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The History of Anglo-Japanese Relations, 1600-2000

Author(s):Hunter, Janet E.
Sugiyama, S.
Reviewer(s):Wilson, John

Published by EH.NET (February 2003)

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Janet E. Hunter and S. Sugiyama, editors, The History of Anglo-Japanese Relations, 1600-2000, Volume 4, Economic and Business Relations. New York: Palgrave 2002. xiii + 355 pp. $78 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-333-79197-5.

Reviewed for EH.NET by John Wilson, University of Nottingham International Business History Institute (UNIBHI).

Building on the enormous success of its three predecessors, this fourth volume in the Palgrave series on Anglo-Japanese relations further enhances its reputation by providing nine essays of undoubted significance. Previous volumes in this series have examined political-diplomatic dimensions (both edited by Nish and Kibata) and military-naval issues (Gow and Hirama), while a fifth is planned for similar treatment of socio-cultural debates (Daniels and Tsuzuki). This volume covering economic and business relations demonstrates that there continues to be an extensive interest in this theme. Crucially, it brings together recognized authorities in their respective fields, offering fresh insights into the various aspects covered.

The first chapter (by Hunter and Sugiyama) represents a detailed introduction to what the editors regard as the key themes of the volume. Taking up almost one-third of the entire book, it is clear that Hunter and Sugiyama are concerned to ensure that readers are well-informed about these issues. Readers will also not be disappointed with the material they discover in this chapter, because it provides a wealth of information on how extensively Britain and 2Japan have traded over the course of the last four hundred years. For example, there is evidence on the number of British firms that in the nineteenth century traded out of Japanese ports, while for the more recent period there are graphs and analyses of the extent of Anglo-Japanese trade and investment. It is essential background for the chapters that follow, providing an invaluable reference point for those who teach any modules linked with Japan.

Just like the introduction, the case-study chapters are grounded in original research and reflect the latest work in their respective fields. Chapter two (written by Kanji Ishii), for example, provides a detailed analysis of British-Japanese rivalry in trading and banking up to the First World War. Ishii is especially concerned to highlight how by recruiting well-educated staff Japanese banks and trading operations were able to develop strong core competences that enabled them to compete with their British rivals. Norio Tamaki also develops this theme in chapter three, where he examines the influences on Fukuzawa Yukichi’s work in creating the first Japanese business elite. Further substantiating a common notion concerning Japan, Tamaki illustrates how human resource development was one of the key reasons why Japan proved capable of converting from an agricultural to an industrial economy, learning good lessons from more economically advanced nations like Britain.

The next chapter, by Bunki Nagura, is more concerned with financial and managerial issues. Nagura provides a case study of the Japan Steel Works, illustrating how the British firm Vickers-Armstrong provided both technical expertise and finance at the time of its creation. This also indicates the difficulties involved in this kind of relationship, because so many problems beset the firm that the advantages of this early form of joint venture were never wholly apparent. It is especially clear that the British partners never derived as much benefit from the arrangement as the Japanese. Christopher Madeley also brings out this theme, when examining the 1920s and 1950s collaborations between two British automobile manufacturers (Wolseley and Rootes) and their two Japanese partners (respectively, Ishikawajima and Isuzu). While it is not apparent from these two chapters whether there were any generic reasons behind this British failure to exploit the potential in their arrangements, one can conclude that respective managements approached the deals with significantly different attitudes and aims. In particular, the Japanese would appear to have been much more focused, while British management lacked precision.

In between these two chapters, Toshio Suzuki assesses the extent to which during the 1920s the City of London funded Japanese governments. This demonstrates how City institutions made substantial profits from this issue, illustrating how financiers could teach industrialists something about how best to exploit the Anglo-Japanese links. One of the classic examples of how British industry suffered at the hands of Japanese entrepreneurship, of course, was in cotton. As John Sharkey relates in chapter seven, even though accurate and reliable information was relayed back from Japan by British sources, the extent of the threat was significantly misconceived throughout the interwar years.

The last two chapters, respectively by John Weste and Marie Conte-Helm, are principally concerned with post-1950 developments. Weste assesses Britain’s attempts to influence Japan in the 1950s, emphasizing how significant opportunities were lost as a result of the adoption of a wary approach towards the potential Far Eastern partner. On the other hand, as Conte-Helm graphically illustrates, after 1980 Japanese corporations did not prove slow to invest in Britain, given the enormous superiority over indigenous firms. This brings the story full circle, because from a position of dependence and inferiority up to the 1930s, by the late-twentieth century Japan had grown so impressively that it was able to dominate ‘The First Industrial Nation.’

For anybody interested in long-term international developments, this is an invaluable collection of essays. Inevitably, the case study chapters reflect the specialized research of the authors chosen, limiting any claims that the book comprehensively covers the field of economic and business relations. For example, it would certainly have been useful to include a chapter on the pre-1868 era, while one might also have expected to see work on industrial relations, the introduction of total quality management and the impact of Japanese investment in the automobile and electronics industries. On the other hand, most notably in the introductory chapter, one can find not only plenty of detail, but also coverage of the key themes, indicating how the authors must be congratulated in bringing together this highly impressive collection. (Janet Hunter lectures at the London School of Economics; Shinya Sugiyama is professor of economics at Keio University, Tokyo.)

John Wilson is Research Director of the University of Nottingham International Business History Institute (UNIBHI). Apart from having published the only long-term study of British business, he has produced business histories of prominent operations like Ferranti, British Gas North Western, BP-Amoco and Manchester Business School. Ashgate is about to publish a book he has edited with Andrew Popp, Industrial Clusters and Regional Business Networks in England, 1750-1970.

Subject(s):International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII