Business practices and company culture are an ever evolving process. They adjust and shift based on surrounding factors and circumstances. Business strategies implemented under these difference circumstances all have their fair share of advantages and disadvantages.
Japanese business culture is uniquely fascinating in how it differs from most western businesses. Their model tends to work well for them, but can be dumbfounding to those outside of the country. It’s nowhere near perfect, but understanding it can help you when doing business there.
Let’s look at a few noteworthy differences in business culture found in Japan.
Gender Roles Expectations in Japan
In 2012, the Global Gender Gap ranked Japan 101st in the world when it came to gender equality. In Japan, women are largely expected to quit their jobs when they get married, so they can become fulltime housewives and stay-at-home caretakers. Often, promotions and upward momentum are hindered based on this expectation.
Japanese companies have very few women in positions of executive power. The expectation for women to be homemakers is still very strong, so don’t be surprised if you find an exceedingly male dominated workplace.
Means of Communication
Western companies have embraced all new forms of technology. From phone calls to emails, text groups to video chat, the most current communications possibilities are commonplace. Not so much in Japan. While the common joke about fax machines still being ubiquitous in a Japanese office isn’t inaccurate, Japanese businesspeople actually place high priority on face-to-face interactions.
Both within a company and between companies, the ability to look each other in the eye, exchange business cards and the like is highly prized. The Japanese find it easier to gain trust and build relationships this way.
The Japanese worker you find in the office, and the worker you find with his tie off at a bar are very different people. They’re both technically working, but you accomplish certain tasks with only one or the other.
As a nation that likes to avoid confrontation, you will often find Japanese businesspeople who hold their disagreements, grievances and even requests back during official work hours. But, after a few drinks, these all come pouring out. There is a time and a place for things you can say, in Japan. Knowing what to say in a meeting, and what to let out later after a pint or two is crucial.
Personal Life and Work Life
In the West, people work to live. In Japan, people live to work.
This is slowly changing, but it is undeniable how much emphasis is placed on an individual’s work life. The emergence of concepts like ‘stranger fathers’ and ‘death by work’ show the expectation of workers to treat their company like their family, more than their actual family.
Again, changes are being made to this work-life balance, but, compared to western nations, it can be jarring to see where the focus still lies.
The Customer is God
Japan has the world’s best customer service. Whether you go to a high-end boutique or a fast food chain, you can expect to be treated well. The adage goes that the customer is God, and this still holds true. In the West, the customer and the service are considered to be on equal footing. Money is exchanged for a service. But in Japan, extra service is given even before money is exchanged. That concern about keeping the customer happy is paramount to maintaining a healthy relationship.
Conference Room Customs
To the Japanese, the conference room is not a place for discussion, rather, a place to report progress. Most other countries consider conference rooms and meetings as a time to discuss current projects and come to mutual agreements. You’ll need to be able to both understand and navigate this cultural difference, as it might be the most frustrating Japanese business practice you’ll come across.
When it comes to English, the Japanese people struggle! You wouldn’t believe the panic and dismay when they want to purchase a product, but give up at the sight of the English language.
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