TOKYO Feb 8 A Japanese electronics firm near
bankruptcy, a ruthless Chinese rival and a laid-off engineer
feature in a popular TV drama that is hitting a public nerve in
a nation fretting over the decline of a once-admired
A weaker yen due to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's
expansionary economic policies has lightened some of the gloom
for exporters, but NHK public TV's "Made in Japan" serial
reflects a deep angst about an ailing manufacturing sector that
was once key to Japan's success and a source of national pride.
The 3-part drama, which ends on Saturday, covers a secret
"restructuring" team's race against a 3-month deadline to come
up with a survival plan for "Takumi Electric" - the name means
"artisan" in Japanese - before the bank pulls the plug.
Standing in their way are a Japanese engineer who goes to
work in China after being laid off when his lithium-ion battery
project was frozen - possibly taking proprietary technology with
him - a clueless corporate president given his job by his
founder father and a reporter desperate for a scoop.
All of which resonates for many Japanese as they watch once
iconic electronics firms - Sony, Panasonic and
Sharp come to mind - lose global share to South Korean
and Chinese rivals, and wonder what will replace lost
manufacturing jobs and drive future economic growth.
"During the period of rapid economic growth after World War
Two and even after the bursting of the (1980s) asset bubble,
manufacturing ... was a source of economic strength," said Hisao
Inoue, a freelance journalist who advised NHK on its script.
"'Monozukuri' ('the making of things') was a source of pride
for Japan," he told Reuters. "But that has changed and Japan has
The show has won more than respectable Saturday evening
ratings of over 10 percent, and created a buzz among business
executives and bankers, with some wondering if it cuts too close
to the bone with its portrayal of a firm - however fictional -
on the edge.
"The performance is a bit melodramatic, but in a sense, it
reflects reality," said one Japanese banker.
The programme's chief producer Ren Takahashi said the story
turned out more realistic than imagined when NHK began work on
it two years ago. "The economy was bad then, but we didn't think
the electronics industry would be in such trouble," he told
Reuters, adding "Takumi" was a composite of companies
symbolising Japan rather than being based on one firm.
"There's no easy solution to the problems of 'Made in Japan'
... but we want to end it in a way that gives hope."
The day before last week's second episode, government data
showed employment in Japan's manufacturing sector dropped below
10 million for the first time in half a century.
"Japanese have great anxiety about the huge shift in power
in East Asia to China on both the security and economic level,"
said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian Studies at Temple
University's Japan campus. "The (TV) drama is a window into
Japan's collective anxiety about its apparent economic decline."
Behind the melodrama, the story raises a deeper question:
just what is Japan's famed "monozukuri" ethos and can it survive
global competition and world-wide supply chains?
"Monozukuri" is a complex concept that implies craftsmanship
and superb quality but with an undertone of rote learning of
skills through repetition - a talent key during the era of mass
manufacturing but one critics say is not conducive to the
innovation Japan needs now.
"It's been drilled into people for years and years that this
is what got Japan back after World War Two," said Philip Brasor,
a media critic who often writes about Japanese society through
the prism of TV.
"Inevitably, it all changed. But they still think they can