I’m old.

I remember when “Made in Japan” meant cheap, shoddy goods guaranteed to fall apart in short order, made by funny looking slave labor who ate cats for dinner. Or something. It was several years post WWII, the mid-50’s, and war stereotypes were hard to kill.

It’s interesting how generations create an alternate mind-space, because when a young person says “It’s made in Japan” he means a seriously quality good, like a Lexus, Infiniti or Sony: not a budget items, for sure, but top quality at a fair price. High on the “value proposition” which is quality divided by price.

As a kid, I had small items, transistor radios, toys, and gadgets made in Japan. I was fascinated at the Japanese type when poking around inside, the very definition of “foreign.” And as usual, most fell apart. But they didn’t cost much, so not much harm done.


(“Made in Japan”)

rocket radio

(As a child, this was my contact to the outside world, a rocket crystal radio. Clip it to my bedframe—a ground—put the bud in my ear, the move the rocket antenna up and down to find radio stations, especially at night, locating those 50,000w “flamethrower” AM signals.)

Try to tell a young person about cheap items being made in Japan, and he’ll look at you like a space alien.
I mentioned in a prior blog post “My Trail of Motorcycle Addiction” about my first encounter with a paradigm-busting motorcycle, a Honda 50, known around the world as a Honda Cub, the most manufactured vehicle in world history: a staggering 87 million Cubs have been produced since 1957 in 15 countries. Think Soichiro Honda has worked out the bugs?cub

(Honda C90 Super Cub)

Honda single-handedly killed the British motorcycle industry when they brought the world’s first super bike, the CB750, to America in 1969. Before that, the Triumph Bonevilles, BSA Lightnings and Norton Commando’s ruled the motorcycle roost.honda-cb-750-k1-10

(1969 CB750, the world’s first SuperBike)

And it wasn’t just the incredible performance or price that won hearts and minds, it was also the quality of these machines: they just didn’t break down as Brit iron was prone to do. And they didn’t leak oil like Harley’s.

The Brits never recovered. The Americans, with their Harley-Davidson brand, suffered mightily. In a nutshell, the Japanese brands out ran the Brit & American bikes, had few quality issues and sold for a much lower price. In 1972, Harley had 100% of the US market over 1000cc. By 1982, they has 15%. Where I come from we call that a country boy ass-whoopin’. It was so bad Harley begged politicians to add high import duties to Japanese motorcycles to help level the playing field.

Ditto Japanese cars coming to America. I remember the first funny looking Honda Civics first arrival, then the Accord. It couldn’t have been even 5 years before Honda was on top of American car sale for the same reason as Japanese motorcycles: incredible performance and quality at a very modest price. Consumers loved them and the American car industry suffered mightily.091015-01-First_Generation_Honda_Civic_ad-650x393

(In just 5 years, the Little Honda Civic CVCC drove a stake into the heart of the American automobile industry.)

Out of 2.5 million registered vehicles in the Dominican Republic, roughly 1.8 million are motorcycles, with 99% under 200cc. When I first moved to the DR 9 years ago, the Chinese motorcycle invasion had been underway with Honda Cub and Yamaha Crypton clones everywhere. But closer examination shows serious flaws: poor quality components, fit and finish, guaranteed to fall apart as soon as the warranty expired. And they did. But they were very inexpensive, an important consumer element in a poor country, so hundreds of thousands got sold.

But a funny thing has been happening since I’ve been living in the DR: Chinese quality has made enormous strides, the fit and finish are nearly First-World standards, parts became standardized and much better quality and the bikes, in general, began lasting a lot longer. And they’ve sold like crazy.

We live in a global economy where capitalism is no longer the domain of just a few countries. Consumers in the Third World want the exact same metrics that North Americans and Europeans want: the best quality product at the most modest price possible. Competition has been fierce, and likely to become even more fierce.

This competition has definitely burbled over to the Chinese brands of motorcycles. And while some are slow to accept the “New Age” of Chinese quality, motorcycle addicts like myself see quality of these machines increasing faster than price—with consumers getting the Win.

While some may continue to lament “cheap Chinese junk”, these same people are loathe to admit that some of the worlds top-quality brands, like Apple, Lenovo, Huawei and Haier are “made in China.”

Maybe it’s time we took off the blinders and judged products on their merits and not our biases.

“Junk”, indeed…