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  5. Manufacturing in Japan: A Cultural Perspective

2009 Vol.3
Manufacturing in Japan: A Cultural Perspective


The act of making things, as well as engaging in thought, is a fundamental human activity and is what distinguishes humans from other species. Its organization and integration into the workings of the economy led to the emergence of the manufacturing business. The Japanese have traditionally been skilled manufacturers, and Japan is now considered among the best manufacturing nations in the world. In dealing with the often-talked-about transition from an industrial society to an information society, Japan regards both types of society as inseparable and succeeds in informatizing engineering techniques and incorporating information technologies into industrial technologies.
The history of industry and engineering teaches us that technology and culture have a tight, mutual relationship, and that their interactions form an idiosyncratic technological culture. In such interactions, we see a specific culture promoting the development of a unique technology (i.e., technology originating from a certain culture), and the creation and prevalence of new technology and products resulting in new lifestyles (i.e., culture forming from technologies). The author refers to these phenomena as the enculturation of technology and considers them at the core of advancing the diversification and idiosyncrasy of technology.
The fact that Japan capitalizes on the uniqueness of its technological development and product development processes and has a competitive advantage in manufacturing is largely based on the technological thinking rooted in its culture. As examples of the Japanese way of technological thinking, this article discusses the miniaturization of industrial products, the integration of technologies represented by mechatronic devices, ingenuity and inventiveness that exceed imitation, and unique approaches to environmental preservation and resource conservation.
Twenty-first-century Japan should aim at becoming a nation thriving on technology and culture. Thankfully, the country is blessed with traditional craftsmanship and regional industries that have been nurtured by the country’s long history and regional culture and have led to the country’s fruitful technological culture. Using its unique technology, Japan should also actively make contributions to the international community.