A top manufacturer of fishing tackle and rod components, FUJI leverages monozukuri to develop unique products loved by anglers and is constantly innovating to meet the ever-changing demands of the sportfishing industry.
The Japanese spirit of monozukuri is traditionally known worldwide for its kaizen based continual improvements in manufacturing. In today’s modern world we also see how Japanese companies must respond to quality, cost and delivery (QCD) demands to compete in a globalized world. As a fishing equipment manufacturer that describes itself as being very close to the minds of anglers, can you give us your take on Japanese monozukuri and the advantages of Japanese manufacturing?
When you talk about monozukuri, it isn’t just an understanding of making things in the most excellent way possible. Prior to that, you must think about your motives behind why and what you want to make something. The thought behind it is the genesis of our own monozukuri. “Making anglers’ dreams come true,” is the company’s philosophy, and the principle we share among all the employees of the company.
Everything that is made in Japan relates to the craftsmanship and the principles of omotenashi, serving the best needs of people who are going to use these products or services introduced by any individual or company. I think it goes back to the way of living, the climate, and the culture of Japan. Omotenashi and craftsmanship are combined in one package, and it is the starting point of Japanese monozukuri.
To remove the inconvenience of anglers is the spirit of monozukuri of FUJI, and our ultimate goal of monozukuri is to make them satisfied and inspired. In order to do so, we want to serve their needs by showing the best quality and the best functionality of products possible towards people that will use our products. We are aiming to be a company that can make all anglers inspired and moved through the rod components we manufacture. People feel joy or happiness when they experience something which exceeds their expectation. In the same way that Disneyland is a child’s dream, we strive to create Fuji Kogyo an angler’s dream. If, for example, a boy or girl that goes to Disneyland wants to buy a balloon, the salesperson will bend down to the child’s level so that they can face the eyes of the child and create a much more enjoyable time. In the same way, we try to be “Disneyland of monozukuri” by serving rod components which can make anglers happy, satisfied, and evolved. That is our philosophy.
We know that you opened operations in China in the early 2000s and we see that manufacturers there often completely replicate Japanese products or processes. As a company that makes fishing equipment, how do you maintain your competitive edge? What have you done to offset this competition?
Yes, we do have a production plant in China, but that was not to make it more profitable nor lower the labor costs. It comes from the simple idea that to start manufacturing rod components with the FUJI quality standard, where many fishing rod manufacturers are located. We are doing monozukuri there, thoroughly sticking to the quality standard of “Made in Japan”. “Quality first” is the principle of our business and it is the thought shared by all our employees. No matter where it is manufactured, to achieve “Japan quality” and “FUJI quality” is the most important, and that is the target of our production plant in China. We have been working and cooperating closely with our staff in China in order to achieve “FUJI quality” there.
BACK in 2002 when the plant in China opened, the cost per person in Japan was similar to the cost of employing 20 Chinese. Even if you can employ 20 Chinese people over 1 Japanese employee, it doesn’t guarantee that there will be no defects and issues. What we did initially at our plant in China was to teach our Chinese employees about the importance of Quality and FUJI quality which our customers expect. We had started the operation of our plant in China by having the mission of “no defects”. We believe that the reliability of the company is established by continuing to serve the stable and value-added quality to customers, and it leads us to be distinct from the others.
FUJI is not a metalworking company, but a company that manufactures fishing tackle and rod component products. We believe that it is essential to teach this to our employees in China, and that it is important to give them the same commitment to production in China as what we are doing in Japan.
Japan is now the oldest country in the world, with more than 20% of the population being over the age of 65. Furthermore, with the current fertility rate, Japan’s population will plunge below 100 million by 2060. This is creating a diminished demand here domestically, and companies are having to increase sales overseas to compensate. How are you reacting to these population changes?
We are seeing a lot of problematic points arise because of these social issues. Though the decrease in Japan’s population will make the fishing tackle market tougher in the future, the number of anglers has been increasing as fishing is considered a sport activity that any person can enjoy in harmony with nature regardless of age or gender. Under such an ongoing trend, we think the market could be expanded by introducing various styles of fishing which can bring joy to people regardless of their generation.
COVID-19 actually forced us to reconsider many things. The outdoor activity market has been growing quickly, and the popularity of fishing globally has exploded dramatically. We have especially received many new orders from newcomers to fishing. Under such a growing market, the competitiveness in cost is the most important for mass-produced goods, however, the demand for high-price with value-added products is increasing too in Japan. We are trying to develop rod components with more value added and create new markets by introducing those new rod components into the market.
From the manufacturing perspective, we must consider how to automate and level the production by transforming our style from a labor-intensive perspective. However, with the evolution of materials and ingredients, and changes in fishing methods and usage, it will become even more important to meet various needs and take manufacturing one step further in the future.
All things combined, these are the efforts we are taking to tackle these issues and bring the great products of Fuji Kogyo to create something new in the domestic market.
Your logo is synonymous with rod components, you are famous for making guides made of titanium and/or silicon carbide and combining various materials to create accessories such as reel seats, top cover, butt accessories, grip material, metal parts, sinker, and hook keepers. Can you give us an insight into which particular products to put your effort into?
Our high-performance rod components are the main product for the company now, and we see this continuing in the near future. It is hard to define one particular product that we are putting all our effort behind right now, however, our effort always goes to manufacturing something that best fits the needs of the customers. We are the manufacturer of rod components, but we always try not to sell the components itself only but tell our customers how the performance of their fishing rods is improved by using our rod components. Which means that we believe that it is very important to propose both “Hard (products)” and “Soft (Concept)” solutions to customers, and our mission is to keep innovating products which meet various needs from customers, in good harmony with new material and new style of fishing.
Besides this mainstream business, we are now trying to create a new market of “custom-made rod building” by expanding our product range, which is for the anglers who want to make an “only-one” rod in a DIY concept. We can say our business is shifting slightly from B2B to B2C where you have much more custom-made solutions, this is a transition we have been making for the past several years.
Fishing is all about having your own customized setup. This gives independence, ownership and a sense of responsibility that is perhaps the reason people take up the sport in the first place. As a component manufacturer, how do you seamlessly integrate collaboration with other manufacturers such as rod manufacturers?
First of all, we would like to be known as an independent, stand-alone rod component manufacturing company, and a one-of-its-kind and unique company. Of course, we, as a manufacturer of rod components, will maintain and improve the relationship with rod manufacturers. And we are willing to manufacture products to specific customers on an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) basis using our manufacturing know-how. However, we do not intend to be a “supplier” of parts nor OEM specialty manufacturer.
The main concept of our product development and monozukuri is to make “Anglers’ dreams come true”. All ideas for our product development comes from anglers and our mission is to make all anglers happy as much as possible. New demand, needs, and requirements from anglers keep changing and evolving.
There are so many countries across the globe and the needs of anglers are different from country to country. Overall, our company offers over 10,000 types of rod components such as guides and reel seats. This means that we have proposed over 10,000 different types of solutions to our customers as all our products are developed by needs from anglers, not product-out basis. We listen to voices from anglers, develop products which match their needs, and it brings the joy of fishing to them. It is simple, but this is the starting point of Fuji’s monozukuri.
You mentioned that different countries had different angler needs. Are you looking to partner with local companies in those countries that could help you create a solution specific to that market?
There are two ways of thinking when answering this question. One is the fact that the company already has expanded to countries overseas, and it isn’t like co-creation, but more like co-existence. Our business has already expanded to 13 countries, through various distribution channels. We have distributors and distribution points in these 13 countries that cover Europe, America and Asia. These distributors also gather information on the needs of local anglers and what they are looking for in future products. We take that information and develop products that match those local needs.
Co-creation for manufacturing is not in our mind, because we would like to preserve the quality and feature-rich components that only Fuji Kogyo can introduce, and to that end, we do have a lot of patented products. We are not ruling out that possibility though, and perhaps a form of a strategic partner in some areas might be beneficial. Not only in distribution but also manufacturing perspective, we believe that the most important is to find partners with whom we can fully have mutual trust and understanding. Our mission remains to deliver the best products to our customers, and if that is not possible by our power alone, then obviously in that situation we would consider some kind of partnership.
We consider it is time to reconstruct our high value-added monozukuri in Japan, not the time to expand our manufacturing overseas. Not expanding the scale of the company but preserving the existence of the company is important to me. The existence of our company is to do what we can do for anglers to enjoy fishing with our value-added components, and my importance is to ensure the safety and security of all our employees.
For your new guide concept, Fuji accumulated a lot of data through research, trial and error, and listening to anglers. Digitalization is something sweeping across all the manufacturing industries, but fishing is a very analogue sport as we all know. How have you used digital tools to help you develop new products? How can anglers in the future benefit from digital tools in fishing?
Digitalization is very important in our manufacturing processes such as testing products but full digitalization in our industry is very difficult because fishing by definition is a very analogue activity. This kind of experience that the anglers have in fishing cannot be related to numbers, so we think analogue activity is still important in our industry.
The new guide system concept is created through many field tests of different types of fishing and fishing style, and it is the correct number, position and shape of guides on the rod, with the idea to maximize the rod's performance. The basic principles outlined are embedded into the concept itself, which are lightweight and stable. These were introduced as a best-fit solution for the anglers, and these anglers went and caught fish with these concepts. Results were reported and actually, at our premises, we used ultra high-speed cameras to capture the data displaying the differences between the new concept and the older one. This data can then be demonstrated as actual figures and prove that the concept works. In this case, digitalization is more of a service for anglers around the world. It sounds complicated, but anglers are very happy that it works and are happy because a solution for them has been found.
You’ve integrated silicon carbide rings into your products, a material that is well known as very hard to work with. Your company has developed unique technology to polish it with a mirror-like finish and this allows a number of benefits. Can you describe how these new materials are transforming the angler's experience?
Silicon Carbide (SiC) ring is super hard, super heat dissipation, super smooth surface, and super lightweight. When an angler catches big-sized fish, and with big fish, it is very easy for your line to snap or break because the line pulls rapidly and the contact point of line and ring have high friction heat. For this reason, the SiC ring has been introduced for its heat dissipation ability. The heat dissipation ability of SiC rings is 5 to 6 times bigger than other ceramic materials. SiC rings can immediately dissipate the heat at the contact point and protect the fishing line. When you try to catch large fish, heat is generated by the friction caused by the tussle between fisherman and fish. This heat dissipation is vital to catching larger fish, and that is something that we have achieved with SiC ring. The material itself is 12 times harder than stainless steel and second only to diamonds, and with this SiC ring is the ideal material in terms of the hardness.
It is very crucial to get the FUJI name out into the world. It is why we do the fishing tackle trade shows around the world, visit rod manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers to have product demonstrations for them to understand the importance of guides. To better promote our products we introduced the Fuji tag to hand on rods, and this helps consumers better understand what kind of company we are, and for the anglers to become better acquainted with the company.
It has been 77 years since your establishment in 1945, what goals or targets have you set and what in detail are you trying?
The company first came about officially in 1945, but our roots go further back. The company was first really established in 1938, so currently the company is standing at the age of 84. We would like to continue to be the company that creates cultures and sustains fishing culture, and continually introduces the same values that the company has stood for since its establishment.
We are increasing the company’s recognition by having ourselves related to different kinds of promotional activities. SDGs are in the minds and heads of many companies globally right now, and in 2008 we introduced our “We Love the Earth,” concept. This concept shares the same values as SDGs, basically to decrease the burden on the environment and protect the rich nature for the future. We, of course, try to decrease the burden in our production processes and in addition we are doing some nature conservation activities in cooperation with the local community. Shimizu S-Pulse is the local professional soccer team and we are currently the sponsor of that team, and are organizing beach clean-up activities together. And we are sponsoring a radio program of a local radio station, which features and introduces the joy of outdoor activity & fishing. It is very important as a local Shizuoka company to contribute to the local environment and make strides towards revitalizing the region. We are a manufacturing company but want to raise the value of our existence by contributing to the local environment, the local society, and the fishing tackle industry, as “a company creating culture”.
Imagine that we come back on the last day of your presidency and have this interview all over again. What goals will you have hoped to achieve by then?
My aim is to stabilize the company, provide stable jobs for my employees, and keep those employees feeling secure. It is very important and essential how we sustain and improve the FUJI brand which we inherited from the previous generation of the company.
Our mission is to keep those employees happy whilst also providing the best products for anglers all around the globe. These values are something I inherited from the previous president of the company, and something I hope to pass on to the next generation of Fuji Kogyo.