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Monozukuri, the Japanese way of instilling values of responsibility and consequence

Article - September 26, 2016

Embodying the spirit of excellence and focusing more on the art of craftsmanship and conscience, rather than the pure mechanics of creation, Monozukuri sets Japanese quality apart

The Japanese philosophy of Monozukuri has meanings beyond the literal. Essentially, in English it means “craftsmanship”; in translation, “mono” is the thing made or created, and “zukuri” refers to the art of making. But in practice, it is an art, rather than a science.

Monozukuri embodies the spirit of excellence and emphasizes more on the process of the item being made and less on the qualities of the person making it. It is this differentiation that sets the quality apart and represents the Japanese sense of responsibility for the value of materials and production, and their respect for the tangible and intangible in this world at large.

The embodiment of this tradition applied to industry has produced the flat screen, mobile phone camera and hybrid car. The pride in making things well and continually focus on the production process is what has allowed many Japanese companies to survive for over a century.

A Monozukuri company such as Suminoe Textile Co., Ltd. has embodied this tradition for over 100 years. It is producing leading quality interior products for the automotive industry that are in tune with these values.

“There is a saying in Japan; everybody is happy in three directions – when the seller is happy, purchaser is happy, and society is happy. In a way, that embodies our contribution to society,” says Ichizo Yoshikawa, President and Chairman of Suminoe Textile. “Preserving the traditions from the past, to further connect them to the future is a very important thing.”

It is believed that it is this love of craftsmanship that has helped incubate the Japanese love of automation and engineering. It is also equally important that in the process of achieving perfection that the worker is not wasteful or frivolous with resources. “In our philosophy, we cannot only pursue the profit or happiness of ourselves, but we have to think about the happiness and profit of other people. Unless we have that, we cannot stand as a corporation,” states Katsuhiko Futamura, President and CEO of Hoden Seimitsu Kako Kenkyusho Co., Ltd. (HSK).

HSK, a Japan-based company principally involved in the contracted manufacture and sale of dyes and machinery parts, has collected top-tier clients in the aerospace industry, like Airbus and Rolls-Royce, with their superior products.

It is the notion of perfection that is learned through extended apprenticeship experience as opposed to the structured curricula taught at schools. Industry leaders with a global customer base like Harmonic Drive Systems Inc., which deals in the production and sales of mechatronics products for incorporation in industrial robots and semiconductor manufacturing equipment, maintain that customers like NASA from the U.S. come to it simply because it is the only company that can satisfy their stringent requirements.

“Every year we have fresh high school graduates. It takes about 20 years for an engineer to be qualified to this level. Our business is about craftsmanship and Monozukuri, but it does not entirely depend on the individual skill. The trick is, we have a corporate culture whereby nobody will tolerate submicron differences,” says Akira Nagai, President and CEO of Harmonic Drive Systems Inc.