Sophomore Seminars

Japanese Companies and Japanese Society

MATSCI 159Q
ENGR 159Q

Japanese technology has been regarded as leading the world in many areas (e.g., microelectronics, consumer electronics, and steel). On the other hand, many innovations originate in the West, particularly in the United States (e.g., microprocessors and computers). This course explores the role of typical Japanese companies and examines the importance of innovation versus product development. We will study the structure of a Japanese company from the perspective of Japanese society. This will lead us to examine the underlying philosophy of the research environment, the expectations placed on individual researchers to achieve company goals, and possible changes in the lifetime employment system. Recently, the great American research laboratories (e.g., Bell Labs and IBM Research) have been dismantled in favor of more practical development. Some Japanese companies, by contrast, have invested in research institutions while maintaining their product development laboratories. As the Japanese economy experiences continued recession, the balance of these philosophies is being reconsidered. Local representatives of Japanese companies, such as Sony and NEC, will be invited to class to help us learn about the attitudes of Japanese researchers and the relationship between Japanese companies and Japanese society.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Bob Sinclair

Robert Sinclair was born in Liverpool, United Kingdom, and educated at Cambridge University. He came to the United States as a postdoctoral scientist in 1973 at UC Berkeley and joined the Stanford faculty in 1977. His research focuses on electron microscopy of processes relevant to microelectronics and computer hard disk technologies. Professor Sinclair has worked at Matsushita Corporation and has done collaborative research with Kobe Steel Co. and Hitachi. In 1997, he was the Stanford Center for Technology and Innovation professor at Stanford's Kyoto campus, where he led a group of students studying the role of research in Japanese companies. He has also served as director of the Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP).