American Manufacturing is dead to me

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Ok, ok… I’m making this statement based on a single Japanese company.  It isn’t fair.  Zojirushi (the Japanese company in question) makes peerless products, though.  They’re well-designed and have outstanding production quality.

On the recommendation of our friends Asher and Harumi, we bought a Zojirushi rice cooker a couple of years ago.  Mind you, I never realized what I’d be getting into when I went shopping for a rice cooker; Zojirushi themselves make, like, two dozen different models, and they aren’t the only company in the business.   In any case, we’re really happy with the rice cooker.  It’s easy to use, easy to clean, and is full of features like a delayed start timer.  What I found I liked the most, though, was the build quality.  The plastic parts are robust, and it fits together nicely.  There are no loose, wiggling bits, and it isn’t complicated or ambiguous in dis-or-re-assembly.

The thing that prompted me to write this post, though, was that I just bought a Zojirushi travel mug.  Now, you’d think that purchasing a travel mug would be simplicity itself, but it isn’t.  There are countless available, but most of the web sites don’t tell you about the construction, and by the time I’d purchased my third one, I’d discovered that the American manufacturing industry’s definition of “insulated” doesn’t match my definition.  Every one of those mugs is double-walled aluminum, and none of them retain heat even over the course of my commute into work.

As an aside: I know that these mugs are all, probably, produced in China.  I’m guessing that they’re designed in the U.S., and even if they aren’t, they’re branded by U.S. company logos.  So take note: I don’t give a hoot who’s making the thing… you put your name on it, you’re responsible for it.

I eventually discovered that Zojirushi manufactures a line of mugs.  A bunch of them.  Again, they have about a dozen models, of various designs, sizes, and intended use.  I settled pretty quickly on the SM-DA series (there are two sizes sub-models, DA35 and DA50) because of their heat retention.  Now, here’s the first way in which this Japanese company beats it’s American counterparts: they actually put heat retention metrics on their product page.  You know, the kind of information you’d want to know if you were purchasing something that was supposed to be retaining heat.  This model had other nice features, such as a locking, sealing lid.  It took a while to find a place (that wasn’t in Japan) to purchase it – I got mine from a “bargaincell” through buy.com – and it took even longer for them to ship it, but it arrived yesterday.

Here’s where it gets good.  First,  nothing is in English except for the company name and product model.  There are a lot of cute pictures of Anime-style people burning their faces by doing naughty things (not that kind of naughty, you pervert) with the mug.  But, hell… it’s a travel mug; how hard can it be?

The construction is, again, amazing.  The cover is almost as heavy as the rest of the mug, which is amazing in two ways: the mug itself is super-light, and the lid is unusually heavy.  The plastics are, again, robust; the rubbers are soft and pliable, and it all goes together with that typical Zojiushi solidness.  The locking and release mechanism are simple to operate, and the seal is perfect.  A perfect example of the quality is a very small thing: when the lid is folded back, it locks into place so it doesn’t flop forward onto your face when you drink.  It is details like that, which I know from experience you don’t get from American products*, that make the difference.

And the best thing is that I poured coffee into it about 45 minutes ago, and the canister and lid are still cool to the touch, which means that there’s been no (or very little) heat loss.

It might just be that Zojirushi makes good products.  It might be that the Japanese, unlike Americans, are unwilling to settle for cheap, throw-away, crap.  I suspect that it’s the latter; Japan is a wealthy country.  Regardless, I’ll be looking first to Japanese products – specifically, products primarily intended for the Japanese market – for future purchases.

Copyright © Sean Elliott Russell

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