What did I learn on my journey? I learned, first and foremost, that Japan’s culture affects its audio industry every bit as much as American culture and Swiss culture impact their respective industries. Just as America’s audio industry reflects the U.S.’s independent spirit and the Swiss audio industry adheres to the country’s emphasis on high-priced quality, the Japanese audio industry is a microcosm of Japan itself.
Specifically, the Japanese conviction that prized ingredients need very little enhancement translates directly into a desire to create audio components that showcase rather than “enhance” the music. And when those self-effacing designs are ready to be built, the production process reflects the same meticulous execution practiced by sushi chefs, bonsai pruners, and lacquerware artisans.
Another cultural imperative, borne of high population density and a historical corporate commitment to long-term employment, is the need for cooperation. In audio, this has led to team-based design decisions and sonics that don’t stray far from an emphasis on neutrality and musicality. Lately, however, the social safety net has been loosening. And while this hasn’t altered the goal of self-effacement, it has had the unexpected consequence of encouraging technical risk-taking as a means of achieving it.
Finally, the Japanese audio industry, like every industry in Japan, is looking for ways to recover from and move beyond the country’s long recession. In audio, that means big companies moving into the high end are in search of new revenue streams, while smaller companies expand into new markets to suit the populace’s changing spending habits.
All these factors are molding the Japanese audio industry into one that preserves long-enshrined cultural virtues while finding ways to move aggressively forward. We’re already reaping the results, and there is much more to come.