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Doing Business in Japan (with description)

Flag of Japan
Introduction: Japanese business ethics are a direct product of Japanese culture and religion. Therefore, one must understand the cultural and religious foundations of Japanese society to truly understand Japanese business ethics .
The Ethics of Diligence and Self-Actualization: Japanese culture defines an ideal of human equality, a result of the country’s major religious influences (Confucianism, Buddhism and Shintoism).

Members of Japanese society often feel compelled to work hard to contribute their efforts to causes greater than those found in their spiritual micro-universe. By doing so, the individual can then unify his spirit with his larger cosmos and feel at peace with his world.

Japanese ethical norms respect business people who work tirelessly to contribute to the greater causes of their companies. The process is seen as an expression of religion or as a process of self-actualization. Through sacrifice and diligent work, the individual can connect himself with a greater, pooled life-force and comply with the ethical expectations of Japanese society.

The Ethics of the Group: Japanese emphasises a lot on the importance of the group. This orientation results from religious sources and from Japan's history of centralised feudalism, which promotes teamwork, community, group responsibility, and hierarchical relations.

This group orientation profoundly affected Japanese society and left its imprint on modern Japanese business ethics. Workers are expected to subordinate themselves to their companies and companies are expected to subordinate themselves to their nation. Each group owes deference and allegiance to the next larger group in the chain. If a sub-group violates the expectations inherent in this hierarchical chain, it will be ridiculed or punished as an unethical entity.

Japanese group ethics only apply to groups inside Japanese society or within the sphere of Japanese ethical expectations. Workers or managers may not offer the same ethical consideration to other groups, such as rival corporations, foreign nations or foreign nationals.

The Ethics of Reciprocity: The Japanese believe that long-term, give-and-take relationships are the hallmark of a harmonious society. All members must rely on and support the efforts of one another for communities and organisations to function efficiently and effectively. Much of this belief stems from the religious influence of Confucianism and Buddhism.

This notion of reciprocity strongly influences the Japanese concept of business ethics. Business relationships in Japan require participants (firms, employees, government, society, etc.) to strike a balance between benefits and sacrifices. Participants are expected to work diligently and rationally to create mutually beneficial business transactions. If one participant shirks his responsibility or otherwise fails to provide his expected contribution, the transgressor will be sanctioned for not appreciating the benefits given to him by others.

It is noted that many Japanese managers often question American practices and notions of downsizing, mergers & acquisitions, and shareholder priorities. In the Japanese mind, employees and companies are inextricably linked. They are mutually dependent and must work together in reciprocal business relationships to achieve long-term success. Thus, from the Japanese perspective, common "value-enhancing" policies and actions practised in the west are myopic and unethical.