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COMING TO TERMS WITH JAPANESE MANAGEMENT

by Rene T. Domingo (email comments to rtd@aim.edu)

To our surprise and confusion, we oftentimes find the Japanese businessman and salaryman behaving differently from us. It is easy to blame cultural differences for these mysteries. But more importantly, the implicit meanings of many business terms and concepts they use and take for granted can enlighten us on why they can behave and succeed as they do. After living and working with them for years, I have collected and organized the following short glossary.

BAR - not only a place to drink, but also a place of immunity because here you can shout at your boss and he can strike you in return while everybody else is singing.

BONUS - a sizable chunk of the annual salary that is witheld and only paid during the holidays so that the employees can have something to spend and thank the company for.

BUCHO - the division manager post, before becoming a company director, for those who have almost made it, after waiting for 2 decades; nobody minds or dares to mind his reading the newspaper in the office the whole day; at this level, he can afford to doze off during meetings and wrap it up at the end.

BUSINESS TRIP - a disguised military mission with the objective of bringing back intelligence information, a closed contract, or the head of the enemy; those who fail are sent on an indefinite foreign assignment without a return ticket.

CALLING CARD - the license to meet anybody and transact business; forgetting to bring one is like forgetting your own name.

CAR - the family aeroplane normally left in the garage (hangar) while you take the subway to work because there are no carports to land it on in the city.

CLIQUES - the school-based shadow organization that runs Japanese corporations

COCKTAIL PARTY - a beer-drinking social gathering where nobody can leave until somebody (usually the most sober) officially announces over the microphone that it's over.

COFFEE BREAK - the only time to think and talk about work without working.

COMMUNICATION - inter-office communication comes from: meetings (35%), conversation (25%), telephone calls (20%), singing and drinking (15%), written memos and reports (5%).

COMPANY - a comfortable corporate penitentiary where one can enjoy a life sentence with allowances if he shows good behavior; a place where life and loyalty begin and end; the most important decisions in a Japanese salaryman's life are, in order of priority: selecting a company, a school, and a wife.

COMPETITOR - a necessary evil that drives a company to perfection and must not be totally destroyed as a rule; a sparring partner in prosperity.

CONSENSUS - the result of 99% compliance and 1% compromise.

CONTRACT - a paper of intent that signifies that both parties will do their best to fulfill its terms and conditions; it also implies that should events unfold such that the contract would provide undue advantage to one party to the detriment of the other, a new contract must be drafted to remove the threat and danger to the latter and maintain equality and fairness.

COST - a potential profit; a key index of mismanagement.

CUSTOMER - a necessary good that drives a company to perfection and must be satisifed at all costs and all times; a well-managed company is run by its customers.

DECISION - the final output of laborious group thinking with an implied commitment of the group to sacrifice its leader and then themselves should it fail.

DEFECT - a visible symptom of the worker's failure to do his work because of the manager's failure to manage.

DELIVERY - the final value added to the product so that it may be used and paid by the customer.

DESK - a status symbol in the office; two things determine the status of its owner: its location and amount of clutter on it; if two desks are in the same central location, the one with the less clutter is higher ranking but the one with the most cluttered desk in the office is most likely soon due for promotion. An empty desk near the window is just it: an empty desk - its owner need not come and occupy it.

DIRECTOR - the position which entitles one to represent the company in official business, to have a private room, and to share a secretary with two other directors.

DIVIDEND - whatever is left from profit after the company has reinvested most of it in operations and employees' benefits.

ENGLISH - the native language of all white foreigners, and the second language of all other foreigners.

EXPORT - the inalienable right of every Japanese corporation implicitly guaranteed by the Japanese Bill of Rights; a nationalistic, heroic duty of all Japanese businesses.

FOREIGNER - one who speaks English fluently.

GOLF - a popular game that the Japanese salaryman plays everyday - while in a foreign country - because in Japan only the top 100 taxpayers can afford to play it.

GOVERNMENT - the organization which decides the rules and objectives of the business game and who your real enemies are after you have sparred with your local competitor.

HANKO - the duly registered personal seal used by all Japanese to sign (stamp) all official papers; the 11th finger of all Japanese that they keep in their pockets or purses while working or traveling; signatures done with the other fingers are not valid.

HUSBAND - somebody a new female employee must seek in the company within 4 years while serving tea.

IMPORT - something made and used by foreigners, and therefore, could be unsafe or unsuitable for the ordinary Japanese.

IMPORT BARRIERS - trade land mines in Japan which a foreign exporter can only complain about but cannot see and, therefore, cannot remove; if he survives the bureaucratic land mines, the final and deadliest ones are the 120 million land mines in the minds of the import-phobic Japanese consumers.

INSPECTION - a task done at the end of the production line when workers cannot be trusted.

INTEREST - the easy money made by creditors from a company's bad investment and inventory decisions.

INVENTORY - a convenient place to hide inefficiencies, mistakes and excess capacity.

JAPANESE - somebody born of Japanese parents, raised and educated in Japan, and should not speak good English (even if he can) and has never been on foreign assignment for more than a year; those unqualified as such are considered foreigners for practical purposes.

KACHO - the first non-union supervisory position obtained after a decade of hard work and waiting; the very powerful corporate lieutenants who run and rule the corporate infantrymen (salarymen) and the company as well since they are the bottom managers who make the decisions in the Japanese bottom-up management system.

KARAOKE - a musical opportunity to prove that you and your boss can do something together: sing out of tune harmoniously.

LABOR - the most valuable company asset that does not appear on the left side of the balance sheet.

LAND - a commodity so expensive that it makes the Japanese tenants in their own country; next to labor, probably the most valuable company asset.

LAYOFF- a distasteful and agonizing way of eliminating excess labor; whereas in other countries, laying-off people is as easy a decision as getting a haircut, in Japan, it is as difficult as amputating an arm to save the body.

LOSS - a temporary setback; an opportunity to learn from; an investment in experience; a prelude to profits

LOYALTY - the most important thing an employee can and must give to his company which has a much higher value than his work, skills, and experience; loyalty training is a continuous process.

LUNCH- the one-hour noontime break during which 15 minutes are spent queuing in the cafeteria, 5 minutes in gulping down food, and the remaining 40 minutes with the choice of 1) playing in the gym 2) napping over one's desk or 3) resuming one's work.

MANAGER - one who can create an environment where people can work together as a team.

MARRIAGE - an inconvenient prerequisite for promotion and bigger responsibilities in the company.

MEETING - the only opportunity to diasgree, verify information at hand, build up the majority (diminish and win over the minority), and find the acceptable, though not necessarily the best, solutions to agreed-upon problems.

MINORITY - the group that supports the majority without agreeing with it.

MITI - the prestigious and powerful government agency that can compete with (and win over) the sogo shosha's in getting the top graduates of Japan's top universities.

MORNING MEETING - the daily morning prayer of each section or department from which each working day derives meaning, purpose, and direction.

NEGOTIATION - 90% of the time spent on getting information about the other party's weaknesses without his knowledge, and 10% in getting him to agree with the deal.

NEW YEAR - the time to remember and thank those who did you favors (business or personal) in the past year so that you can get more in the coming year.

OBSOLESCENCE - the excuse to innovate things continuously; in production, anything that works is considered obsolete; in marketing, a product once sold becomes obsolete.

OFFICE - a huge wall-less room where one can visualize the company's organization chart; the more centrally located your desk is, the higher your rank; female and new employees are located near the doors to entertain strangers, while incompetent employees, near the windows so that they may not receive any work and fully enjoy the view outside.

OPPOSITION - the art of disagreeing agreeably.

OVERTIME - unpaid, extra work done regularly while waiting for the boss to leave.

PACHINGKO - a pin-ball game which serves as substitute amusement for bar-hopping, done after office hours to make your wife and your neighbors believe that you've always worked long overtime.

PLAN - a piece of paper showing the way to reach an objective; it is normally kept on the shelf and used only in very rare occasions when everybody suddenly forgets what is to be done.

PRESIDENT - usually the most senior manager with the least number of enemies in the company.

PRICE - the value attached by the customer to a product rather than by its manufacturer.

PRODUCT - the tip of the iceberg from which the customer judges the company (the iceberg) behind it.

PRODUCTIVITY - getting the required output using the least inputs; NOT: getting the most output from the available inputs.

PROFIT - the lucky result from the positive difference between the customer's judgment -sales- and the company's efforts - costs.

PROMOTION - an unexpected, unsought award for loyalty, patience, fair-play, good human relations, and old age.

QUALITY - the only thing that makes any product itself; an integral feature that is embodied into the product and not an option that is inspected and compromised.

RETIREMENT - the inevitable day of judgment when the 55 year old retiree will have to judge whether he will set up a noodle shop with his retirement pay or live with one of his children.

SALARY - a sort of monetary appreciation of the company for one's loyalty and dedication to work.

SALARYMAN - the corporate infantryman ready to fight and die - with or without pay; a misnomer since he is not driven by salaries

SALES - the customer's final verdict regarding a company's product and efforts.

SENIORITY - a fairly direct measurement of one's experience and contribution to the company which is awarded with promotion.

SOGO SHOSHA - in foreign countries, the de facto commercial attache of Japan masquerading as a general trading company; in remote countries where it has offices and the Japanese government has none, it acts as the de facto embassy.

STOCKHOLDER - usually a company's owners, financiers, creditors, debtors, customers, and suppliers rolled into one.

STRIKE - a peaceful, well-rehearsed, scheduled act of labor (with management's approval) to ensure and show the public that the company listens to the employees' grievances.

SUPPLIER - an equal partner in business that a company should assist and train so that it may offer better quality and lower prices.

TEACHER - the official broker between the fresh graduates and the corporate recruiters; he collects no fees, however.

TOKYO - the center of the Japanese corporate solar system; a post or assignment in this city is considered a promotion, no matter what the job is; a change of assignment from Tokyo to any other city inside or outside Japan, e.g., Osaka or New York, is considered a demotion or a prelude to one.

TRAINING - what the company's does to its employees so that they may imbibe the corporate philosophy, forget their other loyalties, and unlearn bad habits and knowledge mostly acquired in school; it is an unlearning rather than a learning process.

U.S.A. - a unique country looked upon by Japanese business as the biggest competitor, customer, and mentor combined; MODUS VIVENDI: Learn from it, compete with it, sell to it.

WEEKEND - the only time to be with one's family and be physically absent from the office or factory without being mentally absent.

WORK - a solemn daily prayer that ends with a sense of expectation and fulfilment; the regular giving up of oneself or part of it for the company's prosperity and future


 

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