Japanese-Style Management Essay

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The term ”Japanese-style management” (JSM) was coined in the 1970s to delineate a number of interrelated work practices in Japan: lifetime employment, seniority wages and enterprise unionism. These were seen as products of traditional values the Japanese placed on verticality in human relationships (e.g., seniority), being part of a group (e.g., long-term employment), and consensual relationships (e.g., enterprise unionism). An associated list of outcomes included low levels of industrial disputation, a commitment to working long hours, the provision of certain types of company welfare, and lower labor turnover. The concomitant values were seen in an emphasis on social cohesion, a culturally ordained work ethic, familial and paternalistic orientations and an innate sense of group loyalty. The model has lately come to incorporate features such as widespread bottom-up consultation, spontaneous and voluntary quality control circles, internal labor markets, joint labor-management consultations, the absence of a strong militant class, and highly integrated tiered production systems.

Most of the early literature on JSM emphasized its uniqueness as an arrangement ordained by peculiarly Japanese cultural orientations. By the 1980s this kind of cultural essentialism was codified in accounts of nearly every aspect of Japanese society. Known as nihonjinron, they colored the learn-from-Japan campaign that emerged from the late 1970s. As the interest in the export of JSM intensified, two debates developed in tandem. One concerned the extent to which JSM was unique to Japan. Closely related, the second concerned whether the supporting values were peculiar to Japan. As Japanese firms implemented JSM abroad, they came under increasing scrutiny, especially by labor unions and by those interested in labor process, and further debate focused on whether the practices associated with JSM were post-Fordist or merely better techniques for intensifying the use of labor and hence a form of ultra-Fordism. That debate shifted the emphasis from JSM’s alleged cultural origins to the structural requisites and the bottom-line outcomes of JSM simply as a way of organizing work.


  1. Mouer, R. & Kawanishi, H. (2005) A Sociology of Work in Japan. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  2. Rebick, M. (2005) The Japanese Employment System: Adapting to a New Economic Environment. Oxford University Press, New York.

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