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Kuramoto Diary vol.504: “About some of the news mentioned on our website”

By Hiroshi SAKURAI, March 2021

There are two important news that appeared on the news section of our website lately. One is about the launch of “Dassai made from local rice” and the other is about our graduate recruitment drive for June. I'd like to explain a bit about the background to both of these stories, but there's still a bit of time before the launch of “Dassai made from local rice”, and both stories would be too long, so I'll just explain the later first.

We are looking to recruit around 10 new graduates to join us in June, which is quite a lot because we have more than 10 people joining us in April. However, this is actually not enough. Several months ago, we were hoping to increase our workforce by 40 people this year. But even if we include the new graduates and those who joined during the course of the year, we are still only increasing our staff by less than 20. (Yes, despite the media noise about the coronavirus hurting the economy, there is a shortage of staff in some industries).

So why do we need so many people? At the moment we have 123 people crafting Dassai, including staff managing data analysis. If we would add to this the 50 men and women who work in the shipping department, then our overall staff is of nearly 170 people. (This doesn't include the sales and administrative staff. If you include them, the total number is just under 200.)

I hear sometimes that “Dassai has turned its back on the Toji system to do mass-produced sake by employees”. Well, the fact is although we only produce about a tenth of what big producers in Nada or Fushimi produce, when it comes to staff involved in the production, it is probably on a par with or even higher than those manufacturers.

In 1965, a large sake producer famous for making Kimoto in Nada, built a new factory. Its reads: "With 100 brewers and employees we have the capacity to make 30,000 koku of sake". Last year Dassai made "30,000 koku of sake with 123 people", that's nearly 60 years between us! There are probably twice as many people at Dassai as there are at any other sake brewery in terms of the number of koku produced.

In addition, the crafting process at Dassai is far from the traditional Toji system, where the emphasis is on the group acting in the same way rather than on overall efficiency. To craft Dassai, we choose to divide the labor and because of the importance placed on the accuracy of the finished work, people are increasingly crucial and is the reason behind the number of staff we have.

This is the truth behind Dassai’s crafting, which some wrongfully say that is (or must be) crafted mechanically and automated.

Well… Am I content with this situation? No, I am not. I would like to make the workload a little easier for all the staff. Could we adapt the procedure to reduce the burden on the staff? Is the height of the koji box or the floor really the right height? Isn't there better equipment for us to craft sake? Can we use AI or robots for a specific task? Up until now, we have tried to introduce various devices and equipment, but the reality is that they don't work very well: at the end, we still need more staff.

For example, the rice washing robot. We introduced it because it was said to have the same level of accuracy and control as a human being. It was indeed better than any other rice washing machines on the market. But unfortunately, the machine can’t start to control precisely the rice water content until a certain time has passed, whereas a human being is able to control it immediately.

If that's the case, we thought, why don't we have somebody compensate, working with it? We tried all sorts of things but, let’s say that if a skilled staff can get 95 points out of 100 on rice washing by himself, the machine can at most do 85 points. And if a skilled staff try to get around the machine, it could get it up to 90 points, but not more than that.

Moreover, sake crafting is becoming more and more complicated. In order to fulfill the real satisfaction of today's customers, we have to change more and more the working methods we been using. As a result, it is becoming more and more difficult with the same amount of work we have to do. In addition, we have work we weren’t used to do, such as extracting exosomes for example. This is also the reason why there is an increasing need for sake crafting staff.

Furthermore, the winning formula for Dassai is to raise production costs as high as the business will allow, thereby gaining a competitive advantage in quality. This quality is the reason for customer appreciation, which in turn increase overall sales. This is completely different from the conventional wisdom of success, which is to increase gross profit by lowering the cost of production, and then spend it on advertising and marketing to become a winning company. That's why we insist on using the expensive Yamada Nishiki rice. That's why we need more and more people.

But how far are we allowed to pursue in this direction? We need good employees, so we try to attract them. Are we going to just end up using up all these young people? I've always been worried about that.

On a larger scale, there is a lot of talk these days about the beginning of the end for capitalist society because of the widening income gap, brought about by the globalization of the economy.

In other words, companies try to produce in places where labor costs are low, so the jobs of those who were involved in production in the developed countries go abroad, and the jobs at home disappear. This is the reason for the fall of the middle class.

However, I think that, before globalization, it really started when mankind entered into the "technological and scientific revolution". For example, when the railways developed the coachmen lost their jobs. In that sense, it is an eternal problem as long as mankind progresses, and mankind just cannot abandon progress.

Also, I think there is a concept of "qualitative evolution" here, but I think it is not considered as important, as long as the quality is good enough. That is why companies can introduce machines and produce in countries where labor costs are low. But what would not be a problem in the 19th century, when there was a chronic shortage of goods, or in less developed countries, should not be a problem in developed countries, or in Japanese society. How long will today's consumers be satisfied with products that are produced for the convenience of the producer?

Dassai's answer to this is to "pursue an even higher quality". This is why we need an unprecedented number of production staff. We believe that this concept of 'pursuing quality' is the way to eliminate economic disparity in society, while ensuring that our customers are satisfied that they are getting more than they pay for.

And more than half of Dassai made in this new labor-intensive method will be exported this year. In other words, we're taking back jobs that have been taken overseas and adding more value to our exports than ever before.

If you are reading this diary and are planning to get a job, please apply for it. And if you know someone who is, please recommend them to us.

(Position only available in the manufacturing department and limited to candidates who are fluent in Japanese.)


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