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Rise from the ashes

The geographical position of Italy in Europe, and Japan in Asia, has been a positive factor in their respective economies for centuries. The flourishing trade developed first in the surrounding areas, then across the continents, have been the seeds of their commercial and social progress[1]. Moving on to the modern era, marked by an unprecedented technological development and economic interdependence, we must remember how a large part of the world had to "reinvent" itself after the Second World War. The absolute destruction left by the conflict forced many world economies to reorganize themselves from nothing. Incredibly, many of these resurrected, starting a long phase of progress and modernization that still proceeds today (albeit with some slowing down).

A history of destruction and rebirth, which also unites Italy and Japan, among the countries most affected by the horrors of war.

The challenge for the convalescent Japanese post-atomic industry was to make itself competitive and at the same time alive. Japan (as well as Italy) had come apart from the conflict, and with it also its socio-economic structure. Competition with the US industrial locomotive, which had shown its muscles in both world wars, seemed impossible to cope with.

The speech, of course, was the same for Europe, whose rubble was still smoking in the eyes and breath of the survivors.

What was the secret, then, of the incredible rise from the abyss of Japanese society, today one of the most advanced and innovative in the world?

After the Second World War, Japan too, like some European countries, including Italy, experienced its own economic miracle (高度経済成長-Kōdo keizai seichō); in a short time it became a model to follow. At the base of this climb to the Olympus of the world economy there was a self-reformation of the industrial model, based on a new way of seeing the company. The latter, like the nation, was placed at the center of a system of values that was to guide the work of new business realities. Efficiency, total quality, customer satisfaction, loyalty and new production techniques were the ingredients for success. The production system had to be optimized to avoid critical issues such as overproduction, latent storage, waste of precious raw materials. These, in reality, were factors to be found in the American Fordist model[2], where the enormous market absorption capacity (a determining factor during the war economy) allowed the existence of a production system with a huge use of raw materials and mass production on a large scale.

It was on this basis that, after the Second World War, the major Japanese industrial realities rethought their models, refounding them on the maximization of profit at contained costs, according to new techniques and capacities. The workers were divided into precise teams with equally targeted tasks. The ultimate goal was a lean, fast production, where non-essential or repetitive tasks were automated; the latter aspect made Japanese technology famous and appreciated worldwide. In the 1980s, automation (jidoka - 自働化) became a true industrial paradigm, a winning and competitive model. This new way of conceiving production was accompanied by the so-called "just in time", i.e. the optimisation of control and the programming of resources so as to be able to produce only what was necessary, when appropriate. In conclusion, while in the US model it was supply that created demand, placing infinite quantities of goods on the market, in the Japanese model it was exactly the opposite: it was produced on a case by case basis, avoiding all sorts of waste.

This model went down in history as "toyotism", from the name of the famous car company where it was successfully applied. A turning point, the one started by the Japanese reality in the fifties, while in Italy the so-called economic boom was coming to life[3]. In fact, both countries were living in parallel a similar situation, common to the territories recently destroyed by the war that had an absolute need to rebuild and rebuild. One of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, the late Eric J. Hobsbawm, defined the post-war world economic miracle (or at least a part of it) as a golden age[4].

But the Japanese miracle doesn't end here. Thanks to the rapid industrialization and success of its industrial policies, Japan acted as a starter country in the Far East. In addition to imitating its model, other Asian countries such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea found Japan to be a reliable trading partner capable of advancing their economies. This interdependence, which exploded from the 1960s onwards, allowed the rapid rise of these young economies, which soon formed the initial nucleus of the so-called Nics (Newly Industrializing Countries)[5].

A not insignificant aspect is that these exchanges between Japan and new partners did not follow the logic of unequal exchange, typical of European colonialism in previous centuries. In this last model of exchange the powerful and rich European states, for example, filled the coffers at the expense of the African, South American and Asian colonies[6]. The reversal of the unequal exchange was the secret of the Asian boom (in addition to the relocation of Western companies), the effects of which are still tangible today. Japan traded on an equal footing with its neighbours.

On the other side of the world, Italy was also struggling to recover from the war. Already in the early fifties, the concomitance of the Marshall Plan and the renewed production capacity of heavy industry[7], were the basis for the Italian rebirth. The abundant labour force guaranteed a workforce in the large industrial agglomerations of northern Italy, while in the south it grew in the agricultural sector. The wave of wellbeing and technological innovation brought mass consumption to Italian families as well. An often underestimated aspect of this phase was the social impact of household appliances on the Italian social structure. Television guaranteed the uniform diffusion of the Italian language and raised the level of general learning. Other household appliances (such as washing machines, for example) relieved women of some heavy family tasks, allowing them to have a greater presence and integration in society and in the world of work.

Among the Italian excellences that, as was the case in Japan with toyotism, served as a positive model, there was the system of small and medium enterprises (SMEs). The whole Italian productive fabric could count not only on the phenomenon of the large industries driving the boom, but also on a myriad of small and highly specialized activities. Handicrafts, furniture, automation, food[8]; these are just some of the entrepreneurial realities in which Italians have always shown great skills, even in small entrepreneurial contexts. A love for tradition and an openness to innovation that increasingly reduces the distance with the Japanese experience.

Whether it's painters, sculptors, writers or other great artists, Italy is probably the only country in the world that can boast a similar cultural heritage, which has its roots in the most distant past. Over the centuries, this factor has accompanied the image of Italian "know-how" abroad, from the first artisan workshops to the great brands that are the pillars of exports. A long historical tradition that converges in the Made in Italy, the flagship of Italian entrepreneurship. A brand that has guaranteed the success of the production and the Italian model in the world, also allowing a cultural appeal.

Italian "made in" has been the protagonist last year in Osaka, one of the most populated and important cities in Japan, famous among other things for its famous castle (大阪城-Ōsaka-jō)[9]. In November 2018, the event "Italia Amore mio" took place, organized by the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Tokyo, in collaboration with the Italian Embassy and Consulate, ICE and ENIT. The event provided an opportunity for many Italian entrepreneurs and products to showcase themselves and make themselves known to the Japanese public. This is just one of the many initiatives that regularly take place in Japan to give visibility to Italian products.

The Japanese market represents the fifth largest market in the world for Italian agricultural and food products (the real driving sector of Made in Italy), with a total value of over 55 billion. The economic partnership agreement between the EU and Japan[10] has also given a positive boost, providing for a strong reduction/delimination of duties on trade between the two commercial areas. In fact, as emerged from the IV Forum Agrifood Monitor of Nomisma 2019, that of the Made in Italy agri-food in Japan is definitely a growing trend[11]. In turn, according to the latest data available on imports from Japan into Italy provided by infomercatiesteri.it[12], after the drop in 2018, a decisive recovery is expected in the first half of this year.


By Mario Rafaniello

1] For the Italian peninsula, for example, the contribution made by trade in the Mediterranean to the development of the Roman Empire in the IV-III century BC (which led to the creation of a special praetor peregrinus to regulate relations with foreigners. Or the trade of the maritime republics from the ninth century. A.D., whose ports were important points of cultural exchange with foreign countries.

2] From Henry Ford (1863-1947), American entrepreneur and pioneer of the automobile industry.

3] Also in this case the economic miracle was driven by a well-known car company, still a leader in the sector.

4] Inserted between a "age of catastrophe" (1914-1945) and an "age of disorder" (1973-1991).

5] The explosion of the Nics, and later of Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, definitively broke the indifference in which the notion of the Third World reigned until then (already cracked with the Arab countries by the OPEC affair in 1973), of which these realities were part.

6] The logic of this model was the sale of finished or semi-finished products in exchange for precious raw materials. The advanced countries knew how to use these resources; the same cannot be said of the colonies that received finished products, perhaps of low value, and without adequate technical knowledge.

7] A strong contribution was given by the massive demand caused by the Korean War (1950-53).

8] The famous four "A's" of the Made in Italy.

9] Originally built at the behest of the important samurai and military Toyotomi Hideyoshi between 1583 and 1598, it suffered various attacks and collapses in subsequent centuries. In 1868, a turbulent year that marked the traumatic transition from the Tokugawa period to the Meiji Restoration (through the Boshin War), the castle was almost destroyed. It will be rebuilt with difficulty over the twentieth century.

10] Entered into force on February 1, 2019, has created the largest free trade area in the world.

[11] https://www.nomisma.it/index.p...

[12] http://www.infomercatiesteri.i...


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