As I have mentioned before, the Japanese culture is one of poles – the very ahead and the very behind.

The sense of honour in Japan is one for the “very good” column and last week I gained some first hand insight. To understand the business culture of Japan you need to understand what happened after World War II, as the US and Japan partnered to rebuild the country, companies came together to rebuild in the form of Keiretsu’s. Via.

Keiretsu are groups of companies that work together, trying not to compete with one another and cooperating in order to make more money together. After many years of this sort of collaboration, Toyota has become the world’s number one automobile company. Toyota’s lead is so strong it made five times more money in 2006 than the sum of the profits made by its eight most direct competitors.

Over the six big keiretsu (each of them controlled by one important bank) is the MITI (Ministry of International Trade and Industry). The MITI is considered the ministry with greatest direct influence over the country’s economy, because it has the standing to give direct orders to certain keiretsu, asking them to double their production for the following months or to help this or that sector come out of a crisis.

In practice, the Japanese companies work together and often talk about the greater good. They will compete, but at their core they think about their country and the success of all.

To illustrate, I was speaking with an executive from a large Japanese manufacturer and I mentioned that I owned many of their products but had also bought an “add-on” from one of their competitors. His response was surprising. He thanked me for buying their products and encouraged me to buy his competitors products.

Why? Because that company had a factory in the earthquake stricken Japanese north and had decided to keep their factory open to support the people of the region. It was a very honourable thing to do, with a great leader who make great products. He was very happy that I had bought their products.

In that way, we can learn much from the Japanese. Their sense of the group over the individual is admirable.image



My first full week in Tokyo was quite the week, starting with a bout of food poisoning that put me behind the 8 ball for the entire week (Thank-you for offering me 20% off my next flight un-named Canadian airline).  It also meant that I did not get out and about.

That being said, it was my first introduction to the culture and island; an adventure begins……

One of the things I love doing in new countries is read a local paper. A few headlines that caught my eye from the Japan Times:

The government worked out a fresh anticancer program Friday that calls for reducing the rate of smoking among adults to 12 percent by fiscal 2022, down from 19.5 percent in 2010, officials say…. It sets a target to reduce the rate of those exposed to smoke every day at homes to 3 percent in fiscal 2022 from 10.7 percent in 2010 and also to make sure work sites are free from passive exposure by calendar 2020. 

NOTE: I personally did not find the smoking invasive, although it did remind me of England as we moved there just as they started banning it from restaurants. At the restaurant we were at, we received a notice that they would allow smoking at a certain time. What I didn’t realize is that Japan’s smoking rate isn’t that far off Canada’s – which is 17% (2010). Our rigorous laws are not having as big an impact as I would have thought.

Whether it be your neighbourhood toban garbage duty or picking over the big gomi left out on the curb for Big Garbage Day, a fondness of garbage is a sure sign of the aged. Just being in the proximity of amassed garbage will age you by 20 years. If you find yourself attracted to garbage, saying things like “But that’s a perfectly good vacuum cleaner!” and taking it back home, then add another five years. Only old people see the value in these things. Young people buy new, crappy stuff that breaks down in a week.

Tokyo has officially become the world’s most expensive city for expatriates, overtaking the Angolan capital of Luana, while Osaka has moved up to third place. … while a cup of coffee including service averages $8.15 (Y650), the survey showed. (Thank-goodness for my new Jura)

  • The FT had an article on Hiroshi Mikitani who is classified as a “rebel” entrepreneur in Japan. It was explained to me that there are two cultures evolving in Japan, the new business culture which is more western in style and often prevalent in companies that are foreign owned (e.g. no ties, less formal) and the traditional Japanese company which is buttoned up. The article is a worthwhile read as it profiles both.

So much to enjoy and learn.