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Introduction to Japanese Business Culture

NEC Confidential


- No discussion about culture can predict individual behavior - Learning about a foreign culture can help facilitate business interactions - Recognize the differences work toward understanding - One training session on culture gives you only enough information to be dangerous

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NEC Corporation 2008

Japan Overview

Population: GDP: Ethnicity:

127M $4.2 Trillion (2nd) 99% Japanese, 1% Other

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Japan History

Prince Shotoku

Tale of Genji


Yayoi Period 300BC

Kofun Period 300AD

Nara Period 710

Heian Period 794

Kamakura Period 1185

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Japan History
The 3 Great Unifiers
If a nightengale won't sing, kill it Oda Nobunaga If a nightengale won't sing, make it Toyotomi Hideyoshi If a nightengale won't sing, wait for it Tokugawa Ieyasu

Warring States

Japan Unification

Black Ships

Japan Closed To the West

Warring States
Muromachi Period 1333 Portuguese Arrive in Japan 1542 Azuchi-Momoyama Period 1568 Edo Period 1603 1854 Meiji Period 1868

The steam powered ships Break the peace Of the Pacific It only takes four And we cant sleep at night
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Lessons from Historical Japan

Working as a group was critical for survival in an Agrarian Society Loyalty to ones feudal lord Closed to West until pressured to open Class system with strict hierarchies Recognition of the importance of ones duty in society

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Strong cultural rules that dictate individual behavior

Obligation On

Moral Duty Giri

Harmony Wa

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Key Concept: Obligation On

Overview The obligation towards another that comes from receiving some level of kindness. Business Context: A person may feel an obligation to a mentor in the company who helps them with their career.

Maybe Ive Been Able to Repay the Debt Just a Little Bit. Kazunori is dying of Cancer. The title refers to Kazunori's words on successfully getting into Tokyo University - has he now repaid his debt (to his parents) in a little way, he wonders. 2006
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Key Concept: Moral Duty Giri

Examples In the feudal period giri to a feudal lord could result in a samurai being required to commit seppuku, or harakiri. Today, when something significant goes wrong in a company, the person in charge resign. In general giri means obligation, duty, justice. From birth onwards the Japanese are bound to each other by specific kinds and degrees of obligation to parents, siblings, teachers and anyone else who touches their lives.

Fujiya Product Problem President Resigns 2007

When someone goes on vacation they will buy small souvenirs for their coworkers.

Giri Choco

On Valentines Day, Japanese women give chocolate to men in their lives (Giri Choco). This includes co-workers and their boss. It is not unusual for some women to buy a small chocolate for each man in her office.

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Key Concept: Harmony Wa

Overview The social harmony of the group. Harmony exists when everyone within group knows their place in the hierarchy and behaves accordingly. Consideration for others and the group over the individual is paramount. Note: Wa is also a name for Japan

Examples Focus on preserving relationships Group responsibility not individual Avoiding confrontation Not saying No directly Avoidance of aggressive/argumentative behavior

Kuuki ga yomenai - Cant read the wind A phrase used to describe someone who is insensitive to reading the dynamics of the group.

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A Japanese Company Organizational Structure

Shacho President Fukushacho Sr. Executive Vice President Senmu Executive Vice President Joumu Sr. Vice President Shikkoyakuin Associate Senior Vice President Honbucho General Manager Bucho General Manager Buchodairi Deputy General Manager Tokatsu Manager Chief Manager Group/Senior/ Manager Manager Shunin Assistant Manager Tanto - Associate
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An employee will work for an average of 10 years before taking the Manager Test and becoming a Manager

Tatemae Honne Public and Real Feeling

What you see is what you get"


Limited personal deceptions, game-playing, etc. In general, the "face" you present to the world is your "real" face.


Tatemae: Faade. What someone shows in public. Behavior is dictated by role, social status, or position regardless of personal opinions. The core of tatemae is politeness to avoid confrontation. Honne: True thoughts and intentions. Honne refers to real feelings and opinions. It is not something one is encouraged to show in public, especially during business dealings. It is something a Japanese shows only to his closest friends.

Historical Context: A samurai could kill a peasant for any supposed slight whatever, so the peasants learned to present an outward appearance that would be acceptable to the samurai and their lords while keeping their true feelings hidden. Personal survival depended on this developing this skill.

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Dave Barry on Learning Japanese

The method recommended by experts is to be born as a Japanese baby and raised by a Japanese family, in Japan. And even then it's not easy.

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Spoken Japanese: Vague, Indirect, and Diplomatic

Characteristics of Spoken Japanese
Subject of a sentence is often omitted Present and future tense are the same Obligation statements are indirect English: You must If you dont _____, it cant go If not ______, it wont become If you dont ______, it is not good Permission statements are indirect English: We need to use those materials Japanese: Maybe it would be better if we used those materials, I supposebut Phrases with double meanings Kekko Desu (Yes, thank you or No, Thank you) Silence
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Spoken Japanese: Levels of Formality

Meshi agarimasu O tabe ni narimasu Taberaremasu Tabemasu Taberu Kuu

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Guide to Written Japanese

Hiragana Phonetic alphabet for Japanese words
Kudasai (Please)


Phonetic alphabet for Foreign words



Tatemae (faade)

Honne (real feeling)

To Build


True, Real


Business Implication: English marketing materials from Japan will tend to have a focus on the selection of individual words. Explanations will be given about the meaning of particular words.

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Guide to Japanese from Dave Berry Does Japan

English Statement Made By A Japanese Person I See. Ah. Ah-hah. Yes. That is difficult. That is very interesting. We will study your proposal.

Actual Meaning In American

No. No. No. No. That is completely impossible. That is the stupidest thing I ever heard. We will feed your proposal to a goat.

The Japanese tend to communicate via nuance and euphemism, often leaving important things unsaid; whereas Americans tend to think theyre being subtle when they refrain from grabbing the listener by the shirt. Dave Barry
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Saving/Losing Face Comparison between Low and High Context Cultures USA
Individualistic Society Direct Verbal Communication Individual Rights are paramount Equality is the prevailing ethic in Society Conflicts are a part of life Social blunders reflect on the individual Say what you mean, mean what you say Overall Goal: Solve Problems

Japan, China, Korea

Group Harmony is paramount Direct confrontation is avoided Evasion is better to keep appearances pleasant Indirect Verbal Communication Conflicts should be avoided Social blunders reflect on the group Overall Goal: Build/maintain relationships

What can cause a Loss of Face

- a rebuffed overture - exposure to a derogatory remark or disregard for one's status - being forced to give up a cherished value - making what may later be seen as an "unnecessary" concession - failure to achieve goals - revelation of personal inadequacy - damage to a valued relationship
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Practical Items

Business Card Exchange

Sitting Arrangements


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Case Study Obtaining a Decision on a Proposal

Discussion What is the decision making process in a US company?

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Case Study Obtaining a Decision on a Proposal Decisions within a Japanese Company

Indirect Communication Respect for Group


Wa (Harmony) Giri (Moral Duty) Lifetime Employment

Consensus On (Obligation)

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Nemawashi The diplomacy approach How Nemawashi works

Identify Stakeholders Approach all Stakeholders Learn about Objections issues Objection


Yes Yes


Research issue

Meeting To resolve



Identify Network

Plan to resolve

Dinners Etc

Research Modify Proposal




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Final Thoughts Cultural Opposites

Strength of the Individual Pride in Melting Pot Direct Communication Squeaky Wheel Gets the Grease Confrontation Shows Strength Strength of the Group Pride in Homogeneity Subtle Communication The Nail That Sticks Up Gets Knocked Diplomacy Shows Strength

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