The Political Economy of Japanese Globalization

By Glenn D. Hook; Hasegawa Harukiyo | Go to book overview

8

Japan as a model of the past?

Kaizen, 'lean production' and the German car industry in retrospect

Franz Waldenberger


Introduction

Japanese globalization suggests two closely connected connotations in the field of economy. There is, first of all, the importance of the Japanese economy resulting from its size, state of economic and technological development, and wealth. In the post-war period, this purely quantitative aspect of Japanese globalization acquired additional weight through the speed at which the economy grew. While still employing 40 per cent of its labour force in the agricultural sector in 1955, Japan developed within just three decades to an economy with one of the world's highest levels of per capita income and with sectoral leadership in many cutting-edge fields of technology. Japan's impressive growth did not take place in isolation. The other industrialized economies were forced to adjust to the rise of Japan, as can be seen by the history of trade conflicts that arose in response to the expansion of Japanese exports (Komiya 1999:32-41). Japan's success as a late-comer proved a decisive challenge to the earlier developers of Europe and North America.

In the industrially developed West, the physical confrontation with Japan's economic success created a need for explanation, not to satisfy scientific curiosity, but to support the formulation of strategic responses. At the level of economic policy formulation, Japan inspired renewed and highly controversial discussions in the field of trade and industrial policy (Waldenberger 1998:21-2). At the enterprise level, the task was to make sense of the newcomer's success in order to be able to respond to it. In this context, attempts to interpret Japan inspired new discussions on production systems, industrial relations, human resource development and the management of interfirm relationships (Dirks and Otto 1998:211-13).

The meaning of complex phenomena such as the structure and performance of economic systems remains difficult to decipher. It is created through the efforts of human minds. Japan's global success acquired meaning abroad when people were forced to construct their interpretations of it. The meaning thus generated was not universal, but conditioned by the context of the respective interpreters in two ways. First, it had to comply with their a priori knowledge and expectations. Second, it had to satisfy their interests. The last point underlines

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