Trade associations and cooperation. (Japan) David H. Ahl.
Open the Tokyo telephone book to the heading "Associations" and you will find listings covering the next 13 pages, with 8 pages devoted to industry associations alone. The subheading, "Electrical Machinery and Apparatus" has 22 listings. Why so many associations?
We talked to Akira Furusawa, assistant general manager of the Japan Electronic Industry Development Association, and his assistant, Tsuneo Saito. They told us the main reason so many indsutry associations flourish in Japan is to coordinate cooperative research efforts. A project that might be too costly for one company to undertake is easier to swallow if the cost is split three ways, and even less painful if split 12 ways.
Such cooperative ventures point up a dramatic difference between the Japanese and American mentalities. The Japanese have strong company loyalties and lifetime employment with a single company. Decision-making is done by consensus--everyone must agree on important decisions. As a result, the Japanese are reluctant to take risks; and risks that are taken are shared. As Mr. Saito pointed out, "there is no place for entrepreneurs or venture capitalists in Japan."
Industry associations also do market research and promote favorable legislation for their members, services performed by American industry associations as well. Until recently, JEIDA market research focused primarily on domestic markets. Lately, however, their members have been requesting information on foreign markets--another sign of the increased expectations of the Japanese in the world market for high technology goods.
Does that world market include China? Indeed it does, although Mr. Saito pointed out that a major barrier to faster expansion into China is the requirement that absolutely everything be translated into Chinese. Unlike the Japanese, whose language has become a mixture of kana, kanji, Arabic numerals, and English--a pragmatic mixture of convenience--the Chinese use kanji alone, an extremely restrictive approach when dealing with computer technology.
When the MSX computers were first introduced--17 are currently on the market--sales soared to the 40,000 per month level. More Recently, however, sales have been falling off. Furusawa offered several reasons. Currently, very little software other than games is available, and 55,000 to 75,000 yen ($250-$340) is quite a bit for a glorified video game. Moreover, most Japanese are not as affluent as Americans, nor do they have as mcuh space available in their homes for computers. Futhermore, many applications for home computers that are popular in the U.S., such as word processing and maintaining a database, are not practical with the Japanese language.
Reflecting the slowed sales, many retailers already are cutting prices in an effort to stimulate buying. In Akihabara, an area packed with scores of retail electronic stores, we noted discounts of more than 30 percent on the less popular MSX computers. On the Other hand, the popular Sony HitBit MSX machines were rarely discounted more than a few percentage points.
We inquired if either Mr. Furusawa or Mr. Saito had a computer in his home. "No, not yet," was the reply. Neither man could see any use for one at home--a curious, but perhaps not totally unexpected, response from officials of the association representing most makers of MSX computers in Japan.