Japan’s Dramatic Post-War Electronics Boom

Features - November 2nd, 2007

by Danielle Tate-Stratton

Perhaps one of the most impressive things about post-war Japan is just how dominant its technology industries have become in the past sixty or so years. Brands from Japan, such as Panasonic, are household names the world over and dominate our daily lives, no matter where we live. Japan also continuously leads other technology sectors we don’t see everyday, such as those relating to semiconductors, transistors, robotics, and optics.

How did Japan recover so quickly from post-war devastation to become a world leader in cutting-edge technology? According to Dominique N. Khactu’s analysis of Japan Since 1945: The Rise of an Economic Superpower (http://tinyurl.com/3a5fpn), the American occupation led by General McArthur laid the groundwork for technological growth later on. Because Japan wasn’t divided up into zones as happened to Germany, national unity wasn’t threatened, and the occupation, which was largely successful, developed land reforms, which cut down on land-conflicts, especially in rural areas. A newly improved education system also created a better-educated labor force across the nation. These factors all allowed Japan to capitalize on a technological sector that had already begun to emerge with the 1946 founding  of Sony by Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita. The company quickly showed dominance over international competitors by making revolutionary use of the transistor with the launch of the first pocket transistor radio in the world.

Japan’s electronics industry continued to grow with advances in miniaturization, new product development, and transistor and superconductor innovation, all of which was supported by large amounts of international investment. Internally, the keiretsu system of business, where corporations mutually invest in each other, leading to more stable, efficient horizontal conglomerates allowed for fast growth in the electronics industry.

According to Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org), while the Cold War saw the implementation of the Space Race with the Soviet Union and the US pouring massive amounts of money into their respective space programs, Japan, which wasn’t participating in the Space Race, poured it’s research and development capital into commercial products, with companies such as FUJI leading the race to innovate with the country’s first electronic computer in 1956. Japan continued along this path and by the 1980 and 1990s was one of the world’s leading exporters of consumer electronics. In 1991, Japan exported over 87 percent of the VCRs produced in the country and saw nearly three percent of its total export revenue come from audio tape recorders.

To this day, the electronic industry is key to Japan, which has one of the highest budgets for research and development—at $130 billion per year—in the world. While some previous mainstays of the consumer electronics industry such as the Sony Walkman may have gone the way of the eight track, Japan continues to be a leader in worldwide innovation and production.

Home to brands ranging from Alpine to Olympus, Sony to Toshiba, JVC to Pentax, and dozens more, most of our houses would look very different without the continuous influence of one of Japan’s biggest post-war industries.