How Japanese Companies Rebranded in the United States after WWII

From Honda to Nikon, Kawasaki to Nintendo, Japanese brands are ubiquitous in America with a reputation for quality and reliability. But this wasn’t always the case.

Around the time of World War II, most Americans were loath to buy Japanese products, not only because of the conflict, but because the goods that ended up on American shelves were often shoddy and cheap. How did Japanese companies turn that hostility into hospitality — and why did American consumers change their minds?

In this episode, William Chou explains how products like cameras and cars became Japan’s material ambassadors in the postwar United States, helping create a new and improved relationship between the two countries through commerce. By tailoring their products to meet American consumer preferences, and offering dependability and craftsmanship at reasonable prices, companies like Honda and Nikon established a new reputation for Japanese goods — and for Japan — in the U.S.

Banner images: Underground firing gun (left), Hagley Digital Archives; Canon camera testing in Japan (right), Hagley Digital Archives

William Chou is a Ph.D. candidate in history at the Ohio State University.