"JAPAN CLOSE-UP", September 2004, published by PHP
How Japanese Companies Can Win in the World
By Masaomi Ise
Once Ifd left Japan by airplane, in less than three hours I arrived at Chinafs Tianjin International Airport, with hardly enough time for leisurely enjoyment of the food and drink on the plane. It made me realize anew that China is actually a neighboring country of Japan. Then, when I visited a Japanese corporation in Tianjin, there were so many people who spoke both Chinese and Japanese skillfully, that it was impossible to tell whether they were Chinese people who spoke good Japanese, or Japanese people who were fluent in Chinese, until we exchanged name cards and I could check their family names.
However, at the same time, along with the fact that there are growing opportunities to have contact with Chinese people in Japan, I have also had many opportunities to appreciate the fact that Chinese people and Japanese people are completely different types. I often hear stories of people who feel that they were betrayed by Chinese people, after having shown them great kindness, and there are not a few university professors who are put out by Chinese students who show no self-restraint.
The Chinese Youth Who Started Working in the Shop Next Door
Mr. Kong Jian, the 75th direct descendant of Confucius, who is currently contributing to cultural exchanges between Japan and China, heard this story from a Japanese manager of a Chinese restaurant in Japan.
gA young Chinese man had been working for us for about six months. He said he was hard up, so thatfs why I employed him. I worked hard to have him learn the work, along with teaching him Japanese. But just when I thought hefd got quite used to it, recently he suddenly moved to working for the restaurant next door! As soon as this boy heard that the hourly pay at the place next door was a dollar higher, he went for an interview and quickly decided to change jobs. And there was no apology at all! When we happened to meet the day after hefd switched jobs, he greeted me with ehello, teacher!f with no embarrassment at all! Ifd helped him out in Japan, a place he wasnft used to, so I expected him to feel a debt of gratitude, and thought he should feel at least feel a little bit guilty, donft you agree?h These were the managerfs views.
The gCommon Senseh of a Farming People
In Japan there is the system of paying a newcomer more than they are actually worth, with the goal of training them over a long period of time to become a first-class chef. Until they become properly qualified, the cost is borne by the establishment, and in return, once they become fully fledged in their profession, they are expected to give something back to the shop. Then after that they are allowed to use the name of the restaurant to set up their own place, and maintain the relationship of helping each other. In other words, it is a long-term give-and-take relationship. The Japanese manager mentioned above, even if he was not consciously aware of this system, nevertheless firmly believes that this is gcommon sense.h And he feels in conflict with the Chinese youth who trampled on this idea and showed a glack of common sense.h
In contrast, Chinese people believe that a give-and-take relationship must be newly established from moment to moment. From the viewpoint of the Chinese youth, his own pay should match his own current labor, and so to move somewhere where the pay is a dollar better per hour is, in fact, gcommon sense.h That is why, when this young man happened to meet his former employer, he felt able to greet him without any sense of embarrassment at all.
Both the Japanese manager and the young Chinese man simply followed their own respective ideas of gcommon sense.h However, we need to be aware that, according to a personfs own circumstances, their individual belief in what constitutes gcommon senseh may be totally different.
Horse-rider-type Chinese Business Style
Once Kong Jian visited an equipment shop in Fujian Province. He touched various things to see if he wanted to buy them or not. Since there was nothing he wanted, he made to leave the shop. At that moment the shop owner changed his facial expression and said, gArenft you going to buy anything, Sir?h When he replied gNo, therefs nothing I like,h the shop owner, who until then had been grinning, put a frightening look on his face, saying gThat wonft do. You touched some things, so theyfre dirty now and I wonft be able to sell them. You owe me the money for having touched them.h
In China there is basically no idea of established, regular customers. To put it extremely, the customer is different every time, and whether a product is good or bad, anyway the point is to sell it. For customers as well, they donft buy things because they trust that particular shop, but only after really close examination of each product. Moreover, if there is any kind of damage, they buy it only after a major cost reduction has been negotiated. They do not trust the shop.
Through managing to survive battlefields where one continually challenges and is challenged, Chinese people have become geniuses at business. However, what happens when they try this kind of challenging, threatening business style in Japan? They get a bad reputation, which will spread rapidly, and from the following day all their customers will stop coming. That is because, among traditionally farming people like the Japanese, in business profits must be made even while maintaining long-term relationships with customers, based on the principles of trust and loyalty.
How to Tell Chinese People and Japanese People Apart
The habits of horse-riding people reveal themselves even in their daily mannerisms. That is why Kong Jian is able to distinguish between Japanese and Chinese people, with a success rate of 90% or more. One day, he was walking with a Japanese friend in a crowded part of Shinjuku. He saw an Oriental woman who was standing about 30 meters away, and said, gThe woman who is standing over there wearing the red outfit is Chinese.h His surprised friend replied with great doubt, gReally? I think she is Japanese, for sure.h Kong Jian approached the woman and asked her the time in Chinese, and she duly replied in Chinese.
Many Chinese people, who have the habits of horse-riding people, have constantly darting eye movements and are always careful to be aware of what is happening around them. That is because they donft know when they might be attacked by an enemy. So they inevitably have their eyes sharply focused and are alert. These are eyes that are searching for some kind of food (prey), or to see if anything has fallen down. Unless they do this, they might not survive till tomorrow; this habit has stuck with them.
Since Japanese are traditionally an agricultural people, everyone they meet was from the same village, and an enemy was not likely to suddenly appear, so they do not have a self-protection mindset. Since there is no need to find prey, they also do not have eyes that are constantly searching the neighborhood. The power of observation of Japanese people is superior in its ability to scan crops in detail to check their condition, and its sensitivity to changes in the seasons, from this background as a farming people. When Japanese people, with no spirit of self-protection, go overseas, it is not surprising that they are seen as ideal prey for robbers and pickpockets.
The Trap of the gArdent Welcomeh
When Japanese businesspeople try to make a tie-up with a Chinese company and visit China for the first time, the Chinese side gives them a passionate welcome, with hugs and handshakes. From that evening on, every day and every night, there are lavish welcome parties. They talk endlessly about just how valuable their existence is for the Japanese corporation. So even Japanese people who had felt some concern up until that point lose their fear and start to trust their companions unconditionally. Japanese people, with their farming race background, tend to feel suspicious of people they meet for the first time, seeing them as outsiders. So it inevitably happens that they feel awkward with people they are meeting for the first time. This tendency gets destroyed by the gpassionate welcomeh of these horse-riding people.
But there are many Japanese businesspeople who feel disappointed because gChinese people are really affectionate only in the beginning, and then they soon become cold.h Thirty years ago, in the negotiations to normalize diplomatic relations between Japan and China, Kakuei Tanaka, the Prime Minister of Japan at the time, and his delegation visited China. They were treated with the above kind of gpassionate welcomeh and became enamored of this, but after that ended up having to spend enormous sums of money on ODA for China.
The Difficulty in Gaining Mutual Understanding Between Japan and China
Japanese people have lived peacefully for thousands of years on the islands of Japan, blessed by abundant nature. The first ruling dynasty to unify the country by chance thought of the people of the country as a treasure, a rare way of thinking in ancient times. The people were very lucky to experience happiness for a long time, when the country was unified under this dynasty as if it were one big village living in peace and plenty - an unusual situation for the times. There were sometimes wars, but compared with the disturbances that affected the whole continent of China, they were nothing more than gsquabbles between family members.h If we compare Japan and China, which has experienced ups and downs through a long history of war and political battles, in contrast to the close geographical and physical similarities between the two peoples, there are clear differences in sense of values and ways of handing relationships with other people.
Also, Chinese people have the belief of gCelestial Empire thinking,h whereby their own culture is considered to be central to the world, and they do not take the stance of wanting to understand or respect the cultures of other peoples. Japanese people also have little experience of going beyond the borders of small Japan, and are not good at relating to people from the outside. This point makes mutual understanding more difficult on both sides.
Amidst the Flow of Globalization
Companies that provide top-quality products or services in every corner of the world, such as Toyota, IBM, Seven Eleven and MacDonald, dominate the market as part of their global plans. Having a brand means having trust from the customer, and indeed it is the very agricultural people-type management stance, which stresses long-term relationships of trust with customers or clients, that is an essential element in success as a global organization. If a Chinese corporation aims for global success, it will have to learn the agricultural people-type business style in order to be able to sell trust and service.
At the same time, for Japanese companies, respecting the stance that loyally pursues customer trust is the shortcut remaining to the achievement of success in the global marketplace. Having said that, in order to reach that point, they must compete in markets in which there are different kinds of personalities, such as Chinafs. In daily life as well, Japanese people must get along with people with a horse-riding people-type mindset. Even while polishing up such Japanese-like qualities as loyalty and diligence, which are also traditionally typical of Japanese companies, Japanese people must live by having enough wisdom to hold our own to horse riding-type peoples. That is the way to become truly international Japanese people or internationally minded Japanese companies.
This article is adapted from the mail magazine gJapan on the Globeh #329 (April 25, 2004)
Masaomi Ise is editor-in-chief of the magazine.