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Japan, Inc.: Winning the Most Important Battle

Posted by eGZact on June 19, 2008

IN 1953, a young businessman named Akio Morita made his first trip outside Japan to investigate export prospects for his struggling little electronics company. He was dismayed to find that in the sophisticated markets of the U.S. and Europe, the words Made in Japan were a mocking phrase for shoddiness. But in The Netherlands, he recalls, “I saw an agricultural country with many windmills and many bicycles, and yet it was producing goods of excellent quality and had worldwide sales power. I thought that maybe we Japanese could do it too.”

Indeed, they could. A month ago, Morita took off on his 94th or 95th transpacific trip (he has lost exact count). This time he came as the self-assured export chief and primary owner of Sony Corp., the firm that as much as any other has made Japanese goods synonymous with high quality as well as low price. In Chicago, he told security analysts that Sony last year rang up sales of $414 million, more than half from exports to 147 countries of radios, tape recorders, TV sets and other products. In London, he went over sales projections for the color TV sets that Sony began marketing in Britain last month: the company expects to sell 50,000 the first year at $480 each, v. $600 for the lowest-priced British-made sets. On the Continent, Morita checked on construction plans for a multimillion-dollar Sony distribution and service center to be located, fittingly, in The Netherlands.

The trip was not all triumphal procession, however. In the U.S., Morita ran into a storm of ill will, stirred up by a Government finding that “Japanese manufacturers” have been dumping TV sets—selling them in the U.S. at prices below those charged in Japan. For the time being, Morita says, Sony must post a 9% deposit with Washington on every TV set that it imports. Morita concedes that some Japanese TV makers practice dumping, but he insists that his company is not among them and contends that ‘U.S. Treasury officials admitted as much to him. “Although we are innocent,” he says, “we are being forced to act as if we were guilty.”
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