One cannot study Japanese for long without acquainting themselves with Japanese business culture. The business culture of Japan reflect many other aspects of the culture and is a part of many peoples every day life. The work hours in Japan are long and the a persons company is very important to them. A person who works at a famous company is almost automatically considered intelligent and worthy of respect by his or her peers. Work hours are long in Japan and the process of applying for jobs is quite different from most other countries.
For many years, companies have been a main pillar supporting Japanese society. There was an idealistic kind of dignity that was commonplace among both employees and employers. The main idea was that if you could prove yourself to the company and get hired, you would work for them until you retired. Rather than experience and skill, companies valued youthfulness, education and devotion and they rewarded it very well. This also made it hard to get hired if you quit your job. With much less people moving around, mobility was very low and to lose your job at 30 years old was (and for some still is) seen as a death sentence. This is still the case to some degree but due to countless factors this system is starting to become both more flexible and more unstable. It is no longer common sense that a company will take care of you until the day you die. Some say this is due to companies throwing away their morals and some say it just isn’t possible in Japan’s post-bubble economy. There are many more companies that fail and leave their employees jobless and there is a growing trend towards dispatch workers. At the same time, less security comes with more freedom and it is no longer uncommon to meet Japanese people who have changed jobs a few times although it is still much easier for someone in their 20′s to find a job.
In the West, individuality is valued and so people are not afraid to stand out. When you ask someone what they do, many westerners will answer with a fancy, long, complicated title with many word relating to their area of expertise and their exact position in the company. In Japan however, just about everyone you meet below management is reffered to as a Salary Man. A salary man is just what it sounds like: a person making a salary while working for a company. While some people will tell you their exact position or department, when talking about others, just about everyone is referred to as a salary man. I’ve even met 10 year old kids who dreamed, not of becoming astronauts and basketball players, but asalary man. In a culture that values fitting in, this is many peoples dream. These salary man are all easily recognizable as they all wear the same white button down shirts and ties and commute at about the same time (8-9 AM and 6-9 PM). Almost any train station within an hour of a big city is flooded with an endless barrage of salarymen at rush hour.
Working as a Group
Going hand and hand with the concept of the salaryman and the ideal of not standing out is the overall Japanese approach to business. While In America and many European companies, work is sectioned off and each person has an individual task, Japanese are paired off in less specialized groups and keep in constant contact with each other through a countless amount of meetings. There are meetings about things that might seem like common sense or seem downright irrelevant to most non-Japanese. Sometimes there are even meetings about meetings. For people who have learned since birth not to disturb the peace of others, these meetings are very important, less for what is actually discussed and more for ensuring that everyone is filled in about anything they could possibly need to know. While productivity may not be maximized at every company, people know what is going on and are always on the same page as their superiors.
Working After Work
Zangyou or overtime is overwhelmingly common in Japanese companies. At most companies it is almost understood that you will be working one or two hours after your scheduled work time. This may be paid or it may be unpaid although companies are starting to reduce peoples hours after much criticism from various places. But work after work isn’t the only responsibility one has at a Japanese company. It is commonplace for coworkers to go drinking together and while you won’t be forced to go, don’t expect a promotion or the bosses favor if you don’t. Many people get very drunk at these Nomi-kai (or drinking parties), yet the next day, it is rare to hear anyone talk about the night before. In other words, what happens at nomi-kai stays at nomi-kai.
In Japan, while not always as obvious as in some other Asian countries, there is a distinctive social ranking based around positions at the company and age. Position take priority over age and people often refrain from voicing opinions that go against their business superiors. However it is common for people to be given promotions based on age or time at the company. Someone working for the company for 20 years and in their 40′s sometimes has a better chance of advancing than a 30 year old with much more skill although this also varies between companies. People also use keigo (formal Japanese) or teinei-go (literally polite language but actually a combination of keigo and regular Japanese) with superiors or elders at work. Superiors on the other hand can speak in whatever Japanese they want although they tend to keep it somewhat business-like.
While distinct in many ways, Japanese business culture is quickly changing due to internationalization, modernization, recession and a variety of other factors so it will be interesting to see what business culture will look like in the future.