TURNING JAPANESE | Light Truck Review – FUSO

The close focus on developing technologies would suggest that a typical Japanese transport operation would be at the forefront of computer-based systems. Brenton O’Connor found the exact opposite during a recent visit to Tokyo.

Transport companies, whilst aiming to achieve the same outcome of delivering goods from A to B, differ greatly throughout the world in their method of operation. The way in which the business is conducted varies according to many factors, including the cultural disposition of the country and the environmental factors present. It is in this context that PowerTorque had the unique opportunity to meet one such company in Tokyo, Japan.

Kaneichi Unso is a transport and distribution business in Tokyo Japan that specialises in the distribution of seafood from the main fish market in Tokyo throughout the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.

The company began operations back in 1977 under the careful management of Mr. and Ms. Miyashita. Sadly, Mr. Miyashita passed away three years ago, which meant that Ms. Miyashita had to take control of the company in her own right. We were fortunate enough to meet with Ms. Miyashita to learn more about the way transport is done in Tokyo, and the way she runs her business, operating 24 hours per day, employing 65 full-time employees and managing a fleet of 69 rigid trucks.

The company operates from a small office in Tokyo, where four women sit around a long trestle type table, with piles of books and other paperwork as far as the eye can see.

Around the walls of the office are blackboards displaying huge amounts of detail written in chalk in the symbols of the Japanese language, illustrating how the jobs are allocated to the company’s fleet of trucks.

While the expectation was that all business activities would be database driven, there is not one computer in sight!

According to Ms. Miyashita, she prefers to administer the business manually as she’s “accustomed to this business style”. All company invoicing is carried out using carbon copy books, with financial records kept in traditional ledger books. The daily operation of the fleet is controlled completely via the blackboards mounted on the office walls. While being vastly different from the way in which a typical Australian distribution network operates, on a positive note it also means the business will never suffer from a computer virus of software collapse.

One of the company’s many customers is Tokyo’s most prestigious sushi restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, which has earned the rare honour of three Michelin stars for its culinary delights, and has entertained many famous patrons, including the 44th US President, Barack Obama.

The 69 trucks operated by Kaneichi Unso are predominately Fuso Canter narrow-cab units fitted with refrigerated bodies and with payloads of two tonnes.

In historical terms the company fleet has purchased well over 100 Fuso trucks since its foundation, and this achievement was commemorated by the presentation to the company of a large stainless steel refrigerator, which is on proud display in the companies head office.

When questioned as to why Fuso was the vehicle of choice for her business, Ms. Miyashita explained that it comes back to the service and professionalism offered by the dealership and the salesman.

“The Fuso narrow cabin is chosen due to its low overall height, and its ability to fit down narrow alleyways. What is unusual about the streets of Tokyo is the lack of kerbside parking,” said Ms. Miyashita.

“As in the area where the companies head office is located, the street design is buildings, fronting footpaths and then two lanes of traffic – there is no room to pull over or park,” she added.

We were fortunate enough to see the trucks in operation at the Tokyo Fish Market, which forms the fleet’s primary operational base. The Canters are all painted in the fleet livery of green with a black stripe around the cabin. The drivers are equally impressive in their uniform, which consists of black gumboots (to combat the wet floor areas of the fish market), black trousers, and a green jacket, which matches the cab colour of the Fuso trucks.

An interesting trend in the Japanese truck market has been the shift back to manual transmissions after the industry had largely moved to AMTs. The reasons are somewhat unclear, however operators are citing fuel efficiency gains via the manual transmission.

Truck driving is seen as a profession rather than just a ‘job’ in Japan. The drivers are very professional in the way they carry out their work, and the way they present themselves, as evidenced by the smart uniforms worn by the company personnel when we met.

Perhaps as a contributing factor of the advanced nature of the Japanese economy, the driver we interviewed explained how happy he is in his job, and that he loves the Fuso due to the way they drive. We queried him on the best part of his job, and we were amused to be told ‘lunchtime’ – at least something’s don’t change!

At the Tokyo Central Wholesale Seafood Market, a very enthusiastic man, Yasuhiro Yamazaki, who is the manager of a business called Yamaharu, provided us with a tour of the fish market.

Yamaharu is a company that trades seafood from this market both domestically and internationally. Seafood is a staple of the Japanese diet, more so than probably anywhere else in the world, and, as such, its big business. It’s interesting to note that seafood at the market is sourced both locally in the waters surrounding Japan, as well as from further afield where seafood is flown in to meet demand. In addition to servicing the domestic market, this market also exports seafood to a total of 65 other countries.

Yamazaki-san is the 18th generation member of his family to do this job, and his family has been operating out of this market for over 400 years. The market operates on an auction basis, where all seafood is auctioned in the early hours of each morning prior to being transported to the end user. In fact, Yamazaki begins his day at midnight, arriving at the market to get prepared for the day’s auctions, which commence shortly thereafter. Over 2000 tonnes of seafood are sold via auction each day, with a further 800 tonnes of ice produced daily to keep the seafood cold and in perfect condition.

It’s fascinating to see how transport business is carried out in different parts of the world, and Kaneichi Unso, with its paper-based administration, was certainly no exception. It was also pleasing to see truck driving being carried out in such a professional way, and the enthusiasm of the driver, towards both his employer and his truck, was clear.

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