Notes from Toyota-Land
I did a short stint in Japan and I recently read the novel "Notes From Toyota Land".
Notes from Toyota-land" is based on the diary Darius Mehri kept for the three years ('96-'99) he was working at a Toyota group company (called "Nizumi" in the book, assumed to be "Hino") in Japan.
It starts out as a "day-in-the-life" of a rather naive - and terribly proud - American computer simulation engineer, and ends as a bitter statement against Toyota, and all that it stands for (the book cover calls it "social critic").
Mehri is shocked at the "culture of rules" and organizational structure that combine to create a profound control over the workers, aka group work, as compared to team work. Welcome to Japan, I'd say...
For all his personal excellence (and if the reader doesn't notice the many implicit references, then Mehri isn't too shy to give some explicit references as well) and supposedly excellent language ability, Mehri hasn't really been able to jump out of his home-sweet-home boots. So his perspective remains firmly rooted in his native American soil.
This takes away from many of the valid points he makes, such as the unhealthy work environment at Japanese companies and Japan's immature and rigged political system.
If you think this is enough of a reason for not reading this book, there is one more; Mehri sets out on a personal crusade against one of the most popular Japan related business book, "The machine that changed the world" (Womack, Roos and Jones). He makes the first reference to it on page 5, and continously attacks it throughout the remainder of his book. Sure, TMTCTW isn't perfect, and there might be more than a few factual inaccuracies in it; but there is still a huge quality difference between that reference book, and the work Mehri delivers here. It's all a bit petty, and sounds like sour grapes.
Nevertheless, it's worth reading for anybody who is working in Japan for a traditional Japanese manufacturer. If anything, it will make you feel better about your own situation!