A Comparison between the Business Ethics of Japan and America

Japan is a country well known for many things, be them odd clothes, technological magic, anime and manga, and many more. With such diverse and fascinating culture, it’s little surprise that Japan is in possession of one of the most strict business cultures around the world. In fact, for many, it’s so unique that finding a place within the Japanese market can be a challenging and, sometimes, impossible endeavor. The nuances of communication in a Japanese business settings are many, ranging from formal use of Keigo and specific body language to severe humility of lower-ranked members of a staff.

The culture of Japan plays a vital role in the varied communication styles, especially that of business environments. Much of the old samurai culture can be seen in modern business practices, especially through the use of honorific verbal and body language and the commonality of duplicity within a work environment, especially in consideration of Honne and Tatemae, true emotions and facades.

Some of the biggest dilemmas with foreign companies attempting to break into the Japanese market include an unfamiliarity with the variations between Honne and Tatemae. Honne, or true feelings, are often hidden in Japanese culture, with business being no exception. It is frowned upon in Japanese society for grown men and women, especially men, to be expressive with their emotions. It’s also frowned upon to put one’s emotions and desires as a higher priority than the well-being of the company and the company’s clients. Tatemae is known as the behavior or façade on display for the world.

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This is the mask that people wear within Japanese culture, especially business practices.

Personal issues should never interfere with or impact work and work ethic, something many westerners find unrealistic. Tatemae is most easily described as society’s expectations for an individual. Compliance with these unwritten rules can often take one further in a Japanese business environment than knowledge or qualifications. The thought is often that a respectful and well-mannered person can be taught to do a job, but someone who has no respect or manners cannot be taught to change their attitude as easily.

In addition to the nuances of attitude, language is a vital aspect of in a Japanese business setting. Honorific languages within Japanese culture permeate interaction, especially in a business setting. Such language, however, is not reserved for corporate business, and rather, can be found in any day to day business interactions. Even conbini staff use a form of bastardized keigo, which many feel is not true keigo, but is a rather good example of the importance of honorific speech within Japanese business interactions. Keigo is the wide blanket used to describe various styles of honorific speech, but can be further split down into sonkeigo, kenjōgo, and teineigo (T). Sonkeigo is what is most commonly seen in business practices, however, in some instances, kenjōgo and teineigo are acceptable alternatives.

Due to the varied conjugation formats used with honorific speech, many foreign business associates find navigating the nuances of the spoken language difficult. Even those who have mastered informal and formal Japanese often find the use of honorific speech difficult. Many Japanese natives also struggle to correctly use honorific speech in the correct capacity.

In addition to attitude and language, work ethic is another major aspect of Japanese business culture. When a westerner thinks work ethic, often it is accompanied by thoughts of someone who works hard to get all of their work done in a timely manner, however that is not necessarily the case in a Japanese business environment. Work ethic in Japan does indicate getting work done, however there are, as with all other aspects of Japanese culture, nuances that may be puzzling to gaikokujin (E). Getting work done within a certain amount of time is definitely something desirable, however getting work done too fast can be just as detrimental as getting it done too slowly. It is often viewed that working too fast could deteriorate the quality of the work, indicating that an employee isn’t doing their work “gannbatte (ET)” enough.

In other words, finishing too fast means you’re not doing your best. Similar aspects can be found in United States Business culture. In addition to the time it takes to do work, Japanese work ethic also refers to a willingness to do any work presented by someone in a higher position than you. One of the most shocking things for foreign workers is the expectation that new or lower employees will do what they’re told, when they’re told, with no questions asked or complaints made. This can often cause friction with foreign workers.

Japanese communication in business can be surprising for many foreigners with the nuances and subtleties often going unnoticed or failing to be understood.

Business practices in the United States of America (herein referred to as the US, USA, or just US are slightly more straightforward than those of Japan, but still steeped in landmines of confusion for those unaccustomed to the laws and culture of the supposed land of the free.

Similar to Japanese communication, the language used in a business environment varies based upon the topic of conversation as well as the audience. In the US, a type of interaction known as code switching is employed, which is someone similar to the variations in formal, informal, and honorific speech in japan, but is more limited to tone and word usage rather than a specific form of conjugation for a type of verbiage used in other forms of conversation.

For instance, a greeting between coworkers of the same level who are on friendly terms would be along the lines of “Hey there, how’s it going?” whereas a greeting between a lower tier employee and a CEO (from the employee’s perspective) would be more along the lines of “Good morning Mr. Hunt, how are you today?” Often when speaking to someone in a higher position than yourself, you revert to more formal speech, using full words and avoiding colloquial phrases and humor.

Contractions are rarely used in written communication from a low-tier employee to a higher-up employee as a sign of formality and respect, though not necessarily intentional. Primarily, the variations in communication happen at a subconscious level, where we adjust our tone, body language, and verbiage to match the audience we’re speaking with. This phenomenon is not limited to communication within US businesses, but it’s less pronounced than the very intentional variations in conjugation and addressing that is found in Japanese business practices. Another similarity between the culture in Japan and the US in business is work ethic. Though not applicable in the same sense, work ethic plays a vital role in American businesses.

One difference is the time it takes to do work. Unlike in Japan, doing your work too quickly doesn’t necessarily mean you’re not doing your best, however working too fast is still frowned upon. The issue of working too fast, however, comes from a legal standpoint as opposed to a moral one. Working too fast can take work away from other employees during a slow time in the business, causing them to lose hours. Since it’s not legal to pay someone for work that’s not getting done, this can lead to legal action being taken against a company, so many companies will recommend that employees adjust their pace of work to fit the work load, going faster when busy and taking their time-but still getting things done- when they’re slow.

Just as it can be difficult to maneuver a Japanese business environment, so too can it be difficult to full understand a US business environment.

There are similarities and differences in the communications and ethics involved in business within the United States of America and Japan. Language, work ethic, emotion and more play a role in how people interact with one another in a business environment throughout the world, however the practices found in Japan are often more difficult for foreigner’s to grasp than those found in the United States. Unwritten rules and expectations of society permeate the interactions within communication in businesses throughout the world, with these two countries being excellent examples of the differences and similarities found in different cultures.

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A Comparison between the Business Ethics of Japan and America. (2023, Feb 15). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/a-comparison-between-the-business-ethics-of-japan-and-america/

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