Transferring Japanese Management Practices in Asia and the West

Transferring Japanese Management Practices in Asia and the West

Hitoshi Iwashita (Faculty of Economics and Management, Vietnamese German University, Vietnam)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 22
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3744-2.ch001

Abstract

This chapter aims to identify and investigate the transferability of Japanese management practices in Asia and the West. Through a review of existing literature regarding Japanese management practices in Asia and the West, it attempts to identity and further explain how Japanese management practices can be (non-)transferrable into different national contexts. In the past, work on Japanese management practices had mainly focused on their cost-effectiveness in the Western countries. In and after the 2000s, however, this focus on the Western contexts has been gradually shifting to Asia institutionally (i.e., local labour market and regulations) while becoming culturally closer to Japan (i.e., in terms of national culture, such as collectivism and hierarchy). This chapter therefore tries to establish whether or not Japanese management practices can be (non-)transferrable into Asian contexts; if so, why so? If not, why not?
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Introduction

This chapter aims to identify and investigate the transferability of Japanese management practices in Asia in comparison with those of the Western countries. Through a review of existing literature regarding Japanese management practices in Asia and the West, it attempts to identity and further explain how Japanese management practices can be (non-) transferrable into different national contexts.

In the past, work on Japanese management practices had mainly focused on their cost-effectiveness in the Western countries. For example, in the 1980s and 1990s when Japanese practices were viewed as ‘best practice’ in the West (Endo et al., 2015), debates in the literature concerned whether such practices as Total Quality Management (TQM), Quality Circle (QC), Human Resource Management (HRM), long term employment and strategy, seniority, decision by consensus, teamwork and harmony, company loyalty, etc. could be accepted in the different institutional and national contexts in which Japanese multinational corporations (MNCs) operated (e.g., Oliver & Wilkinson, 1988, 1992; Elger & Smith, 1994). These discussions, therefore, focused on the different institutional contexts in the host country which came into conflict with the highly contextually-anchored ‘Japanese’ practices in terms of labour relations (Oliver & Wilkinson, 1988, 1992). By the 2000s, however, as the Japanese economy stagnated, these ideas seem to have become less appealing to academics and managers (Endo et al., 2015). The comparative case study of Elger and Smith (2005) exemplifies the work of this period in concluding that the previous notion of Japanese MNCs in the United Kingdom (UK) had transformed into a concept of hybrid management where Japanese management practices were combined with non-Japanese ones.

In and after the 2000s, however, this focus on the Western contexts has been gradually shifting to Asia institutionally (i.e., local labour market and regulations) while becoming culturally closer to Japan (i.e., in terms of national culture, such as collectivism and hierarchy). This is because, like other MNCs, Japanese MNCs are becoming more regional, rather than more global. Collinson and Rugman (2007, 2008) argued that Japanese MNCs tend to invest and operate in their home region in Asia. Indeed, the relatively recent work of Abo (2015) expresses the importance of the national cultural contexts where ‘Japanese management practices’ are transferred and conducted. He implies that the practices are accepted, rejected or modified largely due to each national cultural context, in addition to institutional contexts.

Other recent studies lend support to this claim by analysing human resources practices in Asian countries, such as Thailand (i.e., Hill, 2007; Busser, 2008; Furusawa & Brewster, 2017). One theme of research in that respect, shows how aspects of Asian culture, as well as religious similarities with Japan, create a shared ‘group consciousness’, which Abo (2015) has identified as influencing the transferability of Japanese firms’ practices in Asia. In addition, the review paper of Liden (2012) also emphasises national cultural contexts in Asia by pointing to how types of ideal leadership in Asia based on harmony and benevolence and “characterized by cultures that are high context, high in collectivism, and high in power distance (p. 206)” differ from those of the West that are based on competitiveness. That said, the degree of the transferability may also be due to specific institutional and cultural aspects in a host country. For example, Gamble (2010) argued that long-term employment is difficult to adopt in China due to the shortage of skilled local labour, whereas a Japanese style of customer service is seen as innovative and is being gradually adopted.

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