Business History review
April 2001, Volume 43 Issue 2
Pernille Rudlin’s study of the activities of Mitsubishi’s London office operates at several levels. First of all, Rudlin tells the story of the evolving work of Mitsubishi in Great Britain. Five chapters describe Mitsubishi’s operations before the Second World War. Something of a latecomer among Japanese trading companies in setting up shop in London, Mitsubishi entered the metropolis in 1915 as part of its movement into shipping and shipbuilding. During the years before the Second World War, Mitsubishi exported tinned salmon, fats and oils, and silk to Europe, while importing steel, machinery and chemical fertilisers for Japan — with most of these transactions handled by its London office. In the 1960s sales of Japanese-made ships replaced prewar products as the London office’s major export to Europe. Additional products and, increasingly, services were added in later decades. From the 1970s, Rudlin observes, the London office ‘shifted gradually towards its role as an information gathering and coordinating regional centre, rather than a window into a market or supply source’ (p.177); and during the 1980s and 1990s the office moved especially into third-country transactions and finance. Exports and imports to Great Britain became only a small fraction on the business it handled. There is, however, much more to this study than a recitation of how the business activities of Mitsubishi’s London office evolved, important though that topic is. Rudlin also explores in detail how the Japanese community in London developed, the changing nature of relations between Japanese and non-Japanese employees in Mitsubishi’s London office, and alterations over time in the relationships between Mitsubishi’s offices in London and Tokyo. In fact, these later topics may well be of most interest to many readers.
There is much to admire in this study. While not an historian, Rudlin has done her homework very well indeed. Using the relevant secondary and primary sources in English and Japanese – including access to the company records in London – Rudlin places the development of Mitsubishi’s London office in the full context of the histories of the Mitsubishi Corporation, the Japanese economy, and global business. Oral history interviews, many of which are remarkably frank, provide an inside look at Mitsubishi’s affairs. Herself a nine-year veteran of work in Mitsubishi’s London and Tokyo offices, Rudlin also offers her own valuable comments on developments in the 1990s.
Mansel G. Blackford
COPYRIGHT 2001 Frank Cass & Company Ltd