Writer Jun Ikeido, known for his Hanzawa Naoki series of novels featuring a bank employee with a strong sense of justice struggling his way up the corporate ladder, has written many novels about corporate scandals.

One is “Nanatsu no Kaigi” (The Seven Conferences), which is about a manufacturer that commits fraud to earn profits.

The company cuts manufacturing costs for its train seats by falsifying data about their fire resistance and other safety performances and sells them to its customers.

One character in the novel who is the mastermind of the fraudulent act says, “In business, you win simply when you sell, by whatever means.

“Our products may not have enough strength, but that will never be discovered unless an incredibly big accident happens.”

These words depict a person who could not care less about the safety of passengers of trains using the company’s products.

I wonder if there was someone who uttered similar words at Kobe Steel Ltd.

The Kobe-based steelmaker has found that its employees falsified inspection data concerning the strength of aluminum and steel products for many years.

Kobe Steel employees cheated on inspection data in very simple ways. They, for instance, simply entered false numbers when the results of safety inspections came up short. Or they wrote fabricated figures without actually conducting inspections.

The simplicity of the methods involved seems to indicate the depth of the problem with the firm.

These aluminum and steel products have been used in trains, vehicles and aircraft and sold to foreign as well as Japanese companies. Kobe Steel has exported anxiety and distrust.

In the world of manufacturing, the term “tacit knowledge” is often used to refer to the kind of subtle and fuzzy know-how that is difficult to communicate verbally. Manufacturing workers acquire such knowledge through years of experience on the shop floor.

It has been argued that the competitiveness of Japanese manufacturing lies in bodies of such tacit knowledge maintained through generations.

It is disgusting to think that rampant cheating was part of a tradition at the steelmaker based on such tacit knowledge.

It has been reported that employees at the company have been under relentless pressure from international competition and delivery deadlines.

“Life is hard for everyone for various reasons. But that doesn’t justify cheating.”

These are words uttered by the protagonist of Ikeido’s novel.

A serious risk arises when people start disrespecting basic, long-established rules and principles.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.