Spiked Telegraph

Rebuilding Japan: Hitachi’s residents put faith in ‘family’ company

The city of Hitachi, around 90 miles from Tokyo on Japan’s Pacific coast, has a name that roughly translates as “prosperous wealth”.

By Malcolm Moore and Julian Ryall 8:26PM BST 18 Apr 2011

And for the last 100 years, since the Hitachi company was founded as a division of the local copper mine, the city’s workers have been well taken care of.
Today, Hitachi is Japan’s third-largest technology company, an enormous group that makes industrial machinery, consumer electronics and even nuclear power plants.
In the city where it was founded, around 70pc of the 190,000 locals still work for Hitachi and have come to depend on the firm as a “family”.
But like single-industry cities the world over, Hitachi has been left vulnerable, especially in the wake of March’s earthquake. “Some of the Hitachi factories are still closed from the earthquake, others are back to normal,” said Tsuyoshi Kanazawa, 50, a former Hitachi supplier.
At the city’s large port, a vital entry-point for the machine parts being passed to the city’s factories, operations have been destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami, which collapse loading jetties and made the bottom of the harbour unpassable.
“Until last week, we didn’t even have a single berth where we could dock a ship,” said a spokesman for Hitachi Ports. “Everyone is doing their best to get things operational, but it is very difficult,” he added.
The closure of the port, and the mothballing of the factories has left a large slice of the town currently unemployed.
“Now there are worries about being a one-company town. Like the rest of the country, we also have a falling birthrate. We cannot provide as many workers to Hitachi as we could before and it is difficult to attract young people to come and live here,” said Mr Kanazawa.
Neither Mr Kanazawa or other locals could contemplate the idea that Hitachi might decide, in the wake of the damage, to relocate its operations to somewhere more efficient. Japanese companies feel responsibility to the towns where they operate and would never abandon their “children”, they said.
Further up the coast at Iwaki, Nissan has already pledged never to leave its workers, even though their plant sits in the shadow of the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Carlos Ghosn, the chief executive, instead urged his workers to show “fighting spirit”. Observers noted warmly that Mr Ghosn has learned the importance of putting society above corporate profits in Japan.
However, the fragility of single-company towns was underlined two years ago in Toyota City, near Nagoya, where the car company was founded. In the wake of Toyota’s problems after the economic crisis, Toyota City found itself with the highest unemployment rate in Japan.
More than 9,000 contract workers were fired, and the city saw its corporation tax haul fall by 96pc. In response, it changed its name from Toyota back to Koromo.

Oh dear. While The Telegraph, back in the days when it was known as The Daily Telegraph, was famously crusty and a holder of unsound political views, it could have been relied upon to get a simple post-disaster human interest story right. No longer, it seems, as almost every checkable fact in this article of under 500 words is wrong. On with the accounting of dismal error.

The city of Hitachi, around 90 miles from Tokyo on Japan’s Pacific coast, has a name that roughly translates as “prosperous wealth”.

No it doesn’t. The Hitachi of Hitachi City is written like this: 日立. Beautifully simple. The first character means “sun”, the second “stand”, and together they mean “sunrise”, although this is not the usual word for sunrise. In the region, “Hitachi” is also written like this: 常陸, which roughly means “permanent land”. No hint of “prosperous wealth” (as opposed to “prosperous poverty” or “indigent wealth”?) anywhere.  

In the city where it was founded, around 70pc of the 190,000 locals still work for Hitachi and have come to depend on the firm as a “family”.

Remarkable. As back in 2005 the under 15s and over 65s accounted for 70,000 of the (then) close to 200,000 locals, leaving 130,000 people, that must mean, at 70% of 190,000 (133,000), absolutely everyone of working age in Hitachi works for Hitachi, including a few kids yanked from high school and sent down the mines. Cruel place, Hitachi.

Or is it more likely, as the Japanese Wikipedia page on Hitachi says, that:

市の人口のおよそ40%は日立製作所及びグループ会社の社員かその家族である。

Of the city’s population, about 40% are employees of Hitachi group companies or members of their families.

The closure of the port, and the mothballing of the factories has left a large slice of the town currently unemployed.

Unemployed? Really? They’ve been pink-slipped? I don’t think so. And the factories haven’t been mothballed, either, they’re awaiting reconstruction.

However, the fragility of single-company towns was underlined two years ago in Toyota City, near Nagoya, where the car company was founded. In the wake of Toyota’s problems after the economic crisis, Toyota City found itself with the highest unemployment rate in Japan. More than 9,000 contract workers were fired, and the city saw its corporation tax haul fall by 96pc.

Now, I’ve searched and searched for years and years, and I can’t find any data on unemployment rates at the city level. You can see the prefectural unemployment rates for 2007-2009 here, though. The unemployment rate for Aichi, the prefecture in which Toyota lies, spikes to a horrific 4.5% in 2009, versus the rates in Osaka of 6.6%, Aomori of 6.9%, and Okinawa of 7.5%. Are we really supposed to believe that the firing of 9,000 contract workers in Toyota City (if accurate), catapulted the unemployment rate there to the highest of any municipality in the nation in this, the home of Toyota? Or is it more plausible, much as I regret to write, that this is a textbook example of what is known in the hackery trade as “making shit up and hoping no one will notice”?

In response, it [Toyota City] changed its name from Toyota back to Koromo.

Extraordinary. I must have missed this in the deluge of news recently. It seems as though Toyota City has also missed out on the news, too, as it steadfastly clings to its name on its website.

This should be a career-ending article for both hacks involved, but sadly, such is the corrupt state of contemporary journalism, it won’t be. But as I’ve said before, if the great unwashed is no longer prepared to pay for its journalism, this is what it gets.

9 responses to “Spiked Telegraph

  1. Ha … my city tax bill says Toyota on it :-{

  2. . . . this is a textbook example of what is known in the hackery trade as “making shit up and hoping no one will notice”?

    I always knew there was a technical term for this but it never came up when I Googled it.

    I hope you at least sent a letter to the editor.

    • I did, I did. I also did some more investigation into unemployment rates and am more convinced than ever that Toyota City has never been an unemployment blackspot.

  3. I am very happy to see that you have resurrected Spiked! It is needed now more than ever to combat the quake/tsunami/nuclear junk reportage that the domestic as well as international press has been spewing.

    • Thank you. I set the bar pretty high for an article to be Spiked–it has to have a good couple of glaring factual howlers and an overpowering stench of fabrication in places. This fits both bills nicely. Oh, and it also has to come from a rag that was once regarded as respectable or at least semi-respectable, so that rules out your Bild or your Daily Mail or your New York Post. Mere hyperbole won’t get you Spiked, either. I laid low during the immediate aftermath of the events of 3/11 because others were doing the foreign media-bashing so well (http://jpquake.wikispaces.com/Journalist+Wall+of+Shame). I actually find the panicky sensationalism in the week or two following the disaster a little more forgivable than I do this kind of bilge.

  4. I wonder if that is the same Julian Ryall who in 2004 was fired from his job as a copy editor at The Japan Times for taking a story from The Japan Times, putting his name on top of it and selling it to The Times of London.

    • Could there be two Julian Ryalls?!? Excellent, thank you for that!

      • Refreshing and excellent analysis as ever and,as ever, if you know more than 10 % about something you know more than the average hack.A simple question:Why do you bother reading bilge one wouldn’t generally touch with a telegraph pole?Guess one’s answer might be: ‘Cos there are as many Julian Ryalls out there as telegraph poles and they all need taking down.Sadly,no apologies for cliches and no empirical evidence to back this up,but guess the stench comes from a gut feeling when people are”making shit up”.

        When is Batttleship Spike going to train her guns on BBC World(sic)?Drum rolls……..”Breaking my balls”news and more drum rolls…..!Tenuous connection with Japan, I admit, but as we are talking about hacks with a global reach…..

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