How Do You Feel About Nikon Closing in Japan? Here's How Japanese People Have Reacted

How Do You Feel About Nikon Closing in Japan? Here's How Japanese People Have Reacted

Shockwaves spread throughout the camera world this week when it was reported that Nikon would end 70 years of camera production in Japan and move manufacturing to Thailand. How do you feel about this? And how do Japanese people feel about this?

When you think of the big camera companies in existence today, Nikon will almost certainly be a part of the conversation alongside the likes of Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and others. However, financially, things haven't been going too well for Nikon in recent times and reports out this week suggest that Nikon is taking itself out of Japan and moving its camera production division to Thailand. There are a number of reasons for this, including the most obvious: economics. Wages, taxes, production costs, and so forth will no doubt be cheaper in Thailand. Thus, when you're struggling financially, it makes sense to find ways to cut costs.

Also, the factory in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, and its surroundings were significantly affected by the earthquake and resulting tsunami back in March, 2011. One employee died, three were missing, and there were power outages for a number of weeks. Some of Nikon's parts and materials suppliers were wiped out by the tsunami and at least one camera model, the D800, was directly delayed due to the quake. At least one Coolpix camera model was canceled due to loss of parts supply. Even though the plant was back in full production by 2012, perhaps the current circumstances of COVID-19 have simply accelerated prior held plans to cut and run from the area and move production offshore. Nikon hasn't released a statement yet so we'll have to wait for confirmation. 

Nikon HQ in Shinagawa, Tokyo

It is worth noting that Nikon's headquarters, and home to the production of many of its profitable arms, is in central Tokyo, and not at the plant that is reportedly winding up. Indeed, as far as I can find, there are only about 350 employees at the Sendai plant, as opposed to 20,000 plus within the entire Nikon company. Be that as it may, it is still quite a shock to see Nikon's camera manufacturing move offshore. I've lived in Japan for 16 years now and have bought a house here and become a permanent resident. Thus, I know that many company employees, or "kaishain", in Japan still harbor the desire to work for one company for life, and salaries and annual bonuses are heavily tied to the length of tenure within a company. As a result, there would be employees who have worked at that Nikon plant in Sendai for 40-50 years who may well be left in limbo now with regards to pensions and retirement plans.

With this backdrop, I asked a number of Japanese people how they felt about the news of Nikon moving its camera manufacturing offshore to Thailand. I am pretty fluent in Japanese, but recorded the answers so my wife could translate if there was anything I didn't quite understand. I also endeavored to ask people with no real ties or deep, historical connections with Nikon, cameras, or photography. The answers I got were rather fascinating. 

First up I asked my wife how she felt. She's not really into photography and simply said it was a sign of the times. This was a common theme throughout the answers. She did some checking herself when I told her the news and seemed somewhat relieved when she found out it was just the Sendai plant that was closing, and not Nikon itself. This was actually quite salient, because it showed that she hadn't heard the news at that time. She said that if it was the whole company that was going under rather than just one plant moving its operations abroad, then it would be far more shocking to her.

My wife in kimono at a shrine near home

This was a sentiment repeated by my wife's father and her uncle. My wife's father is a man in his 50s who lives on a tiny island in the far south of Japan and spends his time mostly on the family's farms. Both my father-in-law and my wife's uncle were actually up to date on things because they follow the news religiously. Almost in unison the two of them said "shouganai" when I asked about the situation and how they felt, which is a very common Japanese word that translates to "it can't be helped." They said it was sad that a Japanese company with the history of Nikon had to take such cost-cutting measures but in the next breath, both said that 2020 was a year like no other. Thus, nothing surprised them these days and they simply shook their heads, shrugged their shoulders, and had another sip of shouchu (similar to sake but made from potatoes as opposed to rice). Nonetheless, they were a little saddened that 100s of employees might be affected in an area that has already been devastated over the last decade.

Tractor work takes precedence for my wife's father

Next, I asked some of my photography students from the college where I work. Their answers were quite interesting. Most of them were quite shocked but wondered how Japanese consumers might react if it meant Nikon cameras and lenses were no longer made in Japan. They clearly understood the economic side of the argument and pondered that it may well mean cheaper Nikon cameras in the future, but said traditional consumer sentiment in Japan meant there was a tendency to buy Japanese-made goods, especially when it comes to expensive purchases such as electronic goods and cars. 

Summing Up

Japan has a shrinking population and has been overtaken by China as an economic force in the last decade. Salaries are comparatively high here so it makes sense that Nikon moves its production offshore if it's more economically viable. The fact that it's only one (smallish) plant that's moving means it hasn't really sent massive shockwaves throughout the news cycle here this week. Nonetheless, is this a sign of desperation from Nikon's camera arm in a bid to stave off the inevitable, or just a response to the reality of the situation Nikon is now confronted by? And I wonder what competitors like Canon and Sony make of it all?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Cover image by Johan from Turku used under Creative Commons.

Nikon HQ image by kamemaru2000 used under Creative Commons.

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58 Comments

Jason Savelsberg's picture

Nikon already made a lot of its products in Thailand for years before now. This is a wise cost cutting move that they needed to make. Nikon will be fine. All of this doom and gloom talk of them has gotten ridiculous.

95% of Nikon users are still using their DSLRs, so Nikon's continued dedication to both mirrorless and DSLR offerings will serve them well. The Z6II and Z7II are selling well, they just finished their pro-zoom trinity, and many are excited for the successor to the D850 in 2021.

If all goes well with the vaccine in 2021, then I think it will be a great year for Nikon. I certainly hope so, because I really don't want all of this doom and gloom talk to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Jim Cutler's picture

Especially the last thing you said at the bottom.

Iain Stanley's picture

I don’t think it’s doom and gloom for Nikon as a whole in any way. But for the camera and lens manufacturing division, I hope it’s just pragmatics rather than anything more

A M's picture

optics is a much bigger % for nikon.

Christian Fiore's picture

And that's the problem. Cameras used to be Nikon's biggest product just a few years ago, and pretty much since the beginning. Now it's not, with no sign of returning to that spot.

A M's picture

no way nikon can have canon/sony money to re-invest back into the business in long term. it's a downward spiral and you know where it will go eventually.

Julian Ray's picture

It seems that the move is just a natural, if reluctant, step in the evolution of their business practices.
As you mention, lots of their photography division production is already done in Thailand and so this consolidation makes sense.
Nikon is a lot tougher and resilient company than most in the west think and they have always stayed the middle course on the sea of fads and trends.
Though a tough year for them (everyone!) they continue to make great photography equipment that stands the test of time and the noise of social media.
Good article Iain, thanks for sharing.

Iain Stanley's picture

Nikon actually makes the bulk of its money outside of cameras. They have said they will never entirely walk away from camera/lens production, but it’s not where their money comes from right now. Perhaps the move to Thailand might change that....

Timothy Roper's picture

With Japan's declining population and relatively low productivity, what else can they do?

Iain Stanley's picture

Thailand has been a very popular market in Asia too

stuartcarver's picture

I mean does it really matter where stuff is made? As long as they have standards in place that equal their other facilities.... I always laugh when people complain about Fuji’s being made in China, like suddenly they are going to fall apart or something.

Iain Stanley's picture

Outside of Japan, it probably matters little to most. Inside Japan is quite different though. I guess time will tell how much Japanese care where Nikons are made and/or assembled...

Christian Fiore's picture

Probably won't matter too much, as most of the sales data from Japan continually shows Nikon is just a blip on the radar compared to Canon, Sony, Fuji, and even Olympus (RIP).

zeissiez lee's picture

In the film to digital transition period, before D300, D3 and D700 were launched, many said Nikon wouldn’t go far in the digital era. Well, it’s still the number 2 brands in interchangeable lens system. When 90% of their DSLR user base switches to mirrorless, they will sell as many mirrorless cameras as Sony.

Christian Fiore's picture

Sony beat out Nikon for #2 about a year ago:
https://fstoppers.com/gear/sony-overtakes-nikon-become-number-two-camera...

And Nikon's actually 100% on par with Sony as far as the number of FF mirrorless cameras they've released by their 2nd year.

Sony
A7
A7R
A7S
A7 II
A7R II

Nikon
Z6
Z7
Z5
Z6 II
Z7 II

Then again, Sony was in their 2nd generation of cameras by year 2, and Nikon is only offering an incremental upgrade to their 1st generation at the same point...

El Capitan's picture

Seeing a product with a label that says “made in china” is associated with a poor junky quality in my mind. All my gear (most is dated) is made in Japan and it keeps on working. My vintage Japanese cameras are chrome, brass and steel, and even my Canon m50 mirrorless although plasticky is made in Japan. I trust the Japanese ethics and quality control. Thailand is a different culture, my brother lived there for some years, who tells me there’s a lot of corruption on all levels and people are plain lazy - it’s in their culture and it translates into the work they do.

Timothy Roper's picture

iPhones are made in China, and not too many people think those are poor, junky quality. And once upon a time, people associated a "made in Japan" label with poor junky quality. Only Germans knew how to make something like a camera. And even today, some people think a Leitz lens made in Canada instead of Germany must be of lesser quality, due to Canada's rather provincial, unsophisticated nature (plus they drink a lot!). But supply chains are global today, and it doesn't really matter where parts are made or assembled.

Rich Bind's picture

Germans probably drink more beer than Canadians? Many Europeans find many Americans a bit provincial and rather opinionated like Donald Trump that famous golfer in Florida.

China cheap labour made Apple Inc the richest corporation in history but China the most hated country in America today. Irony? Europe comes a close second?

Christian Fiore's picture

Pretty sure the human rights violations of China are what make it the most hated country...

Christian Fiore's picture

"iPhones are made in China, and not too many people think those are poor, junky quality"

That's because all they have to compare them to are other phones made in China...

Jan Holler's picture

Calling an entire country or its people lazy and corrupt and even claiming that it is in their culture is racism.

El Capitan's picture

Here we go again with the racism labeling of a personal opinion. Have you ever been in Thailand? I suggest you look up a definition for a derogatory Thai word “Farang” that’s reserved for westerners. In Japan it is “Gaijin”.

Roth S's picture

What is the meaning of that words? Do you really understand it?

Jan Holler's picture

Racism is everywhere. You may think again about your statement instead of dismissing mine. Maybe you choose other words or other phrases the next time?

Christian Fiore's picture

Thinking a single race lives in one country is ignorance.

Jan Holler's picture

There are no such things as human races. And you voting my anti racism comment down above says more about yourself than my comment. Get lost!

Kenneth Rose's picture

We need free speech, even if if we do not like what is being said. We need to protect the right to make unpopular and/or politically incorrect statements. The alternative, (making hate speech a crime, "cancel culture", etc.) is worse. It is a step on the way to totalitarianism, where the state decides what is true, what is false, what we may say, and what we may not.

Glem Let's picture

Firstly Merry Christmas...!!

If it keeps them in the game so be it. I have older Japan Nikkors that are rubbish on modern sensors, and modern Thai built lenses that are amazing.
The advantages of moving there is that they are already there, and as others have said, their quality control is very high anyway.

So good luck Nikon and keep bringing us D850’s, amazing mega 105mm lenses and fantastic 50mm and 85mm 1.8G’s that offer so much quality for the price...

Iain Stanley's picture

Yes I have nothing bad to say about any brand really. I only use Canon because the salesman offered me two free kit lenses when I bought my first DSLR way back when. It could just have easily been Nikon. I hope they do well because competition is a good thing.

And I hope you enjoy your Christmas!

Alex Ragen's picture

For some reasonI cannot fathom, there have lately appeared numerous articles gleefully predicting the imminent demise of Nikon. It’s good to hear that my favorite camera company is taking the painful steps it needs to in order to survive another century or two.

Brad Smith's picture

you mean year or two.... What they're really doing is making the consumer imaging part of their company ripe for a buyout.

J Cortes's picture

It's a smart financial move. Products such as the D810 & D850 have been made for years in Thailand. Find something else to write about already.

Rich Bind's picture

How things change from the days of the Nikon F2 in 1972 when Nikon could do no wrong. Everything changed with auto focusing from Minolta in 1984. Canon were quicker off the mark with faster lenses. Professionals had no choice but to switch. With Sony controlling the sensor market they have now hit the high road with new mirrorless cameras that are astounding.

How Nikon comes back will be a real challenge because Canon have the advantage by capturing a big part of the Chinese market. The US market remains important but the exchange rate is a drag. Europe will not be provide any comfort for the Japanese camera industry. Obviously in a real world there would be mergers. The one that makes sense being Fujifilm and Nikon.

Steve Powell's picture

When is Fstoppers going to change it’s attitude about Nikon. I get really tired of the anti Nikon bias on this site.

El Dooderino's picture

I'm not sure how reporting on a current event is "anti-Nikon".

Iain Stanley's picture

I’m curious where you find anything “anti-Nikon” in the article?

Steve Powell's picture

Not your article specifically, just an accumulation of articles seemingly encouraging the demise of Nikon. Curiously I haven't seen any articles concerning the financial situation of Canon.

Iain Stanley's picture

I can’t speak for anyone else here at Fstoppers but I reckon people would be all over it if Canon/Sony etc moved all camera manufacturing operations completely offshore.

Mike Ditz's picture

I think that Canon and Sony camera divisions are healthier than Nikon is these days. Maybe because of their parent companies.

Juan Carlos Ayala's picture

Well, for starters the title: “ Nikon Closing in Japan”. Flat out wrong and misleading.

A M's picture

The demise is the true situation right now for most Japanese business. China is overshadowing most Japanese business in a big way. Can't blame the messenger for reporting it more than usual cause that is the next one to be worried.

paulo eskitch's picture

I'm still using my N90s, used it just this morning.

Michael Reis's picture

I am newly using a FM and a FE with AIS lenses additional to my D600. This is amazing hardware and I did not look where it is assembled - sure the 2 first mentioned are +40 years old, they are definitely made in Japan. So be it. Even being a German, I cannot tell if Leicas are still made in Germany. Since I can't afford them, I do not care. Taking up bias: either you are Canon or you are Nikon, at least in Germany this is how I feel. Sure, I owned a Minolta XD7 when I was a teenager and shot B/W negatives... Recently had a Canon E50 in my hands. Actually, this camera felt inferior to any Nikon I ever did hold in my hands. Nevertheless: praise what you have and like - regardless of the brand name.

Lawrence Huber's picture

Hilarious.
Nikon fanboys been bragging about Made in Japan and how much better Nikon products are.
Now Nikon has become a joke. Third country quality from a third place company.
My my.

stuartcarver's picture

A bit of 3rd rate trolling there too.

Imran Anwar's picture

Do you understand the meaning of "closing in Japan"? Were you THAT desperate for clicks to make up a deliberately BS headline? A company moves a coupe of hundred manufacturing jobs to a different location and your BS story implies the company is shutting down. Click bait of the third class type.

Timothy Roper's picture

You include some history on the Sendai plant, but none about Nikon's Ayutthaya plant in Thailand, which has been producing Nikon cameras for many years now. Which figures.

Michael Dougherty's picture

A little searching showed that Sony already makes a large amount of its cameras and lenses in Thailand.

Christian Fiore's picture

And people continuously comment negatively about their build quality and construction...

Tin Man Wong's picture

Nikon’s move of their camera manufacturing to Thailand is just like Apple, Dell and HP moved their PC manufacturing overseas many years ago! It is just more economical for businesses with cheaper labor, better supply chain and quality that contribute to better profits and better price! This is capitalism as it should be.

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