History of Technology

Publication List of this Subject

From around the middle of the 19th century, Japan set out to modernize its industries and started to introduce advanced technology from the West. However, this modernization process did not always go smoothly. The fundamental problem lay in the difficulties in transplanting types of technology from the countries in which they were created to a country with a completely different socio-economic environment. When technology is introduced into an inadequate environment with insufficient socio-technological foundations, inefficiency is an inevitable result. Cotton-spinning machines which functioned at only 10% of the original efficiency are but a single example among many others.

The socio-technological foundations that had to be prepared for industrial modernization involved various societal factors, and these included the development of human resources such as trained workers as well as technologists and managers capable of judging adequate technological levels for their firms, the development of machine tool industries, transportation, markets, and so on. It took Japan a long time to complete this process.

What is characteristic about the Japanese experience in this regard is that it tried to minimize the economic inefficiency that was caused by inadequate endowment of socio-technological factors through adopting types of intermediate technology that were invented on the basis of indigenous technology. It is also noteworthy that from among inventors of such intermediate technology there appeared eminent figures such as Sakichi Toyoda who invented modern automatic looms independently.