Japan's High Technology Industries: Lessons and Limitations of Industrial Policy

By Larry Meissner; Hugh Patrick | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

Regime Characteristics of Japanese
Industrial Policy

Daniel I. Okimoto

Until the late 1970s, few Japanese companies were strong enough to challenge America's commercial and technological dominance in the information industries. The computer, semiconductor, and information processing industries were born in the United States. Almost all the breakthrough technologies and revolutionary new products—the transistor, integrated circuit, microprocessor, vacuum tube computer, super-, mini-, and microcomputers, fiber optics, office automation equipment, and basic software programs—bear the label "Invented in America." Over the postwar years, researchers at Bell Laboratories, Fairchild, and Intel have advanced state-of-the-art technology while U.S. giants like IBM have set the pace for commercial developments around the world.

American supremacy is no longer uncontested. As in the case of the old-line manufacturing sectors, Japanese corporations have come from far behind—in a surprisingly short time—to catch up with American frontrunners. In such product lines as telephones, video terminals, and printers the Japanese have once again demonstrated their virtuosity in high-quality manufacturing. In such sophisticated technologies as very large scale integrated circuit (VLSI) memory chips and fiber optics, Japanese companies have succeeded in capturing large segments of world markets, primarily on the strength of low prices and high reliability. And notwithstanding stereotypes about Japanese shortcomings in truly innovative research, the Japanese seem to be making dramatic strides in such cutting‐ edge areas as artificial intelligence, knowledge-based expert systems, and the Fifth Generation computer (Feigenbaum and McCorduck 1983). The speed with which the Japanese have closed the gap has been so impressive as to deprive American frontrunners of the false sense of comfort that came with their long period of technological and commercial hegemony and the dubious stereotypes about Japan's inability to innovate.

Japan's rapid advance in high technology is commonly attributed to the government's capacity to "target" certain "strategic" industries with high growth potential. In the information industries specifically, MITI

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