Japan is a largely group-based culture whose goals and aspirations center around what is good for the whole of the people, rather than what is good for the individual. This mentality has created a variety of differences in Japanese culture from Western culture. From the group-oriented “shame” model of discipline, to the idea of companies offering lifelong protection to all employees, Japan’s business model is strongly influenced by the conformist culture in which it exists. The idea of the group being more important than the individual, combined with an uchi-soto ideal in business is a large cause of Japan’s recent economic decline, and unless this mentality changes, Japan may be unable to succeed in the business world in the future.
Japan has always had a culture largely influenced by the group. This idea is apparent in everything from the home life to their sporting events. In the video “Fit Surroundings”, it was stated that ama are most likely to train their daughters-in-law rather than their daughters, because the daughters in law will contribute to the family. This is just one of many examples where Japanese group culture making its way into the Japanese home life. The group aspect of Japanese culture also permeates other aspects of Japanese life. In You Gotta Have Wa, Robert Whiting explains a wide variety of instances in which the Japanese group mentality affects the play of the team sport, baseball. Additionally, he states the baseball is a game “uniquely suited to the Japanese culture” (145). This is because Japan’s culture is geared towards a group oriented sport. Baseball fills this role admirably. By allowing the group aspect to rule the team, baseball fulfills the wish to perform as one. However, in the sport there is also the “one-on-one” between the batter and the pitcher (Discussion 4/8). This allows a demonstration of the desire for individual excellence that so many Japanese feel a need for in their lives.
The desire for individual excellence is not one easily demonstrated or accomplished in Japanese culture. The group-based aspect of Japanese culture means that many professions allow little to no proof of individual excellence. Additionally, the seniority-based promotion and wage system does not inspire creativity or individual excellence (Lecture 5/1/2003). Instead, Japanese are generally forced to demonstrate excellence by fitting in the best. The best team players are the best employees in the company. The better an employee works with the team, the better that employee is (Lecture 4/29/2003). Individual excellence is looked down upon. Instead, an employee should involve the whole group in an idea. This mentality is echoed by the “stamping” method of approving changes in the company. Before any changes can be made in company policy, a document must circulate among the higher ups in the company and be “stamped” by each of them indicating his or her approval of the changes (Lecture 5/1/03). This type of action is representative of the group mentality behind much of Japan’s business structure. Throughout the society, the group is treated as the most important aspect, both in the business world and every other aspect of Japanese life.
Japan leads the world in many technological fields that are becoming more and more important in today's economy (Course Packet 193). As the world economy and consumers shift more and more to higher technology, Japans products will (and have) become more and more important in the world market. There are fewer and fewer products today which do not contain some part made in Japan, especially in the increasingly important technological fields (Course Packet 194). However, this increased output in high-technology fields has not succeeded in bolstering the Japanese economy. As is stated in the article “Empty Isles Are Signs Japan’s Sun Might Dim”, Japan’s population is on target to fall by over 25 million in the next 50 years. Should this prediction come to pass, Japan’s economy may be in for hard times over the next several decades.
Most countries throughout the world have been able to combat these types of changes through one of two methods: easier immigration or restructuring of the economic system. Due to several different factors, Japan is unable to take advantage of these options. Opening up immigration to outsiders is nearly impossible due to both geography and social implications, and the restructuring of the Japanese economic system is an idea which is rejected almost universally by the mentality of Japan’s people.
In most countries, immigration can be a way to bring more people to the country, to prevent stagnation or to bolster the economic performance of the country. However, this technique is not used in Japan in efforts to recover from the economic downswing the country has been experiencing for more than a decade. This is not due to a lack of knowledge of this technique. Japanese people have always controlled their borders carefully, and have a good idea of when immigration is a good thing and when it is a bad thing. Rather, this decision is based upon the feeling towards foreigners in the Japanese society. Gaijin are an everyday sight in Japan, and are not persecuted against as they are in some other countries. For example, to be an outsider in the United States often earns a person persecution or discrimination. In Japan, this is not the case. All gaijin are treated equally, and are treated well. Often times, these foreigners are given special benefits in the Japanese society to soothe their entrance into a foreign society. However, this outward appearance is oftentimes only skin deep. As was stated in the video “African American Life in Japan”, Japanese people will often limit the gaijin employees to a lower status than the native employees. This practice limits the effectiveness of these immigrant employees. Although they can fulfill lower level jobs, the Japanese almost universally choose to hire insiders for higher-level management positions. Because of this mentality, immigrant workers can not fulfill the full range of positions in Japanese companies. As such, using immigrant workers to alleviate Japan’s labor shortage is not a viable solution.
Another method which many countries have used in the past to alleviate economic problems related to declining population is the restructuring of the companies which control the economy. This type of restructuring generally means a change in hands of leadership in the company, as well as massive changes in employment. Often times entire departments can be removed or changed, and these changes can result in large batches of layoffs from the parent company. In Japan, this type of restructuring is looked upon as neglectful of the employees of the company. The Japanese feel that the company should watch over them for life. Additionally, most promotions in Japan are seniority-based, rather than the merit-based system used in most Western cultures.
The Japanese society is a largely group-oriented culture based around the success of the entire group rather than the individual. This fact causes numerous problems when trying to create and revive an economy which is failing because of a lack of innovation. The seniority-based wages system does not promote individualism, and as the legacy employees continue to receive higher and higher wages from the company, the company receives fewer and fewer benefits from these older, more senior members. However, the group-oriented Japanese society dictates that these employees be treated with proper respect and compensation, resulting in an irresolvable dichotomy. Either Japan must abandon its outdated business practice, or it will fall from being a world power in the economic world. This descent from power will come as a shock to many Japanese, but after a decade long recession with no sign of change, the society will either have to change its ways or face the consequences.