Magazine article Business Credit

Japanese Mind Set: The Roots of Today's Japanese Business Culture

Magazine article Business Credit

Japanese Mind Set: The Roots of Today's Japanese Business Culture

Article excerpt

After I finished my new book, The Asian Mind Game, I contacted Texas oil man T. Boone Pickens and asked him to read it. A month later, he wrote me a letter which said that my book gave an accurate account of the frustrations Americans will encounter when dealing with Japan.

If Mr. Pickens had read the book before he spent $1.2 billion obtaining 26.2 percent of Koito, a leading Japanese auto parts manufacturing company, I am certain he would have thought twice about his Japanese investment decision

Despite being a majority stockholder in Koito, Mr. Pickens was unable to obtain board representation, while lesser stockholders, such as Toyota, Nissan, Matsushita, and many Japanese banks, enjoyed their entitled seats on the Koito board.


In order to have a successful business venture with the Japanese, we must first understand their mind set. Each nation's business culture is deeply influenced by its history, social development, and national values.


Today's Japanese business culture is deeply rooted in the ancient code of the samurai, where duty, loyalty, bravery, and proper etiquette are deemed most important.

During the Tokugawa shogunate in the 17th century, Japan officially adopted a class system similar to that of the Chinese. It divided society into four social classes: samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants. The samurai class was the highest and most privileged. It included the shogun and all of the ruling lords, as well as their military retainers.

As the Meiji government (in the late 19th century) gradually eliminated the expensive anachronism of the samurai class, some samurai turned to a new battlefield--commerce. Since many of the same qualities that made a good samurai also made a good businessman, many samurai were highly successful at commerce.

After the elimination of Japan's class system, Japan became entirely a working class nation. All considered themselves true sons of samurai.


Japanese companies love to brag about their 10-year or 15-year plan; but no one ever mentions to the Westerner the national objectives Japan has pursued over the past 100 years. These objectives were set down in 1868 by Emperor Meiji, who swore Japan would be a rich country, strong in the military power required for the survival of the Japanese race. In pursuit of these objectives, the Japanese decided to make use of Western technology and beat the West at its own game.

After World War II, the Japanese may have changed their strategies and tactics, but not the objectives set by Emperor Meiji for the Japanese nation.


The single most important document in recent Japanese history is the Five Articles Imperial Oath of 1868. The first four articles set the tone for the transformation of Japanese internal attitudes. The fifth article deals with the Japanese attitude toward the West and has served as Japan's guidepost in the formation of foreign and economic policies for the past 100 years.

Many of the unique aspects of Japanese society that are endlessly extolled by Western observers can be traced to one or more of the five articles. Certainly the overall success of their content will cast considerable light on how they affect Japan's contemporary business behavior.

ARTICLE ONE: All matters should be decided by public discussion.

The effect is to create common objectives through group decision making. …

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