Return to Kure

My friend and shipbuilding-research associate Yasuo Okayama, whose English is almost as good as his Japanese, phoned from Tokyo during October of 1987 and said, “Mikami-san wants you to come to Japan.”

Y. Mikami, then a director of the large corporation Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries, Co., Inc. (IHI) of Japan, had been the President of the very successful IHI Marine Technology (IMT), a subsidiary that had been incorporated in the United States for the purpose of exporting IHI technology. Thinking that there was a project that Mikami-san had in mind, I asked, “What for?”

Okayama-san replied, “For a vacation for you and your wife.”


“In case you don’t know it, Mikami-san said that you are the best salesman that IMT ever had.”

Surely that was due to my work for the U.S. National Shipbuilding Research Program that resulted in a series of descriptive publications about the logic and principles of IHI’s highly effective management system. The publications were written in a manner that Western minds could understand. Once that subject matter was understood, managers of shipyards in the U.S. and elsewhere outside of Japan, beat a path to IMT for the experts needed to assist in applications to specific contracts. Mikami-san was expressing his gratitude because he believed that I contributed to his success and to his having been appointed to IHI’s Board of Directors.

“For how long and where would we go?”

“For ten days and anywhere in Japan where you want to go, but we would like you to again visit IHI’s Tokyo and Kure shipyards in order to observe our latest developments.”

Thus during November of 1987 I was able to take Rhoda to Nagasaki, Matsue, and Takaraska, among other interesting places in Japan, and during one memorable day I revisited IHI’s Kure Shipyard.

As Okayama-san and I approached the Yard’s administration building, I saw that the six or seven stone steps leading to the main entrance had been rebuilt. During my earlier visits to Kure, I had noticed that the risers were disproportionately high relative to the treads so that ascending was more like mountain climbing. Okayama-san explained, “Not long ago a ship was built for a European company and we were notified that the sponsor at the launching ceremony would be that country’s queen. Since the only ladies’ room in the shipyard was inside the administration building, there was a rush effort to rebuild the steps and modernize the ladies’ room.”

I remembered the locations of the rest rooms because of a feature that caused the Japanese no concern while it would have upset females from the West. The rest rooms were across the building’s foyer and both were accessed by a wide common stair consisting of three steps. At the top there were two entrances with no doors that were spaced about twelve-feet apart. Anyone ascending the steps could see one tiled wall of each room; the booths and wash basins were out of sight. However, urinals were arranged along the visible tile wall in the men’s room so that even ladies when ascending from anywhere on the steps, could see them.

As we entered the foyer Okayama-san continued, “In addition to rebuilding the outside steps the entire ladies’ room was retiled and the old fixtures were replaced with modern ones. Let me show you how the Japanese mind works.”

He then pointed in the direction of the rest rooms. I saw that despite the extensive modernization, the arrangement remained the same so that ladies ascending the three steps, presumably even the queen, could still see the row of urinals.

Then Okayama-san added, “The effort to rebuild the outside steps and update the ladies’ room cost the equivalent of fifteen-thousand U.S. dollars. Guess what? The Queen didn’t pee once when she was here. Fifteen-thousand dollars…poof!”


Copyright 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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