Culture Analysis: Japan
The nuances of the modern Japanese culture are based on a variety of Asian and Western influences. Japan was much more of a traditional Eastern society prior to WWII, but after the War Japan became highly subject to the West and thus adopted a great many of its practices and perspectives. For that reason, Japan is less traditionally Asian than other Eastern culturesâ€”but it still retains enough of its own culture and identity to be considerably different in a number of dimensions. This paper will examine those differences and show that a combination of leadership styles, such as innovation leadership, transactional leadership, autocratic leadership and democratic leadership styles, should be used for Japanese workers as they are highly dependent upon seeking approval for their employers (Merchant, 2018), like to be consulted in decision-making, enjoy creating innovative solutions to problems, but also want to be able to identify the hierarchy of authority so that they can show respect to the appropriate persons.
Dimensions of Difference
The traditional Japanese culture was much more hierarchical than it is today; however, the cultural expectations regarding power remain to some extent. Thus, while the power/distance dimension is higher than in America, it is lower than in other Asian countries, such as China. At the same time, Japan is slow to make decisions, which indicates that the people are not comfortable with making decisions on their own and would prefer decisions be made for them (Hofstede Insights, 2018).
Like many countries in the East, Japanâ€™s culture is more collectivist than individualistic. This contrasts sharply with the American culture, which celebrates individualism. However, by Asian standards, Japan is somewhat more individualistic than other Easter nationsâ€”and that comes from the American influence that has dominated the nation since WWII (Hofstede Insights, 2018).
The Japanese culture hates uncertainty. The Japanese do everything they can to be as prepared for the unexpected as possible. The country is routinely hit by natural disasters, so that may have something to do with itâ€”but the people tend to have internalized some of the more traditional aspects of the old world culture, such as the need for ritual and routine (Hofstede Insights, 2018). The American culture is far less uncomfortable with uncertaintyâ€”so it would be important for an American manager to make sure that a Japanese worker feels secure about what is expected of him in the coming months and years.
The Japanese are very focused on careersâ€”in fact, their nation is one of the most career-fixated nations on earth (Hofstede Insights, 2018). This means that Japanese traditionally and still today do not place much stock in leisure time or in relaxing with extended holidays. They see themselves as here to work and to succeed by reaching goals.
The Japanese take a long term perspective on life, which is different from the way Americans view life. Americans view life as short, so live it now. They do not tend to think about the long term, saving, or planning for the future. The Japanese on the other view life from what is basically an eternal perspective. They see life from the point of view of their ancestors and live according to a code that has been passed down from centuries (Hofstede Insights, 2018).
Appropriate Leadership Styles
Japanese culture is innovation oriented; therefore innovation leadership is a style that suits them as it focuses on supporting workersâ€™ creative engagement (Carmeli, Gelbard and Gefen, 2010). Likewise, Japanese need to feel appreciated and like being consulted when it comes to decision makingâ€”though they also need hierarchies in the workplace so that they can recognize and respect the appropriate authorities. For these reasons, a combination of autocratic, democratic, and transactional leadership styles could be used in different ways to lead a Japanese worker. For example, the worker may be consulted and provided with an incentive (whether intrinsic or extrinsic) to succeed, but the worker should also know that the final decision is the managerâ€™s (Barbuto, 2005). By combining elements of these leadership styles, the leader can effectively appeal to the cultural dimensions of the Japanese employee. According to Maslowâ€™s (1943) theory of motivation, the leader would be meeting a variety of the Japanese workerâ€™s needs.
Techniques for Motivation
Techniques for motivation would be to provide the Japanese worker with room to be creative and innovative in addressing challenges and tasks. This would appeal to the workerâ€™s intrinsic motivationâ€”pride, desire to grow, and so on. However, extrinsic motivations would also be helpful, such as bonuses for projects being delivered on time and under budget. Likewise, Japanese want to reach goals: they love to work and their careers essentially act as the focus of their lives. To motivate them, a leader should set clear goals for them again and again so that the Japanese worker has something to work towards.
A Japanese worker will also want avoid any uncertainty, so a leader should not be bothered if the worker keeps coming back to clarify any ambiguous issues in a task. This is how the Japanese people prepare for the unexpectedâ€”they do their due diligence and carefully think about all the possible outcomes before acting. To motivate a Japanese worker, it would be helpful to invite him to a roundtable where ideas can be discussed and possible scenarios worked out ahead of time: this will help to ease anxiety and reduce fears about something unexpectedly bad popping up unannounced.
Some Japanese stereotypes that persist include that Japanese are always polite and smiling and that when it comes to using tech, they are tops. Leaders should be careful to resist stereotyping Japanese in these ways. Just because they may be uncommonly polite does not mean they are not human and do not have bad days. Everyone has bad days. One should expect that Japanese do, too. Likewise, one should not assume that they know everything there is to know about tech.
Words and Gestures to Avoid
Words and gestures to avoid around Japanese people should be known by leaders. For example, making eye contact is considered rude in Japanâ€™s culture, so a leader should not try to stare down a Japanese worker. Japanese people also do not hug generally speaking. Hugs are Western customs, not Eastern onesâ€”so even if a leader is familiar with a Japanese worker, a hug would be viewed as awkward. It is also helpful to avoid shouting out the names of companies that Westerners associate with Japan, such as Honda or Toyota. It might be an impulse that Westerners find charming, but it can be irritating to a Japanese person to be constantly associated with a company that they have little connection to.
Japan is a high context culture. Non-verbal expressions and implicit communications are part of the fabric of their way of life. This contrasts sharply with the low context American culture, wherein Americans are used to explicit, direct and sometimes blunt ways of speaking. The Japanese communicate subtly and a leader should be aware of how these subtle mechanisms of expression are used to convey significant information.
A leader in a company must be aware that even though a great deal of American influence has impacted Japan since WWII, the country still retains some of its old world values and customs. Thus, a Japanese worker in an American company is not going to offer hugs freely in a casual setting, nor is he likely to live life by the seat of his pantsâ€”so a leader should not expect a Japanese employee to be spontaneous. The Japanese are career-driven and view work as the essential function of life. They also take a long-term view of life and live according to value-based philosophy that is quite traditional in its aspect. A leader can best motivate a Japanese employee by providing a clear chain of command, inviting the worker to discussions during the decision-making process, encourage innovation, give praise and rewards for work well done, and be prepared to make the final decision for the worker when it comes to setting goals, as the Japanese prefer to discuss rather than make assertive decisions on their own.
American (30) male
Egyptian (21) female
S. Korean (27) male
Iranian male (32)
Indian female (30)
Irish male (33)
Japanese male (25)
Mexican female (28)
French male (33)
Russian female (40)
Barbuto Jr, J. E. (2005). Motivation and transactional, charismatic, and transformational
leadership: A test of antecedents. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 11(4), 26-40.
Carmeli, A., Gelbard, R., & Gefen, D. (2010). The importance of innovation leadership in
cultivating strategic fit and enhancing firm performance. The Leadership Quarterly, 21(3), 339-349.
Hofstede Insights. (2018). Country comparison. Retrieved from
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370.
Merchant, Y. (2018). 5 major differences between Japanese and American workplaces.
Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/differences-between-japanese-and-american-work-culture-2018-3
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