We Were Burning: Japanese Entrepreneurs And The Forging Of The Electronic Age

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9780465091188: We Were Burning: Japanese Entrepreneurs And The Forging Of The Electronic Age

Are the Japanese faceless clones who march in lockstep to the drums beaten by big business and the bureaucrats of MITI, Japan’s miracle-working ministry of international trade and industry? Can Japanese workers, and by extrapolation their entire society, be characterized by deference to authority, devotion to group solidarity, and management by consensus? In We Were Burning, investigative journalist Bob Johnstone demolishes this misleading stereotype by introducing us to a new and very different kind of Japanese worker-a dynamic, iconoclastic, risk-taking entrepreneur.Johnstone has tracked down Japan’s invisible entrepreneurs and persuaded them to tell their stories. He presents here a wealth of new material, including interviews with key players past and present, which lifts the veil that has hitherto obscured the entrepreneurial nature of Japanese companies like Canon, Casio, Seiko, Sharp, and Yamaha.Japanese entrepreneurs, working in the consumer electronics industry during the 1960s and 70s, took unheralded American inventions such as microchip cameras, liquid crystal displays, semiconductor lasers, and sound chips to create products that have become indispensable, including digital calculators and watches, synthesizers, camcorders, and compact disc players. Johnstone follows a dozen micro-electronic technologies from the U.S. labs where they originated to their eventual appearance in the form of Japanese products, shedding new light on the transnational nature of twentieth-century innovation, and on why technologies take root and flourish in some places and not in others.At this time of Asian financial crisis and the bursting of Japan’s bubble economy, many are tempted to dismiss Japan’s future as an economic power. We Were Burning serves as a timely warning that to write off Japanóand its invisible entrepreneursówould be a big mistake.

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Freelance journalist Bob Johnstone shatters the stereotypes of Japanese entrepreneurs as uncreative copycats and reveals the spirit, competitive zeal, and perfectionism that drive high-tech companies like Sony, Sharp, and Canon. "It is hard to imagine such faceless drones as brave risk takers, betting their companies on some new and unproven technology," Johnstone writes about the Japanese in We Were Burning.

The book documents how Japan launched the revolution in consumer electronics--often by seizing on technology initially developed in the U.S. and vastly improving it. For instance, it was an American company, RCA, that announced the creation of liquid crystal displays (LCD) in New York in 1968. Another American giant, Hewlett-Packard, pursued the technology and then abandoned it out of frustration by 1980. But Japan's Seiko and Sharp persisted in the development of LCDs: the devices now are now found in everything from watches to calculators and laptops to flat-screen TVs. The book profiles people like Sharp's Sasaki Tadashi, nicknamed "Doctor Rocket" for his boundless energy, and companies like Seiko, which began more than 100 years ago as a maker of clocks and watches. It also offers some insights about the future of such technologies as digital photography. At the same time, We Were Burning provides a historical and cultural context for Japan's incredible technological achievements. The book contains some valuable lessons for U.S. business managers. It's also worthwhile reading for people interested in the technology underpinning modern machines, including compact-disc players, laser printers, and multimedia computers. Johnstone, who has written for New Scientist and Wired and been a journalism fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is convinced that the entrepreneurial spirit of the Japanese people will pull the country back from any economic mess. "In the past, the Japanese have repeatedly demonstrated their resilience-- especially when their backs are against the wall." --Dan Ring

About the Author:

Bob Johnstone is a freelance journalist who has written about science and technology for fifteen years. He has served as Japan correspondent for New Scientist, technology correspondent for Far Eastern Economic Review, and has been a contributing editor and writer for Wired. He was a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991 and was the recipient of an Abe Foundation Program grant.

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