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My Writings Selections from my Work My Mother was Japanese
To Return to my Home Page To Return to my Writings Home Page Amazonia  ...  My series of alternative history novels My Mother was Japanese. She was tall for a Japanese woman, 5’10” or so, and I often catch myself wondering about her blue eyes. I know she was Japanese because she used J.I.T. long before it came into our Western culture. Everyone knows the Japanese invented J.I.T. so I know I had a Japanese mother. I remember how my mother would organise her work. She would go out every day to buy just enough for that day’s meals. Never an extra chop to keep over, always sufficient potatoes!  She was a smart woman, very Japanese, and would never think of using a refrigerator. All a refrigerator is good for is to carry unused inventory. And that inventory costs money! Then there’s the capital outlay to provide those storage facilities and don’t forget the maintenance costs plus the increase in spoilage and wastage. Yes my mother knew the value of money, she was Japanese after all. That was her philosophy, keep the storage facilities to a minimum and tailor production to meet the day’s demands. Besides, she’d argue, excess warehousing just begs to be filled and that inevitably just leads to losses. Today, with a household of my own, I can readily appreciate that; the cheese or eggs for tonight’s meal often appear to have disappeared by the time my Western wife goes to draw from inventory. Plus she’s always cleaning out odd dried out or smelly bits and pieces. And it’s not just the wastage and additional maintenance but I had to pay a big repair bill the other day and then there’s the energy costs to meet. These weren’t problems my mother had to face but then again, she was Japanese! Now certainly, with low inventories of raw material and work-in-process, Mother had to keep a keen eye on quality. Not for her the safety stock that allows for the disposal of the beef that smells a little off and the replacement with some chicken for the casserole to feed the demands of a growing family. No mother would always be careful about her purchases, relying heavily on trusted suppliers with a proven track record for quality, like the butcher on Water Street who could be trusted to use only the best quality, fresh meat. Of course mother would arrange daily for just the right quantity of raw material for the day’s planned production. Good, timely communication was her key; a note on the empty bottle left on the doorstep and three pints of fresh, wholesome milk were delivered just in time for the day’s production. As for kanban squares, I used to think mother baked the best in town until I read Schonberger. That caused me to recall how she’d organise the washing up. One of us siblings would collect the dirty dishes, one would wash and one dry and put away. If the collector dropped a dish in the water while the washer was still working on another there’d be a call of “you’re going too fast” and everything would get reorganised. One problem with having a Japanese mother was that variety tended to suffer. Meals all too often seemed to cycle around a limited choice of options. Then again focused production is another highly touted Japanese technique. In order to maintain the high quality standards her consumers demanded, mother would limit herself to the production of what she could most efficiently supply with the limited but high quality raw material availability. Or, to paraphrase that other old-time Japanese, “you can have any cake as long as it’s chocolate!” And what did mother do with all the money she saved by using her J.I.T. approach? Like any good Japanese, she’d bank it!
I wrote the following in 1990 for the July edition of “Mainscreen” While attending a session about Japanese manufacturing practices, I was struck by how closely these mirrored the way my mother ran her household. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that this was a case of “the more things change the more the stay the same”. In fact, if one looked, there were many examples of these practices being in use well before the Japanese renaisance.