Japan Today



Why Japan is winning and 'Western management' isn’t


“Why was ‘Sunday trading’ banned in England but never in Scotland?”

I remember being completely stumped when the head of the MBA/MSc Program at Queen Margaret University, Richard Bent, asked our class this question. The history of religion in Scotland and England is a rather specialist topic, but it is fairly well known that the Scots have tended to take religion a lot more seriously than the English. England had long relegated religious life to the private sphere, not the public one. So, how could it be that England banned trade on a Sunday yet Scotland never did?

Well, it turns out that Scotland was so religious that no-one really thought to work on a Sunday, God’s Day. So there was no need to ban an activity that did not exist.

The tale may be apocryphal, but Richard makes an important point – lack of activity in the intellectual sphere (be it legislative, academic or otherwise) is often mistaken for lack activity in reality.

When we look at the huge amount of research time and discussion time that goes into “Management” in the English speaking world and compare it to Japan, we can be forgiven for thinking that Japan has really fallen behind the “Anglosphere” in terms of developing its management culture. This criticism can cause quite a reaction in Japan because it implies an uncharacteristic lack of genuine reflection and modification.

In reality, the huge amount of work going into the development of management concepts in “The West” (in the loosest sense of the term) is actually a sign of a culture that lacks real management – it is this lack of substance, this void that our concept of management is try to fill – trying and failing.

The Expansion and Devaluation of “Management”

“Management” started out as a system of control for businesses, especially manufacturers – a way of getting things done in an increasing complex and industrializing world. From these origins it has been subject to extreme levels of mission creep – now management has grown out of control. I don’t put much stock in arguing over definitions, but “management” as it currently stands would probably be best described as the creation, control and operation of any system/structure where individuals, organizations and information pool their capabilities and resources to try to create any outcome. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

We have a management research industry highly focused on “defining Management into existence” whilst being increasingly ignored by industry practitioners, a management consulting industry centred on efficiency improvement through the technological replacement of staff, the MBA school system which is attracting more and more candidates who have ability but no experience or organizational support (hence the increased focus on entrepreneurship and leadership), and an increasingly complex international financial and legal environment making genuine corporate decision-making ever more constrained by and at the mercy of “non-Management” professionals like lawyers and accountants.

Even the English-speaking world’s go-to-guide on “Management”, the Harvard Business Review, includes a section entitled “Managing Yourself” with no apparent sense of irony: “Management” seemingly no longer needs to include either organizations or complex activities.

“Management” as Societal Panacea

The 19th, 20th and 21st centuries have seen numerous attempts to “improve” society through both political and military means. Western Business Management, as a system of command and control, has certainly learned a lot from military and political systems, gaining most notably the disciplines of “strategic planning” and “PR” amongst others. Simultaneously, however, values and goals from these other areas of societal life bled over into “Management”.

Suddenly, political and factional agendas started appearing in “Management”. “Human Resource Management” started to gain social missions, community goals and a diversity agenda. “Management” in its original sense was lost and had to be re-discovered in various forms as “Performance Management”, “Efficiency Management”, “Quality Management”, “Project Management”, etc. The growth of political and social missions in HRM started even to interfere with true HRM functions like staff-task matching, recruitment and career planning, so more recently one of the newest forms of so-called “Management” has started to rear its head: “Corporate Social Responsibility”.

Societal factions, having failed through military, political and legal means to enforce their ideals on the world have finally taken the control structures of employment and commerce and turned them to their task. “Management” if it is about any one thing at all is about getting things done in the real world. Social Mission HRM and CSR are not “Management” – they are the antithesis of the pragmatic – they are pure Utopianism.

“Management”: A Natural Attribute of Japanese Culture?

Where does “Management” actually take place? This may seem like a glib question, but most people seem to have forgotten the answer – “Management” takes place inside organizations. Most people, except the Japanese that is. Given the important implications good and bad management have for organizational performance, and the fact that organizations compete and cooperate in a market, it is quite natural for each organization to protect their command, control and implementational systems as trade secrets. These are fairly simple facts of organizational life, yet in “The West”, we often look at Japan with curiosity and wonder why MBA programs are so unsuccessful as a route into senior management, why companies reward employees for loyalty and experience, why teamwork is prioritized over individual creativity and initiative.

Organizations are People

It took “Western Management” until the late 20th Century to develop a theory of organizations that described and explained these fairly obvious realities: the “Learning Organization”. The main thrust of this “ground breaking” concept is that people in organizations are not merely units of work, but are also units of organizational information – i.e. they are units of organizational culture. It can be hard for someone outside the management world to imagine how this can possibly be a “revelation”: that the functional knowledge in organizations exists in the people who work there and not in the company manuals in which they happen to be written down seems absurdly obvious.

Only recently, however, has “Western HRM” been waking up to the fact that you can’t control the trade secrets and personal business relationships that people carry about as part of themselves, and that staff turnover does not simply mean a loss of talent, but also a loss of organizational identity, purpose and most importantly effectiveness. With this in mind, typically Japanese management concepts like “life time employment” start making an awful lot of sense; in fact it is hard to see how it could be otherwise.

Twin Forces of a Dysfunctional System

Due to this deep-seated, non-Japanese cultural misunderstanding of the value of individuals within the group, “Western so-called-Management” has developed a number of counter-productive anti-performance features. These are driven by two extremely powerful and opposing distorting forcing – standardization and role protectionism.

Largely due to poor individual loyalty to organizations, and poor organizational loyalty of organizations to workers (chicken and egg, this one), higher levels of staff turnover are a common feature outside of Japan. In order to protect organizations from this high turnover, supposedly competing companies band together to create pan-industry bodies which ensure that standardized certification and training is required for similar jobs in different companies – to ensure that the disloyal workers are entirely replaceable. This approach, of course, forgets that people are not in fact replaceable – they take their experience and relationships with them when they leave.

Organisations are trying to create an artificial abundance of talent and wasting valuable time and resources on the task instead of improving organizational performance.

The organizational drive towards standardization is a symptom of a lack of real management, and only reinforces the dysfunction between organizations and individuals. In Japan, much of managerial work is that of reinforcing loyalties and relationships in the organization in order to build stronger cultures, and so improved performance. Only in the last decade have Western theorists and practitioners started to cotton on to this: against “telecommuting”, praising “culture over strategy” and “treating staff like people”.

In opposition to this “Western” drive for replaceable workers is the force of role protectionism. Here we see employees thinking of themselves as, for example, “marketers” or “supply chain analysts” first and “members of the company” second. This gives rise to unionism, guilds, the development of separate business disciplines within organizations, etc. all the things that define non-Japanese working life. Employees are attempting to create an artificial scarcity of talent.

These twin forces are the root causes of the break up of most businesses into separate functional, non-interchangeable departments. Each department has to have its own associated body of academic theory and jargon whose job it is to justify both the standardization of hiring requirements between companies while simultaneously preventing coworkers in the same company from being able to take over their function – so much for working towards the shared goal of organizational performance!

Manage in the Wrong Place = Compete in the Wrong Place

When management is focused in the wrong places, competition exists where it should not. The company is the unit of competition, and yet the marketing department and the supply chain department vie for dominance internally, both generating masses of data for management consultants and researchers who compete with each other to justify whether marketing based strategies or supply chain capability strategies are best. Finance battles HR for control of staffing levels, IT contends with Sales, each department is pitted against the other.

The extent of jargon-isolated business functions inside organizations with non-internally-transferable employees is far less advanced in Japan, though it would be hard to argue it does not exist at all. But this relative lack of out-organization loyalty is caused by and maintained by management activity inside organizations. It also reinforces the alignment of organizational culture and strategy. Thus it can be seen that in a healthy, well-managed organization there are much fewer pressures that support industry standardization and role protectionism.

Just like the “Scottish Sunday Trading” anecdote, the Japanese don’t need an intellectual investigation of “Management” because they are actually busy doing “Management”.


Ultimately, the Western, factional organizational style cannot be fairly called “Management” – it generates a lot of jargon, a lot of conflict, a lot of work, a lot of heat, but not much in terms of real organizational results. On the other hand “Management” in Japan is about cutting down on needless internal conflict to maximize organizational performance – if this is not the heart of actual “Management”, what is?

In short – Drucker had it the wrong way round: in the West, “What gets managed, gets measured.“

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Long story short. Both management styles have advantages and drawbacks.

12 ( +12 / -0 )

Wow. Quite a long winded, roundabout way of saying "Japan is good, the West is bad."

I think I've heard this tune before. But guess what's on the mind of most western managers (political or otherwise)?

"We'd better do SOMETHING or else we'll end up like Japan!"

7 ( +13 / -6 )

And by the way Mr. Sharp, how do you define or measure "winning" in this case?

6 ( +7 / -1 )

So SONY and TEPCO is an example of good management.

7 ( +13 / -6 )

I wonder if the writer has actually worked in a Japanese business office, like I have. They'e soul-destroying Zombie-lands, with energy-zapped drones laboring away in stoic resignation, punctuated by the odd suicide. Never again will I return.

"Winning"? Productivity stats and the decline of corporate Japan on the global stage suggest otherwise. The best and brightest throughout Asia, including Japan, aim to work at Western companies, not Japanese ones.

16 ( +22 / -6 )

Perhaps. But some of the characteristics of Japanese work practices are neither uniquely Japanese nor universally Japanese any more, even if they ever were, particularly "lifetime" employment. One that remains is expecting workers to work longer and longer hours for less and less pay.

And I would deny that workers in general have much indispensability. If I am honest I could be replaced by a trained monkey in a few weeks. So could most workers.

the Japanese don’t need an intellectual investigation of “Management” because they are actually busy doing “Management”.

This may be more to do with the fact that there is little intellectual curiosity for analyzing anything rather than not needing to do so. In few other places would people so easily sympathize with the idea that we do not need to know.

On top of that, Japanese are essentially pragmatic: if something works then it is rarely investigated. It does not even need to work particularly well but the fact that it does work means that there is great resistance to changing it too. And often, seeking to investigate something comes dangerously close to looking like wanting to change things.

8 ( +11 / -3 )

Interesting, except that in Japan nearly all companies follow a seniority-based system, and the main (or only) qualification for becoming a manager is working at the compamy for a certain number of years. In western companies a performance-based system is used, meaning that ability and skill are more important than simply putting in a lot of years at the company.

And, if Japanese companies are being so well-managed, why is the Japanese economy stagnant? Why are Sony, Sharp et al all in the red? Why has Nomura Securities posted loss after loss while foreign investment firms have thrived? I do a lot of business in Japan, and I know precious few Japanese companies who are prospering.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

The conclusion's Western, factional organizational style and cutting down on needless internal conflict to maximize organizational performance totally disregards those silo-ridden conglomerates whose units are too busy competing with their siblings to effectively challenge other J companies, never mind foreign competition.

When a big 'efficiency' drive is announced, initiatives are accompanied by such weighty reporting needs as to negate any efficiencies achieved and sap the morale and creativity of the workforce, net result being greater inefficiency caused an obsession for ultimately valueless data.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Times are changing. Why would a Japanese employee be loyal to a company that cuts his/her salary every year and refuses to pay overtime. Newer employees are often on short-term contracts: they are hardly likely to be loyal when they can be disposed of at a moments notice. What about the traitor companies that ship manufacturing jobs to China, leaving Japanese workers unemployed? Jobs for life disappeared years ago. Perhaps these changes have something to do with the lacklustre performance of Japanese companies in recent years.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

When a corporate entity is is placed in confrontation with the Great Hulking American Neanderthal Mentality, the Foot Ball star "graduates" and the rich man's sons of the American Diploma mill system and is expected to realize a level of performance, very different tactics must be applied.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Yeah, save for the fact that the old codgers at the top are out of touch with modern-day business and oblivious to innovation...

Let's be clear - Japan Inc. is NOT winning in certain key areas. The tech industry springs to mind...

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Complete hogwash. First off "lifetime employment" is not mangement. It is a societal value reinforced by numerous rules and regulations which make it virtually impossible to fire an individual employee, no matter how poor their prerformace. Second, the actual measure of management is how well it utilizes this resource that it has been given in the form of lifetime employees. And since Japan's domestic effciency rate, as well as profit margins, are among the worst of the major economies, you'd have to say they are failing miserably at this. Finally, one of the key measures of mangement is its ability to set strategy for companies and build organizatons that can adapt to a changing environment, especially in the 21st century. Again with an economy in close to its third decade of stagnation, and major firms like Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, etc. bleeding red ink and having their bonds classified as junk, you'd have to Japan is woefully deficient here as well. Respectfully, this article reads like a term paper for a business major at a Japanese university. Not to be taken seriously, and no better than a "C+".

3 ( +6 / -3 )

England had long relegated religious life to the private sphere, not the public one.

Church of England is the official state religion. There is no established church in Scotland. The last prosecution for blasphemy in Scotland was in 1843, compared to 1925 in England. The percentages of those describing themselves as non-religious in England and Scotland are roughly the same: about 25%

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I don't think the author isn't saying that Japanese companies are "winning" because of their inherently Japanese-style of business management, I believe what he is trying to allude to is the concept of optimal corporate management.

How I interpret what he is saying is essentially what is outlined in game theory, in a management context, particularly those that define the best possible outcome for an individual or a group as the best possible outcome for the individual AND the group with priority given to the group, the group being the business unit.

One of the prime challenges the author outlined as afflicting Western management is high employee turnover relative to Japanese management and I agree completely on this; a lot more is lost when an experienced employee leaves than just the role he is leaving (namely relationships and dependencies inside the business unit). I also agree that internal factions and interdepartmental tension creates a deficiency in accountability and efficiency.

Ultimately, humans are fickle; we only have a working lifetime of about 40-50 years and the vast majority of people would be reluctant to plan even 2-3 years ahead even if there is a certain increased future value for some investment they might take.

Anyway, management theory is a topic with no clear cut answer and is nearly impossible to say what style is better or worse.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

We can point to failures in all countries: Electrical goods manufacturers in Japan including Sharp, Sony and Panasonic, the auto industry in the States ( and most catastrophically, its financial service industry ) and the UK saw a bank run on Northern Rock. As pointed out above, there are advantages and disadvantages of different management styles. The article above is a perfect example of the useless generalized drivel we could live without.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

The first two comments are brief and spot on.

Before I go on, it may be important to clearly define the metric that was used to define "winning?" Is "winning" a journey or a destination? To win a race, isn't it a requirement to be ahead of one's competitors on some major measurement GDP, indebtedness, etc.)? By which management scale, other than nationalistic jingoism and pandering to your audience, is Japanese management winning in the world economy? "Winning" is seldom defined as "losing less than some of my competitors." Before one can improve, one must understand where and what one is. Admiral Yamamoto did and, while I can hardly presume to approach such genius, i can make that simple observation.

God forbid, I am hardly suggesting that Japanese management has no strengths. One can hardly deny that Japanese managment has recovered from any number of disasters, internally and externally generated, to forge major world civilizations and corporations. This is amazing and should be a huge source of pride to the Japanese people and a source of inspiration to the world. However, more often than it may be apparent on first blush, it is sometimes more important to make some decision, ANY decison - even the wrong one, particularly in an environment where secondary adjustments can be made rapidly - than to go through the utter torture required to reach consensus in an environment with any number of vested interests gaming the system.

Also, purity of the system involves failure. The notion of failure is intrinsic to a non-perverted Western system (the difference between a "perverted" and "non-perverted" Western business model is best summed up with the statement "GM would've failed under a totally unperverted Western model"). The Western economic ecosystem is bigger than any single company, otherwise, whale oil interests and the East India Company (easily, the largest and most entrenched corporate interest in the history of the world) would currently dominate.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

MoonrakerMar. 28, 2013 - 08:55AM JST

On top of that, Japanese are essentially pragmatic: if something works then it is rarely investigated.

Funny, that's what I thought about Americans in the manufacturing industry when I worked there.

Hate to simplify things, but isn't management just supposed to clarify what needs to be done and how it needs to be done, and whom it needs to be done by? Whatever 'style' of Management a company uses is up to the owners, and the staff either choose to follow or not.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

In Japan, much of managerial work is that of reinforcing loyalties and relationships in the organization in order to build stronger cultures, and so improved performance.


"reinforcing loyalties and relationships" builds stronger cultures thus performance simply improves like magic? All this postulating on what management is, doesn't address one very simple thing.


the obligatory nomikais, the weekend bonding trips, the staying until 8:00-9:00-10:00 at a certian point contributes to stress and exhaustion. It is a very simple thing to understand

tired people make mistakes, mistakes then need to be rectified, bombs defused, this eats into productivity more than anything else here.

when projects/tasks aren't managed with regard to workers ABILITY, safety, realistic expectations, feasabile outcomes... well, I think we've all seen the results of THAT over the years here. Corners cut, rights abused, high suicide rates, no accountability and a general miasma of lethargy and fatalistic thinking in the younger generation.

"Management" in Japan is mostly for dressing up sets on the stages of the workers lives and making them believe that the unbelievably sad and poor quality of life they live is normal and should be taken pride in.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

Balderdash is the first thing that came to my mind regarding this article. Got my attention though and the thinking seemed Japanese. Japanese logic is always poorly translated into English. Kind of like pulling to saw where I would push. I know something wishes to be communicated but I have to think about it in a different mode then I am used to. Point well taken and I have seen in software the analysis - paralysis paradigm. Cost a million in that case.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Japan is winding up not winning.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

For a trip down the rabbit hole, think about this:

One example of Japanese management style is the "team building" exercise. This kind of activity was widespread among medium and large sized Japanese companies in the 70's and 80's. During the 80's, the big panic started in the west about how Japanese businesses were killing western ones in all measures of performance. In the 90's, western MBA programs started to adopt Japanese management elements, with one of the big ones being..."team building"exercises.

The 90's in Japan, however, saw the bursting of the bubble, the gradual slide of lifetime employment, and an introduction of western management "style," focused on making individuals more competitive.

Enter the 2000s, and we see a resurgence in Japan of "team building" exercises and other such activities, this time reintroduced into Japan via foreign companies, and Japanese managers who did their MBAs in the US.

Another example: Last year at my wife's Australian company, the Aussie president of the Japanese branch moved to a Swiss competitor after his 3-year golden non-renewable contract expired, taking all of his trade secrets with him. The Aussie company, finally catching on after the third time this happened, hired a local Japanese president this time, and put him on a 5-year renewable contract.

I'd say, those are two pretty good examples of a move back toward Japanese management style.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I dont know what this guy is trying to sell, but Japan has the worst "management" in the world, just look at past events, how companies are run here, the number of PM's in the last 15 years, the importance of work over family... the list goes on... Japan is the worst at management!

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Wow! What a complete load of crap! A good manager knows their employees, what motivates them, what they are good at, what they are bad at... Looking for systemic answers that aren't indemic of a country but of a good company... Need to think more globaly... just a truly crappy over-baked analysis from someone who must live in acedemia and has no experience in actually managing. Or just a crappy manager who recognizes he isn't any good and needs to change it but thinks it is because of his country of origin vs just not having the right skills.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I have to say David, I started out reading your article thinking it would be a bore or a half-baked lot of nonsense (probably as you mentioned your MBA early). But you actually argue a really coherent case and it rings very true with my time in Japanese, British, US and NZ companies. It was the introduction of "the New Managerialism" into traditional bureaucracies in the 1980s (in the West at least) that saw the beginning of the end (or at least scaling back) for much of the West's hard-fought-for social services.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@Jeff Lee

I wonder if the writer has actually worked in a Japanese business office, like I have. They'e soul-destroying Zombie-lands, with energy-zapped drones laboring away in stoic resignation, punctuated by the odd suicide. Never again will I return.

Yawn. Sounds like "they"" will sorely miss a dedicated star performer like yourself.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

Mr. Sharp makes a compelling case, with a style that baits a type of criticism that only proves his points. Bravo!

Western organizations, via standardization & role protection, create cascading levels of internal conflict that benefit neither the organization, individual, nor greater society. The ones who benefit mostly are the accountants, lawyers, consultants, investors, and other such 'facilitators' who themselves are the ones perpetuating the conflicts & dysfunction in the first place!

The unspoken shame of Western economies is that the administrative inefficiencies are a vital part of the economy nowadays. Imagine! Simplified taxes, finances, legal affairs, and healthcare would destroy the livelihoods of those who are even now benefiting, despite there being a global recession. THIS is where all the wealth has been going this past decade--productivity figures are meaningless under these circumstances.

Japan, however, has largely been immune to this. Why? CULTURE. Everything anecdote, fact, or figure presented against Mr. Sharp's argument ignores the very real fact that most Japanese enjoy a standard of living far exceeding that of most Americans. Noone, from no other society on this planet, has or can produce a better example of shared prosperity. Exceptions to this are perhaps the Germanic/Nordic countries, but they all have the same cultural principles that made them natural allies to Japan decades ago.

In the end, cultures that emphasize harmony & mutual prosperity can never be outproduced by those who emphasize force. Japan is still #3 in GDP, despite having a fraction of the resources of #s 1 & 2, despite having an ARTIFICIALLY DEPRESSED economy. Japan is still #3, and with far less inequalities. This article is spot-on.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

So, how could it be that England banned trade on a Sunday yet Scotland never did?

This is only half correct - some islands off the coast of Scotland still observe the Sunday no-working rule. These tend to be Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, and are extremely religious people. There are other communities in the Highlands who also observe the Sabbath.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

sorry but i think western management are winning. since when is japan winning? lol and @JeffLee, he's right.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Fortress Japan.... Japanese management styles have not been forced to change due to protected markets. Once they need to compete and not divy up the market.... then things will change.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

working in Japan sucks and the GoJ is making it even more difficult with their points system in place. Anyone with a half a brain, looking for good work conditions and a competitive salary will stay away from Japan... with or without their "winning" management

4 ( +5 / -1 )

TEPCO, Olympus, Sony but to name three. Yeah, 'management' here is better so long as you don't get caught doing nothing but not managing.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

The assumptions made in Mr. Sharp's piece is at best weak.

The article would be better served if a case study was presented (ie comparing management styles of Ford vs Toyota) instead making grandiose generalizations about the organisational structures of Westerns companies.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Japan as winner defies the actual reality of Japanese business which has been caught on the back foot continuously for decades now. What masks as management is actually bureaucracy and heavy laden systems designed to prevent individual leadership in favor of often ineffective pseudo-collectivism.

Add this to the fact that most production companies in Japan are now being outstripped by western inspired competitors and the arguments put forth here do not hold water.

In reality both systems do not work. Both systems do not benefit society as a whole, but are rather put in place to benefit a limited elite. Both fail to capitalize on the creativity and devotion of ordinary workers to help delivery companies that actually work. What is required is something new. Certainly not more of either model described here.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

All these critisisms of western management style may be justified. However, one doesn't have to read very far before comcluding that the author's knowledge of Japanese management styles in general is idealised and not based on extensive recent experience or knowledge. There is also the teensy problem of Japan's weak economic performance over the last 30 years.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Sorry, getting ahead of myself. Make that 20 years.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Not sure about most of this article but the Conclusion

Ultimately, the Western, factional organizational style cannot be fairly called “Management” – it generates a lot of jargon, a lot of conflict, a lot of work, a lot of heat, but not much in terms of real organizational results.

Talk about hitting the nail on the head!! wow!!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Wow that was painful to read, lots of wishy washy stuff but I am sure it would sell in Japan haha.

While western management is certainly not ideal results are typically light years ahead of Japan, but reality western management only looks good because Japan is so bad!

I mean over 70% of J-companies NEVER PAY TAXES, ie are in the red for years & years on end, clearly one cant call them successful. To be sure lots of those 70% are gaming the system, passing their taxes responsibilities onto their employees backs(how nice is that!)

I can go on but its already been covered by others, Japanese management is NOT one to used only take a look at how NOT to do things.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Management said: "Why you go home at 9pm, when your colleagues are having sleep over in the office?". Management said: "You just have a child, you need to work harder", which translates to come in during weekends and go home at last train. Management did: Deduct salary by X, blame it on "bad sales", then add X and describe it as "overtime" pay.

Good management indeed ...

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Hmm, in Japan one attends the public school system 5 or 6 days a week, and perhaps goes to juku after school so one can pass the university entrance exams. During the entire process, one is discouraged from being an individual, to avoid being the nail which sticks out. Once you struggle through one of the hardest university entrance exams systems in the world, you start class and do... nothing. As a university student you travel, hang out with friends in your circle, and perhaps attend one or two classes a day, which could have been taught by a tape recorder. Critical thought, debate, and knowledge are not thngs which can be found or learned in the Japanese university system. Japan's top university isn't among the world's top thirty. For you America bashers who comment about "diploma mills", 17 of the world's top 20 universities are in America, the true diploma mills exist mainly in Japan.

Of course, Jaoanese learning nothing is intentional. Japanese companies do not want educated, critical thinkers. They want young people who know nothing, people whom they can train to be an insignificant part of a large machine. Once you become part of that machine, good luck ever gettimg out. Japanese companies hate to hire anyone other than new graduates, nor do they care much for people with advanced degrees.

And of course, managers are selected from this pool of company-educated people, who are more or less trapped in their 12 hour workday and 60 minute commute. "Drones" and "Zombies" are good terms to describe the situation. There are few to none exceptional people, as exceptionalism is not encouraged in the Japanese educational system, or in business. Once you are hitched to the mill, it's a long walk to retirement. Promotions come every 5 years or so, regardless of your performance. You get paid about 2/3 what someone in the west would get paid for doing the same job, but you keep at it anyway. Eventually you will become a manager, and get to use your hard-won education, skills, and performance to lead your department. Of coursem you have no relevant education, your skills are limited to what your company has taught you, and your performance is mediocre at best, because it doesn't matter.

Anyone wonder why the suicide rate is so high in this country?

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

So much BS. Here's the problem with most countries other than the US. In Japan, one will never see a non-Japanese heading a Japanese company (though there has been a few exceptions). This also applies to China (no non-Chinese national could head a Chinese company), Korea, Russia, Europe (which still retains its fossilized class system, along with most of Asia), Israel (no non-Israeli could head an Israeli company) and, for the most part, the rest of the world.

So, in the US, again, for the most part, the best of the world (not just the best of the US) are selected to be managers. This is why, in the long run, the US will prevail over other nations. Already, the US is easing out of the Great Recession of 2008-2012, well ahead of others

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

@sangetsu03 Major generalizations on basically every point.

Firstly, the University rankings (THES, etc.) are skewed towards English speaking countries' universities, with good reason as a major measure of university rank is based on thesis and published article references, etc. There would be next to no one outside of Japan who would reference Japanese articles right? (Even Japanese researchers would have to reference English articles for credibility).

Regarding your comments on Japanese work culture, are you referring to any specific industry in particular? What you're saying may be true for very menial, administrative-type jobs (which would be done by temps anyway at any proper large cap), however for the knowledge and professional services industries, I can assure you, you require a very good education and the structure is almost opposite to what you outlined..

In fact, for most blue-chips in Tokyo, they only recruit from top universities, so you already have no chance of joining your dream company if they don't recruit from the university you go to. After that you're usually tested on a yearly basis to confirm whether you're suitable for the position still; we have a securities industry client who's employees are tested fortnightly - of course in return they receive mammoth salaries. If your performance is bad, they relegate you off to a more menial role and reduce your salary because if they fire you, by law they are required to pay you a hefty severance.

Regarding work hours, 12 hours is a long time? In any country on Earth you'll find Sales, lawyers, bankers, doctors, engineers, professional services putting in 10-14 per day. Eg. in Finance, 13 is pretty much the norm. It depends on the industry, the more complex the industry, the higher you are paid but the more work you have to put in. I'm from Sydney, been in Tokyo for 2 years now, and even back home none of my mates, except the ones with pretty crappy jobs, work 9-5.

Hiring managers from inside the company? Are you saying that it's better to hire all your managers from outside the company? (No, it's not)

Ultimately, the setup is the same with Japan as it is anywhere; if you want a good job with career options, salary leverage, etc., put your time in studying and work your arse off; you wouldn't be successful anywhere in the world without doing that.. If you want to become a "corporate drone" and peak in mid-management in your 50-60's, by all means work the bare minimum in a comfortable job that doesn't stress you out, but don't complain about your 5m JPY salary when you're 30.

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but don't complain about your 5m JPY salary when you're 30.*

Surely nobody earns a salary as low as that these days?? That is, apart from menial jobs such as cleaning, factory work and of course, the ubiquitous english teachers. And you wouldn't expect to receive much in those kind of very low level jobs.

I've worked in London and now Tokyo and yes the management styles are completely different. But at least here I am just left alone to make money without interference. Working in London used to drive me up the wall at times with management" directives" from people who knew nothing.

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Surely nobody earns a salary as low as that these days?? That is, apart from menial jobs such as cleaning, factory work and of course, the ubiquitous english teachers. And you wouldn't expect to receive much in those kind of very low level jobs.

Depends how old you are and the type of job you have, but I've heard from recruiters that the average for a newly graduated uni student is about 3.5m JPY, the average for a 40 year old is probably around 7.5m JPY. In Sydney a newly grad could expect $40-45k AUD. Obviously the average is inaccurate but I can't be bothered finding what the median wage is.

The problem with Japan is that there's no wage inflation and hasn't been for a while, I read a report the other day saying that wages today in Japan have shrunk to the level they were in 1996 or so, so basically people are becoming poorer relatively.

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The biggest difference between western management and Japanese management is who they consider their boss. Top management of western business will usually answer the stock holders in which they hold the rubber stamp that finalizes the amount of compensation for them. Top management of Japanese business will consider the customer since the money the business earns is the money the customer pays.

What this leads to is different approach towards business, stock holder demands maximum profit per year leading to profit maximization for western business culture. On the other hand customers demand best price for best quality leading to customer satisfaction which ultimately leads to sustainability of business not necessarily leading to large profit for Japanese business culture. It is not a fluke that Japan has the most companies that has been in business for more than 100 years.

Success of a company changes drastically on how you measure success of business.

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You guys don't seem to know much about average salaries in Japan judging by the numbers you're banding about. They're a lot lower in Japan than abroad. The difference is almost everyone is employed and there's a lot more equality and sharing of resources, which is why this supposedly poor performing economy is defying the "professional" economists and still retaining a standard of living higher than almost anywhere else.

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The article is superb and highly interesting. I can neither agree nor disagree with the author as I am not an expert in the subject. But as a student of Managerial Psychology, I feel that Management methods of Japan are far far superior to the Western so called management (the result is that it becomes a slowly expanding bubble and explodes under its own strain and weight. I intend to read the article at least three more times so that I can form some real opinion. Whereas the westerners approach to management is purely based on psychology, the Easterners have a philosophical approach. Also I was able to detect a sense of humor in the article. I am happy to record here that I have come across many many thought provoking articles here. Thanks a lot. Dr. K. Shankar

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yet in “The West”, we often look at Japan with curiosity and wonder why MBA programs are so unsuccessful as a route into senior management, why companies reward employees for loyalty and experience, why teamwork is prioritized over individual creativity and initiative.

Who is asking these questions? Perhaps in a small network of management professionals, but no one else. A huge number of people in the West think that MBAs are an unnecessary waste of time. They are by and large an American invention, for people who find that the 4 year degree and now (virtually compulsory) MA are not enough.

Does anyone ever ask why a company (Japanese or otherwise) would reward for loyalty and experience? And can you really suggest that teamwork is not promoted in the West? If you work for a Western company, they go on and on about teamwork - remember, "there is no I in team".

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An interesting read until it fell into the usual polarisation of West-Bad / Japan-Good. There are plenty of things wrong with Japanese management, just as there are with Western management (incidentally, the author is dead right about Western management being over-jargonised, which gives each strand an inflated sense of self-importance). Japanese management typically leverages the Japanese culture of subservience to seniority and long-suffering patience/endurance. It's not all bad, but it's not all good either. Same goes for Western management, which is arguably more flexible and responsive to changes and challenges, and offers those it controls the potential for more fulfilling roles.

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What this leads to is different approach towards business, stock holder demands maximum profit per year leading to profit maximization for western business culture. On the other hand customers demand best price for best quality leading to customer satisfaction which ultimately leads to sustainability of business not necessarily leading to large profit for Japanese business culture. It is not a fluke that Japan has the most companies that has been in business for more than 100 years


While in the west stockholders do tend to have more say, imo your off on the above, J-companies services/products are mostly high priced / low value, quality while still good has been going downhill some.

And while many companies seem to put customers first what most in Japan miss its whats behind the tatemae, in the back rooms you have dividing of market shares by companies, RAMPANT price fixing(read gouging), the govt is also heavily involved in this by creating multiple levels of BS useless beaurocracy ONLY designed to pilfer $$$ & lead to higher costs & higher barriers to entry(resulting in much less REAL competition).

Japan is a very highly corrupt, over regulated, high cost-low value. While overseas J-companies have to compete more in Japan society pays a VERY high price, one that is now become unsustainable & a real big problem for Japan & Japanese, govt & business, they have made this mess now they have to deal with it, sadly for the most part that means lets pretend nothing is wrong..............aint working to well

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I and my wife have worked at Japanese companies- managers are only good at avoiding paying their employees legal working conditions and other laws. They are mediocre to lousy at actually doing managing. I worked at a laundry which has not had a new major contract for years and has been loosing them. The big boss put his underlings into trial for second in charge and he choose none of them instead the head of company's other building. A Pizza Shop which website say only permanent employees do pizza but my wife branch now has no permanent employees sited there. She is only one really good at making pizza- total training failure.

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It really depends on the industry as to which style of management is better. If innovation is key to a firm's success, then a certain degree of turnover and a focus on results is a good means for fostering the creativity necessary for success. Look how Silicon Valley software firms dominate the IT sector over the likes of NEC. On the other hand, the author is correct that high turnover of employees comes at a cost in lost knowledge and relationships. In some industries, keeping your employees with the firm is probably preferable. I think this may be especially true for manufacturing or anything involving a degree of craftsmanship, and Japanese firms still tend to perform well in these areas.

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with germany as europes economic flagship coming in hot at five they do seem to have a point unless the us counts as west as well or is that east from a japanese p.o.v. ? It's probably hard to compare since the states have a bit more space and manpower as a whole, probably resources as well

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