In corporate culture, keiretsu refers to a uniquely Japanese form of corporate organization. A keiretsu is a grouping or family of affiliated companies that form a tight-knit alliance to work toward each other's mutual success. The keiretsu system is also based on an intimate partnership between government and businesses. It can best be understood as the intricate web of relationships that links banks, manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors with the Japanese government.
These ironclad corporate alliances have caused much debate and have been called "government-sponsored cartels." While some think keiretsu are a menace to trade, others see them as a model for change. Features common to most keiretsu include "main bank," stable shareholding, and seconded directors. Some keiretsu concepts have no American parallel such as "general trading company." The keiretsu system is one of the profound differences between Japanese and US business structures.
Keiretsu operate globally and are integrated both vertically and horizontally. They are organized around their own trading companies and banks. Each major keiretsu is capable of controlling nearly every step of the economic chain in a variety of industrial, resource and service sectors.
There are horizontal and vertical keiretsu. Horizontal keiretsu are headed by major Japanese banks and include the "Big Six" - Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Fuyo, Sanwa, and Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank Groups. Vertical keiretsu are industrial groups connecting manufacturers and part suppliers or manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. These verticle keiretsu include car and electronics producers (Toyota, Nissan, Honda--Matsushita, Hitachi, Toshiba, Sony)) and their "captive" subcontractors. Distribution keiretsu, a subgroup of vertical keiretsu, control much of Japanese retailing, determining what products will appear in stores and showrooms -- and at what price.