[From May Issue 2010]
The President of Metran Co., Ltd.
TRAN Ngoc Phuc / NITTA Kazufuku
Metran Co., Ltd., located in Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture, is a medical equipment development company with great technology – especially for producing specialized medical instruments to treat premature babies. In 2009, the company received the Shibusawa Eiichi Venture Dream Award from Saitama Prefecture. Metran’s President is TRAN Ngoc Phuc (Japanese name is NITTA Kazufuku).
Tran was born in Vietnam in 1947. He hardly ever went to high school spending most of his time watching movies and doing karate. “This may sound like an excuse, but we were in the middle of a war in those days. I thought I would be killed in the war sooner or later, so I did everything I wanted to do. I also read a lot of books on philosophy, because I wanted to learn about life and death,” he recalls.
It was through both karate and philosophy that Tran became interested in Japan. “I still tell everyone that Japan has, to this day, preserved and passed on the treasures of Oriental philosophy like giri (a sense of duty) and ninjou (human empathy). That’s why I chose Japan when I studied abroad,” he says of his starting Tokai University in 1968.
After graduation, he worked as a trainee at the Senko Medical Instrument Mfg. Co., Ltd., where he soon surprised everyone with his instrument-design ability. “The instruments of that time were more dangerous than (they are) now, and those who were not familiar with them often hurt themselves. So I revamped the instruments so that people wouldn’t cut their fingers,” he recounts.
But other longtime craftsmen didn’t appreciate the way he worked. They thought their skills could only be mastered through injury and practice. Tran thought otherwise. “I needed to learn those skills in two years, before I went back to Vietnam. So I told them that I didn’t have time. But they got angry and called me names, saying things like, ‘Well, he’s a foreigner.’ But there were many others who praised me, happy that, ‘we don’t hurt ourselves anymore, thanks to you.’ ”
In 1975 North Vietnam won the war, and Tran, who is South Vietnamese, lost his home. By then, he was already married to his Japanese wife Mitsuko, with whom he had been thinking about building a factory in Vietnam someday. But, they changed their plans and remained in Japan. By that time Tran became a full-time Senko company employee, everyone having already recognized his ability.
In 1984 he went independent and established Metran. Using the benefits he received from his Senko retirement, he created a new instrument to help assist the breathing of physically weak babies. It quickly became a great success in the United States where it was hailed as “a wonderful device.” However, there were times when Tran wondered if it was ethical to keep alive by machine, babies who were so prematurely born that they could be held in the palm of an adult hand.
Soon after that Japan fell into recession and a longstanding reseller of Tran’s instruments suddenly decided to stop any future orders. At that point, about 30 units had already been completed, costing several dozen million yen.
“I got dizzy, having been betrayed by people I’d been doing business with for years. To make matters worse, the employees at that company didn’t know the real situation. They thought I’d betrayed them and made a deal with another company instead. They said, ‘We have been trying hard to sell your instruments. You’re a bad man.’ It was a very tough time,” he admitted.
Through this experience, Tran came to realize that a small company cannot protect itself unless it has proprietary technology that other competitors can not imitate. He also learned “that people may only show giri and ninjou when they can afford to financially.” So he continued to work, harder than ever, and last year invented an instrument for people who stop breathing while asleep, of which Metran is the sole producer in Japan.
In 1986 Tran returned to Vietnam for the first time in 18 years and got reacquainted with his parents and brothers, whom he had not seen since the end of the war. He now also owns a factory there. “Vietnam is the country where I was born, so I wanted to give something back. My family’s companies have provided about 1,500 people with jobs. This is the least I can do, and if there are more people I can help by doing this, I’m happy to do it,” he says, solemnly speaking about his feelings for his homeland.
But these days Tran considers Japan his home because this is where he lives. “I care about the future of Japan because this is my country. I would like to help make Japan a better place,” he states. So, for its rapidly-aging society, Tran is now striving to invent instruments to help Japan’s elderly.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo