Anthropological study on Japanese management:
Issues and perspectives
This presentation explores the implications and challenges that anthropological research into Japanese management faces, particularly in the field of cross-cultural management. During the rapid postwar economic growth in Japan, a large number of publications on Japanese companies were produced and many management scientists concluded that the “cultural uniqueness” of Japanese management is one of the secrets to that success. However, along with Japan’s declining economic performance, these scholars started to criticize traditional Japanese management as one of the major causes for its failure overseas. This radical yet conflicting shift was mainly due to most of the scholars confusing the corporate propaganda that constructed an image of “cultural uniqueness” with what was really happening. Based on long-term participant observation at a Japanese fashion retailer in Hong Kong, this presentation reveals the gap between “cultural uniqueness” and reality. The company uses its promotional system for propaganda about its unique culture; however, the employees realized the gap, which led them to manipulate their work performance to satisfy their own interests. The gap thus resulted in the creation of a picture different from the company’s expectations. This implies that an open dialogue with scholars from diverse research agendas is necessary to provide the various real pictures to enrich the field of cross-cultural management; it also gives an insight into how anthropological work could be applied to a business setting.