How Japan almost took over the United States in the 1980’s.

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Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash.

Back in the 1980’s, Japan went on a massive buying spree in the United States, gulping up American assets left and right. This buying began in Detroit of all places, with a relatively small purchase of American auto parts. But from there… let’s just say things escalated quickly.

Here is a nine year timeline listing a few of the many purchases Japan made in the United States —

1980: Japan buys autoparts in Detroit — spark plugs, gears, axles and tires.

1982: Japan buys Rouge Steel Corp. in Detroit owned by Ford — this massive corporation produced 2.5 million tons of steel annually and employed 6,000 workers.

1986: Shuwa Corp, a Japanese real estate developer accumulates over $2 billion in U.S. holdings and strikes a deal to purchase ABC’s corporate headquarters, as well as Arco Plaza in Los Angeles, CA.

1987: Japan buys Mobil Oil’s headquarters in NYC for a $250 million deal.

1988: Japan buys Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. in a $2.5 billion (cash) deal.

1989: Japan buys a historic 707 room hotel in L.A. for $219 million

1989: Japan’s Sony buys America’s Columbia Pictures for $3.4 billion (cash) to mark the biggest acquisition in the United States by a Japanese company.

1989: Mitsubishi company buys Rockfeller Center for $846 million.

Sushi, Cartoons and Pornography.

As Japanese buying continued to grow in the United States, so did its culture and business principles.

Between 1979–1982, Japan had already increased its screen time in the U.S. by 50% — showing iconic cartoons like Thunder Cats and Transformers to America’s youth.

Hollywood started introducing Japanese bosses in blockbuster films like Back to The Future 2. These depictions eluded to how in the future, American workers would be taking orders from the Japanese.

Japanese influence could also be seen in Die Hard starring Bruce Willis , with much of the movie featuring the Nakatomi Tower, home of Japan’s Nakatomi Trading in L.A.

In an article published by the New York Times in 1982 titled, Culture of Japan Blossoming in America, it discusses these cultural changes in depth listing sushi, architecture, pornography and art as more areas of influence.

Kaizen: The Japanese Business Philosophy of Continuous Improvement

While there are a handful of Japanese business practices and philosophies that have made their way into America’s boardrooms, Kaizen has been the most monumental.

Back in 1986, Masaaki Imai wrote Kaizen: The Key to Japan’s Success in 1986, highlighting this Japanese business philosophy which translates to “continuous improvement”.

Kaizen focuses on making a work environment more efficient and effective by creating a team atmosphere that is centered around constant improvement.

Today, the Kaizen philosophy is used by Ford, Starbucks and Nestle. And, while Japan did not end up taking over the United States… there is a sushi restaurant on every street corner.

By Cole Schafer

Cole is the copy chief at Honey Copy, where he helps startups make more money through emails and landing pages that read like poetry and sell like Ogilvy. When he isn’t slinging copy, he is right here on Medium sharing ideas about life, business, marketing and shitty education. Or riding alpacas…

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I write pretty words and sometimes sell things.

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