar things are now happening in Japan, and foreign workers can be fostered here in Japan also. By segregating production, we can take the pressure off of the need to train all personnel on all jobs. It comes down to a matter of trust, giving that trust to very simple but important work.

We have gone beyond what Ford was practicing back in the day, and in fact, Toyota based its production system on the one utilized by Ford. We have implemented a sort of multi-operational feature of one capita inside our production in order to go the extra mile and enable one person to multitask.


Another aspect of this demographic challenge is the actual integration of foreign workers which can be very difficult in terms of cultural adjustment. There is a lot of pressure to conform to the Japanese working standards and Japanese culture, and adversely for companies, there can be some apprehension or nervousness about accepting a foreign worker into their environment. How do you help bridge the gap and create a system that works for both parties?

It is definitely a very important social issue rather than an intercultural issue. For that reason, we are dispatching one expert from our company that is acting as an intermediary with local recruits whether that is Vietnamese, Filipino, or Brazilian. This particular manager is acting as a junction between working styles here in Japan. They are assisting in making the transition a smooth one as a change of location and culture might be troublesome for some people. That role is a very important one, and that manager goes to local recruitment offices where we recruit people, and they are responsible for following the whole process.

You mentioned earlier that L company is a big client. In terms of volume, what industries are the majority of your business coming from?

The number one industry for us is construction materials. We are able to introduce not only our temp staffing but also our production capabilities on an ODM, and OEM basis. Our customers are widely known as construction part material manufacturers, so we are introducing all of our features for all of them. Additionally, our subsidiary is acting as a junction to introduce some human capital and manufacturing capabilities.


When we look at the construction industry, we are seeing a trend toward prefabrication, and a lot of houses are no longer being built on-site. In terms of your business, how are you catering to the new demand for prefabrication across the construction industry?

In order to answer your question, it is important to go over the company’s history and where our entire operation all started. We started back in 1999 with only three people and to be honest our operation at the time was very small in scale. The business was on a commission basis for L company and we were considered for the commissioning position.  It was a very simple assignment and basically what we did was cut the glass for L company. I wasn’t satisfied with that and I was looking around and seeing what else could be done at the time.

When you look at the design of a window there are many factors to consider. I looked at that and thought to myself that this company could do that. It isn’t hugely sophisticated, however, moving into the domestic market was quite the challenge because the product was quite niched. Essentially the market for windows had already become somewhat saturated, and that was the driving force for going to the Southeast Asian countries. I went backpacking all around the globe and ended up in Vietnam, and at a point in time we started actually producing houses in Vietnam made only from construction materials from Japan. Unfortunately, they didn’t sell well because the Japanese lifestyle doesn’t necessarily fit well in the Vietnamese market. Needless to say that there have been pros and cons, ups and downs, and all of this leads to where we are today.


You mentioned how you felt that the Japanese market for windows was already saturated with many niche players and that you found some success in Southeast Asia where that infrastructure wasn’t already set up. Do you have plans to replicate that mode in other Southeast Asian countries such as Thailand or Cambodia?

Not really because you have to think about different countries and the wages per capita. In Japan there is a big gap between the wages of full time versus those of part-time, however, in other countries, there is not such a big gap. Inside L company’s Vietnamese factory we do have our own section that performs jobs for L company. Going to another country is not an option at this point in time. Each country has its own wages, cultures, and personality, which can be positive, but at the same time can be a challenge when introducing Japanese standards to a locality.


COVID-19 has created a number of challenges for foreign workers looking to come to Japan, and the country has now been closed off for almost 3 years now, and we are only just seeing the country open back up again. What has been your strategy to attract or identify talented workers in Southeast Asia or abroad and bring them to Japan?

It has been a kind of double-edged sword in terms of without COVID there wouldn’t be new ways of recruiting. Social media has become a key point to recruit talented workers, with both Twitter and Facebook being very helpful. Remote work has enabled a new approach to recruiting workers online, as well as enabling workers to work at home without the need to be present physically in Japan. Before COVID-19 there was a lot of paperwork to get Visas for workers, and traditionally we would go through an agency, but nowadays we have had to be more adaptive to an increasingly online work environment. Even people’s perceptions of working styles have changed now that we are at the tail end of the pandemic, and if I am honest, I don’t think it will go back to the way it was before. Conducting work and interviews using the power of the internet has already become the new norm and will be with us for many years to come.


Your group has a very diverse group of businesses, from the OEM and worker dispatch, all the way to your Japan Visa app; there are many different faces to your business. Could you tell us the strengths of the group structure and the motivation for having such a diverse array of businesses?

My answer relates to what I was doing as an entrepreneur back in the day, and everything we have been doing is a kind of step-by-step evolution of what we were doing back in 1999. We always looked for extra services or extra products in order to go the extra mile for clients. Obviously, it has been a while now and the company has come very far already. I would say that diversification was something that came naturally, and it came from me as the leader looking around and observing the ebbs and flows of the industry. Even in a major business like temp staffing, we see a lot of changes happening and I have been able to observe those changes over several decades now.

It was back in the 1980s when Japan first introduced foreign workers to the domestic market and it has been something I’ve been considering carefully ever since. Immigration laws have changed a lot over the past 20-30, and I can think of 3-4 big changes during that period, so with the temp staffing business we have, it is vitally important to stay on top of those legislative changes and educate ourselves on correct procedures. Being adaptive and analytical is something that I would describe as a feature of my own personal character. This is how we can come to the conclusion that the company is doing its best for all clients and customers.

Although diversification happened in the company and from an outsider's perspective it may seem a little scattered, however from our point of view we are serving the needs of our end users and creating synergies between features that benefit those clients. It started with recruitment, then contracted job training, after that the acquisition of highly skilled human resources, the foreign technical intern program, and finally the Japanese language school run by the group company. As you can see, it is all interconnected, and from a legal, technical, and educational perspective we have all of our bases covered when it comes to recruitment and training.


You talked about creating this natural progression and synergistic effect, so I would like to know what is next. What do you foresee as being the next evolution of the Emar group?

I think it will be the expansion of our business model to other countries. Vietnam could be a good example of this, however, it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing there. There have been some challenges and obstacles, but it is okay to make mistakes and it is okay to fail. As humans, this is how we learn, and everything we do comes as a progression of mistakes that we have learned from. Population in Japan is a factor here for what we do in the future because as you know the domestic market is shrinking and therefore the amount of customers is shrinking too. This is why we are challenging ourselves to go abroad and maybe help some Japanese companies as a consultant. As far as targets go, I mentioned Vietnam, but we are also eyeing Indonesia as well.

I am 57 years old and I recently returned to school to get my Master of Business Administration (MBA) in economics and management. This means that everything I’ve done so far has been based on experience, and a trial-and-error approach. New countries for our business however require a more academic approach based on business knowledge and that is why I have returned to education.

Unfortunately, I have been diagnosed with multiple myeloma which is a blood cancer that forms in a type of white blood cell. Doctors are giving me around 10 years to live right now but for the time being, I would like to do the best possible and as much as possible.


Imagine that we come back 7 years from now and have this interview all over again. Is there a personal goal that you would like to have achieved by then?

I would like to have my own plane because it means that anytime I want to go to another country, I can do it. A private jet is my goal!