It seems that the music played by Kato has closed the gap once more between the hostages and terrorists. Everyone has become rather lively and with it new bonds are formed. We see Hosokawa and Roxanne with their subtle show of affection to each other. We see Generals seeking out Messner, often for reasons that don’t involve negotiations. We also see Gen and Carmen form a new bond at the end of the chapter as Carmen approaches him for lessons. Yet, I couldn’t help but refer to the profound relationship between Hosokawa and Kato. Although it wasn’t explicitly said, I can infer that these two elderly men have known each other for quite some time since they work at the same company and have knowledge, although not intimate, of each other. Hosokawa holds a higher status because he is the founder and chairman of Nansei while Kato is known as the vice president of the company and for being “good at numbers”. I chose to do my research on the Japanese work force while looking more in-depth look at the employee-employer relationship in Japan.
In order to learn more about Japan’s work force system, I found an article written by Kristin Wingate on the Japanese salarymen. This refers to the white collar company employees who earn “based on individual abilities rather than on seniority.” She examines Japan’s change in attitude towards the traditional system versus the more modernized Western system. In it I learned that Japan has been using lifetime employment since 1950s based on ideas that by hiring employees that are straight out of high schools or university, they are to be expected to work endlessly for this company until they retire between age 55 and 60 with the belief that this upholds the old Confucian values of “loyalty, discipline, and sincerity”. (Uzama and Wingate) Wingate further reports that although Japanese culture puts an emphasis on the importance of family, “most salaryman replace their families with corporation.” (Wingate, 2011) This is quite unsettling because these employees end up neglecting their own families in exchange for working more hours. Although it can be argued that by working more, they earn more money to better support and provide for the family, I believe that their efforts are pointless if they cannot find the time to participate in social activities that strengthens their bond as a family. I can’t help but relate this to the intimacy and affection that Hosokawa admits he sorely lacks with his own family.
Wingate further explains the noticeable shift of Japanese acceptance going away from the lifetime employment system and more towards the individualistic and expressionistic modernized system those Western countries such as the United States offers. She pointed out that women were amongst those that did not benefit from the lifetime employment system. (Wingate 2011) Notice that in Bel Canto, the room is left with the more valuable and important people, referring to the men. Furthermore, Patchett has only distinguished Roxanne who in her own field is considered quite skillful and can on equal footing with these men and holding a high position as proof of her prowess. The women in Japan lack the respect to be treated with equality and are therefore at the disadvantage when it comes to finding jobs in Japan. I found an article in the Economist about women in Japan who, despite of her skills, high education and connections, have to compromise their careers because of lack of acceptance in the labor force. “Female participation in the labor force is 63%, far lower than in other rich countries. When women have their first child, 70% of them stop working for a decade or more, compared with just 30% in America. Quite a lot of those 70% are gone for good.” Wow, and that’s it! I would attribute this back to the deeply rooted Japanese idea that women are expected to stay at home and care for the family. In what way is this helping Japan’s economy? The article further reported that “the fertility rate, already low, plunged further, bottoming out at 1.26 children per woman in 2005 before edging up to 1.41 in 2012” when women were encouraged to remain at home. (Economist 2014) In fact, a recurring theme throughout Japanese culture that I have noticed is that the needs of the whole (country, nation, company, family) outweighs the needs of the individual. Not only women but for every individual, the family or the corporation is put first. “Few women hold professional, technical or managerial roles. In 2012 they made up 77% of Japan’s part-time and temporary workforce [to earn extra income].” Wingate insists that this is why the younger generations are stirring away from the traditional Japanese values considering that other countries like the United States has largely contrasting ideals that puts more emphasis on being independent and individualization. (Wingate 2011) I understand how this may be more appealing to most youths, especially women, in Japan because it encourages equality, creativity, pushes one to stand out from the norm, and to make something of themselves so that they are not working for the sake of being employed but for the sake of putting their skills to good use.
The Economist article veered towards my second question on employee-employment interaction. Working at a typical Japanese company includes “ferociously long working hours, often stretching past midnight, followed by sessions of “nominication”, a play on the Japanese word for drinking, nomu, and the English word “communication”; these are where young hopefuls forge connections and build reputations.” (Economist 2014) I believe this infers to the social gatherings that employees are obligated to attend in order to build interpersonal dependence that could strengthen teamwork, increase job satisfaction, and improve job productivity, all for the benefit of the company. Again, they are not really thinking of the individual. Since they would be working with each other for years in the future, due to the lifetime employment policy, these gatherings allow the development of “co-worker altruism”. As the employee of a company, you can expect that you will see the same people at work, day in and day out so this proximity cannot be avoided and is almost required to maintain a pleasant working environment until such time. Of course, in Japan status is a big thing because they are an authority-ranking culture as observed by Wingate. Wingate points out that there is a profound psychological relationship between leaders and followers. “For example, instead of a handshake, which is an indicator of equality, the Japanese greet each other with a bow.” (Wingate 2011) From my previous research on Japanese etiquette and conduct, it confirms that the lower one bows the more respect they are showing and therefore, they are indicating that someone is above them in station. Growing up in the modern American system and values, I find this quite disconcerting because we are brought up to believe that we deserve respect and equality despite any implication of our social or economical status.
Cole Short explored the employee-employer relations in Japan for his honors thesis. His investigation of the literature further explains what I have already learned from the previous articles but the key thing I learned is the term communalism, referring to the notion of shared responsibility. In cases where Japanese companies take responsibility for corporate mishaps involving widespread health concerns or products that present danger to their consumers, these result in wage reductions for that company to cover for their losses. However, “when crisis does not affect the inner-workings of Japanese firms, veterans in the business ha been historically privileged with higher wages, [unprecedented level of job security], and commonly strong trust relationships established with their higher-ups.” (Short 2013) Corporate relations are greatly influenced by cultural and societal concerns. I came to understand that aside from gaining maximum income, Japanese companies also rely heavily on how they are perceived by the general public because it directly correlates with their success. My takeaway is that there is positive interaction between the employers and employees when the company is experiencing success because circumstances are more favorable, therefore, each party are benefitting from their collaboration. Furthermore, the employees act as the “internal goods” so that the company and their employees may gain “external goods” such as profit, global expansion and increased market shares. The gains that the company receives can therefore be circulated through benefits and job security to their employees. Hosokawa efficiently utilized the opportunity given to him, although unknowingly, by Kato. Therefore, Hosokawa benefited from the skills utilized by Kato.
Overall, my findings gave me a better understanding of how and the reasoning behind Japanese culture as they conduct their businesses and corporations. My finding allowed me to have further understanding for how employees and employers are influenced to develop interpersonal dependence in order to act as a homogenous and efficient unit that will therefore aid in the prosperity of the company. My research led me to different avenues related to the employment process in Japan. There are certainly limitations to their system that beckons change as each generation entering a career as a salary person bring more modernized values that challenge the traditions.
- Holding back half the nation. The Economist. 2014.
2. Short CE. Employee-Employer Relations in Japan: An Analysis of Honor-Shame and Authority-Power Relations within the Modern Japanese Workplace. Baylor University. 2013.
3. Uzama A. A Critique of Lifetime Employment in Japan (Shushinkoyou). Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University.
4. Wingate K. Japanese Salarymen: On the Way to Extinction?. Undergraduate Journal of Global Citizenship. 2011; 1(1): (2).