Japanization and Japanese Working Practices


23 Mar 2015 11 Dec 2017

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Japan, a land of incredible diversity; modern yet steeped in custom; home of the friendliest of welcomes. Japanese celebrate the time of year with hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties under the blossom trees. Japanization is the process in which Japanese culture dominates, assimilates or influences other cultures. It’s also called nippanization. Japanese style management and HRM has been selectively adapted and applied around the world. Japan has a homogenous culture and foreign immigrants are very small percentage of its population. Japanization is not accepted completely around the globe. Here we are going to examine why the spread of Japanese management is constrained by local culture and working practices with the help of a case study material.


Japanese are collectivistic, where as Britain and United States people are individualistic. In-group in Britain includes only a nuclear family i.e., spouse, children and sometimes spouse’s widowed or infirm parent. In India it is a joint family includes grand parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, other relatives and close friends. But in Japan we can find an additional member in the in-group: the company for which a person works.

In Hofstede’s study Japan scored 46 on individualism. On the other hand USA and UK scored 91 and 89 respectively. Japanese are very hard working. Also they have strong sense of duty and indebtedness. (Tayeb, 2005)

The trade unions in Japan are company based. The companies like Toyota, Nissan and Hitachi has their own unions. In UK it is craft based. I.e. fire fighters, mine workers and teachers and so on has their unions.


In 2003, canon prepared to buy Mizuho shares, but later it fell into financial troubles i.e. to pay a debt to Fuji bank. Fuji bank made canon out of trouble when it fell into problems 30 years ago.

Ringi method:

It is a special characteristic of Japanese enterprises in decision making. In this process the written proposal will be circulated first to those who are going to be affected and then to the senior management. It is very time consuming process. So it is used for only important decision making. (Misumi, 1984).

Quality circles:

It is a small group activity in which blue collar and white collar workers from different departments of a company assembled voluntarily. These volunteers are trained in problem identification and problem solving techniques. It is perfectly tuned with the Japanese collectivism.

Life-time employment (Nenko):

Japanese HRM practices are sustained by their certain management practices such as life time employment. This obviously creates stable work environment and no fear of Unemployment. It means that employees are hired after their education and remain with the same company till their retirement. Nenko is operated by large firms.

Japanese Management

Kaizen philosophy:

Kaizen is defined as continuous improvement that involves each and every employee from executives to labourers with managers in between them. Kaizen is a driving force and a vital tool to Japanese success. This philosophy has been implemented round the globe followed by the Japanese successful lead. It is used as a method to increase production values and improve employee morale and safety.

Kaizen is taken from words ‘kai’, which means continuous and ‘zen’, which means improvement. Kaizen concept is the primary difference between how change is viewed by Japanese and in the west. Western companies reject kaizen just because of without knowing about it. American companies run by years without any change. On the other hand Japanese companies are in a state of continuous change and improvement. After World War 2, most of the Japanese companies brought new challenges everyday and moulded those challenges into progress.

Displaying goals, recognition and suggestions helps to improve communication and boost morale.

This is an endless process. If we do not maintain the standards it results in the “two steps forward and one step backward” effect. Only for this reason maintenance and improvement go collectively by Japanese managers. By improving standardised activities and processes, kaizen aims to eliminate waste.

“People are behind our success. Machines don’t have new ideas, solve problems and grasp opportunities. Only people who are involved and thinking can make a difference. Almost every auto plant in UK and USA has the same machinery but how people are utilized and involver varies widely from one company to another. The work force gives any company its true competitive edge”.

(Toyota motors-general manager)

Generally Japanese managers have an easier time implementing employee suggestions than managers in the USA. Japanese managers show their willingness to go along continuous change which contributes to following change.

  • Making the job easier.
  • Making the job more productive.
  • Removing drudgery from the job.
  • Improving product quality.
  • Removing nuisance from the job.
  • Saving time and cost.
  • Making the job safer.

Japanese manufacturing techniques:

Japanese style of manufacturing has three interlinked parts involved in it.

  1. Flexibility
  2. Quality
  3. Minimum waste

In the 1980’s, imported cars accounts for 27% of us sales. Same changes had occurred in other industries in UK and USA also. The manufacturers like motorcycles, camera, television and video equipment have disappeared by the higher quality Japanese products.


It is purely a Japanese term which means mistake or fool proofing. Poke-a-yolk is the basis of zero quality control method used for eliminating and avoiding mistakes. Basically this technique is used in manufacturing units, hospitals, aircraft maintenance and human resources.

Lean production:

Lean production system is one which produces cars more cheaply with higher quality than its rivals. In 1998, ford and GM took 50% more hours to make a car than Toyota. In 2006, Toyota builds an average car within 29 hours. On the other hand GM workers took 33 hours. It’s a big improvement.


Mr Cowger said, 90% of the 178 gm plants almost in 33 countries adopted the lean production system. Toyota implemented the ‘just-in-time’ manufacturing system in which suppliers sends parts daily or many times a day. Toyota develops a new model in 18 months compared to three years it takes GM. This is not Japanese companies vs. American companies; it is smart Japanese companies vs. smart American companies. The key reason why Toyota is over taking GM as the dominant car industry is its production system i.e. lean production system. In Toyota, workers grouped into teams and they are allocated to individual goals to correct mistakes. (s.steve, BBC news)

Historical perspective:

The origin of benchmarking

There is no doubt that the art of benchmarking is originated in Japan. Simply it is defined as loaning of employees to other organisations. Benchmarking means being humble enough to acknowledge that others may be smarter, and being clever enough to learn how to become just as smart – or even smarter.

The essence of benchmarking is it enables us to learn our own processes and also from others. USA, UK and other companies are benchmarking Toyota production system (TPS). It is mainly focuses on the implementation of the waste reduction tools. This system is known as ‘the Toyota way’. (Forrest breyfogle, 2008).

The reasons for the failure of Japanese firms overseas:

  • Inability to cope with larger overseas responsibilities
  • Difficulties with new environment
  • Personal or emotional problems
  • Lack of technical competence
  • Inability of spouse to adjust
  • Japanese style management is more suitable to blue collar than white collar workers
  • Poor communication
  • Status difference between managers and staff
  • Improper presentation of objectives
  • No promotion for non-Japanese
  • Local managers not involved in key decisions

Toyota acts on overwork culture:

Japanese corporate culture has been criticised in UK for being workaholic. Previously it allowed workers to work two hours overtime a month for voluntary activities such as ‘qc’, stands for quality circles. This decision came into action after a court order at the death of a 30 year old Toyota worker collapsed at the plant and died due to overwork. Public criticism has been growing on overworking culture. Toyota is best known for using ideas of employees to improve production methods and minimize costs. (BBC news, 2008)

Psychological safety:

Psychological safety was the root cause for the failure of Toyota concept in other countries. It is especially crucial where knowledge constantly changes, workers need to be collaborating and workers make decisions without intervention of the management. (p.gupta, 2008).

Hofstede’s research:

Hofstede’s framework is widely used by researchers and practitioners in the field of intercultural management. According to hofstede the differences in responses could be examined by four main factors.

  1. Power distance
  2. Uncertainty avoidance
  3. Individualism
  4. Masculinity

Power distance:

Power distance relates to the extent to which societies discriminates the different levels of employees in any organization i.e. how unequally the employees are treated in any company. It is the relation between blue collar and white collar workers. It should be less in order to achieve any success. In high power distance countries superiors seen to be more powerful than heir subordinates. Countries with low power distance favour a more democratic style of management.

Uncertainty avoidance:

It refers to the degree to which they try to avoid uncertain situations by discouraging the risk taking activities. Countries with low uncertainty avoidance will adopt flexible structures and encourage more diverse views. (Chris. B, Paul. S & guy. V, 2007)


Individualism means the extent to which individuals try to merge into groups. In the usa we can find more individualism. It is to gain self-respect and personal achievement. In the contrast, collectivistic society’s people are integrated into strong groups.


It measures the extent to which male values are dominated such as assertiveness, acquisition of money and goods and not caring for others.


Toyota works on over work culture, Thursday, 22 may 2008


Misumi, J. (1984).’Decision making in Japanese groups and organisations’, in international year-book of organisational democracy. Volume. 2, Chichester: Wiley.

Forest breyfogle,dec 10th 2008. http://www.smartersolutions.com/blog/forrestbreyfogle/?p=551

Monir h. tayeb 2005. International human resource management, a multinational company perspective

Gupta,p.’general motors and Toyota cultural differences’.


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