Here is something you may not be aware of: in 40 years from now, Japan will lose 40 million of its people! Right now, the Japanese are the fastest ageing demographic on the planet. One could wonder what consequences such a rapid depopulation will have on their society, economy and even on the mere existence of the Japanese as a nation. As someone who has nothing but admiration for the Japanese work ethic, honesty, integrity, politeness and sophistication, I often wonder if we haven’t already seen the best of Japanese watchmaking? Is there any 'oomph' and desire left to compete with Swiss watchmaking? Do the Japanese really care?
The answer to this question is complex. When it comes to industry and technology, Japan is losing its traditional 'fine engineering' capabilities to China. Also, it seems to me that manufacturing watches for export is not a priority. And it almost feels that the Japanese are happy with the status quo: when was the last time you've seen a Japanese watch not targeting the senior citizens market?
Then, there is another typical Japanese problem: its obsession with being just a small cog in Mega Corporation. Not only small: ideally - invisible. One man start-ups, micro operations and self-employed people are traditionally seen as inferior and unnecessary business models. Keep a low profile - from the first day in kindergarten to retirement - and beyond. Which means you can count the number of true independent Japanese watchmakers on one hand. Couple the shyness with the language barrier on the one side with aggressive Swiss branding on the other - and you can see why even in a country the size of Japan, home grown watchmaking is struggling.
If you are a young Japanese keen to study watchmaking then you can consider one of 6 watchmaking schools in Japan.
In the watchmaking business since 1918, Citizen just celebrated 100 years. Nowadays the big chunk of activity of the Citizen Corporation is the manufacture of precision lathes (we have one in Brookvale!) but Citizen still makes plenty of watches. The website is in Japanese, of course: http://cwmj.citizen.co.jp/company/school.html
2. Nagano Matsumoto Technical school
Operated by Nagano Prefecture. No website.
2. Oumi Tokei school is located in Ohtsu, Shiga
The website is http://www.tokei-co.org/ and appears to be more of a TAFE-style facility where students are trained for a wide range of trades, from blacksmithing and machining to watchmaking.
4. Osaka “Watches Expert Employment Training School”
The Osaka school of watchmaking offers a 1 year course ‘to students who wish to become a professional watchmaker”.
The graduating ceremony looks like this:
5. Hiko Mizuno College of Jewellery
Hiko Mizuno (Tokyo campus) offers 2 years and 3 years specialised watchmakers’ courses. The website is in English and it appears that the school attracts a decent number of non-Japanese students.
6. Tokyo Watch Technicum
Tokyo Watch Technicum was established in April 2003 and is run by Rolex Japan. Basically, it is a WOSTEP (Swiss) training program housed in a large, modern building belonging to the Rolex Japan Service Centre. Despite sharing the same building, Tokyo Watch Technicum is independent from the Rolex Japan Service Centre and students cannot visit other floors except their training rooms. Students complete the 3,000-hour WOSTEP curriculum in two years
Tutoring: the equivalent of AUD$18,000 per year plus AUD$5000 for tools.
So far only 30 or so students have completed the course, and all of them now work for Rolex, Richemont, Breitling and Audemars in Japan.
Finally, it would be a sin to talk about Japanese watchmaking without mentioning Seiko - the most famous Japanese watch brand. Check out the brand's history page for some amazing details: