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A Culture Briefing of Japan

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A Culture Briefing of Japan
University of Maryland University College
April 09, 2012 = Abstract
Japan is located off the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan. Japan civilization dates back more than 30,000 years. Japan has four main islands, Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Japan’s capital city of Tokyo is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. Japan has four main season and climate mirrors that of a southern state in the US. Japan is slightly smaller than California. It is widely known for its reserved demeanour and politeness. Japan’s political system is somewhat similar to the United States, with three branches of government, Executive, Judicial and Legislative. Japan’s capital city of Tokyo has the largest economy in the world and the second largest in automobile manufacturing. Japan is well known for its export, import and manufacturing industry. Japan host several languages, Japanese, Korean and Okinawan. Japan is rich in tradition emphasizing harmonious relationships with others. Japanese culture is very group oriented and people prefer and it is customary to work in teams/groups. Japanese are very accommodating people and usually keep their opinion of others to themselves to avoid offending
Japanese employees traditionally stay with an employer for a lifetime. Changing jobs is viewed as a lack of loyalty to an organization and is frowned upon by a different company when seeking a new opportunity.

A Culture Briefing of Japan
Japan is located off the eastern edge of the Asian continent, within an island chain between the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan and east of the Korean Peninsula. The islands include Bonin Island, Daito-Shoto, Mina Mi-Jima, Okino-tori-shima, Ryukyu Island and Volcano Island.
The four main islands of Japan are Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu. Japan’s capital city Tokyo is located on the east coast of the island of Honshu and has the largest metropolitan area globally. Honshu is also the largest island of Japan and is where the most populated cities are located
Japan is slightly smaller than California with a total area of 145,883 sq. miles and has a coastline that spans 18,486 miles.
Japan like the US has four seasons. The climate varies from tropical in the south to colder temperatures in the north. Spring in Japan is the ideal time to visit either on vacation or business due to the warm temperatures and little rain. Spring also brings the famous cherry blossoms to bloom in Japan and in Washington, DC.
Japan’s history dates back more than 30,000 years.
• Prehistoric Japan
• Kufun Period (ca. AD 300-710)
• Nara Period (710-794)
• Heiam Period (794-1185
• Kamakura Period (1185-1333)
• Muromachi Period (1333-1568)
• Asuchi – Momoyama (1568-1600)
• EDO Period (1600-1868)
• Meiji Period (1868 – 1912)
• Taisho Period (1912 – 1926)
• Showa Period (1926-1989)
• Heisei Period (1989 to present)

Political System The Japanese political system may at first glance look similar to US democracies, but is very different. Japan is a democratic country, however very different kind of democracy to that prominent in Germany and France. The reason for this is one party’s dominant position, the Liberal Democratic Party, in power for more than 50 years. Similar to the United States, Japan has three branches of government, the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch and the Judicial Branch.
Executive Branch Japan is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy, where the power of the Emperor is very limited. Japan’s Prime Minister is chosen for a term of four years, however he rarely serves a full term, due to the never-ending tumultuous Japanese political system. The Prime Minister must win a majority in the Diet (House of Representatives) in a single signed ballot. The decision of the House of Representatives always reins, if an agreement cannot be reached between the two houses. Currently, Yoshihiko Noda serves as the Prime Minister of the Democratic Party of Japan, chosen by the Emperor is the seventh Prime Minister in six years. The Prime Minister choses his Cabinet which consist of 14 regular members with the as well as three special members. In any case half of the Cabinet are required to be members of the Diet.
Legislative Branch The Japanese legislature is a bicameral structure called the Kokkai or Diet. For the most part decisions are made on a majority vote, however a majority two-thirds vote is required in special cases. The Shugi-in is the lower house in the Japanese political system, consist of 480 seats with members serving a four-year term, although the average is two and a half years. Of the 480 seats, 300 are elected from single-member constituencies and the other 180 are elected from 11 multi-member constituencies by a system of relative representation.
Judicial Branch Also, compared to the United States, the Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. The Emperor appoints the Chief Justice followed by selection of the Cabinet. The Cabinet also selects and appoints fourteen other judges. A justice's tenure has to be confirmed every 10 years by referendum. Generally, the justices are nearly always reselected and allowed to serve until age 70.
Historically, Japan’s Supreme Court has played a subdued role in Japanese society thereby, maintaining status quo and avoiding potential controversy. As a result, individual members of the Court are for the most part unknown to the general public. Since the late 19th century, the Japanese judicial system has been largely based on European civil law, notably that of France and Germany. With post-World War II modifications, this legal code remains in effect in present-day Japan.
Economic System Followed by the United States and china, the Japanese economy is the third largest in the world. The Japanese currency is the Yen. Japan is the world's second largest automobile manufacturing country, with the largest electronics goods industry, and often ranked among the world's most innovative countries. Facing increasing competition from China and South Korea, manufacturing in Japan’s main focus today is mainly on high-tech and precision goods, such as optical equipment, hybrid cars, and robotics.
Japan is the world's largest crediting nation, generally running an annual trade surplus and having a considerable net international investment surplus. As of 2010, Japan possesses 13.7% of the world's private financial assets (the 2nd largest in the world) at an estimated $14.6 trillion. As of 2011, 68 of the Fortune 500 companies are based in Japan. The economy of Tokyo is the largest metropolitan economy in the world.
Japan's primary export goods are cars, electronic devices and computers. Trade partners include China and the United States, accompanied by South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand and Germany. Japan’s export import balance is at an all-time high. The surplus includes materials such as oil, food items and wood.
Japan major industries today include manufacturing, construction, distribution, real estate, services, and communication. Agriculture follows with about two percent of the Gross National Product. Japan’s most important agricultural product is rice, while resources of raw materials are very limited and their mining industry is quite small.
Japan host many languages including, Japanese, Korean and Okinawan. The Japanese language has several dialects, Kagoshima being one dialect that is spoken by nearly 84% of Japanese people. Japanese is believed to be linked to the Altaic language family, which includes Turkish and Mongolian. The Japanese writing system consists of three different writing systems, Kanji (several thousands of Chinese characters) and Hiragana and. Japanese
Japanese pronunciation compared with other languages, possess few sounds, and poses little problems to most learners. The largest difficulty are accents, which do exist, but to a much lower extent than in the Chinese language. Different words and expressions are used when talking to a child, family member or a close friend versus when talking to an unknown person or a superior. For example, there are more than five different words for the English word "I", which are used depending on the context.
Traditions, Values and Beliefs
Contemporary Japan is a secular society. Japanese according to (Adler,2008,pg 59), primarily strive to achieve maximum quality, i.e. career success and high uncertainty avoidance. Creating and maintaining harmonious relationships with others and fulfillment of social obligations is more important for most Japanese than an individual's relationship to a transcendent being. Three of the most important values that underlie Japanese social interaction are harmony, order, and self-development.
Japan is a society that emphasizes the benefits of harmony and strongly rely on social rather than supernatural sanctions. Japanese children learn early that human fulfillment comes from close association with others and taught to recognize that they are part of mutually beneficial society, beginning in the family. In Japan dependence on others is a natural part of the human conditioning in Japanese society. Japanese are taught early on that their actions and behavior reflect on themselves, their family and the country as a whole. Japanese are generally shy and loath being embarrassed. Avoiding embarrassment and maintaining dignity are very important in Japan. Japanese morality is based on trust, mutual respect and inner reflection.
Japanese culture - Key concepts and values
• WA - The most valued principle still alive in Japanese society today is the concept of 'wa', or 'harmony'. The preservation of social harmony dates back to the first constitution in 604 AD and the teamwork needed when living and working on collective farms. In business terms, 'wa' is reflected in the avoidance of self-assertion and individualism and the preservation of good relationships despite differences in opinion. When doing business with the Japanese it is also important to remember the effect of 'wa' on many patterns of Japanese behavior, in particular their indirect expression of 'no'.
• Kao - One of the fundamental factors of the Japanese social system is the notion of 'face'. Face is a mark of personal pride and forms the basis of an individual's reputation and social status. Preservation of face comes through avoiding confrontations and direct criticism wherever possible. In Japan, causing someone to lose face can be disastrous for business relationships.
• Omoiyari - Closely linked to the concepts of 'wa' and 'kao', 'omoiyari' relates to the sense of empathy and loyalty encouraged in Japanese society and practiced in Japanese business culture. In literal terms it means "to imagine another's feelings", therefore building a strong relationship based on trust and mutual feeling is vital for business success in Japan.
Doing Business in Japan
The late 19th and early 20th centuries saw Japan swiftly embrace the numerous influences of western technology. Following the country's defeat in WWII, Japan experienced a remarkable growth in its economy and fast became the world's most successful exporter. Since then, Japan's business and economy has witnessed a wavering of strengths, however today, Japan is one of the world's leading industrial powers with a new, stable and exciting business market open to foreign investment and trade.
Japan Business Practices
Working practices in Japan
• Due to the strong contemporary business competition in Asia, the old concept of the 'unhurried' Japanese negotiation process is no longer applicable. Decisions are made swiftly and efficiently.
• When arranging a business appointment, making a personal call will be more effective than sending a letter and seen as good manners.
• Punctuality is essential in Japan; lateness is as sign of disrespect. Arriving 5 minutes prior to an appointment is good practice.
Structure and hierarchy in Japanese companies.
• The strong hierarchical structure in Japanese business is reflected in the negotiation process. They begin at the executive level and continue at the middle level. However, decisions will often be made within the group.
• Generally speaking, in business meetings the Japanese will line up in order of seniority, with the most senior person at the front and the least senior person closest to the door. In addition to this rule however, you may find that the most senior person chooses where to sit.
• It is important to bear in mind that in contemporary Japan, even a low ranking individual can become a manager if his or her performance is good.
Working relationships in Japan
• Due to the influence of Confucianism, it is important to show greater respect to the eldest members in Japanese business culture. Age and rank are strongly connected, however a change in today's business climate means that educational background and ability are often considered over age.
• Personal space is highly valued in Japan due to the densely populated areas in which they live. Physical contact, other than a handshake, is never displayed in public.

Japan is a secular society rich in culture and traditions. Japan lineage dates back to prehistoric times. Japan over the centuries has maintained their value and belief system, teaching their children early on fulfillment comes from close associations with other and the importance of representing family values in and outside of the home. Japan is the land of peace and harmony, avoiding open competition and confrontation at all times. When doing business with Japanese it is extremely important to be well aware of nonverbal communication. Japan made vehicles are some of the top sellers in the United States, as well as high-end electronic devices. Japan currently has a good relationship with the United States government. The Cherry Blossoms (gift from Japan) are a prime example of how two nation can form an alliance to create harmony, something Japan is know for.

Adler, N. (2008). International Dimensions of Organizational Behavior (5th ed.). Mason, OH: South-Western
Maps of the World. (2012). Retrieved April 1, 2012, from,
Country Studies. (2012). Retrieved April 1, 2012, from,
Japanese Political System (2012). Retrieved April 1, 2012, from,
FactsAboutJapan. (2012). Retrieved April 1, 2012, from,
Intelligence Bridges. (2012 ). Retrieved April 2, 2012, from, (2012 ). Retrieved Aril 9, 2012, from, .

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