Up until World War Two, Japan was dominated by a small number of very large companies, the zaibatsu, that had massive influence on the economy.

However, in recent years the Japanese economy has become much more varied in terms of the size and structure of its companies, producing a complex web of inter-locking relationships between large and small firms. Competition amongst these smaller firms is very strong which results in a great number of bankruptcies in every sector – therefore the concept of life-time employment enjoyed by the total workforce is, and has been for some time, a myth.

Japanese companies, like Japanese society, are hierarchically organised with individuals knowing their position within a group and with regard to each other. It is this sense of belonging to the group that gives Japanese companies their strength and purpose. Group orientation and team working are not merely concepts and phrases in Japan but a way of life which permeates all aspects of corporate life at all levels.

Japanese hierarchy is based on consensus and co-operation rather than the top-down decision making process which often typifies western models of hierarchy. This means that people feel actively involved and committed. It can also mean that decisions are slow and have to be based on deep analysis or large amounts of information. ‘How can we get the Japanese to make their decisions more quickly’ is a question often asked by western businessmen. The answer is probably that you can’t!

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in Japan

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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Overview

This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in Japan. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in Japan and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips