Toyota's Humbling Fall

Toyota President and Chief Executive Officer Akio Toyoda leaves a meeting with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, on Capitol Hill in Washington, prior to testifying before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on Toyota. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
AP Photo/Cliff Owen

For the man who triumphantly introduced the Prius last year, it's been a humbling fall.

Akio Toyoda - grandson of the company's founder - has already made three apologies in Japan, where there's only one way to say "sorry" - with a bow, reports CBS News correspondent Celia Hatton.

It's an age-old tradition here for companies caught selling bad products or deceiving the public. The deeper the bow, the thinking goes, the deeper the remorse.

And once the bowing's over, the Japanese government often allows Japanese corporations to tackle their problems in private. But that's changing - slowly.

"It is clearly pressure in the United States that has forced Toyota to handle this problem differently than they would have wanted to," said Jeff Kingston, the director of Asian Studies at Temple University in Japan.

Toyota is an economic juggernaut in Japan. It is the country's largest company by sales - $230 billion last year, and one of its biggest employers - about 70,000 people. And for decades, Toyota enjoyed the government's staunch support, like many other major corporations here.

More on Toyota at

Toyoda: "Priorities Became Confused"
Ray LaHood's Bottom Line on Toyota
LaHood: Recalled Toyotas "Not Safe"
Issa: Government Shares Blame for Toyota Mess
Issa: Japanese Open Their Own Toyota Probe

The government department that handles the advancement of industries is the same office that regulates safety, explained legal scholar Tsuneo Matsumoto. They usually handle things so they won't hinder the progress of the industries.

But the uproar over Toyota has some critics asking why the government's protecting corporations over its own people while endangering lives abroad. And the government is listening.

Thirty-eight complaints about runaway Toyota vehicles are now being investigated in Japan.

"We would like to reexamine the auto recall process," said Japan's transport minister Seiji Maehara in Japanese.

Toyota's corporate culture is facing an overhaul, too. Since the 1950s, the company has made decisions by building consensus among employees, which can be slow, and can discourage whistleblowers who are afraid of being singled-out.

A Japanese proverb reads, "Beginning is easy, continuing is hard." The Japanese government and Akio Toyoda have already vowed to change their ways, but both have a hard road ahead.