Differences between Western and Japanese Business Culture
The business culture of Japan by some analysts is described as one of the most peculiar and interesting in the world (Miller 2013). The working mentality of the Japanese people is rooted deeply in the tradition of the Far East, so there is no doubt in its differences from the West. Though throughout the 20th century the westernization of India, China, Korea, and Japan has occurred, the last of the countries has remained the most traditional and loyal to the customs of the ancestors, which are reflected in all spheres of cultural and professional life of its citizens. Many Western businesses avoid the Japanese market as they have a hard time understanding the business culture of this country. Although the differences can be a barrier, many Western corporations enter Japan successfully and organize profitable partnership. If a company can manufacture products of high quality and provide the necessary service, it can surely be rooted in the market of this country. It is important to stay in Japan for some time, communicate with different classes of people, try to understand their mentality, see the world through their eyes, and read some works describing their history, culture, and religion. Thus, the peculiarities of the Japanese business culture should not be viewed as a problem but rather as something the West can use as an example.
The two qualities of the Japanese citizens make their nation successful in general and, particularly, have contributed to their restoration after losing the Second World War: the hard work and strive to serve the society. The first thing a traveler sees after arriving to the Japanese airports is cleanness, tidiness, and politeness of all the workers, including those whose functions need to be sometimes strict and harsh, like policemen, ticket controllers, and security guards (Venture Japan n. d.). Consideration is also their distinctive feature: no matter what institution a visitor enters, he or she will be always guided, everything will be shown, and all the questions will be answered. This attitude can look like a service at a hotel or a restaurant of a national scale, but the distinctive feature is that in the mentioned places a person pays for the provided service and, in Japan, workers of state institutions consider it their duty to care and help. It is also illustrated that there is no custom for any tips, as it happens in the West (Venture Japan n. d.). Service-orientated companies try not to impose their vision or policy but rather adapt to the needs of the client wherever possible. Each individual worker will show his best qualities to fulfill his personal duty and add credit to the reputation of the entire company. Thus, the owners would invest great sums into training of their staff.
The great abyss lies between the supplier-customer relationship of the Western and Eastern worlds. In the West, its cultural egocentrism makes each individual, wherever he works, try to find benefit for himself and his closest relatives. As it was already mentioned, for the good service tips or other reward are expected, and career growth would be the main aim. Unlike that, in Japan, the worker will hope to transcend himself to serve the others. While in the West it is rather common for a worker who failed his task to try making someone else, including his boss, responsible, in Japan, the given task becomes the point of honor of the one who has received it and he will do his best to complete it. In the earlier centuries, the Samurai culture, which became the basis of the Japanese values, imputed the hara-kiri to the one failing his task (Hyoe & Seidensticker 1977, p. 28). Nowadays, such harsh decisions are no longer practiced, but the memory of them still lives in the Japanese mentality: their work is only theirs to be done. The Western egocentrism grows to grand scales when it comes to big corporations: the money exchange is the basis of all the business, so both sides see each other as equals and the suppliers will more or less actively impose their conditions. In Japan, on the other hand, the interests of the client are put into the first place and valued greatly.
The next very important feature is the sense of loyalty, common for the Japanese since the Samurai times. When a young man, graduated from the university, chooses a place of work, he might take a longer time to make such an important decision, but he will pick a place he hopes he will spend his entire life until the retirement. It becomes the second family for a person, and that is another reason each worker tries to contribute to the entire company's reputation (Venture Japan n. d.). The sense of belonging, loyalty to the group, and the teamwork are the key aspects. Here lies the root of practice to drink with the co-workers (Miller 2013). It is not merely a fun activity after a hard working day, but also a way of communication in the informal atmosphere and maintaining a sense of harmony within the group. Sometimes the drinking time becomes the exact place of sharing personal opinions about job issues, since during the working hours many people will tend not to express any view that differs much from the majority in order not to worsen the relationships, especially if people from two different hierarchical positions have a discussion. When it comes to the drinking time, it can become a kind of ceremony and finish with gifts exchange. Business relations after some time may change to personal ones, and every foreigner who wishes to gain the trust of his new Japanese partners has to keep that in mind.
The natural consequence of the collectivism and loyalty to the group is the pride for belonging to it. As it used to be prestigious to be the warrior of a certain prince or belong to an important and old family, the worker of a corporation, even if he only begins his service, will value it above all. It can be seen when a visiting card is given or accepted. In particular, it serves as a second face of a person, always kept neat and clean, and when accepted it is usually treated with great respect (Commisceo Global n. d.). When receiving the card, there is a custom to study it carefully for a few seconds. Any foreign businessman has to take some time to design his card that will reflect him and his company somehow, and one side of it must necessarily be translated into Japanese.
Not only loyalty, but the hierarchy and respect for the elders are the essential part of the Japanese culture (Hyoe & Seidensticker 1977, p. 28). It is present in a family, educational institution, and corporation. The formal title San is used in greetings and when addressing a person of higher position, for example, Kanazava-San. In the working group, it is likely to hear informal addresses to one another, like the ones used in a family. The president or any senior boss of the company will not be considered as administrator or worse, a tyrant and exploiter, which are solely capitalistic terms, describing business relations as a mean of control and utilization, but a father and a teacher. The company's leader will feel personal responsibility for each of his subordinates and be loyal to them, and vice versa. Also different companies in Japan have fewer problems establishing partnerships than in the West, while all the executives who make major decisions have undergone similar ways to their offices and, thus, are capable of understanding each other.
It is most likely to find only men on all the key positions in a Japanese company (Commisceo Global n. d.). Most women will take a few steps in their career, but usually after marriage and childbirth they will start taking care of their families and house duties rather than continuing their professional growth, though there are always exceptions. Such female workers might be very valuable for employment at a foreign business as they possess necessary skills, have education and experience, and can act as good guides through complex peculiarities of the Japanese market.
The last issue to study closely might be the practice of negotiations and decision making of the Japanese business. As it was already mentioned, both the workers and the executives are neat and careful. That is why it might take rather long time in achieving an important decision as all the variants will be closely examined. On this issue, Miller (2013)gives an example: in case of the French company, companies A and B would be dismissed as possible contenders almost immediately, with only C and D remaining. However, from a Japanese perspective one would consider each company on their individual merits. Increase the budget by 500,000 yen or extend the work for an extra two weeks, are factors that would also enter into the consideration process. Ultimately, the priority lies with the company that provides the best service. Therefore for the Japanese, the entire decision making process takes considerably longer. The conference room is rather a place of reporting progress to the seniors, not the place for discussion. That is another reason informal drinking time is so important, because then workers can exchange thoughts and be more sincere. Silence might be an essential part of business planning. Since the Western mind is more practical and quick, it often fails to understand an importance of a few minutes thinking in silence, even during an important meeting. Such custom is rooted in traditional meditations that have been taken prior to any serious steps and could last for several hours.
Taking into account all the listed peculiarities of the Japanese business culture, it is possible to analyze a certain company. For this purpose, EIZO company, the grand manufacturer of screens and displays technology, was chosen. Founded in 1968, it produces visual technology for many spheres, including business, healthcare, maritime, and even air traffic control. The name of the company means Image in Japanese. Its logo represents the display of the new generation, combining three essential colors: blue, green and red, which are placed in three-dimensional cubical figure.
Though it is rather difficult to state anything particular by merely viewing the company's website, it is possible to see that it shares the basic listed values important for the Japanese people. The advertisements, career opportunities, and reviews of the company's products show the satisfaction of clients. The brand message on the site highlights the importance of the images and the technological equipment (EIZO n. d.). The video presented on the webpage, as well as the website in general, is made in English language as the company is globally orientated.
As a result, though Japan is one of the leading countries of the globalized society, it preserves many of its traditional values, simply adjusting them for the new way of life and relations. The peculiarities of the Japanese business culture should be studied not just to enter its market successfully but also to learn the values that might be good to imply in the Western companies, making the capitalism more traditional. These values include overcoming egocentrism in favor of serving the other, adherence to collective ideas and loyalty, and presence of the sense of duty and service orientation. Though it might be difficult to imply these issues in the Western market, for the cultural background and tradition of these two worlds are very different.
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