By on February 25, 2010

Japanese reaction to the kabuki dance is muted.  From the Asahi Shimbun to the Mainichi Shimbun, all papers refrain from any criticism of either side. Except for the occasional “Japan-bashing” comments by readers, officially everybody is carefully sidestepping that trap. Just as Toyoda did during yesterday’s grilling on the hill, when he said that Toyota is being treated fairly in the U.S., contrary to what his wrenching gut said.

Japan’s transport minister Seiji Maehara was likewise diplomatic. He said Thursday he is satisfied with the testimony, reports the The Nikkei [sub]:  “As a Japanese and U.S. company, I hope Toyota will ensure accountability and will make efforts to regain the trust of customers.”

The minister also avoided to comment whether some U.S. lawmakers are over-reacting to Toyota’s quality issues. When asked, he evaded the question and said that by his understanding, there is both criticism and support for Toyota in the U.S. Ehh ..

While watching the early morning CSPAN feed from Tokyo, Tomoko Schmitt, TTAC’s advisor on cross-cultural affairs, noted that Toyota made the wise choice of letting Akio Toyoda talk trough an interpreter, while the affable Yoshimi Inaba spoke English. The interpreter cushioned Toyoda from the sharpest blows and filtered-out long hesitations of her boss. The usual “answer the question, yes or no” just didn’t make it through the cushion.  The translation helped ride out the 5 minute clock, and hid the many very long “ehhhhhhhh” that would have sounded really bad, would Akio Toyoda have been allowed to speak in English. The interpreter made Toyoda sound better than in his native language.

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37 Comments on “Japanese Reaction To The DC Kabuki: “Eeeh…”...”


  • avatar
    OldandSlow

    From Texas, the hearings looked like a witch hunt by not the brightest of lawmakers when it comes to modern engine management systems.

    Honestly, I think we’ll see more and more electronic gremlins raise their head as manufacturers rely on robotic controls across all of their vehicles.

    I’m no fan of Toyota, but in my book Mr Toyoda handled himself brilliantly.

  • avatar

    Maybe not brilliantly, but Toyota survived the inquisition. And that’s all that’s needed. Nobody wins these hearings, you just need to get through alive.

    You are right, the grandstanding wasn’t exactly first class either.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      BusinessWeek quoted Danny DaVito from the ‘War of the Roses’ in reference to these Toyota hearings, “There is no winning! Only degrees of losing!”

      Personally though, I was impressed with Inaba’s performance. And having a combination of the soft-spoken Toyoda speaking through a translator and the more baritone Inaba press technical points probably really helped them. If it was Inaba alone he would have been grilled relentlessly

      Inaba also didn’t get caught up in the same trap Lentz did, instead of saying SUA fixed/didn’t-fixed in absolute terms, Inaba always referred to fixes produces result “below the industry average”. Lentz wasn’t clear in his testimony which lead to all the headlines saying recalls didn’t fix the problem.

  • avatar
    MasterOfTheJawan

    It disgusts me that they let Toyoda speak through an interpreter and americans should be outraged. This guy can speak fluent english. He gave his opening statement in english but when Q&A time comes he has to respond in japanese?!?! It’s nothing but 1: A deliberate stall tactic and 2: A legial ass covering so anything negative from Toyoda’s testimony from this that gets used in court can be blamed on the interpreter and translation process. Bullshit in it’s purest form.
    Rick Wagoner can speak fluent portugese. Maybe he shoulduv taken a play from Toyotas playbook and spoken through an interpreter when he visited DC in 08.

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      I have an even better idea. They should have let the Portugese interpreter run GM. He couldn’t have done any worse than Wagoner.

    • 0 avatar
      AlexD

      Yes, everyone speaks American. In fact, when traveling abroad, all you need to do is speak really really loudly and the locals always understand you.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      @MasterJ:

      You are being too hard on Toyoda; I suspect this is as a result of your lack of international or foreign-language experience.

      I have lived overseas, in a non-English-speaking European country for 10 years, and I can tell you, that if I were in Mr. Toyoda’s position, I would be using a translator too.

      I’ve criticized Mr. Toyoda for his performance at his evening press-conference a few weeks ago for trying to do the Q&A in English; it made my skin crawl and (kinda) feel sorry for him.

      I don’t know if you speak a 2nd language, or have tried to have complex discussions in it, but being able to read and pronounce the words written on a paper is quite different than listening to the random choice of words coming from an interogator, processing them, and then trying to answer back in the interogator’s language.

      As for the legal dodge, he could always claim that his poor English was responsible for misleading or incorrect testimony (using a translator, arguably, makes him more bound to his oath because there is recorded testimony of his original statements in Japanese; whether such would be admissible is, of course, a question for the Legal Eagles.)

      The translator would have been an obvious legal dodge except for the facts above.

      @Crash: Only think poor (rich, actually) ol’ (middle-age actually) Rick Wagner can do fluently is burn shareholder capital and market share with gay (no, not that kind) abandon…

      BTW, who else thinks Inaba looks and sounds like Mr. Sulu??

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      +2 to Robert.Walter

      Reading highly polished text is night-to-day different than interitive Q & A.

    • 0 avatar
      1996MEdition

      Maybe they could have given Rick his bailout money in old Portuguese Escudos.

      I thought we showed respect for other cultures here in America?

    • 0 avatar

      Robert Walter: Don’t be so rough on MasterOfTheJawan. The way he writes, English doesn’t seem to be his first language either …

    • 0 avatar
      JeremyR

      I guess some people are disappointed because they were hoping for blood and didn’t see any…

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      Ha! Yes, Inaba looks and sounds exactly like Mr. Sulu. I was wracking my brain last night trying to make that connection.

      Unlike the stumbling salesman Lentz, I was overall impressed with the 3 Japanese witnesses yesterday. They were professionally disciplined, and very courteous. A well-chemistried presentation of people and ideas and personalities.

      A very impressive performance, and yes, using an interpreter to rub the corners off statements, and speak in an America-soothing tone and voice inflection is a most helpful side effect of translation. Toyoda dodged or deflected many questions, but it was a demure, tasteful and understated form of dodging, and so pleasantly delivered. It reminded me of the reasons why companies locate call centers in certain parts of the world, to take advantage of local English dialects and inflections that their customers find pleasant to the ear. Smart business.

      Most importantly, they got their message across. That’s always the goal.

  • avatar
    Cammy Corrigan

    In the American media, has anyone brought up the fact that the government has a blatant conflict of interest, what with them having stakes in competing carmakers? I’m not saying that these hearings shouldn’t take place (because they should), it’s just the government have undermined their position in these hearings as a fair and impartial arbitrator.

    • 0 avatar
      EEGeek

      I’ve not seen that pointed out in news stories. You’d probably have to listen to neanderthal knuckle-dragging right-wing hate-speechifiers to hear mention of that.

      OTOH, most everyone knows that these congressional testimony things are more for show by the pols (before they go back to lunch with that pretty lobbyist, or that even prettier almost-a-man page) than to actually shed light on anything of substance.

    • 0 avatar

      EEGeek, if you haven’t “seen that pointed out in the news stories,” then you should get out some more. Belay that, just use Google. You know Google, don’tcha?

      Muses the Toronto Star from the Great White North:

      “Part political theatre, part culture clash, the hearing unfolded with undercurrents of trade protectionism and one especially glaring conflict of interest: The inquisitors, in the wake of the 2009 auto industry bailout, are acting on behalf of a government that is a major shareholder in Toyota’s competitors.

      Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, whose state includes significant Toyota manufacturing jobs, emphasized that apparent conflict in an interview with CNN.

      “I thought (Toyoda) got beat up. I thought there was a lot of edge in what people were saying,” he said. “The government is the biggest stockholder in General Motors … we have to make sure the goal is problem solving and not beating up on a foreign competitor.”

      In subjecting himself to a degree of scrutiny reserved for criminals in Japan, Toyoda emphasized how the company lost its way, pursuing growth over safety.”

    • 0 avatar
      Rod Panhard

      As is typical these days for reporters, they’ve not done their work. There once was a day when, if a celebrity said, “Hey, my Prius can go 97 mph if I use cruise control,” then a reporter would have said, “Hey, let’s go out on the highway and prove it.”

      But now, a celebrity prius owner makes a claim, and the reporters say, “Hey, let’s go to the blogosphere.”

      Big difference.

    • 0 avatar
      L'avventura

      In fairness, there were several in the hearing who did grill Lahood about that. Particularly one Utah politician name Jason Chaffetz, followed by Issa, questioned Lahood about the discrepancy of handling of the Cobalt steering problem versus the Corolla steering problem. GM’s product having over a thousand complaints and nothing being done over two years since its been known, while the Corolla is being pounded on by the NHTSA for a comparatively small number of complaints.

      The media makes a passing mention of a conflict of interest issues presented by several at the hearing buried within an article somewhere, but no one in the mainstream media seems to care or give it much attention. Salon.com said that nobody seems to care about it other then Republicans, and that the accusations ‘don’t stick’.

      So the mainstream media know about it, but the message is that they just don’t care.

    • 0 avatar
      GarbageMotorsCo.

      I agree completely and if I was on the stand for Lentz I would have come right out and said it. it is a known fact that obama is in bed with the UAW and it is a known fact that the government has 10’s of billions invested in a failing entity that has yet to post a profit (Gov’t Motors). It is in Congresses best interest to find holes in Toyotas success story in an attempt wipe the slate clean and justify of 30+ years of crap coming out of Detroilet. Wouldn’t be surprised in the least if Congress was sifting through every single one of the japanese automakers (Honda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Mazda, Nissan) documentation looking for dirt.

      I also would have challenged the panel to look under the rugs of ANY automaker out there and found similar “dirt” including the recent one for cobalt steering failures even though GM has known about them since 2005 they are still installing them and according to 2 friends of mine they are still failing at a very alarming rate (One in a Cobalt SS and another in a Saturn Ion at 30 thousand miles).

      Then again with GM, quality control and reliability have always been questionable so the rebuttal would have probably been “Well there’s nothing new there”

    • 0 avatar
      dkulmacz

      I don’t know if you consider National Public Radio to be part of the MSM, but they covered this in their recap of the hearings yesterday evening. They were interviewing the mayor of a town in Indiana with a Toyota plant, and he brought up the issue during the discussion.

  • avatar

    Congress should hand Toyoda a ceremonial knife.

    If they hadn’t gone cheap on the pedals, and had actually done better customer support regarding complaints of sticky accelerators, then the people killed by these cars (especially the cop in his lexus) would still be alive.

    Regardless, I’m just hoping their stock falls to a decent buy in price.

    • 0 avatar
      vww12

      Apparently some people have been bamboozled by the MSM into not knowing that the dead cop’s car had a long SUV mat instead of a short car mat installed… upside down. That people complained to the dealer about the very issue with the mat.

      Sure,blame the manufacturer. Everything bad that happens is always somebody else’s fault. Yeah. That’s the ticket.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      Is suicide funny to you? I really don’t think there is any place for that on TTAC.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      @vww12: I found Rep. Issa’s personal delivery of an aditional apology to Mrs. Saylor’s MIL, on behalf of the Saylor’s Lexus dealer to be a transparent attempt to re-direct her sorrow and anger (and lawsuit) from the dealer to Toyota Corp.

  • avatar
    european

    Bertel,
    watching this charade around Toyota, i cant get this scene from the movie Swordfish outta my head

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OygA7IdvOUQ&feature=related

    what did Toyoda really say? :))

  • avatar
    forraymond

    “Kiss my ass, you stupid monkey.”

    I may have to use that in conversation today…

  • avatar
    bmoredlj

    I thought for a minute there that Rep. John Mica was going to jump over the dais and start a physical altercation with Mr. Inaba, so infuriated was he by the “$100m win” stated in a document addressed to, not written by Inaba.

  • avatar
    CarPerson

    Mr. Toyoda was asked directly if he felt Toyota was being unfairly treated by a government that had a large stake in two of the U.S. automakers.

    He quickley replied “No” without hesitation.

    • 0 avatar

      That was the only answer he could give. Would he have answered “yes,” he would have been burned at that large stake. I’m glad he didn’t take the bait.

      Remember when Inaba (correctly) tried to characterize the Corolla as “an American car” – that didn’t go over too well.

      Should you ever end up in front of a hostile tribunal, the question “have you been treated well while in captivity?” will likely come up. I advise you to answer in the affirmative. If you won’t, it will be hell back in the hole.

  • avatar
    VLAD

    Too bad more people did not watch the hearings.

    Congress,and especially LaHood, came across like utterly incompetent thugs.

    • 0 avatar
      werewolf34

      Agreed. If people actually saw the way their representatives behave, I’m pretty some of them would actually get voted out of office.

      As for me I vote with my wallet. I look forward to negotiating hard for my new Toyota / Lexus

  • avatar
    NickR

    “Honestly, I think we’ll see more and more electronic gremlins raise their head as manufacturers rely on robotic controls across all of their vehicles.”

    I have to confess, that does make me nervous. The one I dislike the most, that I will avoid for as long as possible, is electric steering. No thanks.

    That being said, I am skeptical about a lot of the anecdotal stories. I mean, ever see the video of the women who drives over two cars in her SUV, in a parking lot? That’s the gym I go to, btw! Anyway, I can just imagine the fairy tale she could weave.

    One thing, has anyone ever tested these automotive systems against gamma rays from space? That’s my latest theory.

    • 0 avatar
      JeremyR

      I think you might be on to something, there. Or perhaps it’s the micro black holes or strange matter emitted from the Large Hadron Collider. And they haven’t even turned it up to “11” yet…

  • avatar
    NickR

    If Inaba says something derogatory about William Shatner, we’ll know what’s what.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Inaba-san’s corporate file photo:
      http://www.bbc.co.uk/norfolk/content/images/2006/05/02/george_takei_star_trek_new_150_150x180.jpg

      Oh, and don’t worry about Shatner, he can take care of himself:
      http://www.austinchronicle.com/binary/57f3/Sulu.jpg

      Inaba preparing to fight-back:
      http://img440.imageshack.us/img440/3084/sulu5bw.jpg

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