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Japanese Work Ethic

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The work ethic of Japan could not be more different to the work ethic of Canada. Japanese culture is very different from the Canadian. All aspects of Japanese life, especially business relations, are governed by strict rules of etiquette. A foreign business person who is either ignorant of, or insensitive to, Japanese customs and etiquette needlessly jeopardizes his company's prospects in this country. It goes without saying that the Japanese work ethic and culture greatly affect doing business with other nations in this way. In the following, the most important features of Japanese culture and work ethic will be discussed, and the consequences of neglecting those features as a Canadian business person will be analyzed.

A very important part a Canadian has to understand when entering the Japanese business market is the ЎҐUchi-SotoÐŽ¦ (Us and Then) concept. The Japanese have been brought up to think of themselves as part of a group, not individuals, and their group is always dealing with other groups. Interacting with Japanese on a one-to-one basis usually comes very easy to foreigners, but dealing with Japanese as a group can be a different matter altogether. And no matter how nice you are, or how good your Japanese might be, a foreigner will always be treated as an outsider. Many westerners see Japanese as aloof, shy, and always walking on eggshells. There is a lot of truth in that -- Japanese are extremely sensitive to what others might think of them and are very hesitant to do something new, different, or independent. Being ostracized is one of the worst things that can happen to a Japanese, who is raised to be part of a group and depend on others. Therefore, when making requests, it can often take more time then what we might be used to since the person asked usually consults others in the group to reach a consensus. As a Canadian, one might get really frustrated and annoyed about this attitude where groupthink and group consensus have first priority. A businessperson coming to Japan has to be extremely careful not to criticize this groupthink. What is really important for a foreigner who wants to succeed in Japan is to stay polite, disciplined and tolerant toward this attitude. A lot of ЎҐbiting your tongueÐŽ¦ and patience is advisable, otherwise a CanadianÐŽ¦s business in Japan might be over sooner that it had begun.

The way Japanese view non-Japanese has always been a subject of debate. Often it cannot be determined for sure what they really think. There is a mixture of admiration, suspicion, and most often a lot of nervousness about dealing with someone who doesn't look or act like the Japanese. It is very hard for non-Japanese to get an apartment, or a loan, credit card, etc in Japan. There is no logical or rational explanation for this conflict -- since Japanese do not think in a logical, rational fashion, at least in western terms. If you look at Japanese TV advertisements, the first thing you'll notice is that there are westerners in about a third of them. There are also half a dozen fluent Japanese speaking foreigners endlessly recycled on TV variety shows, constantly ingratiating themselves and amusing the Japanese enough to want them back. Their only real talent is speaking Japanese well, and many long term ex-pats see them as intellectual ЎҐwhoresÐŽ¦ since they must go through the same problems others do, yet they know the rule of getting invited back is to never bite the hand that feeds them. Yet, there are also periodically TV infotainment shows following the cops and catching those ЎҐawful foreignersÐŽ¦ committing crimes in ЎҐour countryÐŽ¦, with sinister background music shrieking away. Japanese youth generally show positive attitudes about foreigners; from others there is often indifference. And then there is the racial question. Many people coming to Japan wonder if the Japanese are racist and cold to westerners. (Japanese Culture ÐŽV A primer for newcomers. (n.d.). Retrieved November 22, 2006, from The answer is not that simple. But it is no exaggeration to say that, bending the metaphor a bit, the Japanese see things through race-colored glasses. It must be emphasized though that Japanese racism is in almost all cases never hostile towards others -- so the idea of people screaming epithets at you like in Canada is inaccurate. Yet, Canada is a culturally very diverse country with racism being one of the biggest taboos in society. Verbal rejection or silent treatment can be regarded as a racist move. Therefore, it is again to be tolerated by a Canadian business person if he/she wants to succeed in any Japanese business. Making it a topic of debate or complaining about it can be fatal and is likely to be followed by the Japanese withdrawal from business.

Upon entering Japan, businessmen soon discover an unusual trait of Japanese -- they can both insult you and compliment you at the same time. One good example is that on top of a few Japanese "Love Hotels" (which are hotels decked out in glittery pink neon and rent rooms by the hour or night for obvious reasons) you will find a big Statue of Liberty. It may be flattering that such an American or generally Western symbol is taken for "liberty", but at the same time to see it on top of a sleazy hotel is a little disconcerting. In the same way, the westerner coming to Japan will right from the airport be drowned in the "compliment" Nihongo wa jouzu desu neh, or "Your Japanese is good". It's usually spoken in a "Look Mom, the horse can do math problems" kind of way -- slightly condescending. The problem with all this is that it is put on you a thousand times a day, every time you open your mouth, in exactly those same words -- never once said in a different way. And the fact that it has nothing to do with your Japanese ability or the effort you are making as a successful businessperson to respect the other countryÐŽ¦s culture. To the Japanese, they are not consciously looking down on you, but rather trying to establish rapport through bombarding you with things they think you like to hear. It's important not to get upset about this and just play humble by denying the praise over and over as they



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