Japan is one of the world’s well-known demographic and economic trendsetter. Exerting significant commercial influence in global markets, it is a leading consumer and producer of goods and services – particularly its technology and manufacturing-related industries which play a leading role in the world’s economy and supply chains.
However, while businessmen all over the world (particularly the United States and Europe) see Japan as an important supplier, competitor, and customer – they should also view it as a teacher.
Being the third largest economy in the world (after the U.S. and China), the only Asian representative of the G-7 (a forum of highly industrialized democracies), and holding the second place (after the United States) to be the largest source of foreign direct investment (FDI) – Japan is a key member of international trade system.
Sure, this success did not happen overnight, and a number of formidable reasons are behind it. So, what makes Japan’s astonishing rise as a leader in the market? And what can businesses all over the world learn from it?
Japan focuses on the problem rather than putting much emphasis on the answer to the question.
According to an article by the Harvard Business Review, the Japanese think differently when making decisions as compared to other countries, particularly the Westerners.
Western countries, when solving problems, put much emphasis on the answer to the question. No wonder that their books on decision making try to develop systematic approaches to giving answers.
To the Japanese, however, defining the question is more necessary for decision making. That is, to decide whether there is a need for a decision and what the decision is really all about. During this step, no mention of the answer is made so that no one will be forced to take sides. This is a crucial and important step, for this is when the Japanese reach a “consensus”.
In short, the Japanese focus more importance on the “essence of decision”. The step might take a while because only when people who have to carry out the decision have reached an agreement that the “negotiations” really start. But after that, the Japanese usually move with great speed.
Japan’s customs and traditions run strong in business dealings.
Perhaps, two of the most distinguished characteristics of the Japanese are politeness and respect – which are the cornerstones of their culture.
And while it is given that the Japanese people share a serious passion for work and have a strong work ethic; when it comes to business, these values play out in lesser-known ways – something that most countries in the world are missing: business etiquette.
Omotenashi is the “art of selfless hospitality” and remains in the heart of the Japanese hospitality being practiced industry-wide. This value is a “skill to welcome someone into your home or establishment and be able to anticipate their every need.”
For the Japanese, a positive first impression is essential. What is better than starting a new business relationship with utmost respect and generosity?
In Japan, no matter the industry, beginning a new company or venture requires certain protocol – called Nemawashi or literally translated as “going around the roots”. In context, it means “an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project by talking to the people concerned, gathering feedback, and so forth.”
As mentioned earlier, the Japanese people focus more on the decision making as it is a crucial and integral step when doing business dealings. When considering starting a new business, companies seek for employees’ opinions before any changes are implemented. Hence, overall efficiency is enhanced.
Meishi or “business cards” in Japanese. However, in Japan, Meishi not just tiny slips of paper with contact information – they are tangible extensions of one’s self.
While the exchange of contact information is, of course, common, business cards are never given unless both parties are ready to begin a new business relationship.
Japanese are not interested in the absolute results only but in the process, itself.
There is a term in Japan called “kaizen” or “continuous improvement” which the Japanese incorporate and apply broadly. In context, they do not only plan something and do it. They stop and examine the result to determine how it could be done better.
As a contrast to the Westerners who usually create a goal and set out to attain it – Japanese take every opportunity to reflect and learn.
A great Tip? Do not rest on your laurels.
A combination of formidable strategies is what makes Japan one of the consistent leaders in the global market despite competitions with other countries most especially with the U.S. and its neighbor, China which continues to compete against dominating Asia’s market and has been Japan’s rival for almost a century – not only economically, but with issues concerning World War II, Nanjing massacre, and territorial disputes.
Again, if any of these countries want to overtake Japan, not only in terms of economic competitiveness, they must see Japan as a teacher and not just a potential supplier, competitor, and customer.