The Samurai Warriors of Japan have been credited with influencing the lifestyles of Japanese with their code of conduct. They were held in high esteem as they were an association of selfless men ready to lay down their lives for their fellow citizen. They formed part of the elite members of the society as they had ties with the rulers but were in touch with the dealings of the common man. They were trained in the art of battle with the sword being their favoured tool of assault. These men were also expected to learn and appreciate some form of art to balance their offensive nature. They were the protectors of Japanese interests till new weaponry i.e. guns replaced the fighting methods and they slowly disappeared from prominence.
Japanese corporate world has been seen to incorporate the ideal of the Samurai in their structures and operations and by doing so they increased their success. The Samurai had the following set of values to guide them.
The Japanese organizations still practise their forefathers’ way of life not only in their private lives but also to push their economic agenda. The paper shall look at Toyota, Mitsubishi and Sony as some of the corporations which inculcated the Samurai Code fully into their operations and they in turn benefit with huge profits.
The paper hypothesise- that for Japanese companies to register their world renowned success, the workers need to be included in the daily running of the company. That Japanese managerial system is devoid of economics-controlled mechanisms of running a business.That clients/customers would readily identify with companies that holds them a higher esteem while taking care of both their immediate and long term concerns.That cultural ties and norms are more efficient for workers to utilize in maximizing their efforts at work than use of impersonal formal rules.
The Samurai Values
The Samurai meaning “one who serves” (Hays par.14) appeared in Japan in the 10th Century as guards of the Imperial Court in Kyoto under the command of local warlords (Hays par. 24). They were educated and took up different forms of art, the favourite one being calligraphy hence the concept of bushido “the way of life of the warrior” and bun “the artistic, intellectual and spiritual side of the Samurai (Hays par.17).
A Samurai had one duty; to faithfully serve his master through pledging allegiance to the emperor (Hays par.28). The bushido code prescribed loyalty, devotion to duty, justice, courage, compassion, modesty, practical administration skills, and willingness to die for honour and for one’s master (Hays par.29). These attributed were imported into the men while undergoing military training. The warriors were taught to ‘unquestionably obey’ their parents and master-daimyo and ruler-shogun from the onset of the training (Hays par.35).
The Corporate Entities and Japanese Societal Values
Corporate entities should be able to undertake their line of businesses for sustained periods of time so that they earn the profits while the customers enjoy the products or services offered. For businesses to do this they need a proper culture to work with (Watson and Burkhalter p.401). Culture has been defined as “the energy that drives or fails to drive the organization” (Watson and Burkhalter p.402). The societal elements inform the various forms of energy that drive Japanese companies and hence the companies’ culture in conducting business.
The managerial portion of these companies protect their employees, offer services to each other, accept their places in the organisation and depend on the whole organization for effective work to occur (Watson and Burkhalter p.402). A Japanese company would offer long term employment to workers, gradual promotion, efficient control mechanisms, collective decision making and show genuine concerns for the workers (Watson and Burkhalter p.402).
Japanese companies are governed through keiretsu which means lineage and have a horizontal or vertical model (Twomey par.2). The horizontal model has banks and trading entities at the top of the chart controlling a segment of the arrangement. This also enables vertical integration where a viable company belongs to a particular keiretsu i.e. each of Japan’s car companies belong to different keiretsus (par.4). This symbolises the family set up where the parent company oversees the subsequent companies that come up i.e. Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Sumitomo groups (Vogel p.131). The parent companies would have one of its personnel sit in the Board of such entities and guide them on the parent companies objectives and this aided in them being successful businesses (Vogel p.129).
Further the composition of the Japanese society where has remained largely unchanged for centuries and the people have evolved culturally and formally/economically isolated from the greater world (Vogel p.115). This has resulted in the population having informal ties even after undergoing formal education and it is through this conditioning that Japanese people fuse their informal ways in formal setups-the work place (Vogel p.116).
Adoption of Samurai Values by Japanese Corporations
The Toyota Company has infused portions of the Samurai code of conduct in their business plans through target costing. This is “a cost management tool for reducing the overall cost of a product over its entire life cycle with the help of other company departments” (Feil, Yook and Kim p.11). Toyota usually conducts seminars open to the public where the Toyota Production System is discussed; techniques, systems and philosophy (Feil, Yook and Kim p.17). The talks detail the three elements which competitors can copy but they cannot reproduce the philosophical underpinnings of the process which conditions the mind before such an undertaking (p.17). This underlines honesty in showing the customers on the billing system and the wisdom in sharing company information would endear the company to clients.
In that regard Toyota has expanded its market from its initial Japanese clients to international clients. Of particular mention is the U.S. market which was said to be unprofitable by the local car manufacturers-General Motors, Ford and Daimler-Chrysler but Toyota, Honda and Nissan still managed to enter the market and make profits (Tsurumi par.33).
Another value actively employed is courage and justice where Toyota took over an auto plant from General Motors and the management pledged to reduce their salaries before effecting the same on the employees on temporary terms (Tsurumi par.35). This enabled the company to restructure the job categories and align them to their “flexible, quick response and quality first manufacturing system” with the permission of the United Auto Workers (Tsurumi par.35). The workers did not like the GM officials who wanted them to make sacrifices yet they themselves were not ready to commit themselves thus in retaliation they offered poor services and earned the tag ‘unworkable’ (Tsurumi par. 35). The Toyota management justified the salary cuts by experiencing the same and were not afraid to effect the changes so as to return to profitability.
Toyota has a strategic goal of becoming the most efficient and innovative provider of goods and services not maximizing their stock prices. This mirrors the Samurai’s value of wisdom; by continuous investing in innovative technologies, market development and human resources and aligning them to the national interest of their home country and foreign markets (Tsurumi par.37). Once they are best the profits would be evident. It also points at benevolence where the staff and the populace benefit from these long term measures implemented where the common man is ‘taken care of’(Bushido Virtues).
Canon Corporation under their CEO Fujio Mitarai pushed for loyalty and mutual respect among the staff; whether in managerial position or subordinate posts. In the U.S. the company has put in place technological stations thus providing employment as well technological know-how (Tsurumi par.41). This shows that the company does not neglect the populace of the host nation after benefiting from sales but goes ahead and invests in them for future relations.
Filial piety is strongly exhibited in the respect of the lineage of the company-in the structure of keiretsu. Mitsubishi for example depends on its departments to operate in optimum capacity to generate sales but at the same time is a member of the Mitsubishi keiretsu. The group also has Mitsubishi Motors, Mitsubishi Trust and Banking. The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi is at the top of the group which provides for financial services for the group. Meiji Mutual Life Insurance Company provides insurance to all members of the group while Mitsubishi Shoji is the trading company for the Mitsubishi keiretsu. Mitsubishi Shoji carries on business on behalf of the group globally which is principally to distribute goods (Twomey par.6).
An essential component of any corporate is team work and this can be derived from team orientation from the Japanese way of life (Feil, Yook and Kim p.17). Harmony is essential for this form of association to be fruitful hence the principle that the group is more important than the individual such that complex issues cannot be left to an individual to handle on his own (Feil, Yook and Kim p.17). Decisions are made collectively with the leader stating the agreed position and each member is expected to own that decision as his own (Feil, Yook and Kim p.17). This then introduces another aspect; honesty. Japanese companies do not subscribe to command and control through explicit rules and management by financial objects but encourage shared strategic goals from the management down to the last employee (Tsurumi par.46).
The Japanese have a holistic approach to conducting business, in that; it is not enough for the company to make profits and the employees to get paid. It matters if the workings of the company are understood, appreciated and are effective for all parties connected to the business dealing. Japanese companies invest in their workers and this is manifested by Toyota’s top-down approach in terms of sharing their strategy with the workers hence enabling them have a better understanding of their duties.
These companies would not subject their workers to practices that they themselves shun away from. The management are patient with the prevailing economic conditions which they use to their advantage and bring out the best in the workers. Toyota did this when they were restructuring the newly acquired auto plant; they changed the worker’s attitude and production was increased and hence profits later on.
Loyalty is a subtle ingredient for these companies. They would not neglect their market through engaging in social responsibility activities like offer scholarships for the members of the public who deserve it. They also put up plants to aid in the manufacturing of their products and would employ more people other than the sales personnel. This goes a long way in raising the number of people drawing an income in any given country.
Seniority and its importance can be learnt from the way the parent companies guide the subsidiaries in their businesses. The parent companies have in place mechanisms to enable the young companies to grow healthily e.g. what the Mitsubishi group is doing. The bank avails the finances needed while the trading company takes care of the setting up and operations while the insurance companies takes care of any risk that may arise in the course of trading. The junior companies would easily make profits as they are mentored in each and every step of the way.
Like the Samurai these companies take care of themselves as a unit and they have a philosophy which commands their every move. They may be modern and dealing in modern goods and services but they are still observing what their forefathers held dear in them; culture.