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The cylindrical metal products made by Irie Koken Company more resemble Slinkys on steroids than the gee-whiz gadgetry for which Japan was once famous, like Sony’s Walkman, Nintendo’s Game Boy and Toyota’s Prius. But they perform the crucial if underappreciated task of helping makers of semiconductors and LCD panels keep their products clean and working.
“The technology used in making these products is very difficult,” said Norihiro Irie, Irie Koken’s president. “Not many companies are able to do it.”
Some economists and businesspeople believe that slow-growth Japan may be forging a new, critical role in the global economy: making the stuff that makes the stuff for today’s digital revolution. Japan has become an essential supplier of robotics that power assembly lines; electronic systems for cars; circuit boards, sensors and other parts in your smartphone; and a host of other technical components and hardware hidden from the consumer’s eye.
Japan is moving toward “an entirely different strategy, where other countries cannot compete,” said Ryoji Musha, president of the economic analysis outfit Musha Research in Tokyo. “Going forward, Japan will show a remarkable emergence as one of the locomotives of the global economy.”
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