Japanese business

Written by Maarten Holleman November 2013. Posted in Business relations, Int. Skills

Japanese business

Japanese business


Japanese have a different way of looking at work than Western society does. In this article I will try to give you some insight in
to the Japanese way of working from the perspective of Dutch logistics and what we have learned from the Japanese logistics business structure.

The average Japanese workingmen are called “Sararii” and can be recognized by their grey suits. Their working days are long and it is normal for them to work well into the night. An average workweek for the “Sararii” is between 40 and 50 hours, but longer weeks are no exception. These long weeks of work are all because the “Sararii” never let a colleague do their work for them, since they have an “everyone is working or no one is” mentality.

Not only is the average Japanese workday very long, but with only 10 days off a year, the Japanese have only a few holidays and there are also only a few obligatory free days in Japan, like “the Golden Week” of celebrations and festivals. On those few holidays Japanese workers like to be with their families. Since time spent with their family is very scarce, they love it. 

The Japanese need to trust their client first and therefore it takes a lot more time to do business with a Japanese company than with a Dutch one. That also means that there will be a lot of small talk and dining before any business is discussed. The upside to it all is that the Japanese are very efficient with their time. It will therefore not be appreciated if you are not on time, but it will also make them nervous if you are too early.

There are a lot of things we have learned from the Japanese, not only how they work but also the business models they use. Their work ethic is outrageously good, but it also has its disadvantages. The long working hours are not good for people. The suicide rate is pretty high but also declining, because of new laws regarding working hours. Because the Japanese are strong in working together, it means that everyone is responsible and never just one person.

The Japanese have thought of several different business models in the logistics world. The three most known are “Kanban”, “JIT” and “Poke yoke”. There are more models, but in my view, these three are the best and most interpreted.

“Kanban” is a very simple business model. It literally means billboard or score board and is actually a scheduling method used to improve and control the supply chain from a production perspective. Every employee on the work floor can see how his team is performing and what the targets are.

JIT is an acronym for “Just in Time”. It is a strategy to reduce inventory and carrying costs and relies on the “Kanban” information system to send a signal to the supplier in order for them to deliver the goods by a certain time so there will be no inventory. The JIT system reduces the inventory costs by almost 80%, but the delivery costs may rise due to the large number of smaller deliveries.

A third business model is the “Poka yoke”, a system that was invented by Shigeo Shingo to improve the industry in Japan by eliminating human faults in production lines. “Poka yoke” literally means “mistake avoidance” or in its more known form “fool proof”. It is used in the factories of Toyota where it is implemented by the logistics department to make the whole process more lean and cost effective.

In conclusion, we can say that the Japanese think of great systems to improve production and reduce inventory costs. Although, we don’t want to work Japanese hours, we could learn something from their team spirit and way of thinking.