The Mindset of Monozukuri and creativity in a traditional art form applied in science & technology today

In Japanese, Monozukuri is a compound workd comprising “mono” which means “products,” (literally, “thing”) and “zukuri” which means “process of making or creation”.

However, the concept embraces more than the literal meaning. It offers the idea of possessing the “spirit to produce excellent products and the ability to constantly improve a production system and process”. The concept carries “overtones of excellence, skill, spirit, zest, and pride in the ability to make things good things very well. Monozukuri is not mindless repetition; it requires creative minds and is often related to craftsmanship which can be earned through lengthy apprenticeship practice rather than the structured course curricula taught at traditional schools.” In that sense, Monozukuri is an art rather than science.”

Monozukuri” is considered an important Japanese concept that it and karakuri traditions are covered in social studies textbooks in Japanese schools. There are many “toy museums” in nationwide as well as the national science museums which highlight the “Monozukuri” concept. It is said that “Monozukuri” as an art form has its origins more than 2,000 B.C. but that it reached its apogee in the Edo period and karakuri traditions flourished well into the Meiji period. One of the most popular public exhibitions ever is the show “Toyota Collection: Foundations of Monozukuri Innovation in Japan” in which “karakuri” mechanical toys from the Edo periods are exhibited for public display.

According to according to science historians, the karakuri mechanical “are not just dolls — they are the same kind of automata whose development in the West led to great strides in the modernization of science and technology” and in the Edo Period, it led to great fomenting of science and mathematical ideas and fueled scientific and technological innovation. Historians also like to emphasize that the automative capability, prowess and creativity existed in Japan before Commodore Perry’s famous “black ships” forced Japan to open its doors to the world, although Western influence undeniably introduced the many new scientific and other innovations that were taking place in the Western world.

Manufacturers and engineers in Japan today still tap into the idea of monozukuri and consider it a fundamental principle in their manufacturing, design and engineering processes, said one university professor of the connection between technology and monozukuri creativity:

” However, science and engineering play an important role in monozukuri, and this article discusses how important it is to have both craftsmanship technology and scientific and engineering principles and practices when we want to have successful monozukuri and teach students with monozukuri. Interestingly, the creative aspect of engineering is addressed by Von Karman, the founder of aerothermochemistry – “Scientists see things that are and ask ‘why?’ Engineers dream of things that were not and ask, ‘why not?’ ”

The concept of “Monozukuri” is a key concept applied to the Toyota production system, particularly to the use of robotics …where the application of the concept is laid out as follows:

“the management of skill, technology and human resources. This concept is typically seen in a Toyota production system. Toyota manufactures automobiles based on the “just-in-time” concept. It means “all about producing only what’s needed and transferring only what’s needed.” It stopped the factory from producing unnecessary items. Another example is FANUC’s (company) receipt of “Monozukuri” award from Nikkei Newspaper Company. Faced with ever-intensifying global competition, the Japanese manufacturing industry needs to strengthen its winning edges. The manufacturing industry must make their products more competitive by reducing their production costs. As a solution, FANUC has proposed and realized an unmanned production system with its intelligent robots. In 2002, FANUC introduced to its factory an unmanned machining system, using its intelligent robots, to machine unattended for long hours. FANUC developed its advanced ‘Assembly Robot Cell,’ a full-scale assembly system using the latest intelligent robots, and installed the system to begin assembly of FANUC’s Mini Robots in June 2004. The ‘Assembly Robot Cell’ is a state-of-the-art assembly system. It uses intelligent robots, especially its latest vision and force sensors, to retrieve randomly piled parts and perform micro-meter-precision assembly at the skilled worker’s level,unattended, for extended periods of time. The Assembly Robot Cell will expand industrial robot applications beyond the traditional material handling and spot welding applications to general machine assembly. FANUC is committed to achieving the winning edge in themanufacturing industry by successfully implementing automatic assembly on the factory floor. Thus, the robotics technology at assembly lines is required to develop with the“monozukuri” concept in mind.”

It is thought that the longstanding monozukuri and karakuri traditions in Japan helped foster the Japanese love of automation and engineering, that it is seen in why Japanese take to the ubiquitous vending machine, or to intelligent toilets and are captivated by home-robots. 

In fact, Toyota states with pride of the monozukuri and karakuri tradition,

“Historically, the traditional Japanese doll named “Karakuri Doll” is said to be the origin of robot. A Karakuri doll that was manufactured and was selling well 400 years ago moves by a combination of gears when its spring is winded. This fact indicates that Japan has a very long history inmanufacturing robots. A seal-like robot, called “Paro,” manufactured by AIST is very popular among those who are hospitalized long-term or among elderly people as it has proved to have mental “healing” effects on humans. “Paro” was recently filmed inDenmark, and the theme of the movie shows the difference of viewpoint on robots between westerners and Japanese. Sony’s dog-like robot named AIBO was also a best seller, although they stopped the production of it in 2005. These are the examples that Japanese people regard robots more than something that work hard at assembly lines or doing routine tasks. Rather, they deal with these robots as pets and friends. Thus, whereas robots are seen as “labor source” in the western world, in Japan they are being treated like living things with which humans work or live together.”

The long and short, Monozukuri spirit is alive today and is such a key concept today still because it is synonymous with Japanese creativity and innovation.


Report Memorandum #06-06, National Science Foundation

History of Japanese homegrown science finally adds up Japan Times Sun, Aug 10, 2003

“The art behind the industry” by Julian Satterthwaite, Thursday, July 7, 2007

The Mindset of Monozuri

The Development of the Kentucky-Toyota Research Partnership: Application to Monozukuri

Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology in Nagoya1-35, Noritake Shinmachi 4-chome, Nishi-ku, Nagoya 451-0051 Japan
Tel. (052)551-6115
Fax. (052)551-6199

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