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Business

'Japanese corporate culture' does not exist

Concept is a red herring that can mask a host of business problems

| Japan
At Rakuten, employees speak English for all meetings and communications.

In my experience, "Japanese corporate culture" is often used as a scapegoat for a whole raft of business problems. As a consultant, I often hear CEOs in Japan, Japanese and non-Japanese, whether running Japanese companies or non-Japanese companies, blame some kind of problem or failure to achieve results on Japanese corporate culture. However, it is a red herring, because there is no such thing as a single Japanese corporate culture. It is not a supposedly different culture that is the problem, but the culture of the company itself.

When someone blames Japanese corporate culture for problems, often he or she is referring to behaviors and character traits like over-sensitivity to reasonable business risk, opaque communication, time-consuming decision-making processes, resistance to change, and passivity in a sales force. For example, the decline of such Japanese industrial giants as Sharp and Panasonic -- before current leader Kazuhiro Tsuga took the helm -- is often blamed on problems with Japanese corporate culture, as if by virtue of being Japanese, the culture of these companies were given. Yet successful companies like Rakuten, SoftBank Group, Fast Retailing, Cyberdyne, Fujifilm Holdings and Seven & i Holdings are just as Japanese, and their corporate cultures can hardly be said to be the same as those of Sharp and Panasonic.

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