Japan in the Passing Lane

Japan in the Passing Lane is a portrait of labour relations in early 1970s Japan, a period of consistent economic growth. Subtitled ‘An Insider’s Account of Life in a Japanese Auto Factory’, it was written by journalist Satoshi Kamata, an investigative journalist who spent six months working on the production lines in September 1972, in Toyota’s plant in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, the vast complex in Toyota-City, a self-contained car town. This was an all-consuming work culture, devoted to building automobiles. ‘The factory vomits cars incessantly,’ Kamata wrote, ‘… but for those of us without cars, this town might be deep in the mountains. We couldn’t be more isolated. Looking out of the bus window, I saw a big placard saying “No admittance except on business.” A strange town…’.


Naturally, it doesn’t go especially well. ‘I’m exhausted and so cold and sleepy that I barely make it back to the dorm. During our break, I could only see that everyone was shivering. There are only two steam radiators in our flimsy plastic-paneled locker room. One work said, with his teeth rattling, “Have you read today’s paper? They made one hundred million dollars profit! And that’s net profit! They earn six or seven hundred thousand dollars a day by making us work in this hole.’ Faced with an utterly dehumanising assembly line (with conveyor belts gradually sped up to improve efficiency), safety takes a tumble: ‘In an coffee shop in Toyota, reading the Chunichi Daily, I find this: “At Toyota a truck ran wild. The steering broke and it went out of control!”… This accident is a direct result of the Toyota policy that places production before safety.’ Kamata continued to write about labour relations in the auto industry (Toyota: Suicide and Worker Depression at the World’s Most Profitable Manufacturer). A 1983 interview is here.


Other things. Cars that drive themselves, at the Big Think, part of their Future in Motion series. “Granddad. Is it true that in 2010 people were allowed to drive their own cars around?” “Yep. That’s absolutely true.” And they say, “Well, that’s crazy. Didn’t people crash into each other and make mistakes?” / a Me-fi link to Critical Past, a vast video archive.


The FD Feedburner Plugin for WordPress. We’d like this to even out our ongoing RSS discombobulation, which continues to serve up nearly 2000 people with a long-dead feed but just 40 or so with a fresh one / Apartamento, ‘an everyday life interiors magazine’. Sort of the polar opposite of the aesthetic tackled (rather inelegantly) in our last post / Patkau’s proposed cottages at Fallingwater are almost absurdly deferential.


“When Robots Rule: The Two Minute Airplane Factory”, Tate Gallery, London, 1999. One of Chris Burden’s provocations / a Lego Production line / the Porsche Factory in the same era as the above book (via The Chicane Blog, via Hemmings) / Storm the Charts, using social media to propel 40 hitherto uncharted bands into the UK Top 40 / Hot Wheels, still utter gold.

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The Isle of Wight Architecture Centre is having a day in the woods / the Traffic signs image database / Shed of the Year 2010 Category winners announced, finally / Captured by the Norwegians, at the Daily Meh / Hamish MacDonald’s blog / The Young Machine, a tumblr / the cover of the latest edition of John Betjeman’s Ghastly Good Taste, his early polemic against the homogenising banality of the first wave of modern architecture and its disdain for the quirks and qualities of the immediate past, has been subject to this particular form of modern baroque.

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4 Responses to Japan in the Passing Lane

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Japan in the Passing Lane « things magazine -- Topsy.com

  2. riseart says:

    Very interesting article – I enjoyed it a lot! Thank you guys!

  3. Anne says:

    Oh phew. I just realised I hadn’t seen a post from you for ages in my feed reader. Relieved to see you’re still here, working away.

    Have re-subscribed and will look forward to the next dose of linkage.

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