Differences between East and West
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I've been to Japan several times over the years on business and have had the
privilege of seeing Japanese work habits first hand, which are noticeably
different than in the United States. As a small example, the first time I
visited, I noticed that in addition to having Coke and Pepsi machines on a
street corner, there were also beer and whiskey machines. I discovered the
Japanese were not worried about the youth getting alcohol from the machines as
it would cause their families to "lose face" through embarrassment. If we had
such machines in this country, they would probably be emptied by our youth
faster than the vendors could stock them.
Aside from this though, there are a few other differences I observed in
1. Japanese do not like to say "No" to someone as they do not want to offend
the person. Instead, they tend to say, "Maybe Yes," which, when translated,
means "No." If they nod their heads in the affirmative, it only means they
understand what you are saying but they don't necessarily agree with you.
Because of this, it is not uncommon for American businessmen to fool themselves
into believing they are being successful when they make a presentation in
Japan. In reality, the Japanese understood the presentation but need time to
digest and discuss it amongst themselves. If an American asks them something
like, "Was I correct in this regards?" If they answer, "Maybe Yes," the
American is in trouble.
2. I've been in a few large offices in Japan where I have seen young employees
suddenly jump up on their desks and give a five minute speech on why he is proud
of his company and what a pleasure it is to work with his coworkers. When
finished, the rest of the office politely applauds before returning to their
3. It is not proper for an employee to be insolent and openly criticize his
superior. Knowing this may lead to pent up frustrations, some companies have
small closet-sized rooms where the disgruntled employee can go into, close the
door, and quietly beat an effigy of the boss with a bamboo stick. It may sound
kind of silly, then again, you don't hear of anyone going "postal" in Japan
4. It is still important for the Japanese to reach a consensus on any
significant decision. This process may take some time to perform, but they want
to emphasize team building and inclusion of employees in the decision making
5. When you join a major company in Japan it is common to first "pay your
dues," whereby you and your "class" (those who joined at the same time) are put
on the same employment level and work for ten years, after which it is
determined who the hard workers are and reward them with a major job promotion.
If you didn't work hard, the company won't necessarily fire you, but your
advancement in the company is arrested. Nonetheless, the emphasis here is on
teamwork and creating a spirit of cooperation.
In the United States though, things are a little different...
1. Americans are not afraid of offending anyone. So much so, that "Hell No!"
(or stronger) is a natural part of our vernacular. Unlike the Japanese who
digest something before speaking, Americans do not hesitate to tell you whether
they agree with you or not.
2. Rarely do you find an American employee who is steadfastly loyal to his
company. Instead, it is more likely he will start an anonymous blog to bitch
about his company and slander the character of the boss and his coworkers.
3. Americans tend to vent their frustrations more publicly than the Japanese.
For example, you might get attacked in the company parking lot, or someone may
pull a gun out and start shooting.
4. Instead of group decision making, Americans prefer rugged individualism
whereby decisions tend to be made unilaterally as opposed to seeking the counsel
of others. Consequently, employees tend to undermine any decision which is
jammed down their throats.
5. When you join a major company in the United States, you are rewarded more
for individual acts as opposed to team playing. This results in a never ending
game of scratching and clawing your way up the corporate hierarchy. Obviously,
this approach promotes interoffice politics and cutthroat tactics as opposed to
a spirit of cooperation.
Why the substantial differences? Primarily because Japan is a homogeneous
culture, and the American "melting pot" is heterogeneous which includes people
of all races, faiths, and beliefs.
Although the differences between east and west are noticeable, things are slowly
changing in Japan, whose youth have grown up with the Internet and are starting
to emulate the work habits of their counterparts in the west. In other words,
instead of observing courtesy, honor and respect, Japan is slowly becoming
Westernized and I fear that some time in the not too distant future "Maybe Yes"
will mean nothing more than that.
Copyright © 2009 Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of
M. Bryce & Associates
(MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the
management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2009-11-29 22:02:21 in Personal Articles