Why so many white and silver cars?

“Around 1986, when the colour white became fashionable in Japan, 70 percent of the passenger cars pouring out of Toyota factories were white, with the figure as high as 90 percent for some models. Asking consumers why, one would get answers ranging from ‘it’s a clean colour’ to ‘white cars have a higher resale value’”

America and the Four Japans pg 86

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Why are some Japanese always dabbing at their faces?

… both with the little (and sometimes not so little) towels they carry round with them, and with the very popular special paper for removing oil from your face.

I don’t think this is the main reason, but many Japanese salarymen wear vests all year, apparently to avoid any hint of a nipple being seen through their white shirts. Some of them also use special pads in their armpits to absorb sweat. Not sure why they think that is a good idea, because it just seems to lead to all the sweat coming out of their foreheads…

Why do the Japanese take so little holiday?

Famously, on average they only take one week of the already minimal two weeks that they have available.

“A joke among some Americans who deal with Japan is that one reason Japanese white-collar workers take so few holidays is that if they were gone for more than a couple of days it might be obvious how little work they actually do”

America and the Four Japans pg 100

What could also be a factor is that there is a blurring between holiday and other kinds of days off. For example, if you don’t use your paid sick days you could theoretically take them as paid holiday, but almost no one does. This possibly reinforces the idea that time off is something to feel guilty about.

Why do the Japanese work such long hours?

“… endlessly long meetings in which everyone tried to figure out what everyone else was feeling without tipping their own hand. Politics – tense, back-stabbing power-play politics – in which various managers who had come to the project from different backgrounds tried to line up factions against one another. All this had to be done without creating so much as a ripple on the surface of the pool (harmony must be preserved!), so naturally it took far more time than open warfare would.”

About Face by Clayton Naff

Good point that. Another important factor is that the Japanese prize hard work above creativity or efficiency. I think the most important factor might be, however, that being the only one to leave early makes it seem like you are leaving the work for others to do (even when that’s not true) and generally not doing your best to fit in with the company culture, as those are certainly the reasons why Japanese only take one of their two weeks on annual leave.

Why the early mandatory retirement?

“By age fifty or fifty-five, the employee’s salary is often much higher than his productivity [due to seniority-based pay]. Most companies want to replace overcompensated older workers with low-cost younger personnel.

For the worker, what typically follows ‘lifetime’ employment is retirement employment, at lower wages and without security. In 1988 about 67 percent of Japanese men in their early sixties held jobs, as did 55 percent of those in their late sixties. This was more than double the rate of postretirement work in the United States.”

About Face by Clayton Naff pg 267

Another factor is that there is nothing to stop most companies imposing early retirement because most employees get a one off payment rather than a regular pension or with only a small regular pension.

Why so much drinking with colleagues in Japan?

“Large Japanese companies are political battlefields where, in the absence of clear job descriptions or standards for promotion, a man’s hopes for promotion to an executive position turn largely on his ability to attract loyal retainers. This works both ways. An ambitious junior must learn the inclinations and desires of those on whose coattails he hopes to ascend… Tsukiai provides the means. Through after-hours drinking, paid for by the boss, secrets are revealed, favours promised and mutual obligations incurred. This… may be called the bonding of lords and vassals”

About Face by Clayton Naff pgs 183/184

Why do the girls wear such wide collared shirts with their recruit suits?

 I’ve written before about how ambitious British and American graduate recruits do their best to stand out from day one, while ambitious Japanese recruits try to blend in, with the “recruits suits” that are even more conservative and standardised than usual being part of that. Given the width of the blouse collars in April, however, I think there might be more to it than that.

It also occurs to me that they (subconsciously) want to point out to everyone in the company that they are new recruits. That could help them get a little patience and maybe even instruction when they are stuck in a department and expect to pick up a job through osmosis. More importantly, though, it could help them bond with the people who were recruited at the same time who will be their natural allies (along with people from the same school and university) through the rest of their careers.

Why do some UK imports also have the steering wheel on the wrong side?

Imported cars have traditionally been very expensive in Japan, but for some reason it is cheaper to have it imported for you than to buy it from a normal dealer. If you do it that way, however, the steering wheel of German and American cars is usually on the wrong side for Japan. Strangely, most older Jags and some other British imports do too.

The book Learning to Bow suggests that having a steering wheel on the other side is actually a further selling point as it emphasizes how exotic having an imported car is, but I’m not convinced that showing how much effort you went to to save a few pennies is something you necessarily want everyone to notice. Instead, I’ve always assumed that it is easier and cheaper to get old MGs and Jags from America, where they were briefly very trendy but soon went out of fashion. There’s also probably not enough demand for British cars to set up imports directly from the UK.

Why doesn’t real reform happen in Japan?

Historically, there are two main ways reform happens in Japan – reform that is forced from the top or outside, or reform that is copying a foreign model to try to catch up. The third possible way would be pressure from the public to reform that politicians and public servants had to respond to, but this is unlikely as the Japanese do not seem willing to go through any pain to get any possible benefits of reform.

The country that Japan has been trying to catch up with for about 100 years has been America. Even though there is little chance of the economy catching up in the way that some thought inevitable in the 80s, the Japanese looking at the present US and present Japan don’t really see a country that they want to be more like over there. The same thing is true looking across the shorter seas at the apparently more successful South Korea and China. If more Japanese knew about Scandinavia and Singapore, or weren’t so focused on the overall size of the economy, perhaps they’d have a model that they would think worth following??

So, the only real hope is an even more charismatic Koizumi-like politician to fool them into reform that they don’t really want, or outside pressure allowing the reformers in Japan to get their own way. If it did mean Japan copying the Anglo-Saxon model, though, perhaps this slow decline is better…

Why are there banks in all the new buildings?

Often they are the first or only thing there. You’d think with all the rationalisation with Japanese banks that they’d be cutting down on the number of branches.

Actually, I think the mergers and rationalisations of Japanese banks might be the reason. They are finally closing the branches which are two doors down from the other branch of the same bank (because it used to be a different bank before they merged), and in typical Japanese style that isn’t actually leading to any redundancies, so I guess they have to stick them somewhere else. The charges for using cashpoints and the number of old people with huge savings also can’t make it difficult to make money out of them.

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