Many academic and journalistic books were published in Europe and in the United States during the 1970s and 1980s on the so-called Japanese economic miracle. Technology was a key issue in all of them. In a sometimes caricatured view, the attention of scholars focused on the state (industrial policy) and the acquisition of foreign technology as the most important ways to achieve industrial development and economic growth after the Meiji Restoration. Industrial technologies were at the core of development and the catching-up process in the modern and contemporary history of Japan. But the historical roots of this phenomenon are far more complex than solely the industrial policy implemented by the state. This book by Minoru Sawai on the Japanese National Innovation System during the first part of the twentieth century gives an illuminating understanding of technological and industrial development in Japan and sheds light on a major source of the competitiveness of Japanese firms during this high-growth period, namely, technology.
The concept of National Innovation Systems (NIS), defined by Lundvall (1992), offers a useful analytical framework to highlight the characteristics of various countries in their technological policies and to emphasize the relative weight of several actors (the state, universities, private enterprises, the armed forces, etc.), with the implicit idea that technology is not an objective and neutral resource, unlike those often tackled by classical economics, but falls within specific varieties of capitalism. In Japan, several business and technology historians have showed interest in the NIS approach since 2000 (e.g., Nishimura 2003; Baba and Goto 2007; Hatano 2005). However, their works usually limit the analysis to only a few actors. The book reviewed here presents a different perspective, as the attention focuses on the system itself, its main components (the state, the army/navy, academics, private business), and the dynamics of their interaction between 1910 and the 1950s. Sawai is a historian and one of the leading scholars in Japanese economic and industrial history, and his [End Page 379] book is the fruit of wide investigation in many archives and critical analysis of a large number of documentary sources. Part of this analysis is presented as tables and figures (a total of 198).
Although he does not give his own definition of NIS, Sawai implicitly uses the classical definition with an interest in focusing on the four main actors, whose relations, relative weight, and respective roles evolved during the half century covered in this study, and which all participated actively in the formation and evolution of an NIS specific to Japan. One must also underline the humanist approach adopted by Sawai, as attention is directed not only to institutions, policies, and laws but to the people forming institutions and carrying out policies.
The book consists of nineteen thematic chapters gathered within four chronological parts. Part 1 tackles World War I and the interwar years and the formation of a Japanese NIS. World War I played a key role in the awareness of the need to organize the state and the economy in view of a total war (soryoku-sen, 総力戦). Two objectives appeared as essential. The first was the implementation and development of institutions making it possible to raise the technological level of Japanese enterprises, especially through the improvement of human resources. This policy centered on the training of engineers and technicians in universities and technical schools, as well as the multiplication of research and development (R&D) centers in public and private sectors; there were already seventy-one of them in 1921, employing 880 people (45–46). The second main objective was the development of new weapons by the army and the navy. Both organized their own R&D centers in 1919 and 1923, respectively. Military institutions thus had a fundamental influence on the emergence of an NIS because they adopted early a strategy of cooperation with other actors, despite their large size (the R&D center of the army employed 843 persons in 1931 ). For example, they subcontracted specific R&D activities to private firms and...