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Made in Japan

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In 1946, amid the rubble of defeated Japan, a small group of college friends decided to go into business for themselves. Because of their engineering background and interest in high technology, their first product was a tape recorder. One of those young men was Akio Morita, who is now the chairman of the multinational Sony Corporation.

The son of a wealthy family of sake brewers, Morita had grown up in a relatively Westernized home, where early phonographs and Western music and recordings were appreciated. His interest in the techniques and problems of quality sound recording developed early and led to his pursuit of a physics degree at Osaka University. As eldest son, he had also been introduced to the world of his father’s business.

In the first half of the book, elements of autobiography and company history are intermingled. Technological changes and innumerable trips abroad to further the business (Sony was the first Japanese firm to license the transistor patents from Western Electric) receive equal time with anecdotes of family and friends.

The second half of the book consists of informal essays on topics such as personnel management; the differing corporate styles of East and West; the importance of competition; and Japan’s role in world trade. Export of American jobs overseas and the decline of the United States’ industrial base receive extensive attention, although Morita’s comments on the cause and cure are by no means original. Despite the difficulties which he foresees, Morita remains eternally optimistic about the future.

The book’s two coauthors (TIME magazine’s Tokyo bureau chief and a Japanese journalist) have done a wonderful job of making this a readable book while allowing the author’s personality and enthusiasm to shine through.