Has Japan's Electronics Industry Lost Its Spark?

  • Analysis
  • 06-November-2019

Few countries are as closely associated with the modern robotics industry as Japan. For decades now, many people have assumed that Japan is ground zero for advances in robotics, and for trialing their implementation in practical applications. However, while Japan undoubtedly remains one of the most important nations in the world for robotics technology and automation, it has lost much of its prestige in recent years.

There are a number of individual factors that have contributed to these shifting market dynamics, so there isn’t one specific issue that we can point to as being responsible for the decline of Japan’s electronics industry as a whole. In assessing the current state and health of the Japanese electronics industry, as well as its prospects for recovery in the near future, there are lots of individual strands that need to be considered.

Increased Competition

Perhaps the most significant factor that has affected a decline of Japan’s electronics sector is the rise of competing markets on the Asian continent. In the immediate aftermath of World War 2, Japan was a significantly more advanced country than its nearest neighbors, notably China and Korea. Today, China, Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam (which was under Japanese occupation until the end of World War 2) all have manufacturing capabilities that enable them to compete with Japan.

What’s more, Japan has found itself at a disadvantage against some of these markets because of their relatively high standards of living and much stronger enforcement of worker’s rights when compared to China or Vietnam.

That’s not to say that Japan doesn’t have anything unique to offer. On the contrary, while China can mass-produce a printed circuit board for your business, they couldn’t produce anything on par with Japan’s world-leading Asimo robot.

But with Asimo now retired and a lack of any similarly captivating projects to show off to the world, a big part of the wow factor that Japan’s electronics industry once had seems to be waning.

Hope for the Future?

The good news is that while Japan’s electronics industry might appear to have retreated from the world stage in recent years, that doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been a number of Japanese electronics businesses that are involved in groundbreaking research that could shape the global industry for decades to come.

The Internet of Things is starting to become a reality, and Japan is heavily invested in a number of associated technologies. For example, a Japanese scientist was awarded the Nobel prize in chemistry for their work developing lithium-ion batteries. Not long after that, Murata Manufacturing Co won an award for the development of entirely solid batteries. The IoT is going to require us to rethink our approach to providing uninterrupted power supply, Japanese technology has an important role to play in this.

The consumer electronics industry is currently undergoing a paradigm shift. Both South Korea and China have, if not dethroned Japan, then at least taken their place alongside them on the throne. However, Japan is uniquely positioned to aggressively pursue new technologies and once again become a world leader.