William R. Boulton
Eugene S. Meieran
Rao R. Tummala

The JTEC panel found that, after four decades of development in electronics and manufacturing technologies, Japanese electronics companies are leaders in the development, support, and management of complex, low-cost packaging and assembly technologies used in the production of a broad range of consumer electronics products. The electronics industry's suppliers provide basic materials and equipment required for electronic packaging applications. Panelists concluded that some Japanese firms could be leading U.S. competitors by as much as a decade in these areas. Japan's technology and manufacturing infrastructure is an integral part of its microelectronics industry's success.


A 1993 study by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Technology Administration (DOC/TA 1993) identified both the national and local levels of Japan's technology infrastructure. At all levels, the technology infrastructures in the United States and Japan have a number of similarities:

Despite these similarities, there are many differences between the U.S. and Japanese technology infrastructures. According to the DOC report, industry associations in Japan are more deeply involved in technology development and management than those in the United States. In Japan it is large companies, rather than consulting firms as in the United States, that play a major role in transferring technology within the industry. Japan also has extensive experience with utilizing consortia as a mechanism for developing technology-sharing activities across companies and industries. At the regional level, Japan has 172 kohsetsushi centers that provide technological services to small- and medium-sized companies that lack strong keiretsu (company groupings) ties. Prefectural laboratories are involved in research, development, and transfer of advanced technologies. Close proximity of engineering societies in Japan allow for extensive personal networks, and likewise, personalized supplier-customer relations provide for close technical relationships. In contrast, the United States relies more heavily on computer networks like Bitnet and Internet. Finally, Japan relies more heavily than does the United States on education and training within companies, on institutional training programs, and on individual training programs outside companies.

Japanese Government Support For High-Technology Industries Support of high-technology industries by the Government of Japan (GOJ) is at least four decades old. In 1952, Japan's Agency of Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) was reorganized under the newly established Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to coordinate Japan's technological developments. Manufacturing and electronic technology developments were the responsibility of the Mechanical Engineering Laboratory (MEL) and the Electro-Technical Laboratory (ETL). Two major laws were passed - the Machinery Industry Law in 1956 and the Electronics Industry Law in 1957 - to promote experimental research and initial production, and also to promote industrial rationalization of machine tools and electronic technologies. Under these laws, subsidies for technology R&D were provided, along with special loans and tax incentives for firms that developed or used advanced production technologies. By 1980, Japan had become the world leader in machine tools for component production and in robots for assembly.

In Japan, about one-fifth of technology R&D funding comes from government sources. (By comparison, about half of all U.S. technology R&D spending comes from government sources.) Government R&D policy in Japan supports the rationale that basic research should be carried out by universities and national laboratories, and much of Japan's government R&D funds support basic research. In addition, however, the government has attempted to stimulate industrial R&D in areas that are important for the future of the nation's industrial technology base. The government's role has been primarily that of providing strategic leadership and of acting as the catalyst for private R&D investment. Japanese capital markets support longer-term investments in technology, training, and other activities that improve a firm's long-term growth potential than do U.S. capital markets (DOC/TA 1993). The GOJ does fund strategic investments that address perceived needs for advanced, precompetitive technology in private industry where projects are considered too risky in financial or technical terms for private investment.

The GOJ policy to provide leadership and promote private investment for advanced technology development has required extensive communication between industry and government in determining R&D priorities in Japan. The lack of antitrust enforcement in Japan has facilitated cooperation and coordination of industry research activities. In a number of ways, government policies in Japan function to support consensus and interdependence within the high-technology industries.

Published: February 1995; WTEC Hyper-Librarian