Business Culture in Japan

Topics: Culture, Japan, Cross-cultural communication Pages: 7 (2591 words) Published: August 13, 2010
Class Discussion

Compare the business culture of the UK with that of Japan. How would business negotiations between delegations from the two countries be affected, and how would you advise a UK team to prepare for the negotiations?

“Nihonjinron”, literally “the Theory of the Japanese”, has been of fascination for both Japanese and foreigners alike, and the industrialised world seems acutely aware that the Japanese are very different to Westerners, in ideology, religion, and business strategies. There are countless books, articles and websites which attempt to teach people how to communicate with the Japanese in business negotiations. However, these sources can cause further alienation, where the numerous rituals we have to memorise make the Japanese seem obsessively pernickety or just plain difficult. This may be because we naturally interpret these behaviours through the lens of a Western Christian culture and remain relatively unaware of the religion and history of the Japanese. This essay will examine how UK delegations can better understand and negotiate with the Japanese by learning about both the Japanese and their own national culture and history through literature, folktales and religion. Through this preparation a UK team can discover commonalties between the two cultures, which can help to strengthen the relationship, as well as identify differences that need to be discussed. The article will utilise the information given, along with stories about cultural origins, to give advice to a UK team preparing for negotiations. It will be strongly suggested that they learn about both themselves and the Japanese, and from this understanding to draw out similarities as well as identify differences, as this will help dissolve the concept of the “foreigner”. Nihonjinron

From studies by various anthropologists, it is clear that there are many differences between the UK and Japan in the way they conduct business. Moreover, there is a clear link between business and everyday behaviours, strongly suggesting that business culture is closely tied to national culture.

Following the concept of the interdependence between business and national culture, Hofstede (1993) made a study of 64 nations, from which he created a set of cultural dimensions arranged along bipolar scales, which he argues broadly encapsulates national preferences. They include: Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, and Long-term versus Short-term orientation. It is also necessary to fully understand the complex relationship between national culture and religion, which can often be found in culture-specific literature. The Holy Bible, for example, aids in explaining how the contemporary British think. Japanese culture, according to Buruma (1995), is affected by a number of religions, from the indigenous Shinto to the imported Buddhism and Confucianism. Buruma and Cleary (1991) discuss a number of tales derived from these religions, which revolve around the search for the “Way”, to help explain Japanese culture, from the adherence to a rigid hierarchical system to avoiding direct criticism.

Bow, Shake Hands
When the East and West collide in the boardroom, the immediate observable differences between delegations can be a little surprising to say the least. Morrison et al. (1994) list but a few of the extensive number of British and Japanese behaviours (Fig.1).

(* Swirls from Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars (1994))
The Action titles in bold, including gestures, emotion and dress, indicate similarities between the two cultures’ manners, which suggest that both the British and the Japanese are quite formal and restrained in their business conduct. This concern for formality suggests that both peoples can respect the other’s rituals, as they will already have established some common ground on which to work. However, there are abundant differences, the reasons behind which need to be addressed. Fig.2 presents a table of...
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