JAPAN: Adaptable Octopuses

The Japanese, in characteristically understated fashion, call them trading houses, but that comes nowhere near summing up the role of a unique kind of company in the country's spectacular economic rise. Because most Japanese manufacturers concentrate solely on production, they rely on trading houses to buy abroad the raw materials that they need and to sell their finished products both at home and abroad. Combining silken persuasiveness with samurai dedication, the trading houses also serve as market researchers, financiers and worldwide economic intelligence agents. In short, they are archetypical middlemen, helping...

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