Japan Takes the Cake (part 2)

Posted: February 12, 2009 in Social Talk
Tags: , , , ,

My personal reading and studies have led me to understand some differences in the Japanese society from our own and what may be the key to why and how they produce cars and other goods the way they do. First understand that the American society is highly based off individualism. We reward those who work harder, study longer, and stand above the rest. It’s why many people see the U.S. in the form of a capitalist nation where higher up in the pyramid you are, the more power and control you have. The Japanese have a different approach to the work system. They work with “Groupism”, where collective organizations work toward a common goal. Their personal interests are tied in with the companies interests so their ambitions are with the ambition of the company. William Ouchi, a business professor, differentiates 5 differences between the societies.

1) U.S. organizations reward and promote people as prize. We typically gain bonuses and salary as a result of individual competition for and at work. However, Japanese organizations hire new graduates together and everyone gets the same salary and responsibility. Usually someone gets singled out for promotion after a couple years.

2) In the U.S., we typically move from one employer to the next to advance our careers. Also, U.S. companies are quick to lay off employees in troubling economic times (as you all know). Japanese companies tend to hire for life and build strong loyalties with workers. If a Japanese worker becomes obsolete, the company will retrain employees for new positions to avoid layoffs.

3) U.S. workers often see work and home as two distinct places, hence “Don’t bring your work home with you”. In Japan, however, the companies play a big part in the workers’ lives. The companies provide mortgages, sponsor recreational activities, and other schedule daily events such as group exercises and yoga for employees. This company/personal interaction also allows for workers and bosses to voice suggestions and criticism respectfully.

4) U.S. workers tend to be specialized in their field, whereas Japanese companies train on a more broad range of company aspects and positions since it is assumed that employee will be there for life.

5) In U.S. industries, the top executives make all the important decisions. Though Japanese companies make decisions, they involve employees in “quality circles” to discuss how decisions will affect them. Also, Japanese executives have smaller salary differences from employees. The modesty in pay also builds closer relationships between execs and workers.

With these five differences I see how Japan can make make an efficient car with low costs within the car’s class. They operate differently than we do. Instead of a pyramid shape like the U.S. with individualistic bureaucracy, they adopt a more football shape to their organization. Its more open to change, flexible. They focus on the goal together as an organization where we tend to meet our goals for our own advancement, which in the end compromises goods.

So which is better? The only trade off I see is the loss of individualism. But what we gain in return is reasonably costly goods, more lifelong employment, and a more balanced society. Are we capable of making the sacrifice? Of course we are, but since it goes against the functions of the big wigs at the top of the pyramid,  it wont be easy!


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