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Q: Japanese Culture ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: Japanese Culture
Category: Relationships and Society > Cultures
Asked by: jeanxavier-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 26 Apr 2006 11:03 PDT
Expires: 26 May 2006 11:03 PDT
Question ID: 723025
How does the Japanese culture and history play a part in developing
their unique employment practices, such as Life Time Employment and
seniority pay system?
Subject: Re: Japanese Culture
Answered By: boquinha-ga on 26 Apr 2006 15:37 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello jeanxavier-ga!

It seems like I?m answering a lot of these foreign culture questions
lately! Here are a couple of answers that I?ve worked on recently that
may interest you:

I do truly find other cultures fascinating and enjoyed researching
your question. I hope you enjoy the answer, as well.

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The short answer is that both the practices of lifetime employment
(guaranteed employment at one company for one?s entire career) and
seniority pay (raises as promotions based on years worked, not on
performance) appeared in the 1920s years leading up to World War I in
an effort to increase employee loyalty. Large corporations employing
these strategies hoped that the increase in stability and loyalty
would lead to greater growth and financial stability. As growth has
slowed, much has been blamed on this loyalty system, especially when
one considers the number of so-called ?unproductive workers.?
Interestingly, a Sumitomo Research Institute reported a Japanese
unemployment rate of 6% rather than the officially reported rate of
3%, just by considering employees who ?make little or no contribution
to their companies.? In fact, nearly 27% of Nissan?s work force is
made up of lifetime employees without any real duties.
(Anecdotally my husband, who has spent 2 years in Japan, was told
while there that a promotion to the ?corner office? signified that an
employees productive years were over?just look out the window and
relax . . . while continuing to receive a paycheck!)

?According to a survey conducted by the Japan Institute for Labor
Policy and Training in January 2004, about 60% of companies surveyed
had switched over to a merit-based pay system [rather than
seniority-based]. However, over 30% of the employees at these
companies reported that the atmosphere in their workplace had become
less favorable. Some employees also displayed unhappiness about the
negative changes in their pay after the implementation of the
merit-based system.?

Craig A. Marsh, speaking at a seminar sponsored by the Research
Institute of Economy, Trade, and Industry in Japan, had an interesting
way to explain the unwritten rules or codes historically present
within large Japanese corporations.

?As an example of an unwritten but understood contract that
organizations have with the people who work for them, the ?relational
psychological contract? used to be very clear: security, loyalty,
commitment, seniority pay, regular promotions, carefully defined
responsibilities, lifetime employment et cetera. For several decades
this was the deal accepted by both employee and employer.?

Loyal workers came to expect these types of practices, and worked
extremely hard to show their loyalty, and companies expected increased
productivity and financial rewards because of their employees?

My husband also told me about another interesting employment practice
that he learned while speaking with college students from Todai
University in Tokyo. Large corporations, such as Sony or Toyota, would
hire ?en masse? from large, prestigious universities (such as Todai)
and then largely promote these workers as a group. This practice is
referred to briefly in the following article, although most of this
article discusses ramifications of the lifetime employment system with
regards to young, new workers entering the work force.

Ultimately, many of these practices to which you refer are not
explicitly thought of as results of a cultural practice or tradition,
but rather as innovations intended to improve productivity and
corporate profits. There are a couple of elements from Japanese
culture and history that may explain some of the reasons that these
practices were developed.

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Loyalty is a concept that has deep roots in Japanese military history,
dating back to at least the 12th century. The samurai, or warrior
class of Japan, adhered to a strict military code called ?bushido,? or
?way of the warrior.? In this the most important point was that of
complete loyalty to his daimyo, or lord.

Their code also speaks of how indebted a samurai is to his lord, and
that the only way that he can even think to repay him is to follow him
into death, committing ?junshi.? This is a way to exhibit the three
most important values of Loyalty, Faith, and Valor.
(From A.L. Sadler?s translation of ?The Code of the Samurai,? by Daidoji Yuzan)

?About the close of the fifteenth century, the military custom of
permitting any samurai to perform harakiri, instead of subjecting him
to the shame of execution, appears to have been generally established.
Afterwards it became the recognized duty of a samurai to kill himself
at the word of command. . . . The important fact to remember is that
honour and loyalty required the samurai man . . . to be ready at any
moment to perform self-destruction by the sword. As for the warrior,
any breach of trust (voluntary or involuntary), failure to execute a
difficult mission, a clumsy mistake, and even a look of displeasure
from one's liege, were sufficient reasons for harakiri, or, as the
aristocrats preferred to call it, by the Chinese term, seppuku.?

Or, in other words, workers are to exhibit complete loyalty to their employers.

It should be pointed out that the samurai received a great deal in
exchange for their loyalty. Most notably they received land and great
prestige as payment.

This time-honored concept of loyalty permeates Japanese society and
may be one factor, whether conscious or subconscious, that led to the
implementation of Japan?s unique employment practices.

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In Japanese society, as one ages he or she receives more respect and
honor. Age in and of itself is a source of prestige and honor.
Additionally, in most traditional Japanese arts, one cannot become a
master until he or she has reached at least middle age, reinforcing
respect for those who have grown older

Shinto, the ancient religion of Japan, has ancestor worship as one of
its important features. This emphasis creates a strong bond between
familial generations, which then permeates society as a whole.

As Buddhism infiltrated Japanese society, emphasis began to be placed
upon death rites and remembrances. ?An annual ancestral ceremony, Bon,
takes place in either July or August and along with the New Year's
celebration, is considered to be one of the two most important
observances in Japan.? Japan never entirely accepted Confucianism, but
its ideals of filial piety became important, permeating the teachings
of Japanese Buddhist sects, and reinforcing the idea of ancestral
respect or worship.

Other information on Japanese family life and honoring the elderly can
be found here.

This is an article about the care of the elderly in Japan, referred to
as Japan?s ?beautiful tradition? (my husband tells me that when he was
there in the mid 1990s, it was extremely uncommon to place relatives
in nursing homes, though that trend seems to be reversing rapidly).

These various approaches to the respect of family, ancestors, and the
elderly were certainly prevalent in Japanese society in the early 20th
century and probably played a large role in the establishment of
practices such as lifetime employment and seniority pay.

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While the reason for establishing lifetime employment, seniority pay,
and other Japanese business practices are thought to be rooted in
purely financial reasoning, it is readily apparent that Japanese
cultural traditions present hundreds of years ago could easily by
permeating business culture even today. I hope that you find this
information useful and interesting. I know I find foreign cultures
interesting myself! If you have need of any further clarification
please let me know how I can help.


Search strategy:

Online search
Personal experience
Home library research

Search terms:

seniority pay Japan
"seniority pay" history Japan
hiring practices Japanese corporation 
loyalty Japan
elder respect Japan
?old age? respect Japan
Shinto ancestor worship
Buddhism ancestor worship

Request for Answer Clarification by jeanxavier-ga on 26 Apr 2006 15:55 PDT
Hi boquinha-ga,

Thank you for the prompt answer! However I would also like to further
know if the tokugawa period, neo-confucianism and education also
played a part in crafting their unique employment practices?

Thanks a ton :)

Clarification of Answer by boquinha-ga on 26 Apr 2006 21:04 PDT
Hello jeanxavier-ga!

I?m glad to see you were pleased with the timing of my answer. As your
clarification really poses a new set of questions, I have tried to
give you a few links to excellent articles to get you started. If you
have need of a more detailed answer (along the lines of the one I?ve
already posted for you), you can feel free to post another question on
Google Answers. You can include my name in the title if you?d like me
to handle it, as well. For now, here?s what I found.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The Tokugawa (or Edo) period ran from 1603 to1867, and was
characterized by a central military government, bound by a code of
honor and loyalty of the samurai class. For more information on this
period, including social and cultural practices that contribute to
modern thinking see:

For more information on the Tokugawa period, including social structure see:

The above article touches on Neo-Confucianism, a blend of true
Confucianist ideals and Japanese thought. It emphasizes the morals,
class system, and education within this philosophy. Another nice
overview piece about Neo-Confucianism can be found here:

This is another interesting article on Neo-Confucianism in Tokugawa Japan.

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I hope that these additional sites help to point you in the direction
of the information that you seek. If you need any clarification please
let me know how I can help. Welcome again to Google Answers!


Additional search terms:

Tokugawa period Japan
Neoconfucianism Japan
jeanxavier-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Extensive and tidy answering. One of the best researchers in Google Answers! :)

Subject: Re: Japanese Culture
From: boquinha-ga on 27 Apr 2006 07:01 PDT
Thank you very much for the kind words and the 5-star rating!


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