Friday, March 31, 2006

Polished Toilets, Polished Minds

Article from The Nikkei, March 31,2006
By Hidesaburo Kagiyama, director and advisor of Yellow Hat

Cleaning gives you the same delight regardless of race or nationality. I never dreamed cleaning had such a notable character when I started scrubbing the office toilet alone 45 years ago.
“Until now, I hated the Japanese because my grandfather was killed by a Japanese soldier. But I’ve changed my mind.” A university student once told me at “Learning by Cleaning China Association” meeting, which has been held 7 times in Beijing since 1997. Volunteers for the association go to China and clean public toilets spick –and-span, and also introduce their activities through seminars. Personally, I was truly surprised that cleaning had the power to soften the hearts of Japan-haters.
It all began when I established my own company. Through its activities, I wanted to realize my ideals: make the society better and the people happy. When I established Royal, a car parts wholesaler and predecessor of Yellow Hat in 1961, I looked for good talents as the first step for the ideal company. However, it was virtually impossible for a newly risen company to find good employees. Many had hardened hearts through their past experience of numerous jobs.
Now, immediately after the end of war, my family used to live in a tattered hut. But my parents were fussy about cleanness, and kept our home speckles. So I never felt miserable even in the devastated postwar period.
From this childhood memories, I thought of making the workplace clean to soften up the employee’s hearts. But how could I explain? Besides, I felt forcing people to clean won’t work. So I began cleaning just by myself.
For a while, the employees showed no understanding. They wouldn’t hesitate urinating right beside me while I scrubbed. Some were saying, “All the president can do is clean.” Still, I continued.
After 10 years, the employees shifted their attitude and started cleaning by themselves. It was like rebellious children following the good example of their parents. Once you start cleaning and know the pleasant feel of a spotless toilet, you can’t leave the work place untidy anymore. In no time, the whole office became sparkling clean.
When I clean toilets, I always use my bare hands. Gloved hands are too numb. Bare hands will never miss a hair. First, I pour boiling water inside the toilet, and then scrub with detergent and a sponge. For scales and tough dirt, I polish with nylon scrubbers and sandpaper. When you finish and glance at what you’ve accomplished, the refreshing and fulfilling feeling is just great. Not only the toilet but your mind also shines. You realize any dirty thing can become clean, and you will start treating them in a different way.
In November 1991, I met Mr. Yoshihito Tanaka, president of a circuit board manufacturer in Ena-shi, Gifu prefecture. We talked about dirtiness during our conversation. I later went to visit his company.
At the entrance, Mr. Tanaka told me to change into a pair of rubber boots because the floor was extremely dirty. I said “It must have been clean at first.” He answered, “Yes.” In that case, it can become clean again. I explained him the effectiveness of cleaning. He felt the same way, and sent me his employees for training.
Next summer, I returned to Mr. Tanaka’s company. Again, he told me to take off my shoes. “Please wear these slippers so our factory won’t get soiled.” The place has transformed dramatically within a year.
With Mr. Tanaka’s lead, our first “Learning by Cleaning Association” was founded in Akechi-cho (now Ehara-shi), Gifu prefecture in November 1993. Now, we have an organization in almost every prefecture in Japan, and also in China, Brazil, U.S., Mongolia and Taiwan.
In Brazil, the activity began after Mr. Hideaki Iida, a Japanese hairdresser in Sao Paulo returned home to help in the aftermath of 1995’s Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake. He and I cleaned the horribly filthy refugee toilets, transforming them sparkling clean with sandpaper. Mr. Iida went back to Brazil, deeply impressed with this incident. Next February, I flew to Sao Paulo with my Japanese fellows to start off “Learning by Cleaning Brazil Association,” joined by the Japanese residents Mr. Iida called together.
Last year, the “First Global Conference” was held in Sao Paolo with as many as 5,000 participants.
I was convinced that cleaning had the power to overcome race and nationality.

Learning by Cleaning (Soji ni Manabu Kai) official site (Japanese)

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

Nostalgic Movie

Went to see the movie Always - Sanchome no Yuhi (Sunset in Third Street), based on a long-seller manga comic. The time setting is 1958, the good old Showa era, when Japan was still relatively poor but energetically recovering from the defeat of WWII. The nostalgic scenery was created using CG magic by Takashi Yamazaki. Although a George Lucas and Steven Spielberg fan, Yamazaki is "sick of Hollywood sci-fi effects."
The CG supports the story -- it's not what people come to see," he explains. "It's like the music or the color cinematography." And that, he feels, is the wave of the CG future, for Japanese films certainly. "
"What people want now are films that appeal to the heart," he says. "That's also why 'Always' is a new type of CG film." His aim was not to send eyeballs spinning with his CG effects, but to use them, together with real sets and miniatures, to creates a warm, thoroughly authentic period atmosphere. "CG is becoming more of a supporting player, not the main actor," he comments. "I like that trend."
(quoted from "CG wizard eyes new cause" by Mark Schilling)

There's a funny sequence in the movie when a new TV set arrives at Suzuki family. TVs were still a rarity and the whole neighbour makes such a fuss. Next, the wooden furniture-like refrigerator cooled by a large block of ice, is replaced with a new electric one. Mrs. Suzuki remarks "Now we have all three of the Sacred Treasures - TV, refrigerator, and washing machine."

I was born in the mid-60's, so about 10 years later than the period depicted. Considering the time frame between the end of WWII and now, I realized I'm much more closer to the post war generation than I thought. But it's hard to admit it and perceive it. The Showa era seems so remote now.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Toyota Vice Chairman and Kendo

Toyota vice chairman Fujio Cho talks on how kendo paved the way to his career (Nikkei 6 Mar 2006)

I entered high school in 1952, and became friends with a boy called Yamada. When I went to his house, I found a kendo protector in a closet. In those days, school kendo was still banned remnant from Douglas MacArthur's commands. That situation made kendo more attractive. Another incident turned me on. There was a police kendo hall near Yamada's house. One day, the two of us were watching the kendo practice through a window when the instructor came up and said, "You two come in and do it." We were really beaten up the first day, but also showed up the next day. This time, the instructor showed us how to put on the protector and taught us the correct manners, and we began regular practice.
As soon as the ban on school kendo was lifted, I founded the kendo club. Kendo really suited me, and the more I practiced, the better I became. I joined the kendo club at Tokyo University, and became a regular during freshman. We frequently went away on tours and training camps. On the way back from a tour in my third year, I visited a graduate of our club who entered Toyota Motors, and did a knockout match against Toyota members. I beat 5 of them in a row. That evening, we had a drinking party with the Toyota people. It was then that their personnel manager told me to join Toyota. At the entrance exam in the English test, I didn't even know what "the Big Three" meant.
Anyway, I sometimes think that if I didn't open the closet at Yamada's house, I would have lead a completely different life.

Monday, March 06, 2006

1250 Year Old Spring Festival

The Omizutori (Water-drawing Ceremony) heralding the arrival of spring, began March 1 at Todaiji Temple (UNESCO World Heritage Site)in the ancient city of Nara. Monks carrying blazing torches walked up the balcony of Nigatsudo Hall, lightening up the evening sky. This annual ceremony began in 752 AD, and it will be the 1250th time this year. Todaiji Temple is also famous for the huge Buddha statue.

Junior high school and high school students in Tokyo usually go to Kyoto and Nara for their school trips. I went when I was in junior high school. At Todaiji next to the Buddha statue, there was a pillar with a hole which was supposed to be the same size as the statue's nostrils...We went through it, and imagined how big the whole thing is.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Gold and Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friends

Japanese people are rushing to get the same three-stone diamond earrings Shizuka Arakawa was wearing when she won the gold medal in Turin Winter Olympics, women's figure skating. Diamond retailer Lazare Kaplan Japan is getting over 100 calls a day, and running short of stock. Arakawa's was a present from her mother, who wished her daughter would keep "shining". The price of the earrings range from 270,000 to 500,000 yen (about $2300-4300 at $1=116 yen). Seems to indicate that the Japanese economy is picking up.