The Influence of Confucianism and Zen on the Japanese Organization

Article excerpt

The Influence of Confucianism and Zen on the Japanese Organization

The success of Japanese work organizations as productive systems is certainly remarkable, but a large part of it is attributable to what the Japanese borrowed from Western culture. What is truly unique and original about the Japanese work organization is its success as a social system, a goal that Western Organiation Theory has pursued since the birth of the Human Relations School. It is the purpose of this paper to suggest that the success of the Japanese work oraganiation as a social system is attributable primarily to Eastern culture: to Confucianism's single-minded search for wa(harmony) and to Zen's more complex vision of human beings. Concepts of Eastern culture have remained somewhat inaccesssible to the West; hence, the discussion in this paper is placed in the context of concepts developed in the West. Confucianism's influence on the Japanese work organization can be discussed in terms of primary and secondary relationships and the related concept of gemeinschaft/gesellschaft social systems. Zen's influence can be understood in terms of the concepts of the unconscious.

Figure I contains an outline of the argument presented in the paper. Confucianism is described to demonstrate that it contributes to the gemeinschaft nature of Japanese society and Japanese organizations. The depth of penetration of Confucianism in Japanese organization. Zen's influence on the Japanese mind is similarly demonstrated. These forces combine with the policies of Japanese organizations to result in the engagement of the unconscious energies of Japanese employees in work-related behavior.

The discussion points to some new directions for debate and research in our continuing quest for work organizations that allow for high productivity in socially satisfying, if not exciting, contexts. The paper concludes with a discussion of theoritical and practical implications of the ideas presented.


This part of the paper seeks to suggest that the Japanese work organization is a gemeinschaft social system and that Confucianism is largely responsible for this fact. The first section reviews concepts that will be utilized to conduct the discussion. The gemeinschaft character of the Confucianist ideal society is revealed next. The extent of the influence of Confucianism in Japan is then indicated. Finally, the gemeinschaft nature of Japanese organization and Japanese society is discussed. The relationship of the gemeinschaft character of Japanese work organization to the "success of Japanese work organization as a social system" will be made explicit in a later part of the paper.

Primary and Secondary Relationships

Tonnies[21], in a highly acclaimed book translated into English as Fundamental Concepts of Sociology, has distinguished between gemeinschaft societies and gesellschaft societies in terms of the form of relationship among people predominant in each type. Tonnies suggests that the key difference between relationships in the gemeinschaft and gesellschaft societies is that relationships in the former are based on "natural will" and in the latter on "rational will." When a relationship is formed because those involved wish to attain a definite goal, then the basis for the relationships is rational will, in which means and ends have been sharply differentiated. When people associate because they think the relationship is valuable in and of itself, it is natural will that predominates. In other words, gesellschaft social systems are composed of mostly utilitarian relationships, whereas in gemeinschaft social systems relationships between individuals go well beyond being merely utilitarian. Tonnies identifies five main gemeinschaft ties: mother and child, father and child, sisters and brothers, friend and friend, and rulers and subjects.

Durlabhji [8] has suggested that this distincion can be viewed in terms of the concepts of primary and secondary relationships. …