2014 The year of the Horse-Openness and Decisiveness

for December, 2014

2014 The year of the Horse-Openness and Decisiveness

Posted on 21 December 2014 in Cultural Awareness, Market Insight, womenomics -

Interestingly, the Horse in the Japanese Zodiac represents openness and decisiveness-characteristics that have been attributed to Abe in his leadership and the resulting debates and discussions from reforms promised through Abenomics.

Japan’s history of frequently changing Prime Ministers was humorously referenced in speeches given by Ambassador Hayashi and William Hague at the Emperor’s Birthday reception. As forecasted, the year ended with Abe being voted back into power giving Japan more political stability and the subtle implication that Japan Inc. will now instinctively support Abe’s reforms for the economy.

Whether you agree with his politics or not, Abe has certainly displayed a decisiveness seen as unusual compared to previous leaders and his policies have certainly opened up debates and opinions whether that is on women, defence or energy. This year also saw Abe embark upon an impressive global meet and greet with world leaders-he even met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, hopefully signalling the opening of a diplomatic relationship, that has been strained to say the least.

Womenomics has also received more attention in Japan and in the world’s media this year. With one of the fastest ageing and decreasing populations in the world, encouraging women to work-not just in managerial positions in which they are woefully under-represented-but to find work that is supportive of their lifestyles, is now a fundamental, economic necessity. Even incidents such as the sexist taunting in Parliament one woman received and the unfortunate rise of “mata hara” (maternity harassment) are pre-empting a realisation that Japan still has very culturally ingrained cultural attitudes to women and work and are thus bringing it more into the open arena of discussion.

Next year is the year of the Sheep, representing “peace” and “security”. On this note, I wish the people of Japan and everyone I have worked with this year a Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

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Blame & Shame in Japan

Posted on 16 December 2014 in Cultural Awareness -


The recent re-call of default airbags manufactured by Takata offers an interesting insight into the Japanese concept of blame and shame and how it manifests differently to what we, as a nation of individuals, who debate and critically analyse things endlessly, may demand. The muted and withdrawn reaction of the Japanese manufacturing company has led to accusations that they are not taking adequate responsibility and that they have been covering up defects found in the past. Interestingly, the legal system discourages owners of faulty cars from seeking redress in the courts-

The cultural tendency in Japan to maintain superficial harmony plus dislike of face-to face confrontation and a less polarised view of blame can at times make non-Japanese people feel that things are being “swept under the carpet”. It is no surprise that litigious behaviour is less common in Japan than in the USA and interestingly, some experts say that the legal system discourages car owners from seeking redress from manufacturers.

Although Japan is not necessarily a blame society, it is certainly a shame society. Being exposed to public shame in Japan is not something to be taken lightly -think Samurai acts of ritual suicide- so it is no surprise that it leads to a lack of communication and a closed mentality. All these can come across as evasive and cowardly and at worse, can cause massive misunderstandings.

You don’t need to look any further than the perceived lack of public atonement from Japan after the 2nd World War or the behaviour of Olympus executives towards Michael Woodford for exposing fraud to get a flavour of how the Japanese psyche influences certain behaviours, which, to those from different cultural influences, seem incomprehensible.

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