Doing Business With The Japanese

I was cleaning out my mom’s storage space last night and I found this xeroxed magazine article from my dad’s job in the 1980’s.

It has a note on it which says

The attached article may be of interest. It is one man’s opinion of how to do business with the Japanese.

A few things of note here:

  • “with the Japanese” is the first thing that sticks out. Not “Japanese businesses” or “Japanese clients” but “the Japanese.” Like they are all on one team. Very 1980’s, don’t you think? And if you don’t understand why this is retarded, you probably don’t think our foreign policy is deeply flawed either.
  • the distancing of the sender from any commitment to anything related to the article. Oh you found the article offensive? Well it was just one man’s opinion, one man being “not me.” And I didn’t recommend it really, I just said it might be of interest. COVER YOUR ASS!
  • There is no mention of insane amounts of drinking nor expense accounts and hostess bars anywhere in this article.
  • the phrase “a Japanese” appears numerous times in the article

On the positive side, a few useful notions which were explored:

  • the distinction between
    • tatemae (建前 – public face/official position) and
    • honne (本音 – real intention)
  • The notion of ningen kankei (人間関係) – the rapport developed between the two parties of a potential business transaction. This can be based on belonging to the same “in group,” for example being alumni of the same college, living in the same area. Given the somewhat more structured nature of Japanese society, potential Japanese business partners will feel uneasy if completely without this relationship, no matter how tenuous.
  • The extreme luxury implied in being able to say you play golf. Gotta remember that one. In modern prices, here it costs maybe $200, tops, for a two-person round at a public course, with renting clubs and lunch. There are much fewer public courses in Japan (private courses can have a $40k+ membership fee), and even at then the fees are several hundred dollars. Add a 2+ hour commute to the course, and “hole in one” insurance, and it just ends up way more expensive.