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Japanese Work Ethics vs American Ethics "For an American to consider the Japanese from any viewpoint for any reason, it is important for us to remember that they are products of a unique civilization, that their standards and values are the results of several thousand years of powerful religious and metaphysical conditioning that were entirely different from those that molded the character, personality and habits of Westerners" ( De Mente, p.19). To understand the Japanese, it is necessary to have an understanding of their religious and philosophical backgrounds. My research suggests that basic ethical values in Japanese business systems are influenced by three philosophical and religious traditions: the Shinto Ethic, The Confucian Ethic, and the Buddhist Ethic. Boye De Mente adds a fourth which he labels the Parent-Child Ethic. Shinto was the primitive religion of Japan before Confucius and Buddha . The chief deity of Shinto is Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess from whom the Imperial Family of Japan traces its origin. Lesser clans, in turn, claim descent from the lesser Shinto deities.
Shinto has only one command, the necessity of being loyal to one's ancestors. This precept binds all Japanese in a bond of unity to a degree unknown in rest of the world. Shintoism stresses that harmony is necessary to keep man and things right with the cosmos. Each individual is obligated to do whatever is expected of him whatever the cost so as to bring honor to his family. Those in superior positions are obligated to take care of those who serve. Selflessness, kindness, helpfulness, loyalty, will bring trust, honor, confidence, and respect from others.(Cowles, p.
623) Confucius insisted on respect for superior persons and things. The five basic relationships are between ruler and subordinate, father and son, elder and younger brother, husband and wife, and friend and friend. The younger or inferior was to obey to the older or superior but at the same time the superior has obligations to the inferior.(Cowles, p.1507). The parent-child relationship rises to be an outcome of this teaching. Confucian principles stress piety, fidelity, obedience, kindness, loyalty to one's superior, self-control, discipline (strong work ethic), and superior/subordinate vertical structures of society. Most Japanese are Buddhists.
The Fourfold Noble Truths of Buddhism assert that all is sorrow, that sorrow springs from desire or craving, that desire may be eliminated, and that sorrow can be overcome by following the middle path. This Eightfold noble path is marked by right belief, right aspiration, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right frame of mind, and right rapture. It's goal is the attainment of self knowledge which allows man to live a contented life (Cowles, p. 1507). Western culture is based on Christian philosophy which preaches the equality of men and emphasizes man's freedom as a rational being. Man has a free will and can choose to act in accordance with this principle.
Consciousness, choice, and freedom are the key principles. The fundamental work philosophy in the US is capitalism. Webster's dictionary defines capitalism as "an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision rather than by state control, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market." Shaw suggests that capitalism is based on the premise that "people are basically acquisitive, individualistic and materialistic in practice and capitalism strongly reinforces those human tendencies" (Shaw, p. 32). These basic philosophical differences have resulted in very different corporate ethics for western and Japanese cultures. Because of their ties to their past, the Japanese place more emphasis on the long term success of their country and the long term growth of their company and connected partners who are seen as family.
Akio Morita, Chairman of Sony has commented that western society looks ten minutes ahead while the Japanese look ten years ahead (Morita, p.84). The Japanese employee is regarded as a representative of the company and he/she is expected to bring honor to the company. Company needs come before personal needs. As a result the individual must operate within the confines and social circles of the organization and its goals and values. Japanese companies operate by common agreement rather than on individual opinion. To ensure loyalty and proper instruction, employees are hired right out of school and trained in the company way before they can be spoiled by outside influences. Management style is based upon personal loyalties and seniority within a group. This makes it difficult for managers to shift from one job to another within a company and even more difficult to move to another company.
In Western society the company is only a means to an end, namely the way to support one's individual or family lifestyle. In the U.S. an individual is not bound to the company and has the flexibility to move in order to further one's personal goals. Movement is often looked upon as an asset to the individual's resume and not as disloyalty to the firm. This emphasis on individuality is seen in the fullness of head hunters who raid companies for key personnel, individual retirement funds which help the worker achieve independence from the company, and references to employees as individual contributors. It is to be noted that John Sculley, the President of Apple Computer, has suggested that a 5 year work term is sufficient to spend in any one company (Dillon, p.28). Japanese society tends to be vertically structured. Historically the vertical rank scale began with the lowest laborer and moved upwards to the emperor, with rank is frequently a birthright. Today this ranking is visible in education and corporate life.
The university one attends, as well as the level of education achieved is very important and can influence one's status and subsequently later career success. Companies are ranked and one's status in society is related to one's employer. The Japanese would rank a worker at IBM as having higher status over a worker at a smaller company even though the worker at the smaller company might have more responsibilities. In the same way an Ivy League school would rank higher than a State University. The number one school in Japan in terms of rank is Todai (Dillon, p.28). The student starts at a very early age to work for admittance into the University and it is said that incredible stress frequently leading to suicide is the result. Prestigious companies pick their employees based on the rank order of the universities from which the students have graduated.
Once hired by a company, it is expected that the individual will continue to maintain a relationship with their alma mater and their sporting groups and will ease the way for other students to join the company. Success is measured on getting into the right group as opposed to the right job and discrimination does arise. Because the business circle is so important in the Japanese business world, leaving a company to join another, as we do in the U.S. is rare. If an individual leaves a company they will find it difficult to re-establish a new circle and thus will have difficulty advancing as they have violated the principle of loyalty. The organization and even the office structure of a Japanese company reveals a Confucian influence . It tends to be rigid and does not encourage individual specialization as do American companies.
The basic operating unit is a section having a chief, some supervisors, and general staff. Several sections make up a department headed by a department chief. The desks are configured facing each other in rectangular symmetry with the manager's desk looking down the middle. The department head sits farthest from the door and usually has a good view of the department. A task is assigned to the team and members are expected to work on the task as a team. Since the workers face each other they usually are aware of everything that occurs. Sections and departments are ranked.
The section tables are aligned in rank order. The more sections to a department, the more important the department. This is significantly different from U.S. practice where individual space is highlighted by blocked - off cubicles or offices. In the U.S. as an individual progresses in rank, his/her office usually becomes larger, more barricaded, and more isolated from general staff, frequently to the point of being located on an entirely different floor. Dress codes differ as well.
In Japan all levels wear a uniform for consistency and equality. In the U.S. it is typical that the higher the individual the more expensive the dress becomes, ie: white collar vs. blue collar. The repression of one's feelings, automatic submission to superior authority, and punishment for resistance are quite visible in the corporate structure and system of business practice. For example, the Japanese tend to answer a question in terms of what they think will please the inquirer rather than to answer with a disagreeable truth. He/she values the serenity of the relationship and will not jeopardize it.
Akio Morita (Chairman of the Sony Corporation) notes that Japan's Confucian background makes it very difficult for its people to say no within the context of normal human relationships. In a traditional hierarchy, subordinates dare not say no to higher-ups without violating normal courtesy. The higher-up takes a no from a subordinate as insubordination. In a staff relationship, no is something to be avoided in order to maintain smooth human relationships ( Morita, p.121). Taken into the business setting this policy limits what the individual can say or how he/she can act without breaking the peace. Confrontation rarely occurs. Instead workers and superiors hope for a sort of telepathic understanding.
" Japanese people are not prone to considering complex moral questions as being matters of right and wrong; they are more concerned with knowing what is acceptable and unacceptable to a group." (Dillon, p.27-30). The corporate culture is a place where the worker represses his/her individual style in the interest of the group harmony. As a result, friction and stress build up in the individual. To relieve this pressure there are company sponsored year - end parties and considerable after hours drinking and socializing. While intoxicated, the individual feels free to speak openly to his co-workers and superiors without fear of recourse. As a result alcoholism is a serious problem in Japan.
Boye De Mente sees a parent-child relationship as a distinctive ethic in the Japanese business system where the employer is looked upon as a parent and the employees as the children. Since feudal times the Japanese were raised to work cooperatively and respect authority in return for their livelihood and protection. There was a penalty for not agreeing. The word "Amae" is translated into "indulgent love" or love by an indulgent mother (De Mente, p. 98). The style of management and the company as a whole is as a mother to a child. Company benefits include housing or the subsidizing of housing, transportation allowances, family allowances, child allowances, health services, free recreational facilities, educational opportunities, retirement funds, and bonuses.
The pay scale in the work force is patterned after the lifestyle of the individual. For example, men who have a family will have a higher salary than men who is retiring. The pay is scaled low to high and back to low again. The retired executive is cared for through transfers to another less visible division so that the work status is maintained and the employee is kept active. This family's patterned system of life employment, while it applies to a minority of workers is still an active system in Japan. Under this system all permanent employees of larger companies and government bureaus are generally hired for life. These organizations generally hire once each year directly from the schools. Candidates are invited to take a comprehensive exam and after a careful analysis is made, are then employed for life.
Once employees are selected they are expected to commit themselves totally to the company. The company in turn promises to care for their employees to their death. Managers c ....
Research essay sample on Japanese Work Ethics Vs American Work Ethics