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Spinning Tales about Japanese Cotton Spinning: Saxonhouse (1974) and Lessons from New Data


  • Braguinsky, Serguey
  • Hounshell, David A.


We revisit the story of technology adoption and diffusion in Japan's Meiji-era cotton spinning industry, the study of which was pioneered by Gary Saxonhouse (1974). Using a novel data set and modern methodology, we argue that both the ease with which the best technology diffused and the role of “slavish imitation†in this process may have been overstated. We find an important role played by market competition, including asset reallocation. Our analyses provide richer insights into the complex phenomena of technology diffusion, innovation, and economic growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Braguinsky, Serguey & Hounshell, David A., 2015. "Spinning Tales about Japanese Cotton Spinning: Saxonhouse (1974) and Lessons from New Data," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 75(2), pages 364-404, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:75:y:2015:i:02:p:364-404_00

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    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Labour relations & textiles: addenda
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2017-09-27 05:01:55
    2. Labour repression & the Indo-Japanese divergence
      by pseudoerasmus in Pseudoerasmus on 2017-10-02 06:04:55


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    Cited by:

    1. Tomoko HASHINO & Keijiro Otsuka, 2021. "Selective Technology Choice, Adaptations, and Industrial Development: Lessons from Japanese Historical Experience," Discussion Papers 2124, Graduate School of Economics, Kobe University.
    2. Tetsuji Okazaki, 2021. "The Impact of Technological Change on Labor: The Japanese Silk Weaving Industry during the Industrial Revolution," CIRJE F-Series CIRJE-F-1166, CIRJE, Faculty of Economics, University of Tokyo.
    3. Ashish Arora & Michelle Gittelman & Sarah Kaplan & John Lynch & Will Mitchell & Nicolaj Siggelkow & Serguey Braguinsky & David A. Hounshell, 2016. "History and nanoeconomics in strategy and industry evolution research: Lessons from the Meiji-Era Japanese cotton spinning industry," Strategic Management Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 37(1), pages 45-65, January.
    4. Tetsuji Okazaki, 2021. "The Impact of Technological Change on Labor and Wage: The Japanese Silk Weaving Industry during the Industrial Revolution," CIGS Working Paper Series 21-002E, The Canon Institute for Global Studies.
    5. Rajshree Agarwal & Serguey Braguinsky & Atsushi Ohyama, 2020. "Centers of gravity: The effect of stable shared leadership in top management teams on firm growth and industry evolution," Strategic Management Journal, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(3), pages 467-498, March.

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