Love in Tokyo...and Oita

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“Le gayi dil, gudiya Ja­pan ki, paa­gal mu­jhe kar diya.....”

Yes, you got it right. The last two days (and nights) I have been in Ja­pan. And though the Ja­panese maid­ens and dam­sels have still not in­tox­i­cated me com­pletely (they are en­chant­ing enough if you take a visit to Tokyo’s Rop­pongi dis­trict night life), what is re­ally al­ready bowl­ing me out is ob­serv­ing the famed Ja­panese com­pe­tency first hand, es­pe­cially in man­u­fac­tur­ing and re­tail.

To­day morn­ing, I had gone to visit the man­u­fac­tur­ing plant of a world-renowned elec­tronic gi­ant in Oita city in Kyushu is­land. Ja­pan, in­ci­den­tally has five is­lands, with Tokyo be­ing in Hokkaido, the largest of them. The visit to this plant was an eye opener—for­get In­dia, I have vis­ited fac­to­ries in Europe (Finlnd, Dublin, Bris­tol), US (Bos­ton, Chicago) but this Oita plant beats them all hands down. Be it in terms of clock­work pre­ci­sion, dis­ci­plined pro­duc­tion se­quence (fol­low­ing Kaizen) or work­force ef­fi­ciency, Ja­panese man­u­fac­tur­ing is miles ahead of its global coun­ter­parts. Just see these num­bers: in one of the SMT lines, the daily pro­duc­tion ca­pac­ity is 11,000 with 640 peo­ple. Just imag­ine the lev­els of pro­duc­tiv­ity. And this ef­fi­ciency is achieved keep­ing in mind even is­sues like proper dis­posal of elec­tronic waste as well as so­cial norms like hir­ing peo­ple of dif­fer­ent di­verse back­grounds.

While I know it would more of a pipedream to even imag­ine In­dia would ever come close to Ja­pan in man­u­fac­tur­ing in the near fu­ture, at least we can look at some of the big­gest con­straints. At the risk of an­ger­ing a large part of our pop­u­lace, I will say it is our so­cial norms and so-called ‘obli­ga­tions’ (more so cre­ated out of po­lit­i­cal largesses) that is hold­ing us back. While in prin­ci­ple, I am for nat­u­ral jus­tice for work­ers, I ab­so­lutely do not buy the idea of mil­i­tant trade union­ism in In­dia, largely to ap­pease and as a mask for po­lit­i­cal goals and am­bi­tions. That in turn only en­cour­ages abun­dance of un­skilled work­force which in turn brings down pro­duc­tiv­ity as well as ef­fi­ciency. And while I agree in a largely pop­u­lated coun­try like us, we can­not go for large scale au­to­ma­tion, the fact of the mat­ter is that we can­not com­pro­mise on ef­fi­ciency at the cost of giv­ing more peo­ple jobs. And mind it, even in the Ja­panese plant only the rou­tine pro­cesses are au­to­mated, all finer things like in­spec­tion, test­ing, check­ing, qual­ity con­trol and mend­ing do re­quire hu­man in­ter­ven­tion. How­ever, that re­quires de­vel­op­ment of spe­cial­ized skilled work­force, a prin­ci­ple which is alien in the In­dian man­u­fac­tur­ing sce­nario.

Talk­ing of an­other pain area, in Kyushu is­land it­self, I vis­ited a large elec­tronic re­tail chain and was amazed at not just the huge quan­tity of prod­ucts dis­played, but also how they were dis­played. Af­ter all in re­tail, cus­tomer ex­pe­ri­ence is of the ut­most essence and un­for­tu­nately our re­tail­ers seem to care lit­tle about that. The con­ve­nience of shop­ping or even brows­ing through well cat­e­go­rized shelves with de­tailed ex­pla­na­tions as well as knowl­edge­able sales­per­sons is an­other area that is prac­ti­cally for­eign to us in In­dia.

Well as a true pa­tri­otic In­dian, I can say only that one day things will change and even In­dia will match up to Ja­pan in all as­pects. Af­ter all

“Gudiya Ja­pan ki dil le jaa sakti hai, phir bhi dil hai hin­dus­tani”

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