- Technology Gatekeepers for War and Peace: The British Ship Revolution and Japanese Industrialization
No fewer than four generations of observers have studied Japan’s nineteenth-century industrialization with the intention of explaining how this latecomer nation was able to adopt and utilize some of the world’smost advanced technologies. Many studies of technology transfer to Japan have looked at the Meiji government’s so-called policy of industrialization, shokusan kôgyô, and concluded that successful industrial modernization was based on government initiative. Although the government was not always successful, these studies argue, its efforts were groundbreaking and lessened financial risk for the entrepreneurs who followed. Newer studies look at the role of indigenous technology and craftsmen and posit that traditional industries played a significant role in Japan’s ability to industrialize. Most recently, scholars have demonstrated that symbolism and beliefs in modernity helped determine the course of technology transfer and industrialization. With this work, Miwao Matsumoto has thrown his hat into the ring.
Rejecting the idea that any single entity or process was responsible for Japan’s scientific and technological transformation, Matsumoto offers a model which he calls technology gatekeepers. Identifying institutional [End Page 808] structures—by which he means the behaviors and environments that provided the context for technological exchange—as the “agents” of transfer, he argues that a variety of factors determined which technologies were ultimately selected. In short, the Japanese Navy and private entities such as the Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard relied on gatekeepers ranging from formal technical evaluation to social networks or competition-based risk-taking behaviors in their adoption of advanced marine technologies.
Focusing on dual-use technologies in the shipbuilding industry and what he calls the ship revolution, Matsumoto argues that marine architecture/ engineering, specifically the development of the experimental tank for testing hydrodynamics, and the steam turbine, were the bridge between science, technology, and industry in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He makes this point particularly well, discussing how hydrodynamics and thermodynamics made possible the construction of larger, faster ships. Ties between the military and civilian sectors of government, industry, and the imperial universities illustrate the complexity of the story. In brief, the Japanese government promoted higher education and the training of Japanese engineers at the College of Engineering whose graduates formed the indigenous base for industrialization. These engineers served both private and public concerns, forging ties that Matsumoto calls the military industry- university complex. Accompanying the ship revolution, higher education specialization, and Japan’s entrance into the global naval arms race was the professionalization of Japanese science and technology.
Chapters 4 and 5 deal directly with technological development and transfer between the Japanese Navy and industry. Each provides a brief history of a marine technology—the steam turbine in chapter 4, the experimental tank in chapter 5—followed by an examination of related spin-off and spin-on technologies in a Japanese context. Utilizing his gatekeeper model, Matsumoto demonstrates that the navy and Mitsubishi had different priorities and approaches to adopting and adapting foreign technologies. Initially, the navy tended to perform more thorough analyses of the available technologies than Mitsubishi. After the turn of the century, however, one sees Mitsubishi increasing funding for research and development which resulted in it being “an effective and independent agent in the transfer of the marine turbine” (p. 111).
Japan’s adoption of the experimental tank took a different path. Although Mitsubishi Nagasaki Shipyard had constructed its own tank early on, such a tank would not appear at a national research institute for another two decades. The delay in adopting this crucial technology and having it available to both the navy and industry was due to the social circumstances surrounding the development of Western science and technology in Japan. As a latecomer nation, Japanese science and technology professionalized without the benefit of a long maturation period. According to Matsumoto, the Japanese were able to adopt and utilize advanced science [End Page 809] and technology, but rapid professionalization did not ensure the creation of an...