Business Management Articles / Asian
and Business Management
COMING TO TERMS WITH JAPANESE MANAGEMENT
Rene T. Domingo (email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)
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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
CARD - the license to meet anybody and transact
business; forgetting to bring one is like
forgetting your own name.
- 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.
- the school-based shadow organization that
runs Japanese corporations
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.
BREAK - the only time to think and talk about
work without working.
- inter-office communication comes from: meetings
(35%), conversation (25%), telephone calls
(20%), singing and drinking (15%), written
memos and reports (5%).
- 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.
- a necessary evil that drives a company to
perfection and must not be totally destroyed
as a rule; a sparring partner in prosperity.
- the result of 99% compliance and 1% compromise.
- 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.
- a potential profit; a key index of mismanagement.
- 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.
- the final output of laborious group thinking
with an implied commitment of the group to
sacrifice its leader and then themselves should
- a visible symptom of the worker's failure
to do his work because of the manager's failure
- the final value added to the product so
that it may be used and paid by the customer.
- 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
- 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.
- whatever is left from profit after the company
has reinvested most of it in operations and
- the native language of all white foreigners,
and the second language of all other foreigners.
- the inalienable right of every Japanese
corporation implicitly guaranteed by the Japanese
Bill of Rights; a nationalistic, heroic duty
of all Japanese businesses.
- one who speaks English fluently.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- somebody a new female employee must seek
in the company within 4 years while serving
- something made and used by foreigners, and
therefore, could be unsafe or unsuitable for
the ordinary Japanese.
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
- a task done at the end of the production
line when workers cannot be trusted.
- the easy money made by creditors from a
company's bad investment and inventory decisions.
- a convenient place to hide inefficiencies,
mistakes and excess capacity.
- 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.
- 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.
- a musical opportunity to prove that you
and your boss can do something together: sing
out of tune harmoniously.
- the most valuable company asset that does
not appear on the left side of the balance
- a commodity so expensive that it makes the
Japanese tenants in their own country; next
to labor, probably the most valuable company
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.
- a temporary setback; an opportunity to learn
from; an investment in experience; a prelude
- 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.
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 who can create an environment where
people can work together as a team.
- an inconvenient prerequisite for promotion
and bigger responsibilities in the company.
- 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.
- the group that supports the majority without
agreeing with it.
- 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.
MEETING - the daily morning prayer of each
section or department from which each working
day derives meaning, purpose, and direction.
- 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.
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.
- the excuse to innovate things continuously;
in production, anything that works is considered
obsolete; in marketing, a product once sold
- 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.
- the art of disagreeing agreeably.
- unpaid, extra work done regularly while
waiting for the boss to leave.
- 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.
- 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.
- usually the most senior manager with the
least number of enemies in the company.
- the value attached by the customer to a
product rather than by its manufacturer.
- the tip of the iceberg from which the customer
judges the company (the iceberg) behind it.
- getting the required output using the least
inputs; NOT: getting the most output from
the available inputs.
- the lucky result from the positive difference
between the customer's judgment -sales- and
the company's efforts - costs.
- an unexpected, unsought award for loyalty,
patience, fair-play, good human relations,
and old age.
- the only thing that makes any product itself;
an integral feature that is embodied into
the product and not an option that is inspected
- 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.
- a sort of monetary appreciation of the company
for one's loyalty and dedication to work.
- the corporate infantryman ready to fight
and die - with or without pay; a misnomer
since he is not driven by salaries
- the customer's final verdict regarding a
company's product and efforts.
- a fairly direct measurement of one's experience
and contribution to the company which is awarded
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.
- usually a company's owners, financiers,
creditors, debtors, customers, and suppliers
rolled into one.
- 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.
- an equal partner in business that a company
should assist and train so that it may offer
better quality and lower prices.
- the official broker between the fresh graduates
and the corporate recruiters; he collects
no fees, however.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- the only time to be with one's family and
be physically absent from the office or factory
without being mentally absent.
- 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