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[ 2006-09-22 09:05 ]




A recent surge in recalls of the defective products made in Japan has sparked worries among the Japanese that the country is losing its best face -- the craftmanship. 

Many Japanese fears that the country may be losing itsedgein product quality, while its neighbors like China and South Korea are catching up.

"Craftsmanship was the best face that Japan had to show the world," said Hideo Ishino, a 44-year-old lathe operator. "Aren't the Koreans making fun of us now?"

In the last two months, Toyota and Sony, the country's two proudest brand names, announced large-scalerecallsof defective products. They have created something of a crisis in a country where manufacturing quality is part of the national identity, the New York Times reported.

This week, Sony suffered another blow when Toshiba announced that it was recalling 340,000 Sony-madelaptop batteries, after last month's recalls of 5.9 million batteries. And Toyota said Wednesday that it would hire 8,000 more engineers to strengthen quality.

In the Japanese media, Sony's and Toyota's quality problems have frequently topped coverage of wars in Iraq and Lebanon. And Nihon Keizai Shimbun, the leading economic daily, began afront-pageinvestigative series this month called "Can Japan Protect Quality?"

Japan's Trade Minister Toshihiro Nikai last month took unusually blunt steps. He sent letters to Sony executives, ordering them to report on quality-control improvements after recalls by Apple and Dell of Sony-made laptop batteries.

Sony promised to comply and diligently sent employees to receive the letters by hand. It was the first time such orders had ever been issued to Sony.

And, Sony's problems have not been limited to batteries. The company worked furiously over the summer to resolve problems in production of its PlayStation 3, its widely awaitedgame console, which is due out in November.

"If asked if Sony's manufacturing ability has declined, at this point today I have to say yes," said Ken Kutaragi, chief executive of Sony's video game division.

Various reasons crop up as possible explanations for declining quality. Universities said that new students are more interested in literature and the liberal arts than engineering. Applicants to engineering programs are down to 8.7 percent of all university applicants this year from 12.3 percent eight years ago, according to the New York Times report.

Others have begun to blame recent American-style management changes, like the end of traditional lifetime job guarantees. Fujitsu, the electronics maker, has backed away from basing salaries on individual performance, saying it hurt employeemoraleand undermined team work.

Some economists said Asian competitors have been closing in as Japan wrings its hands. Lee Kwang Hoon, an electronics analyst at Hanhwa Securities in Seoul, said that the recall of Sony-made batteries could offer an opportunity for the biggest Korean makers, Samsung and LG, to rival Sony in market share.

"The biggest change may not be that Japan has dropped in quality," said Masaru Kaneko, an economics professor at Keio University in Tokyo, "but that Asia is catching up."



edge: 优势

recall: 召回、收回

laptop batteries: 笔记本电脑用电池

front-page: 头版

game console: 游戏控制台



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