Japan's Unsung Tech Heroes

Once synonymous with cool gadgets, Japanese consumer-electronics brands like Sony (SNE) and Panasonic (PC) are now scrambling to keep up with Samsung Electronics and other fast-growing Asian rivals.

But in the less glamorous world of tiny electronic parts inside gadgets, Japan still commands a large market share. Few consumers recognize the makers of the so-called passive components, a category that doesn’t include semiconductors. But they are the unsung heroes in Japan’s otherwise struggling electronics industry.

According to Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association, the country’s electronic parts makers currently hold 40 percent of the global market based on the value of output. The category “electronic parts” does not include semiconductors.

You may have never heard of Nidec, but your PCs and cameras probably carry its components. The Kyoto-based company, which made headlines last week with a U.S. acquisition, controls about 80 percent of the global market for precision motors in computer hard drives, and about 70 percent of the market for digital camera shutters.

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