Father of the Hybrid

People ask Toyota Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada for his autograph as though he is a rock star because he is the “father” of the Prius.
Recently, I did a story about how he worked on Toyota’s Prius, the first gas-electric hybrid to go into commercial mass-production.
The Prius celebrates its 10th anniversary in December.
I did another story about Toyota: How American executives are being wooed away by rivals Chrysler and Ford.
That’s a new challenge for Toyota.
Toyota is very Japanese in valuing lifetime employment and employee loyalty.
To get ahead in Toyota (Japanese-style,) a worker must be loyal and stay with Toyota for years and years.
I wrote about Jim Press after a group interview when he became the first foreigner to join the board of Toyota.
And then again when he left.

World’s first hybrid train

I took a ride on the world’s first hybrid train to go into commercial service.
It’s a cute little train in a resort area that’s fun to ride.
But this was serious work for writing a story.
The company official there kept giving us strange explanations _ such as the motor running backward _ that I later realized just couldn’t be right.
I made calls later to check to make sure we had it right in our story.
It’s strange how some Japanese companies don’t seem to be aware that if they give us reporters the wrong information, then they aren’t doing their job right. We are doing our best to understand the technology, but we aren’t experts.

Toyota, Hello Kitty and the Whopper

Sometimes a reporter feels like the fighter in a video game, throwing punches, kicking, twirling and jumping to take on several enemies from all sides, writing a story about Toyota reaching the one million mark on hybrid vehicle sales one minute, while writing a story about NEC Corp.’s Hello Kitty laptop the next minute.
Today I went to cover the opening of a Burger King restaurant.
A long line had formed outside the fast-food restaurant.
Where else but in Japan?
The Japanese business partners behind Burger King’s return to Japan are the same people behind Krispy Kreme.
They know how to attract media attention yet manage to put a talk-of-the-town spin on their stores.
That’s very important to attract the long lines, which in turn set off more talk and attract more people.
(1) Japanese have a greater tolerance for hourslong cues because they were brought up in a conformist-oriented rigid society that has required them to be one of the masses in a tiny place.
(2) Japanese assume mass interest is a good indicator for quality and desirability, rather than thinking that individuals may have different preferences.
(3) Japanese are afraid about being left out, and so ignorance or disinterest in something that draws long lines is by definition undesirable, dangerous and possibly a sign of derangement.
In Japan, being one of a crowd is (1) the way it is (2) a good thing (3) patriotic.
Being an individual is (1) weird (2) evil (3) not Japanese.
But Japanese are also having a lot of fun being in long lines. It is an event.
Guys were standing in lines at Burger King with their dates.
And the dates looked happy. They didn’t think their man was cheap or dumb, but rather an “oshare” jolly guy.
The stereotype about Japanese being subdued is hogwash _ at least among Whopper lovers.
Well-behaved expressiveness was rampant at the the trivia quiz show at the store opening.
What was Japan doing in 1957 when the Whopper was invented?
“Hai!” “Hai!” “Hai!”
It went on and on, and they each got a Burger King T-shirt.
Being part of a mass (at least a modern-day Japanese mass) is (1) fun (2) hip and so far, thank god, (3) innocent.