Woodblock print by Katsushika Hokusai (1746-1849)


Basics of Japanese culture

Organizational Structure of Businesses

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The business world of Japan has its own set of values and behavioral patterns. In public relations, these modes of behavior must be taken into account when working with Japanese business partners. In Japan, there is a concept known as amae. In the workplace, the boss owes a certain amount of protection to the employee, and the boss assumes a direct responsibility for the welfare of his employees. (7).The longer an employee has worked for a company, the higher his or her pay. The protection also comes in the form of this increased salary, as well as in the form of benefits, which sometimes include company housing in the town. Housing in urban areas of Japan is known for its extremely steep costs(1).
The longer an employee has worked for an organization, the more overall benefits he or she shall receive. In return, the employee is very loyal to his or her company. Some aspects to this "loyalty," are rather unfavorable. The employee will passively accept transfers to undesirable locations, and sometimes not take advantage of holiday entitlements(1). Japanese bullet train
Mid-life career changes are seldom heard of. Another aspect of the company loyalty is an expectation that the employee will put in long upaid hours, often well into the night, in social business settings. Nomunication is a buzzword that is a combination of communication, which is very important in any business setting, Japan or otherwise, and "nomu, which means "to drink." This refers to the common business practice of socializing after hours with business co-workers to establish a credibility and friendship, in order to increase business profitability(7). However, this "lifetime employment" concept refers mostly to male executives in corporate white-collar positions at large companies. Blue-collar workers often change jobs in pursuit of higher wages and better conditions. Relatively few women benefit from lifetime employment and most smaller enterprises do not offer the same long-term job security and benefits as major companies(1).

Most organizations hire their employees straight from school. Many new emplyoyees are hired on the basis of general educational level, including what school the potential employee went to. Also, companies prefer to hire fresh members of the workforce over those with previous work experience, since they like to mold the new employees into their organizational culture(1).

Japanese currency Japan is often portrayed as having a highly industrialized economy that is based upon large faceless organizations that are comprised of robot-like workers. But Japan is by no means constructed of workaholics with no passion for life or personal fulfillment. The stereotyped "robot worker" is rare, many Japanese workers are skeptical about their companies' paternalistic hierarchies and do not benefit from "lifetime employment." The truth of the matter is that although the corporate world does play a role in the nation's economy, most of Japan's industry relies on small to medium-sized companies with limited operations(1).
The best-known examples of Japanese business giants are the "Big Six": Daiichi Kangyo, Fuji, Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sanwa, Sumitomo. These large businesses deal with each other on a regular basis by ordering products and services from one another and by consulting on strategy and collaborative endeavors(1).

An interesting practice that is present in Japanese companies is collective decision-making. One example of this is what is called ringi-sei, or the circulation of consultative memorandums around a company in order to achieve consensus. There are also systems where workers are encouraged to make suggestion to upper-level management and propose improvements ideas which are considered. However, most companies still are based on a top-down hierarchy in the management system, and all final decisions are ultimately made by a single individual(1).

It is important that a public relations practitioner in Japan, or any other foreign nation, pay attention to and realize the importance of these conditions. Each foreign nation can be expected to base the media, organizations, and overall society on different principles than our own. Altering the message and media strategy to the shape of the nation in which the campaign is based is important to a succesful campaign. In Japan, the aspects of the business world can make or break a campaign.
Introduction | Basics of Japanese Culture | Organizational Structure
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