First-Hand:Establishing Radio Communications in Post-WWII Japan


Submitted by Homer M. Sarasohn

I was a twenty-nine year old radar expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology when I received a telegram from Washington in 1946 summoning me to Tokyo. The telegram said I was wanted by General Douglas MacArthur.

I thought it was a joke. However, I soon found myself enroute to Japan.

MacArthur, in charge of the U.S. military forces occupying the defeated nation, wanted to restart the Japanese radio industry as soon as possible. This was so the military could communicate with the dispirited population.

Japan was in rubble, as were the companies that built electronic gear. Workers had scattered and their machinery had been carted away to the countryside.

Since I once had worked for a U.S. radio manufacturer, I was assigned to the Civil Communications Sector, in charge of all forms of communication for the occupation forces.

My first task was to send teams to find the electronics industry's production equipment and round up workers. Then I had shacks built for makeshift factories. We, literally, ran the operation, the industry such as it was.

Immediately there were problems. The first batch of vacuum tubes, turned out by the primitive plants, had a ninety-nine percent defective rate.

To the Japanese running the factories that was not unusual. The nation's industry managed to supply its war machine through sheer volume of production. They did not understand the idea of quality.

I called in the plant managers and said this was intolerable. I then asked the managers to identify one problem they could work on to improve quality.

There was utter silence. They were not expected to make meaningful contributions to their companies in this sense.

Then the managers began talking among themselves. My interpreter told me they were deciding what answer to give that would most please the American.

At that moment, I decided to study Japanese language and culture to help break down this communication barrier. I also decided to become a sterner teacher.

In a certain sense, I became a dictator. It was necessary to do. The Japanese, used to taking orders from a militaristic government, were good followers.

Within nine months, the plants began producing radios, and output later picked up. But quality remained inferior. In 1949, a colleague decided the Japanese plant managers needed a course in American management.

But some members of the occupation forces opposed spreading U.S. production knowhow to the Japanese. "We would create a monster," they warned.

I argued that Japan must be set on a strong economic foundation or it would become a long-term drain on U.S. taxpayers. Finally, it went up to MacArthur. At a meeting, the opposition, from the occupation force's Economics and Social Section and I, each gave a twenty minute presentation to the General on our viewpoints.

MacArthur got up and began to walk out of the room. As he neared the door, he turned around and told me, "Go do it." That was all. Those were his orders.

Soon my colleague, Western Electric engineer Charles Protzman and I, spent a month assembling a textbook. Then we taught a course to the Japanese plant managers.

The course stressed that quality must be a commitment of the entire company, from the management down, and must take precedence over profit. The course also taught that the managers must listen to their workers and gain their trust. In addition, the managers were told that every company needs to compile a clear statement of its purpose, a company motto of sorts, that sums up its reason for existing.

Among my pupils were Sony co-founders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka, Matsushita Electric's Masaharu Matsushita, and Mitsubishi Electric's Takeo Kato. As you know from history, they passed the course.

(Excerpted and adapted from "Japanese Students Have Surpassed U.S. Teachers," by Bart Ziegler, Associated Press, Greenwich (CT) Times, April23, 1990.)