Grass-roots industry in the town of Sakaki: an alternative perspective of the Japanese post-war "miracle"

Copyright (C) 1992, 2004 by Christopher Romig Keener

Department of Anthropology
University of California, Berkeley

Doctoral Dissertation, May 1992

committee members:
Professor Laura Nader, chair
Professor George A. DeVos
Professor Michael Gerlach

Table of Contents

List of Figures, Maps and Tables



Japan in the spotlight
Stereotypes of Japan, Inc.
Beyond "Japan, Inc."

The basis of our understanding of Japan's industrial economy: a review of social science research
Early inter-firm studies: traditional vs. modern
Shift to organizational and institutional focus
Government leadership and strong government-industry coordination
Keiretsu: the importance of strategic inter-firm relationships
Studies on the small firm
Interest in regional industry
Enriching an understanding of post-war industrial development through a long-term, holistic viewpoint

Sakaki as a mecca of industry
Reasons given for Sakaki's "miracle"
Other aspects of the Sakaki "miracle"
Small independents and subcontractors
Merchant vs. samurai mentality
Flexible specialization
Unplanned grassroots movement

Changing circumstances in Japan and Sakaki
The high valuation of the yen
Anxiety about the future of small business
Changing aspirations of youth

Chapter One: History and Geography

Geographical setting
Nagano Prefecture
The town of Sakaki

Sakaki's geographical condition and its relationship to history from pre-feudal eras
The origin of the importance of rice in pre-feudal Japan
Life in Sakaki during pre-feudal history
The origins of local social organization

Sakaki during Japan's feudal history
Strict central control and its effects on Sakaki
The growth of sericulture

Sakaki in the modern state
The effect of the world depression
War years: the first seeds of industry
The second flowering of industry in the 1960s
The 1970s: the oil crisis and painful lessons
The 1980s: heyday of industry in face of en-daka

Sakaki history as an adaptation to geographical circumstances

Chapter Two: Contemporary Sakaki

Initial preconceptions

A portrait of the town today
Local government
Land usage

Sakaki and the surrounding towns and cities
Characterization of towns in a regional economy

My arrival and the circumstances of my study
My arrival in Sakaki
My living arrangements
The Chamber of Commerce

Chapter Three: Town social and political structure

Complex social organization arising from feudal agrarian history

Differentiation of elite groups
Bureaucratic elite
Entrepreneurs and directors of industry

Town government and relations between elite groups
Elected officials
The Chamber of Commerce
Conflict between bureaucrats and industrialists

Other strata of class
New farmers
The owners of small shops
Landless workers
Outcasts and marginals

Preservation of status and social mobility

Chapter Four: Economy of business enterprises

Small companies are strongly tied to the founder's family
The importance of family labor in startups
The relationship between family and firm headship
Apprenticeship for male heirs
Delineation between workers and family members
A mercantile tradition vs. bureaucratic traditions of large urban corporations
As firms become larger, they tend toward the bureaucratic tradition

Independent firms
Independents have their own "brand-name" product line
Products of the independents compete directly with those of keiretsu
It is increasingly difficult for independents to remain competitive

Increasing dependence on large industrial groups
New breed of small-run specialized manufacturers
Automation has been effected as much as economically possible

Small enterprises buffeted by cycles of the national economy

Chapter Five: Change among organizations and individuals

Current trends spell significant future change

Change and the response of organizations
Pressed by both sides: need to reduce costs coupled with shortage of labor

Strategies of the independents: outgrowing Sakaki
The growing trend of relocation of physical plants out of town
Relocation and the growing rift between local government and independent firms
Emphasis on providing a better work environment for workers

Strategies of subcontractors: increasing reliance on external industrial groups
Docility of subcontractors vs. independents
The labor squeeze and increasing reliance on industrial groups
Foreign labor 144

Changing aspirations of young people: an outward orientation
Generational differences and motivation patterns

Schooling: the basis for geographical and vocational mobility
Education takes an outward orientation from high school
Higher levels of matriculation form the basis for permanent departure

The circumstances of young people who do return
Motives of those who choose to return: balancing family obligations and personal ambition
Returning to the area but not to the town

The Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics


Grass-roots industry in Sakaki
Historical and geographical bases for industrialization
Sakaki today: the mecca vs. the reality
The town social structure and the struggle between industry and agriculture
Sakaki's merchant-based companies
Change in the contemporary setting

Sakaki and the "miracle": a cultural analysis
A broader notion of culture
Issues of freedom and covert control
Culture and controlling processes in Sakaki
Questioning the miraculousness of the "miracle"