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Interview with TIA chair Higashi: Revitalizing Japan’s semiconductor industry

  • July 6, 2021
  • , Nikkei , p. 15
  • JMH Translation

In June 2021, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) announced its strategy to revitalize the Japanese semiconductor industry. Nikkei interviewed TIA chairperson Higashi Tetsuro on what is required of Japan’s semiconductor industry after the U.S. and China have announced major financial support for the industry. TIA is an organization run by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology and other institutions. The interviewer was Nikkei’s Sato Masaya.


Nikkei: METI has embarked on the revitalization of the semiconductor industry. What level of financial support is necessary to boost the semiconductor industry?


Higashi: The Japanese government should invest at least 2 to 3 trillion yen in the first three years to jump-start the industry and create a development pipeline. Countries such as South Korea, the U.S., and China make make incomparably larger investments than Japan. Several hundreds of billion yen is not enough to compete against those countries. We will need not only large-scale investments but a calculated strategy on which of Japan’s strengths to pursue. We are discussing this issue at the moment.


We cannot compete on the same level as South Korea’s Samsung, Taiwan’s Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), or U.S. Intel. A detailed strategy will be necessary, for instance, creating a development pipeline that enables Japan to add value [to the end product] with manufacturing technology that plays to Japan’s strengths.


Nikkei: What does Japan need to manufacture cutting-edge semiconductors?


Higashi: Japan has lost the technological base to produce high-performance semiconductors. It will not be possible to recover right away when we think about the creation of the manufacturing process and training human resources. Because Japan’s semiconductor industry was in decline for 20 years, we should formulate a strategy with the awareness that the industry will take at least 10 years to recover. We will also reinforce the preliminary process (to etch circuits on the wafers) to produce logic devices, which performs calculations.


METI’s collaboration with TSMC will call for appropriate personnel who will undergo training. To follow up this effort, we should think about the development of logic devices. We should train human resources and acquire basic technology, with products beyond the “10 nanometer [chips]” in mind. Within a few years, we want Japan to be able to create a development pipeline.


Nikkei: How can we bring out Japan’s strengths?


Higashi: Japan’s strengths in terms of the end product are automobiles, industrial machinery, factory machinery (FA), and robotics. The popularization of electric vehicles (EV) will increase demand for semiconductors. There will be future medical crises and artificial intelligence (AI) will become more widespread. Energy saving [devices] will be in demand as we move to a “decarbonized society,” and I believe Japan can make a global contribution in this area.

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