Background to this Site
This site focuses on the post-1990 history of Japanese investment in the UK. It builds on a study which was led by Louis Turner and was funded by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation. At the heart of the site is the Current Draft (which has an accessible Index) which will be updated around once a quarter. Louis then intends to develop the site to include contributions from companies and individuals, which will be linked to the core document. To keep an eye on suggested additions and improvements, please go to the addenda page, where all significant suggestions will be listed until they are integrated into an improved text, or elsewhere into the site.
Recent Additions to the site
- Inward Investment in the UK - 1999 overview by Andrew Fraser (added 14/11/10)
- The Role of the SMMT Industry Forum (added 12/11/10)
Why this Study?
Japanese investment has made a major impact on the British economy, since the first post-!945 manufacturing investment in 1959. There was substantial literature analysing the subsequent wave of investments during the 1970s and 1980s. This literature reached a peak in the mid-1990s, reflecting the fact that the Japanese Bubble had burst in 1990, and that big automotive investments climaxed in 1992.
It is a shame that so little has been written on developments over the last couple of decades because the story is a complex one and tells us quite a lot about the development of the British economy, as well as the evolution of Japanese companies.
Those 1992 investments marked the peak of the initial wave of "Greenfield" investment, and the story from then on has been a combination of some divestments (the consumer electronics companies) and the steady deepening of others (the auto sector).
As of 2010, Japan was still the second most active investor in the UK, and there are signs of a qualitatively new set of investments focussing this time on Clean Technologies, such as hybrid and electric vehicles and Britain's wind power potential.
The time has therefore come for a comprehensive overview of developments since 1990.
Why this site?
The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation generously provided funds to produce a 15,000 word study, on the assumption that it might then prove possible to find funds for a longer, book-length version.
At a time when intellectual activity is moving from the printed word to the web, it seemed to make sense to produce the initial draft within a flexible website, with characteristics of a Wiki. After all, a 15,000 word printed document would be viewed as a "super pamphlet" which would probably not command much attention.
Instead, we will use this site to attract comments and corrections on a succession of gradually expanded and improved drafts. The goal will be to expand the initial draft (around 19,000 words in November 2010) to between 80,000 to 100,000 words, at which point it might make a publishable book.
I envision uploading improved, expanded versions of the core draft about once a quarter, depositing earlier versions so that anyone referring to these can stil find them.
As importantly, though, we will be using this site to identify material which will add to the value of the core text. This could involve selections from and references to in-house company histories; reminiscences from people who have been involved with these investments; deposits of relatively transient material which may be of value to this study.
Limitations to this Study
I have been writing this while running a small business (the Asia-Pacific Technology Network), so I have not been able devote my undivided attention to the research and writing. The result is that I have an initial draft which still has gaps. Some of these are trivial (dates, numbers of employees); some are more serious such as missing chapters on pharmaceuticals and financial services.
Since I have been working on a very broad canvas, chasing the trivial gaps would be a bit like painting the Forth Bridge - as soon as one set of gaps is closed, another set would have emerged. This is where a web-based approach should help. Because I don't have to put up a "perfect" text, I can enter a dialogue with a number of people (some of whom I may not know exist), mutually working for continuous improvements.
I have some personal blind-spots, in particular a bias against relying too much on statistics. Instead, I favour identifying the decisions and events which, when interpreted senstively, often indicate the underlying trends which will show up in official statistics at a later date.
Anyway, I know that blind-spot, and I will work to tighten up the statistical analysis in future versions.
Most importantly, though, I am not a Japanese speaker or reader. In my defence, I note that I first visited Japan in 1970, by which time I was already working on the multinational company phenomenon. This meant that I was actively watching Japanese investment through the 1970s. I have been back there some 45 times and have run 20 high-level UK-Japanese High Tech Forums, involving a number of the companies which are part of this study.
Because of this background, the initial draft on this site is inevitably Anglo-centric. This is, though, something we can start to compensate for as time goes by. We will be actively encouraging people to contribute reminiscences, and these can come from Japanese observers, just as much as from British.
Louis Turner: 7 Nov 2010