International Encyclopedia of Public Policy and Administration - Vol. 2

By Jay M. Shafritz | Go to book overview



A contemporary system of governance that has been shaped by history, traditional values, interdependence, consensus decisionmaking, personal responsibility, hard work, stability, and order, which taken together accomplish the goals of Japanese public organizations.

Cultural Influence

Throughout Japanese history, changes have come about slowly and have been brought about more by internal forces than external pressures; thus, the people have led a relatively undisturbed existence. Paradoxically, their culture has transformed itself many times: It was a primitive tribal society in the sixth century; it was a county governed by aristocratic bureaucrats from the seventh through the twelfth centuries; after that, it was a feudal society until the Meiji restoration in 1868; later, it went through World War II; and today Japan is a world economic superpower. Japanese history has not been merely a succession of disconnected events but rather a process of continuous development and collective growth that has left its impact on the culture and its socioeconomic and administrative institutions.

Today's administrative structures, however, have developed largely since the Meiji Restoration, when the country began to modernize its governmental structures. The essential nature of Japanese administration is seen in the way that administrative organizations govern and in the people's acceptance of organizational culture. The norms and beliefs of the past 300 years have contributed to the development of contemporary Japanese administration. One way of understanding how Japanese administration works is to critically examine the cultural factors that influence the behavioral and action orientations of administrators. Without understanding cultural phenomena, it is almost impossible to understand the inner workings of Japanese politics and administration ( Reed 1993).

As in every society, Japanese administration is very much influenced by history and tradition. Traditional Japanese culture not only has shaped the behavior of people in administration but has also provided a context for the administrators' understanding of social reality as they interpret the symbolic meanings of shared norms, values, beliefs, ideologies, and languages. In order to understand society's influence on administrators' behaviors and actions, it is necessary to explore tacit elements of society rather than the obvious rules, procedures, tasks, functions, or symbolic activities. The efficient functioning of structures and roles is profoundly dependent on how administrators accept and internalize the meanings of organizational requirements. Accordingly, administrators commit themselves to institutional goals if they perceive that these goals will afford them the opportunity for growth.

The thrust of an administrative culture in the United States is, to a large extent, related to the policy and administrative philosophy of top executives, such as the president and cabinet secretaries in the federal government, the governor and department heads in the states, and the chief administrators in the municipal governments. By contrast, Japanese administrative culture, by and large, reflects prevailing societal values: It does not readily change because of the ideology of a new leader, such as a prime minister, a cabinet member, a provincial governor, or a mayor. In fact, leaders must respect the existing culture and cannot radically depart from it. The administrative processes and workers' activities are largely guided by shared norms regarding the appropriate behavior of the individual. Administrators realize that these norms are needed in order to accomplish the collective goals of the organization.

Administrative Culture

A number of cultural elements have influenced the patterns of administrative organizations. Several distinctive characteristics of administrative culture include (1) stability and order, (2) groupism and interdependence, (3) paternalism, (4) consensus building in decisionmaking, and (5) personal responsibility and hard work. All of these characteristics are discussed in this section.

First, Japanese administration has a stable and orderly system of governance that operates under strong national and subnational governments. The cultural aspects of public organizations, by and large, are not much different from the social norms and beliefs of the Japanese society. Japan is characterized as a vertical society ( Nakane 1970) in which all human relationships are based on a person's hierarchical position, socioeconomic status, educational background, seniority, and gender. Vertical relationships are evident in all organizations, as seen in superior and subordinate, senior and junior, management and labor, the group and individual, and male-female relationships. These relationships existed in the samurai-dominated feudal society before the Meiji Restoration. The vertical relationship is also supported by the respect that people give to the functional relationship between superior and subordinate and to the seniority system, which also provides hierarchical order in a group setting. The seniority system, which is based on length of service and age, is also linked to the salary scale.

Vertical relationships have provided a high degree of stability and order in organizations. Stability is also influenced by the job security that employees in the public sector enjoy as compared with those in the private sector. During periods of economic recession, private sector


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