TV drama captures public angst at "Made in Japan" decline

Fri Feb 8, 2013 2:50am EST
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By Linda Sieg

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese electronics firm near bankruptcy, a ruthless Chinese rival and a laid-off engineer feature in a popular TV drama that is hitting a public nerve in a nation fretting over the decline of a once-admired manufacturing model.

A weaker yen due to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's expansionary economic policies has lightened some of the gloom for exporters, but NHK public TV's "Made in Japan" serial reflects a deep angst about an ailing manufacturing sector that was once key to Japan's success and a source of national pride.

The 3-part drama, which ends on Saturday, covers a secret "restructuring" team's race against a 3-month deadline to come up with a survival plan for "Takumi Electric" - the name means "artisan" in Japanese - before the bank pulls the plug.

Standing in their way are a Japanese engineer who goes to work in China after being laid off when his lithium-ion battery project was frozen - possibly taking proprietary technology with him - a clueless corporate president given his job by his founder father and a reporter desperate for a scoop.

All of which resonates for many Japanese as they watch once iconic electronics firms - Sony, Panasonic and Sharp come to mind - lose global share to South Korean and Chinese rivals, and wonder what will replace lost manufacturing jobs and drive future economic growth.

"During the period of rapid economic growth after World War Two and even after the bursting of the (1980s) asset bubble, manufacturing ... was a source of economic strength," said Hisao Inoue, a freelance journalist who advised NHK on its script.

"'Monozukuri' ('the making of things') was a source of pride for Japan," he told Reuters. "But that has changed and Japan has lost self-confidence."

BUSINESS BUZZ   Continued...

Men walk past logos of Japan's electronics firms at the Akihabara electronics store district in Tokyo February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai