Assembled in Japan: Electrical Goods and the Making of the Japanese Consumer
This book investigates one of the great success stories of the twentieth century: the rise of the Japanese electronics industry. The author concludes that behind the meteoric rise of Sony, Matsushita, Toshiba and other electrical goods companies was neither the iron hand of MITI nor a government-sponsored export-led growth policy, but, rather, an explosion of domestic consumer demand. This efflorescence mirrored the massive consumer boom underway in the United States; but the author argues that widespread poverty and miserable living conditions made Japan’s experience qualitatively different. Electrical goods companies recognized that they must exert every effort to create new markets for expensive products (such as televisions, washing machines, and refrigerators) which had no established tradition in Japan, and about which people had little knowledge. The book opens with an account of the prewar development of Japan’s electrical communications industry, which was an essential prerequisite for the postwar rise of Japanese electronics. Chapter 2 describes the re-envisioning of Japan that took place during the Allied Occupation, including the quest by business leaders visiting America to identify the keys to American prosperity. Chapter 3 recounts the little-known story of the launch of television in Japan, under the stimulus of an American drive to create anti-Communist propaganda outlets in Asia. Chapter 4 describes the massive import of both product and marketing technologies during the 1950s: a process that had the full support of US business and government. Chapter 5 investigates the efforts by Japanese companies to stimulate domestic demand for their products. Focusing on themes of “rationalization,” “scientific living,” and the “bright life,” companies endeavored to foster a culture of consumption even as the government and others preached a gospel of saving. Chapter 6 tells the story of the transistor radio, Japan’s first export success in electronics. The chapter argues that at the heart of this success was not technological prowess, but the “nimble fingers” of young female workers who were paid as little as $17 a month. In the conclusion, and throughout the book, the author relates his story to some of the key themes of the twentieth-century experience: the role of technology in promoting social change, the rise of mass consumer societies, and the construction of gender in advanced industrial economies.