Japan's multinational corporations, especially manufacturers, are experiencing the most intensive global interactions of all Japanese organizations. When we think of keywords relating to "Japan and the world" - for example, financial flows, government and private foreign relations, media, the movement of ideas (including technology transfers), labor, law, families abroad, careers, education - it is difficult to find an arena that is not touched by Japan's multinational corporations. And this is the case for Japan more than any other nation. In the language of political science, it would be written this way: Japan's late-twentieth-century global interactions are dominated by the spread of Japanese capital in a mercantilist form driven by a business-state coalition. In other words, Japanese corporations are the central filter through which "Japan" interacts with the world, 1 collectively surpassing the Japanese state as an actor in international affairs.
Having forwarded their relevance, how is one to treat these grandiose subjects? As a consequence of their scale and enormous complexity, large organizations - and especially multinational corporations - are indeed unwieldy subjects for anthropology, which has traditionally favored the analysis of far more discrete social units. We might choose to derive analytical comfort, then, by treating events unfolding at overseas subsidiaries of Japanese multinational corporations as windows onto specific day-to-day concerns in a complex social field. That would allow us to generate insights into, say, individual or group strategies for coping with organizational life, such as localizing or scaling down information that is potentially generated from a vast range of sources to a more familiar and manageable level.
This chapter, however, moves in quite a different analytical direction. It focuses on the meanings implied by the fact of complexity in Japanese multinational corporations. The analysis here applies generally to large Japanese multinational corporations. However, the specific organizations that are the subjects of this study are first-tier, global-scale Japanese manufacturers - indeed "household names" in electronics and motor vehicles. They have for decades been closely watched as gauges of Japan's economy and are viewed as leaders in engendering and innovating "typical" Japanese corporate