Itís hard to not notice NECís 43-story monster-size headquarters because it overwhelms anything else in the area. Formally called the "NEC Super Tower" (thatís what it says on a small plaque near the entrance doors), the 1.4 million square foot edifice lies about five miles from downtown and easily takes up a square block. Built in 1990, the locals call it the "space shuttle". When you look at it from the sidesóit does indeed look like a giant space shuttle about to blast off.
Everything seems to be on one scale here, BIG. The plaza area out front features 80 thirty-foot tall trees spaced 20 feet apart in neat rows. A three-story piece of aluminum art stands guard outside near the entrance. Speaking of entrances, you canít help but be impressed with the massive 12-story atrium. Checking in with the four receptionists wearing company-issued matching orange outfits, I peek over the counter and notice theyíre all using NEC laptop computers. Grand and impressive as this place may be, Iím taken aback when spotting the cigarette vending machine prominently displayed in the lobby. I know the Japanese are heavy smokers but itís definitely on the tacky side.
Off of the lobby, three more receptionists take care of visitors seated in a giant-size waiting area featuring 14 tables (each with four chairs). I receive a hearty welcome from Y. Chris Shimizu, Assistant Manager-Public Relations Division, who gives me a tour of the place.
Over 6,000 employees work in this building which was formerly the site of a company factory. NEC (Nippon Electronic Corporation) was founded in this immediate area back in 1899.
After checking out the huge company cafeteria (of course executives have their own facilities) we do a walk through of the fitness center on the 16th floor. Itís pretty typical with weights, stationary bikes and aerobics. What isnít typical though is what I find in the stairwells: exercise equipment. Employees running up and down 43 flights of stairwells can stop between floors and use a variety of equipment to do things such as pull-ups and sit-ups.
The boardroom, located on the 38th floor, seats 45 around a long, black U-shaped table. Seated in their comfortable black leather chairs, board members here donít worry about getting eye strain from peering at far away rear projection screens. Why? Each member has his own individual screen (with teleconferencing ability). Though I canít see Hisashi Kanekoís 42nd floor office, Shimizu says Kaneko (heís the president) occupies a corner office and uses two desktop computers (Shimizu assures me both are NEC brands).
Before leaving, Shimizu walks me around a large room off to the side of the reception area. Itís part product display and part company history. Unfortunately itís in Japanese.
Itís near Tokyoís bayfront where I find Toshiba Corporationís 40-story head office though it seems odd to find no company sign or logo atop this massive structure. However, an adjacent seven-story building does have the company name atop in English. Revenues in 1996 for this electronics behemoth were $48 billion.
Most Japanese companies seem to be averse to having anything on display in the lobby/reception area, which is why the large fusion reactor inside Toshibaís entrance doors immediately captures my attention. Actually, fusion reactors are massive and this is only 1/15th scale model of a thermonuclear fusion reactor (a joint venture).
After checking in with reception Iím sent to the fourth floor waiting room filled with dozens of tables and four times as many chairs. As usual, without asking Iím served green tea. Then itís a choice of juice or beverage.
Naomi Furuya, International Media Relations-Corporate Communications Office, greets me and answers questions. She guesses this place was built in 1984, which was when two companies merged their businesses and names to form Toshiba (so much for my thinking there was a Mr. Toshiba). I thought NECís nearby headquarters with 6,000 employees was big, here they have 10,000! How big is this place? The cafeteria takes up the second AND third floors. Employees can choose between Chinese, western-style and Japanese food. Of course, executives donít have to deal with the madhouse crush of the rank & file at lunchtime since they take their noon meal in the executive dining rooms up on the 38th floor.
After touring the fitness center I mention not seeing any shower facilities. I ask, "Where do employees shower after working out?" Furuya answers, "they go home". Hmmm, evidently working out before work or during lunch is frowned upon here. Then again, maybe lunchtime exercisers use a good deodorant.
Hours of work are from 8:30 to 5 PM. I canít see CEO Taizo Nishimuroís 38th floor middle office with a view of the bay due to "heís in". Thereís a little used helipad atop the building and itís a few minutes walk to the nearest train stop.
Itís a frustrating experience trying to visit Hitachi. As mentioned before, finding addresses in Tokyo is hell. A hotel concierge narrowed Hitachiís head office to a square mile area several miles from downtown. Iím figuring itíll be no problem finding this place since itís more than likely to be a huge landmark-type building with the name "Hitachi" atop. I end up spending several frustrating hours riding my bike around before finding the bland-looking 1970-ish, white 17-story brick edifice with no company name atop.
After being admonished by a security guard for trying to lock up my bike near the entrance door (he doesnít speak English but kept pointing for me to remove my bike) I enter and take my pick of three receptionists. Calls are made and a man, whoís name I have no idea how to pronounce or spell, comes on the line and says the company hadnít received my advance material. The man then says to come back another day and see if someone is available to meet with me. Yeah right, here in Japan even when companies have received my advance material Iím getting nowhere. With my tight schedule I never do make it back for another shot at this electrical and electronics heavy with over $75 billion in revenues and 330,000 employees.
Mitsui Marine and Fire Insurance Company
Mitsui Marine and Fire Insurance Company with over $7 billion in revenues, is Japanís third largest marine and fire insurer. The company occupies a good-looking 25-story granite-clad building a stoneís throw away from Hitachiís head office.
Built in 1984, over 2,800 employees here including the three receptionists wearing matching hats to go with their uniforms. From the reception area one can look out into the courtyard and admire the large red sculpture overlooking a small reflective pool. The sculpture looks like huge heating ducts painted red.
Itís not looking good as Iím initially told no one received my advance material. Lucky for me Hiroyuki Miyahara, Manager-Secretariat-Corporate Planning Department, decides to come down to the lobby himself to find out whatís going on. Miyahara handles the mail for CEO Takeo Inokuchi (sort of like an executive assistant) and says they never received it. Nevertheless, he enthusiastically agrees to answer questions and show me around the place.
My peek into the CEOís 23rd floor corner office gets canceled as we find heís in a meeting. The boardroom includes one large oval-shaped table (seating 40-50), one real plant and seven framed pictures of past company presidents. Recreation facilities here include a weight room AND showers. I emphasized the showers since my earlier finding at Toshiba where they have fitness facilities but no showers. The companyís art collection consists of works by native artists of Japan.
Nissan Motor Company
Walk several blocks from Ginza, Toykoís world famous shopping district, and youíll find Nissanís 16-story head office. Actually, you can literally drive through the building since thereís an expressway running underneath the structure. Nissanís name in large English letters outside the entrance helps me find the place, plus across the street another Nissan building (13-stories and built in the 1960ís) has the company name prominently displayed atop the sides.
The three receptionists, as usual here in Japan, are polite, helpful and friendly. Whatís interesting though and something Iíve never seen before, they man the reception desk armed only with portable phones. The building directory lists what departments are on which floors in Japanese and in English.
Arriving in the lobby, Keiichi Tsuboi, Foreign Media Section-Corporate Communications Department, gives me whatís becoming the standard line here in Japan "we didnít receive your letter". Though I donít believe they hadnít received my letter, Iím nevertheless impressed with Tsuboiís flexibility in taking time right then and there to answer my questions. Disappointingly, the lobby is as far as I get.
Built in 1983, a total of over 4,000 employees work here and in the building across the street. Though the older building has new cars on display in a ground floor showroom, Iím more interested in whatís displayed in the new building near the elevators: a spiffy 1952 Datsun convertible coupe. I didnít realize Datsun ever produced such beauties. On a wall, directly behind the roped-off car, thereís an oil painting of Mt. Fuji. From the large number of companies visited whoíve had paintings of this famous mountain methinks itís mandatory or required for every Japanese company to have one.
Do employees get a deal on buying a new Nissan? Yep, a low-rate loan.
Dentsu, one of the worldís largest advertising agencies, proves to be a frustrating company to visit. Surprising, the head honchos reside in an extremely ugly 15-story concrete slab building near the Ginza area. The building, definitely from the late 1960ís, could easily fit into one of those drab and dreary, box-like apartment blocks found in Russian cities.
I stop by on four different days without success. Neither of the two receptionists speaks English and the person whoís name Iím given, Mr. Iwasaki, never seems to be around. Four attempts to visit Dentsu is the most times I try visiting a company in Japan (in New York City I remember stopping by several companies on 12 separate occasions without success). Why am I so persistent with Dentsu? Advertising agencies usually have great art collections and interesting-looking people walking around.
The lobby here contains quite a few pieces of colorful modern art as well as whatís becoming a common sight in Japanese company reception areas: a cigarette vending machine. Visitors passing away the time can check their blood pressure courtesy of a machine installed by Dentsu in the waiting area.
Thereíre quite a few Dentsu buildings in the immediate area and they all have the logo letters "CED" next to the Dentsu name. The letters stand for "communications", "excellence" and "Dentsu". After the disappointing runaround received here, methinks the logo definition is a bunch of hot air.
Kirin Brewery Company
Leave it to Kirin Brewery, Japanís largest beer brewer, to have one of the coolest looking head offices in Tokyo. Located near the waterfront, the gleaming silver 10-story, half-cylinder shaped building shouts, "Iím home to a 90ís kind of company".
Entering, Iím greeted by several colorful displays of LA 2.5 beer. Wow, I heard the Japanese were fascinated by anything American but naming a beer after Los Angeles? After doing the usual "does someone here speak English?" with the two receptionists, Iím introduced to Kotoko Akashi, Public Relations Group-Public Relations Department. Akashi, to my disappointment, utters those now all too familiar words here in Japan "we never received your letter". Luckily, she agrees to answers questions followed by a tour.
Remember in the previous paragraph where I mention LA 2.5 beer? Well, todayís the official launch of the new beer and the LA stands for "Light Alcohol" not "Los Angeles" as this genius assumed.
Built in 1995, the building features an unusual set of escalators whisking people to the second floor. Itís not enough that the inner workings of the escalators are visible via see-through glass, but the sides have continuously flowing water bubbles circulating up and down the escalatorís sides. On a large wall in the lobby area hang two six foot long by 12 feet tall beautiful silk paper drawings of swans with silver background.
We head up to the second floor, which features a large open room with 11 tables. Most Japanese companies usually have individual rooms for conducting business. After telling Akashi Iím a Miller draft beer kind of guy and Iíve yet to try any of their beer, she gets up and rustles us a couple cans of the new LA 2.5 beer from a nearby cooler. Though itís only 10AM the beers go down smoothly (yep, I had two).
The 350 employees enjoy a nifty fitness facility on the roof. Besides stairmasters and stationary bikes, employees can lounge on two vibrating reclining chairs or go outside and enjoy the fresh air sitting on one of 11 tables on the white terrace.
Founded in 1907, Kirin has its hands in other businesses besides beer, soft drinks, wine and liquors. How about pharmaceuticals, restaurants, agribio and information services. Revenues last year were over $8 billion.
I canít see CEO Yashhiro Satoís fourth floor corner office with a view of a laundry across the street because "heís in". The boardroom on the fifth floor contains an oval-shaped maple wood table seating 40, a ceremonial facemask, pictures of past presidents and, the obligatory picture of Mt. Fuji.
Smoking is allowed here (the CEO smokes) and hours of work are from 9AM to 530 PM.
Weaving in and out of heavy traffic, itís a race against the clock as I furiously pedal my bike six miles due south of Tokyo towards Sonyís headquarters. Itís 5 PM and Iím hoping to still catch people at work.
Since itís not in the densely packed and expensive downtown Tokyo area Iím figuring Sony will have a campus-like complex. It turns out to be partly right as I come upon a complex of 13 Sony buildings scattered about and across a busy public road and side streets.
I guess correctly that the eight-story newest-looking building houses the head honchos and make a beeline to the entrance. After haggling with the not very friendly, non-English speaking security guard over where to lock up the bike (Iím made to move it to the side of the building), I enter, passing a large turned-on Sony television along the way. Noting the time (itís after 5PM) and the fact Iím having a horrific time with companies saying they hadnít received my advance material, Iím somewhat apprehensive stepping up to the reception counter to identify myself. My fears quickly vanish as Aldo Liguori, Manager-International PR and Masami Kato, Product & Marketing PR appear in the lobby and give me a warm welcome. Even better, Liguori says they had indeed, received my advance material AND, have plenty of time to meet with me now.
So why is Sony, founded in 1946, located out here in the boondocks amid a mixed residential/business area? Actually it isnít hard to figure out since thereís an eight-story several blocks long building across the street which looks like a former manufacturing facility. Yep, Liguori confirms the large building complex housed Sonyís first plant.
The building weíre in is leased and houses 500 employees. Originally built for another company, Sony took it over and moved in back in 1990.
Iím disappointed in not being able to see Chairman Norio Ohgaís top floor office. It would be interesting to see what gadgets (maybe a Sony Walkman?), if any, he has.
Liguori acknowledges Sony having several corporate aircraft but is only sure about one of them: a Falcon jet. Speaking of traveling, employees here enjoy a perk: free train passes for commuters.
Nippon Telephone & Telegraph
The rainís coming down hard as my bike and I take shelter under the overhang outside Nippon Telephone & Telegraphís entrance. The worldís largest communication company (1996 revenues $78 billion) doesnít have its home in the financial district but in Shinjuku, Tokyoís other business center located five miles northwest of downtown. Whatís the lure of Shinjuku? Tall buildings. Thereís a whole cluster of Ďem. Matter of fact, Tokyoís government center has its offices here in a group of relatively new high-rises, each over 40-stories tall.
Itís 8:30 AM and herds of people are spilling into the lobby but first, wet umbrellas are closed and then placed into a machine. This spiffy little contraption envelops the umbrella in a plastic bag, preventing employees from dripping and tracking water inside the building.
Entering, I notice three pay telephones (one using phone cards and the other two coins) plus a phone card machine strategically placed near the front doors. Phone cards can be bought in increments of 1000 yen (about $10). As usual (80% of the time in Japan) the three receptions stand up as I approach the reception counter. The outfits, yellow mixed in with black and white, look sharp.
Calls are made and Toshio Sugaya, who heads the secretarial department serving CEO Masashi Kojima, and Yukiko Tohama, whoís an assistant, show up shortly. Tohama accompanies Sugaya because she speaks English and he doesnít. Though itís disappointing to hear yet another company claim they never received my advance material, Iím pleased when Sugaya agrees to answer questions and show me around the modern 29-story tower.
Though built in 1995, this Caesar Pelli designed tower has already been outgrown. Roughly 2,000 employees work here with another 1,000 employees occupying leased space in a next door office building.
Sitting on lobby sofas going through my questions becomes difficult because several hundred people start noisily filing in through the front doors. Jeez, itís 9:30 AM, whatís going on here? Starting and ending hours are staggered here with 8:30, 9:00 & 9:30 AM start times and 5:00, 5:30 & 6:00PM go home times.
The company cafeteria occupies two floors (3rd & 4th) with executives having their own place on the 10th. A well-equipped fitness center passes muster with me but the state of the art smoking rooms donít. Sugaya, a chain smoker, eagerly shows off the "invisible" curtains of air keeping smoke from leaving the room. Hmm, I must be imaging the tobacco stench in the outside hallway.
Though the company has no corporate aircraft, thereís a helipad atop the building. I canít see CEO Masashi Kojimaís 28th floor corner office because "itís being used". Sugaya says Kojima has the obligatory painting of Mt, Fuji. To my surprise, the U-shaped boardroom table seats around 20. In Japan they tend to be huge, seating upwards to 50.
During the tour Iím completely perplexed when Sugaya ushers me into the menís bathroom and proceeds to open a stall door where he then points to some kind of arm chair digital control panel attached to the toilet seat. Is it some kind of music or communication device? **
**Later that day I check into a hotel. Walking into the bathroom I notice a device attached to the toilet seat similar to the one at seen at NTT. Though instructions to the various buttons and knobs are in Japanese, hands on experimenting leads me to find out what they do. Let me just say itís sort of like having a moveable bidet with a remote control. The control panel allows you to get your backside washed, blow-dried and to my astonishment, have your rear-end warmed by a heated toilet seat.
The Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Co., Ltd.
Soaring 43-stories amidst the cluster of high-rises surrounding Tokyo City Hall complex, The Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Company building reminds me of the gaudy Oral Roberts University building in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Both buildings are wide at their bases and slim down toward the top, sort of like an upside down letter "T". Hmm, Yasudaís was built in 1976 and if Iím not mistaken thatís about when the Oral Roberts structure went up.
Iíve yet to visit a company where receptionists werenít wearing uniforms and Iíve now begun rating the various uniforms on a 1-10 scale with 10 being the highest. The uniforms these three receptionists wear score a "5". The lobby area is huge with plenty of room. So, why do they designate several couches in the waiting area as "smoking space"óonly two feet from the couches in the "no smoking" area?
Koki Yokoo, Manager-Cultural Projects Division-Corporate Communications Department and Andrew Giles (an Australian), Corporate Communications Department, meet me in the lobby and give the usual spiel about how the company never received my advance material. They do agree to sit in the lobby and go through my questions.
Yasuda Fire & Marine, established in 1888, gets bragging rights to being Japanís first fire insurance company. With over $13 billion in revenues it ranks among Japanís 15 largest. Over 3,000 people work here. Iím not allowed to see the boardroom or CEO Koichi Ariyoshiís 17th floor corner office because "we donít do that". Well, from the 17th floor Ariyoshi canít have much of a view with a neighboring hulking high-rise blocking his line of sight.
The company cafeteria takes up the second and third floors, fitness facilities include six Ping-Pong tables and karate classes and smoking is allowed only in designated areas.
Yasuda Fire & Marine has another claim to fame. These are the guys who coughed up the most money ever spent on a single painting: Vincent van Goghís "Sunflowers". I believe it was somewhere around $50 million. Is this painting stashed away on the executive floor for only the privileged few to see? Nope, on the 42nd floor stands the Yasuda Kasai Museum of Art, open to anyone (general public included) who coughs up the entrance fee (around $5). With Giles as my escort, I save myself paying the five smackers. On display is a spectacular collection of works comprising only a tiny portion of the companyís 630 pieces. Besides van Gogh, thereíre works by Grandma Moses, Seiji Togo, Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Why did Yasuda splurge on obtaining "Sunflowers" in 1987? A nice acquisition to celebrate the companyís upcoming 100th birthday in 1988. By the way, van Gogh painted "Sunflowers" in 1889.
Asahi Mutual Life Insurance Company and The Yasuda Mutual Life Insurance Company
It turns out to be a waste of time visiting Asahi Mutual Life ($25 billion in revenues) and Yasuda Mutual Life ($21 billion in revenues). Both have ugly head offices in the Tokyo City Hall area and both say they never received my advance material.
Yasuda Mutualís nine-story head office was built in 1967 and looks like its been in a time warp. Over 600 people work here. Takahide Tanimura, Associate Manager-Public Relations Department, lack of interest in going through the questions is quite obvious. Iím not allowed past the lobby or to add their visitor badge to my collection due to "security reasons".
My treatment is just as bad at Asahi Mutualís nine-story dumpy-looking offices. Built in 1963, youíd never expect this to be the head office of Japanís 5th largest insurer. I meet with Kaoru Hirano and Yoshinobu Kageyama, both managers in the public relations division. Both speak very little English which, quickly becomes a lesson in futility. Again, Iím not allowed past the lobby due to "security concerns" Add the annoying and rude habit of one of them blowing cigarette smoke my way in the small smelly meeting room and, Iím quickly out of there. Over 1,500 people work here.
This and that on other Tokyo companies
Taisei, one of Japanís biggest construction companies with almost $20 billion in revenues, leases floors 6-31, 33rd and 52nd floor of a 54-story skyscraper in the Tokyo city hall area. Jun-Ichi Akutsu, Manager-Public Relations Dept., meets me on the 17th floor reception area (manned by five receptionists) and thatís as much as I see. Says they never received my letter. Over 3,000 employees work here. All Nippon Airways, with over $10 billion in revenues, occupies the 28th floor of a hum-drum looking 36-story building built probably in the 1970ís. After a 30-minute wait Iím told to come back in a week. Later in the week the company is in the news because the CEO resigned. Receive lousy reception at Dai-Ichi-Kangyo Bank, one of the worldís biggest banks with over $20 billion in revenues and $433 billion in assets. The lobby of the 32-story building, located next door to train tracks near the Ginza shopping area, is huge, expansive and filled with marble. The 19 brown leather chairs for visitors are comfy. Haruko Yoshimura, Public Relations Division, says the company never received advance material. Waste of time visiting with Yoshimura because sheís brand new here and knows nothing. Itís like meeting with a student intern. I come clear around the world to visit this company and they send the person with the least amount of seniority to meet with me. And of course, Iím not allowed past the lobby. About 5,000 employees work in this building which was built in 1971. Tried to visit Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, worldís largest bank with over $46 billion in revenues and $647 billion in assets, but oddly found the doors to the place closed at 4PM on a weekday. The 20-something story building stands across the street from Mitsubishiís head office and looks to have been built in the 1970ís.
On the road in and around Nagoya
Chubu Electric Power Company
With almost $20 billion in revenues, Chubu Electric Power Company ranks as Japanís third largest utility, behind Tokyo Electric Power (serving the Tokyo area) and Kansai Electric Power (serving the Osaka area).
Nagoya, Japanís fourth largest city, lies between the capital city of Tokyo and the largest center of commerce, Osaka. This central area of Japan, known as the Chubu region, is comprised of five prefectures (similar to our states).
Situated downtown at one of Nagoyaís busiest intersections, Chubu Electric occupies two connecting 10-story buildings. One was built in 1963 and the other in 1980. An elevated expressway passes alongside the newer building. As Iím locking my bike outside the front entrance a security guard steps outside, takes out a small notepad from his pocket, opens it up, then looks at me and asks in broken English, "Paul Wolsfeld?" Boy, after having dealt with company after company in Tokyo saying they hadnít received my advance material, itís great to show up where theyíre on the ball.
After checking in with the two blue and white-outfitted receptionists, Iím soon given a warm greeting by Hiroshi Ohki, Senior Staff-Corporate Planning Department and Kazunori Ohtsuka, Senior Staff-General Affairs Department. Like hundreds of other utility companies visited around the world, this place falls in the "functional, nothing fancy" category. Over 2,500 employees work here.
The company cafeteria occupies the top floor with executives having separate dining facilities. No recreational facilities here unless you call being allowed to smoke in the building a form of recreation. Iím not allowed to see CEO Hiroji Otaís ninth floor corner office or anything other than the lobby because of the "no outsiders" rule. Iím told itís nothing personal and is enforced with everyone.
Tokai Bank and Toyota Tsusho Corporation
I get the brush-off at Tokai Bank, Japanís eighth largest bank with over $15 billion in revenues and over $273 billion in assets. Dressed in dark blue and white pinstripe uniforms, the two receptionists look the bankerís part. Iím put on the phone with someone from the international department whoís clueless and only seems to know how to say in English, "come back another day". The eight-story, granite clad building takes up a whole city block and looks to have been built in the 1980ís.
Thereís absolutely nothing noteworthy about trading company Toyota Tsusho Corporationís head office. Toyota Tsusho leases floors 7,8 & 9 in an old (1960ís) and not very maintained 11-story building directly across the street from the main train station. Stepping off the eighth floor I encounter an unmanned reception area and a sign directing visitors to the consulate for Belgium. I end up meeting with Kunihiro Yamauchi, Manager-Human Resources Development Group, who says they never received my advance material. Over 1,000 employees work on these three floors (which sounds like an awful tight fit to me). I canít see CEO Eizo Takeyamaís 8th floor corner office because "heís busy". For that matter, I donít get to see anything else either. Thereís no company cafeteria but lots of restaurants in the immediate area. Toyota Isusho, with over $16 billion in revenues, was established in 1948 as a trading company within the Toyota Group.
Iím in Kariya, a town 15 miles south of Nagoya, trying to find Denso Corporationís headquarters. As usual Iím having a horrific time trying to make my way around the undecipherable roads. Stopping to ask people for directions to Denso is useless because they donít understand the name in English and I sure as heck havenít a clue as to what it looks or sounds like in Japanese.
Knowing Iím getting close, I stop at a guard gate to a big factory and ask the young non-English speaking security guard for directions. The guard motions me to wait. As Iím waiting around I notice a small plaque near the plant entrance reading "Denso Corporation" Eureka! This must be the place. The guard puts me on the phone with Ippei Hanaki, International Operation Planning Department-Planning Section (America), who says to hold tight and heíll be over to get me shortly. Denso, with over $14 billion in revenues, manufactures a wide variety of electrical products. Why is Denso located in Kariya? Well, if 50% of your revenue came from one customer, wouldnít you want to be close to this very important customer? This big customer (Toyota Motor) lies 10 miles east of here.
Another 20 minutes go by before Hanaki shows up. Why? It takes that long to walk through the plant from the five-story head office building. It turns out I showed up at the backside entrance.
All this waiting and walking proves to be for naught as I get to see the lobby of the head office and thatís it. Built in 1949 (the company was founded in 1949), Hanaki guesstimates between 1,000-3,000 employees work in the building with 10,000 total working at various plants in the area.
Though my advance material was received here it doesnít help me get in anywhere as my request to see CEO Hiromu Okabeís second floor office and the boardroom is declined due to "heís busy" and "security concerns".
Densoís helipad on the grounds comes in handy since Hanaki says itís a 1 Ĺ to 2-hour drive to Nagoya Airport. Whatís more interesting though is the small shrine, about 15 yards from the entrance to the head office building. Hanaki hadnít seen the shrine before and doesnít know the significance.
Toyota Motor Company
Japanís five biggest companies are all trading firms. Automobile maker Toyota Motor Company occupies the sixth spot. Its $108 billion in revenues makes it almost twice the size of Nissan, Japanís second largest maker of automobiles.
Headquarters for Toyota Motor lie 20 miles southeast of Nagoya in the city of Toyota. I envisioned a small company town with maybe 50,000 people. Nope, weíre talking a population of 320,000. I also assumed Toyota Motorís headquarters being downtown in a monster-size edifice visible for miles. Wrong again. It was difficult finding the place due to the hilly layout of the city and, the low-key look of the unassuming five-story head office. Located directly across the street from a large assembly plant, I initially walk in looking for directions to the head office. It hadnít even crossed my mind that this dull, dated building could be where the head honchos for one of the worldís biggest companies reside.
The small lobby/reception area is barren. No flowers, no plants, no pictures or photographs, nor are there any automobiles on display. The wood paneled lobby walls look tired and so does the plain industrial carpet. The only things with any color in the place are the pink uniforms the three receptionists are wearing. Calls are made and in a few minutes Masao (Mike) Ukai, Project General Manager-Secretarial Division, and Hirokazu Ishikawa, Deputy General Manager-Community Relations Department-General Administration Division, arrive. Neither extends their hand out to mine, then again, the Japanese arenít big on shaking hands.
My worst fear comes true when Ukai and Ishikawa insist the company never received my advance material. They do agree to whatís become the usual routine: take me into a small room off of the lobby, serve me hot tea (usually green tea) and go through my questions. I swear these Japanese companies have this down pat: they deny receiving my advance material and then try to act like theyíre accommodating and flexible by taking me into a room and go through my questions. Of course, then when I ask for a tour of the building, itís out of the question because "we had no advance warning of your visit" and we must decline for "security reasons".
A third man, who doesnít give me a business card, joins us in the room as we go through the questions. Built in 1959, over 1,000 work in this building. Roughly 10,000 employees work in the Toyota area. Executives have separate dining facilities, smoking is allowed throughout, hours of work are from 8:30 AM to 5:30 PM and, something unusual in Japan: Fridays are casual dress days. The company has an extensive corporate art collection described to me as "a little bit of everything". Toyota Motor has several corporate aircraft including a Gulfstream and a Citation. For "security reasons" the three fellows wonít even tell me what floor CEO Hiroshi Okuda resides, let alone the view from his office or if he has model cars in his office.
Typical of the treatment received here: Riding off, I spot the bust of someone on the front grounds. I get off my bike to snap a picture and am quickly approached by a security guard, acting as if Iím a spy. Whoís the fella with the bust? Methinks its Toyota Founder Kiichiro Toyoda (thatís correct, itís Toyoda not Toyota).
On the road in Osaka
Unfortunately my visit to Osaka, Japanís second largest city, parallels the dismal foray into Tokyo. Companies insist they hadnít received my advance material, Iím not able to find hotel rooms and, it turns out the executives of the five big trading firms located here all have their offices in Tokyo.
Matsushita Electric Industrial
Itís pouring rain as I make the 30-mile ride from Kyoto to Osaka. Kyoto, the former capital of Japan, is home to a slew of magnificent temples as well as the Kyoto Imperial Palace.
Pedaling along a busy truck laden four lane, divided road into Osaka I pull over about 10 miles from downtown and take a quick look at the list of companies to visit. Itís an industrial-type area and want to make sure Iím not riding past a company on the list. Thereís nothing more frustrating than making your way into a big city only to find you unknowingly passed right by a headquarters. It turns out to be a smart move because several blocks later I come upon Matsushita Electric Industrialís headquarters complex. Atop the three-story head office, the companyís name is in large Japanese characters. Thank god the name is in English below the Japanese characters or I would have ridden right past.
Getting inside requires stopping and passing muster with the half-dozen security guards manning the guardhouse at the gated entrance. None of the guards speaks English. After a 20-minute wait, Iím put on the phone with Ichiro Ando, Assistant Manager-International Relations Department. Though Ando says they never received my letter he agrees to meet with me.
Ando, a nice guy and very accommodating, goes through my questions but as expected, my request for a tour of the place is declined due to "we didnít receive your advance material".
The headquarters complex is made up of six buildings built around a grassy area about the size of a football field. All the buildings have the 1970ís look about them. In the middle of the grassy field stands a round reflection pond with nine bronze busts of men forming a circular. In the middle of this circle stands a life-size bust of a man standing on a pedestal. Ando is embarrassed to admit he isnít sure of the identity of the various men but between the two of us we recognize Thomas Edison as the one depicted in the full-size and Marconi.
My questions are answered sitting in the lobby. One receptionist mans the counter and I make note of the Panasonic television. Matsushita, with over $70 billion in revenues, manufactures among a zillion other things, Panasonic and Quasar televisions and Technics audio products. This behemoth tentacles reach into a wide variety businesses including home appliances, housing equipment, air conditioning, VCRís, health care technology and industrial equipment.
Konosuke Matsushita, who founded the company in 1918, passed away in 1989 at the age of 94. Itís a 30-minute drive to the nearest airport, with the company having no corporate aircraft. Ando isnít sure of the number of employees working in the various buildings here (he guesstimates 2,000) but, itís a lot seeing as how thereíre are two cafeterias. Senior management has separate dining facilities. Three tennis courts are to be found on the premises as well as a basketball court.
Boy, they donít get any bigger than this. Iím in the marbled lobby of Nippon Life, the worldís biggest insurance company with over $83 billion in revenues. Youíd think theyíd have their name in English somewhere on the outside of the building but itís only in Japanese characters.
The seven-story block long and block wide structure looks to have been built in the 1940ís. A receptionist and security guard man entrances located on opposite ends of the building. I make note of the fake flower arrangement. Calls are made and I end up talking on the phone to Kazuo Asai, Manager-International Planning, who (surprise!) says they never received my advance material. We continue talking on the phone and Asai says if I were to come back another day he would be able to meet with me. Of course, he says any tour of the place would be out of the question. I tell Asai one of three things happened to my letter: 1). Itís here somewhere but has been misrouted (this is highly unlikely because Iíve learned letters written in English invariably end up in one of two departments; public relations or the international department). 2). My letter was returned to sender (meaning back to California) for having the wrong address or insufficient postage. None of the letters ever came back. 3). Nippon Life received my letter and is lying about not having received it. This move gets Nippon off the hook of meeting with me by saying they never had any advance notice of my arrival.
Walking around the block I find other company buildings connected to this main dwelling. Thereís a nine-story structure built probably in the 1960ís, a six-story building from the 1970ís and, on the next block I spot a 15-story edifice sporting red logo found on the other structures.
Flowing through the downtown area are several (not very wide) rivers which cris-cross forming a small island, a block wide and a mile long. Having a building on this island or on the banks of the river means you have one of Osakaís most prestigious business addresses.
Nichimen Corporation, a trading company with over $46 billion in revenues, occupies a 17-story white, granite-clad building next door to a Bank of Japan branch. The Bank of Japan is equivalent to our Federal Reserve Bank. It was easy to spot Nichimen thanks to their having the companyís name in English near the top of the building.
While checking in with the two receptionist I note the building directory lists other tenants. After a few minutes wait, Yoshio Hirooka, General Manager of Secretary to President Osaka, greets me in the lobby and says theyíre not familiar with what Iím doing.
After explaining how I sent a letter of introduction to CEO Akira Watari, Hirooka responds with unwelcome news: all the executives work out of Tokyo. He goes on to say that itíll be true with the other four big trading concerns Iím suppose to visit in Osaka (Itochu $169 billion in revenues, Sumitomo $167 billion, Tomen $67 billion and Nisso Iwai $97 billion). Aw boy! I walk out very dejected.
Sumitomo Life Insurance Company
With over $50 billion in revenues, Sumitomo Life Insurance ranks as Japanís third largest insurer. Headquarters for this insurance giant is a dismal-looking, light green colored, seven-story building next door to Nichimenís 17-story edifice. The square shaped structure looks to have been built in the 1950ís and reminds me of an old Holiday Inn.
Neither the two security guards nor the two receptionists speak English. Shuji Kawakami, Senior Secretary-General Affairs Department, comes down to the lobby and says they never received my advance material. No one has time today to meet with me and Kawakami suggests returning another day. From the looks of the building and from the way my receptions have been going, I donít return.
Nisso Iwai and Itochu
Finding Itochuís 1970-ish, 13-story muddy brown colored headquarters next to an elevated road and Nissho Iwaiís 20-story, 1980-ish head office building were easy thanks to both having their names in English on top. Unfortunately what I was told earlier at Nichimen turns out to be true: Osaka is just the registered office for these trading companies. Top executives work out of Tokyo.
Nisso Iwai handles the import and marketing of Philip Morris brand cigarettes in Japan, which explains the tacky-looking cigarette vending machine positioned prominently in the marbled lobby.
This and that on Osaka companies
Out of frustration, I walk out of Daiwa Bankís modern 24-story head office. The two receptionists decked out in pink outfits are courteous (they stand up and bow when I approach the desk) but, speak zilch English. The expansive two-story marble-clad lobby is impressive and a receptionist directs me to a meeting room on the third floor. Two men enter, one immediately lights up a cigarette, neither reaches out to shake my hand AND neither speaks English. Sizing up the situation I elect to get up and leave. Walking out, I wonder why they bother having the bankís name in English on the outside of the building.
Beer and beverage concern Suntory occupies an eight-story, mostly glass building on one of the main streets through the downtown area. The companyís name spelled out in six-foot tall gold letters makes it easy to find the place. Two receptionists greets visitors at the seventh floor reception area. Itís lunchtime and Iím told to come back another day. No beer or soda displays but, thereís an electric shoe buffer near the elevators.
Sumikin Bussan, a small trading company with ONLY $11 billion in revenues, leases 70% of an unexciting-looking 13-story building. Hiroshi Yoshioka, Staff Manager, Legal Affairs Section-General Affairs Department, guesses about 900 employees work here. It was hard finding this place since thereís nothing in English on the outside, the building directory is in Japanese and thereís no receptionist. As usual, Iím not shown around. On Fridayís, casual wear by employees is acceptable here. Itís a 40-minute train ride or 90 minutes by car to Kansai International Airport, the new airport built a mile offshore on a man-made island.
Trading company Sumitomo ($167 billion in revenues) and Sumitomo Bank ($27 billion in revenues and almost $500 billion in assets) show their cozy relationship and lack of independence by having headquarters next door to each other. Sumitomo Bankís square, six-story brownstone was probably built in the 1930ís or early 1940ís. Trading concern Sumitomo occupies a massive 11-story grayish-colored edifice. Both have their names in English on the exterior and both occupy a square city block.