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Indigenising Dunlop, Feeding the War Machine: The Japanese Rubber Industry, 1909-1963

Funder: UK Research and InnovationProject code: 2751700
Funded under: ESRC

Indigenising Dunlop, Feeding the War Machine: The Japanese Rubber Industry, 1909-1963

Description

My project will investigate and analyse the development of Japanese rubber manufacturing between 1909 and 1963. My conceptual framework places Dunlop Japan at the centre of a process of capability formation essential to the development of rubber manufacturing in industrialising Japan. The successful indigenisation of Dunlop's explicit and tacit knowledge led to the emergence of internationally competitive rubber companies such as Bridgestone Tyres (est. 1930) & Yokohama Rubber (est. 1917) in Japan and Hankook Tyres (est. 1941) in South Korea. The year 1909 marks the beginning of 'modern' rubber production in Japan with the establishment of British company Dunlop Rubber's factory in Kobe, which became known as the 'rubber school' in Japan. 1963 marks the year Sumitomo Electric - a lead firm in the Sumitomo group - became the lead shareholder in Dunlop Japan, in so doing changing the company's name to Sumitomo Rubber. My research will answer two primary questions: 1) What were the most important factors in facilitating the indigenisation of Dunlop's expertise and technology which led to the rise of Japanese rubber companies such as Yokohama Rubber and Bridgestone? 2) Did developments in the 1930s and 40s driven by nationalism and militarisation lay the groundwork for the emergence of internationally competitive rubber industries in parts of East Asia in the post-war era? In answering those questions, this project will serve as an empirical study on the ingredients needed in developing countries for local industry to successfully grow out of foreign direct investment (FDI), and on the role of nationalism in the emergence of internationally competitive industries. The key theoretical & historiographical themes my research will engage with at the micro- and meso-level are entrepreneurship, labour-management relationships, and the role of Japanese trading companies. At the macro-level this study will consider the importance of economic nationalism and military demand as facilitators of capability formation. There is currently very little literature in English on the Japanese rubber industry and in Japanese most of the relevant critical literature appears to be consigned to a handful of academic articles focusing on relatively specific. Despite this, there is a wealth of quantitative and qualitative data in the company histories of Bridgestone, Sumitomo Rubber and Yokohama Rubber, and in the largely descriptive three volume history of the Japanese rubber history published by the Nihon Gomu Kogyokai (Japan Rubber Manufacturers Association). On top of making extensive use of the company and industry histories, primary material will be central to this research project. I plan to access the company archives of Sumitomo Rubber, Bridgestone and Yokohama located in Japan, and those of Dunlop located in London. I also aim to make extensive use of the readily accessible Mitsui Bunko in Tokyo. My methodology draws on the approach to business history pioneered by Chandler in 1959 which favours deep historical research to answer clear and compelling research questions. In addition, qualitative analysis such as this will be tested and complemented by drawing on quantitative data from company accounts and the published company & industry histories.

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