State and Enterprises: The Structural Change of Japan's Consumer Goods Distribution
The development of the industrial sector of Japan’s economy has been evaluated as successful, and this success has been attributed explicitly to the close cooperation between the state and enterprises. In the sector of consumer goods distribution, on the other hand, the domestic trade policy of the state has been regarded as the main cause of the oft-stated backwardness of this sector. The examination of the interplay between the state and enterprises in the structural change of the Japanese distribution system forms an important complement to the insights on the relation between state and enterprises in Japan’s economic development gained hitherto from an investigation into the industrial sector.
As a first step, the fundamental concepts of Japanese domestic trade policy were elaborated. It is characterized by frequent changes of direction and contradictions between the propagated aims and the measures taken later, and it can be understood only through its formation process. While the policy for the processing industries is made by a manageable number of players from politics, bureaucracy and the industrial sector in question, all of whom often share common interests, the number of interest groups is higher in the case of distribution, and the conflicts more severe.
The analysis of the political background was complemented by an analysis of the effects of Japan’s domestic trade policy on the structural change in distribution. The question of how innovative enterprises coped with the instability of domestic trade policy was examined. In the late 1990s, the Japanese distribution system was changed. Structures and commercial practices considered hitherto as central characteristics of Japan’s consumer goods distribution were rapidly replaced by new organizational patterns. A timely observation and evaluation of these changes was not only important from an academic point of view. The structure of the producer-trader relations had constituted a major obstacle for foreign companies entering the Japanese market. Therefore, the subsequent project work was centred on the analysis of producer-trader relations.