“Hey Mary-san,” Takada-san pokes me in the shoulder. “Look at this, it’s pretty funny.”
Takada-san is reading a 190 page JETRO report about how to deal with the “China risk” crisis happening with Japanese companies investing, and failing, in the Chinese market. First I think: Holy god that’s a long report. Secondly, I take a long glance at the chart to see what exactly Takada-san is giggling about (which I have translated as below):
This diagram literally blew my mind. It basically compiles all my theories about China, Japan and the USA and arranges them into four neat little columns. Although Japan is making themselves sound like the victim (believing in the good of mankind with a virtuous doctrine? Ok Jesus, oops, I mean, Japan… ), I think the Japanese author that threw this together really hit the nail on the head. This research is spot on.
The Meaning of Life
Let’s look at “life objective.”
China and the USA both measure life and its value on success, which is usually represented through wealth and money.
And while it may seem normal; no, almost universal to associate money with success and power, the Japanese are very different.
The Japanese don’t strive for vasts amount of wealth like their Chinese neighbors or western counterparts. When they join a company or get a new job, they don’t do it for the financial profit–they do it for the status and the sense of belonging. Salaries in Japan are also very egalitarian (the full time convenience store worker and a new engineer at Honda most likely have the same pay); but the Japanese are a-ok with that. In fact, it’s normal and sensible to them.
Japan is also one of the more unique countries in the way that, well, most people don’t flaunt their money. Japan is one of the few places I’ve been where money isn’t priority number one.
Look at labor ethic. The Japanese love to work and make it a way of life. In fact, the original Japanese word they used is 法悦, which means ecstasy. I don’t know about you, but when I think of work the last word that floats to my mind is ‘ecstasy.’
Let’s face it, a good portion of Americans hate their job and see it as ‘toiling labor.’ There’s a reason we look at the clock and scramble to get out of the office. China is the same. Chinese people roll their eyes while playing angry birds on their smartphone at the office while doing as little work as possible (and complaining about it). Work is more ‘mafan’ (troublesome) than meaningful in China, and many Americans have the same viewpoint.
Japan, on the other hand, make work their entire life and social circle. When they’re not putting 110% into their job, then they’re putting 110% into drinking with their co-workers after 5 hours of unpaid overtime. But you know, they find a strange sense of meaning and joy in this whole process (even if they don’t openly admit it) and it’s a way of life that is likely to continue.
The Law of the Land
Let’s look at “base principles.” This one really hits home. I can explain this best with an example.
When it comes to business in Japan, contracts are hardly ever used. Takada-san even informed me that when an employee is hired at a new company, they don’t sign anything. They enter the company as is and put their full trust in the organization to treat them well. The company also believes that the employee will not betray them and will fulfill all of their expected duties. There is no need to write it out and bind the two parties together. The two already have an unspoken commitment, and they will stay virtuous to their Japanese moral codes of performing for the company, and of the company taking care of its precious employee.
In the USA, most business is ruled by what is written on the contract. Really, a contract can make or break not only a company, but also a person. If we sign a contract but forget to read ‘the small print’ about how 1000 USD is deducted from our salary every month, then that’s just too bad. We are bound to the administration of the law and we either have to 1. take company to court (involving more law and written words) or 2. buck up and pay.
As for China, it’s like Japan’s mind frame minus the whole ‘actually going through with your word’ bit. The Chinese have no concept of ‘the other party’ and are very focused on the well being of only one person: Themselves. The Chinese do not have a strong sense of responsibility or loyalty like the Japanese, and neither do they feel the need to adhere to some word written on a piece of paper. Usually a Chinese employee will not only do their job terribly, but ignore any repercussions that were included on signed contract and up and leave the company when they so desire.
China and the USA
It’s easy to see from the diagram that China and the USA have far more similarities in terms of morals and doctrine than with the geographically closer Japan and China. Chinese and Americans are driven by success, power and money; while the Japanese are more concerned with honor, duty, and their own special sense of morals. China and the USA are also similar in their diversity: China has a vast array of minority tribes as well as provinces, while the USA is an interracial melting pot. Japan still remains the most homogenous society on Earth, and although they have different prefectures the underlying culture is still extremely similar.
I wonder how China became so capitalist in its thinking, and how China and America (although they have very little historical intertwining) managed to become so alike?
“What do you keep laughing about?” I ask Takada-san as she reads through the diagram and giggles underneath her breath.
“Japan cares about our fellow man, China is concerned with family and other close guanxi… and America has god? You guys are too much.”