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Japanese-style management today

During a discussion in 1969 between Shishido Toshio, then chairman of Nikko Research Center, and Mimura Yohei, former president of Mitsubishi Corporation, when Mimura was asked whether a Japanese-style general trading company was possible in the United States, he said: "Because management in the United States tends too much toward the short term," it would not be possible.59 Planning in Japanese companies often requires a long time from conception to implementation, so that a company of this kind may not conform to the interests of shareholders who expect high dividends quickly.

Shishido remarked, considering the essential nature of capitalism, that "the capitalist selects the manager, and unless he increases profits quickly, he will be fired. In Japan, however, capitalism has no capitalists. Nobody imagines the president of Mitsubishi Corporation has been selected by its shareholders. Many companies speak of their social responsibilities, but not of the responsibilities to their shareholders. Personally, I don't think this is a good thing; on the other hand, one could say precisely because this is the way it is in Japan, Japanese companies have achieved prosperity and increases in productivity" (Shishido 1970: 194-95).

Another insight into the Japanese style of management is provided by an incident involving an employee of a commercial firm who, suspected of graft, committed suicide and left a note saying the company was "immortal."

A company president indifferent to shareholders and a sacrifice of one's life for the benefit and prestige of one's employer seem especially indicative of a particular Japanese management culture. In Japan, the number of shares held by individual stockholders is extremely small, and for each listed company, an average of 10 institutional shareholders, mainly banking institutions, hold the overwhelming majority of its stocks. It is common for companies to hold each other's stocks. For this reason, Japanese capitalism is often referred to as "trust capitalism" or "no-capitalist" management capitalism.

A strong sense of belonging, what might be called enterprise familism, and an intense loyalty within an organization that operates according to quasi-family principles and practices could account for the case of the employee who committed suicide. And he was ashamed of himself for having been suspected of a "lack of virtue." He also adhered to the code of bushido, by which he intended, through his suicide, to morally prosecute those who suspected him. Or, it may have been that his sense of responsibility toward the company caused him to want to protect the company's integrity at the cost of his own life. Bushido mandated a manifestation of one's loyalty.

In Japanese culture, a person may not speak ill of the dead, and so if a verification of the facts reveals a dishonour, its disclosure would be embarrassing. Perhaps the person committed suicide simply because he was tired of living. If so, suicide is an allurement toward which anyone living in a highly industrialized society may tend to be tempted, and it is a disease inherent in modern civilization.

Foreigners (especially Westerners) often find it difficult to understand the psychology and logic of Japanese group formation. That there is competition between groups comes as no surprise, but many are not aware that fierce competition often occurs within them. This sort of unawareness can lead to a misinterpretation of Japanese business management. The impression we Japanese have gained, for example, from textbooks and the popular media of management practices in Europe and the United States often does not coincide with the actual situation.

Japanese management is characterized by lifetime employment, a seniority wage system, vague job classifications (which means an unspecified range of responsibilities and power) and groupism. It is generally true that workers select their employers, not their occupations. And this corresponds well with the practice of regular recruitment of new graduates and the training of new employees in the particular business practices within each enterprise. Because the system and individual jobs in one enterprise are incompatible with those of others, there is a tendency created in employees to settle in one company, which justifies the immense educational investment made by the enterprises.

The system of seniority wages was originally based on a great value placed on experience and skills and on the assumption that living expenses would be greater for more senior employees, and it became firmly established and widespread in the period of sharp inflation. The lifetime employment system was established in 191(}1920, when the labour movement was active, to secure and pacify a skilled labour force. In parallel with this, unskilled, outside contract workers and temporary workers were recruited, and skilled workers of the key production sectors were deployed from the parent company to its affiliates. This inevitably led to the formation of a dual employment structure.

As in the past, technological innovation today is changing the Japanese style of management in various ways. The focus of education and training within the company is shifting from the newly recruited to the middle- and higher-level strata of employees to ensure their adaptation to new technology. The seniority wage system has been combined with a system of wages based on job function, which itself is undergoing revisions amid rapidly progressing technological innovations.

Management concepts and practice aim at a continually expanding wealth and growth potential. Technological innovation, however, brings with it fewer job opportunities in the manufacturing sector (because of the mechanization of the production process), and it reduces the office work-force, while it encourages an expansion of the planning, R. & D., and sales divisions. This is referred to as the development of a "software economy." This has been reducing direct employment and diversifying, increasing, and shortening employment periods for indirect employment. For this reason, it is difficult to forecast in which areas the traditional Japanese style of management will continue or will have to change. One certainty is that, although the priority of where one works rather than what one does will not altogether disappear, the giving of priority to occupational preference will grow stronger.

As indirect employment becomes shorter and more irregular, it demands higher wages than direct employment. If necessary, an enterprise will convert indirect employment to direct employment, thus realizing a long-term reduction of wages. This is one aspect of developing software economies, and a possible outcome of this will be the diversification and professionalization of the technical occupations, which in turn will increase social mobility.

History of Japanese-style management

Yasuoka Shigeaki, an economic historian, isolates the following three areas of industry where the Japanese style of management was first established following the changes brought about by the Meiji Restoration.

1. In areas that held an advantage in the beginning. Products such as silk and tea, in other words, many agricultural products became goods for export. (Coal and copper may be included in this group.)

2. Industries and products that had not been affected by the international economy: foodstuffs such as salt, soya-bean paste, soy sauce, and sake; fuels such as coal and charcoal; materials for housing such as straw floor mats and wood; and native clothing.

3. Areas and their goods that were at a disadvantage in the beginning, for example, cotton and wool, which suffered strong external competition (Yasuoka 1981).

The process was most apparent in this last group, where, in the transition to import substitution and expansion of exports, Japanese-style management became firmly institutionalized.

Yasuoka focuses attention on (1) the role division between investors and management, (2) organizations for engineers, office workers, and plant workers, (3) the employment period, and (4) the wage system. An examination of each item will make clear that there were in existence domestic conditions favourable to converting an internationally disadvantageous position to an advantageous one.

The role division (1) was characteristic of big merchants, where the owners were busy with their social functions and the actual business was performed by clerks, called banto. The banto had been trained in business skills since childhood and screened from among many employees. Just as investors in an unlimited or family-owned business must bear full responsibility as a business partner, the banto bore full responsibility for business activities in the owner's firm.

To maintain or develop their properties and businesses, merchants commonly had their eldest daughters marry banto, then let these sons-in-law succeed to the property and enterprise. This was in contrast to the practice of primogeniture in the samurai class.

Only two to three per cent of all employees were able to rise to top management positions at the big merchant houses as the job performance demands were extremely tough. There was no guarantee of long-term employment; only able men were hired for life, and the time of contract renewal was also often an opportunity for discharge. The strictness and severity of the evaluation systems used at the time, as seen in the Mitsui family, for example, were very like those in force today at the large firms (Chimoto 1982).

The rules pertained to every aspect of work and daily life. Only two holidays a year were allowed. Although food and clothing were supplied, wages were extremely low. But with patience and hard work, the apprentices accepted this as the necessary period of schooling in which to master all the needed management skills, starting with working an abacus and bookkeeping, before proceeding to transactions and contracts.

Those who could not tolerate the initial training were regarded as failures. But once completing the initial training, the new managers were allowed to live outside the shops, and were provided with opportunities to establish their own families and even the right to set up their own shops.

The time frame for skill training extended to the time of the physical examination for conscription, at age 20, by which time basic occupational training was expected to have been completed in the merchant and craft worlds. The establishment of the elementary school system, however, meant that, for some vocations, the training - which began upon graduation from elementary school - was interrupted by military service. Having formed part of the social change, the new technology, which was introduced selectively, filled the gap caused by this interruption (Yasuoka 1981).

As an example of the selectivity applied in introducing technology, in the silk-weaving area of Nishijin, in Kyoto, the machines that could not produce as fine a weave as traditional machines were rejected. A mixture of new and old, internal and external technologies was dispersed throughout the production process; or, as dictated by the particular markets and characteristics of certain products, one type selected and applied exclusively (Iwashita 1982). Modern technology and machinery were carefully evaluated from management's viewpoint before being adopted; this selectiveness implies the existence of a large stock of managerial ability.

Japanese-style management and managers of zaibatsu

The question arises how did the stock of management ability among the old leading merchants respond to the rapid political and social change precipitated by the Meiji Restoration.

The transformation from privileged merchants (seisho) to zaibatsu as an example of this process was characterized by three conditions: (1) management based on familism, (2) family-owned and -operated enterprise, and (3) maintenance of broad, family-operated network of assets and business connections.

Management based on familism had an essential internal logic in response to the establishment of a modern private ownership system by the Meiji government, which, in order to gain credit with foreign countries, had to establish modern civil and commercial codes. Thanks to the banto system, for example, the top merchants had their "management specialists," able men in the right places.

On the other hand, the merchant families maintained their familistic structure, for without limitations on the execution of modern private law and private rights that allow the free disposition of properties, the preservation and development of family enterprises could not be ensured. To prevent the dispersion of family properties, these merchant houses instituted a "family constitution," or "family precepts," shunning outside capital investments in their family businesses.

Yet, under these circumstances, raising funds for expansion and diversification in response to social change was difficult, and businesses were compelled to venture into risky areas of high profitability and accumulation. The Mitsui family, aided by its able managers, was successful; the Konoike and some other banking families were not, however, as blessed with able management specialists. They could not adjust to the changing situation and were anxious only to preserve a safe and steady, conservative business management, which led to diminishing capital and finally the loss of their influence in industry.

A family's monopoly of capital investment, that is, closed management, was one type of response merchant families made to the rapid changes, a response they did not consider unusual. It was common for an owner to try managing the family business with his own capital and to prevent others from interfering with his control. Unlike other business groups, both the large zaibatsu and the small local zaibatsu were fortunate in being able to practice this independence (Seoka 1982; Fujita 1981).

The zaibatsu formed in the early 1900s. The relationship between the head of a zaibatsu, the employer, and the management specialists was not one based on the practice of modern contracts. It was closer to the relationship normally found between a master and his servants. The confusion or contradictoriness of the zaibatsu family members managing their managers arose from the fact that, while the zaibatsu families were the sole stockholders and carried full responsibility for their businesses, they left actual operation wholly in the hands of their managers, who had no ownership in the businesses whatever. Some experts (e.g., Noda Nobuo) maintain that if there had been no interference in operations by the families, the zaibatsu businesses would have been more active.

Regarding their legal status, the zaibatsu families assumed the form of an unlimited partnership, because, as such, it was not necessary to disclose the company's financial status (Mitsubishi was a limited partnership) (Yasuoka 1981). Scholars speculate variously that the zaibatsu families adopted this legal form to avoid having their income from property be regarded as unearned income, as a measure against taxation, or to avoid donations. The Japanese zaibatsu were not alone in keeping their financial records confidential. All organizations of this kind did. The Rothschilds, for example, did not disclose a balance sheet before World War II.

Zaibatsu managers and the reference group

The zaibatsu managers felt a personal loyalty to members of the zaibatsu family - not unlike that demonstrated by the company employee who committed suicide. A keen national consciousness, too, however, could be observed in the managers: Enterprising managers were motivated in the early days to contribute to the nation's development through zaibatsu family property. If too highly motivated, however, they were considered dangerous to the welfare of the family and consequently isolated.

Because most managers were well-educated ax-samurai or ax-bureaucrats, they were familiar with foreign countries and modern technologies, and had an enlightened, modern outlook. They were thus well qualified to participate in the commercial and industrial activities of the day. Nevertheless, just as Dan Takuma hesitated to be "a clerk for a merchant family" rather than a government bureaucrat, they also had a psychological resistance toward clerking for merchants.

They were interested in social prestige and official approval from the nation and the government for their achievements. They were active in social and cultural projects outside the zaibatsu businesses. This was in sharp contrast to the zaibatsu families.

They devoted themselves to religion and philosophy (Seoka 1982). This might have been a means for the zaibatsu managers to maintain a psychological equilibrium between private and state interests. This desire to maintain a balance between personal and national interests seems to indicate there was some tension in existence from the time of the formation of the zaibatsu. These managers had to concern themselves also with the public image of the zaibatsu. Thus, an ultra-right reformer like Kita Ikki (1887-1937) would receive contributions from the zaibatsu to maintain a relationship with him and his followers and thus lessen the potential threat Ikki and the reformists posed to the zaibatsu.

There were other reference groups, some made up of Christian philosophers and others of state Shintoists. In any case, "the zaibatsu were not risk-taking pioneers; rather, they were good at following the pioneers to harvest their results later" (Yasuoka 1981).

Local zaibatsu and new zaibatsu

The local zaibatsu and the newly formed zaibatsu contrasted with the big zaibatsu which adhered closely to the intentions of the central government and enlarged and diversified their activities on a nation-wide scale.

The local zaibatsu amassed vast wealth through diversification of their business activities, but they did not move from their local bases even after they had grown into nation-wide enterprises. In general during this period (early 1900s), the local zaibatsu did not adapt themselves to the line of industrialization led by the central government. Because their markets were not of a size that would have required the introduction of modern technology, their diversifications were carried out mainly in the traditional industries. Their chief areas were large-scale wholesaling and retailing, brewing, and food processing. When investments in the (local) railway, coastal transportation, warehousing, and electricity were added, most of the local zaibatsu constituted businesses of a size paralleling the agricultural landlords.

While hesitating to invest in modern industry, these zaibatsu invested mainly in banking. Accompanying development, money was in constant strong demand, and the banking business, which was stable, did not require as complicated a technology as did other industries.

Once banking was generally recognized as an important institution, holding the key to local industrial development, local notables began entering the top ranks of local banks - not for the sake of financial gain so much as for social prestige and to give the appearance of serving their communities. Thus, there was no evidence of plans to take control of the banking institutions through investment to utilize them as their own financing source.

Most local zaibatsu became rentiers in the process of the nation-wide structural changes in the economy because they could not recruit capable management personnel, and the limits of their financial capacities precluded them from entering industry. On the other hand, ambitious businessmen operating local mining or silk concerns grew into zaibatsu by riding the wave of industrialization and making full use of the technology their families had accumulated.

The top management of these new zaibatsu were men educated .15 engineers, scientists, etc.; they were well aware of the need for new investments and technology. The enterprises they established formed new zaibatsu by moving into fields where their technologies were interrelated. Some of these new zaibatsu included Nissan (Nihon Sangyo), Nisso (Nihon Soda), Nitchitsu (Nihon Chisso), and Riken (Rikagaku Kenkyusho).

These new zaibatsu had strong foundations and could undergo rapid growth. They were more daring than the old zaibatsu as they advanced into the heavy and chemical industries, and a characteristic common to all was that their founders were engineers.

Because the technology in these industries ranged over energy, materials, parts supply and processing, and other sectors, the new zaibatsu, in the process of expansion, inevitably ran up against enterprises belonging to the old zaibatsu, and this naturally restricted their business activities. For this reason, they went in search of opportunities in Japan's colonies overseas, such as Manchuria and Korea, where they played a leading role in the formation of the heavy and chemical industries. For these new zaibatsu, the younger government functionaries, the "new bureaucrats," acted as their political mentors, and they, in turn, had the support of the military. The defeat in World War II meant a loss of most of the foundation on which they had been established.

From the viewpoint of the five Ms. however, this loss was not fatal for the reconstruction of the zaibatsu as business groups. What was decisive, though, was their inability to raise money or secure credit, which controlled all the five Ms. In other words, it was the group's lack of supporting banks that was fatal. The ex-zaibatsu enterprises have revived as new groups organized around the new banks.

Of these new zaibatsu, Riken had started out as an institute of physical and chemical research in 1917. It described its purpose thus:

To promote the development of industry, the institute will be engaged in research in physics and chemistry and in the pure sciences and their applications. In either the agricultural industry or any other industry, an institute that does not base itself on physics and chemistry can make no steady development. Especially in Japan, which has a dense population but insufficient industrial and other materials, there can be no other way to realize the prosperity of the nation than by promoting the development of industry by means of education. Our aim is to accomplish this mission.

An examination of how Riken's goal of national development on the basis of science and technology was realized deserves careful study. It perfectly epitomizes the period of the transition from importation to self-reliance in technology.

In passing, it might be mentioned that the three Nobel laureates Yukawa Hideki, Tomonaga Shin'ichiro, and Fukui Ken'ichi had direct or indirect relations with this institute.60

14. Development of Japan's financial system

Development and finance
Exchange companies
From a national bank to the bank of Japan

Development and finance

One major problem regarding development is finance. If a country has a source of funds, obviously the problem is solved. Otherwise, it must depend on loans, assistance, or direct investment from foreign enterprises. Depending on the terms and conditions, these funds can have vicious effects on development. This is one reason we have emphasized national sovereignty as a decisive factor in the development of economic and technological independence. Although some countries have adopted development policies that leave them vulnerable to financial subordination, others have stubbornly rejected foreign capital, technology, and management funds, leading to retarded development. We live in an age of unprecedented interdependence and so must pursue a new international economic order. Because mutual dependence should be established on the logical assumption that each nation is the holder of independent politics and an independent economy, independence is the starting point.

Economic independence is not isolation; moreover, immersion into the international economy compels a nation to contend with rapid change. A country working toward self-reliance, even where a national consensus has been formed, must face a variety of difficulties. We have examined the sorts of experiences that arise as a result in the context of various industries. Turning now to the Japanese financial system and the financial institutions-after much trial and error, sacrifice, and loss, they have managed to achieve independence in the international arena.

In early Meiji, the Japanese yen had no international creditability, and therefore little investment in Japan was made by foreign enterprises, while an overwhelming deficit made the government dependent on foreign funds.

In 1899, the thirty-second year after the establishment of the Meiji govern meet, direct foreign investment began. This was made possible by two important political and economic events that occurred late in 1898.

One was the adoption of the gold exchange standard, using the gold obtained as reparation from the Sino-Japanese War as reserve. The second was the revision of the unequal treaties after, indeed, their 40 years of existence. (The acquisition of rights for an autonomous customs tariff had to wait another 10 years.) Foreigners living in Japan were no longer forced to live in concessions, but they lost their extraterritoriality. In his Naichi Zakkyo-go no Nihon (Japan after the opening of the concessions), Yokoyama anticipated and warned of the severity of "free competition."61

Enterprises, too, at this time lacked international creditability and could therefore not float bonds in other countries; they had to depend on direct foreign investment for the introduction of foreign capital. The first instance of this was Nippon Denki Co., Ltd., which was established in 1899 with an investment by Western Electric of the United States to manufacture telephones and switchboards. Nippon Denki was modeled after Miyoshi Denki Kojo, famous for its high-level machine-manufacturing technology. Nippon Denki eventually became NEC, which, now under complete Japanese control, has long been a leading company in the Japanese electronics industry.

Standard Petroleum made a lone investment in 1900 and started the development of oil wells. "The introduction of foreign capital begun in this way was soon being used to supplement the insufficient accumulation of capital and the low level of production technology" (see Hattori Kazuma in Arisawa Hiromi et al., eds. 1967: 141).

Also at this time, the classification of banks by function, with the Bank of Japan as the core, into commercial banks, kangyo banks (investment and promotion of industry), and savings banks was established. It has been said that "in no other country was the banking system consolidated in terms of legislation as it had in Japan." This is one example of the advantages of being a late comer.62

The financial institutions organized in the 1890s were the crystallization of ideas worked out when the Bank of Japan was founded (1882) and paralleled the secondary rise of industry and the increased number of banks after the Sino-Japanese War. The first rise of industry, which followed the period of the Matsukata financial policy in the 1880s, saw the establishment of approximately 10 private railway companies and the same number of banks.

Later, forced by the intervention of Germany, Russia, and France to abandon its dominion of the Liaotung Peninsula after the peace treaty between Japan and China in 1895, Japan determined to adjust to this loss by producing weapons domestically, which led to the construction of ironworks and brought about Japan's second surge of industrialization. This included creating an integrated system of iron and steel manufacturing, the enlargement and improvement of the national railways, the reinforcement of sea transportation and shipbuilding, enlarging the communications network, and developing Taiwan, with priority on strengthening armaments.

To attain these targets, the full-scale transfer of technology and increased imports of machines and equipment were required. But the fall of the price of silver on the international market meant a sharp increase in the prices of imported goods (which, however, was advantageous for the export industry).

Before the Sino-Japanese War, the propriety of a move to the gold standard had been discussed in government circles, and a fierce debate on how to proceed had resulted. With the sharp increase of machinery imports in the private sector after this war, the group advocating a shift to the gold standard became predominant. On the other hand, it was in the interest of the cotton-spinning industry, the only industry that had international competitive power, to adhere to the silver standard since many Asian countries - especially China - which were its biggest market, were under the silver standard.

However, when India, from which Japan was importing its raw cotton, shifted to the gold standard in 1893, and when increased imports of raw cotton precluded the cotton-spinning industry from staying with the silver standard, the time for a shift to the gold standard had arrived. The Sino-Japanese War reparations provided the point of transition. Thus was the consolidation of the financial system effected. Let us briefly examine the process of technological transfer that led to this consolidation.

Exchange companies

The earliest banks in Japan were called "exchange companies," that is, currency exchange companies. In 1869, exchange companies were established in Tokyo, Yokohama, Niigata, Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Otsu, and Tsuruga to finance the promotion of domestic and foreign trade. Their business was deposits, loans, foreign exchange, and nickel silver, old gold, and silver coin transactions. The companies were given the rights to issue gold, silver, coin, and nickel silver notes.

At this time, deposits had not developed, and civil strife and political changes had brought about a state of confusion that affected currencies. and thus the amount invested in the exchange companies was smaller than the amount required as working capital. The exchange companies therefore depended on huge loans from the government. For example, the capital of the Tokyo Exchange Company was 948,500 ryo in 1872, of which the government had contributed a total of 332,000 ryo. The company's investors were exchange companies that had been authorized by the Tokugawa shogunate, such as Mitsui, Ono, and Shimada. The Tokyo Exchange Company offered financing for the production of export goods (silkworm-egg cards, raw silk, tea, and seafoods) at an interest rate of 0.15 per cent per month, which was much lower than the prevailing rates.

Despite the interest-free government financing, the authorization to issue notes, and the government's easiness about returning the money, it was not possible for the exchange companies to establish themselves and grow.

Takizawa Naoshichi and other banking experts attributed the failure to the companies" being established merely on the basis of a combination of traditional Japanese money exchange practices and European institutional features, which did not properly fit the Japanese commercial structure of the time; moreover, there were few men qualified to conduct the business. Furthermore, as a result of the rationalization of the administration, the government's trade department, which had been the leading division for the scheme, was abolished.

The new government lacked stability; it was a time of rapid political and social changes. The foreign trading firms were in an overwhelmingly advantageous position in business negotiations, protected as they were by gunboat diplomacy. Finance for leading agricultural export products had an extremely speculative nature. These were hostile circumstances for the establishment of a true banking system. Nevertheless, there were a few bankers, able to overcome the instability and risks, who survived the upheaval en route to the modern age. The successful bankers had a management strategy, abundant funds, and the ability to evaluate the situation accurately. Ono and Shimada failed because they lacked these abilities.

In 1872, only three years after their establishment, the exchange companies were forced to dissolve because they could not develop their credit systems and supply the necessary funds to stimulate industry. Nevertheless, a general awareness was created that this type of business organization as an incorporation, though incomplete, was necessary and effective. It made ordinary people more aware of business organizations, the banking business, and the operation of funds, and gave impetus to the establishment of private banks.63 For Mitsui especially, it was this first experience of the "modern ace" that led to the formation of Mitsui Bank's management philosophy.

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