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Business titles so complicated nobody knows who's boss and who's not


An executive from a small company visits a bank to discuss financing. Three bankers come forward. Bows and meishi (business cards) are exchanged. The executive peruses the three cards, his bewilderment growing. The titles are new to him. What can they mean? Who’s high and who’s low? Who should be spoken to first? How to tailor his language to suit the respective ranks of the three men?

It used to be so simple. In your 30s you were a kakaricho (sub-section head); in your 40s, a kacho (section head); in your 50s, a bucho (division head); in your 60s, maybe something higher, if not on your way down and out. In any case, the corporate hierarchy was simple and clear; you knew who you were talking to and what degree of deference his rank demanded (the masculine pronoun is called for; this was overwhelmingly a man’s world, as to a large extent it remains to this day).

The simplicity and clarity are gone, says Shukan Post (May 18). Who’s higher, our visiting executive finds himself wondering – the fuku shitencho (vice-branch manager), or the shitencho no dairi (branch manager’s representative)? The first title seems more impressive, but the holder of the second is (at least looks) senior. A dilemma! With so much in business depending on personal relationships and first impressions, it’s important to know, in this highly hierarchical society, where you and your interlocutors stand with each other.

It was 20 or so years ago, says Shukan Post, that corporate titles first began to proliferate. The baby boomers were entering their working prime, and there simply weren’t enough titles to go around. Titles fuel pride and motivation. Proud and motivated workers work harder and better. Employers got creative. They devised “vice”-this and “vice”–that, or “representative” of this and that, or tanto (in charge) of this or that. What had once been more or less standardized throughout the corporate world grew starkly individualized.

The trend lately is gathering speed. Each company seems to have its own hierarchy, its own titles. The confusion sown is not necessarily bad – it may end up leveling barriers that hold a lot of people back. But in the meantime it’s bewildering. A fuku shitencho at one bank, for example, may meet a fuku shitencho at another bank and find the identical titles signify very different ranks. At Toyota, Shukan Post says, ranks vary from department to department, a “group head” in one department being senior, a “group head” in another being junior.

Well, it’s all in a day’s work. As society ages, more and more people are retiring, shedding their titles and all their weighty significance. Free at last! What a relief! “You want to know who I am? Ask my name, not my rank! Look at my face, not my meishi!”

So one might think. Actually it’s not so simple, Shukan Post finds. The habits of a lifetime die hard, if at all. One new retiree, at his wife’s urging, decided to get involved in local politics. He attended an assembly meeting – but how was he to introduce himself, with no card and no title? At a loss, he had recourse to his old corporate rank, which, being a high one, aroused not respect but resentment – he was “arrogant,” said others, his wife among them. He gave up, and has yet to work out how to arrange the rest of his life.

© Japan Today

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I like how English "teachers" in Japan have various splendid titles to make their job sound more glamorous/important than it actually is. Before I escaped from English teaching, my business card said "Corporate Communication Consultant" or some such nonsense. Japanese people would always be like, "Umm, does this mean English teacher?" LOL, yep, they saw through it.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

This is the same in the west. There is no standarization of titles, though for some titles there are accepted responsibilities that go along with it. But it's often quite hard to determine someone's position/rank within an organization from their title.

One thing that bugs me is in the tech industry, where you see 'Web Ninja' or 'Rock Designer'. Although that trend seemed to be more common 10 years ago than it is now.

7 ( +7 / -0 )

Titles fuel pride and motivation.

Yes, when they are deserved but more than often they fuel a sense of unearned confidence and entitlement , especially when the promotions are not based on competence. You see these very average performers all of a sudden self inflate and it’s not a pretty sight. There is such an obsession over here with position and rank that the actual task at hand takes a distant second place.

Beware of wandering in realities you are not competent in.

Dr. Jordan Peterson

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Perhaps name cards should also include the number of people that the person is able to boss about, e.g. "Vice head of paperclips (0)".

5 ( +6 / -1 )

I guess you’ll have to judge people as people rather than as their age or titles. Gosh, how complicated.

Of the two very rich, very successful businessmen I met in the US, both treated me — a recent hire — as respectfully and cordially as they did my boss’ boss. At the same time, a friend who was also a recent hire straight out of college, dared to speak in a meeting with “this old guy” who turned out to be the president of a major corporation and the old guy listened, asked a few questions, and answered my friend’s concern.

They were Not concerned with titles or age but with content of our questions and comments.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Here in Brazil I received business cards from top executives, very high rank ones, that had only their names in their business cards, no titles - so, the most powerful do not need a position printed under their names in their cards, their names alone are enough to inform what they represent.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Titles fuel pride and motivation. Proud and motivated workers work harder and better. 

In my experience, the opposite is true. Pride is particularly separate from motivation, and may well have an inverse relationship with it.

4 ( +4 / -0 )


’They earn every yen from their tough job’

You are joking right !?

Most of my English teacher friends spend most of their working day either chatting to each other on Line, or doing day trading.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )


Then you should up your standard in friends don’t cha think? If you surround yourself with positive people who do things with their time it’s powerfully motivating.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


... the most powerful do not need a position printed under their names....

Hmm. I’m tempted to hand out completely blank, white cards. That should convince people that I’m pretty important. Or nuts : )

2 ( +2 / -0 )


i agree - that’s why I don’t hang around them very often.

FYI - I run my own cafe, so I ain’t no ‘communication consultant‘

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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