Japanese Research in Business History
Online ISSN : 1884-619X
Print ISSN : 1349-807X
ISSN-L : 1349-807X
Review of Selected Books on Business History Published in Japan in 2021
Review of Selected Books on Business History Published in Japan in 2021

2022 Volume 39 Pages 89-94


Horiuchi, Yoshitaka. Midori no Kōgyōka: Taiwan Keizai no Rekishiteki Kigen [Green Industrialization: A Historical Origin of Taiwan’s Economy]. Nagoya: The University of Nagoya Press, 2021.

This book is a result of an economic history research that analyzed, in relation to long-term structural changes of the Taiwanese economy, the development of small-sized manufacturing enterprises in Taiwan under the Japanese colonial rule.

The first part of the book, which consists of four chapters, presents a whole picture of Taiwan’s industrialization during the Japanese rule. Chapter One shows that, during the 1920s, the Taiwanese economy began to grow out of the monoculture system based on the production of particular products such as sugar, camphor and hats. Chapters Two and Three demonstrate that the emergence and growth of small-sized factories were conditioned by the process of Japanese colonization. Chapter Four highlights that such petty enterprises were rooted in rural villages and closely related to the economy of farm households. The second part consisting of three chapters deals with specific industries. Case studies on the hat manufacturing industry (Chapter Five) and on the rice-husking and milling business (Chapter Six) show that small-sized enterprises emerged and grew in rural areas surrounding cites as proactive responses, on the part of Taiwanese people, to growing business opportunities. In addition, it is pointed out in Chapter Seven that the colonial development under the Japanese rule irreversibly turned Taiwan into a “society in which the use of machines became the norm of economic activities” and that the infrastructure for industrialization constructed during the Japanese rule was the precondition for the country’s post-war economic development.

Previously, many of the historical studies on Taiwan’s industrialization during the Japanese rule have focused either on the development of the sugar industry driven by Japanese capital, or on the economic structure based on military demand that was established and developed during and after the 1930s. By contrast, this book sheds light on the dynamics of “another pattern of industrialization” that proceeded in rural areas throughout the 1920s and 1930s under the initiative of small and medium-sized Taiwanese employers. While being conditioned by Japanese colonization, Taiwanese entrepreneurs in rural areas proactively responded to their surrounding environment. Both of these characteristics are empirically demonstrated in this work, which constitutes its academic significance.

During and after the 1970s, a large number of small and medium-sized enterprises emerged in rural areas in Taiwan, which were to play an important role in its export-oriented industrialization. This work empirically traces the historical origin of the groups of small and medium-sized enterprises that became a driving force of Taiwan’s economic development after WWII. This is an important contribution to historical analysis of the East Asian economic development from Japanese business history research.

  • Momoko Kawakami


Book Review: Kojima, Yōhei. Sarakin no rekishi: Shōhisha kin’yū to Nihon shakai [The history of sarakin: Consumer finance and Japanese society]. Tokyo: Chuokoron-Shinsha, 2021.

This book reveals insights into Japanese consumer finance, which has rarely been the target of academic research, from the perspective of the rise and fall of the postwar Japanese economy. Sarakin, an abbreviation for sararīman kin’yū (consumer finance for white-collar workers), has long been a socioeconomic issue as the considerably high interest rates on their personal loans and their notorious loan-collection strategies have led to the destruction of family ties among sarakin borrowers. These factors have contributed to creating a negative image of sarakin as the work of greedy financiers in the eyes of the Japanese public.

However, in the historical context of postwar Japan, this book provides other views of this publicly criticized line of business. After Japan’s emergence from the ashes of economic destruction, largely due to its defeat in the Pacific War, sarakin gradually emerged from the remnants of the traditional personal finance system that traced its historical origins to pre-modern Japan. The period of high-speed economic growth following the war offered sarakin significant business opportunities because of the advent of the high-consumption society accompanying the rise of the Japanese middle class. This socioeconomic shift created the “consumer spirit” of postwar Japan, symbolized by a mode of life centering on newly built mass housing with home electrical appliances, such as refrigerators and televisions, and thus offered opportunities for the credit-financing business, including sarakin. The detailed analysis in Kojima’s book also shows how sarakin businesses led financial innovation and new business strategies through their trial-and-error and on-the-job training, which included targeting housewives as potential customers. Their activities finally culminated in the creation of their own credit-score system, which became the standard for the current Japanese financial system.

On the other hand, their methods also made it harder for borrowers to escape from loan collection, a reality that had a significant impact on mental health (and in many cases resulted in suicide) and consequently prompted public antagonism and criticism. Legal experts also criticized the almost total lack of regulation on their considerably high interest rates and intervened to regulate their business. Despite resistance on the part of sarakin businesses, legislation seeking to control the sarakin field has made gradual progress. Finally, amid a wave of long-term economic stagnation, sarakin businesses lost their independent status in the early twenty-first century and mostly became subsidiaries of large Japanese banks.

Although the book exhibits a lack of comparative perspective, especially in terms of international comparison, and the issue of the Japanese-Korean loan business (which resembles the problem of European Jewish financiers in historical perspective) poses an unaddressed topic for further analysis and exploration, Kojima’s work is a worthwhile read that manages to integrate new approaches, including psychological and gender studies, to provide a broad, new perspective on sarakin research.

  • Shunsuke Nakaoka

    Kokushikan University

Mitsuzono, Isamu. Nihon ryūtsūshi [The history of Japan’s distribution industry]. Tokyo: Yūhikaku, 2021.

Distribution is a bridge between production and consumption. This book gives a historical overview of Japan’s distribution industry, shedding light on the so-called Japanese-style distribution system in its relationships with the two elements, production and consumption. The Japanese-style distribution system is characterized by the thin and long distribution line consisting of the multi-layered wholesale sector and the retail sector based on densely located small-sized stores. It has been pointed out that the Japanese-style distribution system lacks economic rationality, since it is rational to think that a short and thick distribution line would be more efficient. This book, however, presents a different view, explicating the emergence, development, and transformation of the Japanese system in terms of its relationships with innovative retail formats.

The multi-layered structure of the wholesale sector originates from the wholesaler-centered distribution system established during the Tokugawa period. The retail business began to become densely located when peddlers started to open their stores during the Meiji period. By the end of the 1940s, this characteristic of the Japanese-style distribution had been well established. While department stores thrived and limitations of mass distributors such as chain stores became recognized, shopping streets, typical examples of the densely located small- and middle-scale Japanese retail business, catered for local consumers’ diversified needs through the mobilization of family labor, taking advantage of their organic functionality. Despite the anticipation that the Japanese-style distribution system would not last long, it continued to develop and evolve throughout the 1980s.

Supermarkets, front-runners of the distribution revolution, grew rapidly, making use of the multi-layered structure of wholesalers. However, technical limitations of food supermarkets left room in the segmented market, so that shopping streets were able to make advancements. In addition, the restructuring of shopping streets under the initiative of large-scale retail stores such as supermarkets including GMS and department stores reinforced shopping streets’ competitive power.

After the 1980s, however, the Japanese-style distribution system was transformed. The development of shopping centers, which brought about a revolutionary change of retail location, posed a threat to shopping streets located at city centers. Convenient stores proliferated, becoming new centers of the dense retail business. On the other hand, however, shopping streets did not benefit from the IT revolution, which supported the development of convenience stores and emerging E-commerce. Having difficulties in replacing the existing unique managerial basis with new managerial resources, efforts to rebuild shopping street-centered communities are yet to come to fruition.

The conclusion of this book can be summarized as follows. First, the Japanese-style distribution system cannot necessarily be considered uneconomic. The system helped realize the diversity of consumption by bearing the risk that production and consumption would have borne with a thick and short distribution line. Second, problems concerning the decline and rebuilding of shopping streets should not be discussed only in terms of their competitive disadvantages against the new forms of retail business. The breakup of economic and personal relationships between people as local residents, or workers, that densely located retail stores have formed requires us to rethink about “living people,” who are more than consumers functioning only as an economic element.

The work consists not only of profound analyses from the perspective of business history but also of descriptions of people’s life history. Currently, various types of distribution businesses are plagued with labor problems deriving from their overly labor-intensive nature. Although the author suggests that the future of the Japanese-style distribution system depends on our choice, he avoids to point out exactly what will be the basis of the future Japanese distribution system.

This is a must-read book for researchers on the history of distribution.

  • Jaehyang Han

    Hosei University

The Ohara Institute for Social Research, Hosei University and Akira Suzuki (eds). Rōdōsha to Kōgai・Kankyō Mondai [Workers and pollution/environmental problems]. Tokyo: Hosei University Press, 2021.

This book comprises studies that were originally reported and discussed at meetings of the Kankyō Rōdō Mondai Kenkyūkai [research society for environmental and labor problems] held between 2014 and 2020 under the auspices of the Ohara Institute for Social Research, Hosei University. According to its introduction, the studies are conducted from the viewpoint of “environmental problem,” a viewpoint originally posited by an environmental sociologist, Iijima Nobuko. Around 1980, Iijima contended that industrial accidents at factories, environmental pollution in the vicinity of factories, and health hazards to general consumers around a country should all be grasped comprehensively, defining all of them as “social disasters caused in the main by business corporations.” Despite her foreseeing insight, however, relationships between labor problems and environmental problems have not been explored since then. While filling this void, this book also seeks to extend Iijima’s view, taking up, as its analytical objects, topics such as occupational diseases and labor parties that were beyond the scope of Iijima’s investigation.

This book, which concerns the period during and after the late 1960s, consists of eight chapters: Five of them deal with Japan; Three, with foreign countries, that is, Korea, US, and Australia. Each chapter is rich in content, providing readers with instructive information. For instance, (1) The campaign to produce soap powder from waste cooking oil initiated by local labor unions in Shiga Prefecture held a radical political edge, while maintaining ties with the prefectural administration. (2) There were, in fact, cases in which some minority labor unions took actions that aimed at combining occupational disease problems and pollution problems. (3) There is a possibility that the general public placed more importance on environmental pollution problems than on the Japan-Us Security Treaty at the time of the so-called 1970 pollution National Diet.

As a whole, however, this book does not convey clear messages. That is partly because the book lacks a conclusion chapter and partly because its introduction does not refer to any researches other than Iijima’s. How can this book give intrinsic criticism to previous studies on pollution? In addition, neither pollution nor environmental problem is given its conceptual definition in this book. Therefore, questions arise such as: What is the difference between pollution and environmental problem?; Are relationships between pollution and labor problem and between environmental and labor problem characteristically different? In any case, however, such theoretical deepening is a task that should be tackled not only by those involved in this research project but also by the readers. The researchers who ventured into the uncharted research area that had long been deserted deserve respect.

  • Satoru Kobori

    Kyoto University

Tanaka, Tomoaki. Piano no nihonshi [The history of Japan’s piano industry]. Nagoya: The University of Nagoya Press, 2021.

This study analyzes the historical development of Japan’s piano industry from the end of the nineteenth century to the present day mainly from the perspective of managerial strategy. In this study, the piano industry is taken to include: vertically, all the industrial stages from development, manufacturing, and distribution to after-sales service (including playing lesson); horizontally, other industrial sectors engaged in the manufacture of keyboard instruments such as reed organs, electronic organs, and electronic pianos. This ambitious work of industrial history evokes an image of a thickly woven fabric: The warp is the development of Yamaha Corporation, the world’s largest musical instrument manufacturer that has made advancements in the production of all kinds of musical instruments; The woof is various other industrial actors such as rival manufacturers, small-sized makers, wholesalers, distributors, and electronic instrument manufacturers.

Although the subject of this study is one instrument, it provides more general suggestions concerning managerial strategies and industrial organization. Readers gain instructive knowledge about a wide variety of topics such as relationships between the manufacturing and distribution sectors, substitute goods, life cycles of products, market targeting, and diversification. For example, while it can be observed in other industries as well that manufacturers strengthen their control over distributors during the development process of the mass production system, purchasers of pianos, unlike those of detergents, or cosmetics, do not switch manufacturers, since replacement demand hardly emerges. In addition, although operation guidance tutorials and after-sales services have also been demanded by purchasers of cars and sewing machines, it takes an incomparably long time and large costs for piano purchasers to practice and master the instrument. In Japan, moreover, both manufacturers and purchasers entered the organ market first, and then, substituted pianos for organs. The piano was introduced in public education as an accompaniment instrument for singing lessons. It was because of such historical backgrounds, the author explains, that organs were considered cheap substitute goods for pianos, although they were basically different goods except that both were keyboard instruments. Unique natures of pianos as commodities and their complex meanings and functions in socio-historical contexts make this study particularly intriguing.

  • Shoko Hyuga

    Meiji University

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