No doubt the Japanese are really good with technology and particularly great with their niche areas of precision engineering. The Economist reveals how indispensable some medium-sized corporations in Japan have come to be so (despite their somewhat unknown-ness) in our global tech economy. Their culture of monozukuri (making things) and kaizen (continuous improvement) have probably helped Japan sustained these niches but I must say that the article revealed an important aspect of business in certain industry that have too often been overlooked.
The very fact that long-term working relations helps these Japanese firms gain trust from their client for reliability and a special understanding of their client’s needs presents a difficulty for other firms to compete with them. It is something rather different from brand-loyalty that consumers might exhibit like the case of food, as a recent Schumpeter article was suggesting. This loyalty is something functional and as long as these engineering firms continue to provide excellence in the fields they engage in, they’ll continue to thrive.
Of course, The Economist sounded some warning about the secrecy these Japanese firms place on their technology and how their belief in the strength of the firm being stored in the collective mind of their employees devour them of labour flexibility that may some day come to haunt them. Japanese firms have prevailed more or less and I believe they’ll adapt their culture to the changing time, all while insisting they didn’t quite change the traditions and beliefs.