Japanese Culture Literature Review Example


Literature Review

Since WWII, Japan has grown to become an economic powerhouse in the world, leading to a boom in foreign business investment. For Australia, Japan is a strategic business partner, with a partnership that has, and continues to evolve over fifty years. Japan has a population of about 127 million people, and its market is made up companies with firm global orientations and willingness to invest in long-term sustainable services and products, and consumers who have high disposable income levels. Therefore, doing business with and in Japan offers many benefits for Australian companies and organizations. However, a number ofcultural challenges might cause misunderstanding and friction when overlooked. This makes it necessary for a cross cultural awareness and a deep understanding of Japanese culture.

Review of Literature

Takakusu (2006) observes that Japanese culture is an ancient culture that has developed within the geographical limits of an island. In the article The social and Ethical Value of the Family System in Japan, Takakusu examines the family unit. While drawing comparisons with the West, Takakusu (2006) observes that, while in the West the individual is the unit of the society, in Japan, the family is the unit. In Japan’s societal viewpoint, family is valued significantly whereby an individual puts his family members before others. Varley (2000) observes that this family system leads to mutual cooperation on the part of all those who are at all connected. Parents help children and children help parents. This is unlike some of the contemporary cultures whereby individuals seem to care only for themselves. Takakusu provides the example of an elder brother who might be a “millionaire and yet he feels that he is under no obligation to support a younger sibling who has become a beggar through his own wrong-doing” (2006). This is not the case for the Japanese family system. Elder brothers help the younger and the younger help the elder. Therefore, the honor and glory of the house are the first concern of all.
Finney (2001) examines the family system on two viewpoints; pre-WWII and post-WWII. Referring to the former as the traditional Japanese family, Finney (2001) observes that it was comprised mainly of close relatives. It adopted a hierarchical structure whereby the family was headed by an able-bodied male, often the father or the eldest son. It is this figure who made decisions that involved any of his family members. The post-WWII family system, referred to as the contemporary Japanese family, the only notable changes are greater freedoms for women who can now become educated and attain a job just like men. Still, the father is head of the family unit which comprises of the father, mother and children. The mother is responsible for taking care of the household and the children. Takakusu (2006) observes that during grief, the bereaved tend to curb natural emotions under the impulse to see that the family does not suffer.
In his article Japan-Its People, Its Language, and Its Culture, Jeff Berglund provides a view of Japanese culture by “putting together 35 years of living and learning about the country’s culture”. Berglund describes the Japanese language as having five strong characteristics namely: sensitivity to the verticality or power in interpersonal relationships; a group culture orientation that often uses announcements in interpersonal relationships; a vagueness that smoothes the rough edges of human interactions; a recognition of the importance of face in human relations and; a grammatical structure that emphasizes the concrete over the abstract by putting a verb at the end of the sentence. Japanese language tends to leave out pronouns. For example, when asking a Japanese “”where do you live?”, he or she is likely to reply as “Tokyo”. This lives out ‘I’. Japanese language also lacks definite and indefinite articles, as well as singular or plural. The Japanese tend to be more comfortable with a certain amount of ambiguity in communication and interpersonal relationships. Their language is therefore rather indirect, meaning that the receiver of the message has to decipher it. Face is also an important factor in Japanese language. Berglund (2003), describes the face as a mark of pride and forms the basis of a person’s reputation and social status. Preservation of face is through the avoidance of confrontations and direct criticism wherever possible. According to Berglund (2003), causing a person to lose face can spell disaster for business relationships. It is also important to note that English is not spoken widely in government and business, and it would be appropriate for a foreign investor to learn Japanese or seek the help of an interpreter.
Relationships form a critical part of Japanese culture, and they are anchored by family values and language. For example, the company is viewed as a family unit whereby the company’s president is the father, the board of directors, the mother and the management teams are the children. This creates a culture of succession within the company. In the article Doing Business in Japan, the Australian Trade Commission (2013) explores the business culture and some of the business practices and etiquette that are significant in Japan. Japan’s culture being rather indirect is associated with politeness. For example, the Japanese might start a meeting with small talk aimed at giving it a good start. However, this indirectness can be misunderstood as non-commitment or indecisiveness from the Japanese side. Relationships are mainly group oriented with team work, altruism and group cohesiveness being held important in Japanese society. In studying individualism and collectivism in different cultures, Triandis et al (1988) observes that Japan is a country that emphasizes on collectivism sentiments over those of individualism. The Japanese emphasize on loyalty towards a group, and it is even common for organizations or companies to offer life-long employment to people, who in return, sacrifice individual gain and devote long hours for communal gain. All these aspects of Japanese culture cover various affect business processes such as seating arrangements, partners, exchange of business cards, offering of gifts, punctuality and the resolution of conflict.


Australian Trade Commission. (2013) Doing Business in Japan: Current Business Situation. Australia Unlimited, 2013. Retrieved from http://www.austrade.gov.au/Export/Export-Markets/Countries/Japan/Doing-business
Berglund, J. (2003) Japan-Its People, Its Language, and Its Culture. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Finney, M.K. (2001, January 26) Japan Communication Within Family Contexts. DePauw University, 2001. Retrieved from http://acad.depauw.edu/