An Ocean Apart: Explaining Three Decades of U.S.-Japanese Trade Frictions
By Stephen D. Cohen
Praeger, 1998, 256 pp
Made in Japan: Revitalizing Japanese Manufacturing for Economic Growth
By The Japan Commission on Industrial Performance
MIT Press, 1997, 418 pp
An Ocean Apart is a thoughtful attempt to comprehend three decades of trade friction between the world's two largest economies. A professor of international relations at American University, Cohen concludes that the frictions are due partly to misunderstandings but primarily to fundamental differences in culture and social organization. With a sense of distinctiveness, exclusivity, and insecurity, the Japanese have constructed a unique version of private enterprise under government guidance, where government officials consider their role to be to protect the interests of society, which are not coterminous with the interests of typical people. Americans, by contrast, assume a universality to their values -- and that others should behave as they would like them to, not always the same as Americans themselves behave.
Made in Japan was stimulated by the 1989 MIT study Made in America, with its detailed discussion of weaknesses in American business management and productivity growth. A translation of a 1994 Japanese report, the book is dated: how to overcome a strong yen figures prominently. But it nicely illustrates some of Cohen's points about Japan. It is part analysis, part sloganeering and cheerleading. There are informative chapters on seven industries. The report is meant to provide rhetorical guidance to Japan's businesses and government, which varies from minor redirection to strong reproof. Chapters highly critical of Japan's educational system and corporate leadership are especially noteworthy.