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» Core Cultural Concepts
» Same or Different?
» Polite Fiction
» Conflict & Control
» Kanji: Japanese Characters


Core Cultural Concepts

These five cultural concepts have strong implications for how Japanese companies do business. Nevertheless, the cultural patterns found in particular industries, regions, economic classes, and of corporations themselves vary substantially. Preferred cultural practices have also changed in response to globalization and the economic downturn in the 1990's. The patterns discussed here, therefore, are excellent starting guidelines, but don't be surprised if the particular Japanese people you are working with have somewhat different cultural norms.

Core Concepts: Relationships

1. Cultivating Long Term Relationships

  • Other-centered, work centered (rather than me-centered).
  • Lifelong relationships are a person's main resource-interdependence and reciprocity.
  • Benefits: loyalty, security, belonging, being cared for. Flip side: onerous obligations and social constraints.
  • Pressure to blend in, harmonize, cooperate, conform.
  • Ethics based on relationship and context rather than fixed principles.
  • Attentive to the nuances of situation, subtle cues, accommodating the needs and views of others.

2. Knowing One's Place: Role & Rank

  • Every person is either senior or junior.
  • Language and interaction always reflect relative rank.
  • A mature person fulfills role faithfully: sincerity, respect, training, character, self-control
  • The polite fiction: "I am humble, you are honored," is the fundamental message behind polite language and etiquette. (In the US, in contrast, it might be summarized as: "We are all equals and friends.")
  • It is important to know when to reveal honne (one's true feeling, opinion) and when to maintain tatemae (one's role-appropriate face to the world).

Core Concepts: Working

3. Keeping Face

  • Appearances matter greatly.
  • Lifelong relationships require careful maintenance-no option to "move on".
  • Fear of standing out, not fitting in, being laughed at or scolded.
  • Your reputation affects the reputation of your family and colleagues.
  • Difficult issues communicated through indirect, nonverbal subtext- it is easier to deny or shift direction.
  • People give each other private space (physical distance from gaze & touch, home space), which makes it easier to maintain public face.

4. Following Form

  • There's a correct way to do almost everything.
  • There's a correct phrase or thought to say for many situations.
  • HOW work is done often matters more than WHAT is accomplished.
  • Practice the form and understanding will eventually come (e.g. martial arts).

5. Working: Diligence & Details

  • Working steadily matters more than quality or quantity of work completed.
  • The appearance of diligence requires a serious facial expression, alert body posture, no evidence of own needs or reactions.
  • Patient thoroughness, especially in preparation, is valued over speed or creativity.
  • Put in long hours (pace may be slower than in the US.)
  • Focus on work content. Little "psychologizing," small talk.
  • Thorough documentation allows context to speak for itself. Avoids participants appearing confrontative or opinionated.

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