The Unbearable Lightness of Being


Today, I’m feeling a little nervous about writing this article because I try to make a stir (very tiny one, though) in the philosophy of productivity improvement. When I decided to resign from Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDAF), the title of this article came up and stayed in my mind. After 10-month hell-like training, what awaited me was real hell: my job was sorting and packing aircraft parts carried on a belt conveyor in a huge automated warehouse. I was trained to keep on walking even in boots with blood inside for many hours without sleep, but the job easily took away my will to fight. It’s not only because the job was monotonous but more because I couldn’t see the whole picture and felt like I was just a small replaceable part of a machine.

In terms of productivity especially in the manufacturing industry, line production would be an optimum solution where it’s fundamentally difficult for workers to see the whole picture of their work. I understand the importance of productivity improvement, and didn’t mean to criticize JASDAF. Thanks to the mass production method (including line production) by Ford, we ordinary people became able to buy cars now, but should we keep improving productivity and producing in larger quantities, even after seeing many people lose job satisfaction?

Indeed, line production is adopted in our factory, but it’s partially, considering the motivation of workers. As evidence of that commitment, we don’t accept OEM orders for furniture parts where workers can’t see the whole picture. It’s not a for-profit action, but I think it’s socially correct and even profitable in the long run. Productivity improvement brings some happiness to consumers and some dissatisfaction to workers. I think we shouldn’t forget consumers and workers, both are ourselves.


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.


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