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    Posted by Sean at 23:42, January 16th, 2007

    According to the Mitsubishi Fuso website, the company name has charming origins:

    When the B46 autobus was created, the company held an internal search for a nickname, and the name that was selected was Fuso. Fuso (扶桑: “caretaking” + “mulberry”) is a Chinese word of ancient origin that refers to “sacred trees that grow in the Land of the Rising Sun on the East Sea” and was used as a variant name for Japan. The actual fuso trees are called “bussoge” and are more generally known as “[Chinese] hibiscus.”

    The site doesn’t mention that, while mitsubishi (三菱) is commonly understood to mean “three diamonds,” the hishi literally means “water chestnut,” so there’s kind of a mixed plant metaphor thing going on there. I suppose that might be considered an additional part of the charm.

    Not so charming, unfortunately, is the company’s endless string of problems with defective trucks. The latest problem is with wheel hubs that were introduced in response to previous defects:

    Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. has announced it will recall tens of thousands of its large trucks because of concerns over a potential defect in the wheel hub, company sources said Tuesday.

    The wheel hub in question is a new type introduced following a large-scale recall in 2004. However, fractures and cracks in the hubs have been discovered in a number of cases since October.

    Until now, the company has maintained to the Construction and Transport Ministry that the problem would not occur under normal conditions and that it was the result of a maintenance error. However, the sources said the company now believes the new hub is simply too weak.

    Five years ago, a woman driving with her two children in Yokohama was killed when a wheel detached from a passing truck. The accident was highly publicized because it’s the kind of thing that’s not supposed to happen in Japan, with its vaunted transportation systems and technology. Note that Mitsubishi Motors, M. Fuso’s parent corporation, has had completely unrelated problems of its own with, among other things, the clutches in its cars.


    Posted by Sean at 09:09, April 18th, 2006

    It pays to diversify, apparently. Indications are now that Hidetsugu Aneha not only falsified earthquake resistance data for buildings but also fraudulently lent his name and credentials to an unqualified designer…who used them to falsify earthquake resistance data on buildings he designed:

    Investigators believe the designer, who did not have an architect’s license, asked Aneha to lend his name and used Aneha’s seal to stamp construction documents he submitted to the municipal government.

    In return for lending his name, Aneha allegedly received about 20 percent of the design fees paid by the real estate company–about 10 million yen–from the designer, the sources said.

    Using Aneha’s name, the designer drew blueprints for nine buildings, including condos, and five wooden houses. Seismic data for six of them were fabricated, the sources said.

    Aneha wasn’t the only party to branch out into more than one form of fraud, says the Asahi:

    Police on Monday questioned executives of Kimura Construction Co. on suspicion the company, embroiled in the scandal over fake quake-resistance reports, had falsified financial statements for several years.

    Under the construction industry law, companies that undertake public works projects are required to submit documents that objectively show their business conditions, performances and other factors to the central and prefectural governments.

    Those companies are then ranked based on assessments of their financial conditions and other factors. The scale of public works projects those companies can bid on depends on their rankings.

    And let’s not leave out Huser, the other entity that’s seen the greatest gains in infamy since the scandal broke:

    According to police and other sources, Ojima had a meeting Oct. 27 last year with Aneha and the president of the private inspection company, eHomes Ltd., at Huser’s main office in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district.

    The eHomes president said he could not “issue building inspection certificates for four buildings that had yet to be completed.”

    But, according to sources, Ojima argued, “I think we can somehow manage the situation by applying anti-quake reinforcing and vibration-control methods.”

    The day after the meeting, Huser accepted payments from residents who bought units in the Grand Stage Fujisawa and started procedures for them to move in.

    “When I heard from former architect Aneha that he had ‘reduced’ figures, I knew he meant he reduced (the buildings’) resistance against seismic forces,” Ojima told The Asahi Shimbun. “But I never knew that he had reduced those figures by 70 to 80 percent.”

    The Grand Stage Fujisawa has only 15 percent of the quake-resistance strength required under the Building Standards Law, meaning that it could crumble in a moderately strong earthquake.

    The Aneha scandal isn’t the only somewhat-encouraging sign of a new interest in accountability. This Mainichi English report says that Mitsubishi Motors, defective vehicles from which have been implicated in a parade of fatal accidents over the last dozen or so years, has been ordered to pay damages to the mother of a woman who was killed by a wheel that came off a moving truck in 2002. It also, unusually even for English articles in the Japanese press, contains background helpful for those who don’t live here:

    “Mitsubishi Motors can afford to pay 5.5 million yen [US $50 thousand-ish–SRK] without feeling an ounce of pain,” Aoki said in a telephone interview. “The legal system must work to provide preventive measures.”

    Aoki said Japan’s system for keeping companies in check was so outdated victims of such accidents are usually awarded even less than the damages in Tuesday’s ruling.

    Mitsubishi Motors said it will abide by the ruling and apologized to Okamoto’s family.

    “We will do our utmost as a company to regain trust, strengthen compliance measures and vow to prevent any recurrence,” the company said in a statement.

    The ideas of consumer rights and corporate responsibility are still new in Japan, a conformist, harmony-loving society in which conflicts are avoided and often settled behind the scenes.

    Japan’s first product liability law was passed only in 1994, and damage suits are relatively rare. Companies are rarely required to pay more than a token amount. Even when convicted of criminal wrongdoing, executives of companies are generally handed lenient sentences with no prison terms.

    Does it get more obscene than covering up defects in vehicles and houses used by trusting people? Well, how about if your racket is to screw them out of their life savings?

    Excessive lending has pushed an increasing number of borrowers to bankruptcy or forced them to give up their home or other assets to repay their debts.

    The FSA concluded administrative punishments should be imposed against such lending practices after many vicious cases surfaced at Aiful Corp.

    The FSA on Friday ordered the major consumer loan company to suspend operations at all 1,900 of its outlets for three to 25 days as punishment for overly aggressive debt-collection tactics and other problems.

    The lack of lender liability protection has been an ongoing problem in Japan; given the increase in the percent of aging people who need financial services but don’t really understand how they work, the FSA’s sense of mission is not a moment too soon.

    It’s everything but party time

    Posted by Sean at 10:44, May 6th, 2005

    Not all the JR West employees who partied the day of the derailment were so downmarket as to go bowling:

    On 6 May, JR West released information that the number of its employees known to have been mindedly involved in inappropriate behavior since the Fukuchiyama Line derailment on 25 April has increased to 185, with approximately 18 new incidents including banquets with liquor and the continuing of golf competitions.

    Last night, one of the news programs–I don’t even remember which one I was watching, since I was kind of mopey the way I always am when Atsushi takes off–showed some JR West employee around my age apologizing for the bowling party. Presumably, he’d organized it; I didn’t catch that part. Having him out front was an interesting gambit, but someone should have prepped him in PR. (Well, he needed some prep in simple morals and ethics, too, but I think the PR problem could have been fixed more quickly.) What he said was, in effect, “We had 35 people invited whose convenience [I think he actually used the word 都合, though I couldn’t swear to it] we had to consider.” That’s great, huh? Picture the headlines the next day: “JR West: Convenience of 35 revelling employees more valuable than lives of 100 dead passengers.” They practically write themselves.

    The reason I say it was an interesting gambit is that a lot of Japanese people are expressing sympathy with the driver who caused the accident. Sound odd? I think most readers with Japan experience will get it. Look at this from the Mainichi:

    Residents and friends of people who died in the horrific JR West train derailment on April 25 that claimed 107 lives have reacted with anger over the train operator’s response to the disaster.

    Although speed was found to be the deciding cause of the fatal accident, JR West officials initially suggested that the placement of stones on the railway tracks could have caused the collision.

    Several people who visited a memorial near the accident scene where people lay flowers expressed anger at the railway firm.

    “I want JR to become conscious of the ‘crime’ that it committed. It has done nothing but make excuses,” said one 32-year-old woman who was acquainted with a 34-year-old person killed in the accident. “Going bowling is unforgivable. It’s inconceivable. I suspect it wasn’t the driver, but the people above him who are rotten.”

    Another 29-year-old resident who was friends with a victim the same age also blasted JR West.

    “The driver (of the train that derailed) was also a victim, and it was JR (West) that created those conditions (for the accident to occur),” he said. “Who were they trying to blame with the placement of stones? It’s a pathetic company, a really pathetic company.”

    The Japanese love their country and, in my experience, believe that the cultural tradeoffs their society requires are worth it.

    But the strange dance in which a superior orders an inferior to cut corners on quality for the sake of procedure–but covers his own ass and remains unaccountable by not actually spelling out the request–is a familiar one to many workers. “If we all refrain from talking about it, it’s not actually happening” is one of the governing rules here. The public is weary from coverups (Mitsubishi Motors, the nuclear power industry) and safety risks (the air system). It’s not really surprising that many people are seeing last month’s derailment in terms of self-serving, out-of-touch managers squeezing workers on the ground.

    Another Mitsubishi Fuso recall

    Posted by Sean at 09:58, March 29th, 2005

    Apparently under the assumption that any publicity is good publicity, Mitsubishi Fuso is taking the tack of spacing out its revelations of product malfunctions to make sure there’s always a new one circulating:

    The transport ministry started questioning executives of Mitsubishi Fuso Truck & Bus Corp. on Monday about suspicions the commercial vehicle manufacturer had hidden defect-induced accidents yet again, this time under new leadership.

    The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport summoned three executives, including Hideyuki Shiozawa, senior executive officer in charge of recalls, for questioning over suspected violations of the road transportation vehicles law.

    After a spate of scandals over defect cover-ups as well as pledges for improvement, it was discovered that Mitsubishi Fuso had delayed by six months reporting a series of vehicle fires and other problems involving its large trucks.

    It was not until March 18 that the company reported 22 incidents, including seven fires, that took place after it filed for recalls of 4,454 large trucks due to faulty suspension parts in September 2004.

    It’s literally been years that these recalls have been in the news.

    Another Mitsubishi Fuso recall

    Posted by Sean at 16:16, November 21st, 2004

    Of course, the Japanese have been having transportation-related woes lately, too. JAL and ANA are still safe, thankfully, but Mistubishi Fuso has just…can you guess?…issued another recall. This is of the latest-year model of the truck that caused a deadly accident and a spate of fender-benders a while back. The metal wheel hub apparently still has a weakness that could make it fail, though apparently it’s a different weakness from the one, dating back to 1995, that caused the prevous accidents.

    22 November 02:16 EST

    Mitsubishi Fuso can’t catch a break

    Posted by Sean at 01:00, October 7th, 2004

    You know, one begins to think that maybe it would be better for everyone if the engineers at Mitsubishi Fuso shifted to careers that didn’t, uh, require so much engineering:

    A seat on a bus made by troubled Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp. collapsed after the driver abruptly hit the brakes, leaving a woman passenger with minor injuries, officials said.

    Mitsubishi Fuso Truck and Bus Corp., which has been plagued by a clutch defection cover-up scandal, had earlier informed the government about its intended recall of the same type of buses to repair seat parts.

    That the company was aware of the problem and had taken the novel step of planning a recall before its top managers were threatened with arrest helps, I suppose. And at least this time, it isn’t the sort of problem that could directly cause a crash. (The Asahi article contains this passage: “Although Kawasoe denied any knowledge of the defects, prosecutors said otherwise in their opening statement. They said that soon after Kawasoe became MMC president, the vice president in charge of the problem advised him to end the practice of ordering secret repairs without recalling vehicles with defective parts.” I know it’s just a lack of felicity in English translation, but it suggests a Lewis Carroll-ish corporate structure in which there’s a Vice-President for Defective Products. Unfortunately, that seems to be ghoulishly close to the truth in this case.)

    Items from Japan

    Posted by Sean at 23:33, September 13th, 2004

    Another Mitsubishi Fuso vehicle has had clutch failure–though this time there was no accident. The shaft detached and caused the dumptruck involved to stop in the middle of the highway, though. It was a 1984 model and, thankfully, I suppose, had a clutch that was already under recall (thankfully because it means they haven’t discovered yet another defective part).


    For obvious reasons, Hitomi Soga and her family have gotten much of the attention. But there are other touching stories among the repatriated abductees from North Korea. Kaoru Hasuike will be allowed by the law department of Chuo University to return to his studies. Hasuike is 46; he was abducted while a junior home in Niigata Prefecture on vacation in 1978. He hasn’t decided whether to go back to classes or do distance learning–understandably, there are significant readjustments he’s still making.


    More darkly, two death row inmates were executed today; one was Mamoru Takuma, who went on a stabbing rampage in an elementary school near Osaka in 2001, killing 8 children. As they always do when Japan carries out an execution, human rights groups (and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations) are understandably protesting the lack of transparency in Japanese capital punishment. This Reuters story outlines things pretty well. Japanese executions take place when they’re least likely to dominate the news cycle, and there’s no prior warning. I’m not familiar enough with the way it all works to know whether the ability to appeal is really significantly curtailed; the part about not letting the families of those to be executed know until the same day does seem pretty harsh.

    Of course, the reporter can’t resist ending this way:

    Capital punishment has aroused little debate among Japanese, who are shown by polls to strongly support the death penalty, and occasional efforts to suspend or abolish it have made little headway.

    But with Japan and the United States among a handful of advanced nations where the death penalty is carried out, questions are being raised and international pressure increased.

    Unless I’m remembering wrong, a woman Minister of Justice, Ritsuko Nagao, was the one who signed the highest number of execution orders in a single year in recent history. I think it was six inmates in 1996, but I’m not finding confirmation. This was after a long stretch in which executions had been few and far between in Japan. Lately, I think two or three a year has been the norm.

    Abductee and family in Japan

    Posted by Sean at 11:27, July 18th, 2004

    Those following the five-way diplomatic tug-of-war over the family of Hitomi Soga and Charles Jenkins probably know already that they’re…well, I was going to say “back in Japan, ” but only Soga herself had been to Japan before. What Jenkins feared, and the Japanese government tried to avoid, has happened: the US government has at least preliminarily made moves to have him extradited so he can be charged as an armed forces deserter. The initial family reunion took place in Indonesia–Soga flew from here, and Jenkins and their two daughters from the DPRK–because Washington and Jakarta don’t have a mutual extradition treaty (if that’s what it’s called).

    But Jenkins has serious health problems and needs surgery that he had to come to Japan for, so he, Soga, and their two daughters flew in yesterday. NNN (the Japanese equivalent of CNN, sort of) followed their bus from the airport to one of Tokyo’s research hospitals as if it were OJ’s van. Atsushi, who’s home for the bank holiday weekend, glanced up at a close-up of the family’s caravan and deadpanned, “The government put them on a Mitsubishi Fuso bus? Great. At least they’re headed for the hospital already.”

    The two daughters are 18 and 21, and much of the news coverage has focused on speculating what life will be like for them here. Me, I speculate that whatever happened to them would scramble their circuits. They grew up, after all, half-Japanese and half-American in an affluent family in North Korea. So both their parents were of intensely hated enemy peoples; their mother had been snatched from her home country when she was their age now. They were among the select families well-positioned enough to live relatively affluent lives in Pyongyang, and who knows whether they know what’s been going on in the countryside for the last decade or so. The people they meet in Japan may know more about the famines than they do. At least for now, the whole family is here. Now we just need to find out what happened to the half-dozen abductees the DPRK has coolly failed to account for.

    Rock the vote

    Posted by Sean at 15:59, July 10th, 2004

    Parliamentary elections here in Japan today. (Actually, unless you’re Amritas, you probably want this link). There are 120-odd Diet seats up for election. The magic number for Koizumi’s LDP base to stay solid is 51 seats won. CNN says:

    Now he is struggling and his ratings have plunged to just 40 percent after he decided to keep Japanese troops in Iraq and pushed through an unpopular bill to reform the country’s pension system.

    The beleaguered system is unable to pay for its aging population and Koizumi’s answer was to introduce legislation that increases payments and cuts payouts.

    They were necessary reforms, Koizumi says, but it was not a popular policy.

    On Iraq, the public is deeply divided over the wisdom of Koizumi’s ambitious deployment — Japan’s riskiest mission since WWII.

    When Koizumi announced that troops would be staying on after the Iraqi handover — without consulting lawmakers — the public was not pleased.

    “The government is abusing its power. Since they represent the people of Japan, they should stand by us,” voter Hiroko Furuya says.

    The Japanese are clearly unhappy with Koizumi, but few are impressed with the opposition either. The result is that a chunk of former Koizumi supporters are now undecided.

    The problem is that Japanese voters are like voters everywhere. At the bunting-and-motivational-speech stage, it’s easy for 80% of them to approve of a candidate that represents change. When he’s in office and actually wants to, you know, change things, it’s a different story. That’s not to say that I’m necessarily all that hot on the way the National Pension scheme is being reformed. It’s just that there’s no way to fix the damned thing without taking goodies away from some constituency or other, and most Japanese people (especially the appointed, unaccountable bureaucrats who actually run the place) would drop dead at the merest hint of privatizing it. Maybe they could just invest the whole thing in Mitsubishi Motors stock; then the whole problem, along with all the money, would disappear and we could start over. In any case, at least making contributors kick in more money and beneficiaries take less has the equal-treatment virtue of screwing everyone over.

    Another thing to bear in mind is that, through the post-Nakasone ’80’s and ’90’s, Japan went through Prime Ministers faster than Madonna went through shades of Clairol. A lot of Japanese people don’t feel that Koizumi fixed everything he talked about fixing and were opposed to the deployment of SDF troops in Iraq, but they’re used to him, they’re suspicious of the old guard of the LDP, and the economy has been pretty okay. It’ll be interesting to see what the final count is.

    Added at 20:00-ish: I’m apparently much too used to CNN’s airbrush-everything style. When I cut and pasted from the article above, I didn’t even notice that the SDF Iraq deployment was referred to as “Japan’s riskiest mission since WWII.” World War II was a…risky…mission…for the…Japanese? My sainted aunt.

    Turn on the news

    Posted by Sean at 02:48, July 2nd, 2004

    The negotiations to get Hitomi Soga, one of the now-repatriated Japanese nationals snatched by North Korean agents twenty-five years ago, together with her husband and children, still in Pyongyang, seem to be gelling around setting the meeting in Indonesia. The president (the way it’s phrased, I don’t think it’s Megawati’s personal property) has a country house in a suburb of Jakarta, which is apparently more convenient than another presidential country house she has in Bali.

    There haven’t been many other notable updates on the whole appalling situation. Recurring headlines have tended to be about developments in the Mitsubishi Motors/Mitsubishi Fuso scandal, which that keiretsu has obligingly kept on low-boil since around 1998. If it doesn’t get much play in America, the gist is: Mitsubishi cars and trucks have clutch problems. (I think most of the problems are with the housing, actually, and don’t remember how the defect affects the clutch as it worsens.) I can’t find links to corroborate my memory of the news stories at the time, but basically, a few car owners who were injured when their cars suddenly jumped into reverse sued. They lost (or the suits were dismissed–I don’t remember) based in part on expert testimony from engineers in the employ of…why, yes, Mitsubishi Motors. Evidence since then has piled up, slowly but steadily, that Mitsubishi knew about these defects as early as 1993 and quietly repaired some of the affected vehicles rather than instituting a bad-PR recall. Unfortunately, a trucker was killed a few years ago in Yamaguchi Prefecture when his clutch malfunctioned, and a woman was killed and her children injured in Yokohama. So now we have the usual round of arrests of executives present and erstwhile, release of a decade-long paper trail of coverups and back-door settling, and accountability-dodging. And a recall. Another reason to be glad my man drives a Toyota.