Tuesday 14 October 2003

Made in Usa

I don’t regard myself as particularly gullible, yet I’ve long believed the story that in the post-war period—when “Made in Japan” was a synonym for “shoddy quality”—Japanese manufacturing companies set up branch offices in the Kyushu town of Usa, so that they could label their export products “Made in USA”.

Five years ago, I spent a couple of weeks traveling around Kyushu, winding up in the hot spring town of Beppu. On the morning I was due to take the two-and-a-half hour train ride back to Fukuoka and my flight home, I checked the map and was thrilled to see that the Nippō line passed through Usa.

Map of northwest Kyushu, including Usa

We pulled into Usa just long enough for me to take a quick snap of the station sign, which displayed the name in hiragana (うさ) and Chinese characters (宇佐), as well as the names of the previous stop, Nishiyashiki (にしやしき) and next stop, Buzen-nagasu (ぶぜんながす). The names on railway signs in Japan are shown prominently in hiragana for the benefit of school children who may not yet have learned the appropriate Chinese characters (西屋敷 and 豊前長洲 respectively).

Station sign, UsaIn those days I was shooting my still photographs with a Sony DCR-PC10 digital video camera because it had a Carl Zeiss 10x zoom lens and I could store over 500 stills on a single 60 minute tape. Transferring the images to the computer via a video capture card was tedious, but the video camera—with its tiny flip-out screen—was as quiet and unobtrusive as a Leica. This is not a great example of what it can do—especially compared to the clarity of these Japan Railways photos of the station signs at Usa—but I loved shooting stills with the video camera and took a lot of lovely pictures on that trip.

Although I can’t recall where I first heard of the “Made in USA” scam, Google soon disabused me of its accuracy by pointing to an entry at snopes.com, the Urban Legends Reference Pages:

This rumor was almost certainly a tongue-in-cheek joke inspired by someone’s noticing the coincidence of a town in Japan named Usa (and perhaps fueled by American xenophobia or lingering resentment of the Japanese). In fact, the Japanese city of Usa (on the island of Kyushu) was not creating by renaming an existing town; it was called Usa long before World War II. As well, nearly every country that imports goods requires them to be marked with the name of their country of origin, not a town or city, and it would have taken some circuitous (and probably expensive) routing to get goods marked “Made in USA” into other countries without anyone’s noticing that they had originated in Japan. America, especially, Japan’s largest market by far, would certainly have noticed the incongruity of goods marked “Made in USA” being imported into the USA.

The truth, as so often happens, isn’t nearly as fascinating as the (urban) legend. But nowadays, when people ask me if I’ve ever been to the USA, at least I’m able to reply: “Yes I have—both of them.”

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I've often been thankful for the english version of railway signs in Japan, but never wondered why they were also displayed in Hiragana AND Kanji. Sometimes you come across an answer and you wonder why you've never asked the question. Ahem... what happened to the George Bush / Aircraft carrier story? As a temporary resident of the "other USA" I was looking forward to that.

Posted by Marius Coomans on 14 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I can't email you direct thanks to the continent wide spam filter, but I thought you'd want to know -- your sidebar Recent comments are broken because they're still referencing a page by entry id rather than the title based thing.

Now, please feel free to delete this comment. But I did like this post. And I also want to hear the aircraft story.

Marius in the US -- lucky him! All that starbucks coffee.

Posted by Shelley on 15 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Thanks, Shelley! I'd never have picked that up in a million years. Because I'd installed Jay Allen's MT-Blacklist anti-spam plugin, I went back to using my old Recent Comments module instead of the Recent Feedback module that relies on Adam Kalsey's SimpleComments. It didn't occur to me that the Recent Comments code hadn't been updated to use my fancy entry-title-based filenames.

As for the Bush aircraft stunt essay, I emailed Marius that I'd given up on it. But today, going into the city on the train, I figured out another way of approaching the subject, so I may well write it after all.

Now, in line with my Comment Policy, I'll have to delete all Marius's, yours, and my comments for being off-topic. Heheh.

Posted by Jonathon on 15 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I protest loudly that my comment was not (on the whole) off topic. Also, there is only one Starbucks in Nashua, NH as all the locals buy their coffee at Dunkin Donuts. And anyway, I wouldn't frequent it as I brought my Douwe Egberts coffee and plunger from Australia. Lovely to be in New Hamphire in the "Foliage" season, though. I posted some pictures on my CorporateBlog, but it's behind the firewall.
[Now there... that's off-topic!]

Posted by Marius Coomans on 17 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

I did forget -- New Englanders prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee. I've been away far too long, and have forgotten all the local customs. My only defense is that Dunkin is a memory I'm trying to suppress.

You are in NH in a good time, Marius. If you get a chance, I hope you can try a B & B on the Champlain Islands in Vermont. It really is an astonishing place. No worries -- there isn't a Starbucks in sight along its entire 90 mile length.

But no fair posting pics where we can't see. I may drag myself out this weekend and try and get some pics of Missouri's wonderfully colorful forests. No film though, so will have to be digital.

(And this comment is so wildly off-topic, that I should hack into Jonathon's server and delete it myself before he wakes up. I hope he doesn't click the little link and zap me.)

Posted by Shelley on 18 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

It came to me in a dream last night that Marius's first comment was entirely on topic since it dealt with:

1) railway signs in Japan
2) items of shoddy quality manufactured in USA, ie George W. Bush.

This morning I find that Marius's and Shelley's follow-up comments also deal with items of shoddy quality manufactured in USA, ie Starbucks coffee.

I now realize that this is probably one of the most "on-topic" comments threads I'll ever get. My apologies to you both.

Posted by Jonathon on 18 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Oooo, nasty man's has pissed on our coffee, preciousss. He's hurts us, he hassss.

No, no, he's a good master, he is. He's our friend.

We have no friendsss, precious. We have's only our coffeee.

But he brings us Tim Tams, sweet, juicy Tim Tams.

What is Tim Tams? Is it cold and clammy, is it? Is it crunchy? Can we feel its bones break when we bites it?


Arggg! Master tricks us! Master tries to kill us, preciousss! Takes our coffee and gives us Nasty Tim Tamsss!

We show him. We takes him to the One. He will take care of nasty, cruel trickster. He'll find the preciousss. Yesss. We doubts him, we do, but he has said the precious exists and we believes him. Yes, we believes him, we do. He'll gives us our coffee, he will. He'll find the preciousss, too, as soon as he findsss zipper in flight suit. Yes, my preciousss. Then Master will pay.

Posted by Shelley on 18 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

Wow, that nasty cheap shoddy made in USA (trying desperately to stay within shouting distance of the topic here) anesthesia must have been quite the trip there Shell :-)

Posted by The Dynamic Driveler on 18 October 2003 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

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