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Political Science Labor & Industrial Relations

Japan Works

Power and Paradox in Postwar Industrial Relations

by (author) John Price

Cornell University Press
Initial publish date
Feb 1997
Labor & Industrial Relations, Japan, Labor
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 1997
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 1997
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 18
  • Grade: 12


The postwar miracle, says John Price, made Japan and its corporations the toast of the global village, with scholars across the United States pointing to Japan as the model for future enterprise. The economic bubble burst, however, in 1989, and Price documents difficulties that have surfaced since that time. In Japan itself, the common self-assessment is "rich country, poor people" and government reports regularly criticize society for being too enterprising. In emulating Japan, Price asks, are we choosing a path Japan itself is rejecting?

Price probes the paradoxes in postwar labor-management relations, particularly in the years between 1945 and 1975. Basing his analysis on the history of labor in Mitsui's Miike mine in Kyushu, Suzuki Motors in Hamamatsu, and Moriguchi City Hall, the author questions the common interpretation that industrial relations are based on lifetime jobs, seniority-based wages, and enterprise unions. He also asks whether Japanese workers have been genuinely empowered by the developments in recent years.

In his description of the rough-and-tumble world of postwar Japanese industrial relations, Price pays particular attention to the Occupation period, the rise of Shunto, the increased industrial conflict prior to 1975, and the transition to generalized labor-management cooperation. Relying on French regulation theory and on Michael Burawoy's concept of production regimes, Price suggests a revisionist interpretation of the transformation of Japan's political economy, offering new insights into the rise of lean production and the quality movement in Japan.

About the author

Contributor Notes

John Price is Research Associate at the Institute of Asian Research, University of British Columbia. He is also Instructor in the Labour Studies Programme of Capilano College in Vancouver.

Editorial Reviews

Important... This book's significance lies in its careful reconstruction of the roots of 'lean production.'

Labor Studies Journal

This book offers fresh insights into the political economy of Japanese production systems and the rise of lean production.

Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal

Japan Works is a serious attempt to explore the social traits of Japanese industrial relations. Price starts from the lean production debate and proceeds to investigate the following paradox of Japanese factory life derived from the debate. Why should workers have to work harder if the system is more efficient? Japan Works is a valuable contribution.

Social Science Japan Journal

Japan Works is an important book for those interested in understanding contemporary Japanese industrial relations.... Japan Works has raised our awareness of the dangers in simplifying the complex interactions between management and labor and the need for a more detailed and complete understanding of Japanese industrial relations. John Price has made an important contribution to the literature on Japanese management and labor. This book is mandatory reading for all those interested in Japan and the origins of the modern industrial relations system.

New Zealand Journal of Industrial Relations

Other titles by John Price