Social life


On informal occasions when they know everyone well, Japanese will be humorous and entertaining. At a formal meeting or among strangers they may be awkward and withdrawn and too nervous to loosen up. In presentations and speeches to westerners many have learned that the audience expects jokes and informality and respond accordingly. Japanese do not usually appreciate flippancy or triviality and find self-deprecation a mystery.

The most common complaint among westerners is that most major decisions seem to be made outside office hours by their Japanese colleagues. While in day-to-day activities they are kept well informed, they are kept in the dark about the overall direction of the company. For a westerner to progress in a Japanese managed company it is essential to work late in the evening and at weekends. This can be a major impediment for women who wish to progress in a Japanese company. In the workplace itself most of the women I talked to did not find Japanese more chauvinistic than their western counterparts. The difficulty was in establishing the appropriate relationships, as well as finding the time, to join in the after-hours discussions.

It is not so easy for men either. While the expatriate Japanese is considerably more flexible and adaptable to European ways than the stereotypical image of the chauvinistic and single minded Tokyo salaryman, it is hard to break into the inner circle. As in any foreign company a first requirement is to make an effort to speak the employer's language. As well as practically useful it demonstrates a commitment to career and company to which Japanese are particularly sensitive.

It is this level of dedication to the organisation which is probably the biggest hurdle to making any more than an averagely successful career in a Japanese company. The emotional and practical commitment that Japanese expect is incomprehensible to most westerners. The term 'British disease' is a byword among Japanese for idleness and is extended to most other western countries. The Japanese disease is” Karoshi,” or death by overwork. The difference between the British and Japanese diseases is perhaps the biggest cultural hurdle for each side to overcome.

1.1. Read the first part of the text and mark sentences as wrong or right:

1. The Japanese approach to leadership is more individualistic than the western approach.

2. Japanese bosses tend to be more decisive, charismatic and overtly ambitious than their western counterparts.

3. European employees expect defined job responsibilities and clear-cut goals.

4. Japanese employees expect regular feedback on their performance.

5. Japanese employees expect to use their initiative more than their European counterparts.

6. Success in Japanese business depends on careful observation of the boundaries of status and hierarchy.