Country Listing

Japan Table of Contents



Japan was a latecomer to computer manufacturing. IBM Japan, a wholly owned subsidiary of IBM, along with other foreign subsidiaries, originally dominated the Japanese market. Until the 1980s, Japanese computer manufacturers viewed their marketing battle as one of capturing Japan's domestic market from IBM Japan, not of penetrating world markets. However, Japan's industry developed with extraordinary speed and moved into international markets. The leading computer manufacturers in Japan at the end of the 1980s (in the domestic market) were Fujitsu, IBM Japan, Hitachi, NEC, and Unisis in mainframes, and NEC, Fujitsu, Seiko Epson, Toshiba, and IBM Japan in personal computers. Despite the benefits extended by Japanese industrial policy to the domestic computer industry, IBM was able to maintain a significant market position in Japan--a 24 percent share of the mainframe market and a 6 percent share of the personal computer market in 1988.

In 1988 Japan exported US$1.5 billion of computer equipment, up more than twelvefold from the US$122 million in 1980. Japanese firms were not very successful in exporting mainframe computers, but they did very well in peripheral equipment, such as printers and tape drives. In the rapidly growing personal computer market, Japan achieved a modest market share in the United States during the 1980s. Imports of computer equipment in 1988 came to US$3.2 billion (including parts). However, much of the computer equipment produced by foreign-owned firms that is used in Japan is manufactured domestically by subsidiaries rather than imported.

The special treatment extended to the computer industry became the subject of trade disputes with the United States in the 1980s, in particular the government procurement practices for supercomputers (the fastest, top-of-the-line computers). At issue was the inability of United States manufacturers to sell these machines to government-funded agencies in Japan. Some rules were changed in 1987, but supercomputers remained one of three products singled out for further negotiation by the United States in 1989 under the provisions of the 1988 United States Trade Act. Earlier, conflict ensued over a Japanese proposal to protect computer software under patent law rather than under copyright law, a move that the United States felt would reduce protection for United States-designed software in the Japanese market. This issue was resolved when the patent law proposal was dropped.

Data as of January 1994