Culture, Customs and Business Ethics in Japan

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Culture, customs and business ethics in Japan

Differences between cultures we often see and compare in social behaviour, we are already

aware and accept that cultural diversity is huge and heavy. Different ideas of time, space, life

after death, nature and reality of isolated society will have little impact on international

business, but at home there are more people like us, we appear to have similar concepts and

values, but is it so ? Let us take for example Europeans we live at the same continent but yet

for some reason most of the nations do not get along to well, there are irreconcilable

differences between us in communication style, attitude towards time and management style.

This is reason why modern society, and multicultural environment, globalization of business

requires an understanding and adoption of other nation’s culture, customs, values and

business ethics. Geert Hofstede defined culture as “the collective programming of the mind

that distinguishes the members of one category of people from another.”

According to Lewis we can classify different nations and cultures into three groups task-

oriented, highly organized planners (linear-active); people-oriented, (multi-active); and

introverted, respect oriented- listeners (reactive). This kind of categorisation can help us to

predict a cultures behaviour, so we can clarify why people did what they did,

avoid giving offense, search for some kind of unity, standardize policies, and perceive

neatness. Japan belongs to the group of reactive, or listening cultures, they rarely initiate

discussion, rather listen and establish other positions first, and then react to it and formulate

their own. Every culture has a different style of communication, reactive cultures are rather

introvert, patient, respectful, good listener, silent looks at general principles, reacts, flexible

hours and punctual. We can find reactive cultures in China, Taiwan, Singapore, Korea,

Turkey and Finland - even if they are not close to Japan. Several other East Asian countries,

although occasionally multiactive and excitable, have certain reactive characteristics. In

Europe only Finns are strongly reactive. Reactive cultures listen before exposing their

opinion, they can easily focus on what the speaker is saying and rarely interrupt the speaker,

when he is finished they do not reply immediately, period of outgoing silence after the

speaker has stopped shows the respect, even when they begin with the reply they are unlikely

to voice any strong opinion immediately, they will more likely ask further questions in order

to find out speakers intentions. (Lewis, 2006) The problem is that the

conversation may be in English but the other side is thinking in Japanese and, being polite

the Japanese side will not wish to hurt your feelings. Japanese manager instinctively know

when they are being politely reprimand - most foreign executives do not, particularly if they
are relieved to find a prospective customer or partner that speaks fluent English.

The Japanese actually go over the subject to details just to make sure there is no

misunderstanding. Reactive cultures are introverts and they trust more in non- verbal

communication, non-verbal communication is so vital that there is a book for 'gaijins'-

‘foreigners’ on how to interpret the signs, preferred mode of communication is monologue –

pause – reflection-monologue. In a business meeting, dealing with the Japanese means that

we should be modest but still reserved, before conversation manager should bow, greetings

in Japan are very formal and ritualized, how far you bow depends on situation but mostly on

relationship with the other person, the deeper you bow the most respect you show. The

manager should begin conversation about their families at first, also apologizing for

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