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Japan: Toyota's Just-In-Time System and the Akihabara Killings (Part 1)

(Note: the translation in this post was a collaborative effort by blogger and translator nofrills, blogger and GV author Taku Nakajima, user Saifis, and GV editor Chris Salzberg.)

(See also Part 2.)

When Tomohiro Kato killed 7 people and injured many more in Tokyo's Akihabara district last month, the details of his life became the talk not only of the mainstream media world, but also of the blogging world. Within Japan, the murder sparked a large number of conversations on the country's temp worker industry, as Kato himself had worked at an automobile factory of Kanto Auto Works (関東自動車) under Toyota, contracted through temp agency Nikken Sogyo Co. [ja] (日研総業).

While many bloggers discussed the temp worker connection, no single blog entry attracted as much attention as did a post by blogger boiledema, published two days after the incident and bookmarked on Hatena by a staggering 1366 users [ja]. The blogger himself was taken aback by the sudden surge of attention [ja], never having experienced in the past anything more than a few bookmarks or comments at his blog.

In the June 10th blog entry, boiledema presented a very personal perspective on the connection between Kato's working life and the inventory strategy employed at the Toyota Motor Corporation known as Just-In-Time (or in Japanese, “Kanban Hoshiki”/カンバン方式). (See also this video.) These views resonated so strongly with readers of the blog that comments immediately began appearing suggesting that the entry itself be translated, to let the outside world know more about the situation of temp workers in Japan.

In the first comment on the entry, for example, user guldeen wrote:

はてブにも書きましたが、これはぜひ『英語に訳して』発信すべきエントリかと思われます。

海外では日本車はそれなりに信頼があるのはご存知でしょうが、それを作って(作らされて?)いる日本の工員達の処遇がこのザマでは、世界から批判されるのも已む無しと思えてきます。

I mentioned this as well in my note on the Hatena bookmarks page [for this post], but this seems like an entry that should really be translated and distributed in English.

As you probably know, Japanese cars enjoy a certain level of confidence overseas, but there would be no stopping the criticism if people overseas saw the conditions of Japanese factory workers who make (or are forced to make?) these cars.

In the notes to the Hatena bookmarks page for the blog entry, there were many similar comments [ja]. guldeen's bookmark comment hit a chord with other readers, scoring 100 Hatena stars. In the comment, guldeen tagged the post with the words (among others) “amazingly insightful” (すばらしい洞察), explaining that:

最後のこのタグは皮肉でもなんでもない。日本はおろか世界では、トヨタやその他日本の自動車産業のこんな現状を知らない。海外から“焚きつける”ためにも、ぜひとも英語に訳し発信すべきエントリ

I'm not being ironic with this last tag. Nobody in the world, let alone Japan, knows anything about these conditions today [that bioledema writes about] in Toyota and in the rest of the Japanese automobile industry. This entry should definitely be translated and sent out in English to “light a fire” overseas.

User popolonlon3965 got 35 stars for this comment:

報道だけでは分からなかった部分がいくつか見えてきた。なるほど。/マスコミが掘り下げるべきなのはこういうところだよね。アニメ好きだとかはどうだっていい。

There were several things [in this post] that I had never heard about through news reports. Now I get it. / This is the stuff that the mass media should be delving into. Who cares about whether he [Kato] liked anime or whatever anyway.

This comment by user poppo-x got 21 stars:

三河出身の私からすれば、トヨタの工員を人とも思わぬ扱いは、もう30年近く前から変わっていないように思う。<同級生の中に、父親がトヨタやその系列企業勤務という子が何人も居て、その手の話を聞かされた。

From my perspective as someone coming from Mikawa, I can say that this inhumain treatment of workers at Toyota is no different from the way things were almost 30 years ago. Among my former classmates, there are many whose fathers worked at Toyota or at a company of the Toyota Group, and that's how I heard about these things.

Many other comments mentioned the importance of translating boiledema's entry. m_yanagisawa for example got 7 stars with this comment:

珍しくコメント欄が機能しているw/こんだけブクマされりゃ日本語のわかる特派員の一人や二人は読むだろう。

A rare thing, the comment thread is actually functioning as it is supposed to. With this many bookmarks, there must be one or two foreign correspondents out there with Japanese ability who will read it.

Due to to the length of the original post, we are presenting the translation in two parts. In this first part, boiledema describes his personal connection to Toyota, through his father's factory work:

Toyota's Kanban System, Applied to Humans (Part 1)
(Japanese title: 人間までカンバン方式)

なんか激しく放置プレイなんだけど、秋葉の事件について、犯人が働いていた工場は、父が正社員として長く勤めている会社のことなので、知っていることを書いておきます。

The factory where the culprit of the Akiba incident worked is the same place where my father has worked for decades as a regular employee, so I'll try and share what I know.

[…]

関東自動車はトヨタの関連会社で、下請けではなく、トヨタ車の生産ラインそのものを請け負っている。自動車部品工場という表現をするマスコミもあったけれど、それは正しくない。
トヨタ車として売られている自動車のプレスをし、組み立てをし、塗装をする。
トヨタ本体の一部だと思っても間違いではない。

Kanto Auto Works, Ltd. is an affiliate company of Toyota, contracted for the production line of Toyota vehicles, and not on a subcontract. Some reports said it was an “auto parts factory”, which is not correct.
Toyota-brand cars are pressed, assembled, and painted [at this factory of Kanto Auto Works].
This company could as such be considered a part of Toyota [Motor Corporation].

The blogger then quotes from a Mainichi article [original article is no longer available online]:

工場での担当は塗装ライン。月曜から金曜の週5日勤務で1週間交代で日勤と夜勤についていたが、勤務態度はまじめで、公休以外は休まなかった。時給1300円で月約20万円の収入があった。契約期間は今年3月31日までだったが、1年間更新されていた。

派遣社員を6月末で200人から50人に減らす計画があったが、加藤容疑者は、自分が対象ではないことを派遣会社から知らされていたという。

Kato was on the auto paint line at the factory. He worked five days a week, from Monday to Friday, alternating every week between day and night shifts. He was a hard worker there, and took no time off other than for legal holidays. He received an hourly wage of 1,300 yen; that is about 200,000 yen per month [approx. 2,000 USD]. His contract was to end on March 31st of this year, but it was renewed for one more year.

The company has planned to cut the temporary workforce from 200 to 50. But it is believed that Kato was told by the temp staff agency that his place was safe.

boiledema then continues:

この部分、私が電話で父親から聞いていた話と食い違う。

This is not quite the same as what my father told me on the phone.

少なくとも工場の正社員は6月30日付けで派遣はすべてクビと認識していたようだ。

Apparently regular staff thought all the temp staff would be laid-off at the end of June this year. [This is what my father told me.]

期間工は契約更新しない形で順次数を減らすということ。
最終的には、正社員以外はすべて解雇する。

[There also were so-called “term-employees”, or workers contracted for a set period of time, at the factory.] According to my father, Kanto Auto was going to lay them off as well, by not renewing their contracts.
That is, in the end, there would be only regular [full-time] employees: everyone else [all the temp workers and term-employees] would be laid off.

理由は、原油高による材料費高騰。しかも国内需要も伸びないので、引き続き好調な海外需要については、人件費コストの安い海外工場で生産する。

The reason [for this cut in the workforce] is the soaring cost of materials, resulting from a global rise in the price of crude oil. To make matters worse, domestic demand is not growing, while overseas demand is strong. So, the motor giant has been moving production bases to other countries where labor costs are low.

なんというか、これがトヨタのやり方か。トヨタの経営方針、在庫を抱えず、下請けからすぐに必要な分だけ部品を取り寄せるカンバン方式というのが有名だけど、

まさに、人間までカンバン方式なのだ。

Well, what can I say? This is the way that Toyota does things. They are famous for their effective management policies — their “Just-In-Time system” [or in Japanese, “Kanban” system]. Rather than stockpiling a large number of parts, they just place an order to subcontractors for the parts they need at the moment.

What they have done here, though, is nothing other than to [apply the] Kanban system to human beings.

自分たちが、労働者を買い叩いたせいで、若年層を中心に収入が減り、国内需要が減ってしまったら、海外市場は好調なのでとっとと生産拠点を海外に移転してしまう。

They strike down the wages of laborers, and as a result, the domestic market shrinks, leaving young workers with less wages. Then they move their plants to other countries where the market is strong.

しかも、東富士工場は非常に広く、人の配置もまばら。親父いわく、「隣の人と100mは離れている」ウチの親父はいつだって大げさなので、そんなに離れちゃいないだろうけど、数十メートル単位で離れていると見ていいだろう。
休憩時間や出入りの時間などに意識しなければ人と会話をすることも無いそうだ。

On top of this, the Higashi-Fuji factory is extremely spread out, and sparsely staffed. My father says that [in the factory] “you are 100 meters apart from a person on the line next to you.” Everybody knows he always exaggerates, but he is probably not far off here — perhaps several dozen meters apart.
Unless you consciously try to talk to your co-workers at lunch or break time, or when entering or leaving the factory, there is otherwise apparently no small talk [at this factory].

しかも、ハケンは出入りが激しすぎていちいち顔も覚えていない。親父いわく、ハケンのことだから知らないだそうだ。まったく(怒)

Temp workers come and go so frequently that hardly anybody knows who you are. My father says he doesn't know anything about them because they're temp workers. It's completely outrageous.

犯行前に、ツナギがロッカーから消えていたことで、解雇されると思い込み激怒したとの報道があった。字面だけ追えばそんな小さなことで解雇なんて、と思う。

There was a report that [a few days] before the crime, Kato went into a rage when his work clothes went missing from his locker — he assumed that he'd been laid off. If you just read the report [in the newspaper], you'd think this was ridiculous, to think that you were going to get fired for something as trifling as that.

だが、彼の状況を鑑みるに、まともにコミュニケーションが成立していないので、ちょっとしたことにも過敏になってしまうだろう。
しかも、派遣会社の言ってることと現場の言われていることに食い違いがあり、
クビにはならないと派遣会社が言ったところで、会社側が希望する日まで働いてもらうための方便に見えてしまうだろう。

But [there was a reason why he took it so seriously]: there was very little communication at his workplace, so he had become oversensitive to every little thing.
On top of this, there was a conflict between what the temp agency was saying and what they were told at the factory. Although the temp agency said that he was not going to be fired, I wonder if the company saw this as a way of getting him to work up until the day they wanted [to fire him].

クビにすると言ってしまえば、本人がバックレたり、やる気がなくなったりして生産性が落ちてしまう。
そもそも、数ヶ月で人が入れ替わってしまうので、職に対するこだわりや企業に対する忠誠心が薄くなる。
ウチの父親によると4本閉じなければいけないボルトを、面倒になったある派遣労働者が2本しか閉めないで出荷してしまい、大騒ぎになったこともあったらしい。

If you tell a person that they're going to be laid off, then they just slack off or lose their drive, and as a result they are less productive.
[Temp employees] work at a place only for a couple of months, so commitment to their work and loyalty to the company where they are working [in this case, Kanto Auto and Toyota] is, in general, very weak.
My father told me one example: once there was a serious problem at the factory after a temp worker, instead of screwing in four bolts as you are supposed to, found it bothersome and so only screwed in two instead; the [product] was shipped this way, and it caused a huge uproar.

また、多少契約期間が伸びたところで、経営方針として最終的に派遣を切るという方向性に変わりはない。
モチベーションの上がらない労働をさせられる時間が増えるだけであり、それはそれで苦痛である。

Also, even when a [temp worker's] contract is extended for a short time, the fact remains that, as a policy of management, the contract is ultimately heading for termination. This just means [the worker] is forced to work more time doing work that is not motivating to them, and that in itself is aggravating.

そういう状況下でツナギが無くなったとしたら、極めて非人間的な方法で、陰湿に解雇を告げてきたと勘違いしてもむべなるかな、だとは思う。

If Kato's workwear went missing from his locker in these circumstances, then I personally think he might well have taken it very seriously. He thought the factory management was telling him that he was no longer needed in a way that was extremely dehumanizing and malicious.

その上、派遣会社の日研や関自がマスコミに言っていることは本当なのか。犯人のクビは決定していたが、保身のために嘘をついている可能性はないか

And besides that, are the temp agency Nikken and Kanto Auto Works telling the mass media the truth [about not planning to firing Kato]? Isn't it possible that they had determined that Kato would be fired, and are just lying to save face?

だからと言って、無差別殺人に飛躍するのは、ムチャクチャである。許しがたい行為である。

Even so, there is no justification for indiscriminately murdering people. It is a totally unforgivable act.

だが、一方で企業側のその非人間的な扱いに愕然とする。

And yet, I am so appalled at the inhumane treatment of temp workers by the corporation.

この記事はてブコメントに「圧倒的に他者がいねぇ。完全にひとり芝居じゃないか。舞台の上には役者だけ、ほんとに怖い。」というのがある。だが、そもそも犯人の環境は、他者と関われないシステムとして存在している。
見知らぬ土地に連れて来られ、社員からは顔を覚えてもらえず、あたかも部品の一部として明日の生活を奪われる。俺はボルトじゃねえ。
派遣同士のつながりというのはどれほどあったのかは分からないが、(ニュースを見ていると同僚同士多少はコミュニケーションがあったようだが)希薄だったのではないか。

I read a news story, and what others thought of it on Hatena Bookmarks [Japanese bookmarking service]. One user commented: “There is absolutely nobody else but him. It's a completely a monologue. He is the only actor on stage, and it's really scary.”
[This may be true,] but the environment within which he found himself in is a system where there is no communication with other people.
Brought to an unfamiliar place, treated by regular employees as though you were non-existent, as though you were nothing more than a car component, you are robbed of your future life. [You think to yourself:] I am not just some stupid bolt!
There may have been some communication between fellow temp workers. I don't know how much, though the press has shown there was some, to a certain extent at least. But it was quite weak, it seems.

他者と関わりと持てず、漫然とモチベーションの上がらない仕事をしながら明日の生活に怯える。
他者のいない生活の中で、自分ばかりが肥大してしまう。ツッコミすら入らないのだから。

Aimlessly doing work that is not motivating, no communication with other people, frightened about his own future.
In a life lived entirely in isolation, without any feedback, [the image of] one's own self becomes bloated. [There is nothing but “me”.]

彼女がいない、ということに対して相当の劣等感を持っていたようだけど、承認の象徴が「彼女」だったのではないか。
無論、背景には恋愛至上主義もあるだろうし、若い男なのでそれ相当に性欲もあるだろうが、友達でも親でも、頼れる上司でも、あるいは猫だろうが、代替は可能だったのではないか。少なくとも道を踏み外すほどにはならなかったのではないか。

He seems to have had a sense of inferiority because he didn't have a girlfriend. The “girlfriend” was, for Kato, a symbol of recognition, wasn't it? Of course, there's a general attitude in Japan that it's normal that you have a boy/girlfriend, and it's abnormal if you don't. Also as a young man he had quite a bit of sexual desire, I suppose. But wasn't there any possible substitute for that? [Wasn't there anybody he could go to,] friends, father, mother, or a boss that he could depend on? Even a cat. At least, that would have steered him away from the path that he chose.

犯人は他人を巻き込まず、一人で勝手に死ねばよかった、そう言う人は多い。裾野市なので富士の樹海は近い。だが、犯人があのまま秋葉に行かず、一人樹海に向かったとしても、誰も探しに行かなかっただろう。

派遣会社も、派遣社員の同僚も良くあるバックレとしか思わず、社員はいなくなったことも知らない。

Many people say that it would have been better that he had just killed himself, without involving other [innocent] people. Well, the city he lived in, Susono of Shizuoka, is near to the Mount Fuji's black forest [widely known as a popular place for committing suicide]. But even if he had gone by himself into the forest, instead of to Akihabara [Tokyo], nobody would have gone looking for him.

The temp agency as well as his co-workers would most likely have thought that he had just run away, and regular employees would not even have noticed that he was gone.

そのことを思いついたとき私は全身が寒くなった。

I felt a shiver run through my whole body when I realized this.

身震いするほどの孤独がそこには存在する。

This is an isolation so total that it makes you shudder [from fear].

人間としてみなされていない人は、他の人も人間としてみなさない。凶行の背景には、凍えるほどの孤独が生み出す負のスパイラルがある。

A person who is not regarded as a human will not see others as human, either. In the background to violence, there is a negative spiral created by an isolation so complete it is chilling.

繰り返すが、だからと言って、無関係な人を殺したことの言い訳にはならない。

I am repeating, but again this is not to say that this is an excuse for murdering innocent people.

(The remainder of boiledema's post will be translated in Part 2.)

Saifis, nofrills, and Taku Nakajima contributed to the above translation. The author (Chris Salzberg) however takes full responsibility for the contents of this article.

9 comments

  • Did working at Toyota drive the Akihabara killer over the edge?…

    A fascinating analysis of the dehumanizing and frustrating world of the temp staff worker in Japan, which many blame for the modern breakdown of Japanese society….

  • Eric hu

    Thanks for this work.

    The following part is eagerly expected.

  • eugene

    i am disappointed to hear this about toyota. i bought my new toyota thinking i was patronizing a company who treated it’s employees with respect and human dignity.
    we are told by the news media in the U.S that japanese companies reject the globalization of their corporations when possible, in favor of loyalty to the employees and community. what i have read is making me think i have been deceived.
    i was very poud of my toyota when i bought it, now it has lost it’s cache’ in light of these statements.

  • […] the first part of this two-part series, we translated the first half of a blog entry [ja] by blogger boiledema […]

  • I am so grateful for the insights contained in this and the second part of this blog entry. I’ve hyperlinked it in my blog. Thank you for the trouble taken to work on translating this hidden world. I visited Tokyo in June and was taken to enjoy the vibrant scenes in Akihibara. No sign of social breakdown, just kind hosting and civility – so it is good I should learn more about the ‘other side’. I know many clever creative people in Japan are aware of and thinking about these issues, and that there thinking drives policies to try and strengthen society and heal the growing rifts of what seemed once so embracing and cohesive.

  • Hi Simon,

    Very glad you appreciated the translation, this set of posts are very significant in understanding what happened in Akihabara, I think. There’s a lot more going on than what most media will tell you.

  • […] Tomohiro Kato, lainnya memperdebatkan berubahnya sifat media sosial, dan yang lainnya masih menghubungkan pembunuhan tersebut dengan sistem Kanban (Tepat pada Waktunya) […]

  • […] Voices post), an article by blogger boiledema [ja] about Toyota's Just-in-Time system (see Global Voices post), and an article by blogger mkusunok titled “we're hacking politics” […]

  • […] Voices answered the call from the Hatena community for this entry to be translated into English: Part One and Part […]

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