OSAKA -- The Imazato district of Osaka has long been home to a large concentration of small and midsize enterprises.

Handmade signs on the old wooden houses and modern concrete structures that crowd the narrow back streets reflect the variety of manufacturing and construction businesses.

Many of these firms have been family-owned for generations. For the first few decades of the postwar period, they served as subcontractors to major Japanese corporations, while their employees were all friends, relatives or neighbors of the owner.