Japanese and American Ethics: Different or Similar

556 words | 2 page(s)

Who we are is a function of the culture in which we were acculturated. This culture implanted within us a set of unconscious attitudes that determined and molded our thoughts, feelings, communication and behavior patterns (Hall, 1976). When we interact with other people in a social, institutional or business environment, how we behave and conduct ourselves is directly related to our culture and the society in which we live. This includes the ethical base that guides our understanding of right and wrong.

This can be clearly seen in the cases discussed in the article by Ernest Gundling (1991). In case #1, Gundling notes the differences between America and Japan with respect to the family nature of the business enterprise. The Japanese view employees as being family members, and once you are hired, you have a job for life. Foreigners who come to work for a Japanese company or who wish to do business with the company are viewed as outsiders who must work hard to establish that family relationship (Gundling, 1991). Some do and some do not.

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Similarly, case #2 notes the presence of gray areas in dealing with the law, which is generally not an ethical issue in the U.S.; case #3 brings the important concept of loyalty to the company into focus; and, case #4 notes the cultural difference in commitment to the company (Gundling, 1991). All of these cases are intended to point out the ethical differences in a business context that exist between Japanese and American companies, and how they affect doing business in the two countries.

These differences may no longer be the overriding factors in trying to explain what is happening in the business sectors of both countries. Gundling notes that the Japanese are beginning to conduct some aspects of business in ways similar to their American counterparts. For example, the Japanese rarely, if ever, tried to hire mid-career employees away from competitors, but now they are doing this. A logical explanation might be the pressures that foreign business practices have brought to bear on the way the Japanese do business, and over time they have changed to accommodate these practices. But, there may also be something else underlying these changes – the similarities across cultures.

Just as cultures have differences, they also have similarities. For example, the “Elite Course” is a path followed by a certain type of group member in Japanese society that includes graduation from an elite school and a lifetime job in some prestigious position (Gundling, 1991). This is similar to graduating from an Ivy League school and stepping into a prestigious Wall Street bank, New York law firm or a plum Federal job in Washington D.C. However, the hierarchical structure in Japanese society and culture make it difficult to move vertically within business or society, and that does not change to accommodate a better way of conducting business. Consequently, the changes in how Japanese companies are conducting themselves are more likely the result of pressure from foreign companies and governments that from shifts internally within the culture or society. These formalized behavior structures are ingrained and it would take a lot of external pressure to push them aside in a matter of decades.

  • Gundling, E. (1991). “Ethics and Working with the Japanese: The Entrepreneur and
    The “Elite Course”.” California Management Review, 33, 3, pp. 25-39.
  • Hall, E. T. (1976). Beyond Culture. New York, NY: Anchor Books.

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