A red pagoda stands across a city from a modern tower, showing the endurance of Japanese values in modern times
iStock/SeanPavonePhoto

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.

Every company founder dreams that someday theirs will be one of the oldest companies in the world. After all, longevity is a clear sign of success. It proves that not only your product, but also your leadership, culture, and values stand the test of time.

Among Statista’s list of the oldest twenty companies still operating worldwide—organizations that have maintained continuous operation for centuries—are several Japanese names. There’s construction company Kongo Gumi (founded in 578), traditional Japanese inn Koman (founded in 707), and Buddhist goods producer Tanaka-Iga (founded in 885). Some of their secrets can be guessed at (many are family run, for example). But what truly unites these and other organizations that have stood the test of time is a set of Japanese values which they hold dear.

Japanese Values in Business

GLOBIS University attracts business students from all over the world eager to learn from Japanese business practices past and present. One group recently studied the Japanese values recurring in 300-year-old companies:

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.

• A customer-first mentality
• Value placed on people
• Respect for local regions
• Lawfulness

These each reflect some of the strongest aspects of Japanese society and Japanese culture. While the Japanese concept of omotenashi is famous for its customer-centric approach to hospitality, the other values in this list may run deeper than you think.

Value Placed on People

If there’s one thing modern companies could use a lot more of, it’s respect for people. That’s something your company will unquestionably need if you want it to exist for a long time.

Gekkeikan, a sake company started in 1637, treats all employees with respect—even after they’re gone. The company performs Buddhist memorial services annually for every former employee that has passed away. This simple act shows that the company treats staff with respect for their entire lives and beyond.

Next Article

3 Common Elements of Community-Driven Companies That Actually Last

It is possible to build or even maintain a community when people are distributed, working across time zones, and facing the disruption of a pandemic? Yes. Here’s how.
A group of people face each other with gears in thought bubbles over their heads

4 Japanese Secrets to Break the Business Life Cycle

The business life cycle dictates that companies are doomed to eventual decline. But these 4 secrets from centuries-old Japanese companies can keep your business growing even after you’re gone.
Long corridor of a Japanese temple

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

Finally, there is one common practice for nurturing people among enduring companies: the apprentice system.

At trading company Okaya & Co., Ltd. and architecture firm Takenaka Corporation, all new hires enter a dorm as apprentices. This encourages team spirit and helps foster good communication among employees.

At Gekkeikan, too, even in the age of digitalization, new hires learn the traditional ways of making rice wine. Yamato Intec, a cast metal company in Nagano, requires all new staff to work in the factory for five years, regardless of position or academic background. Reportedly, after these five years have passed, everybody in the company has learned to love the smell of cast metal!

Japanese people put a lot of value on the power of community. Until recently, lengthy training periods, sports festivals, and clubs were seen at all companies in Japan. Increasingly, these activities are being abolished to reduce costs, and that’s leading to problems such as a lack of communication.

The oldest companies in the world respect traditional values often overlooked by newer firms, and much of that means valuing people.

Respect for Local Regions: Taking CSR to CCV

Enduring companies embrace the core Japanese value of long-term coexistence with business partners. Even if there is a short-term loss, they decide that, since they have benefitted from their partners’ assistance in the past, it is OK to incur a loss now to maintain a lasting relationship. Charitable donations don’t just come when times are good—they happen continually.

The oldest businesses have learned an important secret to success: Their mere existence can provide value to the local community.

Companies that last for 100 years or more are conscious of corporate social responsibility (CSR). In fact, they’ve long showed signs of going above and beyond performative measures for community coexistence value (CCV) management.

Gekkeikan, for example, holds a deep sense of gratitude toward the regions where they operate. Historically, presidents of Gekkeikan have served in over eighty official posts in local regions and industries. They are constantly planning ways to give back to the community, donating money to build fire stations and hospitals, even setting up scholarships for local students.

Over time, Gekkeikan has become an invaluable part of the local community. And that value on coexistence has helped them continuously operate for centuries.

Japanese businesses retain a sense of humility and respect for the unknown. | iStock/Thomas Faull

Lawfulness: Good Governance & Humility

All companies want to avoid scandals. However, studies show that companies with over 300 years of history tend to have governance systems based on extremely high ethical standards. Although the culture of shame may play a role here, you end up with a system that continually encourages ethical behavior throughout the company. This is critical.

For example, if you contribute to a local region by hosting a festival, you gain the trust of the people. Once you have that trust, you’ll want to keep it.

Many enduring companies also treat traditional customs such as Shinto and Buddhist rituals with the utmost respect. Soy sauce manufacturer Higeta Shoyu (founded in 1606) has an in-house Shinto shrine. Newer companies, as well—household names such as Sony, Panasonic, and Kao—maintain shrines in the workplace. Through this, they acknowledge the existence of the gods every day.

There is value in humility, in constantly acknowledging something greater than yourself.

How Japanese Values Influence Global Management

Japanese values bring a resilience to organizations even beyond the country’s borders.

For decades, Japanese companies have built factories across Southeast Asia and China. If these companies were branching out simply to take advantage of places where labor costs were cheaper, they would never earn the respect of the local people, nor be able to retain talented workers. True globalization must continuously and consistently provide value to local areas during good times and bad. In turn, both sides can mutually reap the benefits.

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.

After a devastating flood in Thailand in 2011, Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota, went to the affected areas and said, “No matter what happens, we will not abandon this land.”

President Toyoda must have been aware of the fact that you cannot practice sound management only during the good times. It is when crisis strikes that corporations can truly take the lead.

Connect with Insights

Trouble keeping up with all the insights? Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly career inspiration right in your inbox!
Your newsletter subscription with us is subject to the GLOBIS Privacy Policy.