LOS ANGELES ' — LOS ANGELES -- If you ask the average Japanese whether the United States or Japan makes better cars, he may think you're joking.
Japanese autos, after all, consistently beat the rest of the pack in customer satisfaction surveys. It's the same with Japanese televisions, stereos and a host of other products.
But when the subject turns to furniture -- well, that's a different story.
Many Japanese love the solid construction and satiny finishes of fine American wood furniture and the rich fabric and workmanship of quality American upholstered items.
The problem has been that a couple of pieces of American-sized furniture would swallow up much of the space in a typical Japanese home, which at 650 square feet is half the size of the average American home.
To capture more of the Japanese market, Southern California manufacturers have begun making furniture smaller to fit Japanese homes.
Stephen T. Wise, chairman of the export council of the Los Angeles-based Western Furnishings Manufacturers Association, is spearheading the fledgling effort.
Mr. Wise says that American manufacturers can no longer afford to ignore Japan. With domestic sales of $10 billion a year, it is the second-largest, and fastest-growing, furniture market in the world -- about half the size of the United States'.
With that in mind, Southern California manufacturers have begun reducing the width of wooden furniture, shortening the seat height of stuffed furniture and making other changes to accommodate Japanese consumers.
Mr. Wise's company, for example, is shrinking a double dresser that for the American market is 72 inches wide to 48 inches for Japan.
Owner Scott Haigh said that Fairchild of California is reducing the standard seat height of its sofas and love seats from the 19 or 20 inches that Americans require to 15 or 16 inches for the Japanese. It is also reducing the width of sofas from 90 or 92 inches to 82 or 84 inches.
Although making smaller furniture will open up more of the Japanese market to the United States, some American makers have been able to sell there without downsizing. Their expensive furniture lines have gone to wealthy Japanese with large homes or to hotels, resorts and condominium complexes that feature Western-size rooms.
Larry MacBean, vice president -- international of Century Furniture Industries, said that his Hickory, N.C., company sold more than $500,000 in full-size American furniture to Japan last year.