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Posted by Tim Bryce on December 18, 2009

I’ve been to Japan several times over the years on business and have had the privilege of seeing Japanese work habits first hand, which are noticeably different than in the United States. As a small example, the first time I visited, I noticed that in addition to having Coke and Pepsi machines on a street corner, there were also beer and whiskey machines. I discovered the Japanese were not worried about the youth getting alcohol from the machines as it would cause their families to “lose face” through embarrassment. If we had such machines in this country, they would probably be emptied by our youth faster than the vendors could stock them.

Aside from this though, there are a few other differences I observed in corporate Japan:

1. Japanese do not like to say “No” to someone as they do not want to offend the person. Instead, they tend to say, “Maybe Yes,” which, when translated, means “No.” If they nod their heads in the affirmative, it only means they understand what you are saying but they don’t necessarily agree with you. Because of this, it is not uncommon for American businessmen to fool themselves into believing they are being successful when they make a presentation in Japan. In reality, the Japanese understood the presentation but need time to digest and discuss it amongst themselves. If an American asks them something like, “Was I correct in this regards?” If they answer, “Maybe Yes,” the American is in trouble.

2. I’ve been in a few large offices in Japan where I have seen young employees suddenly jump up on their desks and give a five minute speech on why he is proud of his company and what a pleasure it is to work with his coworkers. When finished, the rest of the office politely applauds before returning to their work.

3. It is not proper for an employee to be insolent and openly criticize his superior. Knowing this may lead to pent up frustrations, some companies have small closet-sized rooms where the disgruntled employee can go into, close the door, and quietly beat an effigy of the boss with a bamboo stick. It may sound kind of silly, then again, you don’t hear of anyone going “postal” in Japan either.

4. It is still important for the Japanese to reach a consensus on any significant decision. This process may take some time to perform, but they want to emphasize team building and inclusion of employees in the decision making process.

5. When you join a major company in Japan it is common to first “pay your dues,” whereby you and your “class” (those who joined at the same time) are put on the same employment level and work for ten years, after which it is determined who the hard workers are and reward them with a major job promotion. If you didn’t work hard, the company won’t necessarily fire you, but your advancement in the company is arrested. Nonetheless, the emphasis here is on teamwork and creating a spirit of cooperation.

In the United States though, things are a little different…

1. Americans are not afraid of offending anyone. So much so, that “Hell No!” (or stronger) is a natural part of our vernacular. Unlike the Japanese who digest something before speaking, Americans do not hesitate to tell you whether they agree with you or not.

2. Rarely do you find an American employee who is steadfastly loyal to his company. Instead, it is more likely he will start an anonymous blog to bitch about his company and slander the character of the boss and his coworkers.

3. Americans tend to vent their frustrations more publicly than the Japanese. For example, you might get attacked in the company parking lot, or someone may pull a gun out and start shooting.

4. Instead of group decision making, Americans prefer rugged individualism whereby decisions tend to be made unilaterally as opposed to seeking the counsel of others. Consequently, employees tend to undermine any decision which is jammed down their throats.

5. When you join a major company in the United States, you are rewarded more for individual acts as opposed to team playing. This results in a never ending game of scratching and clawing your way up the corporate hierarchy. Obviously, this approach promotes interoffice politics and cutthroat tactics as opposed to a spirit of cooperation.

Why the substantial differences? Primarily because Japan is a homogeneous culture, and the American “melting pot” is heterogeneous which includes people of all races, faiths, and beliefs.

Although the differences between east and west are noticeable, things are slowly changing in Japan, whose youth have grown up with the Internet and are starting to emulate the work habits of their counterparts in the west. In other words, instead of observing courtesy, honor and respect, Japan is slowly becoming Westernized and I fear that some time in the not too distant future “Maybe Yes” will mean nothing more than that.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

For Tim’s columns, see:

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Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.


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Posted by Tim Bryce on April 21, 2009

When I first went to Japan, I found it fascinating how so many people could get along in a small amount of space. For example, if you take the subway in Tokyo during rush hour, you better not be claustrophobic, as people are jammed in with you any way they can. Fortunately, I’m tall enough where I can keep my head above the fray and get some fresh air, but down below are Japanese pushed into my navel (and just about everywhere else). Remarkably, as close as the quarters are on the subway, the Japanese try to respect the privacy of the people surrounding them. I’ve always admired the Japanese for this; quite simply, there is great respect for the concern of others. Because of the small amount of available space, I guess they really have no alternative.

Contrast this attitude though to the United States where we have a heck of a lot more space, but we still have areas where people live in close quarters, such as apartment buildings and condominium complexes. I recently had a reader complain to me about a neighbor in her apartment building who was causing a lot of trouble for the residents there, whereby he would be loud, knock on doors in the middle of the night to wake people up, and generally be an all-around nuisance. They tried to talk to him, but he disregarded their complaints and continues on his war path. My reader asked me what she should do about the situation.

First, you have to recognize you are dealing with someone who is either immature or socially dysfunctional, and such people can be dangerous as they have no concern for anyone else but themselves, the absolute antithesis of the Japanese culture. Second, find out the rules pertaining to your apartment complex as written and attached to the lease or contract, perhaps some governing documents. If such rules and regulations do not exist, look up local government ordinances. Next, register a written complaint with the proper authorities; in fact, get as many people as possible to sign the complaint with you which adds more credibility to your argument. Although you may want to take your complaint to your landlord, in all likelihood, he will not care. From his perspective, an obnoxious tenant that pays his rent on time is better than a quiet, empty apartment for lease. In other words, you will have to register your complaint with law enforcement officials.

When your complaint is officially registered and the person is notified, he will either be forced to conform or may become more belligerent. Now is the time to keep a journal of any other incidents that may arise, including pictures or audio if pertinent. Hopefully, the situation will go away, but it may also erupt on a grander scale, whereby you end up in court or be forced to move yourself.

Such a situation is unimaginable in Japan. The neighbors would talk to the person who, in turn, would become embarrassed and comply in order to maintain harmony and not to lose face. However, in the “home of the free,” such a talk would only make the problem worse, not better.

There are of course other alternatives, such as a baseball bat persuader, or hire Nunzio “Three fingers” to have a little “chat” with the problem child, but it is probably best to try legal alternatives first. Then again, you could move to Japan, if you don’t mind being squashed into a subway car.

Such is my Pet Peeve of the Week.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at

For a listing of Tim’s Pet Peeves, click HERE.

Download Tim’s eBook (PDF), “The Bryce is Right! Empowering Managers in today’s Corporate Culture” (free DOWNLOAD).

Copyright © 2009 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

Posted in Life | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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