50 years ago, “Made in Japan” was code for “poorly constructed.” Your grandfather likely did not have a positive word to say about Japanese goods.
These days of course, it’s a different world. Japanese manufacturing has entirely changed, and “Made in Japan” evokes images of painstaking, detailed work. Consistency. Quality. Trustworthy products made by dedicated people.
Here at Shodai, we’re not shy about embracing the fact that our men’s grooming products are Japanese made – we announce it on the front page of our website to all that will listen. But it’s not just for marketing reasons – there really is something special about Made in Japan products.
Why are Japanese products so well made?
- Monozukuri – your Japanese vocabulary word for the day. Directly translated, it means “making things.” That’s not very helpful. Let’s not directly translate. What it really entails is not just the manufacturing of the goods themselves, but rather the commitment of the person making the goods to make the best products they can. Holding yourself to a ridiculously high standard and then achieving it. There are literally full articles on the web about how impossible it is to properly translate monozukuri into English…but I did my best.
- Kaizen – your second and final Japanese word for the day. You might know this one already. It means “continuous improvement” and is over-used in corporate presentations the world over by people who think using it will make them seem impressive. Pro tip: it’s not working, and you should stop. Anyway – the point is that long before kaizen became a corporate buzzword, it was an assumed part of the manufacturing process in Japan. You make something. It is good. Then you improve on it. It is great. Then you improve on it. Etc etc. It’s endless, and maddening to some degree, because products are never truly “finished.”
- The work ethic of Japanese people. I apologize for not having a Japanese word for you for this one. But work ethic is a critical piece of the puzzle too. Years ago, when I moved to Japan from the US, a couple things shocked me:
- On my first day at work, the clock hit 5:30pm (official closing time) and I watched…absolutely nothing happen. No one left. No one. The clock moved to 6pm. No real movement. And on and on. You can criticize it from family and other perspectives if you like, but putting that aside for a moment – people generally aren’t racing out the door to get home. They are working hard, and they are not complaining. In Japan, the company gets a lot of focus, so it’s natural that products get a lot of love when they’re made at the company.
- In Japan, salaried workers are allotted comparatively large amounts of vacation time vs. their counterparts in the USA. However, people are reluctant to actually take much vacation here, so most of their allotted days disappear into the ether at the end of the year. New allotments are distributed annually and again mainly ignored. It’s actually an economic headache for Japan, since consumer spending is hard to stimulate when people are at work all day, every day. Hence the recent explosion of national holidays in Japan, which have been added to essentially force Japanese people to stop working. In 2014, the government added “Mountain Day” as a national holiday, to add to the already riveting “Sea Day” and “Greenery Day” and…you get the idea. Mountain Day? Seriously?
So that’s about the manufacturing itself. But what about design?
So glad you asked! About Japanese design!
These sub-headings are getting a little ridiculous. But anyway, Japanese design is unique – often minimalistic, multi-functional and compact. There are a few reasons for this in my opinion.
Space is tight. If you’ve ever stayed at a Japanese chain hotel in a Japanese city, you know what I’m talking about. Homes are much the same, with most of the population of Japan living in apartments and houses that would be considered small by Western standards. So, products are designed with this in mind. For example, my microwave here also has an oven function and a toaster function, and they work flawlessly. We literally made our Christmas chicken (turkey is not a thing in Japan) in the uh…microwave-oven-toaster. And it was beautifully tasty. So, you can save space, because you don’t need an oven and a toaster.
- Japan is just…different. And I mean that in the most flattering of ways. An island nation, the government purposefully cut itself off from the outside world for decades. Granted, that was a couple hundred years ago, but embedded traditions and preferences die hard. For example, take bathing. I don’t know of any other country that has such a love affair with the onsen, or hot spring. Men and women of all ages travel for hours to bathe naked in natural hot spring baths. Onsen water does indeed have healing, rejuvenating properties, and happens to be featured in…*cough*…Shodai products…*cough*…sorry, that was blatant and irrelevant. Back to the point – bathing! This fascination with bathing has led to advances in bathing technology (those are two words I never thought I would put together) that leaves the rest of the world light years behind. What am I talking about? The average home in Japan has control panels on the wall – press a button on one and it will fill your bath for you, automatically. You can adjust the temperature from the control panel, naturally. We have a control panel in our kitchen. It’s bonkers. But wonderfully so.
As the world changes, Japan shifts as well, but not necessarily in sync with the rest of the world. For better
or for worse, Japan makes things its own way, and remains the orange swan in a sea of white ones. I don’t know, I thought if I wrote Black Swan everyone would think about the movie, and then get confused. Japan: the mauve swan. No, that’s no better.
Wash your face,
Justin (Team Shodai)