Tag Archives: Japan

Book : Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868-1964

Naval, aeronautic, and mechanical engineers played a powerful part in the military buildup of Japan in the early and mid-twentieth century. They belonged to a militaristic regime and embraced the importance of their role in it. Takashi Nishiyama examines the impact of war and peace on technological transformation during the twentieth century. He is the first to study the paradoxical and transformative power of Japan’s defeat in World War II through the lens of engineering.

Nishiyama asks: How did authorities select and prepare young men to be engineers? How did Japan develop curricula adequate to the task (and from whom did the country borrow)? Under what conditions? What did the engineers think of the planes they built to support Kamikaze suicide missions? But his study ultimately concerns the remarkable transition these trained engineers made after total defeat in 1945. How could the engineers of war machines so quickly turn to peaceful construction projects such as designing the equipment necessary to manufacture consumer products? Most important, they developed new high-speed rail services, including the Shinkansen Bullet Train. What does this change tell us not only about Japan at war and then in peacetime but also about the malleability of engineering cultures?

Nishiyama aims to counterbalance prevalent Eurocentric/Americentric views in the history of technology.  Engineering War and Peace in Modern Japan, 1868–1964 sets the historical experience of one country’s technological transformation in a larger international framework by studying sources in six different languages: Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. The result is a fascinating read for those interested in technology, East Asia, and international studies. Nishiyama’s work offers lessons to policymakers interested in how a country can recover successfully after defeat.

Takashi Nishiyama is an assistant professor of history at the State University of New York, Brockport.

Seminar : Elites of Modern Japan: Translators, Doctors, Engineers, and Architects

Élites du Japon moderne : traducteurs, médecins, ingénieurs et architectes
Journée d’étude internationale organisée par

Nicolas Fiévé (CRCAO/EPHE) et Aleksandra Kobiljski (CRJ/EHESS)

Jeudi 4 juin 2015 de 9h15 à 18h30
EHESS, Salle 640, 6e étage
190 avenue de France, 75013 Paris

9.15 Welcome and introduction
Aleksandra Kobiljski & Nicolas Fiévé

9.30-10.30 Concepts and frameworks

Guillaume Carré (EHESS, CRJ), Social Margins and the Notion of Elite in Early Modern Japan
Shimizu Yuiichirō (Keiō University), Reformatting Elite in Modern Japan

10.30-12.00 Translators

Chair: Fabien Simon (Université Paris Diderot, ICT)
Annick Horiuchi (Université Paris Diderot, CRCAO), Translators of Dutch Books in the Early Nineteenth-century Japan: the Emergence of an Elite
Ruselle Meade (University of Tōkyō), Translators as Elites in Meiji Japan: The Case of Yamagata Teisaburō
Discussant: Fabienne Jagou (EFEO, IAO) Continue reading

Review: Engineering Labour

Peter Meiksins and Chris Smith (eds), Engineering labour. Technical workers in comparative perspective. London, New-York: Verso, 1996.

Review by Charles Gadéa

This collective book is based on six case studies of engineers in Britain, Germany, France, USA, Sweden and Japan. It shows the importance of national differences in the training and the organization of engineering labour. In the two last chapters, Peter Meiksins and Chris Smith address the common issues that emerge from the case studies. They consider that the engineers play an ambiguous role within the enterprise as intermediate workers, engaging in complex and contradictory relationships with both employers and manual workers. These tensions, combined with local specificities, explain national configurations. Yet, at the same time, the authors stress that “there is not an infinite variety of ways of producing engineers. ”

“We know that there are underlying structural realities, but their effects are mediated in complex ways. We know institutional formation varies, but not infinitely. We know that the agencies involved in formation – the state, capital, labour, occupational associations- are common to all the societies, yet organized differently.” (p. 236)

Thus, the main question is how can we synthesize these variations into a limited number of models. According to Meiksins and Smith there are four main models which describe the ways of producing engineering workforce and define the social position of engineers. The first model is the craft model, in which engineers and technical workers are skilled workers at the top of the hierarchy of industrial workers: “the ‘engineer’ is constituted not by the possession of credentials, but by the laborious acquisition of practical experience” (p. 238). The second one, the managerial model, defines engineers as part of the managerial people and quite often they are trained in formal educational institutions that teach universal skills that can be easily transferred and adapted to different situations. In the third case, the “estate organization” is characterized by a stratified hierarchy of technical occupations, with formal school trained and rather elitist professionals on the one hand, but also a variety of other technical workers with claims to be recognized as engineers, on the other hand. The fourth and last model, the “company centred” model, is degree-based; the engineers are trained at the university, but the new staff are recruited by and promoted into the company; people are encouraged to show a sense of solidarity with the firm viewed as a whole rather than develop strong occupational identities and professional associations.