A Newton's cradle with one red ball flying out away from aligned silver balls, representing the paradoxes often present in Japanese business culture
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Using Japanese Values to Thrive in Global Business

Japanese companies have unique cultural, communication, and operational challenges. But they also have values that have led to remarkable longevity. Check out this seminar to hear how these values help earn trust from overseas head offices and develop employees.

Turnaround Leadership: The Differences Between Japan and the West

What's the best way for leaders to communicate a shift in corporate strategy? How do you even know when it's time for such a change? This course explains how Japan might have one answer, Western companies another.

Leadership with Passion through Kokorozashi

The key ingredient to success? Passion.

Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

Understanding how to do business in Japan can be a challenge, particularly for people new to the country. Many practices and concepts seem paradoxical, at best.

But it’s often said that if you can do business in Japan, you can do it anywhere.

For a little insight into Japanese business culture, we asked GLOBIS University faculty to share how they train GLOBIS University MBA students to understand the country’s business mindset. They spoke on three key areas:

Using Japanese Values to Thrive in Global Business

Japanese companies have unique cultural, communication, and operational challenges. But they also have values that have led to remarkable longevity. Check out this seminar to hear how these values help earn trust from overseas head offices and develop employees.

  • Leadership
  • Stakeholder responsibility
  • Innovation

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Japanese Working Culture: The Good, the Bad, and the Getting Better

Japanese working culture is notorious for strict business practices, lack of transparency, and slow decision-making. But employees are getting fed up, and things are changing.
Office workers in uniform suits crossing a street on their way to the office, a common sight in Japanese working culture

How to Live Happily Ever After in Japan’s High-Context Culture

Understanding Japan’s high-context culture requires understanding of cross-cultural communication in both formal and social settings.
Black-and-white image of Japanese people riding escalators with strict etiquette to stand on the right side, observing a high-context culture norm

The Business Mindset of Japanese Leaders: Long-term Expectations vs. Short-term Incentives

One conventional (or rather, Western) business practice is that business leaders should motivate employees with financial incentives. However, things don’t always work that way in a Japanese company.

A senior person in a typical Japanese office does not give orders with a promise of a raise if those orders are filled out. Rather, he or she will roll up their sleeves and work together with their staff to get things done.

That’s why salary increases come incrementally over time (rather than as short-term rewards), and also why lifetime employment was the norm in Japanese society for so long. Japanese people put a great deal of emphasis on building personal, human relationships with team members. Companies are considered places of business, but also social communities.

GLOBIS faculty share insights into Japanese business etiquette with MBA students.
Tomoya Nakamura walks MBA students through the Tessei case study. | ©GLOBIS

Case Study: The Japanese Business Culture of Community

GLOBIS USA president and long-time lecturer Tomoya Nakamura has a go-to lesson on how a change in leadership style can revive a company: the HBS case “Trouble at Tessei.”

The now-famous custodians who perform the “seven-minute miracle” to clean the Shinkansen bullet trains in record time did not always take pride in their work or enjoy a positive public image. There was a time when morale was low.

Then Teruo Yabe took over and revitalized the company. His incentives went beyond the financial. He reasoned that if he, as a leader, could logically and emotionally understand the work, recognize and evaluate good work, and, most importantly, instill a sense of pride in those doing the work, everything would get better.

In other words, he employed leadership with passion and empathy to improve the situation.

Leadership with Passion through Kokorozashi

The key ingredient to success? Passion.

Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

Japanese Business Culture: Stakeholders & Community

Japan is no stranger to the devastation of natural disasters, particularly earthquakes. Companies in affected regions are expected to harmonize with locals in the best and worst of times—it’s not just about a business relationship.

But businesses often face a difficult decision when local community expectations conflict with other management goals.

This is a challenge for social entrepreneurs everywhere, not only those in disaster-affected areas. Social-purpose companies have to manage expectations from various stakeholders: funders, beneficiaries, volunteers, and paid staff, as well as founders and partners. But they also have a responsibility to fulfill their core mission of impact.

Case Study: A Sense for Social Entrepreneurship

After the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, local survivors supported each other in the face of widespread destruction of infrastructure. Business owners in these communities faced challenges balancing the needs of stakeholders.

But that doesn’t mean it was easy.

Reiji Yamanaka, who teaches social entrepreneurship at GLOBIS University, shares the case of Ishinomaki Kobo and Herman Miller to demonstrate this challenge.

Ishinomaki was a region devastated by the March 11 disaster. Keiji Ashizawa, an entrepreneur, enlisted the help of Herman Miller to start a furniture manufacturing business. Management had to walk a fine line between financial growth and greater purpose. Yes, they wanted profit. But more than that, the goal was to create local jobs and assist residents in rebuilding their homes.

Social entrepreneurship comes with a responsibility to stakeholders, but it doesn’t mean having to choose either people or profit for successful business.

GLOBIS lecturer speaks to MBA students about social entrepreneurship.
Reiji Yamanaka speaks to MBA students about social entrepreneurship. | ©GLOBIS

A Business Mindset for Exponential Innovation: Diversity & Kaizen

Students of Japanese business may know of the Toyota Business Principles and the Toyota Way. Perhaps the most famous part of this is kaizen: gradual, incremental improvement or innovation.

Some kaizen procedures directly impact the decision-making process for innovation:

  • saki-yomi, reading the future, being ahead of the game
  • koma-yomi, reading the game, being able to predict the moves of each individual player
  • soi-kufuu, ingenuity
GLOBIS lecturer teaches a lesson on innovation
Cristian Vlad gives a lesson on innovation. | ©GLOBIS

Innovation takes time. But sometimes, you can’t afford to innovate incrementally to improve your business. You may need to start from scratch, as Toyota did when developing the Prius.

In cases like this, diversity—whether it’s diversity of thought, experience, culture, or something else—can be a great resource to stimulate new ideas and innovation exponentially.

Ecosystems of open innovation invite customers, thought leaders, and developers to co-create products and services. It’s the ultimate environment for continuous innovation.

Innovating something one time may be attributed to luck. Repetitive innovation is often the result of thinking about and developing a process for continued growth.

Next Article

Unspoken Rules: How to Read the Air in Japanese Companies

Unspoken rules guide group harmony in Japanese business, and those who fail to understand them are often labeled “KY.” But it’s time for a change.
Black and white image of Japanese businessmen walking in a group, following unspoken rules of Japanese corporate culture

Case Study: Diversity Anywhere You Can Find It

Cristian Vlad, originally from Romania, has lived and worked in Japan for over twenty years. Some of that time was spent working at Toyota. Now he uses observations on a number of companies to teach MBA students about the Japanese business mindset toward innovation: the Sheraton Marina Bay in Okinawa and Toyota’s Window to the World project, to name a few.

An age of digitalization is opening new doors for reliable Japanese business practices to generate greater innovation than ever before.

Paradoxical Thinking: Accepting the Existence of Opposites

Japan tends to befuddle outsiders—even economists.

Turnaround Leadership: The Differences Between Japan and the West

What's the best way for leaders to communicate a shift in corporate strategy? How do you even know when it's time for such a change? This course explains how Japan might have one answer, Western companies another.

For decades, the country has had a weak economy, but low unemployment. Despite almost zero interest rates, there’s weak investment. GLOBIS lecturer Tadahiro Wakasugi explains that Japanese business culture thrives on an acceptance of dichotomy, embracing yin and yang, good and bad, A and B.

GLOBIS University MBA students discuss the unique elements of culture in a typical Japanese office
Tadahiro Wakasugi’s MBA students discuss the unique elements of Japanese culture. | ©GLOBIS

What does this mean for business leaders coming to and working in Japan?

It may mean opening up to a new business mindset, even if it’s uncomfortable or seems illogical. As with any cross-cultural encounter, the key lies in first understanding yourself, then understanding the other, and finally looking for ways to create something new and beneficial.

In this way, the value of Japanese business culture can be enjoyed anywhere in the world.

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