were able to accurately evaluate technology and, when it became desirable, were able to gain access to Japanese technology with about the same proprietary and legal constraints as they would face in the United States. We encountered significant limitations and differences relative to the United States, arising from the language and culture (both personal and business), but with a significant investment in personnel in Japan, we found that these challenges can be managed and to some extent leveraged for a competitive business advantage. Judging from our discussions with other Western companies in Japan, our experience is not unique.
In the popular comparisons of Japanese and U.S. technology, university and national laboratory research groups are seen to be significantly behind, and small high tech start-ups are said to be virtually nonexistent. By contrast, according to this popular image, large Japanese corporate technology labs are ahead in many technologies, and in general it is very difficult for a U.S. corporation to gain access to them or work with them in a meaningful way.
This popular characterization is generally accurate, but there are many opportunities for collaboration with technical groups in industry, government, and academia. Most university and national laboratory research in Japan is indeed well behind that in the United States, primarily because of the huge disparity in government funding for such research. Despite this and other major constraints, a few leading professors and institute directors have managed to set up significant, highly creative laboratories, outstanding even by U.S. standards. These exceptional labs are easily discovered, and are relatively approachable and interested in making connections with U.S. companies. These connections can bear fruit in research collaborations and in assisting recruiting of excellent technical people, a critical factor in Japan's tight market for technical personnel.
High tech start-ups, at least ones that are not dedicated to a large company, are far more rare in Japan because of the business environment, but they are increasing. Start-ups with relatively advanced technologies are hard to find, but when contacted are often very interested in working with U.S. companies. A good example is Nippon LSI Card, which we discovered in a JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization) tour of the United States in 1987: they make non-contact semiconductor memory, which we designed into our truck electronics product line.
Gaining entry to medium and large corporations in Japan is difficult because of the fierce, competitive business climate. However, the more advanced labs publish in journals, their research engineers attend conferences