Posted on 17-10-2010
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

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The Indian EXPRESS/ The Financial EXPRESS article

The extreme politeness and service attitude of the Japanese can completely bowl you over. After some casual conversation about the fascinating Japanese breakfast at my hotel in Tokyo, as I was getting off the lift, one of the reception managers rushed to touch my feet. Totally unnerved, “What, wha… ?” I stuttered. Immediately stepping back I discovered that my shoe laces had opened, and he was trying to help tie them. Never have I seen such courtesy, except perhaps in the Japanese trains. Unlike the underground or metros in different parts of the world, in Japan people are quiet and gracious, I’ve never seen anyone speak on a mobile phone when traveling, and they readily accommodate one another so everyone can travel together in comfort. Even in the early morning or midnight, black-suited young, middle aged and old men stand out in their plenty. Just as many travelers are black-suited or formally dressed women all going to or from work.

“In America my father would come home for supper every day, and we’d spend two weekend days together,” said Kuniko, an office clerk at a store in Tokyo. She recalls her childhood spent in New Jersey. “Our family bonding was joyful like Americans. But when we moved to Tokyo, my sisters and I barely would meet him for weeks together.” Being the head of a gas station, her father went to work on Sundays too, “So he never ever came to our school events and I hardly know my father now,” she says.

Actually her father is not very different from the thousands of office goers in Japan who board an underground train at 7 am and return home at midnight. The Japanese passion for hard work is legendary, being a workaholic has emerged as corporate culture that’s appreciated. The longer employees stay at work every day, the better rewarded they are with bonus and overtime perquisites. You’re in your boss’s good books if you leave office after him, which generally becomes 11 pm.

Not being able to cope up with the demanding 14-15 work hours plus family responsibilities, most women prefer to quit work on getting married or to raise a family. Kuniko speaks excellent English and had risen to become a section manager of the departmental store she worked in. After childbirth she first returned to part time work, so was given a lower, clerical position. “When I started leaving office at 6 in the evening to pick up my baby from the crèche, people would look at me like I was an alien,” she recounts. “For me, my family is my first priority. Even if I get more salary, if I have to stay long, I will not take up that job. I need to balance and manage my family and work.” No promotions have come her way since, although she’s back to normal hours, while her male counterparts have leapt ahead by burning the midnight oil. Although such gender discriminations exist, Japan’s traditional society is averse to litigation, and social attitudes respect women’s household role.

Immediately after World War II, Japanese women started to participate in the labour force. Today, about 50% of all women have paid work in service, wholesale and retail trades, eating and drinking places, and secondary industry like manufacturing. This percentage is higher than most countries. But reaching positions of authority in managerial roles largely remains the preserve of black-suited salarymen. According to the UN International Labor Organization, women held just 6.6% management jobs in Japanese companies and government in 1985, which rose to just 10.1 percent in 2005, whereas in the US at the same time, women held 42.5% of all managerial jobs.

Japan’s demanding, morning-to-midnight corporate culture is the expectation of its dominating middle management where productivity is very high. According to a 1988 study in the Journal of Applied Psychology, management development systems in Japan’s leading corporations have produced executives and managers who are commonly acknowledged to be among the best in the world, although how these systems operate is not well understood. Although the Japanese always listen to their superiors, when it comes to decision making, they discuss a matter threadbare and have several consensus rounds, everybody in the room has to agree to a point, and unless that happens they don’t move on. In contrast, the Chinese are very shrewd and quick, and the senior most in America has the authority to take decisions.

The top management can be quite different in Japan, they move about in business trips, socialize in business lunches and dinners to develop relationships with their customers. The middle level stays stodgily at work, shape policy, send more than 100 – 200 emails a day with lots of conferences and meetings and drive the Japanese working style. They take the responsibility to maintain harmony so employees can work together in a “uchi soto” or “us and them” situation, that means working in groups and teams. This term can also translate as “we Japanese” dealing with an international “them” in the globalizing situation.

The business and social cultures among Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima are a bit different from one another. In Osaka they talk a lot, joke, laugh, express their feelings directly. But people are more reserved in Tokyo which is more commercial. As a society, the Japanese are humble, they are polite, understated and don’t shout. In fact, in their wonderful fast trains, nobody talks, but you will observe a large number of commuters extremely engrossed in reading novels. The Japanese characters are in large print in these 4”x6” books, and I found a lot of them are illustrated comic books. Sitting next to an old gentleman as he pored over the comic book, I got curious and peeked into what absorbed him so. Lo and behold, it was a pornographic comic book! A thought flashed by: if Japan with 99% literacy, as per UNDP’s 2009 report, needs illustrations for easy comprehension of this subject, how long will it take India’s piracy pushers to deliver the same to the 44% of our people who are unlettered?


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