3

The company and structure

C-Life is very typical of the kind of white-collar Japanese company that is generally discussed in the literature. Like most major Japanese companies, it is composed of bu (departments) and ka (sections). The section is the most important social and work construction. For young employees, work is usually done within the section, and the contacts they have in other sections are usually mainly through their dōki (the generation of people entering the company in the same year as themselves). They will have one or two dōki in each section. Each young employee will have a direct sempai (superior), usually two or four years older, under whom they will learn their work in a disciple-like manner. They will acquire direct kōhai (juniors) themselves only after they have worked for about two years. There is thus a strong sense of hierarchy and rank within the company. However, the company is not static, but both responds to change in the outside environment, and constantly evolves inside itself as it harmonises its different internal sections to work co-operatively together. Different ‘Japanese practices’ inside C-Life combine to function together as a whole system. Conversely, that system often determines the nature of the practices that it comprises.

For example, Clark (1979) reports that as ‘Marumaru’ - the white-collar company that he studied - grew, they found it difficult to continue to promote people according to ability. The larger number of people meant that managers were no longer sure about how to assess their juniors. Clark says: ‘…could such benign “life-time employment” really be combined with meritocratic principles? Now that there were recruits who might have to spend much of their working lives together, would it really be possible to choose some, and leave the rest behind?’ Thus, he shows that seniority promotion in Marumaru came about both as a function of the size of the organisation and out of the need to avoid conflict in a long-term employment environment.

In a similar way, many ‘Japanese’ practices in C-Life have come about as a result of the structure of the organisation. The company must therefore be seen as a complete social system, the structure of which has evolved partly through necessity. So, for example, the ideology of harmony regulates the competitive atmosphere of the company.

The ‘ringi’ system, whereby any potential decision is passed along a large number of people, all of whom add their opinions, is another example. This process is

-22-

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