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Today's Business Man and Business Methods (brief) + an Update (July, 2000)

To join a large company in Japan, the child must study hard from elementary school, or as is more often the case, he must attend the "right" kindergarten, which will have its own entrance examination. Graduating from one of the top universities, such as Tokyo or Kyoto is a must, if the young man wants to join one of the very best companies. This intense pressure has played a large part in the partial disintegration of traditional Japanese values and morals. As I have mentioned in other sections, many Japanese children today are rebelling against the system and society in general. 

Lifetime employment cannot be taken for granted anymore, even finding a job for an university graduate can be difficult enough nowadays. 

Once employed by one of the "top" companies, the new employee will have to bend to the wishes and desires, of his new "family". In return, he can expect to be paid a fair wage, long term employment (perhaps) and a seniority-based salary. 

The company will decide on the kind of work he will do, where he will do it and for how long. Most large companies rotate their employees after about three years, they may be moved to a distant location, with little regard for the employees opinion, or whether the employees own family will be able to move with him. To refuse a transfer would be to permanently tarnish his record with the company, which could have very serious consequences later on in his career. 

Work hours are usually from 8:30 am to 5 or 6 p.m. The image of the hard working salary man, staying in his office until late at night is pretty accurate.
What is not so commonly known is that he may not actually be doing much work. The group is all important in Japan both in and out of work. The working group, allows for no individualism, if one member is really busy then the other members cannot leave the office, even though they may not be able to assist him. Staying until 9 p.m. is not unheard of, pretending to be busy at his desk, in reality, half asleep. This kind of life is absolutely necessary if the salary man wants to be promoted in the future. It is such a wasteful custom on behalf of the companies, one must wonder for how much longer this working tradition can continue. Quite many younger salary men point this custom out to me and say quietly that they cannot respect it or wish to be part of it. If you ask a salary man if he is busy at work, he will usually say that he is, despite the fact that he may have nothing to do. The group or section he works for may be busy, but he personally has nothing to do, it goes against the grain for him to admit the truth.

Transfer season in Japan, is often a time of deep hidden worry in the office. As I have already said, the employee has little say in the matter and it is unheard of to rebel against a company edict, no matter how far the employee may be transferred from his home. Transfers are sometimes used by companies to punish an employee, sending him to a remote spot and leaving him there for a number of years, is one form of punishment meted out to businessmen who have provoked their companies ire.

Quite often the salary man will transfer without his family, especially if his children's schooling would be affected. This sometimes means that for several years his family will live, in effect, without a father, which in its turn must cause many problems for all involved.
There is one story that I would like to relate to you here, it is about a salary man who was transferred from Oita (Southern Kyushu) to Tokyo.

When he told me his story he had been in Tokyo for nearly one year and had two years left, before returning to his hometown to work. He lived in a small studio apartment, he always said that he was happy with his "single life", he could play Pachinko whenever he chose, he could go drinking with his fellow workers, without any hassle. The thing that struck me speechless was that he would mail a parcel to his wife once a week." "What is inside it?", I asked him.

"My dirty clothes", he replied.

He never ever washed any of his own clothes. I don't think a western wife would be very happy to receive such a package every week, but that is one of the more traditional concepts of the working husband in Japan.

Socializing is very important for the businessman, as he may spend a large part of his life with the same company (if he is lucky) so he needs to have a good relationship with both his supervisors and subordinates.

Japanese companies want to create harmonious conditions for their workers, they do this by having many formal and informal company sponsored events such as, athletic competitions, parties and excursions, often involving the employee's family as well. Many parties are held through out the year, welcoming new employees, good bye parties, for those being transferred, end of year parties and so on. These events help to create unity, a sense of really belonging to a group, which is so very important in Japan. The rather "naff" expression "If you are not in, you are out", holds completely true in all aspects of Japanese society.

As mentioned in another section, it is usual for the salary man to stop off at a pub after work, or play mahjong or pachinko, to relieve his stress. The serious businessman needs to play golf, not for pleasure but for business success. It is fairly common to see a young or old salary man playing "air golf" whilst he waits on a station platform for his train. I know many foreigners who find this practice, very stupid, I must include myself as well. I guess to us foreigners, "air golf" reminds us of playing an "air guitar when we were teenagers, but we at least grew out of it, I think!

Lay offs are becoming more common as the recession continues unabated. The figure for unemployment for all of 1998 stood at 4.1%, a new post war record. Suicides are also on the rise. JR. (Japan Railways) recently voiced their concern about the number of people jumping in front of trains in the Tokyo area, during commuter times.

Many of the redundant workers are middle aged and mid ranking office workers, who have little skill to offer a new employer, indeed they seem to me to be like "ducks without a pond", going this way and that way, without any real

direction in their life, after being cut loose from their "lifetime jobs". Temporary agencies are doing wonderfully from this new state of affairs. Many companies are cutting costs by only hiring temps. The more resourceful salary men are retraining after being fired from their "lifetime employment" jobs, and there are some specialist agencies who will assist them.

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Update (July, 2000):

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On my short stay in Japan this May, I was sad to find that working conditions and the salary man's lot in life have not improved, indeed they are expected to work even longer hours with less time for holidays. This shocking state of affairs is directly related to the poor economy and the large unemployment problems. Workers are very scared of loosing their jobs and thus, stay in the work place for ridiculously long hours. free time seems to be scorned once more in Japan by the working community, I think young people have other ideas though, which was very good to see!

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 Business Methods:

Business and pleasure go together in the Japanese business world, unlike western business practices. Many western businessmen do not succeed in Japan, because they come unprepared and with little or zero knowledge about how things are done here.

Socializing helps to build trust between the two parties, even though not one word of business may be talked about. Legal contracts are not as important as trust in Japan, face to face meetings are the most effective means of establishing a good working relationship.

To reach an agreement may take a long time from the start of a negotiation to the actual signing of a contract. The reasons, as mentioned, to establish trust, and there isn't usually one person who will decide, but many people who will be involved with the actual results of an agreement. Some western businessmen or governments try to pressurize the Japanese into making a quick decision, this runs against the Japanese way of thinking and will very often do more harm than good.


 

Some related facts:

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Bankruptcies.
Source: Private credit research agency.
Bankruptcies in June 1998, 1,714. Up 29.1% from a year earlier.
Total cumulative failures for the first half of 1998, 10,173. Up 29.5% from last year.
Recession induced failures account for 73.1% of the above.
  Bankruptcies 1998, latest figures !
     Source: Teikoku Databank

Corporate bankruptcies in October came to 1.707, up 5.8% from a year earlier.

     With total liabilities of \739.27 billion, up 55%.
     Total bankruptcies from January to October; 16.642.
     Total bankruptcies for the entire year of 1997; 16.365.

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Council Women

  Source: Government Report
   September 30th 1998. Out of 203 councils and advisory panels
     4.375 members of whom 799 were women (18.3%)

     up 0.7% from March 31st 1998

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Female executives in Japan

Source: Women Board Directors International
United States has 11.1% female corporate directors
Great Britain has 5% female board directors
Japan has 0.2% female board directors
Japan ranks the last among industrial nations.

There are no female directors in multinational or name brand companies in Japan.

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Overtime

  Source: Labor Ministry
 11.4 hours the average overtime in October 1998, down 8.8% from one  year earlier.

 13.6 hours in the manufacturing industries, down 15% from a year earlier.

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Summer bonuses for 1998

 Source: Labor Ministry

 Companies with 30 or more employees, averaged  556.252 yen
 Companies with 50 or more employees, averaged  467.902 yen
  Down 2.1% from a year earlier

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Unemployment, October 1998

Source: Management and Coordination Agency

The unemployed: 2.9 million, up 22.9% from a year earlier

The number who lost their jobs due to corporation failures, firings, etc.: 940.000
 Job holders: 65.26 million, down 1.1% from a year earlier
 Male job holders: 38.62 million, down 0.8% from a month earlier
 Female job holders: 26.64 million, down 1.4% from a month earlier

 October 1998 4.3% are unemployed
 Ratio of jobs to job hunters 0.48 in October (48 job offers for every 100 job hunters)
 Unemployment for men: 4.2%, down 0.2% from September
 Unemployment for women: 4.3%, up 0.1% from September
 Unemployment for men between 25 and 34 years old: 4.7%
 Unemployment for women between 45 and 54 years old: 2.9%

November 1998 unemployment was 4.4%
The total number of unemployed by the end of November stood at 2.91 million

Work week

Source: Labor Ministry
1997 weekly working hours in the private sector fell an average one  hour and 14 minutes to 39 hours and 31 minutes from a year before.

 

Young workers wanting to change jobs.

Source: Labor Ministry survey.

One out of three workers under 30 want to change their jobs. Among 21,000 workers, 32.1% want to change their employment.
Men:
17% want to be self employed.
15% want to make better use of their ability.
14% want more money.
Women:
12% want to make better use of their skills.
10% want a better job.
32% will quit due to family pressures, or to get married.

This page was last automatically updated on @01/03/13 05:15:50

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