Here’s a joke.

A U.S. automaker ordered car parts from a Japanese maker and a Russian maker. To minimize the possibility of defective parts getting into cars rolling off the assembly line, the automaker told both component makers to limit the number of flawed parts to one in a thousand.

The flustered Russian maker wailed: “You are asking for the near-impossible. We will never be able to meet the delivery deadline.”

The Japanese maker, which was having other problems at its factory, responded: “Work is proceeding on schedule to fulfill your order. However, we have not received from you a blueprint of the defective component. Please send it to us as soon as possible.”

The above joke can be found in a book of international jokes compiled by Takashi Hayasaka.

The stereotypical image of Japanese makers is that they have a risible obsession with perfection in quality control. But this image is becoming questionable.

Kobe Steel Ltd., embroiled in a major scandal for falsifying data, has yet to see an end to its problems. Some of its products have been stripped of the Japan Industrial Standards certification.

In the auto industry, two companies have been found to have let uncertified workers inspect their finished vehicles. The first to be caught was Nissan Motor Co., and now there is Subaru Corp.

Subaru admitted it had forged the inspection paperwork to feign following proper procedures, noting the company had been doing this for more than 30 years. Obviously, this aberration had become routine.

Here is another well-known joke about national stereotypes.

A luxury cruise ship was about to sink, and the captain had to urge male passengers to jump into the sea.

He said to the English, “At a time like this, a true gentleman would jump.” He said to the Germans, “According to regulations, all men must jump into the sea.” And he said to the Japanese, “Everyone has already jumped.”

I don’t want to believe that this herd mentality--that cheating is no big deal if everyone is doing it--has already taken hold in our society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 28

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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.